Shopping on Black Friday.

I don’t shop on Black Friday. I hate everything about it, the people, the rude people, the need for stuff. Everything about it just irks me. So I very rarely go out on Black Friday. I’ve only gone out twice that I can remember, once was a mistake – I was on vacation for three weeks from work so the days just sort of blended together – and the second one was tonight. I found the deal that was going to bring me out of my house. It was at a pet food store. I saw they had Greenies on sale at the pet food store. I was leery of this pet food store because of previous experiences. I only go there for two reasons, one, they carry an item my store of choice does not and two, some amazing advertised deal. Just about every time I’ve ever gone there for some advertised special I get to the store I find some utter bullshit about how it’s not actually that price. It is the most annoying thing EVER. I read the ad top to bottom and all the fine print to find anyway they could get out of the pricing in the advertisement.

I decide, against my better judgement to try the store, I figure that at night and a pet food store the crowds shouldn’t be bad. Well, with out fail, their pricing was MORE than advertised and more than the advertised price at my preferred pet food stores! The first store was only running their deal for one day, Black Friday. The other store was running their sale for the entire weekend. I put my cart back and left. Since I was already out I decided to stop by my preferred store.

I walked into the store, they had the item I wanted fully stocked, at a better price point. Then on top of having a better price point and a longer running sale the store employees got a hold of manufactures coupons and taped them to the top of every box. It was a good coupon too for $2 off each box. It wasn’t even that they just printed off a bunch of coupons from a website they some how they got a hold of a whole slew of coupons that looked like they were clipped out of a coupon circular! That’s just suburb customer service. I had a coupon for $3 off so I gave them back one of their $2 coupons.

However, their suburb customer service doesn’t stop at pre-coupon clipping for the customer. I was looking at the cat Greenies and one of the workers said I should check out their super awesome deal on Greenies. (It was an awesome deal at a $1 per bag, I had a coupon for a $1.50 off as well.) I mentioned that I was trying to find some that didn’t have chicken as one of the cats has a chicken allergy. We then engaged in friendly banter, he walked up with me to cash register and along the way offered to carry my purchases. (I declined, I had everything perfectly balanced).

There are many times the second pet food store doesn’t have as good a sales, or their items are a bit more expensive than going to another pet food store or bulk food store, but you just can’t get super customer service like that everyplace.

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Gravy: The mushroom edition

I had no intention of making a post about gravy, but after reading a post from a friend that they picked up a can…YES A CAN, of gravy for Thanksgiving dinner. That stuff is nasty. When it’s heated up it doesn’t even smell like gravy, it smells like reheated dog poop. My mom once picked up a jar of gravy for convenience when she tried to heat it up she blurted out “Oh my God, what is that smell? This stuff is bad and I just bought it!” I then had to say “Nope, that’s just what it smells like.” My mom was thoroughly grossed out. 

The reason I know what awful it smells like is because the Husband used to get the stuff all the time and swear by it, until I forced him to eat my gravy for a few months and then when he tried to go back to the canned stuff he found it was no as delicious as he thought he remembered. 

Gravy is super easy to make, there are all kinds of ways to make it as well. One my favorite ways is to use the roasting pan and roasted vegetables mashing them up on the stove top, but that gravy is a bit more involved this is quick and easy gravy 101. 

The basic ingredients of any gravy are thickener, liquid, and flavoring. Once you get these together you can make a gravy out of anything and in less than five minutes! Since the person who prompted me loosing sleep because they are going to eat canned gravy is a vegetarian and bought mushroom gravy I’m basing this basic recipe as a mushroom gravy.

Basic Mushroom Gravy (for the vegetarians). 

  1. Mushrooms – canned or 8oz fresh, chopped
  2. tablespoons butter (or butter substitute)
  3. 2 tablespoons flour
  4. vegetable stock or vegetable bullion
  5. 2 cups water (omit water if using stock) 
  6. a good whisk

Assemble ingredients, gravy goes fast so it’s best to have everything at the ready. 

Heat a small sauce pan over medium heat, add butter and melt. Once butter is melted toss in the mushrooms, if using canned just heat. If using fresh they will need to be cooked until tender. Once the mushrooms are tender take the 2 table spoons flour and sprinkle it into butter and mushrooms. Let that cook for 1-2 minutes. You can stir it at this point if you want and it will look like a weird chunky mixture. 

Once you have let the flour cook (the point of cooking the flour is cook out that powdery chalky flavor that can be caused from adding your flour as a thickener at the end), add in your bullion.* Grab your whisk and pour the water in slowly whisking out any lumps as you pour in the water. Then bring to a low boil until desired thickness is met. 

At this point season to taste with any spices you would like. Typically I use a pinch of pepper. 

*omit this step if using a stock

Same steps for any other gravy, beef, chicken, etc, just omit the mushrooms and change the stock/bullion but all the rest of the steps are the same. 

Doggies on the couch!

Kiddo was having a screaming shit fit when she went to bed, finally broke down to see what was the issue. I told her I had to work on the computer so she asked if she could lay on the couch. To which I said no, because every time I’ve let her “lay on the couch” to fall asleep when I’m working she ends up playing for 90% of the night or until I go to bed at some un-godly hour. I told her that she could talk to her dad and lay one one of the other couches…the ones not in the same room as my computer/office area. 

A few minutes later I hear her sneaking down the stairs until she arrives in the middle of the room, looks at the couch in the room where I am working and goes “Oooooo, there’s doggies on the couch.” “Momma! doggies on the couch. The doggies are on the couch!” 

And…? 

“We gotta get them off.” 

Then down comes dad who says, “I said you could lay on the other couch, NOT down here.” As he starts to scoop her up. 

“doggies are on the couch!” 

Dad, “We have other couches, leave the dogs alone.”

The dogs slept though all of this, and honestly even if we wanted them to move I don’t think they would have complied. 

Yams?

After my last blogs about sweet potatoes and yams, and the fact that I have never made nor eaten actual yam has got me wanting to try it. Just put that in the list of experimental dishes I want to try and make. 

I went on a quest to try and find a recipe for actual yams. This turned out to be quite a bit harder than expected as everything I found labeled as “yams” were actually sweet potatoes. In my search I came to this site Worlds Healthiest Foods and I thought “Yesssss! some real information on yams!” Which was very informative on the nutrient content of the yam, but when I went to the recipe section there was nothing! I thought maybe their website just seriously sucked so I tried searching using another food, WHAM, tons of recipes. 

So far the only real recipe I’ve found is Coconut Yam Thin bread. I would like to try it but in truth since most of the ingredients are from a speciality story I don’t think I’ll be making it any time soon. Other recipes are pretty basic saying “roast it, or mash it and add spices.” 

Well…what kind of spices, how long does it need to cook what goes with yams? I would like an idea of what I’m about to get into before whipping up some true yams and then trying to feed it to my family, because let’s face it I’ve made quite a few experimental dishes that ended up in the trash because they were not fit for even dog consumption.  

Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Yams

It’s a yam!

Sweet potatoes are not yams. Let’s explore the myth that they are the same thing.

Sweet potato:

  • Ipomoea batatas – scientific name
  • sweet potatoes come from the same plant family as the morning glory
  • sweet potatoes are native to the Central American region
  • they grown on a vine
  • they come in many different varieties
  • starchy roots

Yam:

  • Dioscorea rotundata – scientific name
  • yams are their own plant family
  • yams are native to Africa and Asia
  • closely related to lilies or grasses
  • come in many different varieties (they actually have their own family name for “yams” which is Dioscorea)
  • starchy hard root tuber

Then how did two plants that are not near related botanically end up getting called the same thing?

I’ve found two main reasons for this perpetuation of incorrectness, both coming from very historic means.

Africa’s brought to America as slaves saw the native sweet potato and started calling them yams. Yams themselves were not that prevalent and easy to come by in northern climates so places started calling sweet potatoes “yams” to sell them as yams, and then the good ‘ol government continued the farce by labeling all sweet potatoes as yams.

Yams are a root tuber, like a ginger root, or iris roots, only on a larger scale. Yams can be as small as a traditional potato to as large as five feet in length. Sweet potatoes on the other hand don’t get much larger than a good sized baking russet potato and have tapered ends. Yams grow as tubers and sweet potatoes are more a clump of root storage system. A sweet potato vine will grow from a sweet potato scrap. I’ve never tossed a yam into my compost pile and had it grow, as I’ve never actually had yams (and thus not had the chance to toss them in my compost pile). I had a sweet potato vine pop out of on the edge of the compost pile. I had half a mind to dig it up and see what happened but it was so late in the season that it was mixed back into the pile.

This is what confuses me in todays world. We now have the ability to get yams shipped all over the world but yet sweet potatoes in a grocery store still get labeled as yams, and don’t even think about looking for an actual yam in a grocery store, they are virtually non-existant, at least in the north country where I live. I read that yams have become an invasive species in the south where the climate allows you to grow yams. Maybe in souther states you can pick up a yam at the grocer. Personally I have only ever witnessed a true yam at one grocery store, which happens to be known for it’s produce, and where I snapped the photo of yams. When I took the photo I was more surprised than anything else that they had yams for sale. They had the sweet potatoes right next to the yams.

So all those canned “yams” you’ve choked down every year at Thanksgiving have never been truly yams at all. I really want to go buy some yams, now that I know where to get them, and cook some up just to say I’ve actually had yams and can compare the difference.

But since I’ve never had yams here is the Husband’s favorite sweet potato dish

Carrie’s Sweet Potato Casserole

That is the original recipe, however that one forgets the how-to on the topping. Too bad. Here is the topping recipe:

  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Combine and mix well.

I double the recipe because I hate having a random 1/2 cup of evaporated milk left over. It’s light, fluffy, super sweet, and delicious. If the recipe is doubled I highly recommend a 9 x 13 pan to cut down on cooking time.

Savory Potato Soup with pan fried mushrooms

Photo of potato soup

I really wanted potato soup this week, but I wanted something savory tasting more than creamy. I also did not have any bacon, or ham on hand. Here is what I came up with, I was quite happy with the result and thankfully this time I wrote it down so I can make it again. My typically experiments in food I don’t write down and then I can never remember what exactly I did, creating a new dish every time.

This dish could, with a few changes become a pretty good vegetarian potato soup.

Savory Potato Soup with pan fried mushrooms:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp bacon grease (use any oil vegetarian)
  • 1 cup onion – chopped
  • 1 cup celery – chopped
  • 2 cups carrots – chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 6 cups potatoes – chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock)
  • 1/4 tsp Marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp Sage
  • 1/2 tsp Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk

1. Heat a large pan and place the bacon grease in the pan and let heat. I always have bacon grease on hand and use it to cook many dishes. Especally when I want a more smokey meaty flavor in dishes. It will yield a different flavor but any oil will work for this stage including butter, or olive oil.

Once the oil is hot place the chopped onion and celery. Cook in the bacon grease until the onions are just tender.

2. Add the carrots, potatoes, chicken stock, pepper, marjoram, sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender and beginning to break down. I simmered mine on low for a few hours.

3. Once potatoes are fully cooked mix 1 cup milk with 2 tablespoons flower, make sure that all the flour is blended into the milk and there are no lumps present. Add the milk and flour mixture and remaining cup of milk to the soup. Bring to bubbling.

2013-11-18 17.08.00

Mushrooms:

  • 1 container fresh mushrooms – sliced
  • bacon grease (or oil of your choice)
  • rosemary
  • sage

1. Heat oil in a pan, add mushrooms a pinch of sage and rosemary. Cook over medium high heat until mushrooms are tender and beginning to brown.

2. Top soup with mushrooms and a dollop of sour cream.

2013-11-18 17.56.07

Using butter, oil or bacon grease will create a different flavor for each, the bacon grease gave it a much more meat-esq flavor than butter or other oil. The carrots gave the soup an orange-ish hue.

Breaking into the canned foods

Now that it’s winter, it’s time to start breaking into the preserved foods. So far the largest hit have been the pears. We polish off a quart as soon a they are opened. The spiced pears were not liked nor the spiced peaches. I love spiced peaches and even I wasn’t as impressed with them as I have with others I’ve tried. Too bad because I was super excited about having warm spiced peaches with cream. They are still delicious, but not as over the top fantastic as my hopes had been so just a wee bit of a let down. We’ve also put a large dent in the canned tomatoes. The tomatoes will be the first thing we run out of, because according to my calculations we use about 100 quarts of tomatoes a year. I only put up maybe 30 jars (I lost count along the way).

But…it was my first year canning, everything is just a trial, see what we like, see what we actually eat, and hopefully I’ll have a better idea for next year. I am keeping a spread sheet tally of the food we eat, give away and/or just don’t like. And, if I can find away to pull roughly $1,750 dollar out of thin air we can get some trees removed and have a garden. Go-go gigantic oak trees! We had one tree that was dying taken out last year. The drought and gypsy months and carpenter ants have done a number on our oaks. Most of them are not in good condition. They are skinny, tall trees that have horrible leans. The one infested with carpenter ants is huge, and leans right over my neighbor’s  house. We’ve wanted it removed for years but he price is astronomical. The first year I had it quotes was $2,000. Simply put, we don’t have the cash on hand to take out a tree. Last year, with a few different companies I got a quote for 1/2 the original but opted to take out the tree that was dying as opposed no-as-much-dying-just-in-bad-shape tree.

But, I am digressing about my tree problems.

We cracked open our first jar of dill pickles. They tasted delicious…but…they were mushy. Mushy as pickles go anyway. They had a great dilly bite with a hint of garlic but not one that was over powering like some pickles can be. They work great on sandwiches but because of the mushy-ness of the pickles they are not ones I’m going to be eating as a snack. I made a few rounds of pickles both slices and spears. I wonder if these were my late season pickles that I had to buy from a grocery store instead of the farmers market. I’m want to try my other jars but have to wait until this jar is eaten through. I’m also fairly certain that I made way too many pickles. I have size jars of dill spears, and seven dill chips along with eight or nine bread and butter pickles. I don’t even like the bread and butter pickles. The bread and butter pickles do have a nice snap to them. So I hope its just this dill batch that ended up less snappy than I prefer.

 

Stuffed Pasta Shells

Image

We eat large amounts of pasta, all kinds. I think noodles is my go-to food group (if noodles could be considered a food group). One of those pasta dishes that we like to eat are stuffed shells, because they are SO EASY! Most of the time we just buy them frozen from Schawn’s, add a jar of sauce bake and DONE. Love it. It’s also meatless so it fulfills the eat less meat quota.

However, there is one problem with this delicious dish, one of the kids doesn’t like it. As in it makes her gag. Since she loves cheese and eat ricotta in other foods I guessed that it was a texture issue and not a taste issue. I decided to try and make my own stuffed shells that had enough other stuff in them to negate the texture off an all cheese ricotta stuffed shell. Experiment was a success.

It’s meatless, not dairy-less, obviously since it’s mostly cheese.

Recipe:

1 box jumbo shells – cooked to al dente
Prepared pasta sauce of your choice

Stuffing Mixture:
1 tbls butter
1 – 8oz package fresh mushrooms – chopped
1/2 red pepper – chopped
1/2 onion
1/2 onion – chopped
1 box frozen spinach – thawed, drained and remaining liquid pressed out
16 oz container of ricotta
1 cup mozzarella shredded cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese – shredded or grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Heat butter in sauté pan until melted, grate 1/2 onion using a box grater right into the hot butter. Let coot for a minute, then add mushrooms, chopped onions and red pepper. Why the grated and chopped. I wanted the grated onion to cook down, add moisture and flavor the ricotta. The chopped I wanted simply for creating a more corse texture.

Let the vegetables cook until just tender and then remove from heat.

2. In a large bowl combine the cheeses and add the spinach flaking it apart as you incorporate into the cheese. This does not need to be mixed well, the idea of adding the spinach now is just to make it a bit easier to combine when adding the other vegetables.

3. Let the vegetables cool for a bit, as you do not want them so hot that they cause the cheese to start melting. Add that to the cheese/spinach mixture and mix well to get an even distribution of ingredients.

4. Put a think coating of the sauce of your choice on the bottom of a baking pan. Then begin stuffing shells. A regular table spoon does the trick nicely. The ends of the pasta should be able to touch, you don’t want the shells so stuffed that the filling leaks out but a bit of a gab isn’t an issue. (see photo above) Place the finished shells seam side down into the baking pan. Once the pan is full top the shells with sauce and bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly.

Since I made this for just the girls and I, I only made a small pan, giving me ample amount of extra. I froze them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen solid I tossed them in a gallon sized freezer bag. Now I have a meal at the ready.

This is an easy meal to make but since there is a vegetable cooking step, a stuffing set and then a baking step it does require a bit of time before hand. It’s a great on hand meal for the freezer that could easily go from freezer to table in 30 minutes if the shells are already prepared. It took me about an hour to prep the shells, and that was including two screaming children and having to stop every five minutes to get kool-aid, a snack or just carry one of them around for five minutes to get them to settle down. It’s a do-able week night meal for sure but I think I’ll just try to keep them on hand in the freezer for the future fast fix meals.

Carrot Cake: for sale?

I hear my carrot cake is the best carrot cake ever, at least that’s what I’ve been told. 

One of my former co-workers used to tell me I could make a living just off of my carrot cake. 

I am toying with the idea of taking orders for the holiday season…but not sure. The biggest question is would anyone really want to buy a carrot cake and the next biggest question is how much to charge. I’d have to price everything out (not like it’s that big of a deal), but it is a bit of research. 

The carrot cake is special because it’s made with love. It’s dense cake, weighing in around 8 lbs of cake. It has over three cups of hand shredded carrots and a home made cream cheese frosting. The frosting is used as a filling and on the top, no frosting on the sides because the cake is too intense for a full frosting. 

It truly isn’t a cake you can get in the store and I have yet to find even a baker in the area that has one similar. 

If my house wasn’t full of candy, cookies and other sweet things I would make one as a sample. 

As for other baked goods I’ve decided I want to try making a traditional english pudding. It uses suet that I would need to render. It’s more of a food experimentation since I’ve never cooked with suet, let alone have to render it myself. Next time I head to the butcher I’m going to try for suet.