Category Archives: Mega Cooking

Update at 2 A.M.

I like my house after midnight. Sure, come tomorrow I’ll wish I’d been sleeping–especially since the alarm is going to blare around 4:30 A.M. at which point I’ll have to jump from deep slumber and get my two older girls up and dressed in cowgirl apparel so they can rodeo with Daddy at work today. Sigh…can you hear me yawning in advance here? Well, I can fully blame myself. The reason I’m rambling here at 2:20 in the morning? I began my cinnamon cucumber ring project without mentally registering the full soaking times for my cukes. I actually forgot they needed to soak for three hours in ice water before simmering for 2 hours on the stove. And I remembered that around 10 P.M. Yeah, wish I’d thought of that earlier in the day, but I knew I needed to get to the grocery store for cinnamon red hot candies before beginning the syrup, so I didn’t even double check the recipe. So sad. I have about one hour left to watch them simmer before throwing together the syrup recipe. So there’s the wherefores.

I just sneaked a “Cream Cheese Spiral”–easy to do in a sleeping household! This delicious tea-time canape with a streusel-type filling all rolled up into a croissant looking treat is Yum! My ten year old found the recipe in The Cookie and Biscuit Bible she gave me last Christmas. I’m in awe that she likes to try these tricky recipes all-by-herself. Yesterday she made a chocolate mint cookie that required her to boil sugar water to hard ball stage. And we don’t own a candy thermometer. She figured it all out and now we have these Christmas-y tasting chocolates with a crunchy peppermint chew to them. Delicious. And horrible for my “diet”.

Yes, I began exercising again three days ago…after taking the last month off. You remember my poison sumac incident? That kept me off the equipment for a week, and by the time I was feeling great again, we were full swing into homeschooling. I stepped on the scales with bated breath last week after avoiding them like the doctor and couldn’t believe I hadn’t gained much of anything. Did I ever update here and tell you guys I’d lost thirty pounds this summer?

My mommy moment this week came yesterday when my 8 year old proudly brandished a stack of spiral notebook pages under my nose, titled, “My Horse, Midnight”…she’d been secretly writing a “book”! It has five chapters, each chapter is half a page long in tiny, neat handwriting and accompanied by detailed illustrations! It’s got bad guys, intrigue, clues and lots of exclamation points!!! The COOL and awesome thing about this is that my 8 year old is finally coming around to scholarly pursuits! It’s been a long road to get to this place. She loves it when I read to her, but she’s only this year gotten past the hump of reading because she HAS to for school, to reading because she WANTS to for pleasure. I can’t tell you how many times last year I threw in the towel to God and hubby, telling myself that it wasn’t worth the angst. It’s a tough act to be your child’s teacher. Sometimes you just want to be the nice guy. You know how ecstatic the kids get when daddy arrives home from work at the end of a long day? Well, the 24-7 homeschooling mom is lucky to get the crumbs off the royal table–and SHE prepared all the food!

You know…this year it’s all paying off. In some ways it’s even more thrilling because I’m so acutely aware of how hard it was last year.  To be able to coast through 6-8 hours a day of school and enjoy 98% of it so much we don’t realize that time is flying as opposed to watching my then 7 year old fight tears over every little brain flex! Last week, I got up from the couch (where we do the majority of our schoolwork), went to the kitchen to pop some popcorn for an “afternoon” snack and I happened to check the time: 6 P.M.! We had no idea it was that late!

So this story she wrote was a milestone of sorts. She’s writing in. her. free. time. Amazing. Not only that, but her math facts are clicking, she’s reading for pleasure and to her little sister. So true that each child learns at their own pace, and some just aren’t ready as early as others. So hang in there, moms and dads. Don’t judge every child by your firstborn.

Well, my cucumbers are calling me. I hope I can see straight in the morning, I have a whole lot on the agenda. With the older girls spending the day with their daddy, I decided to fix a bunch of meals for the freezer. BBQ Meatballs, Chicken Lasagna, and Pizza Pockets to be exact. Hoping for time to mix up a couple buckets of my mom’s refrigerator Ice Box muffins, and just maybe get around to making pear-apple sauce out of the box full on my back porch…oh yeah, and at some point, I’ll have to can up the cinnamon cukes.

If I can prop my eyelids open, that is!

Have a great Tuesday!

Subway Sandwich Contest Excludes Homeschoolers

Thanks go to my pastor for the head’s up on this latest offense against home educators. Check out the World Net Daily article, Subway sandwich contest: Homeschoolers not wanted.

Subway Sandwiches has teamed up with Scholastic Books in offering a writing contest open to all school aged students, grades preK-6, except for homeschooled children. One could assume that this exclusion is based on the $5,000 worth of athletic equipment being awarded to the contest winner’s school of choice. However, as noted at the blog, Capturing Today, this money prize could make a difference even in the hands of a homeschooled student.

“Excuse me, but there are MILLIONS of homeschool students in this nation and this is just discrimination. A homeschool student could easily donate the athletic equipment to their homeschool athletic association, local park, athletic center, neighborhood center or the like. I realize they are doing this to have a mass marketing effect, but they could have just as great a media response from a charitable homeschool student donating the prize.”

Exactly!

Here are some links that may be of help or interest:

Subway Contest Rules

For the scoop on the contest, their four story starters and an online entry submission form, check out the above link. My oldest loves to write and is working on a story to enter. We’ll let Subway sort it all out. I’m not suggesting that the millions of homeschoolers out there swamp their contest.  Really.

Contact Subway

And when you do, please don’t be rude. We don’t need to take the malicious road here, though they do need reminded that technically, every homeschooling family out there is a “private school” entity. And we do eat at their restaurants, and just might be among Scholastic’s biggest customer bases.

The link for the online submission form to boycott Subway

Whether or not you choose to take it to this level is up to you. Boycotts do effect change. As Christians, we can turn the other cheek and show them grace, but I can’t help but see this as a purposed dig at my choice on how to educate my children. Home education is already under fire in California and other places. Some issues are important, others aren’t. My freedom to view homeschooling as a viable choice for my children’s education is being challenged here.  So here’s what I think: If my children’s essays aren’t welcome in this contest, then as a home educator, I really don’t feel welcome in their restaurant.

Subway is perhaps our favorite fast food restaurant…and we have only three or four to choose from in our small hometown. Come on, Subway! What were you thinking?

Any thoughts on this?

Homemade Chicken and Noodles

Chicken Noodle SoupThere’s nothing like Chicken and Noodle soup to comfort away winter’s ailments! This recipe is extremely comforting, and delicious! My sister-in-law, a great cook, fixed this for us over New Year’s. I memorized her chicken recipe and made it for us within the same week! The homemade noodle recipe comes from my tattered Better Homes and Garden’s “New Cook Book”. It’s far from new, but ’tis the name anyhow.

Homemade Chicken and Noodles

  • 1 whole chicken, cut in pieces
  • 1-2 cans chicken broth (recipe calls for 1, I use 2)
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • homemade noodles

Cook chicken pieces and broth in slow cooker/crockpot for five hours on high, or till meat falls off bones. Save broth, transfer broth only to soup kettle. Add homemade egg noodles to boiling broth, turn down heat and cook noodles (about ten-fifteen minutes). Meanwhile, remove chicken meat from bones, discard fat, skin and bones. Shred chicken into pieces with fingers–should crumble apart. When noodles are done cooking, add chicken and one can cream of celery soup. If you prefer to thicken the soup, sprinkle a little flour across top and blend it in.

~ Note ~

Please, if you want this recipe to be the very best, use the whole chicken (cut up), or at least chicken pieces on the bone. Substituting boneless skinless chicken breasts just doesn’t produce the same tenderness and flavor. Don’t forget about the low-fat cream soup substitute recipe I shared yesterday, it’s a good one for this recipe, and if you do use it, just dice your celery and add it to the broth in the slow cooker at the beginning of the five hours, it will be nice and tender and a part of your broth without having to add it to the cream soup mix.

Also, my mom sent over five peanut butter jars of frozen homemade chicken broth, complete with bits of onion and celery…so I substituted two of those for the cans of chicken broth. Can you say brilliant? (Thanks, Mom!) Anytime you make a turkey or chicken, save the bones/carcass, etc and cover them with water–add minced garlic, diced onions and celery and simmer for a couple of hours. You’ll have a healthy broth to keep in your freezer for sick days…or whatever.

Okay, on to the best part, the homemade noodles.

Homemade Noodles

I make mine with half whole wheat flour (home ground), we love them. If you prefer sticking with white flour, that works great too. This batch will be the equivalent to an eight ounce package of store-bought, depending on how thin you roll it out. I use my mom’s pasta machine, which makes a hard job amazingly easy. I’ve rolled it out by hand also, it’s quite the workout, but they turn out just as delicious. The main thing with rolling them out by hand, is to get them thin enough.

  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour, or a mix of the two
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp cooking oil or olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups of the flour and the salt. (At this point, if you want to add herbs to the dry mixture, such as 1 tsp dried crushed basil, marjoram, or sage, go ahead. I don’t usually do this) Make a well in the center of the mixture. In a bowl combine eggs, water, and oil. Add to flour mixture; mix well.

Sprinkle kneading surface with the remaining flour (or use your dough hook in mixer). Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead till dough is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total). Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Divide dough into fourths. On a lightly floured surface, roll each fourth into a 12×12 inch square (about 1/16 inch thick). Let stand 20 minutes. Cut as desired. Roll dough up into a long cylinder, and slice noodles about 1/4 inches wide, unroll.

Or, if using pasta machine, pass dough through machine according to manufacturer’s instructions till 1/16 inch thick. Cut as desired.

Cook pasta, allowing a few more minutes for dried or frozen pasta. Makes 1 pound fresh pasta.

~Note~ I made mine earlier in the day and just let the noodles dry on my counters and cooling racks. I didn’t end up using all of the noodles for our family meal, so I stored the remainder (dry noodles) in airtight Zip lock in the refrigerator. For freezing, my cookbook says to dry the pasta for at least an hour, seal it in a freezer bag or freezer container and freeze for up to 8 months. (This is making me want to mega-cook a whole bunch of pasta, anyone else?)

Now, of course, you could just buy those yummy frozen egg noodles at the grocery store and save yourself this delightful from-scratch experience, but even those don’t compare. If you can, borrow a pasta machine from someone and show your children how to make noodles. Mine had a blast. Of course, 7 year old was sick on the couch, which was why I was making chicken and noodles in the first place…but my 10 and 3 year olds said it was way more fun than play-dough!

Alas, my 7 yo passed on eating anything with us that night. When she finally regained a semblance of an appetite the next evening, guess what she wanted to eat? Romaine lettuce and banana bread. So we made sure she had some of both! Her loss, because that soup was incredible!

Chicken Crescent Bundles

My husband is a true cowboy in all areas, meaning: Beef is his first favorite among meat choices. Here in our mid-western corner of “bovine” country, it’s not uncommon to have cattlemen that refuse to eat chicken. Yes, even to rudeness. Thankfully my dh is not that way, because I happen to love chicken. My point is, dh rarely asks for chicken dishes and he occasionally asks for this one. It’s from my friend Jana, who sometimes comments here. Super recipe. Another one for you, Andrea!

Chicken Crescent Bundles

  • 3 small or 2 large chicken breasts (4 cups worth)
  • 2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 6-8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 TB butter melted, divided
  • 1 TB chives
  • garlic, pepper–just a little
  • seasoned croutons
  • 2 TB milk

Cut up cooked chicken and mix with cream cheese, chives, seasonings, and 2 TB butter and 2 TB milk together in large bowl. Seperate crescent rolls into 8 rectangles, pinching seams. Put 1/3 cup chicken filling on middle of each rectangle, close dough around chicken pinching ends together. Brush w/remaining butter and sprinkle with crumbs.

If freezing, you can wait on the butter/crumbs or not, your choice. I freeze them on trays, and once frozen I dump them into freezer bags. This way they’re frozen with no chance to stick together in the bag.

Bake at 350*F for 25 minutes if fresh, 35 minutes if frozen.

Jana, remember the first time we had these together? You’d just driven 10 hours to visit me, and we had a big 4th of July gathering at Pastor Woody’s house. We’d not decided about attending, unsure whether you and the girls would be up to it after the long trip…but you not only were up for it, you had this great recipe. We threw it together and got so many compliments on it at the potluck that night.

Great memories!

Chicken Tetrazzini

Another mega-cooking favorite, posted here for Andrea, who is cooking ahead in anticipation of her second baby’s birth. This particular recipe is from my friend Laurie. Friends are the best cookbooks, you know.

Each batch makes 12 servings; this is an easy one to triple.

Chicken Tetrazzini (3x, 2x, 1x)

  • 1.5, 1, .5–16 oz package spaghetti (I use angel hair pasta)
  • 3.75, 2.5, 1.25 cups–finely chopped onion
  • 9TB, 6TB, 3TB–margarine or butter
  • 1.5, 1, .5–cup chopped green pepper
  • 16.5, 11, 5.5 cups–cooked, diced chicken
  • 12, 8, 4 cups–grated Monterey Jack cheese*
  • 6, 4, 2–10.75 oz cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 3, 2, 1–10.75 oz soup can milk
  • Salt and Pepper

Break noodles in half, cook as directed until al dente, drain. Saute onions in butter. Thoroughly mix onions and remaining ingredients with spaghetti. Put mix in containers (to freeze) or pans (if baking immediately), according to meal-size preferred by your family. If freezing, I just double bag family meal-sized portions in gallon freezer bags.

To serve: Thaw and place in baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350*F until bubbly, about 30-40 minutes.

I have an earlier post on mega-cooking which explains the column format above (3x, 2x, 1x). I tried to format it like that for this blog, but it was a mess. It’s just an easy reference for me when planning grocery lists. I can decide if I want to double or triple without thinking too hard about it!

*For shopping purposes, 12 cups cheese=3lbs

Homemade Pizza Pockets

Here’s another favorite. This one comes from my friend Cara, of the “homeschool mommies mega-cooking days”… My favorite thing about this recipe is how quickly the dough rises. You can’t beat this recipe for taste and ease of preparation.

Remember, I make several batches at a time with this–that’s why it’s called “mega-cooking”–so this recipe makes 4 batches.

Pizza Pockets

  • 2 batches of dough*
  • 2 lbs cooked sausage, or hamburger or meat of some sort
  • 1 pkg Mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cans chopped mushrooms, or whatever toppings you enjoy. I usually add chopped onions, bell peppers and black olives to mine if I have them on hand…things my family usually passes on…

*Dough

  • 2 pkgs yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 5 cups flour4 TB oil
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  1. Dissolve yeast
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients
  3. Knead
  4. Rise

Assembly Instructions for Pizza Pockets:

  1. Separate dough into 16 balls (I usually vary the sizes a bit and get more balls/pockets. I make small ones for my younger girls.)
  2. Flatten into circles with rolling pin
  3. Stuff with ingredients and fold dough over, sealing at edge.
  4. Cut two or three small “steam” slits across the top with a knife. If I’m making different varieties, I cut twice for hamburger, 3 times for pepperoni, etc.
  5. Bake at 350*F for 8-12 minutes, or till crust begins to brown.
  6. Cool completely, place in freezer bags, with bag of sauce separately.

To eat, you just stick the frozen pockets on a baking sheet, reheat them in the oven, and serve alongside individual dishes of dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce for each 4 pockets
  • seasoned with garlic powder, minced onion, and Italian seasonings to taste.

Mix well and heat before serving.

Chicken Lasagna

In one of my mega-cooking posts, I mentioned that ingredients for Chicken Lasagna are always on my shopping list when chicken is on sale…and I’m finally getting around to posting the recipe, because more than a couple of you have asked me in the past for it, and I keep forgetting to deliver. Sorry!

So here it is:

Chicken Lasagna

  • 1 (10 oz) can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 (10 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • garlic powder to taste
  • 8 lasagna noodles
  • 4 cups chopped, cooked chicken
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
  • 1 16 oz bag California veggies*
  1. Combine soups, broth and garlic in bowl
  2. Layer noodles, chicken, veggies, soup and cheddar cheese
  3. Top with mozzarella cheese
  4. Bake at 350*F for 30 minutes
  5. Cool, wrap, freeze (or eat if you’re not filling the freezer!)

I always double or triple this, and freeze it in disposable aluminum pans. Thaw it the night before and you’re all set the next day for a hearty home-style feast.

For more tips on mega-cooking, and how my friends and I “get it done”, be sure to follow the link!

*I steam the veggies in a saucepan on stove till slightly cooked, and then chop them with my food chopper before layering them in. Personal preference!

Mega-cooking for Camping Trip

When I mention campsite cooking, I get the same response from almost everybody:

“When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to cook!”

So don’t cook while you’re on vacation, cook ahead of time, like I did, and let your husband do the grilling and reheating! Honestly, our biggest worry was keeping ice in the coolers, the meal-fixing was a cinch.

And look at it this way, if you’re camping, and eating food you would have eaten at home anyway, you’re only out finances-wise for gas and any sightseeing expenditures you decide to splurge on.

Here are a few things I did that would be classified under mega-cooking, in the weeks before our trip:

  • Every time I browned hamburger I put aside some in a container in the freezer. By the time we left I had enough browned meat to use for the biscuits and hamburger gravy.
  • The campsite manager warned us ahead of time that South Dakota nights are cold, so I decided to make chili and beef stew–something to stick to our ribs. I just doubled these meals ahead of time, and stuck the extra portions in the freezer. They reheated great in a cast iron skillet over the campfire.
  • In the same way I baked extra cornbread, muffins and biscuits to accompany our meals. I froze the muffins because I made them 2 weeks prior to our trip. The unfrozen cornbread and biscuits reheated in foil on the grill were as good as fresh from the oven!
  • Take some mixes along…I bought a McCormick’s homestyle white gravy mix that only needed water added. I also took a box of pancake mix that only required water to mix up.

I took some frozen yellow cake, planning to serve it with blackberries and whipped cream. Unfortunately, the gallon-sized bag I had the cake stored in was punctured and let melted ice in…ruined the cake. But we enjoyed the sugared blackberries over crumbled blueberry muffins.

My mom gave me a bagful of clean peanut butter jars…these were perfect for transporting eggs. I cracked them into the jars ahead of time and just stuck them in the cooler. Mix and pour for scrambled eggs to eat plain, or mixed with foil-cooked potatoes, or in breakfast tacos. Then toss the jar!

I also packed canned peaches, grapes, applesauce, raisins/craisins/dried blueberries and way more snack items than we were able to consume. (You just never know with my dh, the self-proclaimed snack king) and took dry cereal along as a breakfast back up.

We had milk that needed used up by its expiration date, so I filled two peanut butter jars up and took them instead of the powdered milk I’d planned on taking. Worked great!

Of course, you’ve got to take along hot dogs and ground meat for hamburgers and my girls’ favorite: MARSHMALLOWS to roast…

We ate well, and had food leftover. And by lining the pans with foil before cooking, I saved myself a lot of clean-up.

Have I convinced you yet? :)

Recipes: Smoked Brisket and Dill Dip

Thankfully my mother-in-law knows the in’s and out’s of the fair building’s kitchen, and she beat me there on Saturday morning, June 9th. She already had the 100 cups of coffee percolating, was in the middle of making gazillion gallons of iced tea and pink lemonade, so I got busy arranging the various cookies my mom, sisters and I had baked on some beautiful shiny-gold trays…by the time people arrived at 9:30 A.M., I was wrist deep in thinly slicing my cold briskets so I could get them in the roaster…the busy anniversary day had begun!

Hickory Smoked BBQ Brisket

  • 1 3-6 lb beef brisket (trimmed of fat if desired)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • celery flakes
  • onion powder
  • garlic salt
  • salt
  • Mrs. Dash or Crazy Mixed-up Salt
  • 2 oz. (1/2 bottle) Figaro brand hickory liquid smoke

Sprinkle both sides of meat with all the spices. Wrap meat well in aluminum foil. Place in crockpot. Add warm water until even with top of meat. Cover and cook on low 8-12 hrs. Remove from foil and slice meat. Add BBQ sauce.

Mary’s note: This turns out great in the crockpot, but I never add water as this original recipe directs. Also, since I was making large quantities for the 50th anniversary luncheon, I did most of mine in my oven and cut the baking time in half. Do everything the same, just put it in a 9×13″ pan and bake at 350 degrees F for about 4 hours. Works great! Also, it froze well till needed.

Dill Dressing

(great as salad dressing, dip or on top of baked potatoes)

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. dried onion flakes
  • 1 tsp. dill weed
  • 1 tsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic granules
  • 1/3 cup milk*

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

*Leave out milk to use as a dip.

The two above recipes were the most requested, so I thought I’d pass them along to you, as I’ll be emailing them to several family members anyway. We love brisket fixed that way, it’s so moist and tender, the foil traps all the heat and flavor…mmm!

We fed 75 people at the luncheon, and besides brisket and dill dip, we had sliced turkey, pork loin and ham, Kaiser rolls and wheat buns, sliced bread and all the sandwich fixings…about 10 bags of chips, a big bowl of baby carrots, another big bowl of green and red grapes, and two large containers of potato salad–one flavored with dill pickle, the other with sweet pickle–courtesy of my sweet mother-in-law.

We had a little fun with my dad, with me MC-ing, because it was his birthday as well as their anniversary, then we cleared the lunch buffet away, changed clothes and got ready for the bigger reception at 2 P.M. Cake. Punch (Wowser, that’s another recipe I need to share here–affordable and light like champagne!). Nuts. Mints. Check!

It was a wonderful day, with many people coming all the way from Massachusetts to Oregon to pay tribute to my wonderfulest of parents. My only complaint is there wasn’t enough time to visit with all of them…

At the end of the day, my mother-in-law again showed up and helped us clean, her energy is boundless. I was beginning to feel faint after going to bed at 4 A.M. the previous night, and when the last vehicle other than ours left the parking lot, hubby sent me home with the girls (plus 2 nieces) and stayed to mop the entire building’s floor.

Did I mention he’d been outside in the barns most of the (hot) day giving horse rides to all the children? What a great man, huh? He loved it, much preferring behind-the-scenes to all the social-mongering going on indoors. *smile*

All in all, a wonderful culmination of a year’s worth of planning.

And now we focus on getting to South Dakota for my niece’s wedding!

Hospitality

“Hospitality is so much more than entertaining. To me, it means organizing my life in such a way that there’s always room for one more, always an extra place at the table or an extra pillow and blanket, always a welcome for those who need a listening ear. It means setting aside time for planned fellowship and setting aside lesser priorities for impromptu teas and gatherings.” ~Emilie Barnes

My favorite memory of impromptu hospitality was the day I introduced myself to another homeschooling mom while at the library. We struck up a conversation. Neither of us wanted it to end, and she invited me and my girls to her home for grilled cheese and chicken soup. It was the most lovely time.

Beautiful Home on a Budget (co-written with Yoli Brogger) and More Hours in My Day are my favorites written by Emilie Barnes. She has brilliant suggestions for simplifyCozy Cabining hospitality, so that it’s less about “impressing” others and more about being 100% there for your company at the appearance of each unexpected guest. I loved her suggestions of keeping certain things on hand all the time, cookies or casseroles in the freezer–ready to pull out at a moment’s notice…and the book on decorating is one every homemaker should own!

How about going for an impromptu moment of hospitality this coming week? Stop by a friend’s and insist she come out with you for Dairy Queen or Starbucks. Invite your nieces over for a tea party this afternoon.

Any other ideas?