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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 . . .

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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.

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The “UN-sugar” April 26, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in random stuff, Review.
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First things first – just so you know,  I was given a complimentary package of Xyla sweetener in order to sample it.  My opinions are completely my own (as always), and I have not been compensated for them.

There.  That’s out of the way.  A while back, I was contacted by a gentleman named Matt about sampling his company’s product, a sugar substitute called xylitol, sold under the brand name Xyla.

PhotobucketI will be honest.  I was a little skeptical of “faux sugar” and leery of doing a review.  I don’t use  much sugar, except in the occasional baked good.   While Peeps uses sugar in his coffee, I prefer mine unadulterated.  We don’t really drink much soda, and honestly?  Diet soda is an abomination.

I mean, just the phrase “sugar substitute” calls up images of the little pink (and blue and yellow) packets on diner tables and a vile accidental sip of DIET Dr. Pepper.  We even tried actual stevia leaves – yuck.  Oh, and that “less sugar” orange juice?  Eew.  You just can’t seem to get away from the aftertaste, and for me, that’s a deal breaker.

PhotobucketBut then I did some research into just what xylitol is and where it comes from, and I agreed to give it a try.  First, it turns out that xylitol is what’s used to sweeten sugar-free gum.  I’ve always wondered why they could make sugarless gum not disgusting, but nothing else.   Now I know.

Xyla, also called “birch sugar” is extracted from US-grown birch trees in Colorado; it’s a completely domestic product, which is kind of a plus.

Years ago, I had a friend whose husband was a diabetic, and I do know that there can be some challenges to baking with non-sugars – back then, just about the only easily-obtained option was saccharin – and that doesn’t work so well.

PhotobucketIt turns out that baking (and cooking in general) is not a problem with Xyla – the only caveat being that it doesn’t work the same way with yeast as cane sugar does.

There’s probably some science-y reason, but I’ll just take their word for it.

Basically, the company assures us that, in baking, Xyla can be substituted measure for measure for cane sugar – which makes life easier.

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We decided to do a couple of tests ourselves.  First off, Peeps used it in his morning coffee – he said it “wasn’t bad” but that it tasted a little “different.”

He did not, however, do a blind taste test.

I had intended to bake a batch of banana bread with it, but when it came down to it, I, um, kind of forgot.  (I know, how lame a review is this?)

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We did, however, use it in a chili-lime chicken dish – we’ve done a similar dish before, so I know what it “should” taste like.  And I can honestly say there was no difference in flavor – there was absolutely no aftertaste, and the sweetener was neither more nor less sweet than I would have expected with cane sugar.

The bottom line is that, while I went into this not expecting much, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The sweetener is as sweet as sugar, without the bitter aftertaste that I’ve come to expect.  It’s, from everything my poor, science-challenged mind can understand, just as “natural” as the sugar I’m used to – it isn’t made in some freaky laboratory – and it’s better for you.

The only real down side I see is that it’s extremely dangerous to dogs – just a few sticks of gum can cause a severe hypoglycemic reaction and potential liver failure.  Now we don’t generally let our dog go through the cupboards or lick the sugar bowl, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

If you’re interested in trying Xyla, go to XylitolUSA and use the coupon code FIRST to save 10% on your order.

And if you’d like the chicken recipe (and you should!), it’s right here.

Review: The Java Jive – Take 2 February 1, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Family, Food, Review.
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Is it any wonder that when I was asked if I wanted to review Marley Coffee, I jumped on the opportunity?  After all, my love of coffee is well-documented, or at least documented.

LEGAL JUNK:  What follows is a product review.  I was given a 12-ounce bag of coffee beans to review, and that’s what I’m doing.  I am nothing if not honest, and my opinions are my own.  But the coffee was a gift, just so you know.

We were literally headed out the door last Wednesday, on our way to swim class when the UPS truck pulled up in front of the house.  Peeps met him at the edge of the yard while I kept the Big Lug from trying to jump through the window.  (He knows the UPS guy is afraid of him, and it amuses him, I think.  Idiot.)

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Since we were expecting a shipment of coffee of some sort, we just tossed the package in the house and went on our merry way, and when we got home, we opened the package and found a very generous 12-ounce package of coffee.

We did not know which coffee we were expecting – Marley coffee does offer a selection of coffees, most of which we would be very happy to try.

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What we received was a 12-ounce package of Marley Coffee’s “One Love” coffee, which, according to the website, is a medium roast.   Perfect.

And we put it up until the weekend, which is when we actually have time to enjoy our coffee.

The website’s description of this coffee reads:

One Love brings our carefully selected, 100% Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans to you. Full of floral notes and revealing hints of blueberry, cocoa and spice, this well-rounded coffee tantalizes your palate, leaving a profound cherry finish. Brew an extra cup, and “let’s get together and feel all right.”

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Now, there’s one thing you should know.  Peeps and I both drink our coffee black (him with sugar, and me without).   (Okay, two things – sometimes, Peeps pours the morning coffee into our gun mugs – his is Beretta and mine is Glock.)

And when we grind our coffee, we grind it immediately before brewing – no sitting around getting stale for our weekend coffee!

Anyway.  I drink my coffee black, which means all I get is coffee – no cream, no sugar – when I taste coffee, the coffee is all I taste.

What I tasted in this coffee was a faint hint of fruit (alas, my palate is not refined enough to pick out blueberries or cherries, but there was a definite. . . ripeness there.)

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This was a good cup of coffee, though the roast seemed a little. . . dark.  It didn’t taste burnt (think Starbucks) or bitter, by any means.  It simply tasted like it would benefit from a little something to smooth the edges. . . maybe a splash of cream.

Yup, that did the trick.  Now it was perfect.

PhotobucketThe verdict?

The coffee is good – very good.  It’s interesting and robust.  It’s even better if you put cream in your coffee – then the flavor just sings.  (I also made iced coffee, and even in January, it was fantastic!)  And there are several varieties from which to choose. 

At $16  for a 12-ounce package, though, it’s not your everyday coffee.  At least it’s not mine.  But we habitually pay around that much for our better weekend coffees, and this definitely falls into that category.

In addition, Marley Coffee is organically and ethically grown, is Fair Trade certified, and helps support agricultural families.  This is truly a company with a vision – and I do love a company that can produce a quality product and, of its own free will, give something back.

Grape Ape November 9, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff, Review.
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First thing first – Cooking Dot Com asked me to review a product – any product – for a chance to win a gift certificate, so I’m going to tell you about the sorbet I made using our ice cream maker attachment to the stand mixer.

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By the way.  The reason they asked me?

I “Liked” them on Facebook.  Evidently, one can “follow” Cooking Dot Com on Twitter, too, but I don’t go there.

So now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the real reason we’re here – concord grapes!

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The first thing we did in preparation for this sorbet was to make a simple syrup – equal parts sugar and water, kind of melted together.  We melt the sugar into a syrup to make it easier to dissolve into the cold fruit.  This is a simple matter of heating about a cup and a half of sugar in a cup and a half of water – and since we were heating it, why not infuse a sprig or so of thyme?  Interesting . . .

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You remember how we dealt with the fresh concord grapes last year, right? Well, although I still had some grapes in the freezer, I went ahead and bought more.

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for fresh produce in season.

The only thing is that, although we ran them through the food processor, I still wanted to further process the grapes, so we ran them through the blender as well.

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And then I strained them – there was enough of the purple concord-coloring, and honestly?

When I eat processed grapes, more often than not, the skins get caught in my teeth it’s just gross.  Looks like I don’t own a toothbrush, which I do.

So anyway, I took about a quart of grape pulp, blended it, then strained it with a wire strainer.

Labor intensive?  What, me?  Actually, it really wasn’t that big a deal – not once the initial seed removal was done, anyway.

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Ah, and here you see the vodka secret.

See, here’s the thing.

To make sorbet smooth and creamy, it needs a lot of sugar.

A LOT of sugar – sugar’s like that.  It has “properties” that make it important.

BUT.  But a tablespoon of neutral-tasting vodka will allow us to reduce the sugar somewhat, and, while we still use quite a bit of sugar (and a little booze), we can give the fruit a better chance to shine.  I dunno – alcohol is like magic or something – there’s probably some science-y reason I don’t understand that it can stand in for sugar.

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Don’t get me wrong – we still wind up using about a cup and a half of simple syrup, along with a Tablespoon of vodka.  But the simple syrup is only half sugar (I think) – it’s got water and thyme in it, remember?

What I ended up doing was this – and I’m sure it would work for any fruit – I added the liquor to the grape pulp, then I added the syrup to taste, keeping in mind that we’ll be eating this frozen, which means that all the flavors will be  muted.

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Then I squeezed half a lemon into the mix.  Yes, a naked lemon.  We must have zested that particular lemon and used it for something else.

Even our lemons multi-task.

A little acid, along with a pinch of salt, will almost always make the flavors pop.

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And that was it – time to churn.  The ice cream attachment is kept in the freezer, so it’s always at the ready.  It was a simple matter of dumping the strained, prepared puree into the ice cream maker, and letting it go.

After about 15-20 minutes, the sorbet is considerably thickened, so we remove it to a container and into the freezer to firm up overnight.

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And the next day, we get to really sample it – and it’s delightfully grape-y, with a good hit of herbiness, somewhat sweet, but not so much as to overwhelm the fruit – it’s really, really good.  Maybe a little heavy on the thyme, but not too bad at all.  Next time – less thyme.

And the best part is that, assuming you’re paying attention, you could do an off-the-cuff sorbet from any fruit – and with the ice cream maker bowl in the freezer, your sorbet is ready to go whenever you are.