A Sweet Indulgence

As of late, one thing I have decided is there are just some things in the kitchen that should not be skimped on and my grocery bills have reflected it. Not that I’ve gone out and bought the most expensive everything and anything, but each trip to the supermarket, or maybe more like every other trip or every third trip, I pull out a list of what I consider “sweet indulgence” ingredients and buy something from the list — especially if I happen upon a sale.

Not everything on the list is expensive. Some items are just ingredients that I would not use very often, making it hard to justify purchasing them. Others are a bit on the pricey side but there are some ingredients you should NEVER buy imitation or knockoff’s of, it’s worth spending the extra money.

The other day while picking up a few items at a specialty fruit market (someplace I don’t usually go unless there is a sale of some sort), Hubby and I found a sale on mascarpone cheese. This cheese is best known for its use in tiramisu, but is a wonderful addition to many other rich desserts. A container that would normally be anywhere from $6.50 to $8.00, was marked $3.50 and the expiration date was not until the end of May. What a find! I picked up two containers knowing I would find a use for them.

Some nights I go all out on dessert for the family and spend half the day working on something special. Other nights they are lucky if they can find packaged cookies buried in the freezer. A day or so after finding the deal on the mascarpone cheese in between putting the finishing touches on dinner and serving it, I whipped up a mascarpone cream and soaked some fresh fruit in sweetened Marsala wine. Talk about a rich, decadent dessert!

Although this particular dessert was not something Grace could enjoy with her sensitivity to dairy, Hubby and Zeb devoured the custard bowls filled with the fruit and cream combo. If you’d like to see how I made it, check out my post on Simply Grateful Cooking for Mascarpone Cream with Sweetened Marsala Berries.

DSCF3759

This dessert could probably be made with a less expensive cheese such as ricotta, but the rich, smooth mascarpone, albeit typically pricey, made this dessert “company worthy,” and for this sweet indulgence I am — Simply Grateful.

All Or Nothing

Ever since Hubby quasi retired I feel as though I’ve been running a race. Every day is a whirlwind of running around and at the end of the day I couldn’t even tell you what I’ve done. The only normalcy that has not changed is I make dinner every night. We have a set dinner hour of 5:30 which gives me a few extra hours than I had pre-retirement to decide what to make and do the preparation. This should theoretically be a good thing, but for some strange reason the supposed extra time I have to cook seems to elude me. Let’s blame Hubby for that too, seeing as of late he’s the best excuse for everything that just isn’t working out the way I thought it would.

Anyway, when it comes to dinners, it’s pretty much an all or nothing thing. When there’s a day that Hubby and I aren’t running around all morning into the afternoon or we haven’t worked on projects around the house all day, I seem to spend the entire day in the kitchen. I’ve been making homemade pasta, two to three new recipes sometimes in one meal, experimenting with lots of new ingredients, and really serving some five-star dinner entrees.

When we do run errands or have projects to work on however, I have no desire to be in the kitchen at all. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been gone or working for only an hour or so, that little blip in my routine/schedule is enough to take my ambition or whatever you want to call it away. Thankfully Hubby has been tremendously understanding — too understanding in my opinion — when dinner happens to be just hot dogs on the grill thrown together ten minutes before it’s time to sit down and eat.

I’m not so understanding. The guilt of it all has been weighing on me, so for the past two weeks I’ve been perusing cookbooks, magazines, cooking websites, and favorite blogs for quick meals that require little to no effort, are made with ingredients I typically have on hand, and create the illusion that I’ve done more than just sit on the couch all day eating bonbons (which I haven’t been doing, but again, I just can’t seem to figure out where the time goes and what I’ve been doing, so who really knows).

One such meal was one that I made tonight and was a real hit. Both Hubby and Zeb couldn’t say enough about it and already they’ve both called dibs on the leftovers. Definitely a keeper. Plus, this is one that I think I could vary using different types of meat, cheese, and/or sauce.

Although this is a “sandwich” and Hubby has always teased me by stating “You know you’re in America when you have a sandwich for dinner!” even he thought this was a hearty meal not to be scoffed at. He even commented that if we were to have a sandwich shop or something like that, this would be the one to bring everyone in. I didn’t serve it with any sides other than pickled green tomatoes, but making some homemade potato chips or even a quick batch of french fries certainly wouldn’t hurt.

If you’d like to check out the recipe, it’s on Simply Grateful CookingBarbecue Chipped Ham Sandwiches.  I’m not sure that I’d want to make serving sandwiches for dinner the standard around here, but with sandwiches that can hold their own at the dinner table, I’m willing to relax a little and serve them guilt-free, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Some Things Are Just Better Homemade

There are some really great prepared foods out on the market that can be quite hard to top. Hostess Cup Cakes for example. I know there are recipes out there to duplicate these at home, but for how long and all the effort they take to make, and taking into consideration that I can woof one of those puppies down in about 67 seconds (especially if they are frozen), this is not going to be on top of my to do list of recipes to try. Some things are definitely just easier and dare I say better bought from the store.

However! And this is a big however. There are many, many, many more dishes out there that given the choice of buying them prepared from the store, in a box or from a restaurant verses making it myself, I will have to go with the homemade version. The advantages are many, including knowing exactly what is going into what I’m making, making it fresh (who knows how long some of those prepared meals have been sitting around), and let’s not get started on how great I feel when I serve my family a fresh and hot HOMEMADE meal.

Some things that are better homemade are not necessarily easy or quick. In fact, I’d have to say that most of the dishes I make for dinner seem to take more time than I might actually want to spend in the kitchen, but then again this is my job. Feeding the family is by far the biggest time consumer of my homemaker job and most definitely the one I take the greatest pride in.

A few weeks ago I embarked on a new dish that I have wanted to try making for more than 30 years. Time isn’t always on my side (mostly not on my side) but after trying several store-bought versions of this dish and finding they didn’t compare to homemade, I decided that homemade was the only way to go. Even restaurant versions of this dish left me not quite satisfied. So, when I had a day to spare — well it wasn’t quite a whole day, but lets say a good four hours — I set to work on making homemade potato gnocchi. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Cooking for https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/homemade-potato-gnocchi/.

Amazing how something with four simple ingredients can taste so much better homemade and take so much time to make. I was smart though. Seeing as I was making a mess of the kitchen anyhow, I decided to make several batches and freeze them so I wouldn’t have to have so many hours to make one meal the next time I wanted to serve them.

When I’ve got the time, I have a list of recipes I go to that I want to perfect for the home because either store-bought versions are lacking or restaurant eating is just not our cup of tea. One more recipe off this list and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Finding Fulfillment in Eating Healthy

Why is it whenever I see a recipe for something “healthy,” I immediately think “tasteless, boring, yuk?” And it’s not that I don’t eat healthy and don’t enjoy most of it. It’s just this predisposed belief makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up whenever I hear things like “whole wheat,” “whole grain,” or how about “low-fat.” Ewwww, a chill just went down my spine.

Still, eating healthy isn’t a choice as you get older, it’s got to be a life style. The alternative would be a regiment of prescription medications, continual doctor visits, obesity, and probably a long list of ailments just waiting to put you 6 feet under. I have been painfully aware of this for years because I’ve watched as my parents have let themselves go and have become slaves to their ailiing bodies and forced into a sedentary life because they neither have the energy or ability to get around like they used to. I do not want this to happen to me or Hubby.

For these reasons I have been making life-style changes for years that have kept us fairly healthy, very active, and pretty fit. I cannot say I could run a marathon, or around the block for that matter, but I do exercise, walk regularly, and make sure I am not sitting on the couch eating bon bons more than is reasonable. Hubby is far more disciplined when it comes to the workout, so he might be able to run around the block, but then what would that really prove. What’s important here is that we are healthy and able to maintain the life we currently enjoy throughout the next 30 or so years.

One thing that works a bit in our disfavor is that I really love to cook. And when I say I love to cook, I’m not saying that I like making dinner every night. No, I like to get in the kitchen, try new recipes, work with unique ingredients, duplicate meals that intrigue us when we go out, and really go all out when I make anything. Not many people know this, but when I was contemplating what to study after high school and planning my college schedule, the one career that I truly wanted was in culinary arts. Well, choices I made and paths that I followed did not allow this to be. I moved out on my own and needed to work full-time which left no time for taking classes in culinary arts.

Looking back, however, I realize that I never gave up on this dream. Not that I took cooking classes or anything, but from the day I moved out on my own, one of my favorite things to do has been to cook and I taught myself as best I could. I had a cookbook collection of more than 100 books that I accumulated and studied over and now I can honestly say that one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life is cooking for my family. I cannot imagine that cooking in a restaurant for strangers would be more fulfilling. How could it? My family means more to me than anything and being able to share with them something that I truly love and have them appreciate it — well, it don’t get much better than that.

This aging thing though has been putting a bit of a damper on my cooking. So many recipes, so little time. Well not really. What the problem is, is there are so many recipes that threaten to make us fat, and I want to make them all. Yes, everything in moderation and yes, sometimes I even have to break down and make something — dare I say it — healthy. Ewwww, there goes that chill again. But in order to maintain a healthy life we need to live a healthy life and that includes eating healthy.

One healthy ingredient that I don’t mind using (especially in cookies) is oatmeal. So when I saw a recipe for a refrigerator oatmeal for quick breakfasts, I knew that one day it would end up in my arsenal. Just a few weeks ago I finally played around with the recipe a bit and found that I really liked it. It was easy to make, easy to eat, and very tasty. If you’d like to check out how to make this, I posted the recipe on Simply Grateful Cooking https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/overnight-refrigerator-oatmeal/.

I have noticed that in the past couple of years when I find a recipe I want to try, I look at alternatives to some of the not-so-healthy ingredients of some of them. This way, even if the recipe might not start out the healthiest, I can make it healthier by changing it up a little. Actually though, just by eliminating eating out, eating processed food, and keeping junk food to a minimum, our health levels have improved drastically, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

An Early Taste of Spring

Michigan weather has got to be the most fickle weather around. One day we can have three inches of snow on the ground and temperatures below 20 degrees and the next it’s sunny, not a sign of snow left on the ground other than the quickly drying melted puddles, and the temperatures exceed 60 degrees. This was the case this past weekend.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all beautiful and borderline warm. The highest temps were reached on Saturday when we hit a balmy 62 degrees late in the afternoon. Kids were outside playing, some even in shorts; dogs were being walked; joggers were tearing up the pavement; and I spent some time working on my garden plans for this coming spring.

Of course the weatherman has now predicted that between tomorrow and Thursday we are supposed to get somewhere between 8 and 12 inches of snow. Really!? But then again, why should I be so surprised, this is Michigan after all.

Oh well, at least when it’s cold and snowy I can try to play catch up on blog posts and laundry, that is if the family isn’t up for a family movie night or something like that. Either way, I can definitely whip up some https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/quick-easy-chocolate-lava-cakes/ to warm us all from the inside out. Check out my latest post at Simply Grateful Cooking.

Cold and snow once again on the way and spring is still a little ways off, that’s okay. Michigan weather is a lot like life — always changing — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Winter Harvest

The weather here in Michigan has been crazy this winter. In fact, beginning in November of 2015, it’s been unlike ever before.

Mild temperatures and very little snow is not really characteristic of Michigan, but definitely not something I’m going to complain about. At least as long as we don’t pay for this with a cold and snowy spring/summer.

One wonderful thing that we have been able to enjoy because of this change in the weather is an extended harvest from the garden. For one I was able to harvest peppers all the way through November and second, yesterday I was able to pick some kale which is still growing strong.

DSCF3103

Kale — the plant that just keeps giving. Thanks to the wonderfully hearty nature of this plant, I was able to make a batch of Italian wedding soup (check out my recipe at Simply Grateful Cooking – https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/deluxe-italian-wedding-soup/.

DSCF3105

What a gift, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Love Is In The Small Things

I had finished cleaning up the kitchen from dinner, packed Hubby’s lunch/dinner to take with him back to work, and was sitting on a stool at the kitchen island skinning chickpeas. Hubby came in and we chatted while he put his shoes on and got his coat. We’d spent maybe two hours together in the past 24 and he was leaving again for another 18 hours. We talked about nothing really, just catching up, filling each other in, trying to hold on to some time, dragging it out before he had to leave again.

Picking up his lunch to leave he finally noticed I was doing something. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Skinning chickpeas for hummus.” I told him.

“Why?”

“Well, I read that if you leave the skins on the chickpeas when making hummus it can have a gritty texture. Removing the skins should give it a creamy, smooth texture and I thought you might like that better.”

He put his lunch down, came over and put his arms around me. “This is what makes you such a special wife.”

That really caught me off guard. There are so many things, little things I do every day that go unnoticed, yet I continue to do them because I know my family likes them. I don’t do them for recognition. I don’t do them so they’ll feel obligated to be grateful. I do it because that’s who I am and how I want to be. Having Hubby notice, but even more surprising actually appreciate my efforts and not scoff at them as pointless, was truly special. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that he doesn’t appreciate me, but when he sees me doing little things like this, he will usually tell me that I shouldn’t waste my time because my time is valuable too. Maybe so, but making the time to do these little things is what I do.

I don’t know that I’ll always have the time to skin chickpeas when making hummus, but doing things like this for my family is how I express my love for them every day. Slipping a slice of banana bread in Grace’s book bag as she runs out the door to her night class; giving Zeb a thermos full of hot soup in his lunch on a bitter-cold day; driving across town to buy Hubby’s favorite headcheese to make sandwiches for him to eat at work during his 4-day long stint he has every Monday thru Thursday; this is how I tell them I love them and I wouldn’t change this for the world, even if they never noticed.

This sudden appreciation was a bit out of character for Hubby. Perhaps it’s all the time we’ve been spending apart. It doesn’t really matter. All I know is this moment we spent together made spending the next hour alone in the kitchen after he left far more bearable. I finished the chickpeas, made my first recipe of hummus, and packed it away in the fridge so he could have some as a snack when he finally comes home again.

Hubby will be home tomorrow around 5 p.m. and doesn’t have to go back to work until the following morning at 7 — finally home for more than a couple of hours. He’ll catch up on his sleep and then we’ll catch up on spending some time together. Then, when he leaves for work again I’ll do my best to find a little thing that will remind him how much he’s missed, how much he’s appreciated, and how much I love him, and with any luck he won’t notice — he’ll just know, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Oh, by the way, if you’d like to try my first recipe of hummus, check out my post at Simply Grateful Cooking — https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/roasted-garlic-parmesan-hummus/.

Stocking The Pantry – Banana Bread in Jars

The time has finally come to begin restocking the pantry. Throughout the past three months tons of canned goods have been flying off the shelves. Boxes are filling up in the garage with empty canning jars and there are definitely some major gaps forming in various areas of the pantry.

Although I won’t be able to do anything about goods I can during the summer months from home-grown or locally grown produce for quite a few months, I can definitely work on canning projects that aren’t contingent on seasonal foods. There are a lot of these sort of projects.

This morning seeing as I had some bananas that were well past their prime, too ripe for freezing even, I decided to whip up a batch of canned banana breads. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Canning – Canning Banana Bread.

Only six of the seven made it to the pantry. I had to test one you know — it’s the law! Even so, six jars more in the pantry, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Technically This Wouldn’t Be Cheating, Would It?

Okay, so here I am firmly set in my resolve to lose a few pounds (something like 15) and sitting on the kitchen counter are piles of baking supplies that I never found time to use back during the holidays. I have them sitting there as a reminder that any time is a good time for baking, not just the holidays. Well, that was before I walked that lonely mile to the bathroom scale.

Still, being that all these ingredients were bought prior to my epiphany that I needed to lose this weight, and being that all these ingredients were bought for holiday baking and treats, technically I don’t think it would be cheating if I were to indulge myself. Yep, any excuse and I’ll run with it.

Regardless, I am not going to just freeze or store all these ingredients until next year or wait eleven months to try all the recipes I wanted this past holiday season. What I am going to do is try to control myself and bake/create in moderation. What’s the saying? Everything in moderation, including moderation. So today I caught up on a holiday chocolate that although a bit pricey because of the macadamia nuts, is well worth it. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Cooking for https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/chocolate-covered-macadamia-nuts/.

DSCF3053

The one saving grace with this particular recipe is I didn’t make them with my normal combination of chocolates. I love chocolate, but have far more restraint when it comes to milk chocolate than dark chocolate. This meant I ate one cluster and that pretty much satisfied me for another year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas the time did come to can

Fresh pineapple marmalade and jam.

DSCF2879

A few weeks ago a local grocery store had a sale on extra-large fresh pineapples — $.99 each. So being the ever vigilant bargain hunter, I bought 16 of them. What could I possibly do with 16 pineapples you wonder? Well, can them of course.

Now pineapples aren’t typically ready to eat right when you bring them home, at least this hasn’t been my experience. This being the case and knowing that I wasn’t going to be in a position to can them right away, I picked out pineapples as green as they came.

For two weeks they sat on my dining room table waiting, ripening, until a few days ago. As I entered the dining room, the sweet smell of pineapple overwhelmed me and I knew right away it was time to set to work.

Some of my favorite things to can with fresh pineapple include crushed pineapple or using the juice in sweet & sour sauce, but with this batch of pineapples I decided to start with some Fresh Pineapple Jam and a Mixed Winter Fruit Marmalade, both recipes can be found at Simply Grateful Canning.

These recipes made only a dent in my pineapples, so I’ve got lots more things I can make, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

PS:  Happy New Year!