Saturday, January 28, 2012

52 Weeks - Pan Frying

Kerry here!  Just a quick post about my food challenge.  This week was pan frying, so I kept it simple and fried salmon.  It was seared over medium-high heat, using olive oil.  I placed the salmon skin-side down, then seasoned it with salt and pepper, and squeezed some lemon juice over it all.  I let the skin side go for maybe 3 to 4 minutes, then about the same amount on the other side.  I served it up with a quick dill sauce (sour cream, added lemon zest, green onion, dried dill, and a pinch of salt).  It was all done to taste, so I can't give exact measurements.  One side was cilantro-lime rice.  There was a bit of disagreement going on as to whether or not the rice had too much lime.  If you want to be cautious, I'd skip the step where you add lime to the cooking process.  The other side was just simple steamed green beans with a bit of butter.

Tomorrow will be that long-promised post on DIY Oxy-Clean, and Monday or Tuesday will be a post on a quick and cheap way to change up your throw pillows!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My soup . . a day late as well

and surprisingly similar to Kerry's.

Today in the Bannon house we are tying up lots of little loose ends. Yesterday we had our cub scout Pinewood Derby in which we raced the cars the kids spent the past month making.  I spent the day either selling concessions or cheering on the kids as they raced.  It was very long so today we are having a quiet day at home.

One of the things I needed to finish was to post the soup for the 52 weeks of cooking I made on Wednesday in the crockpot.  Now when I make a soup it's usually potato or french onion, two of my favorites.  Last week I happened to buy a bag of white beans on a whim and I found ham on clearance at Kroger so that was the soup to be made.  I had never made bean soup before because (gasp!) I hate beans.  I am a frugal mom's nightmare!  Beans are always a staple on the frugal mom's meal plan.  But I avoid them like the plague.  So since I am being a good sport with the 52 weeks challenge I thought I'd buy the beans because everyone else in the house loves them.

But back to the soup.  I really did not use a recipe for it.

First I soaked the beans overnight in a pot full of water.  The next morning I then rinsed the beans well with a strainer.

Then I popped the beans into the crock pot and filled it up with more water.  I then put in a few cubes of frozen garlic, and cut some potatoes and ham up to place into it as well.

I let it cook all day on low in the crock pot and then seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.  The men of the house loved it!  I have already been asked to make it again.

- Bannon

A day late!! Week 3 - Soup!

Kerry here, with my surprisingly successful soup recipe!  This is an adaption of one I found on

Use Up That Hambone Soup

1 ham bone with visible meat (if you're worried there's not enough, add some more slices from the ham to the pot)
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced (1 if a smaller bone, 2 if larger)
1 tsp. pepper
4 potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1 stick butter
1/2 c. flour
2 c. half and half
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

In a large stockpot, combine the first four ingredients.  Add enough water to just cover the hambone.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the meat can be easily shredded from the bone with a fork.  Remove bone and any extra pieces of meat from the pot.  Shred ham, discarding any fat and the bone.  Return the meat to the pot.  Add the potatoes, bring back up to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Be careful to not let the butter brown.  Add flour, whisking constantly until fully combined.  Increase heat to medium high, then gradually add half and half.  Be sure to continually whisk while you are adding the half and half, being careful not to scorch the mixture.  Once you have a creamy, bubbly, thick mixture that clings to your whisk, remove the pot from heat.  

Once the potatoes are fork-tender, gradually stir in the cream mixture, stirring constantly until thoroughly mixed.  At this point, stir in the garlic, bay leaves, cilantro, and salt.  Simmer for another 15 minutes.  If the soup is thicker than you prefer, you can thin it with milk.  Remove bay leaves before serving.  We had the soup with a loaf of fresh baked bread and a simple salad.  It was great on a snowy evening!

Yes, I know I still owe posts for a throw pillow craft and for homemade Oxy Clean.  It'll get done before the end of the month, I promise!  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Land O Lakes product review!

Hello, all!  Bannon and I were given the opportunity to try and review Land O Lakes All Natural Eggs, through Vocalpoint.  We haven't received any compensation for the review, and the opinions are strictly our own.

Land O Lakes offers all-natural eggs, from hens that are fed, according to their website, a "premium, all-vegetable, whole-grain diet".  The feed does not have any animal fat or byproducts.  Besides the All-Natural eggs, there are also Organic, Cage-Free, and Omega-3 varieties.  As of right now, Giant Eagle stores carry the line in the Columbus area.  I was able to only find the All-Natural eggs, so those are the ones I tested.

Now, people that know me know that I'm kinda "crunchy".  I pay attention to packaging, ingredients, sustainability, blah, blah...What I'm saying here is that I prefer to get eggs from a farm.  However, the only source I have that I consider to be reliable is through the North Market, which is a bit of a drive for me.  I would love to find a good source at the grocery store.  I really think that there is a distinct taste difference between farm-fresh eggs and the ones in styrofoam at the grocery store.  So when I read on the Land O Lakes page that the eggs have darker, more flavorful yolks, I got interested.

I gave the eggs a test run this morning, along with the pancakes that my Big Dude very thoughtfully made for me to freeze last weekend.  First thing I notice about the eggs is that the packaging is plastic, with some odd piece that folds in to cover the eggs.  It's a kind of trifold packaging.  I'm not a fan of plastic, but at least it should be recyclable.

The eggs are brown and very uniform in size.  The yolk did seem to be a bit darker, but not so much so as to really be notable.  I simply fried them with a bit of salt and pepper.  I really didn't get a lot of flavor difference from them.  They were good, but I think I'd still rather get my farmer's market eggs.  Little Dude did eat them, which is a good sign, since he's really picky about when/how he'll eat eggs.  Just for the sake of comparison, we also tried Simple Truth brand eggs from Kroger earlier this week, and I'd say they're about the same, quality-wise, but I prefer Simple Truth's cardboard cartons.

At 3.29/dozen, these aren't cheap eggs.  They are less expensive than other brands of organic/all-natural eggs, but Vocalpoint does have a way to make them a bit more reasonable.  There is a trivia game on the Vocalpoint/Land O Lakes page that allows you to win a coupon for $0.75 off of one dozen.  My store doubled the coupon, which made the final price $1.79.  You can hit the back button to reload the coupon after the first printing, so you can get a second one.  I believe you do have to be a Vocalpoint member to get the coupon, but Vocalpoint is a decent page to be a member of.  I've gotten free Fresh Express bagged salad, free Mott's apple juice, and free Downy Unstoppables from them, as well as lots of high-value coupons.

So, my final review is, get your eggs from the farm if you can, but if not, these aren't such a bad way to go.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A quickie bookshelf makeover

Sorry for the crappy pics, but we did a 30 minute makeover on the little dude's bookshelf tonight. Supplies were 7 sheets of coordinating 12x12 paper, measuring tape, paper cutter, scissors, trim/rickrack, and adhesive. We just wanted to make it pop a bit. It may not be the best job, but everyone here likes it! Here's the before and after...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week 2-Chinese

This may be a shorter/more abrupt post than usual, since I (Kerry) am an involuntary lefty for the evening.  Don't grab the handle of a cast-iron skillet that had just come out of a 350 degree oven, kids.

For our Chinese cooking challenge, my twin nieces who don't want to be named came over to help cook/eat with us.  We started out with egg drop soup.

It was pretty easy, and really tasty!  I was told to be prepared to make it again.  Here's your ingredients:

  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

  • Pour 3 1/4 c. of the broth into a saucepan.  Add the ginger, chives, and salt, and bring it to a rolling boil.  In a small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and the cornstarch until smooth, and hold on to for later.  In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk with a fork.  Use the fork to drizzle a small amount of egg at a time into the boiling broth.  The eggs will cook immediately (and it's kinda cool to watch!).  Once all of the egg has been added, slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture until the soup is the desired thickness.

  • Our main course was a beef and broccoli stir fry with jasmine rice.  We actually prepared the meat marinade before we started the soup, so it had plenty of time to sit while we ate.  My nieces were really helpful during this part-they handled all the chopping, measuring, and mixing for me, so all I had to do was take pictures.  

  • For the stir fry, you'll need a 1lb. flank steak.  Cut it into thin strips (hint-this is easier to do if the meat is partially frozen).  For the marinade, you'll need 2 T. of red wine or dry sherry, 2 T. of soy sauce, 1 t. of minced ginger, and one green onion.  Chop the green onion into small pieces.  Mix all of these ingredients together and marinate the steak slices in it for at least 20 minutes.

  • While it's marinating, you could assemble the remaining ingredients.  Slice 2 red bell peppers into thin strips, and chop up about a half pound (or 2 decent size heads) of broccoli.  You'll also need 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 c. of beef broth, 1 T. of cornstarch mixed with 2 T. of water, 1 tsp. of sugar, and 4 T. of oil for stir frying.  

  • When you're ready to begin, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and briefly stir-fry it until it is fragrant, which will happen quickly.  Then add the meat (I dumped in the marinade with it), browning it quickly, then stir fry it until almost cooked through.  Push the meat to the side and add the broccoli, as well as more oil if needed.  Stir fry it for a couple of minutes, then add the peppers.  Stir fry a bit more, until the peppers are starting to become tender, then add the broth and the cornstarch/water mixture.  Turn up the heat and stir until the sauce has thickened.  Serve hot over rice or noodles.  The rice I used was Mahatma brand Jasmine rice.  I just followed the instructions on the bag, and it was that awesome combination of fluffy and sticky.

  • I know I also mentioned earlier that I was going to do a test run on an Oxy Clean recipe-I currently have a couple of items soaking for the test, so I'll post about it in a day or so, once I can get it washed.  So be on the lookout for that, a wild rice chowder recipe for the upcoming week's challenge, and a quick and cheap way to update your throw pillows! 

  • PS-I'm having issues uploading the rest of the pictures I had wanted to use, so until I can get it fixed, imagine shots of blond girls slicing meat and cutting up green onions, and a final shot of a tasty bowl of stir fry.     


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reddit food challenge week one, erm, I mean week two

So if you remember Kerry and I were nuts enough to agree amongst ourselves to follow reddit's 52 week food challenge this year to try and expand our horizons.  Well, Kerry is very excited and I am nuts to agree to do this due to a few things.  I am a very picky person food wise.  I do not venture far from my favorites.  When I go to a restaurant I usually can only find one or two entrees that sound good to me on the whole menu.  I'm the only one in the family like this, I've taken great pains to make sure the boys try all sorts of foods.

Nothing makes me happier to see that week two's challenge (our week one) is Chinese food.  That is one type of food that I really do enjoy.  I just happened to have cold rice in the fridge Tuesday night.  I threw that in a pan with a little oil, two eggs, red pepper, bacon and soy sauce and fried it all together.  It took under 15 minutes and the husband and kids thought it was a great meal.

Next week's challenge is soup, which I love, love, love to make.  Plus since it's 20 degrees out it's perfect soup weather finally!

- Bannon

A little something to tide you over...

Today will be a big day, blog-wise!  I'll be testing a homemade Oxy-Clean recipe on chocolate milk, and preparing our Chinese recipes for the 52 Week challenge.  I'll have pictures!  And nieces as assistants!

However, in the meantime, I have a small recipe for basil crostini.  I made it because I had a third of a loaf of bread leftover from dinner earlier in the week, and also because I wanted a lighter, less bready version of garlic bread to go with our spaghetti that we had yesterday.  Sorry, no pics this time-they were gone by the time it occurred to me to get them.

Bread, sliced thinly (ideal would be a baguette or smaller loaf)
4T butter
2t crushed garlic
2t fresh minced basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Up to 1/2 c mozzarella or parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line up slices on a baking sheet.  In microwave safe bowl, melt butter.  Add garlic and basil, mix thoroughly.  Brush mixture onto slices of bread.  Top with cheese-I used approximately 1T per slice, but it's a matter of personal taste.  Bake until bread is toasted and cheese is melted-I think it took 7 or 8 minutes for me.  Very flavorful!  My Dudes made them disappear, and so did I.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year, New Challenges!

Hello, all!  Kerry here, reporting on some goals that Bannon and I have set for ourselves for the blog.  We even discussed it at a quiet, sane point in our days, so you know this is legit.

We are going to follow along with's 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge!  Each week, a challenge will be given out, following a rotating format.  Week one is a specific ingredient, week 2 is a theme or cultural idea, week 3 is a dish type (examples being casseroles, breakfast foods, etc.), and week 4 is a particular cooking method.  We're a little late getting started-would you expect anything else of us?-but we're not too late to follow along!

Week one (Jan 2-8) was eggs.  I don't have a specific recipe to share, but I did make some killer breakfast sandwiches.  I fried some amazing pepper bacon from Bluescreek, then fried some eggs in the bacon grease, gently breaking up the yolk but not scrambling it.  Also, if you haven't done this yet, try eating some free-range, farm fresh as possible eggs.  Maybe it's just me, but I can't go back to eating the eggs from the grocery store.  I was surprised by how different the taste was to me.

Anyhoo, after you've fried up your protein spread, put some cheese on it and let it melt in the skillet while you toast up a soft egg bagel.  I used cheddar and Lender's bagels, but that's because it was what we had on hand.  Put your eggs/bacon/cheese tower on the bagel, and enjoy some total comfort food.  I don't recommend it for everyday consumption, but it was a nice treat!

Week 2, which we're in now (Jan 9-15) is Chinese food.  I'm not sure what we'll be making, but I'm thinking at least some fried rice, and maybe some sort of appetizer.  We're encouraged to shop from a local Asian foods store if possible, or the international section of our grocery store.  I'm not sure what Bannon will be posting (we didn't get that far in the convo, the Little Dude became very insistent on watching Blue's Clues around that time), but the goal is for each of us to try a recipe a week.  We may cover for each other if needed, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

To give you an idea of what you (and we) have to look forward two, the next 4 weeks will feature soups, pan frying, beer/wine/liquor, and Brazilian.  I'm not sure what to make for Brazilian week, I'll need to do some homework!

I've also decided to try to feature a monthly craft (with pictures!) and a monthly "green" activity.  The craft will be something for around the house, hopefully using or repurposing something you may already have around the house.  Think holidays, DIY decor, etc.   The green activity will be guiding you, and giving reviews, on things you can make for yourself-detergent, hand soap, play doh for the kids.  Save yourself some money, and feel better about avoiding dodgy ingredients.

Keep an eye out this week for a Chinese recipe or two, as well as a little experimenting with making your own spray-on Oxy Clean!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dinner and Donations

Welcome to 2012!  I’m sure Bannon will agree with me when I say that we both wish you all a new year filled with health, happiness, and positivity!  I know I’m aiming for that for myself this year.  Eating better, cutting down on soda (my weakness is a can of Dr. Pepper!), and being more proactive!  That means finishing those lingering craft projects, cleaning and minimizing clutter, and blogging more!  I’m also hoping to read a new book a month-I love to read, but I tend to go back to my old favorites, so this is more about stepping out of my comfort zone.

Anyway, I got started to day on my goals by cleaning out my toiletry and cleaning stockpiles, and donating as much as possible to a local homeless shelter.  I’m taking a bundle this week to the Homeless Families Foundation.  Along with soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc., I’ll be delivering crib sheets and blankets, as well as some kids books and games.  I like that they focus on providing stability to homeless families, but they place a very strong emphasis on giving children stability through educational programs, tutoring, and summer programs.  My little family of three may not be rich, but we are lucky that we can live a comfortable life, and we like to pay that forward.  If you live in the area, please take the time to look at their site, and see if it’s an organization you’d like to help.

I’ve also been spending my free time lately in the kitchen!  I did a guest blog post for my friend Bonnie at The Not So Modern Housewife, discussing the myriad mysteries of fudge-okay, mysterious to me, because that just seems to be how I work.  Please check out Bonnie's blog, and not just for the fudge.  She is an amazing wife, mother, chef, and homemaker, and I seriously want to be like her someday.  I also made birthday cakes from scratch (more on that another day), and I made a New Year’s Day dinner that, to be honest, surprised me by how good it was.  Pork and sauerkraut for people who don’t like sauerkraut, with garlic mashed potatoes and dill green beans.  I think it’s too good not to share, so here it is!

Pork and Sauerkraut for non-kraut lovers
32 oz. undrained sauerkraut
1.5 T sugar
1 12oz beer (something with body, you can go as stout as you like!)
2-3 lb. boneless pork roast
1-2 t. crushed garlic
Kosher salt, pepper, paprika to taste
Place the sauerkraut in a crock pot.  Sprinkle the sugar over it, then add the beer.  Lay the roast on top of the sauerkraut, fatty side up.  Rub the garlic over the surface of the roast, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Cook on high heat for 6 hours.  This will give you meat so tender it falls apart.  And, as a non-kraut lover...I surprised myself and ate it.  I rewarded myself with chocolate.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
1 5 lb bag potatoes
1 stick butter, softened
½ block of cream cheese, softened
Milk/half and half, as needed
2t. minced or crushed garlic
½ c. shredded cheddar cheese (fresh grates works best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Note:  peeling potatoes for this recipe is optional.  I usually just cut off the necessary bits and leave the rest.
Wash, peel if desired, and cut potatoes into quarters.  Boil until fork tender, about 20 minutes.  Turn the burner to low, drain the potatoes, then put them back into the pot.  Place the pot onto the low burner, then mash the potatoes with a hand masher.  After mashing, add butter, garlic, and cream cheese.  Mash a bit more, until ingredients are blended.  At this point, if you feel the potatoes need more moisture, add your milk or half and half.  Mix it in gradually until you feel it is the right consistency.  Once your potatoes are to your liking, stir in the cheese, salt, and pepper.  Seriously creamy and flavorful goodness!

For the green beans, I simply steamed them with 1 t. dill (dried, because I forgot to get fresh), salt, and pepper to taste.  Steam them for 8-10 minutes, or until fork-tender, then transfer them to a bowl and add butter.

I suspect this will be made again well before January 1, 2013!