Monday, June 29, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul (no, this is actually the food)

This weekend my husband and I were hit hard with some angry, mutated strain of the flu out for revenge on the human race. When I finally became upright and my stomach was under me, all I wanted was chicken soup. Unfortunately, we only had a very bland "Healthy Request" Chicken Noodle Soup. Whoever "requested" this soup obviously had no tastebuds. It was horrible.

The next morning, I wanted to make some decent chicken noodle soup but I was pretty weak and couldn't stand for long periods. Thankfully, I had some chicken stock I had made and froze ahead of time. It's from my favorite recipe for chicken stock from the "City Tavern Cookbook". I also had some frozen Baked Rosemary Chicken in the freezer. It was easily defrosted and added to the chicken stock for an easy start to my soup. I threw in some herbs from my garden, carrots and chopped onions from the freezer and garlic and then put it in my crockpot for a chicken soup that felt good right down to my soul. There is nothing like having no food for a day to make you appreciate a home cooked meal.

Here is my adapted recipe from the cookbook "City Tavern Cookbook"

CHICKEN STOCK

two handfuls of chopped carrots (I use the frozen, chopped ones)
1 medium onion chopped
1 Tbl. of unsalted butter
2 Tbl. of celery flakes (you can also use one celery ribbed chopped)
1 gallon of water
2 springs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. of dried thyme)
1 tsp. of black pepper
1 bay leaf
4-5 chicken backs (I usually cut the backs from my fresh chickens before freezing and freeze the backs seperately for this purpose.)

Saute the onions and carrots (and celery if using fresh) in the butter. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours. Strain and freeze in ziplock bags. There are several of our favorite recipes that use this stock. I premeasure and freeze and mark the front of the ziplock bag with the measurement and/or the recipe it goes in. You can also just freeze them in 1 cup measurements. Easy! When you are ready to use them, put the bag under some warm tap water to loosen the plastic bag. Remove the bag and place in a microwave safe bowl and defrost. You can also just skip the microwave defrost and put right in your pot if your recipe will allow it. Note that there is no salt in this recipe. That is because you will add it in your recipe.

When I bake a chicken, I usually bake two and take the leftovers off the bone and freeze it. Here is my easy baked chicken recipe.

Rosemary Baked Chicken

Four halves of a chicken (note: I always cut the backs out of my chicken to make chicken stock. This also allows more of the skin to get crispy and I find it cooks the chicken better)
Rosemary (crushed and dried)
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
Pam or olive oil

Rinse the chicken. Lay out the chicken in the pan skin side up. You may have to use two pans if your pan isn't large. Pat the chicken down with a paper towel. Put olive oil on a paper towel and pat all over the chicken skin (or spray with Pam) Sprinkle on all the herbs and spices above. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 min. The chicken will fall off the bone and the aroma of the roasting rosemary will be amazing. Enjoy!

Soulful Rosemary Chicken Noodle Soup

Leftover Rosemary Baked Chicken from 1/2 chicken (see above)
1 tsp. Rosemary (dried and crushed) or 1 Tbl. of fresh chopped Rosemary
2 tsp. parsley (dried) or 2 Tbl. of fresh chopped parsley
6 cups of Chicken Stock (see above)
1 tsp. of thyme (dried) or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
handful of frozen, chopped carrots (or 1 chopped fresh carrot)
1/2 a cup of chopped onion (I usually chop onion and freeze ahead of time)
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 Tbl. of Corn Starch mixed with 1/2 cup of cold water in a seperate bowl
1/2 bag of large egg noodles
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

I started everything (but the noodles) on my stove until it was boiling. Then I threw it in my crockpot, added the uncooked noodles and cooked for 2.5-3 hours on low heat. Came out wonderfully. Of course you could just finish it on your stove top, but I like to simmer my soup a little longer to merge the flavors.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cooking when its Steamy Outside

When it hits the triple digits in Houston, I avoid turning on my oven. My crockpot comes to the rescue again. Here is another crockpot recipe.

Chicken Cacciatore

2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken pieces (you can also used leftover baked chicken)
2 Tbl. Olive Oil
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced
14 1/2 oz can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomato
1 6-ounce can tomato paste + 2 cans water
1 tsp. sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbl. fresh parsley
chopped mushrooms (optional)

Cooked 3 color Garden Rotini

Remove the skin from the chicken. Brown your meat in olive oil. (if you are using leftover baked chicken, add it after you saute the garlic and onions just to heat through). Add the onions and garlic and saute until onions turn clear. Put in your crockpot. Add the rest of the ingredients to the crockpot (except the Rotini). I would suggest throwing the mushrooms in the last 1/2 hour of cooking. Cook on High for 2 to 3 hours or Low 5-7 hours. Serve over cooked Rotini.

As I said in a previous post, I really love my VersaWare Crockpot. I can brown my meat and saute my onions right in the crock on the top of my stove. Then I pop the whole crock in the crockpot and turn it on. Saves me from cleaning an additional pot.

When I bake a chicken, I usually bake two. Your oven is hot, and it doesn't cost anything more to cook two. After it cools, I take the meat off the bone and put in a freezer bag and put in the freezer for use in an easy recipe during the week such as this one.

Gluten/Dairy Free Option:

Same as above, just use a cooked Gluten Free Pasta of your choice

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My life on hormones

I suffered a very traumatic event two years ago. I lost a baby after carrying him for 4 months. Losing him was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. I only made it out because God carried me through it. I wanted answers and I wanted them NOW. I don't know why it happened but I do know that God did not do this to me. This was the work of the enemy, Satan. My recognition of this fact helped me heal because I was able to run to God instead of being angry with him. Yes, it is still painful, but I am able to help others going through this. Helping them helps me take a huge step in my healing process.

If you are reading this and are trying to heal from a miscarriage, please dear friend know that God understand what you are going through even if no one else does. Run to Him!

Soon after losing the baby, I had my hormones tested via saliva testing and found that my progesterone was dangerously low. (In retrospect, I should have waited a few months after losing the baby before doing the first test to get a true level. Later tests confirmed my low progesterone levels) I started my quest to balance my hormones.

I initially saw a natropath who put me on a regime of vitamins and supplements. They really helped me with my energy levels and did raise the hormones, but not to the levels they needed to be. I then started with bio-identical hormones. I was thankful to find a doctor in the Houston area that didn't charge an arm and a leg to help me. I continued to do saliva testing from time to time to check my levels. Recently I have added bio-identical estrogen to my progesterone supplementation.

We started out at very low levels in order not to fry my hormone receptors. At the time, it seemed agonizing to slowly crawl up the dosage amounts, but I realized that it was better for my body this way. We started with low dosage progesterone pills and worked our way up to a cream. I briefly used some suppositories, but they were really messy so I went back to the cream and have had good success with it. I am currently on an estrogen pill but will soon have the compounding pharmacy mix the estrogen and progesterone into the cream for easier dosing.

I feel great, my skin is radiant and clear, I wake up rested, I have energy and my moods are even. Before the bio-identicals, there were times I literally felt like I wanted to punch a wall I felt so angry at times. Part of this was the elevated testosterone levels which have since come down to normal levels.

I highly recommend bio-identicals to anyone experienced a fluctuation in their levels. I also really liked the book by Suzanne Somers "Ageless" While I initially wasn't interested in a book by "Chrissy" from "Three's Company" I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was actually a series of interviews with different doctor's and patients. It armed me with information so that I could make an informed decision of my own.

Cooking outdoors - easy and efficient

I must admit until several years ago I didn't know how to grill (or as we say in the South "barbecue"). We had an old charcoal pit that my father-in-law lovingly welded for us many years ago from old pipe (probably scrap leftover from the oilfield business he worked in). Anytime I wanted to grill, my husband had to do it. I just couldn't figure it out.

While perusing in the cookbook section of my nearby library, I came across a cookbook that changed everything "Taming the Flame" I loved that this book was written in such a charming manner by a woman who was a master griller. She really taught me the basics. I was thrilled when I was easily able to start a fire without the nasty starter fluid. I purchased a very cool chimney grill starter for practically nothing at Wal-Mart and started my charcoal with just three sheets of newspaper wadded up at the bottom and a match. The coals were ready in minutes.

I fell in love with corn on the cob on the grill using her recipe. The secret is to baste with olive oil and kosher salt and black pepper. I can't get enough!

We just purchased a gorgeous 30" gas grill from Sam's. After weeks of comparison shopping everywhere, we found a fantastic deal on a wonderful grill complete with cover. You just can't beat the price for what you get! It even comes with a searer! The stainless steel grates are so easy to clean and the thing is huge compared to what we had. We can finally invite friends over for a Barbecue. I love that this purchase has given me more entertaining options. I'm crazy about turning a dial and throwing the meat on. It's so easy compared to charcoal. Most importantly, it keeps my kitchen cool in the summer. A big plus in hot, hot Texas. You will definitely find me out on the patio a lot in the evenings this summer.

PS - check out my family recipe for Bar-B-Que sauce on the right under the recipe section.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A new Kitchen Helper - VersaWare Crock-pot

If you know me, you know I make use of my crockpot. It's like having a little servant in your kitchen. However, my current servant was beginning to show her age. The chipped lid never did fit quite right on the pot. A hairline crack had developed at the bottom of the pot. It was time to look for a replacement. I had a laundry list of requirements. I didn't want a glass lid with a plastic handle (plastic handles crack). I wanted to be able to put it on "warm" from the get go and not have to go through a cycle. I wanted it to go to "warm" right after the cooking cycle. I looked and looked for months, but never found what I liked in the stores.

A visit to a friend's house changed that. She was throwing out the box of her brand new crockpot so I asked her about it. It had all my requirements and a very cool feature. The crock itself could go on the stove to saute vegetables and brown the meat. The 6 quart crock was happy in the microwave, stove, oven, fridge, freezer and dishwasher. I think this is quite possibly the best little crock-pot I've ever met. I'm looking forward to a long relationship with my new kitchen helper the VersaWare Crock-pot.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Saving Money Using Coupons and other Smart Strategies

A question I get often is "How do you save using coupons?". There are many great websites out there that explain it, so I'll point you to them.

http://www.couponmom.com/ - FREE website with a tutorial on how to use coupons. Check out the grocery deals from stores in your area and she tells you which coupons to use with the sale. Links to printable coupons.* I especially love their "Grocery Coupon Database". It saves me from clipping coupons until I actually need them. You keep the coupons in the books they come in and then do a search for the ones you need to clip for your shopping trip right before you go. Love that.

http://www.hotcouponworld.com/ - Great to find where to get coupons for items you want to purchase.

http://www.retailmenot.com/ - Love this for finding coupon codes for websites.

I like all you magazine. Chock full of coupons and so far nice articles.

Try out http://www.angelfoodministries.com/ Restaurant quality food at a discount price. You get a box of food that lasts a family of 4 a week for $30. Income doesn't matter here. Meat quality has vastly improved from a year ago. The Grill Box is my favorite. The meat deals are usually the best. From time to time we get something in our regular box we don't eat. We just pass it on to someone that does.

Go to the website of a brand you want a coupon on. Sign up for their newsletters. Sometimes they have a printable one right on the website. For example: great coupons come from Pampers and Huggies. Sign up there to get monthly coupons in your mailbox and diaper samples.

I signed up with my local paper to get the Sunday paper delivered. It is cheaper and more convenient than purchasing it every week. On holiday weekends there will be no coupons, so you lose out there. But still worth it.

Check out CVS. They give you "Extra Bucks" when you buy certain items that are on sale. The "Extra Bucks" are used like regular money to purchase what you want at a later date. If you purchase the item on sale and use a coupon, you can really do great there. Then I use the "Extra Bucks" the next week to purchase items on sale and get more "Extra Bucks". Stick with purchasing only what's on sale here. "Regularly priced" items are usually overpriced.

Basically it comes down to not using your coupon until the item is on sale. Usually this is a week or two after the coupon comes out. Then you stock up on the item to take you through until it is on sale again.

I'm not a "coupon queen" by any stretch of the imagination and I don't spend hours trying to find the best price on everything. I don't have time for this. Don't obsess here. If you make it hard, you will give up and not use this free money. I do the best I can without spending exorbitant amounts of time and I do pretty well. Those little coupons add up. If you like, you can actually transfer the amount you saved from each grocery trip into a savings account to save up for a vacation. This is the incentive for my boys to help me with coupons. I usually hand them a coupon and then they have to find the correct item in the correct size. It's a great learning tool for them. They have to read the fine print. I then tell them the total amount I saved on this grocery trip with their help. They are always very impressed with the amount.

*a word of warning about the printable coupons websites. Read carefully. Yours truly got trapped in a part of the website that had me answering questions after question thinking this is what I had to do to get the coupon. You don't. If you get there, get out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The cure for water rot smell on towels

I'm a sucker for a huge, thick towel. I always buy the most luxurious towels I can find for our bathrooms. I actually look at it as an investment because the towels last years longer than cheap ones. I love to feel like I'm stepping into a spa when I'm in my bathroom. My next luxury purchase is a towel warmer. Heaven!

However, one drawback to the thick towels is that if they are not laid out flat to dry on the towel racks, they can get an awful water rot smell. To get out the smell, I lay the towels in the sun for a day or two. Then I wash them in the hottest water possible with 1 cup of vinegar. This has never failed to take out the smell and restore my towels to their splendor. This trick also works with jeans or other clothes that have gotten the water rot smell.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

This old fashioned drink is surprising refreshing and inexpensive

Several years ago we made a visit to the City Tavern in Philadelphia. We were hungry for lunch and it looked like a fun place to eat. I am so glad we stopped. The food was amazing and I snagged one of my favorite cookbooks while there.

While there, we were introduced to the raspberry "shrub" or "acid", an old fashioned drink that tastes like a Shirley Temple. The shrub syrup was very expensive at the Tavern, so I did a little research when I got home and found out it was ridiculously easy to make.

These delicious drinks were the precursors to carbonated drinks and were enjoyed in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. White House guests also enjoyed this beverage on the White House lawn during the summer.

It's vinegar, raspberries and sugar. I know what you are thinking... vinegar in a drink... Gross. The vinegar really gives this drink a tart bite. It is surprisingly delicious, refreshing, and decaffeinated.

Here is a simple recipe that I've used since that time:

a handful of mashed raspberries
1 cup of white vinegar
1 cup of raw sugar
Ginger ale

Soak mashed raspberries in the vinegar for four days in a corning ware with a lid or other glass container with a lid.

Strain the juice through a strainer or cheesecloth into a pot. Add the sugar. Stir while you bring the mixture to a boil to ensure the sugar doesn't burn. Once the sugar is incorporated, you can stop stirring. Boil for 10 minutes to make a thin syrup. Let it cool and put into a mason jar or other glass container with a lid in your fridge.

To serve:
Add 1 large spoonful to a glass of 1/2 water and 1/2 ginger ale (you can also just use the water and leave out the ginger ale). Add crushed ice. Taste and add more syrup if you like it stronger. Sip the drink that founding fathers and presidents have enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Save 10% at Home Depot or Lowe's - take your pick!

I did exhaustive internet research about a year ago in anticipation of purchasing a new washer and dryer to replace my 15 year old set. Well, the money went to another place but I kept the research. Last week, I was pulling the blue paint tape off the walls in the laundry room after painting it the same cheery color as my kitchen (Indian Buff) when my husband surprised me with the announcement that I could purchase the Cherry Red LG washer and dryer I'd been eyeing for a year.

I found that Home Depot was running a special with free delivery and set up. I thought that was great, but I wanted more. I knew that there were Home Depot 10% coupons flying around after I spoke with the appliance department. The employee told me they were mailed out to customers that had a credit card. We don't have a Home Depot credit card. We have one major card for emergencies, but that's it. I sent a message out on FaceBook and two friends suggested they had seen them in the "change of address" envelopes at the Post Office. I picked one up today only to find out that it was a "Lowe's" coupon. I was totally bummed. I started praying out loud in the car "Lord, I will be patient. I am waiting on you for this." God immediately gave me some wisdom. Why didn't I try and use the Lowe's coupon at Home Depot? We were spending a large amount of money, so maybe they would be willing to help us out. I spoke with the manager of the Appliance Department. He agreed to it. He said that although Lowe's didn't carry LG appliances, he would still accept the coupon. I was so excited. It saved us $290.89! Enough money for my DH to pick out a new grill. We will use another Lowe's coupon for that purchase! I am floating on air after this HUGE savings!

I also signed up for the Home Depot Moving http://homedepotmoving.com/moving/web/registration and will get a 10% coupon this way! (Update 1-24-11... I signed up with Home Depot Moving, but never got a 10% off coupon. However, I signed up with Lowe's moving center and got a 10% off coupon in my e-mail!)

Just wanted to pass on these two sources of discounts.

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