Monday, February 9, 2015

Strawberrylicious Valentines for $5

Beautiful chocolate covered strawberries cost $50 a dozen plus time spent online to order and time to wait for delivery.

I would never have thought of something like this as a Valentine's gift for my husband until he made rave comments when he saw a television commercial about them. Checking several sources online, I found the cost to be $36.95 - $49.95 per dozen PLUS delivery which took all prices above $50.

Fortunately, I remembered that I had both vanilla and chocolate Almond Bark left over from Christmas and found this box of 15 huge strawberries at Walmart for $5.00. Just 90 seconds microwave heating time to melt each of the flavors and I was in business. 10 minutes, max, from start to clean-up. I saved a minimum of $45 and my husband will be thrilled.

The "Large" egg was included in the photo so you can see the great size of the berries. Also, I left half of them plain in an attempt to salvage at least a fragment of my diet.

Valentine's Pizza

With Valentine's Day approaching, a heart shaped pizza says, "I love you", to the family without spending a bundle.
I just used a box, pizza kit that usually makes 2 medium pizzas. The crust dough is simple to put together and I let mine "rest" for 25 minutes for a lighter crust which allowed time to prepare additional toppings.
Using a cookie sheet, I was able to easily shape a 14" x 17" heart, making for a big, family sized pizza.
I had the idea to use half strips of string cheese to fill the crust and it worked perfectly.
No need to be fancy. Just pinching the crust around the cheese works well.
Spread with sauce, add toppings, bake as directed and..............

Make a Valentine's Bunting

A perfect place to tuck a love note...
or as my mother would say "a billet doux."  (pronounced billy do)  It's a French phrase literally translated as a "sweet (or soft) ticket, a short love letter".  Mother's interpretation was a "love note".  And this family garland is the perfect repository for love notes from and to each member of the family. 
Tucking the flaps inside envelopes and punching four holes along the topside of each one allows for easy stringing on a ribbon or piece of yarn.  I added a little extra decoration with red felt cut-outs dangling by red thread.
Paper doilies, construction paper, scissors and glue...a child's provisions for creativity and great memories. These days it's the grandchildren who enjoy making Valentine's cards but I remember my children doing the same and my memory even stretches back to my own childhood feelings of accomplishment over a few 'especially lovely' creations of my own.  As the cards or notes are made, they can be slipped into the appropriate envelopes to wait for Valentine's Day.
Cost: $0  All materials on hand.

Here are links to two other Valentine's Day ideas:  Making Chocolate Covered Strawberries and making Valentine's Pizza

Monday, December 29, 2014

Easily Restore Used Pillar Candles

After the holidays, many of us are left with ugly, seemingly useless, pillar candles.  
An old iron and a few minutes will have them looking new again.
To get started, break off the brittle, blackened wick tips with your fingers.  The thin edges of the candle tops can be cut away in advance with a knife if you like but it isn't really necessary.  The melting process is a quick one.
The old-fashioned iron, (without steam vents) that I picked up at a thrift store for $1, is perfect for this quick task. On a medium setting, halfway between Silk and Wool, hold the iron with the pointed side down so the wax pours off the tip.  Collect it in a heat-safe container like a Pyrex measuring cup. (If you use a regular, steam iron, hold it with the point facing up and let the wax pour off the heel of the iron so it does not get into the steam vents.  Running the iron across a paper towel when finished will remove any wax film and your iron will be just fine.)
Melt the wax down until 1/4" of wick is revealed.  I left the discolored wick tips but you can easily melt a little more wax away and trim the wicks to pristine white.  And there you have it.  The candles are shorter but certainly ready to be used again.

Stand used taper candles in an old candle jar and fill around them with the accumulated melted wax.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Imagine a Turkey Dinner as Finger-Food

Yep - it can be done - DELICIOUSLY!!!
Tiny toast cups that taste like stuffing, filled with gravy-coated turkey bites, topped with cranberry sauce.  One or two bites that fill the mouth with everything you love about a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  The perfect finger-food for all those holiday gatherings.
Cut crusts from square, white bread and sprinkle with Poultry Seasoning and a little black pepper.  Ease the bread squares into muffin tin(s) and press into place with a small glass.  Place in cool oven (185-200) until thoroughly dry and crispy.
While bread cups dry, mix 1 1/2 to 2 cups of chopped, cooked (preferably leftover) turkey with 1/2 jar of Roasted Turkey Gravy.  (will fill 18 bread cups)
Fill toasted bread cups with turkey/gravy mixture...
top with a little Jellied Cranberry Sauce.  Place a piece of foil lightly over the top of the pan(s) to keep toast tips from over-browning and bake 7 minutes at 300 degrees.  Remove foil and allow tips to brown slightly, about 2 minutes.  Lift cups to serving tray and enjoy.  The little cups of deliciousness are not at all messy as finger-food and the flavor is amazing.

try this:
 Spread a can of separated Crescent Rolls with a mixture of drained Sweet Potatoes (small can) and very well drained Crushed Pineapple (small can).  Add 1 tsp. Cinnamon and mix well to form a spreadable paste.  Top mixture coated Crescents with thinly sliced ham and roll up.  Bake 1 to 2 minutes longer than  directed on can. (Mixture covers 3 cans of Crescents)  Yummy!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Yay - Soup Weather!!!

Inexpensive, hearty, healthy, comfort food for the cold weather.  Pair with fresh-baked bread and mealtime suddenly becomes something memories will be made of.

Perfect White Bean Soup

1 lb Dry White Beans  (cover with water and let soak overnight)
1 Ham Bone
3 Onions - coarsely chopped
1/2 bunch Celery - finely chopped including leafy tops
1 Tsp Garlic - minced
1-2 c. Instant Mashed Potatoes (for thickening)
Salt & Pepper - to taste (go a little heavy on the pepper)
Rinse beans that have soaked overnight.  In a large pot, bring beans, ham bone, onions, celery, garlic and 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours.  Remove ham bone and cube the meat.  Add the cubed ham back to the pot with enough of the instant mashed potatoes to bring the soup to the consistency (thickness) you prefer.  


Friday, October 31, 2014

Jump into Fall

 My apologies for having been away so long.  It was a summer of great sadness for me as my husband was laid to rest.  Now it is time to change as the seasons do, to take a deep breath and......
With Three Popcorn Ball Recipes

There's something warm and wonderful about gathering in the kitchen with children anxious for the sweet treat that will soon be shared.  Even if the children show up later, knowing that we 'made' something for them is special. 
These recipes are from family members collected long, long ago. In each case,  the recipe has a twist 
(which may be omitted).
This first one, my Grandmother's, is the oldest.  The worms, mixed in and sprinkled on are a just-for-fun addition.
 Recipe #1

Muddy, Wormy Popcorn Balls
1/2 c Molasses
1/2 c. Corn Syrup
2 tsp Vinegar
1 Tbsp Butter
5 - 6 cups Salted Popped Corn (1 Microwave Bag)
1 bag of Gummy Worms

Combine first 3 ingredients in pan over medium heat. Cook to a brittle but not crack ball stage. Remove from heat. Stir in Butter. Pour over popped corn & stir to coat. Shape into 6 to 8 balls.

Opinion: This was by far the easiest, quickest recipe. I think the flavor is 'old time' perfect. The worms, mixed in and sprinkled on, are a just-for-fun addition, perfect memory makers for an evening of thriller movies with the children.

This second one is more for adult tastes.
Recipe #2
Almond & Raw Sugar Popcorn Balls
2/3 c. Light Corn Syrup
2 c. Raw Cane Sugar
2/3 c. Boiling Water
2 Tbsp Vinegar

Combine the above ingredients in a heavy pan, then add 2 tsp Cream of Tarter
 Boil to soft ball stage. (Notice the rich nutty color from the raw sugar)
Remove from heat. Stir in:
2 tsp Almond Extract
1/8 tsp Baking Soda.

 Pour over 2 bags of Microwave Popcorn (appx. 10 cups) to which 1 cup of Sliced Almonds has been added.Mix and mix and mix well. Butter your hands. Form into balls. Cool on wax paper. Makes 8 large balls.
WARNING: Hot sugar is really, really, really hot. Be careful not to burn yourself.
Opinion: This is my second favorite. Love the way the addition of the baking soda caused the entire mixture to froth up. This may be the reason it coats the corn more easily.

# 3 is Colorful & Fun for the kids
 Recipe # 3

This recipe made more than twice as many popcorn balls. They were slightly smaller than recipe #1 but I think the real difference is that they didn't pack together tightly. The pieces stuck lightly to each other and the resulting balls are significantly lighter in weight and less dense than the first batch. Another difference is that this mixture cooled very quickly making the mixing process a bit more difficult. I had to work very fast.
"O" My Goodness Colorful Popcorn Balls
In a heavy pan with buttered sides, combine the following:
2 c. White Sugar
1 1/2 c. Water
1/2 c. Light corn Syrup
1 tsp. Vinegar

Cook to hard-ball stage. Remove from heat and add:
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Pour over 2 bags of freshly popped microwave popcorn (appx. 10 cups*) to which 4 cups of colored cereal has been added. Work as quickly as possible, mixing well to coat. Butter your hands and form into balls. Makes 18.

* If you are using regular popcorn instead of Microwave bags, add 1/2 tsp. SALT to sugar mixture.

Opinion: This recipe was a bit more difficult in the coating process and hardened very quickly. I really struggled with it but it was worth the effort according to the grandchildren.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How-to Restore Solar Path Lights

If your garden solar lights have stopped lighting your path, don't despair.  They can be rejuvenated.  Some are easier than others.  I've chosen my globe lights (the most difficult to access) to demonstrate the process.  (Wondering if the savings is really worth the labor.)
 Sometimes just a good cleaning of the solar panel on the top will restore light.  Sometimes, they have to be taken apart and cleaned from stem to stern.  The things you will need are: clean soapy water, a wet cloth and a dry cloth, an old toothbrush, a small cross-head screwdriver, and an emery board or fine sandpaper, a bit of time and patience.
Remove the post cover and post to find access to the battery.  Mine had to be unscrewed.

Oh yuk!  Look at all the sand that has filtered into the supposedly closed chamber.
 Three incredibly small screws held the decorative piece in place.
And three slightly larger but still tiny screws connected the base.
It's hard to believe the amount of intrusion, even beyond the sealing gasket.
There was even a BUG inside - eeeee!
Certainly time for a good washing...and the glass was as dusty inside as it was outside.  Go figure.
 Not wanting to wet the wiring, I used a dry toothbrush to clean hard-to-access nooks and crannies.
Since the battery that came with the light is 'rechargable', I gave it a good cleaning, too...
using the fine side of an emery board to remove rust and debris, ensuring a good connection when it all gets put back together again.  I suppose this would have been a good time to just change batteries but I didn't have any of the rechargable ones.
Putting it all back together again, the light looks brand new and the glass itself is obviously cleaner and more transparent.
So, now I have this ONE light recharging itself by sitting in the umbrella hole of a sunny table and it's back to the process but I will be doing them 'assembly line' fashion so it won't take too long...and I might not start until tomorrow....or the day after.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Old-time Watermelon Rind Preserves - Almost FREE

It's watermelon season again and another opportunity for grown-ups to teach the little ones the disgusting but thoroughly fun art of spitting seeds.  (I know a number of melon patches that have been started that way.) 
 But you might want to think twice before you toss the rinds.  Watermelon Rind Preserves are made from the part of the watermelon that you don't eat anyway, so except for the cost of one lemon and the sugar, it's virtually FREE...and it's EASY.

 This recipe has been in my husband's family for 80+ years (that we know of) and was probably handed down from a previous generation before that. Give it a try and enjoy.

Mary Ellen's Watermelon Rind Preserves
2 lbs. watermelon rind
1 qt. cold water
1/4 c. non-iodized salt
1 lemon
4 c. granulated sugar
2 1/2 c. hot water

Pare the watermelon rind and cut into cubes.

(That means cut off the green rind and remove any remaining red.  Then cut the white part into cubes)
 Cover (white cubes) with cold water and salt and let stand overnight. In the morning, drain and cook in fresh water, to cover, until tender. Drain.
Mix sugar, hot water and thinly sliced lemon and add the cooked watermelon. Cook until transparent (really transparent). Seal at once in sterilized jars. (Turn sealed jars upside down for 20 minutes or so. Then right side up to cool.)

Think ahead to the holidays.  Homemade preserves make great gifts...
and all for the cost of a jar and some sugar.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cooler Corn - Hot Idea

I see ideas like this one on the internet all the time.  Some of them don't work.  
This one did and I was so surprised at how well it worked that I will never kitchen-cook corn on the cob for a crowd again...and you won't want to either. 

No more heating the kitchen and timing the boiling corn so that it will be done but not overcooked and tough.  Here's how it works: 
  • Preheat a clean cooler by rinsing with hot tap water.  
  • Place shucked corn inside.  
  • Pour a pot of boiling water over the corn.  (I used my spaghetti cooking pot)  
  • Close the lid and set the cooler aside. That's it!
While you are busy preparing the rest of the meal or putting burgers on the grill or driving to a picnic, the corn is taking care of itself.  Mine stayed in the cooler for 30 to 45 minutes.  I don't think the exact time matters a bit.  As we were serving plates, everyone got a kick out of serving their corn directly from the cooler.   It was tender, sweet and PERFECT.  

Give it a try and let me know if you are as pleased with the results as I was.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Canning - Cia's Oil-Roasted Garlic Jalapenos with Warning!

This recipe and method was concocted by me the summer that I planted 24 feet of jalapeno plants. Ha! One of my first gardening adventures. I had no idea what a jalapeno plant would look like or how many peppers a single plant would produce. Needless to say, I had to get creative. This experiment turned out to be my greatest pepper success. The flavor is incredible and goes such a long way that a tsp. will flavor an entire pot of chili, a spoon dipped into the oil and used to stir salsa or Pico De Gallo will add all the heat and flavor needed and a drop smeared across a cooked hamburger patty will transport you to flavor and heat heaven.

Now, this is not a process that I would recommend to the faint-hearted. In fact, I wouldn't even post it except that it's one of my kids favorite things and I don't want their supply to dry up and wither away just because I some point in the distant future, if you know what I mean. So, here goes...but be warned:
  1. Do not attempt this without wearing gloves as your hands will burn for 2 days and any body part you touch will hate you for hours.
  2. Do not use the water sprayer on your sink as the heat molecules will atomize, you will inhale them and start coughing so hard you will wet your pants.
  3. Don't use the disposal for the same reason.
  4. Do not use your exhaust vent while cooking unless it vents to the outside; if it recurculates, you will get a face full of pain that you won't forget for a very long time.
  5. Do not lean over pan while cooking, in fact, use a l-o-n-g handled spoon to stir and lean as far back as possible.
And, if these warnings are not enough to deter you, consider this...there are conflicting opinions concerning the safety of peppers canned in oil. Do NOT take my word for the health safety of my method. Check other sources and your extension office for additional information. Having said that...I've been making these for 25 years and serving them to my family with confidence. I have never had the seal on a jar fail or the contents spoil.
So here goes. As usual, start with sterilized jars, lids and rings waiting patiently submerged in simmering water. This recipe makes 6, 8oz. jars.
  • 2 1/2 lbs Jalapenos
  • 2 Onions - chopped in large pieces
  • 1 entire head Garlic - cloves separated, peeled and cut in half
  • 2 ozs. Vegetable Oil
  • 1 c. Olive Oil
  • Non-iodized Canning/Pickling Salt - to be used liberally
  • 3/4 c. White Vinegar - 5% acidity
Wash peppers. Cut stem end off or leave on, your call. Cut about 1/4 of the peppers in 1" pieces, leaving seeds in. With the remaining 3/4's, cut lengthwise, remove seeds and veins and cut in 1" pieces. Prep the onions and garlic. Put the oils in a large skillet and heat on medium-high. When oil is hot, add the peppers only. When peppers begin to "wilt", add garlic and onion. Stir and salt surface liberally. Continue to stir and toss until onions begin to turn translucent. Add vinegar and return to boil. reduce heat and work quickly. Using a caning funnel, spoon hot mixture directly from hot skillet into one hot jar at a time. Wipe jar rim and threads with a clean, damp cloth and add lid and ring. Screw ring tight and invert jar on folded towel. Continue, one jar at a time until done. when cool, wash jars leaving rings on for storage.

NOTE: If there are any "bits" or liquid left in the pan after all jars are filled, save in the refrigerator for tasting when cool. (Tiny taste) yummy!