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Monday Musings: 02.25.2014 Edition February 24, 2014

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Freezer Meals, Home, Information, meal plan monday, Musings, random stuff, Review.
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Boy, there for a minute, we almost started thinking about spring!  The weather this weekend has been, well, the word that comes to mind is temperate.  Not too cold – we actually came close to 50 at one point! – and sunny, to boot!

Although we didn’t need much (which is just as well, since the selection is pretty slim this time of year), it was nice to walk around at the Public Market without freezing for a change!


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Okay, I would like to pause for a moment and congratulate myself.

For the past few years, I’ve been carrying FOUR cell phones on my account – mine and Peeps, sure, but also The Boy‘s and Peeps’s mom’s, as well.

Let me just say – that kind of thing starts to add up!    Even when three of the four of us were just using basic phones – none of that fancy smart-phone stuff.

So now. . . the other two have transferred their phones to their OWN accounts, and Peeps and I?  Well, we closed our account and went with a new(ish), no-contract carrier called Republic Wireless.

Basically, we bought the phones outright ($300 each (ouch) BUT that’s what credit cards are for), and from here on out, our service is $25 a month each, plus tax, for unlimited talk, text, AND data.  No contracts, no extra charges, no nothing.

Plus?  I’ve got the Internet in my pocket, guys!

The service has been great, we love the phones (Motorola’s Moto X), and we’ve both been extremely happy.  And it’s significantly cheaper than the basic cell service with the other company.  Where’s the bad?

If you want to check it out for yourself, click on the Republic logo above –  either for more information or even to sign up yourself.  In addition, just until the end of the month, if you do use the referral link above, Republic is offering a $19 credit on new plans.

*  Unsolicited opinions here.  The only renumeration I may (or may not) receive would be a $19 credit to me, too, if anyone signs up using that link, which they’ve offered to all their customers, so . . .



And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.   I’ve got another busy week ahead at work – it’s getting to be that time of the year, I guess!   It’s still a little weird with Peeps frequently getting home later than I do, but, on the bright side, we’re not getting up before 4AM !

Monday – We have some veal shanks in the freezer, which will cook reasonably quickly in the pressure cooker!  Several years ago, I found this recipe for ossobuco bianco, and, although we’ve only made it a few times, we love it.  I may also try risotto in the rice cooker – I think that’ll be a perfect complement.

Tuesday – I’m kind of embarrassed about this, but, ever since the Ukraine thing has been in the news last week, I’ve had Chicken Kiev on my mind.  (I’m pretty sure the Ukrainian rebels would probably be less than impressed that FOOD is what I think of when their government is overthrown, but what can I say?  At least it’s lovely, garlicky-buttery chicken!)  Maybe with some barley and broccoli.

Wednesday –  I kept stumbling across two partial bags of frozen corn in the freezer – it was driving me nuts!  So . . . you know what you do with two partial bags of corn?  You make corn chowder.  I used the last of the chicken from last week’s roast chicken, along with some of last summers corn stock, and BOY is this gonna be good!

Thursday –  My most recent dog food purchase has  reminded me (again!) how important it is to keep the freezer under control – what goes in MUST come out!  As it happens, Peeps opened the freezer door the other day, and a container of pork sugo fell out.  Ha – saute the broccoli rabe we picked up at the market, and we’ve got dinner!

Friday – Friday night is always pizza night for us – the crust sits in the fridge and ferments all week, and we’ve got plenty of homemade sauce, salami, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, basically whatever we’re in the mood for.  And, of course, Jar’s Kong!

Be sure to click on over to The Organizing Junkie’s Monday Menu Plan post for loads and loads of other ideas.



Monday Musings: 01.27 2014 Edition January 27, 2014

Posted by Toy Lady in Food, Home, meal plan monday, Musings.
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Boy oh boy, this weekend’s trip to the public market was . . . frosty!  We really didn’t need much – mostly, we go because it’s our habit, and it’s good to get ourselves – and Peeps’s mom – out of the house.

That, and we do want to show our support for the vendors who are also out in the cold.

Without sounding whiny, I’d like to comment that this has so far been one of the coldest winters I can remember. Single digit temperatures, day after day – why, it’s ridiculous!  It’s just a good thing spring is only 3 months away!

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We did splurge a bit and pick up a package of pork chops this week – they’re HUGE!  Two pork chops were three and a half pounds!

Needless to say, one chop will be plenty for the two of us to share.  Which will leave the second one to enjoy another time!

The farmer said that this was the meat from their “breeding sow” – the chops are huge, and they’re much fattier than anything we’ll see in the supermarket.  And I mean “fatty” in a good way here – modern pork is so lean, you may as well be eating boneless chicken breast!

I remember, as a teenager, when my parents butchered our sow – it was the same thing – huge, nicely marbled, juicy chops.


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So . . . we’ve gotten a bit of snow.  Again.

I don’t really mind the snow so much, at least not as long as the sidewalk plows have been out.   It’s the trudging through the unbroken snow that wears a body out, you know?

Poor Jarly, though.  I mean, he’s out there walking in his bare feet (and yes, I know I can get him boots for his feet, and no, I’m not going to) – if the cold is bothering him (I can tell because he won’t put all his feet down at the same time!), we cut our walk short and come inside.  Then I warm Jar up with a nice brisk toweling-off, including his cold, wet feet.

He loves that.

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With Peeps leaving for work around the same time I do in the mornings now, we’ve been able to enjoy breakfast together fairly regularly, which is nice.

I’ve taken to making a double batch of oatmeal now and then – how handy is it that steel-cut oats in the rice cooker take about an hour – just long enough to walk the dog?  We each have a serving, then I stash the rest in the fridge for an even quicker breakfast later in the week.

This morning, I reheated some of the leftover oatmeal with some leftover short ribs and sauce and added a sprinkling of chopped scallions.   How awesome was THAT after a cold, snowy morning walk?  

Yeah, it was pretty awesome!



And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.  We’re looking forward to another chilly week here, but, after all, it is January in the Northeast, isn’t it?   It’s winter, so we enjoy winter food.

Monday –  I did pick up a bunch of broccoli raab at the market, which will go nicely with some pasta and the Italian sausage Peeps and I made last weekend – we love this classic dish!

Tuesday – Peeps has been dying to make Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas since we received the newest issue of Cook’s Country magazine – it’s cheese and it’s Mexican and it’s Cook’s Illustrated – I’m totally on board with it!

Wednesday – My parents just got back from Florida, after having celebrated their 50th anniversary.  We did send them a gift, but we also wanted to take them out for dinner.  Rooney’s is running an anniversary special, which kind of strikes me as serendipitous, don’t you think?

Thursday – We spent the better part of Sunday with sauce simmering on the stove – which will make it perfect for Minimal Effort Thursday!  What?  Pasta twice in one week?  I don’t remember the last time we did that!

Friday – And yay, it’s pizza night!  Lest we forget about it, I’m reminding myself that there’s some prosciutto left in the fridge which, I think, will be just lovely on a pizza.  In the alternative, we’ve also got some Italian sausage which will be just as yummy.

Be sure to click on over to The Organizing Junkie’s Monday Menu Plan post for loads and loads of other ideas.



Monday Musings: 01.06.2013 Edition January 6, 2014

Posted by Toy Lady in Big Lug, Cooking, Home, meal plan monday, Musings.
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Wow, has it been a week, or what?

Oh, by the way, happy New Year!  Sorry about that, but, well, what a week!

We, uh, got a bit of snow in these parts – I declared last Friday to be a snow day – I don’t know if my office was open or not, but I didn’t go in!  When the snow is in double digits (20+ inches) and the temperature is single digits (5), well, I’m not going anywhere.

Though I did take pity on The Jar and shovel a path across the deck for him.  The poor thing NEEDED to go out – and it was better than walking him around the block!


I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve misplaced my camera.

I have no idea where it is – I mean, it’s not like this house is THAT big, that things can just get LOST, but, well, there you have it.  I’ve been feeling a little under the weather this weekend, and you know how, when you’re sick, your brain doesn’t work right?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I stuck the camera somewhere “safe” while I was in that foggy state.  Hopefully it’ll turn up soon.  Until then, I guess I’ll be taking pictures with the cell phone.

Cool, huh?

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Jar is obviously undecided as to what he wants to do when it snows.

On the one hand, he’s DYING to go outside.  Right. This.  Minute.

Then he gets out there, dashes across the deck, down the steps, and . . . ends up plowing through snow up to his chest.

At which point he MUST come back inside.  Right. This.  Minute.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t play out several times a day.

Like what, the snow situation is going to change in the space of a couple of hours?


Did I mention I haven’t been feeling so hot?  There’s this nasty bug going around, and it finally caught up with me – folks, please, if you’re sick, STAY HOME!  Nobody wants your germs!

So yeah, the past few days have been pretty miserable.

However, on the bright side, Peeps took the dog for his morning walk and let me sleep in on Saturday morning until nearly NINE O’CLOCK.  Do you KNOW when the last time I slept that late was?   Me neither.  Just wow.

On top of that, he very kindly went out and got me a pint of hot-and-sour soup for dinner, too – as far as I’m concerned, there is very little in this world better for a cold than good hot-and-sour soup.


Speaking of my darling husband.  After six months of unemployment, a couple of weeks of background checks and a couple of physicals, he’s landed a job with an armored car company.

I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about it – they’ve got rules about that sort of thing, I guess – so basically, he wears a uniform, goes to work, carries his pistol, and brings cash to the places that need it.

So far, he doesn’t hate it, so I guess that’s a good sign, right?

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Now for the continuing saga of the car situation.

You’ll recall that last week, my mechanic boycotted my Volvo – yeah, I know, nothing says I have to listen to him, but Jim’s been looking out for me and taking care of my cars almost since I moved to Rochester – I trust him as much as I trust my father when it comes to automotive things.

So. . . when I called my father and told him about the situation, he said that, well, he still had my mother’s Caravan which she no longer drives and which he’d like to get out of his driveway – he’d bought it new, and it has fairly low mileage, and I could buy it for, as it happens, almost exactly what I have in my “car repair fund” – which, to be honest, is kind of a steal.

So. . . more later about the new Mutt Mobile.



And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.  I’m still not feeling 100 percent, so, while the last thing I want to think about is meals for the rest of the week, I know how much easier it will be later if I’ve taken the 10 minutes to plan now!

Monday – After a couple of weeks of holiday fare, it’s about time we lighten up a bit!  Our local supermarket has Alaskan cod on special this week, so we picked up some lima beans and will bake them together like we did a while back with the tilapia – I’m already looking forward to it!

Tuesday – When I made the cannoli cheesecake for Christmas, I needed to buy a tub of ricotta, of which I only used half.  It only makes sense to use the other half in lemon-ricotta pancakes, maybe even along with some homemade bacon.  Who doesn’t love pancakes for supper?

Wednesday – We’re still getting used to the whole Peeps getting home after I do thing, so we’re going to try cooking a chicken in the slow cooker – I don’t think I’ve ever really done that before.  I’m basically going to try this rotisserie-style version.  I may even add some potatoes, just to see how that works.

Thursday – We spent some time this weekend (when we weren’t looking for the camera!) making a big old pot of pork sugo – the sauce is done, so we just need to cook some pasta, stir it all together, and cheese it, baby!  Since this recipe makes a TON, there will be plenty to share with The Boy and his young lady (they love this stuff too!) plus probably another dinner next week.

Friday – And back to Friday night pizza night – I’ve been very much enjoying the roasted eggplant sauce I made at the end of the summer – and Peeps has been enjoying the roasted tomato sauce.  We froze it in muffin cups, then popped the sauce out of the cups into freezer bags.  Each portion is the perfect size for an individual pizza – it’s perfect for us!

Be sure to click on over to The Organizing Junkie’s Monday Menu Plan post for loads and loads of other ideas.



Pizza night revisited September 27, 2013

Posted by Peeps in Cooking, Home, Homemade, random stuff.
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About two months ago, Toys and I had to go to pick up a few things at Niblack Foods (formerly known as Tadco).  We love shopping there, they have all kinds of neat stuff that we either can’t find easily or just want to play around with.

While we were browsing, we got into a conversation with a lady who works there.  She found it very amusing that we make so many things ourselves.  We had a very nice chat.

A few minutes later, after we had continued our shopping, she came up to us and asked if we make our own pasta.  We told her that we didn’t, dried pasta is just fine for most of our needs.  She then asked if we ever make pizza.  I have to admit that I did a bit of bragging about my pizza dough.

The reason she asked these questions, was that she had a bag of flour that had gotten torn while she was stocking shelves and she wanted to know if we would like to buy it.  At a discount.  We love stuff at a discount.  And it was something that neither of us had ever played with before.  Italian 00 flour.

Now, I had never heard of 00 flour until a couple years ago when my boss at the Ravioli Shop mentioned it once in passing.  It’s a much finer grind than basic all purpose flour.  I can’t seem to find out for sure if it has a higher protein content or not, it depends on who you ask.  It’s supposed to be the bomb for breads and pasta.  And pizza dough.

So, we bought the damaged bag of flour.  It was a 2.2 pound bag (one kilogram).  A few days later, I tried it in pizza dough.

I substituted half of the all purpose flour needed with the 00 flour.  I didn’t want to use up most of the bag at one go.  I still wanted to try some in bread, too.

The dough felt entirely different.  Much lighter and tighter grained.  It was nicer to work with.  Huh.  So, I finished the dough, and got it in the fridge and promptly forgot about it until pizza night.

Friday night rolled around and it I noticed that the dough stretched beautifully.    I had to be much more careful about putting holes in it.

Once I was done, and the pizzas had a chance to rest, it was time to taste.  And it was INCREDIBLE!  The taste was everything pizza should be.  Light and crisp with a nice soft chew.

The next morning, my wife and I looked online for what kind of deal we could get for 00 flour.  And were not terribly happy.  We could get big bags of the stuff without a problem, and for a price that didn’t hurt too much.  Until you factored in shipping.  Shipping a fifty pound bag of flour hurts.  A lot.

Plus, there’s also the problem of what to do with an open fifty pound bag of flour.

So, about a week later, I went back to Niblack to see if I could get a deal there.  They had ten packs of the one kilo bags that they would give me ten percent off.  That brought the price down to something reasonable.  And I’d still be spending money locally, which is something we try to do whenever we can.  Plus, they’re not far if we need more.

So, we now have ten different kind of flour in the house.  Ten.  Yikes.  But I’m very glad we found out about 00 flour.  We now have a license to bake.

Hot dog! September 20, 2013

Posted by Peeps in Cooking, Home, random stuff.
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Before you get worried, no this is not a post about how Jarly deals with warm weather. You’re welcome.

A few years ago, my in-laws gave me a copy of Charcuterie for Christmas. Probably one of the few things I’d run into the burning house to rescue. It’s a delightful book on the salting, curing and smoking of meat. Since I got it, we’ve stopped buying commercial bacon and I make my own pastrami. But I’ve only just scratched the surface of what I can do.

There are a few things I have no interest in, some I haven’t gotten around to yet and a couple that just aren’t terribly practical. I mean, I would love to cure and ham and age it for six months or so. But I don’t really have a good place to do that, and even if I did, I would have well over ten pounds of bone-in ham that I would need to do something with.

One of the things that was on my “get to it” list was hot dogs. That’s right, homemade hot dogs.

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Now, before you start wondering where I managed to get pig lips and tails and other things that probably go into commercial hot dogs, stop. I didn’t have to get anything even remotely weird. I actually had almost everything I needed on hand.

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First step is to grind two and a half pounds of boneless beef short ribs. Which were on sale at our local butcher shop.  Lucky me! As an aside, taking something as wonderful as short ribs and running them through the meat grinder was a little rough. But I managed it.

Next add to the ground meat a little Kosher salt and some pink (curing) salt and some water and mix with your hands as completely as you can. Then, in a covered container, it goes into the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. Not too difficult so far, right?

Once you’re ready for the next step, you add the seasonings to the meat. Dry mustard, paprika, ground coriander, white pepper, minced garlic and a little corn syrup. Those get mixed in by hand. You then spread the meat out onto a sheet pan and put it in the freezer for half an hour or so to firm up for the next step. I put a silicone baking sheet down first, just to make life a little easier.

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Once the meat is completely chilled and quite firm, it gets run through the grinder again. You want to make sure that the meat is very firm. The second grind is less than fun if the meat is too warm. Trust me. Once you’re finished grinding again, spread the meat out again on the sheet pan and back into the freezer with it. Another half hour or so should be enough.

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The next thing, once the meat is cold again, is to run it through your food processor. You want to turn the meat into a paste as quickly as you can so as not to warm the meat up too much. Since our food processor isn’t large, we ran it through in two batches.

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Now comes the fun part. Stuffing. I have read online that using the stuffing attachment for a stand mixer is a less than fun job for this recipe. Fortunately, my totally awesome wife gave me a sausage stuffing gizmo a couple years back that I am very happy to have. And just as a hint, to help keep the meat cold during the stuffing process, I had put the hopper for the sausage stuffer in the freezer to make sure that there would be no problems.

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Now, there was one thing I was concerned about. We keep natural hog casings in the house for making either Italian sausage or the really yummy pork and leek that my wife discovered. But they’re really too big for making hot dogs. They work, but what I wanted was sheep casings. They are narrower and are prefect for the job. Sadly, the only way I could get any was in large packages. Five pounds or more. Which is way more than I wanted around in case this experiment didn’t work out. So, for the time being, we went with some collagen casings that I came with the grinder that were about the right size.

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Once your casings are stuffed, you’re almost done. To finish the job, your hot dogs need some smoke. So, I got some charcoal going on the small smoker and rigged up a coat hanger to hang the hot dogs on while they smoked. I’ll figure out a better system some other time.

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Once your hot dogs have reached a temperature of 140 degrees, remove them from the smoker and put them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. That’s it, you’re done.

We ended up with about a dozen properly sized hot dogs and a few that were a little small. Sample sized.

The verdict? These were really good. Really good. The texture was perfect, and the flavor was incredible. They tasted very similar to Nathan’s hot dogs, we both thought. The collagen casings were far from perfect, but that’s probably the last time we’ll use them. I don’t have a problem now with keeping two kinds of sausage casings in the house.

The only question is, is this now our house hot dog? Probably. It wasn’t a lot of work, mostly waiting. If we can get short ribs at a decent price, I have no problem doing a double batch or two and shoving them in the freezer until we need them. Plus, now that we know this works, we can experiment a little with different cuts of meat.