Saturday, April 19, 2014

And Who Says Cooked Carrots Can't Taste Good?

Everyone loves these. Yes, everyone. Even those kids that swear they hate all vegetables, especially when cooked. So it's worth a shot to try these if you're new to the concept of glazed carrots. And if you've tried the packaged stuff from the grocery store, well lets just say I've been informed that mine are WAY better.  Not to brag, or anything. 

I made a big batch this evening for tomorrow's Easter dinner. These are even better after sitting in the fridge overnight, and why do all the work of cooking after church tomorrow morning?  I want to enjoy time with kids and grand babies instead!

You'll need the following ingredients for a family-sized batch:
 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and chopped (or just use the baby carrots to save time. I chopped the baby carrots to make them easier eating for the little ones).

Cook these to the desired firmness.  Drain well in a colander. While these are draining, prepare the glaze:

1 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons corn starch
2/3 cup salted butter (margarine might work, but I almost always use real butter in everything)
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix the brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cornstarch together until well-blended. 

Melt butter in a saucepan over low. As soon as it liquified, mix the brown sugar mixture into the butter. Cook on medium heat until bubbly, stirring often. 

Put the carrots back in their pot, and pour the glaze over the top, mixing until everything is covered. Bring to a boil for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the glaze is thickened and coats everything nicely. 

Serve immediately or pop this into the fridge and heat up the following day like I plan on doing to save some time. 

Happy Easter, and I hope your little Easter bunnies enjoy their carrots!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Obamacare Casserole (a.k.a. Chicken & Stuffing Hotdish)

So my boyfriend and his little one (hmm, LO… let’s call her Lola) walk in the door this evening to see me with my camera out, hovering over the cutting board.
            “Uh oh, she’s taking pictures of food again!” says boyfriend (hmm, BF… let’s just call him BF for now until I come up with something better and more creative).  They think I’m odd because I take pictures of food as I cook and then frantically arrange things to take pictures once it’s on the plate. 
            “I’m a writer,” I insist, “that’s what I do.”  Even though I don’t earn a living at it.  Yet, anyway.  There are always possibilities. 
            “So what are you making?” BF inquires, peeking over my shoulder.  “Drunk chicken?”
            “Huh?  What on earth are you talking about?” I ask, clueless. 
            “The chicken is in the can,” BF explains.
            “Oh, no, honey.  That’s unemployed chicken.  It’s been canned,” I reply sweetly.
            “I see,” BF pauses, thoughtfully.  “It’s Obamacare chicken,” he concludes.
Even our dinner is suffering the effects of the current political environment.  At least no one will attempt to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to consume my chicken stuffing bake, and no litigation will ensue.  No, sir – this dish is entirely optional, although my middle son highly recommends it.

I am insane.  It’s been confirmed.  This semester will be the last of my fine arts degree in creative writing, so I am packing in 20 credits to get it over with.  And I am also working on getting my real estate license so I can eventually get back to work.  Like my chicken, I’ve been canned (as of last summer) – but I do not plan on ending up as leftovers.  I am gearing up to turn my life into what I want it to be.  Which means I go to classes on campus two days a week, sit in real estate classes on Saturdays and Sundays (this Sunday is my last class!  Yippee!) and the rest of my time is spent writing and doing online classes. 

In a nutshell, I have less time to cook now than I did when I was working full-time.  But that’s ok.  Everyone’s busy; regardless of whether you are a working mom or a dad or a college student or just don’t want to spend your time in the kitchen, there’s no reason to spend more time doing something than necessary.  Unless you really like doing whatever it is that’s taking your time.  Either way, spend the time you have doing things you like with people you love (or just like).

I like to shop at Walmart and Costco.  They’re both pretty economical as far as I am concerned, with or without coupons.  While I like to buy things that are non-GMO (non-genetically modified in case you were wondering), organic and fresh and lovely, I still cave and buy canned goods for those evenings when I know I won’t want to cook everything myself.  And when I can get a whole year’s supply of canned chicken for $10 or less I buy it.  It’s higher in sodium, granted.  It’s canned, I’ll give you that.  But it’s also quick and tasty.  And I don’t have to cut off any goopy fat or stringy tendons because I’m picky like that.  I cut off all the “icky stuff.”  You should see me bone a chicken.

To make this lovely dish, first preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease a 9x13 pan or spray with non-stick spray.  I use the generic canola oil spray, which works just as well as the brand-name and is about a buck cheaper.
You will need the following ingredients:

(2) 12.5-ounce cans of canned chicken, drained  
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of diced celery
1 cup of diced onion
2 cups chicken broth (it’s ok to use 2 cups water with a chicken bouillon cube dissolved into it)
5 Tablespoons butter (I like to use real butter, but margarine is also ok to use)
12-ounce package of cubed seasoned bread stuffing

Melt the butter over low to medium heat.  Turn the heat up to high and add the celery and onion.  Stir frequently, until the veggies are slightly soft and slightly translucent.

Add the chicken, broth and soup.  

Mix well and bring to a boil.  

As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, shut off the stove and stir in the entire package of stuffing.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove the foil and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes so the top gets a little brown.

Quick prep, cheap and filling.  For myself, I dished up a small plate to make it look like I’m eating an entire big plate of food, but still ended up with seconds for this one.  I guess I’m not that easily fooled.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Five Ways to Save

There are many things one can do during a financial slump that will help a family save a few bucks here and there. Over the last years, I've spent more than my own fair share of time unemployed.  I've also been an unemployed, full-time student, which is a combination most people only wish upon still-dependent children of the rich (which I, of course, am not). I have found a few things that have helped save on my family’s spending. I love freebies and discounts, and since I’m sure you will too when you discover (if you haven’t already) how easy it can be to save some cash on things we all use.

You may take this with a grain of salt, however.  When I am going to school and working full-time, I just don't have a ton of time to keep up with everything.  I am not Superwoman.  But if you've got the time to even squeeze in one method of saving, it's better than doing nothing at all.  It does take time.  You have to determine how much your time is worth; no one can dictate that for you.  Especially not your mother or mother-in-law or your siblings or your spouse.  I'm all for family cohesiveness, but you need to figure out on your own what works for you.
This is my search engine of choice. Not only do you get the results you need when searching for information on the web, they reward you with Swagbucks for doing it. The Swagbucks website has all sorts of fun ways to earn Swagbucks, beyond just your run-of the mill search. They offer surveys and special offers, manufacturers coupons, daily polls, and even Swagbucks TV – where you never know what interesting things you might see! My favorite by far are the Swaghunts. It’s like a virtual treasure hunt, where they provide clues in their blog or on their Facebook page to get you started, and you jump from clue to clue until you find a code that will reward you with more Swagbucks. You even get Swagbucks for referrals, and all of those Swagbucks are good at the Swagstore for items that anyone can use: gift cards to online and brick-and-mortar stores, t-shirts, electronic gadgets, and even toys for the kiddies. Since I’ve been with Swagbucks I’ve received over $65 in Amazon gift cards (that's just where I stopped counting), and that’s not all – I’ve received mp3 downloads from iTunes and PayPal cash credited to my account, too.
This is the best freebie website I have found to-date. I get a digest email from them regularly which details all of the best free samples available from popular name-brands. Over the past year I have received trial sizes and even full-sized product samples to try. Pantene conditioner was one full-sized sample I received, and all I needed to do was to complete a five-minute survey after using the product (and now that they have my info, they send great coupons in the mail and email, too). Trial or single-use samples I’ve received include vitamin drink mixes, cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners and granola bars, to name a few. When camping or traveling, these samples really come in handy as they are easy to pack.
If you thought you were a coupon queen (or king) before becoming a member at A Full Cup, you hadn’t realized your full savings-potential. Everyone knows that two heads are better than one; can you imagine what sort of savings you will find out about when thousands of coupon-clippers get together online to share the deals? Did you miss that ad, or did the significant-other recycle it? Join the forum and ask around, chances are someone is willing to share. Exchange coupons you don’t need for ones you will here, and virtually every online coupon in existence can be found through this website. Before visiting this website, my online coupon search took the better part of an entire morning. As I didn’t want to miss anything good, I wandered from site to site, and with very few exceptions I was seeing the same coupons on each website. I no longer have to do that on A Full Cup! Not to mention that I probably received more “Happy Birthday” wishes from the forum members there than I did my face-to-face friends. Coupon-clippers tend to be a real friendly crowd.
Another friendly group, can help you locate a recycling group near you. I have saved a ton of things from the garbage can by simply posting on my Freecycle groups. The concept is simple: you post what you want to get rid of, and someone with a need takes it. If there’s something you need, you place an ad. Someone who may have what you need sitting around collecting dust emails you back and there you have it. For instance, my brother in law was storing our old deep freeze until we had room for it; when we finally got it back it was filled with about 12 gallons of old vegetable oil. HUH? Why on earth would he save that old rancid oil? It was no longer good for the turkey fryer, but I thought that someone might want it to convert into biodiesel. Two days later, an appreciative Freecycler in a Prius pulled into our driveway to pick up the oil. This is truly a way that the Lord provides what we need, in my book. Oh yeah, I got a pair of blaze-orange coveralls for hunting, too. There was a tear in the seam that took me all of ten minutes to repair, but I wouldn’t complain a bit. Have you checked the price on those lately? As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons!

Regardless of where you find your coupons, make them count by combining manufacturer coupons with in-store discounts. Sometimes you get the product for pennies. Occasionally, your local mom & pop grocers will offer double coupons.  Generally you won't find this in the big-box stores, but if you don’t know, ask around in your area! Chances are all it takes is shopping on a different day than you usually would. You never know, that might streamline your shopping habits – if you plan your trip around the grocery store ad and coupons and make a list you will be less likely to buy things that are not on sale. If you go once per week instead of twice (since you had a list you didn’t forget anything), you might even save a bit on gas. Even a few miles here and there ads up.

Big-box stores and wholesale clubs do accept coupons! Walmart will accept coupons, and Costco mails out monthly special fliers, to name a few. But now we’re getting into stockpiling when we talk Costco and Sam’s Club and the like, so that may require an entirely different post! All I will say about those warehouse stores at this point is this: buyer beware. Not all buys in warehouse and club stores are a deal. Make a point of scanning the competitor’s ads before you shop, since buying in bulk might not provide a better price. If you won’t use an entire gallon of Miracle Whip before it expires, you just tossed your money in the trash.


Ask anyone what "The Great Tribulation" is and you will get a whole slew of answers, depending on the religious views of those you ask.  The one answer I will agree with came from the pastor of my old church up north:  we are living it right now.

The last two and a half years of my life have been an evolution of sorts;  my home life came to a rolling boil which spilled over into separation and divorce.  Two of my beautiful boys are now in college and the youngest is a senior in high school.  My job in Accounts Payable was shipped to Mexico and through no fault of my own I became unemployed.  I met someone new.  I crossed the border of forty, was diagnosed with major clinical depression and gained a ton of weight.  But life goes on, and after taking a few months off to have my own little personal nervous breakdown I realize that no matter what else life throws at me, I will still have to continue on.  Whatever God brings me to, He will bring me through, as my mother would say.

Or, "keep calm and carry on," as Queen Elizabeth II put it.    

And so I will carry on.  Over the last year I had to begin taking medication for high blood pressure and my depression.  Between the feeling of my heart pounding right out of my rib cage, arrhythmia (also new), the inability to function normally for the first two months of the antidepressants and the weight gain, I have resolved to get healthier.  Because being sick sucks.  Especially when you aren't visibly sick.  There are no wheelchairs or crutches with depression, no tangible evidence to others that things aren't right.  They will just think you are lazy.  Your friends and family will say things, like "snap out of it," or "I'm always here if you want to talk about it" - both of which to any sane person will seem like reasonable ways to try and help their depressed loved one.

But there is no "snapping out of it," and no amount of exercise and fresh air will help.  Talking may help for the present moment, but when there is something really, really wrong the depression doesn't just leave because you want to feel better.  That's mental illness.  There is no outsmarting it.  If you understand how it works it is easier to recognize, but if you don't get help it doesn't just go away because you are smart enough to work around it.   

Part of how I've dealt with stress in the past is by eating.  Not cool, I know.  But food, to me represents family and comfort.  When I love someone I cook for them.  Cooking is probably one of the deepest personal expressions of self that one can demonstrate for another.  That is why I make lefse and rosettes and homemade caramels and cookies at Christmas.  It's sharing the love I remember from growing up with my Swedish and Norwegian grandmas.  Nothing says love like grandma's warm lefse, slathered in real butter and sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar.  Of course not all cooking turns out good, but don't let that part taint the fact that whoever cooked for you really loved you.

Cooking mishaps tie us together as well as the great dishes do.  The cookies I baked from a self-concocted recipe when I was ten that turned out like car tires (the ones my older sister discovered late that night when she came home from a party) turned into a great laughing point to remember.  Our foods, no matter what culture or heritage you claim as your own, link generations of families together.  We have these tangible, real things that we can share with people who came before us and who will come after us.

Although there is still a strong urge within me to embrace my loved ones with sugar and baked goods, I am striving to demonstrate a healthier type of love for my family and friends.  After all, I do want to keep them around for as long as possible.  It's heart-wrenching, but although my soul still yearns for Paula Deen and her butter-drenched southern goodness (Mmm-mmm-mmm my Mama's lemon bars come to mind...) we all must eventually wake up to reality and realize that we no longer get up at five a.m. to milk cows and work in fields.  Our bodies just simply don't need all that love anymore.  Well, maybe every once in a while.  For dessert.  If I've been really really good.  But it won't be because I'm stressed out.  I'll go to the gym to work on that.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Spinach & Mushroom Eggs (Another New Year, Another New Diet)

So I wasn't exactly "back" when I though I would be.  I will explain more in my next post, otherwise this will get so long no one will want to read it all anyway!  Here I am, it is January 13, 2014.  I am older, heavier, but wiser.  I am going back to the gym again now that my energy level is better.  I've invested in a Daylight for Seasonal Affective Disorder - when used every morning they do help.  I am tracking what I eat, and how much water I drink - thanks to the online tracking tools at my gym I feel a bit more motivated.

Because I am not the only one trying to eat healthier and get back into better shape again I will add the nutritional values to the new recipes I add, if available.  I am not a nutritionist by any means, but I will try to calculate based on the food labels of the products used.

This morning I started my day with a cup of coffee with nonfat creamer, 6 dried apricots and 1/4 cup of fresh blueberries.  So far, so good.  Then I went to the gym for about an hour.  Then I came home, ravenous.  The unfair part about weight-loss is the misconception of a "healthy diet" according to the U.S. FDA's guidelines.  The typical healthy diet, according to them, is about 2,000 calories.  HA!  Not for me.  I am not a young man with the metabolism of a jackrabbit.  I am a 40 year old woman, and my caloric intake should be more like 1200-1400 calories per day.  Since I went back to school, I spend more time in front of a computer than chasing little children all day like I did when I was younger.  But I still get hungry, now I just can't eat everything in sight.  Like I used to.  My mother once joked that I ate one meal per day, it began when I woke up and ended when I went to sleep.  That was the 110-pound eighteen-year old me.  Fifty pounds later, I dream of having the energy I did back then.  Now I have less than half the energy and can eat only about a quarter of what I used to unless I want to turn into that woman who can't leave her house because she can't fit out of the doorway.

Alright, I exaggerated.  I am not that heavy.  And friends of mine who are actually more overweight than I am will say I make them sick because I am not fat.  Like them.  That's what they say, anyway.  But I still remember what it's like to be able to go into any store and grab anything in a size 4 and buy it without having to try it on because I know it will fit.  That was only about six years ago.  Before knee surgery, and before my life came crashing down around my ears.  It sure happened quick.  At any rate, I have lost three pounds in the last week and plan on getting back to the 125-pound me of six years ago.  For me that is a healthy weight, one that I feel great at.  In all my goal is to lose 35 pounds by June, and keep it off.

Because I've noticed that a lot of the things I tend to snack on are high-fat and high carbohydrate items, I stocked up on fresh fruit and veggies and eggs.  The apples and dried apricots still contain carbs, but we do still need some of those in our diets.  Now I am trying to be sure the sources of carbs in my diet come from whole grains and fruits, rather than breads, pasta and things that are made with bleached white flour.  In my mind the concept is simple:  the more processed, the worse it is for you.  I used to work at a wellness company, and some of the things I learned there about what and when you eat really do make a difference.  The hardest part it just sticking to it.

Start the day with protein, rather than fat.  Your body will store fat if you start with that, because you are breaking a fast (breakfast, get it?).  If you begin the day with protein, and reduce the amount of fat intake, it follows that you will be putting protein to use rather than storing fat.  And sugar?  If you don't burn it off right away, your body converts that to fat to store for later use.  In the U.S. today, the vast majority of people don't really worry about where their next meal will come from, much less have to do strenuous physical work like climbing trees or chasing game in order to get it.  So where our bodies are storing fat, it doesn't get burned up later, it just keeps accumulating.

As I mentioned, when I came home from the gym this morning I was SUPER hungry!  In order to get some more protein into my diet, I wanted eggs for breakfast.  I could, in all perfect worlds, eat eggs for any meal.  When we go out for dinner, if eggs are on the menu I will order them with hashbrowns onions and cheese, with steak or as Eggs Benedict.  I like them in omelettes or in quiche.  One of my favorite ways is simply hard boiled with a dash of salt and pepper.  But most of the ways I like to eat them are simply not good for me.  I could go on and on.  But today I decided that I would go the healthy route.  Since I was so hungry I used three eggs and three mushrooms, but you could do two of each just as easily.

Three ounces fresh mushrooms (these are mid-sized, about 1-1/2" to 2" across, I weighed them out and three ounces is an "official" serving size).
When choosing mushrooms, look for closed caps.  Mushrooms should not be slimy.  These were rinsed, because some dirt was still attached - which is why they look wet.  You generally don't have to wash mushrooms, and if you really want another kitchen gadget, mushroom brushes are available.    
Saute these in a pan over high heat with a drizzle of olive oil - then sprinkle with garlic powder and onion salt.

Reduce heat to medium.
Add three eggs, mixed, to the pan.  Stir with spatula until partially cooked.

Add two cups of fresh baby spinach.  From the photo above, you might think this is too much spinach, but since it's a leafy vegetable, it's going to cook down some.  Stir to combine, being sure that the spinach does not over-cook.  I turn off the heat just after it wilts and everything is nice and hot.  That heat will be enough to melt the finely-grated mozzarella.

Sprinkle immediately with 1/4 cup finely grated part-skim mozzarella cheese and black pepper (and a dash of grated Parmesan if you'd like).

Prep & Cook time:  about 10 minutes altogether, maybe less

Approximate nutritional value:

3 large eggs 210 15 0 18 0
2 cups spinach 20 0 3 2 2
3 mushrooms 20 0 3 3 0
1/4 cup part-skim mozarrella cheese 70 5 1 7 0
Totals: 320 cal. 20g fat 7g carbs 30g protein 2g fiber

I did not include the value for the olive oil, because I only used a tiny bit.  I love the ceramic pans - no oil needed!

I ate this at 8:45am or so.  It's now 1:14 and I am just starting to feel like it's lunch time, so I'd say that's not too bad for breakfast.  My fat intake target is no more than 49 grams, so I wanted to have my higher-fat meal in the morning rather than later on in the day when I'm not tending to be as active.

2 cups of fresh spinach contains 160% of the requirement for Vitamin A in a 2,000 calorie diet, 40% of your Vitamin C, 8% calcium & 15% iron.  Spinach is so underrated!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Been A While

After some life-altering events stole my attention away from the blogosphere, I am happy to say that I am back.  Back to living in the city where I was born and raised, back to working on my fine arts degree in creative writing, back and ready to cook and write.      

Fully expecting to see that my followers list had dwindled away to nothing, I was thrilled to see that there are still several people not only following my blog, but (mainly thanks to Pinterest) new readers are stopping by to see what is here.  For those of you who still check in, sorry there hasn't been anything new recently, but a big THANK YOU to those who haven't "un-followed" my cooking blog.

As I move forward, my plan is to create a new look for The Working Mom's Recipe Box, complete with better-quality images and writing.  Please continue to check back frequently for new recipes as I will be adding more soon!

Thanks again,


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If You Like Pina Coladas....

 Sorry to get that old song stuck in your head, but I wouldn't want to be the only one humming Rupert Holmes' "Escape."  I wanted to make a frozen treat for my husband, since he accomplished the major task of taking down a nasty old tin shed on the corner of our property yesterday afternoon.

Here's a video of Rupert & his dancing lady friends that I'm sure will make you want to plan an escape of your own, but feel free to skip it if you'd like!

I had to share this recipe, since it was really simple and yummy.  I know what goes into a Pina Colada, but didn't have a recipe on hand - so I had to experiment a bit!

The first batch was a bit heavy on the pineapple and very light on the alcohol, but my goal was to give Hubby a pick-me-up after working all day in the hot sun, not to get him drunk and dehydrated.  However, the heavy work's all done now and I've got a big bottle of Malibu just waiting in the freezer.

I do not claim to be a rum connoisseur.  I might be able to tell the difference between the cheap and the expensive brands, but I cannot tell you which cane was used or what island it grew on.  I merely know what I like, and since I do not drink often I would prefer not to waste my money on the less-expensive brands.  Rum has a natural sweetness to it, since it is a product of sugar cane (or more precisely molasses, in most cases).  Wikipedia has a well-cited article that has more info on how rum is made.  In my humble opinion, Malibu coconut-flavored rum is the best for making a Pina Colada.  Bacardi light is also good, but I like the added coconut flavor and lower alcohol content.  I do not suggest using cheaper brands, but that is my own personal preference.  Pina Coladas should be made with light rum, not spiced rum such as Captain Morgan.  Morgan's great with Coca-Cola or pineapple juice, but I think the spice tends to overpower the coconut in a frozen drink.  That's just my two-cents on rum.  If you drink more often than I do, you will probably have your own ideas on what alcohol goes better with coconut, but that's the lovely part about food and drink:  we are all entitled to our own opinion, and taste is a matter of personal preference.

**If you decide to use my (or any) recipes with rum or other alcohols, please abide by the laws of the land where you live.  Plan to enjoy your alcohol in moderation, either at home or at a friend's home where you are welcome to stay if you need to so you will not be tempted to drink and drive.  Thanks!**

Alright, now down to the nitty gritty (which I am sure will start a whole new slew of songs flowing incessantly through my brain, but I digress) here's the recipe for Sandi's Pina Coladas (or Pina Coldadas if you've already had a few).


These are the basic ingredients:

Of course I am not going to be a foodie-snob, but I do prefer organic.  If Dole is on sale, however, our economy dictates I buy commercial over locally-grown & organic.  Actually, I'd be rather surprised to find local, organic pineapples at local Minnesota farmer's markets.  Minnesota is a great reference for finding some of these growers and markets, if you are in the area and looking for things that actually do grow here.

I used half a 13.6 ounce can of coconut milk (this does separate, so you may want to blend it and then take out half)        
half of the big 20-ounce can of pineapple (tidbits or crushed - it's going in the blender anyway)
half of the orange-pineapple-banana juice concentrate - NOT prepared, just scoop the frozen concentrate out of the can (or just orange-pineapple or pineapple will work, too)
6 oz light rum or prepared pineapple juice

Blend all together in an electric blender and freeze for at least six hours (overnight works great).  The alcohol will keep the mix from freezing solid; if you use prepared juice in place of alcohol it might get a bit more solid.  This is the concentrated mix:

Add 2 cups of this mix to a blender with about 5-6 cups ice (fill the blender 1/2-full of ice) and as much juice or rum as you would like.

I used 12 ounces of rum, and it wasn't too thick, but not too liquid.  However, I would recommend only using 4 to 6 ounces and then adjusting for taste.

  The finished product, garnished with a sprinkle of coconut.  Mix the garnish in before drinking unless you like the look of a flaky, sugary mustache.

*Alcohol-free tip:  If you put a scoop of the frozen concentrate mix into a cup, top it off with a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up.  It's a refreshing drink to serve at showers or brunches.