Monday, November 29, 2010


What does the word comfort mean to you? It means something different to everyone. For some it is their favorite book. For some it may mean food. Yet for others it may be a hug from a loved one.

Dad, me, my sister and brother-they have ice cream

For me, it is several things.

It is pulling into my driveway after a long day and knowing Tofu will be waiting on the steps for me.

It is pulling on a pair of fleece pants and a sweatshirt and pouring a glass of wine.

It is remembering the good parts of my childhood.

My Mom and my brother

My family isn't conventional by any definition put forth by Webster. My family may seem to go against any family you saw on TV growing up. My family is what makes me, me.

My Dad and my brother
I have two sisters and one brother. None of us share the same father, but all share the same mother. My siblings all favor their fathers, and I favor my mother. At least the parts that everyone sees.

Me and my Dad circa 1977
From my Dad I have long, thin fingers, long legs and slightly bulged eyes. I do not have his voice, his wavy hair or his ability to answer Jeopardy questions.
My parents divorced when I was 14. It was all for the better. But there were times when it was all good. While it may be strange to you, for me all of those good times revolved around our annual summer vacation to Cross Lake Minnesota. We went every summer to the Corp of Engineers campground. We would leave at 4 AM and arrive around 8 AM to wait in line for a spot. Back in those days these types of campgrounds would not take reservations. We would park the camper and boat in line and wait until a spot opened up. And Dad was picky. There were only a handful of sites he wanted. Sites 19 through 22. These sites were right by the beach and the boat launch. We could watch the sunsets and the people parade by our site.
We lived like kings for that week we were there. We cooked huge breakfasts in a skillet that is about 24 inches across. I still have the skillet. We would eat pizza one night at the local joint. We would fish all day and they would eat crappies and sunnies and walleyes. I would eat peanut butter and jelly or Spaghettios. We would make Pouchie Pies and S'mores and sing old country songs by the campfire. We would play game after game of cribbage.

Beer Bread
1/4 cup sugar
2-2/3 cup self rising flour
1 12 ounce can room temperature beer (I used Guinness)
Stir sugar and flour together. Stir in beer. It will be foamy. Stir to incorporate dry ingredients into beer, but do not over beat. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 375 degrees F for 50 to 55 minutes.
Enjoy the comfort of some wonderful bread.

I will show you what I did with the rest of the large bottle of Guinness later this week!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And she makes chili for the first time

Food can be a powerful memory. I think of my Grandma Oney every time I eat pot roast, and compare it to hers. Whenever I get to enjoy homemade lefse and really good Swedish Meatballs, I think of my Grandma Isabelle. And yellow cake with chocolate frosting bring me back to every birthday with Mom's cake on the pink cake plate. A certain smell will bring me to someplace in my youth.

December 1983

I was a Senior at Harding High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was in a class of 426, or thereabouts. We were all excited-we were coming into winter break. We were exchanging senior photos. We knew that when we came back, we had just over 5 months and our childhood would be giving way to college, the Armed Services, or working full time.

It started with a phone call. A friend called and asked if I had heard about an accident involving two of our classmates and a Junior. I hadn't heard anything, but made some phone calls to other friends. They had or hadn't heard. There were rumors, speculation. At 5:00 it was on the news. Our classmates had been in a head-on collision with a city bus. Jerry was dead and Eddie was brain dead, but was on a vent.

The next day at school there were so many stories swirling around. From reports from the police, friends and family, the story as we understand it was they had left to go grab some lunch. They were coming down a hill and hit ice. They were not speeding, just lost control. The city bus had no where to go to avoid the collision.

Eddie's parents took him off life support two days later. We were all in shock. People our age didn't die.

I was in choir with both of these boys. They were good boys. They played sports, sang, played instruments. They sang at retirement centers. They weren't bully's and they welcomed everyone.

I called my friend Denise who went to a different high school. When my parents got divorced, they agreed that it would be better for me to start over in a new school rather than facing friends who would point and whisper about the divorce. On my very first day at school, I met Denise, Leslie and Erica. They saw me walk into the lunch room all alone and frightened and called me over to sit with them. Denise and I became fast friends. Denise's Mom invited me over a lot because I lived with my Dad and he was gone quite often, either working or celebrating his Independence. We listened to John Cougar (now he is back to Mellencamp) on her stereo. We made homemade onion rings. We hopped on a bus and went to movies out at the mall. We used to drive down White Bear Avenue in her gold Nova and do the "Death Scream". It was like those screams you hear in scary movies before someone dies. We did indeed scare many people.
I called her to make plans to get together after Christmas. She had heard about the death of the boys at my school at the restaurant where she works, as some of the people she worked with there went to my school and some to hers. She said she had her senior pic ready for me, and I told her the same. I told her we spent way too much time with our boyfriends and needed a girls day, just hanging out and maybe making onion rings.
My Dad decided it was easier to give me money for Christmas since all the stores had the huge day after sales. I hopped on a bus on December 26th and headed downtown St. Paul. I made a rash decision to get my hair cut-super short. It turned out cute, but in the 80's we all had big hair. I found a couple cute things on sale and took off for home. I remember thinking my Dad was going to freak out when he saw how short my hair was, so I walked past my house and went to the store my Mom managed. I walked in and she said "What did you do?" and I almost cried. I told her that I wanted to try something new and I knew it was short, but I didn't think it was that ugly. She looked confused. She said that my Dad had called her, asking if she had seen me and that if I called her I needed to call or come home right away. He sounded angry. At this point I got really scared, thinking I had screwed something up. A side note-we were not getting along very good as my future step-mom had moved in and well, it was a mess. All good now, not so much then.
I waited until I knew he had left for work and had walked home. I don't know if I saw the letter on the table when I first came in the door or not. I put my stuff in my room, checked out the super short hair again, and picked up the note from the table. I read it and it didn't make sense. He said that there were a list of people next to the phone I needed to call. He said he was sorry and that he really liked her. (My father has HORRIBLE writing). Then I figured out the word.
Asphyxiated. Denise and her boyfriend Ron were dead.
They had been at Denise's house and wanted to be alone. Her sister Diane was a year older than us and was home on break and her boyfriend had come over and they were in the living room. Denise's parents were in the family room watching TV. Denise and Ron left in his car and went to the parking lot of the restaurant they worked at and parked. He had backed into a spot and left the car running. He had backed into a snowbank. There was no pain. There was no blood or broken glass like with Jerry and Eddie. They simply fell asleep.
I stumbled through the rest of Winter break and went back to school. Life as I knew it had changed forever. I lost 4 friends in the span of two weeks. I had lost that youthful innocence in a split second.
Now, you are probably asking yourself-what in good gravy does this have to do with chili? Honestly? Nothing. However, at the beginning of this post, I mentioned how food can stir powerful memories in us. So can music.
I hear "Up Where we Belong" from Officer and a Gentleman and I'm back in Mike's bedroom making out like crazy, knowing that we will be together forever.
I hear "Wake Me up before You Go-Go" by Wham! and I'm 18 years old at Dibbos bar in Hudson WI dancing with my friends and drinking Sloe Screws. I was 18-I had no taste back then.
I hear "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack and I think of Denise.
When we pulled up to the church for Denise's funeral, the song "Think of Laura" by Christopher Cross was on. The character on General Hospital had died and they used that song. I cried and cried before we went into the church.
We were leaving the church and I hounded my boyfriend (no, not Mike. Seems we didn't last forever) to make sure the headlights were on for the trip to the cemetery. He started the car and "I'm Alright" started playing. I started to cry and then laugh. Damn her-she knew I needed a sign that it would be okay, and here she was coming to me through the radio.
Monday while I was making chili, that song came on the radio. I stopped what I was doing and leaned against the counter and smiled.
Thanks Denise-I still miss you 27 years later but I feel you smiling down on me every time I hear that song.

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1 medium onion, diced small
1-28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 cans hot chili beans, undrained
1-14 ounce can tomato sauce
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1 tsp. hot chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Brown all the ground meats, in batches. As it finishes browning, put in big pot and start on next meat. When all the meat has been browned, saute the onions for a few minutes in fat remaining from the meat. Scoop the onions into the pot. Pour all the canned tomato products in, and then the seasonings. Stir together and put heat on medium-low. Give a stir occasionally and press the stirring utensil down over the tomatoes to break them up. Simmer at least an hour or longer. I simmered the pot about 3-1/2 hours to let it thicken. Dude likes it thick and clinging to a cracker.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Next stop, Crazy Town

There are 87 cans on my island counter top. 87. This is not including the 18 we threw away because they were past their expiration date.

In my last post, I stated that I have some sort of neurosis about buying food, storing food, starving.

Drama Queen stayed home all weekend-I know, major milestone. She came into the kitchen as I was pulling cans out of the cupboard by our patio door. Dude had put the cupboard up to help tame my appliance addiction. Food soon invaded it and counter top appliances migrated to the basement closet.

I told her there was no organization of our canned goods. There were cans of green beans in the cupboard by the stove and also in the pantry. There were cans of tomato paste in the cupboard by the stove and by the patio door. This would not do any longer. She rolled up her sleeves, took all the cans down, washed off all the shelves, and had me hand them back in the order I wanted. They are now all grouped together by
Tomatoes (since we had so many)

I have 14 cans of Cream of XXXX soup. I can make many hotdishes now. When DQ spotted the Cream of Chicken soup and the enchilada sauce, she set them aside and asked me to make enchiladas. I thought I had posted them here, but cannot find them in my archives. Hmmmm.

These are about as easy as you can get. It isn't even a recipe, really.
I had three cooked chicken breasts I had made yesterday afternoon. I chopped those up, poured in one can of Cream of Chicken soup, 1/2 can of water, and warmed up in a sauce pan. I took 6 tortillas out, warmed them up in the microwave. I brushed enchilada sauce on the bottom of the 8x8 dish, brushed the warmed tortillas with the sauce, spooned about 2 tablespoons of chicken mixture on the tortillas, rolled them up and put in the pan. Brushed more enchilada sauce
on each bundle, topped with a cup of
cheese, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Oh yummy. Hot, cheesy, filling.
Made this icy, windy day a little more tolerable.
Note to self-no more canned goods for 3 months...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No, I don't think she got asked to the Prom...

She was kind of a Plain Jane. Every one's friend, no one's girlfriend. You know, like 'always a bridesmaid, never a bride" type of deal.

I failed miserably at my attempt to clean out my pantry. I had made a 'resolution' to use up what was in my pantry and freezer, only buying fresh ingredients and those staples that I needed on a regular basis-flour, sugar, tuna. I failed. I have this odd neurosis-I am afraid we are going to starve. I really don't know if this is somehow attributed to the stories of my youth about how there wasn't enough food to go around when I was really young. How my Mom would sit out on the porch with a cup of coffee, while my Dad and sister ate, and I picked through the few things I liked.

I don't really remember those times. I remember bits and pieces of life before, say, 7 years old, but not very many things. I remember bugging the crap out of my Mom to let me open a birthday present before my Dad got home from work. I must have driven her crazy, because I remember her letting me open a pair of musical spoons. Do you remember those? They were two spoons with the rounded sides facing each other, and the handles were cemented into a piece of plastic. You would hold them in one hand, slap them against your knee while holding your other hand above them. They would slap between your hand and your leg and make magical noise.

I remember waiting for my Dad to come home from work. He worked at Ford Motor Company in St. Paul. At this time we were living in Baldwin Wisconsin. It was probably 50 miles away. He would come home and strip down to his skivvies and undershirt and I would strip down to my undershirt and panties and on special days he would bring home a little smoked salmon. We would sit on the couch and I wanted to be just like him in my t-shirt and underpants and watch TV. We had an old Black and White console, that had a record player and radio on the other side of the television.

I remember the television repair man who was crippled. I don't know if he had arthritis, or some other illness, but I remember him being nice.

I remember Susie and Sally, the twins that lived across the street, across the open field. They were blond and so pretty.

I remember being at their house and seeing the moving van in our front yard. No one had told me we were moving-the van was just there, and people were moving our few belongings into it and soon we were on our way to St. Paul-to a house that was finally ours. No more renting. We had a yard and my Dad built a sandbox and bought us a Jungle Jym. And I never moved again until I was almost 18 years old and moved in with my Mom.

I never remember us being poor.

In my adult life, we haven't been poor. We haven't had to use an emergency shelter, or use a food bank. We have been broke and couldn't afford things, but we could always make our house payment and all the regular bills we had. We had setbacks. Dude lost his job of 18 years and all of a sudden, I was the primary breadwinner, making a whopping $14 an hour. We had two teenagers, orthodontist bills, clothes, sports equipment, insurance, cell phone bills. We made it through.

I lost my job. Dude was a temporary employee at the cereal plant. We had no health insurance, I willed that my kids wouldn't get sick and we did without presents at Christmas with the exception of a few for the girls.

I am now sitting here wondering if I will lose my job due to my elbow. I know that sounds like I am paranoid, but there has been weird conversations and innuendos and, well, just stuff.
I am now successfully making due with the pantry. I have had to buy some meat, but only on sale.
I have never made pasta sauce before. For two bucks, I could buy a jar of pasta sauce. Work is done, and sometimes it is cheaper than making from scratch. I looked in the cupboard and found many cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste.... and on and on.
I stood looking at the cupboards at 3 PM. Dude was on his last week of day shift as his wrist had healed and he was headed back to nights. Drama Queen was working at the dry cleaners and would be home in a couple hours. Think, Tami, think.
I saw tomatoes, paste, some pasta. I had some cooked ground beef in the fridge. I dumped some stuff together and prayed for the best.
She was a little plain, but she filled our bellies with warm food.
Baked Pasta
1-28oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
1-15 oz can of tomato sauce
1-12 oz can of tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 TBSP sugar
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
pinch of salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1/2 pound cooked mostacciola (I think that was what it was)
1 cup shredded cheese-your choice

In saucepan, combine tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, garlic, sugar, basil, oregano, onion powder and red pepper flakes. Crush the tomatoes down with potato masher. Simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 hours. Stir in ground beef and simmer for half an hour. Pour cooked pasta into an 8x8 or 9x9 square glass pan. Top with tomato sauce mixture and shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
Serve with a green salad and bread.
It wasn't perfect. To me the sauce was too tomato-ey. Dude said I was crazy as that was what it should be like. Maybe all those years of jarred sauce makes me crave a little smoother, sweeter sauce.
I shall play with this recipe. But we went to bed with full bellies and that is what it is all about.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gotta get some Gumbo

While I'm on leave from work, I have been trying to do some more cooking, within limits of what I can lift and gripping knives for more than a minute really hurts. That being said, I'm trying to go outside the box more and try things I haven't before since I have a little more time to work in the kitchen.

Dude has helped a bit with getting dishes and stuff out for me and last week he said "hey, why don't you try gumbo?" Umm, I have never seen him EAT gumbo before.

I researched it a bit on the Internet then sent him a text message saying that if he picked up some bell peppers and celery, I would give it a go the next day. I had everything else in the freezer or the pantry, so it was cheap as chips to make.

I got this off the Internet either on or looked at both.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
1/2 pound sausage, sliced in 1/2 inch slices (I used spicy Italian)
Vegetable oil to make 3 TBSP with the drippings left from sausage
5 TBSP flour
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, smashed, not cut
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 tsp chipotle pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1-28 oz can tomatoes (I used diced)
4 cups cooked chicken, in bite sized pieces
hot rice, cooked
Cook sausage over high heat in a Dutch oven, stirring often. Remove sausage with slotted spoon to a paper towel on a plate, to reserve drippings. Add enough veggie oil to make 3 tablespoons. Whisk in flour, cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Add onion, celery, garlic and peppers. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer 5 minutes. Add sausage and chicken, simmer covered for 5 minutes.
Serve over hot rice.
Now, I let mine simmer for about an hour. I just thought it would taste better if the flavors had a chance to meld. The only thing I will change next time is to use jalapeno peppers as Dude burped up the green peppers all night and the jalapenos don't bother him. He really liked it and Drama Queen even scooped some chicken up and ate it with the rice. Score!

I only have a 3-quart Dutch oven. After making this, it just reinforced my need for a new Dutch oven. I had been looking on-line and they ranged from $99 to $waytoomuch.
However, on a trip to HomeGoods with my Mom and sister, I spotted this 7 quart for $70!! I love the color, but it doesn't represent very good on here.
I'm in love...

Thank you for all your kind words and emails on my last post. I have been feeling like I'm standing on a ledge, peering over the edge and hoping I won't fall. I really appreciate all of you-people I don't even know, but were right there with insight and hope. Thank you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Bars

My Aunt Lola makes the best Special K bars in the world. No, I am serious. I have eaten many in my life time, and hers are by far the best.

I attempted them twice. And failed miserably.

I don't know if it was because I was new(er) to baking and the corn syrup gave me trouble, but they were hard as bricks both times. Nothing like the soft, chewy bars I remember having out on the farm. With fresh milk out of the bulk tank. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Unfortunately, I do not live very close to Lola, so I had to figure out a way to get my fix. This is my fix. It has most of the same taste notes as her Special K bars and they turn out each and every time.

I adapted this recipe from one I got from a doctor I used to go to. His wife was (probably still is) a nutritionist. I had to laugh, because I don't think these fall anywhere under the "nutritious" category on any health provider's guidelines. But I'm not a doctor-nor do I play one on TV-so I will delight in eating these delicious bars all my live-long days.

Chocolate Covered Rice Krispie Bars
1 cup of butter (use butter, not margarine please)
2 (10 oz) bags miniature marshmallows
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 TBSP vanilla extract
9 to 12 cups of crispy rice cereal
1 cup chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
Use a heavy-bottomed large pan. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the marshmallows and continue over low heat to melt the marshmallows. Stir frequently to help them melt. When the marshmallows are completely melted, remove pan from heat. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla extract. Add the cereal a few cups at a time. Add until the desired chewiness is achieved. I add about 10 cups because I like mine chewy, not crispy.
Pour cereal mixture immediately out onto a buttered jellyroll sheet. Pat down with buttered hands so the top is level and the cereal has been squished into the corners.
In a microwave-safe bowl, pour in the butterscotch chips, followed by the chocolate chips. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, then stir. If not completely melted, stick in microwave for another 30 seconds, let sit another 1-2 minutes, and stir again. The butterscotch chips do not melt down as easy as the chocolate chips, that is why I put them on the bottom and let sit before stirring. When chips are melted, stir in the peanut butter. Pour over bars and spread frosting out to cover.

Eat one, or several, with a large glass of cold milk.
You'll thank me later.

The Hungry Housewife: GIVEAWAY-Junior League of Tampa Cookbook

The Hungry Housewife: GIVEAWAY-Junior League of Tampa Cookbook

Go check it out for a chance to win. I always love new cookbooks :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A tip for the Day


Dude is back on his regular job now that his wrist has healed. It was fun being a 'normal' family for a few weeks. We ate meals and watched TV with Drama Queen. You know, normal people stuff.

Now he is back to sleeping at odd times. And waking me up with his snoring. So much so that I got out of bed at 5:03 in the morning. Grabbed some coffee, checked in on Facebook and tried to figure out Twitter (jury is still out on that one)

So, for my tip. Does anyone else have this problem? You open a bottle or a jar of some type of foodstuff, put in on a shelf or in the door of your fridge-and forget about it? And you stand there, looking for that jelly or that fancy mustard, or the last cup of stock in a box and think "how long has that been in here?"
I do-all the time. So it hit me: mark the package and there will be no question. Works great for others in the house too when I'm not around to ask.

I bought a package of Sharpies and keep them in a drawer in my kitchen (covered by other stuff so my kids won't find them and steal them). I simply write the date that I opened it. I also write on it if I know it needs to be used within a specific time period, like the box of stock above. Helps keep waste to a minimum and also helps me plan to buy a different size package if I have a lot left over after a certain amount of time. If the label doesn't have a space to write on it or the container, or it is a dark label, I will write on some masking tape and stick that on the product itself.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Banana Bread Muffins

My Hermit Crab has come and gone. She was only home for about a day and a half, but she crammed a lot into her short stay.
We had lasagna on Friday night, she went out with her High School BFF all afternoon Saturday to celebrate the BFF's birthday. When she got home, she ran to the local taco shack she used to work at in high school and we feasted on tacos and burritos and the awesome crispy potatoes. After dinner we cleared out the dining room and set up our pumpkin carving stations. HC took almost three hours to carve her pumpkin. The rest of us finished in about 40 minutes.
I knew she was jonesing for some homemade treats so I fixed her up with some banana bread and some Chocolate covered Peanut butter Crispy treats (recipe coming soon). I always struggle with making loaves of banana bread-you know, they get all nice and golden brown but the center sinks and it is a hot, gooey mess inside. I now make them in muffin or small loaf pans and they come out perfect.
It also allows me to customize the loaves and muffins since Drama Queen doesn't really like nuts, so I usually need to make 2 pans of bars, or take some of the cookie dough out before adding nuts so she can have nut-free treats. Seriously, my family is way too spoiled.

I have combined two of my recipes to make this one. I received passing marks from the entire family, so this one will need to go into rotation.
Banana Bread Muffins
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (about 3 or 4 swipes on rasp)
3 very ripe bananas
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In medium bowl, combine the flour, soda and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar. (I did this in my stand mixer because of my wrist issues) Stir in beaten eggs, the spices and the bananas. When combined, stir flour mixture into wet mixture. Only stir until combined so you don't overwork the batter. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake 60-65 minutes. Or, use muffin tins that have been greased and bake about 28 minutes. Test with toothpick or cake tester. Cool in pan and then turn out onto rack to finish cooling. Wrap and store in fridge.
I store my banana bread in fridge because the peeps in this house like it a little more firm, plus I think the flavor is a little better this way.
Hermit Crab took a small loaf back to school to share with her roommate. I hope it made it to school and didn't get eaten in the car on the road trip back, or Debbie will be mad at me-I promised her some fresh banana bread.