Friday, February 26, 2010

Oglesbee Odes

Since music informs a lot of our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs, I thought we might share with ya'll what we listen to by posting a song every Friday for the next few weeks. We'll see how it goes.

This first song is in honor this season of Lent. It reminds us of our need for God's mercy and calls us to recognize His sovereignty. This particular arrangement is performed by Jars of Clay on their album, "Redemption Songs," and is my favorite, with the version done by our church's worship band at a close second...but you have to come to SBCRC to hear that.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Free as a Bird

Ian's favorite pastime during these cold, snowy days is building a "nest." At least once a day, he grabs all the pillows and blankets he can find, puts them in a circle, then positions his stuffed animals around the nest. He feeds them, puts them to sleep, scolds them for performing various acts of defiance or rudeness, and sometimes lays down on one of the pillows himself....for about two seconds. Then he bounds up and begins his directing and building all over again. It really is cute and keeps him busy for sometimes up to an hour. Imaginative play is the best...and the most freeing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roast Chicken, Coq-au-Vin-Style

A couple of months ago, I came across a recipe for Coq au Vin, a meal of chicken stewed with wine, carrots, and mushrooms. I tried it one evening and loved the outcome...but wasn't a big fan of how long it took or how complicated it was. It was a dance of adding and removing ingredients, using both the stovetop and the oven back and forth -- in short, a little more complicated than I typically look for on a weekday evening when I'm cooking with kids underfoot.

Enter this week, when I'm running out of my supply of chicken broth in the freezer, and thus, need to roast a whole chicken soon so I have said chicken broth for a soup I'm planning to make later in the week. I have a nice, but inexpensive, bottle of merlot sitting on my counter, just waiting to be used in some capacity; a bag of carrots and a box of mushrooms in my fridge; and some leftover thyme from a meal last week. Hmm....what delicious meal can incorporate all those ingredients, be made on an early weeknight, while still providing me with a chicken carcass with which to make broth? Meet one of my new creations: Coq au Vin, the easy way.
Ok, so the picture doesn't do it justice, 1) because I didn't set up the plate well, and 2) because my camera stinks. But the idea is that it was delicious. So delicious, Eric was raving about it the next day and none of us minded eating the leftovers for a second night. I served it with steamed wehani (an incredibly fragrant dark brown rice that I got on clearance at Kroger a while back) and roasted broccoli. As an added bonus, the chicken broth that was made from the carcass is probably the best broth I've ever made. I seriously can't wait to cook with it.

So here's a rough estimation of what I did to make this "keeper" dish:

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
6-8 carrots, cut diagonally into 2"-pieces
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, quartered
5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 T. brandy or Cognac
1 c. dry red wine
1 T. cornstarch

Preheat oven to 400F. In a skillet, fry the bacon until slightly crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Sprinkle the whole chicken with salt and pepper and place a few carrots, onions, mushrooms, and thyme inside the cavity. Heat the oil in a roasting pan or Dutch oven over med-high heat. Add the pressed garlic, followed by the chicken. Brown each side of the chicken for 2-4 minutes, or until slightly brown in spots. Carefully add the brandy/Cognac and the wine to the pan and allow the alcohol to cook off for a minute or two. Add the bacon to the roasting pan, sprinkling it on top of and around the chicken. Add the onions in a layer around the chicken, followed by the carrots, the mushrooms, and then the thyme sprigs. Cover and place in the oven; roast for about an hour, or until the innermost parts register at 165F. Remove from oven, throw away the thyme sprigs and remove the carrots, mushrooms, onions, and bacon to a separate bowl, using a slotted spoon. With a basting bulb, remove all the liquid from around the chicken and put it in a small saucepan. Add the cornstarch (making a paste with a small amount of the broth first), and heat the liquid until it thickens to a gravy. Place the chicken on a large plate and serve with the vegetable and the gravy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Wonders of Vinegar

In my post on homemade laundry detergent, I alluded to the fact that I love vinegar.....Or maybe I said it outright. I think my actual words were "love affair," and that's not far off. I use the stuff daily for a myriad of tasks around the house.

Why? Well, for you penny-pinchers out there, it saves you from buying all sorts of fancy (read: expensive) cleaning products for your house. At about 2 bucks for a 32-ounce bottle, you can't beat its price. For the tree-huggers, it's a completely safe, non-toxic product that can be bought in bulk at most grocery stores, and is even edible, so you don't have to worry about your kids accidentally ingesting small amounts of it. It's the best of both worlds!

And the sheer number of tasks it can perform are staggering: From drawing venum out of jellyfish stings to soothing a sore throat, or from cleaning out your teapot to getting that kitty pee smell out of your carpet, this product is a serious workhorse. It may smell funny (and that's what warded me off for quite awhile), but the beautiful thing about it is that it dries odorless, which is actually the perfect type of clean. Score!

So, a brief rundown of ways my friend Vinegar is commonly used in our house:
  • in place of rinse aid in the dishwasher
  • to clean my coffee maker and carafe (run 1 c. water and 1/4 c. vinegar through the brewer, then run 1 c. fresh water through again)
  • to inhibit the growth of mold in the seals on my fridge (rub a sponge dampened with vinegar on the seals and let dry)
  • in a solution as a multipurpose cleaner (fill a spray bottle with 1 tsp. borax, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. vinegar, 1/4 tsp. dish soap, and 2 c. hot water). This can be used on pretty much any surface.
  • as a window cleaner (fill a spray bottle 1/2 full with vinegar, then fill with water). For an added "green" bonus, use an old cloth diaper to wipe dry rather than paper towels!
  • as a fruit fly catcher (put 1 cup vinegar in a bowl with a small piece of fruit, cover with plastic wrap, poke a bunch of small holes in the wrap, and let sit on your counter. The bugs will get in to drink up the fruity vinegar, but won't know how to get out!)
  • to eliminate odors from clothes in the laundry (in place of fabric softener, I sprinkle some baking soda in the wash and put vinegar in the fabric softener well -- my clothes come out fresh and soft). For you cloth diaper users out there, this was my standard practice for washing them. The vinegar and baking soda work together to remove soap residue, odors, and stains without breaking down the fabric like bleach does.
  • as a pre-treating stain remover from clothes (either spray the offending spot with vinegar or soak the garment for 10-15 minutes in a bucket with a vinegar-water solution)
  • as a substitute for buttermilk (stir vinegar into milk at a ratio of 1:16, or 1 tablespoon per cup, and let stand a few minutes)
  • in homemade vinaigrette dressings (at a ratio of 3:1 oil to vinegar, mix the two together with salt, pepper, and herbs and spices of your choice)
There are a ton of ways to use vinegar that I've yet to try. Some that pique my interest include using it on your oven to prevent grease buildup, cleaning the toilet with vinegar and baking soda, removing sticker residue from surfaces, removing rust from old nails, using it as a skin cleanser, killing weeds outdoors, and brushing it on baking bread for a crispier crust. Clearly, my relationship with this wonder product is not over and will only continue to grow.

Are you now ready to go out and spend a mere two Washingtons on a big jug of environmentally-friendly vinegar? Have you found any interesting ways to use vinegar in your house that I haven't mentioned?

Both my life and this post were made easier by Heinz's book Over 10o Helpful Household Hints for Vinegar by Christine Halvorson, published by Publications International, Ltd in 2008. It was a very thoughtful gift from my Grandma DJ at Christmas a couple of years ago. Thanks, Grandma!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Outside Looking In

This kid loves his play time in the snow. Almost every afternoon, he goes out with a toy or two and putzes around the backyard (thank goodness for fences!) and plays in the snow. Sometimes he's out there an entire hour while I'm making dinner, but usually he gets cold after 20 minutes or so and comes in for some hot chocolate. With cinnamon, of course.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Simple Recipe Collection

About seven years ago, my recipes were kept in a file folder which was jammed-packed with recipes I'd both tried and not tried, all mixed together in a messy pile of barely-tapped potential. When I would go to look for a recipe I had in mind, I spent most of my time shuffling through the debris, muttering to myself, "I know it's here somewhere...." For those of you who know me, it's shocking, I know. But that was my cooking life for the first two years of our marriage. day, I had an epiphany that literally changed my life: Why not type out any recipe I know I'll use again on a 4x6" note card and keep them in a photo album, organized by category? And thus was born the document that my husband puts on his list of things for which he'd run into a burning building to save: my recipe book.

Meet one of my best friends: This baby makes my life infinitely easier and is really not that hard to keep up. Not only can I quickly and easily find any recipe I'm looking for, but it also makes menu planning much more simple because I can just flip through the categories to get some ideas of things I'm already confident I can make well.

As you can see, I used file folder tabs to delineate the categories, plain white 4x6" notecards to print the recipes out on, and a refillable 3-ring photo album to put them all in. Easy peasy.
And this week marked an important event in the life of my recipe book. Because my collection is growing so large, I was running out of room to put new pages in the book. Hence, Book #2 came into being. And now my recipes have breathing room. Ahhhhhh......

So, how do you organize your recipes? Do you have a box that you keep them all in? A binder? A computer file? Nothing at all? Where do you go when you want to access a tried-and-true recipe that you've made before?