24 August 2012

Slow Cooker Not-So-Sloppy Joes

Dear Lissy,
The books are out, study areas set up, shiny new school supplies stocked, and assignment books filled and ready for next week.  The first six weeks of school are a bit of a challenge.  I invest a great deal of time up front to insure that each of you will be able to work independently for the remaining 30 weeks.  The garden is still putting out like a champ, so my afternoons are full, too.  Slow cooker meals are a blessing, and I bank all the meals I can into the freezer to give me longer afternoons.
See the original (sweeter!) recipe here.  
Slow Cooker Not-So-Sloppy Joes originally came from allrecipes.com.  The recipe makes a kid-friendly sloppy joe that is thick and sweet.  I modified it for the slow cooker, and increased the recipe to use an entire bag of ground beef from the butcher.  It makes three meals worth of sloppy joe mix for our family of five (Dad & the boys each have two, you and I eat one).  If the mix is too bland for your taste, replace the catsup with your favorite BBQ Sauce.

Slow Cooker Not-So-Sloppy Joes
24 servings
5 lbs lean ground beef, pork, venison, turkey, or combo of all
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cups finely chopped
1 family sized can condensed tomato soup
1 regular size can condensed tomato soup
3/4 cup catsup
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsp. salt (I use celery salt)
1 tsp. garlic powder

24 buns TOTAL.  I usually buy these fresh for each meal, 8 at a time.

If desired, brown ground beef, drain, and rinse.  Very lean beef, venison, or ground turkey will not need to be pre-cooked.  Mix all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours, stirring occasionally so you don't end up with meatloaf.  Mixture will be thick.  Divide mixture and refrigerate portion to be frozen.  **Here's a little trick I learned in the foodservice industry.   Refill 20 oz soda bottles with water and freeze.  When you need to chill a soup or stew quickly, place the frozen bottle into the center of the container of hot soup/stew and the mixture will chill almost twice as fast.  Wash the outside of the bottle and return it to the freezer for future use** Hold portion to be served warm while buns are toasted.  Divide mixture evenly between buns and serve.  Once mixture in fridge is cold, divide into Ziploc bags, press out the air, and freeze flat.

I try to enjoy the busy seasons of life, knowing I'll miss them when they're gone.  Freezer and slow cooker meals help me keep my head and heart stable while my world is on fast forward.

 Much Love,

09 August 2012

Tween Transitions

Dear Lissy,

It's hard to believe my little toddlers are all tweens and teens!  The old saw, "the days crawl by, but the years fly by" has certainly been true in our lives.  Parenting tweens and teens is a challenge I've looked forward to for many years.   I'll use the verse from Luke, " And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." as my outline for our thoughts on parenting through the tween and teen years.  This letter is bittersweet for me, because I will most likely be home in Heaven by the time you need these words.

08 August 2012

First Aid: Spray-On Sunburn Relief

Dear Lissy,
Today's letter is just a quickie.  Grammy Kat was badly burnt last week, and we had to whip up a batch of spray-on sunburn relief because she couldn't bear to touch the tender skin.  I use the same formula for rashes  and areas that get lots of bug-bites.

1 bottle (16 oz) Witch Hazel
1 Tube (1 oz) 1% hydrocortisone 

  1. Pour about 1/4 of the bottle of witch hazel into a large spray bottle.  
  2. Squirt the entire tube of hydrocortisone into the bottle of witch hazel, and replace the cap securely.  Shake well until hydrocortisone emulsifies.  
  3. Pour the mixture into the spray bottle, and gently shake to combine with the rest of the witch hazel.
  4. Spray liberally on sunburn, avoiding eyes, nose, and mouth.  Spray or pour on cotton balls to treat the face.  It can be sprayed on the scalp, but will make your hair funky.
  5. Re-apply as needed.
Of course, it's always best to use sunscreen and bug dope or cover up, but the occasional emergency occurs.  This inexpensive solution offers instant relief and helps heal the skin.

Your freckled white mom!

Linked up at Works for Me Wednesday and Homestead Barn Hop

06 August 2012

Cheap Eats: Petits Riens

Cher Lissy,
One of your favorite suppers growing up was Petits Riens ("Little Nothings").  I occasionally find myself with bits and bobs of ingredients and/or leftovers that all get cooked into a hearty casserole for a family-only meal.  Although I typically season it with French herbs; Italian, Moroccan, Indian, Southwestern, or Chinese also work well.  A simple green salad and a loaf of great bread turn Petits Riens into a meal.

I don't have a recipe, but I do have a formula.  This recipe makes enough for 5-6 people, halve it for a couple.
Petits Riens

Starch, cooked:  Up to 4 cups of any kind of cooked starch.  Don't worry if it's already been seasoned, and feel free to combine multiple starches.  Rice, pasta, barley, corn, couscous, and oven roasted potatoes are all fair game.  I don't use bread, however.  I also try to mix starches that are about the same size -- penne and corscrew or barley, rice, and acine de pepe.
Protein, cooked:  1#, more or less.  Seriously, don't stress or measure the amount.  I've used everything from breakfast sausage to ends of deli meat to leftover taco mix.  A little bacon, sausage, or pepperoni added to the cheese topping gives great flavor. Hard-boiled eggs work well. Canned, frozen, or baked beans are also great.
Vegetables:  I don't use any (except corn, which is technically a grain, or thinly sliced tomatoes just under the cheese.)  I have never been a fan of vegetables in casseroles or roasts, and I almost never have leftover veg.  I always serve Petits Riens with a salad, too.
Sauce:  3-4 cups, freshly made.  Marinara, bechamel, veloute, or even a simple stock gravy are all fair game. Toss in a few dried mushrooms or just spices -- the sauce will flavor the Petits Riens and enhance or cancel the other flavors in the leftovers.  The freshly made sauce is what makes this dish special!
Cheese:  1-2 cups, whatever is on hand, optional.  Again, don't buy cheese for this event.  Use sliced American, cream cheese, shredded cheddar or mozzarella -- whatever you have lurking in the fridge.  I've used string cheese or even an egg mixed into sour cream in a pinch.  Avoid blue cheese or any other very strong cheeses.

Heat and stir together the starch and protein.  Heat or make the sauce, and fold into the meat/starch mixture.  Turn into a large casserole dish that has been lightly oiled.  Top with cheese.  Bake 25 minutes at 375 until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese starts to brown,  Serve hot.

Tonight's Petits Riens was sauteed chicken breast slices, brown rice, barley, and stelline pasta in a wild mushroom cream sauce flavored with tarragon, marjoram, and nutmeg.  I topped it with shredded Mexican cheese and crisp bacon.  I served an apple fan on a bed of greens with homemade bleu cheese dressing and Portuguese Sweet Bread alongside the Petits Riens.  The whole meal came together in under 45 minutes.

I'm making another Petits Riens for tomorrow's lunch with penne and corkscrew pasta, just under a pound of  browned hamburg and  leftover corn cut off the cob.   I'll combine most of a jar of marinara with 1/2 carton of leftover sour cream.   The whole Petits Riens will be topped with mozzarella and shaved parmesan, a handful of pepperoni slices cut into quarters, the end of a can of diced black olives, and a handful of chopped fresh basil from the garden.

The weather will be turning cool in another week or so, and we start school at the end of the month.  Petits Riens helps me use up the end of quick-cooking summer ingredients as I restock the pantry and freezer for the heartier fall and winter meals.

Je t'aime plus qu'hier moins que demain,

P.S.  April 2013 - We've discovered a FAVORITE new combo for a Mexican bake (pequeños nadas?).  4 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in chicken broth), 1 # cooked chicken chunks seasoned with chili powder, a pint of sour cream, a 4 oz can of diced green chiles, 2 tsp cumin, and a pound of corn roasted on an oiled pizza pan.  Turn into an oiled 13 x 9 x 2" pan, and top with shredded Mexican cheese.  Bake at  350 until bubbly and golden brown.  Serve with fresh salsa.

Linked up for the Homestead Barn Hop

01 August 2012

Moroccan Mint Flavored Water

Dear Lissy,
Hey, girlie!  It's been hot, hazy, and humid for most of the summer.  I confess, iced coffee or iced tea is far more appealing during this hot weather than plain old water, but I really don't want to drink my calories. I've been brewing up this favorite drink from the dead dark of winter when we all had the tummy bug.