Projects in the Works

Ironing table made from a $10 tray table from WalMart, and 100% cotton upholstery fabric and natural fiber batting.

It’s been a couple of months, but I have been busy. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some blogs on a tea wallet for your purse; a tray table transformation to an ironing board; string backpacks (that I organized the pictures for and now can’t find them); and my foray into making coasters with 13 cent white tiles from Home Depot, embroidered fabric scraps, Mod Podge and pourable resin. teaoutside

I’ve learned a lot about my embroidery machine and using embroidery with resin. My first experiment has … well, let’s just say it has “character”. Learned a lot about stray threads and ironing my scraps as flat as I can get them. I’m curing a second batch of tiles now and am anxious to see the final results.

I’m also in the midst of organizing my massive recipe collection into an electronic form using Google Drive to store.  Using this method, I can get to them from anywhere and with any device, including my handy-dandy new Android tablet.  This is a project that’s turning out to be a lot bigger than I’d hoped, but I’m having fun with it and it’s already paying off in saved time hunting for recipes.

Before Christmas I finished up a “Christinaline” doll for our 10yo who loved, loved, loved the movie, “Coraline”.  This will probably be my one picture on this project, but if anyone is interested, I bought the pattern from a very talented young textile student in Australia.  She did a great job putting together a pattern and directions for what was a fairly complicated project.  I’m particularly proud of Christinaline’s rubber rain boots.Christinaline - modeled after the doll featured in the movie "Coraline".

I’m working on a really cute apron made from a pair of repurposed blue jeans.  I haven’t documented this one with pictures as well as I would have liked to, but I’m sure I’ll get some sort of blog out of it.

So hang on for some blogs.

Valentine Love

Home is home, be it ever so humble


This past year or so has become the year of the door decoration for me.  It might be because at one point in the not so distant past, I went almost an entire year with the same Christmas wreath on my front door.  As recompense, I’ve resolved to create door designs of my own this year for the important days of our lives.  This is my interpretation of a pin I saw on Pinterest recently, of a door decoration for Valentine’s day.


  • Four precut balsa letters in the 6” to 7” size.  I chose XOXO.
  • One precut wood script.  I chose “Love” for Valentine’s Day.
  • Wooden 2” craft sticks.  I don’t know what they call these in the package, but they look like short popsicle sticks.
  • 1 package 1” wood heart shapes.
  • Two rolls of complimentary ¼” wide ribbon.  I chose a roll of solid deep pink and a roll of pastel polka-dot pink.
  • Acrylic project paints.  For this project I used white, red and blue, and mixed the pink and purple myself.  I also had a small tub of red glitter paint that I used on one heart.


  • Hot glue gun
  • Exacto Knife
  • Paint brushes
  • Small bowls to mix paints

The instructions are pretty simple.  Paint the wooden letters in whatever colors and patterns you choose.  Choose darker or more distinct colors or patterns for these pieces because they form the base of your project on which the script will need to stand out.  Oh, and make sure you get your edges painted!  Then paint your script in white or a very light color, and I also lined the edges of the script with a red glitter paint to give it dimension.  (A toothpick is a handy tool to have here.  It helps clean up your outlines so they look nice and straight.)  Lastly, paint four or five of the heart shapes in varying complimentary colors to embellish with. Try some glitter paint in the same color over your painted hearts to give your project a bit of sparkle.

(I’m envisioning Modge Podge and fabric covered letters for a project as well.  This would really give a project some creative patterns to work with.)

Once the paint is dry, start assembling.  I used the crafts stick to anchor the letters together, by hot gluing them to the back of my project.  Place the sticks so they’re not visible from the front or in an area that will be covered by your embellishments.  You may need to use smaller pieces, so carefully cut those with your Exacto knife.

Once the base made of letters is dry, turn the project over and glue the painted script to the front, along with your painted hearts.  Then embellish with bows made of ribbon.  I found the cutest bow idea on Pinterest, and this is my interpretation of how to do it.  It only takes a couple of bows to dress out your project.

Finally, create your hanger.  I braided three pieces of ribbon together, long enough that after I glued each end to the back of my project, I could still tie a bow at the top.  This would be a good spot to use jute as well.  Make it your own!

Spur of the Moment

bunsHomemade Hamburger Buns

Sunday in January.  It is 18 degrees outside.  I am cleaning my house, dressed in sweats with no makeup on.  I’m not leaving unless I **have** to leave.  I mean, this house would have to be on fire.  And it would have to be a fire I couldn’t manage myself.  I am not leaving.

In the slow cooker I’ve got a pork loin roast cooking to make pulled pork.   Then it hits me.  I have no buns, or bread for that matter, in the house.  I could get dressed and go buy buns, but I really, really don’t want to.  Really.

Oh, wait.  I’ve got this awesome appliance called a bread machine.  In fact, I have two of them – and a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook.

The first bread machine was released in Japan in 1986.  It is a home appliance for baking bread whose pan consists of a tall, square-ish tube at the bottom of which are one or more built-in paddles.  The pan locks into the center of a small special-purpose oven.  There’s your Wiki lesson for the day.

Oh, for future reference, I never bake in my bread machine, I just make dough.  I dislike the shape and denser texture of the bread baked in the bread maker, so I dump the dough ball out into a loaf pan, let it rise again, and then bake.

Back to the machine:  Once upon a time these handy machines cost several hundred dollars each – some still may – but as they became more popular, the prices went down.  They are also huge.  In my kitchen I’d lose an entire counter to a bread maker.  When it comes to the whole “how much of my kitchen counter is this thing going to occupy” question, the answer in my case is “most of it.”  Considering the amount of counter or storage space the machine takes, and how infrequently most folks use them, I found bread machines have become quite popular garage sale and Craigslist finds.  I found both of mine as free giveaways on  They live in my garage.

I love my bread machines.  And they love my hips.  Carb heaven.

Off to find a recipe.  There are a million of them.  I like simple recipes without any exotic ingredients, stuff I could normally have in my kitchen.  That usually eliminates a large number of recipes.  Then I tweak – sometimes a lot – to make the recipe my own.

I had thought hamburger buns would be a lot more exotic than they turned out to be.  In fact, they’re surprisingly simple.  I usually try each recipe I find as written the first time, and tweak afterwards, but I’ve used my bread machines enough to know what I need to do to make the perfect bread.

Oh, and on the subject of flours – oh, look!  Squirrel! – I never buy bread flour.  I use all purpose flour keep a box of vital wheat gluten on hand for baking bread, especially breads that incorporate wheat flour.  While some folks don’t add gluten, I do, because it gives that nice elasticity you need and the dough tends to rise higher resulting in a softer, airier loaf.  So in the recipe below, if you’re using all bread flour, you don’t have to add the vital wheat gluten.  However, like I say, I use just plain old all purpose flour and add gluten.

I also rarely, if ever, sift.  I should, I just dislike doing it.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

1-1/4 c milk, slightly warmed (I zapped it for about a minute in the microwave)

1 beaten egg

2 tbsp butter, softened

1/4 c white sugar

3/4 tea salt

1-1/4 c whole wheat flour

2-1/2 c white flour*

3 tbsp vital wheat gluten*

1-1/4 tea active dry yeast (one packet)

(If you don’t have wheat flour, or want white bread buns, using 3-3/4 c all purpose flour and is more than acceptable.)

1.      Place all ingredients in your bread machine pan in the order suggested by your manufacturer (usually liquids first, then dry ingredients, then yeast in a well in the center of the dry ingredients)

2.      Set the machine for the dough cycle setting and process.

3.      When the dough cycle is complete, turn the dough ball out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the ball into 12 balls.  I usually start by dividing in half, then half again, then thirds.

4.      Form round balls with each ball, then gently pat into patties.  With a rolling pin, roll each ball until flat and about the size of a hamburger bun.  You’ll have to gently turn each dough patty and roll both sides because the dough is very elastic and will snap back into a ball if you’re not patient with your rolling.

5.      Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or you can lightly grease them) and place six buns per sheet, leaving plenty of space between each bun.

6.      Lightly brush each bun with an egg wash and a pastry brush for that lovely golden top.  (Egg wash is one beaten egg with a dab of water or milk.)  Do not over apply the wash.

7.      Place both sheets in a warm dry spot, cover with a cloth, and let rise for at least an hour.

8.      Preheat oven to 350F and when the dough has risen to double, bake for 9-10 minutes until golden.

OMG.  These things are wonderful.  Light, fluffy and so fresh tasting.  Who would have thought such a simple thing would have made me so happy to make.

It would take us weeks to eat 12 buns, and without preservatives, they’ll mold pretty quickly.  I wrap each bun in plastic wrap, then drop the wrapped buns into a freezer zip top bag.  The double wrapping help keep ice crystals from forming and making your defrosted buns soggy.


Here’s a picture of my sandwich — and a reason to pay attention to the background when taking pictures for publication.

dog bun

Download an 8-1/2″ x 11″ recipe card:  Homemade Hamburger Buns

A Cake Served with Coffee is a Coffee Cake

I’m a big fan of coffee cake – I never developed the taste for coffee, but I’m all about the cakes that go with it.  My predilection may be because coffee cakes are full of all the fattening things in life, like butter and sour cream or cream cheese  –  and don’t contain coffee.  Throw some fat into a sweet, tender cake, and I’ll be right over.

Coffee CakeI apologize for the picture here – I made this cake for a birthday gathering at work, and forgot to take a picture before I left home.  By the time I remembered at the office, this is what was left, which I think means it turned out well – despite us all.  You would think grown, employed people would remember when someone says, “I’m taking Monday off for my birthday.”  But no, we all had our treats for our gathering made for a Monday morning meeting, to which the intended recipient was not present.  I suppose the good news is we all managed to remember over a weekend to bring treats on Monday morning.  Despite the lovely cookies, muffins and cake staring at us on Monday morning, we shamed one another into abstaining until Tuesday.  I’d call it willpower, but we all know it was group shaming.  Nobody wanted to be “that person,” the one that cut the cake, took a muffin, or messed up the pretty cookie display before the recipient got to see them.  So the cake sat from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning.  I was afraid it would dry out, even in my 50-year-old covered cake-taker, but I’m happy to report it stayed moist and tasty.

Oh, by the way, did you know that National Coffee Cake Day is April 7th?  Yeah, I didn’t either.  But I have since learned that National Coffee Cake Day is sandwiched between National Caramel Popcorn Day on April 6th, and National Empanada Day on April 8th.  And, National Sandwich Day is November 3rd.

Awesome Cinnamon and Sugar Coffee Cake

Cake Ingredients

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup butter, softened

3/4 cups white sugar

3/4 cups brown sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

Filling Ingredients

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup white or brown sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans  (I didn’t have any pecans the first time I made the cake.  It doesn’t *need* them, but I’m imagining they would make this cake even more awesome.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease one 10 inch Bundt pan with a moderate amount of shortening; don’t skimp, but don’t get carried away either.  Instead of powdering the surface with flour, I mixed up about two tablespoons of a cinnamon sugar blend, light on the cinnamon, and floured the pan with that.  Be aware cinnamon can burn, so go light on the cinnamon on this step.

Cream sugar and eggs until well blended, then add the sour cream and butter or margarine and beat well. Slowly beat in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, mixing thoroughly. Beat in vanilla.

STOP!  Don’t pour it all into your pan yet!

Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and nuts separately in a small bowl.

NOW you can pour your batter – but only half!

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. It will be thick, and you’ll need to spread it around a bit with a spatula.  Once you’ve poured in half the batter, make a little trough around the middle, then sprinkle your small bowl of cinnamon, sugar, nut mixture over the entire cake.  Now pour on the remaining cake batter, to cover it all up.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes, then lower your oven to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 40 minutes.

Cool on a rack until you can pick up the pan and turn it.  Turn out onto a rack and continue to cool.  Once thoroughly cooled, glaze with your favorite glaze.

Coffee Cake Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 Tbsp. whole milk or heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Cream all ingredients together until thoroughly incorporated and spreading consistency.  Fill an icing bag, or if you’re cheap like me, a sandwich bag, snip the corner, and pipe the glaze over the cake.

Store covered and be prepared for many oohh’s and aahh’s when served.

15 Bean Soup (Pressure Cooker)

It’s 104°F outside.  Not exactly “soup” weather, but I’ve sworn off usage of all massive heat producing equipment in my house — no daytime dishwasher use, no dryer use (I’m letting Mother Nature and her 104°F fury dry my clothes outside), and no oven.

Surprisingly, not using the oven has been more limiting than I initially thought and has forced a bit of grill and stovetop creativity.  I’ve broken out the pressure cooker for pot roast, grilled everything from salmon and tuna to steak and kabobs.  Ready for something different, I decided to try beans in the pressure cooker again today.

One of my favorites, Navy Bean soup, I’ve always made in a crockpot.  My problem with that is not only do you have to cook beans 8 to 10 hours in a crockpot, you have to soak beans at least 12 hours before you cook them.  That’s more prep than I’m capable of preplanning for on most days.

The pressure cooker has always intrigued me, and one of the first things I made in a pressure cooker was homemade bean glue … I mean, soup.  It was thick, and had a glue-like consistency.  And it smelled funny.  I have not tried it again, until today.  And today’s try was absolutely a resounding success.

First, you can’t get away from the presoak.  I’m sure there are many “quick” methods, but for me, the 12 hour soak cannot be replaced.  Buy a package of 15 bean soup mix* and put the beans in a pot and cover with 2 quarts of water.  Cover the pot and walk away for 12 hours (an overnight soak is perfect).  When the soak time is over, rinse the beans and pick out debris.  Now you’re ready to cook.

15 Bean Soup

1-1 pound bag of 15 Bean Soup beans*.  Discard the seasoning packet.
1 smoked ham hock
2 Tbsp. oil
1 cup chopped celery (about two ribs)
1 carrot, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf
1 48 oz. can chicken broth and enough water added to make 2 quarts
Additional cooked, chopped ham (optional)

Soak the beans overnight in 2 quarts of water.  You’ll discard the seasoning packet and the soak water.

In your pressure cooker, heat oil and saute the celery, onion, jalapeno and carrot just until tender.

Once the veggies are tender, add ham hock, beans, seasonings and 2 quarts of liquid.  Heat to boil, lower heat and simmer 10 minutes.  After simmer, cover the pressure cooker, lock the lid and bring to full pressure.  Reduce heat to maintain a steady hiss, and pressure cook for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove from heat and allow pressure to release naturally.  Once you’re able to remove the lid, remove the ham hock and set aside to cool.  Once cool, remove any meat on the hock and return it to the pot, along with any additional cooked ham you wish to add at this point.

Dish up and serve!

*If you want to make your own 15 bean mix, I found a site that suggesting combining 1 pound each of dried black beans, red beans, kidney beans, navy beans, great northern beans, baby lima beans, large lima beans, pinto beans, green split peas, yellow split peas, black eyed peas, red lentils, green lentils, brown lentils and cranberry beans.  The advantage of making your own mix is of course you can leave out beans you don’t care for (I am so not a fan of large lima beans).  I’ve never seen cranberry beans in my life, and if I actually find them, I’ll certainly post where.  I’m actually curious as to how making your own mix might compare, cost-wise, to buying the one pound packages at the store.

Dollar Store Organization

Typical 3-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath suburban dweller that I am, space always seems to  be at a premium at my house.  Tonight I tackled a couple of simple girl’s room challenges – scarves and headbands.

Sounds silly, but until you’ve had to sort through a wad of scarves knotted up in a drawer, shoved under a bed, or otherwise situated where they aren’t easily retrieved, it’s a big deal.  Same with headbands and various other hair accessories.

First, the solution for easily accessible scarves (and belts) as it turns out is a hanger and a set of $1 shower curtain rings.  Add another $1 for the optional handy, dandy over the door hook and you’ve also got the beginnings of a cute, decorative element in the room.

I feel a fun hanger cover-up coming on …

Now headbands.  I only bought one tonight, but I see a couple more in my future.  The solution?  Expandable hat/coat rack.  Also $1 at the dollar store.

I’ve seen this idea used for jewelry also.

Simple, cheap and effective.

Not Just Another Wreath

I’ve lived in my house for 25 years.  During most of that time, I have only decorated my front door at Christmas-time — and it’s been the same wreath every single year.  This year, as I pulled out the same old wreath, taking notice of where ornaments had fallen off over time, and gingerly carrying it to the door to avoid spreading dust cleverly disguised as fake snow, I had a moment.  Why exactly was I doing this AGAIN?

So I went out and bought myself a Christmas stocking and a few sparkly decorations, and with 10 minutes, and some tissue paper for bulk, I had a brand new, non-wreath door decoration for Christmas.

A few visits to Pinterest later, I had a plan — some new door art that wasn’t a wreath.  I first came across this site,, and in particular, this sunny little basket.

Inspired, I set out to create my own decoration.  Then I became discouraged.  it’s really tough to find a basket the size I needed, which was no more than 3″ deep, because I have a storm door.

When you can’t find one, then make one.  Right?

Here’s my materials list:

  • 1 piece of scrap fabric, preferably corduory or denim — something with some substance to it.  You’ll need to be able to cut two pieces of at least 9″ x 10″, plus three sides, about 4″ wide, and 10″ long each.  Use your floral foam blocks as your pattern.
  • 4 strips of complimentary softer fabric, approximately 2 yards long each, cut to about 3″ to 3-1/2″ wide to form the handle
  • 1 ball of hardware store jute, braided, or one strip of a second color fabric, so you have a total of five fabric strips for the handle
  • 1 package of blocks of dry floral foam
  • Silk flowers
  • Beads and decorations of your choice

I pretty much made this project up as I went along, so my documentation is a bit sketchy.  I started by braiding some lengths of jute to be used as decoration.  The natural fiber string I used was a $2 ball of jute I found in the hardware section of Wally World.  It is intended to be used as bundling string to bundle branches and other yard waste so that the city will pick it up off your curb.  For the braid I used in the handle of my basket, I cut four strands, 2 yards long each, and did a four strand braid.

You can accomplish a similar look with a crochet hook and a single strand chain.  I just liked the more solid feel of the 4 strand braid.

I then took two blocks of the floral foam and laid them out on my basket fabric and used them for a size pattern.  For this project I chose a leftover scrap of brown corduroy, although any substantial fabric would do nicely.  I cut two pieces of fabric approximately 1″ wider all around than the two foam blocks.  These will be the front and back of your basket.  Then I cut three strips of the same fabric, about 4″ wide and the same length as three sides of the front and back squares.

Stitch together the three side strips into one long strip.   With right sides together and starting at what will be the top edge of your basket, sew your fabric strip to the front side of your basket, leaving the needle in the fabric at the corners and pivoting 90 degrees to create the box.  Repeat to attach the back panel to the now sewn on sides of the front panel.  Use approximately 1/2″ to 5/8″ seams.

Turn your basket right side out.

To make the handle, I took 4 strips of complimentary lightweight cotton fabric, approximately 2 yards long each, and with the right sides together, sewed down the length of the strip, then turned it right side out to form a long tube.  Don’t press your tubes flat after you turn them.

Affix your strips, along with the decorative jute braid, to a steady mount and make a loose, 5 strand braid.  Secure each end of the braid with a decorative macrame bead or other decorative tie off at each end.

Position the handle to the side panel of your box, then fold the top down on all four sides, to form a finished edge.  Topstitch all the way around, catching your handle braid on both sides.  Your handle is attached.   Insert your floral foam, shaving and trimming the foam to ensure a good fit.

After inserting flowers, my final basket looked pretty good, albeit fairly blank.  It needed something.  I had envisioned a “welcome” applique, and I searched Hobby Lobby high and low for what I wanted, but came up empty.  As I was leaving the store though, I ran across some really cute clear, colored acrylic message ornaments.  I picked “peace” from the selection of “love”, “peace” and “hope”.

My ornament didn’t show up well against brown fabric, so I created an applique of my own.  I used the bottom of a serving bowl in my cabinet for the oval shape, then I zigzaged the outer edge of the oval to limit fraying.  Then, to tie the applique to the basket, I crocheted a single strand of jute into a chain long enough to go around the outside edge of the oval and whip stitched the jute chain in place, adding a finishing bead to anchor it.  I used fabric glue to affix the “peace” to the center of the oval (which I’ll reinforce later with some invisible nylon thread) and allowed the decoration to dry.  Once dried, I whip stitched the applique to the basket to complete the project.  Total time was about two hours from start to finish and the cost was less than $20.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Pressure Cooker Style

St. Patrick's Day, 2012

May you live a long life full of gladness and health,
With a pocket full of gold as the least of your wealth.
May the dreams you hold dearest, be those which come true,
The kindness you spread, keep returning to you.
~Irish Blessing

Perhaps it’s the Bryan in me, but I love Corned Beef and Cabbage.  LOVE.  When Corned Beef goes on sale around St. Patrick’s day, I stock up for the rest of the year.  I could eat cooked cabbage all day, although I’m sure those around me are glad I don’t.  Fried cabbage and onions are to die for.  St. Patrick’s Day is better than Thanksgiving as far as I’m concerned.  It’s the one day a year I do a full-on Irish meal.  My son likes to rate his meals on an all-time favorite scale.  I told him today I would have to rate Corned Beef and Cabbage as a 9 on a 1 to 10 meal scale.

Normally I cook my corned beef in a slow cooker.  Throw in a bottle of Irish lager for the liquid, a few extra spices, cook for eight hours and the beef comes out so tender it falls apart.  Obviously that’s an all-day deal though, and I really wanted to try my pressure cooker on corned beef this year.

My Pressure CookerPressure cooking is sort of a mystery to me.  I actually only own a pressure cooker because I saw one on a clearance rack at KMart several years ago for 10 bucks and couldn’t stop myself from buying it.  It sat in my cupboard for several years, just because I was half afraid of the thing.  Eventually I lost the manual to it.  Last summer I tried to sell it in a garage sale for $5, but nobody would buy it.  I had a couple of men looking it over very closely — examining the rubber seal for signs of wear and tear, turning it this way and that looking for scrapes or dents, discussing it in depth with one another.  It was, at that moment, brand new and completely unused, which if English had been their native language, they might have understood.  In the end, they left the cooker sitting on the table and moved on to the next garage sale with their 25¢ t-shirts.

I took the non-sale of a brand new pressure cooker for cheapsters as a sign that I needed to be using the thing. After contacting the manufacturer by email, and with manual in hand, I felt better about giving the cooker a try.  Turns out the manual really doesn’t do much but tell you how to keep it from exploding anyway.

My first experiment was with beans.  I think I tried to make navy bean soup.  I invented bean glue.  It was ugly, brown and lumpy.  And it smelled funny.

I put the cooker away again for another few months to gather dust.  But I had to try it again.  For my second try, I opted for a pot roast.  Success!  It took a naturally tough piece of arm roast and turned it into a tender, moist, tasty pot roast with some awesome drippings for au jus or gravy.  Once I understood the whole “hissing” and how to gauge how much hissing was good and how much hissing was too much, I was a pot roast cooking fool.  We had pot roast on a regular basis, as long as the the roast was on sale, and round steak in gravy, another notoriously cheap, but tough cut of meat.   I may try pinto beans one day, but for now, I can do the large chunks of meat, and that’s working for me.

So this is my first corned beef in a pressure cooker.   I had my entire St. Patrick’s Day dinner ready in about two  hours flat, including the time it took for the cooker to come to pressure and depressurize twice.

Lessons learned:  use plenty of liquid in your pressure cooker, but don’t overfill it.  As the cooker is cooking, steam will be escaping through the value on top, and if you don’t have enough liquid, you’ll burn your food dry.  Not a good thing.  Learn to listen and gauge the hissing.  Screaming is not good.  A nice steady hiss with a steady stream of steam is perfect, and once you’ve brought your cooker up to pressure, reduce the heat to keep the hissing at a nice even tone.  If the hissing suddenly stops, you’ve likely used up all your liquid, so take it off the heat pronto, depressurize and check.  Cook in the order of longest to shortest cooking time, and don’t be afraid to reuse the drippings from the meat to cook your veggies in.  Even the hardest root vegetables like carrots cook in mere minutes, so save veggies for last.  Depressurizing is easy, just be patient if you’re using the natural method.  The cold water method works very well, and very fast.

5.14.12 Edit:  If you’re browning meat before you pressure cook it, brown it in a separate pan, or be sure you thoroughly de-glaze the bottom of your pressure cooker if you brown it in it.  I didn’t de-glaze my pressure cooker well enough when I made a round steak meal, and the bits on the bottom burned.  The meat and sauce were absolutely perfectly cooked, but inedible because the entire dish tasted like a piece of charcoal.  

For today’s meal, I bought the cheaper, point cut, Corned Beef, on sale for $1.67 a pound. You don’t need to spend the money on the tip cut, because the pressure cooker will tenderize shoe leather.  I bought a 4 pound cut, for a whopping $7.  Add in medium-sized head of cabbage on sale for 17¢ a pound, and a five pound bag of red potatoes on sale for $1.47.  The entire meal cost less than $10 with tax.  Score!

St. Patrick's Day PlateCorned Beef in the Pressure Cooker

1 point cut Corned Beef, 3-4 pounds
1 Spice packet from the Corned Beef
1 Onion, cut into 1″ cubes
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed slightly
2 Bay Leaves
1 32 oz. carton of Beef Broth OR 1 12 oz. bottle of beer, and either water or beef broth to cover the beef in the pot

4-5 medium scrubbed but unpeeled red potatoes, cut into 1″ chunks (cut them right before you put them into the pot)
2-3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ pieces
4 carrots, cut  into 1″ pieces
1 small to medium head of cabbage, cut into 6 or eight wedges

Put your onions and garlic in the pot and put your corned beef, fat side up, on top of the veggies.  Spread the spice packet over the top of the beef, throw in the bay leaves, and add your beef broth until it comes up about 3/4ths of the way up the sides of the beef.  Pop on the lid and lock it, and put over high heat until it starts to hiss at a steady rate.  Reduce your heat just to the point that the hissing continues without stopping.  (Alternatively, follow the directions in your cooker manual on how to bring it up to pressure.)  Cook for 1 hour.  Remove from heat and depressurize.  I let my beef depressurize naturally so it continued to cook another few minutes.

While your beef is cooking, prepare your veggies and set aside in a bowl.

When your beef is done, remove it from the cooker, plate it, cover with foil and set aside to rest.  Dump your veggies into the remaining broth, add more water to bring the liquid up to just below the top of the veggies.  Lock on the lid and bring to pressure over high heat.  Reduce the heat and cook for 5 to 6 minutes — no more or you’ll have vegetable mush.  Remove from heat and depressurize.  I used the water method this time, so the cooking would stop quickly.

I also served White Irish Soda Bread this St. Patrick’s Day.  This simple, unleavened loaf  could almost be compared to cornbread, but it is not as grainy and is slightly sweet.  Because there is no yeast, it comes together very quickly and can be baking while your corned beef is pressure cooking.

Irish Soda Bread

White Irish Soda Bread

4 cups white flour
4 tbsp. white sugar
1 tea. baking soda (hence, Soda Bread)
1 tbsp. baking powder (this gives it the rise)
1/2 tea. salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened (one stick)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375.  I baked mine in a large cast iron skillet in the oven, otherwise, lightly grease a large baking sheet.

Mix together all the dry ingredients, the margarine, buttermilk and egg.  The dough is slightly crumbly.  Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out into a round and knead just until it forms an actual dough ball.  Put the dough onto the baking sheet or in the skillet, and brush lightly with an egg wash.  Take a sharp knife and cut an X into the top of the loaf (this is so the thickest part of the loaf bakes through).  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.  Serve with butter or honey butter.

This year I had also made an Asian Ramen salad to go with the meal, because our 10yo is not at all adventurous when it comes to new foods and she’d never had Corned Beef before.  I knew she’d eat the Ramen salad, which although it was very good, was completely unnecessary because she loved the corned beef.  Tomorrow we have Rubens!


Completely random: Light as air waffles


Random on.

My random discovery for today is so simple, I wish I’d known earlier.

To make waffles that are light as air, use a dry mix — or make your own dry mix — that calls for adding an egg.  Before you add your egg, separate it.  Mix the yolk with the other liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.  In a separate, small bowl, whip your egg white until stiff peaks form.  Fold the whites into the batter and use as usual.

Your waffles will be so light and airy!

Oh, try a teaspoon or so of cinnamon next time you make waffles too.

Random off.  You may now continue your day :)

Comfort Food

It’s Shake ‘n Bake, an ah hailped!

If you’re not close to or in your 50s, you probably won’t remember that classic commercial.  Or, if you’re like my teenager, you won’t know what Shake ‘n Bake is at all.  (How did I manage that?)

Shake ‘n Bake is a dry crumble coating that comes in a box and has been around since 1965.  You put your crumble and raw chicken/pork/whatever into a big bag and shake it until the meat is coated.  Then you oven fry it while you go watch the news.  Beats standing over a deep fryer all night frying two pieces of chicken at a time, or spattering grease all over your stove while you are pan frying.  It’s kind of a pre-convenience convenience food.  It requires a little bit of effort, and those early cooks probably even wore their aprons while cooking with it.  It’s not quite a box meal though, and you feel like you’ve actually cooked a meal when you’re done.  The bonus is when you cook chicken this way, it comes out of the oven crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside.

I hadn’t bought or thought about oven frying chicken in years; I usually deep fry.  I spotted a sale on chicken drumsticks and thighs at the store this week for 99 cents a pound and after staring at two trays of thighs in my fridge and really, really not wanting to stand over the stove cooking them, I went hunting for a copycat recipe for Shake ‘n Bake.

So what’s in Shake ‘n Bake?  Turns out, not much after all.  It’s crushed corn flakes and some spices and coloring.  After a little Internet searching, here’s my version of a copycat Shake ‘n Bake coating recipe.

Crispy Oven Fry Coating, Original Flavor

1-1/3 cup crushed corn flakes (I measure after I crush the corn flakes)
1 tbsp. flour (generously heaping)
1 tsp. dehydrated minced onion
2 to 2-1/2 tsp. garlic salt (if you’re watching salt, try using garlic powder in a smaller amount)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
A dash of Cayenne (optional, if you like a bit of spice)
A dash of sugar (optional, the Shake ‘n Bake box says it contains dextrose, so there’s some sweetness in the original product. I don’t think it needs it.)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten
1/2 to 1 cup milk

5-6 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks (or whatever pieces you like)

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Mix all dry ingredients together into a large plastic food bag, then lightly drizzle the vegetable oil into the dry ingredients and shake well to incorporate.

Mix the egg and milk together and dunk two pieces of chicken at a time.  Shake off the excess liquid and then immediately place the chicken in the corn flake mixture.  Shake the bag until the chicken is thoroughly coated (the flour is the important part of this, enabling the coating to stick, so don’t skimp on the flour in your mix).  Place the coated pieces on an ungreased foil lined cookie sheet.  Repeat until you have all your chicken coated.  Bake 20 minutes for boneless chicken and 45 minutes for bone-in chicken pieces, or until the juices run clear.  Occupy yourself surfing Facebook while you wait.  Bonus tip:  if you line the cookie sheet just right, you don’t even have to wash it when you’re done.  Winning.

My 17 year old loved — I mean loved — this stuff.  He used the words “tender” and “juicy” in a coherent sentence to describe it.  My husband also raved over it and said it was just perfect.  I was reading comments on the Web, and lots of folks premake their mix and store in a sealed jar in their pantry.  Seems like if you don’t have a lot of other uses for corn flakes and you don’t want to waste the rest of your box, that’s a really good idea.

Bonny petite y’all.


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