Friday, May 30, 2014

Cleaning A Water Dispenser Tray

I saw this technique for cleaning your refrigerator water dispenser tray while browsing Pinterest one night and immediately pinned it because ours was pretty crusted up with hard water deposits. Most of the things I pin end up getting ignored, but I decided this was one I should really take action on.  It still took me about a week to finally remember to do it, but I was glad I did.


Embroitique Refrigerator Door Water Tray Gunk Cleaning Trick


The concept is to cover the object with vinegar, let soak about 3 minutes, then scrub with a toothbrush and dish soap.  I know that vinegar is commonly used to remove calcium deposits, but the dish soap part is new to me.  I have no idea what that would do to help matters, but I figured I would go with it since that's what the instructions called for.  
Before shot.  Hey look! You can see my feet in the reflection!
I pulled out the tray and searched around for a container deep enough to soak the whole thing in vinegar. Since it's wide I had trouble finding a container that could hold it.   I ended up putting it in a plastic container from the dollar store that normally holds our immersion blender parts.
Soaking the tray.
The water spout was also gunked up with calcium deposits, so I got out a new spray bottle and filled it with straight vinegar and spritzed it a few times so it was soaking wet.   

I set a timer for three minutes to ensure both pieces soaked long enough, otherwise I would likely get excited and jump into scrubbing too quickly.
Added a little dish soap and scrubbed away.  Do you like my new scrubber?
I couldn't find any extra old toothbrushes under the sink, so I pulled out my new striped scrubber cloth (can't remember where I bought it but just had to have it!).  I added a tiny dab of dish soap and scrubbed away.  It wasn't obvious anything was going on, but I had faith since vinegar is usually pretty awesome. 
I could tell that our buildup of crud was pretty bad and would take more than one scrubbing to come clean, so I immediately re-soaked and scrubbed both the tray and the spout a second time. And the deposits don't show up when the object is wet, so I had to wait a long time until it air-dried to see the real results. 

Eeww.   The 'before' shot makes me realize that our guests were probably grossed out to get water from our dispenser.  Funny how you can get so blind to something you see every day. 

As you can see, the results aren't magical, but it's definitely much better than it was.   It could maybe use a couple more cleaning sessions to hopefully get the rest off and some regular maintenance to ensure it doesn't get bad again. 

I've also got a pin that shows how to clean your oven with baking soda, which is desperately needed since I never clean my oven and spills get burned on.  It's pretty bad.  If I can find the time when I'm not using the oven and enough time to get it started, I'll show you how that goes.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our Garden's Progress

Here is a photo compilation of the growing progress in our raised garden hoophouse and a fabric pot that sits under a separate hoophouse frame.  Keep in mind that I don't do any of the gardening, Husband Jeff does. 

Jeff said that he's checked it on a sunny day and the temperature inside the hoophouse (plastic film draped over PVC ribs) can get up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. He waters it every day and if it's going to be really warm, he has to open it up so the plants don't get cooked.  The raised bed has been really successful in the past years, once we fully uncover it, it seems like the bunnies pretty much avoid it. 

First Week - Sunday, May 11, Mother's Day

Jeff had already planted some seedlings he bought, but I received some seedlings from my mom for Mother's Day, so I set their pots where I wanted them to go between the existing plants.
Husband Jeff is planting some of my seedlings. 

Mid-planting. Droopy new seedlings.
Jeff picked up a couple fabric pots while on a trip in Seattle and he totally loves them.  We don't have anything planted in the larger one yet, but we used the medium-sized one to hold the few plants that didn't fit in the raised bed. 
Fabric pot with I think zucchini and cantaloupe (or cucumber) on the left,
tomatoes on the right.

 Second Week - Sunday, May 18

A variety of veggies - Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cauliflower,  broccoli
and a handful of herbs - fennel, chocolate mint, dill
Does anybody know what that strawberry-looking plant is at the bottom of the photo above?  I think it's a weed but Jeff must think it's something we want since he didn't pull it out. 
That little bushy thing at the front is a special basil. 
We bought this specialty basil (Pesto Perpetuo) because it tasted better than the standard Genovese basil, but it doesn't look like it's going to be a big plant, so we're going to get a couple Genovese so I can make lots of pesto this summer.  I freeze it in ice cube trays and then move them to gallon bags.  We're just finishing up the pesto from last year. 
Growing along in the small fabric pot.

Third Week - Monday, May 26, Memorial Day

Wowee!  Holy progress!  Lots of good warm weather for growing.
It looks like some of our smaller plants will be overshadowed by the larger ones, but I'm not too worried about it.  It would be nice if we could tie up some of the leaves to get them out of the way or if those larger plants were harvested earlier so they could be cut down to give the smaller guys some sunshine.
The newly dug up area at the front here is for beet seedlings.
Only a couple bean seedlings from the tray made it, the rest rotted.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Freezing Tips I Recently Discovered

I'm reading some "preserving the harvest" books right now to give me inspiration for all of the things we're going to get from our garden or buy at the farmers' market this summer.  I know I've got a while before the big harvest season gets here, but I wanted to be ready when huge bunches of produce are cheap instead of passing it by because I didn't know what to do with it.  

I selected these canning books because the recipes are for smaller batches, only a few pints rather than filling your pantry with gallons of jam that you'll have trouble giving away. I've read all three of them and can't wait to make small batches of BBQ sauce, pickles, marmalade, dessert fruit sauces, etc. 


In my reading, I came across two bits of information that I found interesting/helpful and new to me.

Tip #1 - Cool Before Freezing

Warm food takes longer to freeze than chilled food, the slower freezing gives the ice crystals time to grow into large jagged chunks.  So cool the items first before freezing since it'll form smaller ice crystals, resulting in a better texture later. 

I think for everything I am going to freeze, I'll chill the item in the fridge for a while (overnight probably) before putting them in the freezer. 

Tip #2 - Blanch Produce Before Freezing

Blanch fruits and veggies before freezing because it gives you a chance to kill off the bad beasties like bacteria.  Freezing doesn't kill them, it just slows them down, so it's better to blanch and take care of it right away rather than give them time to grow on your food when you go to defrost it.   

I always skipped the blanching step when freezing fresh produce at home, mainly because that's a whole additional step that I was too lazy to do and I figured it didn't matter much. I had understood the blanching to result in a brighter color and better texture, but I usually cook the frozen veggies so the texture was always going to be softened anyway. Plus who wants to heat up a huge pot of boiling water in the middle of the summer to only use it for a few minutes?   But I had never heard this reason of general food safety.  Makes sense though.

I don't think I'm going to freeze much produce this summer since it takes up a lot of room in my freezer and we want to have room for things like Jack's Rising Crust pizzas and gallons of ice cream.  I'll likely preserve more things by canning if possible.  Some items like corn can't be water-bath canned since they aren't acidic enough and I'm not interested in pressure-canning, so I'll definitely freeze a lot of sweet corn.  I guess I will can most items and freeze what I can't. 

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of May 26

  • Monday - Memorial Day.  We're having guests at our Breakfast Club group by inviting our friends Jim and Isabelle to come with us to the Daisy Cafe.  In the afternoon our neighbors are having a party so we'll be having grilled brats, hot dogs, and burgers there for dinner along with the regular party/grillout fare of chips and salsa, crackers and hummus, etc.
  • Tuesday - Our friend Isabelle is coming over to our quiet house during the day to work a little bit while she's on vacation since we'll be at work or school.  I'm going to take her out to lunch at Underground Butcher since I was really impressed by it last week.  For dinner we're sticking with the summer picnic/grillout theme (went to three different grillouts over the weekend) and going with grilled hot dogs, baked beans, and pesto pasta.   I want to make homemade sourdough pizza tomorrow, so I'll start the crust tonight.
  • Wednesday - Once again, continuing the grilling theme.  I want to make pizza on the grill using Trader Joe's Italian chicken sausage and probably some pepperoni for Sonny D.  We'll also have a frozen bag of garden veggie medley and salads.  
  • Thursday - I've got Zumba right after work so I'm leaving Husband Jeff with the idea of pancakes from the freezer and fruit.
  • Friday - This is Me & D night and I promised him we'd go out for sushi.  He loves fish, rice, and seaweed, so hopefully this goes well. 
  • Saturday - I've got Core Fusion exercise class in the morning and then in the afternoon I'm heading over to Capital Brewery to start setting up for the big Burgers & Brew event.  We've got friends joining us for the actual event, sounds like we'll have a lot of fun and pigging out on a lot of burgers and beer (well, hard lemonade for me since I don't like beer).
  • Sunday - We'll do our regular Northside farmers' market visit in the morning and afterwards is Ride the Drive where they close down a major street in Madison and everybody gets to walk, bike, rollerskate, etc. on the road.  It's so surprisingly quiet and really fun.  In the afternoon I'm excited to have an interior decorator coming to help me accessorize the house.  For diner I want to make coconut-crusted shrimp with orange marmalade dipping sauce, but I don't know if Husband Jeff will be interested in that.  My fallback idea is doing the shrimp up with an almond-panko coating instead and figuring out a non-sweet dip based on whatever we've got in the fridge and pantry.  And fish sticks for Sonny D.  Maybe we'll pick up some veggies at the farmers' market to have with it.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ruby Spring: Honey-Roasted Rhubarb Sauce

I bought a bundle of rhubarb at the Sunday farmers' market with no actual plan in mind, I just wanted to buy something fresh since it was finally there.  I made a rhubarb cake a couple weeks ago (using home-frozen rhubarb) and so we didn't really need another cake again so soon.  I don't have any other rhubarb recipes bookmarked and no other desserts I wanted to make, so I decided to turn it into a fruit sauce to use in my morning oatmeal.   Rhubarb sauce is also supposed to be good on ice cream, so I might try a spoonful that way.  My current favorite ice cream topping is peanut dust, what's left after Husband Jeff eats the huge container of store-brand peanuts from Target.  It is so perfectly nutty-salty with a tiny touch of sweetness! 

[Edited on July 2, 2014 to add microwave cooking instructions. See below!]


Cafe Zupas' honey roasted rhubarb


  • 1 bunch rhubarb (mine was 6 long stalks)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons orange juice


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Microwave instructions - To make this in the microwave and not heat up your house, put the chopped rhubarb in a bowl with the honey and microwave for 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, and then about 2 more minutes.  If you have a less powerful microwave (mine is heavy-duty) you might need to cook it a bit longer, but it's really quick. 

While the oven is heating up, cut the rhubarb into bite-sized pieces and put it into a glass 9x13 baking dish.  I had thoughts floating around in my head that rhubarb is acidic enough that you need to avoid metal containers, so I figured glass was probably a good safe choice.  Better safe than sorry.

And no need to worry about spraying the pan.  I gave it half a second of thought but went without and it was totally fine because it's so wet that it's not going to stick.   
Chopped rhubarb, oj, and honey.
Add the honey and orange juice.  My orange juice is frozen cubes from a pitcher I made several months ago (not homemade at all, completely from one of those frozen concentrate canisters).  All of the cubes froze into a big blob, so I had to whack the bag against the floor a couple times to break up the chunks. So classy.  One ice cube is approximately 2 tablespoons, so I just went with that. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes. 
After cooking 20 minutes.
I stirred mine after 15 minutes and decided to cook it another 5 minutes to reduce some of the liquid and fully soften the last couple of pieces.  I wish rhubarb was less wet so it could have browned like when you roast veggies.  I guess I could have put it under the broiler for a bit, but I'm slightly afraid of the powerful broiler, it's easy to let something go a little too long and burn it. 

Then I mashed the fruit with the back of the spoon and let it cool a bit. 
After mashing with that big serving spoon.  I don't like that weird pink and green color. 
As it cooled it unexpectedly thickened which was good because that's more of what I was looking for. And I don't know if it's because it cooled or what, but I was glad it turned more appealing pink color that the freshly-mashed dingy green and dull pink. 

After cooling a bit, I transferred it to a smaller container and tucked it into the fridge for later in the week. 
Beautiful ruby color of fresh rhubarb sauce. 


I licked the spoon as I finished cleaning out the baking pan and liked what I tasted.  I'm glad I went with this recipe that used only 1/4 cup of honey, it was the right amount of sweetness and not too tart. Some of the other recipes I found used 1/2 cup of sugar, which would have been way too sweet.

I also liked that it added some orange juice for some variety in the flavor.   I wanted to add some vanilla extract and a touch of cinnamon, but I completely forgot since I was making this on my lunch break and I was watching the TV show Clean House on my iPad at the same time. I'll probably add a couple of teaspoons of my homemade vanilla (essentially vanilla vodka, a handful of vanilla beans in a bottle of vodka) and a sprinkle of cinnamon later. 

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of May 19

For about the last week or so we've had the windows open overnight. It's so nice to have fresh air after a long, cold winter.  But the huge drawback is that the birds start making noise at dawn's early light, which is just before 5:00 a.m.!  I don't remember which ones started it, but I definitely heard a screeching crow.  It was so loud I could hear it even after I put in earplugs.  And the frustrating thing is that they do it mainly as the sun is starting coming up, they're less loud later. I'm a light sleeper with a lot of rules (as dark as possible, need silence, prefer no fan, etc) so the birds definitely wake me up. And then I find it difficult to roll over and go back to sleep, so lately I've been up around 5 even though my alarm isn't set to go off until 5:45. So not cool.

Last Week

We totally took down a 9-pound ham in only a few days.  That's a pretty big ham!  It started as a dinner with Husband Jeff's dad and we chowed down leftovers for the next couple of days.  I threw the bone and a bit of extra meat into the freezer and I'll make some awesome soup with it.

Even though it was cold on Friday, we enjoyed the community carnival put on by the nearby grade school & elementary school.  I think it was a fundraiser for new playground equipment.  Sonny D had a great time romping through the bouncy obstacle course, playing a few of the old-school homemade games, and some time in the bouncy house.  We had dinner from the food trucks parked there.  I really wanted tacos, but after standing in line for so long and not getting anywhere, I gave up and joined the guys at the Slide food cart.  Sonny D had their cheese-stuffed meatball slider with marinara, Husband Jeff got their shredded buffalo chicken sandwich, and I got the sweet potato slider with curry mayo.  I got to taste all three and they were so good!  I also bid on a silent auction item, a cut/color/wax from my hair salon, Union Hair Parlor.  When we checked before we left I was the only bid, so I hope I won.  Haven't heard anything from them yet though.  I've never bid on a silent auction item like that.

On Saturday afternoon Sonny D and I had a great time visiting my best friend and her twin 8-year-olds.  We hung out, played at the park, and went out dinner at Noodles & Company.  At dinner Sonny D found out the reason why I always tell him to not squeeze his juice boxes/milk.  He squeezed it and it shot up like a volcano, up into his hair, on his shirt, and on his pants.  He complained and wanted his pajamas to change into, which of course I didn't have with us.  I was  reminded I should always bring the bag of extra clothes in case something like this happens.  Luckily it wasn't a whole lot and he went home only a tiny bit soggy.

Sunday morning at the Northside farmers' market was absolutely gorgeous weather. I was glad to finally see fresh produce available this week. I bought asparagus, a dozen eggs, rhubarb, salty-and-sweet kettle corn for Sonny D, an orange-carrot juice, and my usual couple of spring rolls.  Husband Jeff and I shared a spring roll at the market because they're so big and I brought the second one to work and am chowing it right now as my Monday morning snack at work.  In the evening we met up with some friends for an awesome all-you-can-eat sushi dinner at Muramoto.  We had a great time chatting, laughing, and eating WAY too much food.  We had one gal who said that after having two kids the raw stuff didn't appeal to her anymore and Husband Jeff doesn't really care for sushi in general and by the end we were all chowing down on everything.  Husband Jeff said "This is sushi?!" when we had him try the Tokyo Picnic roll, which features pork belly.  Yes, it's not traditional but he agrees it's absolutely delicious!

This Week

  • Monday - chicken with pasta in mustard cream sauce. After dinner I'm going to trim Sonny D's hair. 
  • Tuesday - I've got a Burgers & Brew planning meeting (the event is next weekend), so Husband Jeff is on his own for dinner.  I figured fish sticks and roasted red pepper-tomato soup.
  • Wednesday - Home-frozen Asian meatballs with broccoli and carrot fried rice.
  • Thursday - I'm away again, this time Latin hip-hop cardio class right after work.  I planned the guys would have a bag of Trader Joe's gnocchi alla Sorentina with sauteed shrimp and a bag of frozen veggies.
  • Friday - I promised Sonny D that we could go shopping at Trader Joe's tonight for Me & D night, so we're having a quick dinner of hot dogs, baked beans, and pesto pasta and then heading to the grocery store.  You might be wondering why he wants to go grocery shopping, it's because he gets to use the mini kid cart there.  He did great last time, he listened really well and was really patient. 
  • Saturday - I've got Core Fusion class and then we kick off the summer with our friends' annual Burger Challenge.  It's a contest for the best burger but there really aren't many rules, your only goal is to please the judges (the other guests).  We've never been there for the actual contest, but have enjoyed the potluck afterwards. In the evening the in-laws are having a family grillout.  
  • Sunday - Our usual Northside farmers' market visit in the morning and then later my mother-in-law and I are going out for lunch and then watching the taping of the local White Jasmine Everyday Cooking TV show (Groupon/LivingSocial deal). Not sure what to do for dinner.
  • Monday - Since it's the Memorial Day holiday and essentially an extension of the weekend, I'm including Monday in this week.  We don't have any plans, but since our friends from Seattle will be in town, we'll probably do something with them.

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Latest Trip to Aldi

Aldi's cute design on their paper bags
Before last year, I hadn't been to Aldi in a long time.  Here's my blog post about my last shopping trip at Aldi. When I went last February, I was impressed by the selection, quality, and general nicer feeling it was to shop there.  They have really cleaned up in the 10 to 15 years since I was there previously, so I was quite willing to go back.  The only drawback is that it's slightly inconvenient to go to Aldi since I know they likely won't have everything I want. Plus it's a lot of convenience food and not a lot of real food.  I was curious to see if it had changed, so I went to Aldi over lunch on Tuesday.

What I Thought

I was surprised to see so many brand name items available -- General Mills cereal, Oscar Mayer lunch meat, Boca vegetarian burgers, Nabisco crackers, Jif peanut butter to-go cups, Taco Bell taco kits.  And more food variety than I remembered, this time I saw things like steel-cut oats, frozen pierogies, whole refrigerated ducks, 4-5 flavors of deli mustard, specialty cheeses, agave nectar, and K-cups.  They also had a good number of diet, gluten-free (they're currently having a big sale on gluten-free items), and organic items. And a lot of the produce looked pretty good.  I was also impressed with their knock-off package design, if you didn't look closely, you wouldn't notice that it wasn't the big-name product you're used to seeing.

This time I was sad to find they didn't have some of the things that I liked last time, in particular the marinated mushrooms and veggie-enhanced pasta. I suppose items come and go, but if I find something I like, I want to keep buying it!

I was annoyed by the other shoppers.  The store was relatively empty, but it seemed like there was always someone standing right in front of an item I wanted and completely oblivious that someone else was even next to them, so they rarely moved over to share the space. Complete tunnel vision.

I was slightly in a hurry so I pretty much skipped over the fresh meat, plus I was also a bit hesitant about buying something so perishable.  But after seeing their weekly specials/flyers and noting that it's USDA Choice (check out the beef grades to know what it means), it's likely the same quality of meat you buy at your regular store, so I shouldn't be so worried. 

Our kitchen table loaded with what I bought (click for larger version)

What I bought (and price, if notable) 


  • French vanilla non-dairy creamer (Sonny D & I use it for a "milk" float on our oatmeal, Jeff uses it for coffee)
  • 2 half-gallons unsweetened original almond milk (we go through this pretty quickly since it's the only milk we have in our house)
  • 4-pack of strawberry Greek yogurt cups for Sonny D's school lunches (I had to search to find the ones that were already blended, he doesn't know he needs to stir it.)
  • country style chicken breakfast sausages (was surprised at the minimal ingredients, I think it was pretty much just chicken, salt, sage, and thyme. This is their SimplyNature brand, it tends to be organic or not loaded with chemicals/preservatives.)

  Fresh Produce

  • head of cabbage
  • three multi-colored bell peppers
  • bag of Gala apples ($2.99)
  • mango ($.99)
  • sweet potato
  • 2 grapefruit ($.49 each)
  • 2 avocados ($.79 each)
  • pint of blackberries ($.99)
  • sliced mushrooms (these might even be the same brand I've bought at the regular grocery store)

Dry Goods

  • ground fair trade coffee ($3.99)
  • ground decaf coffee (Husband Jeff mixes regular and decaf to get a half-caff blend)
  • cheddar cheese rice snacks (for Sonny D's lunches again)
  • 2 cans mandarin oranges (these were popular last week when I opened some for Sonny D's lunch, so figured might as well get more)
  • can sauerkraut (canned isn't as good as homemade but I figured sometime soon we'll grill hot dogs or brats and I'll really want sauerkraut with mine.  Eventually I'm going to try to make my own.)
  • can pumpkin puree (on clearance but the price wasn't that great, $.99)
  • crushed pineapple
  • canned pink salmon (it's motivation to make salmon cakes/patties)
  • pure vanilla extract ($1.99.  I'm pretty liberal with my vanilla for recipes and this is a good price for real vanilla.  Don't ever buy imitation vanilla, it's made from wood by-products. Yuck!)
  • loaf of 12-grain bread ($1.89, amazing price for something nicer than generic white bread.  It has a variety of whole grains as the first ingredients and it tastes good.)
  • chocolate and peanut butter protein bars (for Sonny D's lunches or a weekend snack)
  • Glutino pretzels (the best pretzels ever! $3.49)
  • package of 6 100-calorie bags of light microwave popcorn (good afternoon snack when you're hungry at work.  I split the box half, some for me and some for Jeff to take to the office.)
  • high-fiber multi-grain crunch cereal (I'm hoping this is similar to Sonny D's favorite Trader Joe's 9-grain crunch, I think both are knockoffs of the Kashi Go Lean Crunch)
  • bottle each of tempranillo and Chianti wines for Jeff ($4.99 each)

My total for this trip was $67.83.  The most expensive item was the bottles of wine for $4.99 each and the cheapest items were the grapefruit and mango at $.49 each. 

It wasn't until I looked back at my blog post about last year's shopping trip that I realized I had bought a few of the same things on this trip -- the Chianti wine, fresh avocado, canned mandarin oranges, and mushrooms.  


Once again, I was impressed. I think everybody should take a look at Aldi to check it out and pick up a few items.  They might not have everything you need, but the stuff they do have seems to be good and the sale prices are cheap!  If you come to our house for a party this summer, don't be surprised if you find that most of the food came from Aldi.

It's nice to find quality items at Aldi, but the selection is limited.  Think of it as a trip to a store like TJ Maxx or Marshalls.  You can have ideas in mind for what you want to look for, not an exact list.

Tips For Shopping At Aldi

  • Go with an open mind, you might not find what's on your list, but you might find something you'd like to try.
  • Take a quarter, you'll use it to get a shopping cart.  Return your cart to get your quarter back.
  • They only take cash or debit cards, not credit cards or checks.
  • Take your reusable bags, grab the empty cardboard boxes you see while shopping, or buy plastic/paper bags when you get to the checkout lane.  
  • You'll bag your stuff yourself at the counter past the checkout. Bagging was difficult for me since I'm so obsessive about how things are packed, but it's nice to know that it's exactly how you want it, like cold items together, bread and tender produce not squished, etc.

Wanna Chat?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Condensed Soup Challenge: Transformed Into Alfredo Veggie Lasagna

This recipe was inspired by the lone can of Campbell's condensed cream of broccoli soup I had sitting in the pantry.  I had no idea why I bought it, it must have been for a recipe I was interested in a long time ago since I couldn't even recall buying it in the first place.  I figured I should probably use it up, which is usually a great way to provoke some creativity in the kitchen.  I started with my classic approach, search on the internet, this time looking for recipes using "cream of" soup. I found the shortcut alfredo lasagna recipe linked below, but decided it was healthier to make a version with a lot more veggies, regular noodles, and a lot less cheese.  Hopefully you find it motivating enough to make your own version!


Making The Dish

Our kitchen was chaos while I was preparing this recipe when I was home from work over lunchtime. I had three burners going at one time, was putting together two versions of the dish (one with mushrooms for me), and chopping up loads of veggies. I used an 8x8 baking dish and I think something like a 9x7. 
Sideways shot of my kitchen counter while working on this dish.
I made the alfredo sauce, but used only half the amount of milk and added the can of Campbell's condensed cream of broccoli soup. It was the perfect texture and I didn't need to change anything. 
Creamy layers.

I layered my new creation of broccoli alfredo sauce with lasagna noodles, bell pepper (cut paper-thin on my mandolin slicer), zucchini (cut thin as well), a bit of torn spinach, sauteed shredded carrot, sauteed sliced mushrooms, and shredded mozzarella.  I pre-cooked the carrot because otherwise it might not have been enough time in the oven to soften it properly.  I pre-cooked the mushrooms so they didn't release all their liquid and make my pan too wet.

I hadn't planned too well when figuring out how many noodles I needed.  I laid the dry noodles out in several various baking dishes to see what configuration would fit best in the right size baking dishes.  I worked it out that there would be two layers in each dish (that's all the noodles I had in the house, seemed perfect), but forgot that when you make lasagna you need to end with a layer of noodles on top to keep everything from drying out.  Luckily I had to trim the noodles to fit into my two baking dishes and ended up with enough scraps to make top layers for both dishes. 

Deliciousness inside
I put them together over lunch and then packaged them up and put them in the refrigerator so I could bake them when I got home.  It took about 50 minutes to bake at the ubiquitous 350 degrees, half of the time covered with foil and the second half uncovered.  


This dish turned out great.  It was even better once we added a sprinkle of salt to the servings on our plates.  I'm still not very good at properly seasoning my dishes.  I'm always afraid I'm going to over-salt it since I like my food a little saltier, so it ends up that I under-salt it since I'm so paranoid about it.  If I had properly seasoned it from the start, it probably would have taken less salt overall.  I was afraid that the canned soup was going to be more than enough salt. 

It ended up that Sonny D never even tried this dish.  I'm still not sure if he would have liked it or not.  The veggies might have turned him off, but the creamy cheese sauce might have been appealing.  That kid is such an enigma.

I love making dishes that leave you with leftovers so you can have them for lunch later in the week.  This made several servings, probably about 6-8 depending on how hungry you are.     

My version was vegetarian, but it would be great with some cooked chicken.  And of course bacon would be welcome.  For veggies you could also add cherry tomatoes, roasted red pepper, broccoli, peas, artichoke hearts, asparagus, etc.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Menu plan: Week of May 12

In Review

This last week I saw my lovely hair stylist Daisy at her salon, Union Hair Parlor.  I had her cut 4-5 inches of my hair off.  I love the cut, it's exactly what I was looking for. I think it's called the 'lob', long bob. It's still long enough to pull back in a ponytail to keep it out of the way for my exercise classes, but short enough that the curls are bouncy and fun.  My hair was getting kind of scraggly when it was longer, my waves/curls just aren't strong enough to support the weight of longer hair.
Selfie in the car after the salon visit.
Can't find a "before" pic, I guess I don't take many selfies.

I branched out and tried rutabaga based on my brother-in-law Scott's recommendation. I peeled off the waxy coating, cut it into chunks and roasted it with some carrots.  I really liked it!  It was mild and nice, kind of like a toned-down sweet potato.  I would definitely get it again.   And it's less calories and carbohydrates than a standard white potato and higher in fiber.  They would be good in hobo packets when camping.  The only thing is that it's a dense veggie and is a lot of work to cut through.

I sweated my way though two Latin hip-hop cardio (essentially Zumba) classes like usual.  Love it!  I love Monica the instructor, she's really good at Zumba and really gets you moving.  Look her up on Facebook, it's Monica's Dance Fitness.  The Tuesday class is $5 (which is super cheap for a drop-in class in the first place) and the Thursday class is only $3 (I know, it's like it's free!) since it's at a community center.  She also teaches a Monday class in Marshall, which is a little too far for me plus I think two sessions per week is fine. 

On Friday Sonny D and I went to Isthmus a la Carts, the big spring food cart event.  A bunch of carts come to a big park and you pay a $20 entrance fee and you get featured samples from any the carts.  It was fine (aside from the cold weather) but I thought it cost more than it was worth and it wasn't that special.  Plus you had to wait in line a long-ish time for only a tiny sample. I'd rather take the same amount of money and just get food from the carts that interest me instead.  But Sonny D was great, he was patient with standing in line and tried most of the foods we got.  His favorite item was the cheese popcorn (had 2 bags) and I really liked the Ladonia Cafe's vegan BLT. 

For Mother's Day I got a lot of plants - a beautiful stargazer lily from my in-laws, Husband Jeff planned up a pot of pink Gerbera daisies and then an herb garden in a gorgeous Mexican pot, and my parents paid for my choices of a few other food seedlings at the greenhouse.  Oh, and Sonny D made me an adorable pair of earrings at school, I actually like them and wear them.

This Week

  • Monday - We unexpectedly went out for Mother's Day dinner at Buck & Honey's in Sun Prairie last night with Husband Jeff's parents so tonight we're finally we're having our defrosted chicken enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce and salads
  • Tuesday - Roasted tofu and noodles in peanut sauce.  I know I said I was going to have this last week (and for several weeks before that), but this last week we detoured with pancakes made from my sourdough starter because it was ready.  After dinner I've got Zumba.   
  • Wednesday - Husband Jeff's dad is coming over for dinner of a HUGE spiral ham (just under 9lbs!), scalloped potatoes (from a box!), lima beans, and maybe another veggie.  The guys like their ham done up as sandwiches, so maybe I can get Husband Jeff to pick up some good bakery buns on his way home. 
  • Thursday - Zumba again and Sunny D's last swim lesson.  I didn't plan a meal here, but the guys can have ham dinner leftovers while I head off to Zumba right after work.
  • Friday - There is a Northside community carnival going on, I don't know what it is but we're going.  I've heard there will be food trucks at the event, so I want to eat that for dinner.  
  • Saturday - I've got Core Fusion exercise class in the morning, and then maybe visiting my friend Kate in the mid-day and afternoon, but we haven't made any plans yet.  Dinner will be chicken with mustard cream sauce, pasta, and a veggie.
  • Sunday - Northside farmers market in the morning and all-you-can-eat dinner (mainly sushi) with friends at Muramoto, my favorite sushi place in town.  

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taming the Wild Yeast: Sourdough Crackers

When my wild yeast sourdough starter was fully established, I decided to make something with it.  I had sourdough crackers in mind because it's a good way to use the discard, the part of the starter you remove to make room when adding it the new flour and water to feed it. Plus the recipe doesn't rely on the yeast for leavening, so you don't have to catch the yeast at their peak to ensure maximum action. 
This was a lazy recipe.  First, I was too lazy to start it.  It seems intimidating because it's a multi-day recipe.  I had intended to start it the first night but then skipped it because I just wanted to go to bed.  I finally summoned enough energy to work on it the next night but immediately refused to follow the recipe properly, using it more as a guideline.  I didn't measure anything, just threw it together until it seemed right. 

But after all the laziness, the whole thing ended up being much simpler than I thought.  It's really not hard at all.  And you don't need a wild yeast starter, I used mine because it was there.  Here's a cracker recipe that doesn't use sourdough starter. and you can have it ready in about 15 minutes. If you are even slightly intrigued, I suggest you try it.  You will find that you are a cracker-making superstar! 


The Pocket Farmer sourdough crackers

This recipe is flexible, the author gives variations for herb crackers (what I made) and cheese crackers.


Day 1 
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup flour
  • about 1/4 cup oil (I used vegetable oil because it was a neutral flavor and cheaper than butter, plus easier to use.   You could use butter, coconut oil, etc.)

Day 1+
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • some seasoning 


Day 1
Mix the starter, flour, and melted butter to make a dough. I kneaded mine a bit to get it really cohesive. 

The recipe called for a lot of melted butter (1/3 cup) but I decided to use vegetable oil instead, and a reduced amount.  I didn't measure anything but eyeballed it and mixed the ingredients up and kneaded it a tiny bit to get a cohesive ball.  I put it aside in a covered 4-cup glass measuring cup on the counter to ferment.  I wasn't sure how to cover it, so I used plastic wrap and a large washcloth on top of that.  The recipe said you need to let it sit out for at least 8 hours but the author mentioned she had had occasionally let hers sit for 36 hours.  I left on the longer side, I mixed mine together on Friday or Saturday night (can't really remember!) and finally baked the crackers up on Monday night. I think the longer you let it sit, the more sour it will be.
Fermented dough after several days.  Should have oiled the measuring cup!

Day 1+
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

After you mix up the initial starter + flour + fat and let it ferment, the rest of the rest of the recipe is really easy.  Add salt, seasoning, and baking soda and knead to incorporate, then roll it out.  I added Pampered Chef garlic & herb seasoning, but I wasn't sure how much to add since the recipe didn't specify.  I didn't want it to be overwhelming, so I only used 1/2 teaspoon seasoning. 
Rolled out dough my non-stick baking mat, scored into cracker shapes.
I rolled the dough out right on my baking mat (generic Silpat) rather than doing it on the counter and then transferring them.  If you don't have a baking mat, use parchment paper. 

After rolling it to the right thickness, I added some salt for the tops and lightly roll it one last time to push the salt in.   Then I used a pizza cutter to cut it into shapes.  You could probably use a knife, but I think it would drag through the dough too much. 

And the super neat thing is that you put it in the oven exactly like that with the score marks.  And then as the crackers bake, they separate themselves. Bake for 12-15 minutes.  I went with 15 minutes for the first batch, but they seemed a little too dark, so for the second batch I went with 14 minutes.  Next time I'll go with even a little less, maybe 12-13 minutes.
Baked crackers.  I didn't move them, they separated themselves.
To cool down you'll definitely want to put them on a cooling rack to let the air flow around them rather than a solid surface.  Don't put them in a container until they're fully cooled, otherwise they'll get soggy.  
Finished crackers, cooling down.


Success! The sourdough taste is awesome, it's certainly sour.  I loved it and so did Husband Jeff.  Sonny D took them for his lunch several days in a row and actually ate them.  Yay!

And while everything was fine, they need more seasoning (probably 2 teaspoons depending on the flavor?) and less wheat flour.  I've read you shouldn't use solely whole wheat flour when you bake, but I'm always too lazy to pull out a softer, milder flour.  This recipe really shows why that's important.  Just too wheaty and heavy tasting. 

I actually rolled the dough out too thin because some of the ultra-thin ones are too light.  The thicker crackers have an enjoyable texture, a little more body.  I read reviews for a similar cracker recipe where the person talked about rolling them with bamboo skewers as a thickness guide, so I'll try that next time.

I've promised Sonny D that I'll make him a chocolate version sometime, but I have no idea what to do for that! I can't just add cocoa powder since it'll need some sweetness too.  I thought maybe copying a chocolate graham cracker recipe would be good, so that'll be my inspiration.

I'd also like to make a spicy Cajun cheesy version.  I used to make similar crackers when I was in high school and totally loved them.  It would be fun to also make a black pepper and sesame batch.  Oooh, and of course I'd love to whip up a cinnamon-oatmeal version (with fermented oats, of course!).  And it would be fun to make completely-from-scratch hummus to go with it. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Am Pleased To Introduce To You...

"Billy Jean is not my lover, she's just a starter that I keep in the fridge."
This is the newest addition to my kitchen, Billy Jean, the wild-yeast sourdough starter I've been nurturing for the last couple weeks.  It seems like most people give their starter a male name, but I went with a female moniker for mine.  I'm not really sure what inspired me to use the title of a Michael Jackson song, it was just in my head when I was trying to decide what to call it. 

I struggled with the starter a bit at the beginning, I wasn't able to follow simple directions of feeding it with equal weights of flour and water, had to deal with low nighttime temps in our cold house, etc.  But after regular, proper feedings and creating an incubator in the cupboard with a light to keep it warm, I was able to get it really going.  It consistently rises a good amount after feeding in about 10 hours, which is exactly what you're looking for.  It might rise even quicker than that since I was only checking occasionally and not really paying a whole lot of attention.  
A closeup of the lovely, bubbly Billy Jean.
Husband Jeff was getting a bit weary of leaving the kitchen light on every night for Billy Jean, so I read up on how to get her tucked away and hibernating in the refrigerator with only occasional feedings.  Her current home of a 6-cup Pyrex container is a bit too large for long-term storage in our fridge, so I moved her to a small and wide salsa jar. That seems like a good amount to maintain.

So You Made It, Now What?

I will feed Billy Jean about once a month and use the occasional spoonful to ferment my porridge/oatmeal, which I still haven't done yet.  I'd also like to make some other recipes like sourdough waffles and maybe the occasional sourdough bread, but that wasn't really my focus with this project.  Making things with your sourdough starter is not usually a spur-of-the-moment thing, takes a lot of forethought, like you need to start on something three days before you actually want to make it.  I'm quite fond of planning, but that seems like a lot of effort. 

Wanna Chat?

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of May 5

Nothing gets you moving quicker and the blood pumping on a lovely Monday morning than sharing a shower with a huge house centipede!  I had just finished my shower this morning and was toweling off when I looked down and spied his big feathery body inside on the shower curtain at about my shins.  I've got terrible eyesight so being able to see him with my blurry un-corrected vision should give you some sense of the gigantor size of this beast!   I gave an involuntary shriek and swiftly departed the shower because I didn't want to share the space with him any longer.  I toweled off hurriedly but every tiny drop of water still on my body gave me the heeby-jeebys. Blech!  Yes, I know they're harmless, but I don't like bugs.
Eek! There he is hanging out next to my wet PJs.
After my departure from the shower I ignored him and proceeded to get ready -- applying deodorant, face lotion, etc. Then I moved my pajamas and found that he or his twin brother was hanging out underneath them. I gave another yelp and we had a staring contest for about 30 seconds, then he ran away under the door out and into the rest of the house. I let him run away unimpeded and abandoned my son and husband to fend for themselves against the monster and finished getting ready.  Sorry honey, I love you but if the world's hairiest house centipede comes for you, I'm running the other direction.

The centipede freakout was totally warranted because I had even checked the shower for creepy crawlies this morning!  I was a little fearful because had an incident a few weeks ago where I ended up showering with a big mama and actually thought about calling a friend to come over early to take care of it (meaning smash it to dust like a vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). But I figured I had to be a good role model for Sonny D and I dispatched of it with a can of aerosol hairspray (didn't even slow him down!) and huge wad of five full-size paper towels (no small pick-a-size paper towels for bug squashing, I need maximum protection!).

Week in Review

On Wednesday we arranged things at the last minute so Husband Jeff and I were able to go out for dinner and a movie.  Jeff had an afternoon meeting out of town that day so we were getting a later start than usual but rather than hit a fast food joint for dinner, we headed to La Mestiza Mexican restaurant right near the movie theater.  I informed the waiter we were trying to make it to the 7:10 show and he was awesome about getting us everything really quickly.  Jeff had the chicken enchiladas verdes and I had the taco trio, we'd recommend both.  We made it over to the budget movie theater with more than enough time to get some of their great popcorn and watch previews before checking out the movie Monuments Men.  Husband Jeff enjoyed it because he likes war movies, particularly World War II.  I thought it was a decent movie and a fine way to spend an evening. 

We went to the big downtown farmers' market on Saturday morning.  I know it's rather early in the growing season, but I had hoped for at least a little asparagus or rhubarb.  I guess our long winter slowed everything down because it seemed like there was only a bit of spinach and hoophouse tomatoes.  There was a lot of other things like honey, maple syrup, baked goods, meat, hanging flower baskets, seedlings, etc.  We ended up with a chocolate chip cookie for Sonny D, Husband Jeff picked out broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants for his garden, and I got a piece of my favorite Colorado beef jerky from D&G Meats.

The next day at the Sunday northside farmers' market the weather was cold and cloudy and we didn't have too high of hopes for produce after our Saturday market experience when I pulled Sonny D down there in his wagon.  Luckily the smoothie cart was there so I got my spring rolls, but Sonny D's favorite egg roll stand wasn't there so he got kettle corn instead.  He ate half of the small bag immediately and asked to have some in his lunch bag on Monday.  I had forgotten about it this morning when packing his lunch so I was glad I spotted it on the counter so I could tuck a bit into a bag for him. Hopefully he liked that surprise.

And on Sunday evening we had an awesome afternoon and evening with our friends Dustin & Jessica in Milwaukee.  Sonny D had a nice nap on the drive over and he woke up just as we pulled off the interstate near their house.  Our friends bought their house last year(?) and immediately started renovating it and it looks great!  Sonny D and I have been there once before, but Jeff hasn't seen it yet, so he had the full tour to check out their progress.  We hung out chatted and had Sonny D pretend to make us pizza and cookies with his play foods.  Later we walked over to the nearby elementary school and checked out their awesome playground structures.  Sonny D really enjoyed playing with Jessica, he even asked about her this morning at breakfast with a smile on his face.  We got back pretty late last night and right after we got home I was unpacking the leftovers and Husband Jeff said Sonny D went straight to his room and crawled into bed on his own because he was so tired.  So we left it at that, skipping both brushing his teeth and changing into pajamas.  After I read a couple books and turned down the light, he was asleep in just a couple minutes.  I'm surprised he actually stayed awake for the books!

This Week

It looks like the weather is going to warm up nicely by the middle of the week, upper 70s! Yay! 
  • Monday - Grilled steak salads.  When I was grocery shopping I knew I wanted to make steak salads this week, but I don't really know much about meat.  Plus I was grocery shopping at night when everything was already picked over, so there wasn't a whole lot available.  I picked up what looked nice and wasn't too big.  I ended up with top round, which I hope turns out good.  My internet research tells me I should marinade it and thinly slice it, so I threw it into a bag of marinade ingredients over lunch.  I'm also going to make sourdough crackers from my sourdough starter and roast carrots and rutabaga to get a head start on tomorrow's dinner. 
  • Tuesday - I've got a haircut over lunch and after dinner I'll head off to Latin hip-hop cardio class.  Going quick for dinner with brats from Jim's meat market, sweet potato French fries, and roasted veggies
  • Wednesday - I bought some fresh veggies on Saturday night that are already fading quickly so I'm going to make a white veggie lasagna sooner than expected.  It was a creative idea I came up with when trying to find a use for the can of condensed cream of broccoli soup in our pantry. I think I'll thin out the soup and add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese to make it into an alfredo sauce.  I'm also going to try to figure out a way to make it so I can have mushrooms in mine, maybe make a separate dish in a loaf pan, which I think fits lasagna noodles.
  • Thursday - More Latin hip-hop cardio for me and swimming lessons for Sonny D.  Last week swimming was cancelled because of an accident at the pool.  We assume that meant someone pooped in the pool.  They still went out for ice cream though!  Dinner tonight is going to be leftover veggie lasagna.   
  • Friday - I'm going out for lunch at Banzo (awesome falafel, hummus, etc.) with my friend Kristen.  She's a busy nurse practitioner and usually doesn't have time to go out for lunch, but she has a monthly meeting on the other side of town in the morning and is going to stop by on her way back to the office.  For our weekly "Me & D" night I'm picking Sonny D up early from preschool to go to Isthmus a la Carts for dinner.  I've never been to it, but it's described as a "celebration of the Madison-area street food scene".  A bunch of the food carts will set up at a park and we get sample sizes of all the wonderful food.  I'm not looking forward to waiting in long lines with a potentially impatient 3-year-old, but all I can really hope for is decent weather.  They're currently predicting 62 degrees with a 20% chance of rain, but it's so far in advance right now that I'm not going to worry about it until the day of.  
  • Saturday - I want to finally go to the local bakery outlet the next town over (Sun Prairie) to pick up the bread we like, Village Hearth 12-grain.  It's low in calories but not super-thin and flimsy like other similar breads.  We can go through a loaf of bread in just a few days so I tend to stock up.  I buy several loaves at a time and keep the extras in the freezer.  Bread defrosts great, I highly recommend it!  I am hoping to finally make roasted tofu with noodles in peanut sauce after having it on the menu for weeks! 
  • Sunday - We're having breakfast with my parents at Blue Gilly's Pancake Pier on the river near their house.  We're going to try to get Sonny D to leave in the morning without any breakfast so we can eat a real breakfast when we get there.  I'm going to talk it up this week so he's ok with the idea.  I'll probably bring some fruit so he can eat something healthy while we wait for our meal. For dinner I'm making chicken with mustard cream sauce with pasta or defrosting the frozen chicken enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce I made a while back. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!