Tasty tater tot casserole

Tater tot casserole has got to be one of the world’s most yummiest, tastiest comfort foods—ever! I love it. I crave it. I gobble it up at warp-speed! But they don’t really have tater tots in the UK, so it’s a hard dish to make.

I can hear you asking now: What? No tater tots? I thought the UK was a first-world nation?!

Yeah, well, not when it comes to pre-formed frozen potato treats. Or, at least not when it comes to tater tots, since they do have other forms of pre-formed frozen potato treats. And it seems that the low-end, discount freezer stores tend to have a variety of potato treats that—whilst not perfect—come pretty close to tater tots. At least close enough to work for tater tot casserole.

And since I stumbled upon a bag of such treats at Iceland yesterday—with bits of bacon in them, no less!—I figured it was a good excuse to have some yummy comfort food.

Oh, and if you’re from the UK and don’t know what I’m talking about—or if you’re from the States and have led a sad, sad, sheltered life—here’s a recipe for you!

Tater tot casserole

Begin cooking the tater tots as per the bags instructions. At the same time, defrost and partially heat the vegetables (drain if needed) and brown the beef.

When the tots are nearly cooked, reserved 12-20 to the side then mix all ingredients together in a casserole dish. Place remaining tots on top, then return casserole to oven (at the same temperature as the tots) for 15-30 minutes—or until heated through.

Now, go and enjoy! And then make it again and again and enjoy it again and again!

Tasty tortillas

Today we’re going to have a wee cooking lesson. But it’s also a lesson in budgeting and in ridding ourselves of un-needed preservatives. And as the topic of tortillas has come up a few times in the last week, that’s what we’re going to play with today.

First, let’s look at the nutritional side of things, using Old El Paso flour tortillas as our guide. The back of the pack claims the following ingredients: Wheat Flour, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Stabiliser: Glycerol, Salt, Raising Agents: E450a, E500, Dextrose, Emulsifier: E471, Preservative: E202, Flour Treatment Agent: E920.

[Note for American readers: ‘E Numbers’ are how preservatives and additives are labelled in the EU/UK. Find out more here.]

Now, compare those ingredients to my recipe: Flour, water, olive oil, baking powder, and salt.

(Do you see where I’m going here?)

Then, let’s look at the cost. A pack of tortillas will cost you anywhere from £1.20-£3.00 in the UK and, what, about $1.00-$4.00 in the States, depending on the brand and the number/size in the pack. After you add up the cost of a 5-pound bag of flour, 16-ounce (or so) bottle of olive oil, and the negligible cost of salt and baking powder,  you’re looking at less-than £1.00 ($1.00) for a batch of 8-10 tortillas. And yes, I realise that time and electricity/gas for cooking plays into this, too, but I still think homemade is a bargain!

But, more importantly, homemade just tastes better. The texture and the flavour are a vast improvement over store-bought. And you can use whole wheat and/or gluten-free flours if you want.

So, on to the next part: A wee how-to video to show you just how easy it is! (And because I haven’t made a video in a while.) Recipe will follow the video.

Tasty Tortillas

  • 3 cups plain flour (375 g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (8 oz / 250 ml)
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, you’re ready to make some tortillas!
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and oil
  • Add water a bit at a time and mix with hands until it forms a nice, doughy ball (you may not need all of the water!)
  • Form into large ball and let sit (covered with towel) for 15 minutes
  • Divide into 8-10 smaller balls
  • Flour work space
  • Roll each ball flat with rolling pin (or a wine bottle!)
  • Cook on very hot, un-greased pan or griddle for a few seconds on each side—just enough to get pretty little brown spots

These can be enjoyed as a taco wrap, or for a bread substitute for almost any kind of sandwich. I like to spread them with cream cheese or salmon pate and enjoy with a few olives. Yummy!

Cheap eats

I like setting budgets for myself because it keeps me accountable to, well, me. And, because I used to have to budget every penny or risk bounced checks, I’m pretty good at it. Better, because I like to come in under budget, it makes me spend less!

For the last year I’ve had a loose budget of £200 (approximately $310 US) per month to spend on groceries. Sometimes I’d go over that, but most times I would be under. But I’ve never been consistent with it. So, I’m going to start holding myself accountable, which means you get to read about my grocery budget from time-to-time!

Budget: £200 per month

In addition to food-based groceries, the following items will be included in the total:

  • Loo roll and cleaning products—but not personal care products
  • Wine, beer, and spirits
  • Lunches bought at work
  • Take-aways or delivery meals
  • Delivery or taxi charges to get the groceries home

Dinner or drinks out with friends do not count as they are in the entertainment budget and any money left over from one month cannot be rolled into the next month. Instead, remaining monies will be split between savings and my entertainment budget.

The idea is that a strict budget will force me to eat healthier—and wiser. I will be forced to think about my meals and plan them out a bit. I will be encouraged to take lunches to the office (often made from yummy leftovers) and I will make things that I like but that I’m generally too lazy to make.

Oh! And it means that I will get to talk about my homemade this-and-that a bit more. Maybe I’ll even get to share some more recipes with you. Or ‘how to’ YouTube videos! Yes, that will be fun!

And since you’re here, I can share with you that, so far, I’ve £68 for the month of August. Which is scary since it’s only the first week, but that included lots of staple items—including a bottle of vodka for my RyanCentric Martinis. Well, that is if you can call vodka a staple.

Stay tuned to find out if I’ve managed to stay within budget for the month! (If you care.)

Egg-teastic!

I’ve had an eggteastic day making Easter tea eggs. (Get it? Eggteastic. Like eggtastic only tea instead of ta. No? OK, moving on…)

So, about these Easter tea eggs: I have wanted to attempt making tea eggs for a couple of years now but haven’t managed until now. I decided that Easter was a good time to attempt them since I wanted some eggs for the holiday but I felt that dying boiled eggs on my own—and with no one to hide them for—might be a bit sad.

I did a bit of research and found several recipes that I felt I could follow, but since I don’t really follow recipes, I just used the others as guides. (This one served as my main guide, if you’re wondering.) Below is a wee photo guide for my version of tea eggs. I started simple this time, but will add spices next time.

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Over the next couple of days I will use these for devilled eggs and potato salad. I’m egg-cited (get it?) to see how the added flavour enhances some of my favourite egg dishes.

Poor man’s casserole

Growing up, I loved it when I was informed that we were having Poor Man’s Casserole for dinner. It was such a basic meal, but it was rather stodgy and really yummy. It never would have been named as a favourite food, but it never would have been on my ‘don’t like’ list either.

So, when I looked in the cupboards and realised that I had everything I needed to make the dish for tonight’s dinner, I was excited at the prospect of enjoying a meal from childhood. But I’ve renamed it to fit my circumstances better. Instead of Poor Man’s Casserole, I’m calling it Starving Student’s Stodge. Because, well, I’m a starving student on a budget. And I like stodge.

For your own budgeting purposes, the meal can be made for less than £5 (if you buy the cheap beef and generic/store brand beans) and will serve 4-6 people. So, around £1 per serving. Of course, I splurged on better quality beef with a lower fat content, so mine was a bit more than that. (Yes, no matter how tight my budget, I always opt for the better cuts of meat!)

Wanna make it at home? Here’s how!

Starving Student’s Stodge

  • 2-3 raw potatoes
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 1 pound ground beef (UK: Minced beef)
  • 2 tins pork-n-beans (UK: Baked beans)
  • Salt and pepper as desired

Layer sliced, raw potatoes on the bottom of a casserole dish; place sliced onion on top. Press ground beef (uncooked) over potatoes and onion. Salt and pepper as desired (I omit these). Pour beans over beef. Cover and bake in 350°f (175°c) oven for 1.5 hours.

My parents also added a tin of condensed tomato soup on top, but I omit that part. Also, I’ve considered layering some fresh tomatoes, peppers, or mushrooms in with the onion, but I’m not that posh!

Lovely latkes

I love latkes. They’re amazingly delicious and super duper easy to make; inexpensive, too. And the best thing about them (today) is that they fit the bill for my Dark Days Challenge. (I realise it’s been more than a month since I last posted a DDC meal, but it’s not because I’ve not been eating local, rather it’s because I haven’t been blogging about it.)

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are part of the traditional cuisines of several Eastern European counties (often under different names). I learned how to make them when I was in high school and soon developed my own recipe. You know, because I like to do things my way!

So, what makes this a DDC meal? Well, for starters, I’ve used Scottish-grown potatoes and onions, and Scottish eggs. I used butter from Graham’s Family Dairy, just outside of Stirling, and locally milled flour. I also used a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt and British made crème fraiche. Oh! And the sautéed mushrooms were Scottish, too, with a pinch of English garlic. The wine, whilst not local in origin, fits the organic bill.

Here’s the recipe:

Lovely Latkes

  • 2 cups shredded potatoes
  • ½ small onion (diced)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 tablespoons flour (depending on how doughy you want them)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Butter for frying

Mix the potatoes, onion, egg, flour, and salt together in a bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Heat frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet when available) and place a pat of butter in to melt. Once melted, drop the potato mixture in by the spoonful. About a 1/4 cup or so of batter should do it.

Fry for three minutes, then flip over and fry for another three minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

And I’ve had a couple of people mention they’d like to see more videos, so I’ve even prepared a cooking demo for you. Yay!

The dark days

The dark days of winter are upon us. Oh yes, they really are. Even more so here in Scotland compared to my (only slightly) lower-latitude homeland. But those nine degrees don’t make a difference when you’re in the deep dark of winter.

But this post isn’t about the darkness—it’s about food!

You see, my friend The Improbable Farmer has taken up a challenge. And since I enjoy a bit of a challenge—especially one that fits my views—I decided I’d give it a shot, too. (Yeah, I’m such a copy-cat!)

And so, I will be taking part in the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge.

So, you may not know this about me, but I’ve long been a bit of a hippy-granola-freak. In fact, Paul and I were avid supporters of our local Co-Op and worked hard to source foods (and other goods) locally. We even grew our own food and made our own cleaning supplies. Oh! And we had a compost heap and everything! (He made me promise not to knit underwear for the kids we were adopting though. And I begrudgingly agreed—with my fingers crossed behind my back.)

But, yes, I am a wanna-be-hippy. And maybe I’ll take some time to talk about my views on sustainable living and the whole reduce-reuse-recycle thing from time-to-time. Oh—Wait!—I’m kinda getting ready to do that right now!

[Sorry, I seem to have digressed, so let me get back on topic …]

The challenge sounds rather simple—but I expect it will be a bit difficult, or it wouldn’t be called a challenge. The idea is that I will cook one meal a week that is made from SOLE foods (sustainable, organic, local, ethical). Local is often described as being within 100 miles, though the challenge allows for 150 miles because of the winter growing seasons. That said, I live on a small (by American standards) island and I don’t really know the geography well enough to know how many miles away something is. So, I will aim for UK-sourced goods, giving priority to Scotland and the regions closest to Stirling.

I hope that this challenge helps me learn more about the foods produced here in the Central Belt, but also that it helps to remind me of the importance of eating local. Not just for the environmental impacts, but for the economical ones, too. Oh! And maybe it will help to wake up my culinary creativity which seems to have taken a bit of a long nap.

I’m jumping on the bandwagon nearly three weeks late, but since it’s really about reminding myself about the importance of eating local, the dates are arbitrary. I’m sure it will be interesting, especially since I don’t really know all of the local farms and brands and shops, but there’s no better way to learn than a challenge!

So I guess that tomorrow I’ll stop by the Stirling Farmers’ Market and the local deli to see what they have on hand to help me succeed. Wish me luck! (And join along if you want!)

[Speaking of ethical, the photo with this story was taken from my sister’s blog without her permission, but with assumed consent.]

Good ol’ goulash

I love goulash. Growing up, I was always happy to see it on the dinner table. Later, as a grown-up, I loved going to my folks’ house and seeing leftover goulash in the fridge—and eating it! But I realised that I’ve never actually made it myself. I guess it was one of those meals that was never prepared when it was my turn to help in the kitchen.

So, when I decided I wanted to make goulash, I had to stop and think about what was in it. I knew it was simple, but wondered if I could replicate it.

I don’t know if I used all the same stuff my folks use, but it seemed to taste like theirs so I’m calling it a success.

Just Goulash

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 (or so) cups cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh ground pepper

Whilst the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef then add garlic and onions to sauté. Add tin of tomatoes (do not drain), oregano, and pepper to the meat and heat through. Add cooked and drained pasta to pan and mix together. Serve and enjoy!

The entire thing cost about £4 to make, and provided tonight’s dinner plus three portions for the freezer. So, £1 per serving. Unless you include the glass of wine I had with it, which was from a £5 bottle (actually, an £8 bottle that was on an incredible sale!). Figuring four meals per bottle of wine (I’m a light weight!) that means £1.25 per glass, bringing the total cost for tonight’s dinner up to £2.25. That’s pretty good, especially when I think about the limited food budget I have at the moment.

Of course, the best thing about budget meals at home is that when I go out to dinner (like I’ll do tomorrow) I don’t feel guilty! (Yay!)

Dr. Martin's Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Dr. Martin’s Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Frosting and graham crackers

Growing up, I used to love it when we had frosting and graham crackers as part of our school lunches. It was awesome! And the lunch ladies normally mixed food colouring in with the frosting so that we’d have green frosting on St. Patrick’s Day, pink on Valentine’s Day, and whatever random colour they wanted to use other times.

Now that I’m a grownup, I can’t be bothered with silly things like mixing food colouring with my frosting. So I just eat my graham crackers with plain, white frosting.

Of course, sometimes I can’t be bothered to spread frosting on graham crackers. When that happens, I just eat the frosting with a spoon—unless I can’t be bothered with that, either; in which case I just use my finger.

Oh, and just in case you ever come to visit and you see an open container of frosting in the fridge, just know that at some point I’ve stood there with the fridge door open eating frosting with my finger. And I double dip. And I’m not ashamed of it.

Yum. I think I’ll go have another serving now…

Truffles!!

Now that all the truffles are rolled and dipped and drizzled and wrapped, it’s time to share the recipes.

First, to credit the inspiration: My recipes are adaptations from my Better Homes & Gardens cook book. But, like most of my culinary masterpieces, I only use the book as a guide and make my own tweaks along the way. (Sometimes this tactic sets me up for failure, sadly.)

Second, a confession: When these are done they look all fancy and pretty and yummy. The drizzle-effect makes people think that they also look like those expensive chocolates you get in the fancy shops which equates to difficult to make in the minds of some folk. But here’s the thing: These are so simple to make! Really! I think it’s harder to make chocolate chip cookies. But people just rave about these so I keep making them.

[Side note: So, if you’re raving about my truffles to be nice and really don’t like them—STOP! Because I’ll just keep making them for you because I like to make easy things that people love.]

And without any further ado, here are the recipes:

Chocolate Truffles

12 ounces milk chocolate pieces
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
8-12 ounces chocolate pieces (milk or dark)
1 white chocolate candy bar

  • In a heavy sauce pan, cook the milk chocolate and whipping cream until it all melts together and is nice and melty (stir often)
  • Remove from heat and cool slightly then stir in almond extract
  • Mix for a couple of minutes until all smooth and delicious looking
  • Cover and cool in refrigerator for about an hour; it should be set but not rock-hard so that you can work it for the next step
  • Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
  • Shape chocolate mixture into balls with the palm of your hand (up-to 1-inch; I make mine smaller) then place on wax paper
  • Freeze balls for about 30 minutes
  • When balls are about ready to come out of the freezer, begin melting additional chocolate for dipping (I add a small amount of shortening because someone once told me that helps it harden; I don’t know if that’s true)
  • Dip balls into melted chocolate then remove with a fork and slide onto wax paper
  • Once dried, drizzle white chocolate on top

Peanut Butter Truffles

1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
8-12 ounces white chocolate pieces
1 milk or dark chocolate bar

  • Mix peanut butter and butter together until smooth and creamy
  • Slowly add in sugar, mixing well
  • Shape mixture into balls with the palm of your hand (up-to 1-inch; I make mine smaller) then place on wax paper
  • Let balls dry for about 20 minutes
  • Melt white chocolate for dipping (I add a small amount of shortening because someone once told me that helps it harden; I don’t know if that’s true)
  • Dip balls into melted chocolate then remove with a fork and slide onto wax paper
  • Once dried, drizzle milk or dark chocolate on top

Notes:
I like to change it up sometimes and swap peppermint extract for almond then dip in melted peppermint chips to finish. I suppose some sort of butterscotch combo might be nice, too!

I tend to make these at the same time, starting with the peanut butter ones. That way, I can use the left-over dipping chocolates for drizzling.

Each batch makes 30-40 truffles.

Store in cool, dry place. Or eat really fast and skip the storage!

Enjoy!!

No-bake cookies

I remember the first time I made no-bake cookies for Paul. He came home from work, looked at the plate of cookies on the kitchen counter and made sounds of disgust. Those sounds were louder when I told him what was in them.

Later that evening we sat on the couch watching a movie and I brought a cookie through for me. I begged him to just try one bite, which he reluctantly did. Then he asked for another and another until he’d eaten more than half of my cookie.

By the end of the evening, Paul was feeling a bit ill because he’d eaten about five of the things!

Soon, no-bake cookies were a regular request.

I didn’t feel like baking a cake today, but wanted to make something nice to enjoy as I toast Paul’s birthday later this evening. It’s going to be strange not having to fight Paul for the last one. (Though I always let him win that fight.)

No-Bake Cookies

½ cup butter (115g)
2 cups sugar (450g)
½ cup milk (120ml)

Boil for two minutes

Add:
¼ cup peanut butter (65g)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (4 tablespoons)
3 cups oats (270g)
1 teaspoon vanilla (5ml)

Mix together then spoon mixture onto wax paper to cool

Enjoy!

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

Great-grandma’s pickles

Yay! Pickle-making weekend has finally arrived. And just in time, as I was out of pickles.

My folks arrived Friday night with freshly-picked cucumbers from Imperial’s Garden outside of Wapato. They also brought with them my 13-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. (A couple of hours later, the kids’ mom arrived with beer for me from her man, JohnnyO, who knows I like good beer. That deserves an extra yay*!)

On Saturday, my nephew and I woke up early for go for a morning run through the wheat fields as part of our training for our 10k race that takes place on 10-10-10. We’d expected to come home to the smells of breakfast cooking, but the rest of the house was still sleeping! When they (finally) woke, we had a big breakfast to fuel us for a long day of pickle production.

My family’s dill pickles are the best! We use my (maternal) great-grandma’s recipe – with a couple of minor tweaks because of modern-day USDA guidelines. Despite the government’s intrusion**, they’re fantastic pickles!

My niece and foster daughter helped a bit with sorting cucumbers in the beginning, but spent most of the day hiding in the kid’s room playing. My nephew, however, spent the entire day helping make pickles with an amazing amount of enthusiasm! To reward him for his hard work, he will get to taste the first pickle when they’re ready. To remind the girls that today was a team effort, they did all the dishes whilst the rest of us relaxed in the living room. (This reminder didn’t sit well with the dish-doers!)

I know you wish you were here with us for this exciting pickle-making weekend, so I come bearing fun things for you! Yes! Another YouTube video, a photo gallery, and a recipe! Wow! Totally awesome!

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Want to make your own pickles? Here’s the recipe***:

Mom’s Dill Pickles
(But really, they’re my great-grandma’s)

Put 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, and ½ cup pickling salt together in a non-reactive**** saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Then pour the mixture over small cucumbers which are packed tightly into jars along with garlic, peppers, and fresh dill. (Ratios to your taste.) Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Want to try one of the totally awesome pickles that I made? Well, unless you’re a close friend or family member with plans to visit me in the next wee while, you probably can’t. Sorry about that!

Oh! And how about a little lesson, too!?

* I haven’t decided if the extra yay was for the beer or my sister’s arrival.
** We are not bound by these guidelines, but if we want to enter things in the county fair, they must be made to USDA standards. Oh, and it’s meant to be safer.
*** Ratios of water/vinegar have been changed from the original to be in line with what we made. Dad also points out that some of the reasoning for this is that ‘in the olden days’ vinegar was more acidic that it is today.
**** Non-reactive saucepans are a stainless steel, chip-free enamelware pan, or glass pans.

Crazy, crazy, crazy

I made a Crazy Cake today. It just seemed fitting since I’m entering into a whole new realm of personal insanity these days.

Wanna make your own? Here’s the recipe! (And – yay! – it’s vegan for those of you who care about those things!)

Crazy Cake

3 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda (UK: bicarbonate of soda)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cold water
(US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.)

  • Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa together in ungreased
    9×13 cake pan
  • Make three wells or ditches in the dry mixture
  • Pour vegetable oil in the first, vinegar in the second, and vanilla
    in the third
  • Pour cold water all over and stir well with a fork
  • Bake at 350ºF (175ºC) for 30-40 minutes or until tooth pick
    inserted in the middle comes out clean
  • Use frosting or powdered sugar (UK: icing sugar) for topping (I use sugar)