Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eats: Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

Hello! We don't eat a lot of red meat at our house, but when I see a "reduced for quick sale" sticker on a package of beef, I'll buy it. And it's fine with me if the cut of beef is a less tender type; the slow cooker is perfect for tougher meats. 

It was cold and blustery today, so a hot, hearty dinner seemed in order. I made the following:

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff(adapted from the 1975 edition of Crockery Cookery, Mable Hoffman, author)

1 1/2 to 2 pounds round steak
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups beef bouillon
1 tablespoon catsup
2 tablespoon dry white wine or sherry
1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup flour
1 cup sour cream

Cut meat into 1/4" strips. Coat with salt and pepper and drop into slow cooker along with onion. Mix together garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, beef bouillon and catsup. Pour over meat. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until tender. Turn control to high. Add wine and mushrooms. Dissolve flour in small amount of water. Add to meat mixture, stirring until blended. Cook on high for 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Stir in sour cream; turn off heat. Serve with rice or noodles. Makes 5-6 servings. 

Notes: the recipe is actually labeled "Budget Beef Stroganoff" in Hoffman's book, but beef isn't exactly budget-friendly in today's world (though the "reduced for quick sale" pricing makes it more so). 

Hoffman's recipe calls for one teaspoon of salt in the first step and garlic salt instead of garlic powder when mixing the sauce ingredients. I choose to use less salt, which is why I subbed in garlic powder and just sprinkle a bit of salt on the meat in the first step.

I don't like mushrooms, so I've never used them in this recipe. 

I find this makes plenty of sauce, so rather than mixing the flour in a small amount of water, as specified, I use a turkey baster to take out some of the liquid from the slow cooker and mix the flour with that. 

This smells great as it cooks, and tastes great too. It may not look like much:

I sprinkled a dash of red pepper flakes on top, but as you can see, there's not a lot of color to this dish. Doesn't matter; we gobble it up anyway! 

By the way, that's homemade whole wheat spaetzle underneath the stroganoff. I wouldn't have ever attempted to make spaetzle (a sort of cross between dumplings and noodles, in case you didn't know) if I hadn't been given this:

My mother-in-law had purchased that Austrian spaetzle maker, and it was found, still in its original packaging, among her things after her death. My sister-in-law, her daughter, didn't want it and asked me if I did. I'd never even considered making spaetzle but had enjoyed them in German and Czech restaurants, so was willing to give it a try. 

Glad I did - although a rather soft, messy dough, spaetzle is easy to make and cooks up quickly to boot. It goes perfectly with my beef stroganoff. 

The same sister-in-law is connected to tonight's dinner in another way. Several years ago, she and her two daughters lived with my widowed father-in-law. While visiting them one weekend I noticed a rather sad chunk of cooked beef in their refrigerator and asked about it. She looked crestfallen and said she didn't know what had happened, but her beef roast had come out too dry the night before.

I sure didn't know what had happened either, but it seemed like too much meat to go to waste. I told her to get out her slow cooker and I'd use that roast to make my beef stroganoff recipe in it. Fortunately I had committed the ingredients list to memory, and she had everything on hand already as well. 

I really wasn't sure how the dish would turn out, since after all I was starting with cooked beef instead of raw. But it was fine - and, of course, far more tender than it would have been the night before. Score one for the slow cooker!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Favorite Part Of The Winter Olympics

Hello! I'm not a winter sports enthusiast, but I did enjoy watching the Winter Olympics these past two weeks. 

There were highs and lows, thrills and spills, along with the usual dramas such as "will the host site be ready in time?" and "were figure skating scoring results fixed?" 

I watched in awe at the acrobatics of the X-game-style events and enjoyed the elegance of Davis and White as they ice-danced to a gold medal. Snowboarding and ice-dancing: two very different forms of athleticism, which goes to show you that there's something for everyone at the Winter Olympics.

However, my favorite part of these Winter games ended up being the various Nordic skiing events, a category in which the US doesn't even historically do well. But my husband tuned into the Olympics randomly the first weekend, where we heard an announcer screaming with excitement during one of the Nordic ski races. It was then that I remembered having heard the same guy screaming during a biathlon race at the last Olympics. 

Still didn't know the announcer's name, but then it was mentioned in an AP wire story the next day that summed up the previous day's Olympics results. Thus, I learned that it's Chad Salmela who's been providing the breathlessly excited commentary during Nordic events. 

I wasn't the only one to notice Salmela's announcing style, of course. One website called him the "breakout star" of the games and provided a link to one of the races he called. You can check it out HERE. 

The link to the video is in the article. Listen for "they're all running on FUUUMES!" lol 

NBC must like Salmela's style too, as they compiled a video of his "most emphatic cross country calls". See it HERE.

Love the way he says "it's a two-person race" with fierce glee at the 14 second mark!

The Olympic games are now over (except for the tape-delayed events being shown later on today and tonight.) I won't forget the excitement Chad Salmela brought to the Nordic events though!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Eats: Macaroni And Cheese

Hello! I know that many of you grew up with macaroni and cheese, but when I was a kid it was rarely served at our house. There were only two occasions when it appeared: at Christmas Eve, to appease the kids who didn't like the main course (French-Canadian style meat pie), and whenever my parents' old friends, Shirley and Jerry, came to visit. 

The Christmas Eve macaroni and cheese was sometimes homemade, but other times it came out of a box. Didn't matter to me either way, as I was just happy to have an alternative to the dreaded meat pie. 

Shirley and Jerry (and their two kids) came to visit maybe 2-3 times a year, with one of those times always being New Years' Eve. Marathon bridge games (Mom and Shirley vs. Dad and Jerry) were the order of the day (and night), but Shirley always made time to cook up a huge pot of macaroni and cheese for us kids. We loved it. I never got her recipe, and she has since died. I asked my mom once about Shirley's macaroni and cheese, and she replied it was made with Velveeta. 

I was a bit disappointed in that, as I don't really care for Velveeta. I did occasionally use boxed macaroni and cheese as a cheap eat in college, but as a full-fledged adult with more discretionary income, I prefer real cheese. 

Thus, the search was on for a good macaroni and cheese recipe. I tried a few here and there - Amish-style (didn't care for its taste because of the seasonings used) and one that was cooked in its entirety in the slow cooker - yes, it started with uncooked macaroni. Very easy, but there was nothing special about it. Other recipes came and went as well.

Four years ago I tried another recipe, this time one clipped from a community cookbook. "Easy and very good!" I wrote next to the recipe. My recipe search was over. 

Now, I know that macaroni and cheese is fattening, so I only make it once or twice a year. (My husband and daughter don't like it, so when I make it, I end up with several servings just for me.) However, I had a lengthy snow shoveling session one day earlier this week, and the next day heaved snow off of a flat-roofed section of our house (that was actually sort of fun). So, I figured the extra calories would be okay. And they were worth it indeed:

Yum! If you want to see if it's "easy and very good", as I had proclaimed when I first tried it, here's the recipe:

Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces macaroni, cooked and drained (I used whole wheat)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt(I omit, as there's salt in the cheese)
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375. In a greased 1 1/2 quart shallow baking dish, alternate cooked macaroni with 1 1/2 cups of the cheese in two layers. Set aside. Melt butter in saucepan. Blend in flour. Gradually stir in milk, salt (if using) and pepper. Bring to a boil. Stir one minute. Pour over macaroni and cheese. Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted. 

The only real "work" in the recipe is the making of the white sauce, but it goes together pretty fast, and I've never had any trouble with it. It may seem a bit thin when it's done, but thickens up nicely during the oven baking time. 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Get Carded: Where Science And Valentine's Day Meet

Hello! For the past few years now, I've used pages from a vintage engineering textbook to create my husband's Valentine's Day card. He's an engineering professor, so the inclusion of such ephemera makes sense - well, at least to me it does!

The book is the 1943 edition of Virgil Moring Faires' Applied Thermodynamics. I believe it came to me via a very talented card-crafting friend who was downsizing in advance of an out-of-state move. 

My edition was once Navy property:

In spite of the warning that the book was "not to be marked or mutilated in any way", you can clearly see that this admonishment had been ignored. Besides the numbers written above, some of the pages have writing in them next to various equations, and a homework paper of neatly-written problems had been left in the book as well. 

Such signs of hard work weren't a surprise when I did some online research on Navy V-12 units. I learned it was a college-based WWII officers' training program that crammed the equivalent of two years of college in 1 1/2 years. After completion the graduates still had to attend midshipman's school for 120 days. Whew! 

The seven students who had signed their names in this textbook ("for your protection in case of loss") would have likely been very surprised that 61 years later the book played a prominent role in my latest card creation:

Materials used:

- white card stock
- section of page from vintage engineering textbook
- heart shape cut from serendipity paper
- three small hearts punched from an old manila folder that had been
  stamped with red ink
- "loving" cut from 1960's school paper that had been my husband's
- "LOVE" stamped in red ink
- "the change of kinetic energy" and "the work for a steady flow"
  cut from the leftover part of the textbook page I'd used
  for the card

I really liked how the card turned out, so I suggested to my husband that he show it to his students as an example of a good Valentine's Day card for an engineer. He did so and reported later that they seemed quite surprised that such a card had been made. I suppose they are more used to the standard-issue Hallmark type. 

But who knows - maybe one day they'll tell their significant others about the goofy Valentine's Day card their professor showed them one year when they were in school. Not a bad way for the 1943 edition of Applied Thermodynamics to live on!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Valentine's Day Parties, 1960 Style

Hello! It's almost Valentine's Day, so let's take a look back to see what parties for this holiday looked like in 1960 - at least, according to:

There are six pages in this book devoted to Valentine's Day, but strangely, they were printed with purple or yellow accent colors - not a speck of red to be found. 

But then again, there's no red to be seen in any part of this book; the closest the Betty Crocker folks seemed to have gotten was a fuschia on some of the pages. Why no red? Had they run out of that color? Were they worried they'd be labeled as Communists? (joking here) I have no idea!

Well, red or no red, it's time to show off some pages:

Here's a menu from the first page in the Valentine's Day section. Looks like a rather fancy supper, but the only recipe that accompanies the menu is the one for the Heart-shaped White Coconut Cake - likely it's included because it calls for Betty Crocker's White Cake Mix and Fluffy White Frosting. 

Oh, wait - there was a paragraph on how to make Heart Croustades. But I guess people were on their own for the Lobster Newburg that was supposed to go in them!

Want to show your family how much they mean to you? Here's what Betty Crocker suggests:

Why yes, all you have to do is make a colorful tablecloth! I don't know about your family, but I know mine could care less what the tablecloth looks like on Valentine's Day - they're far more interested in the foods I'll make to put on the tablecloth!

Anyway, we are shown an example of how nice a Valentine's Day tablecloth can look:

Again, no red to be seen - although the description for making the tablecloth mentions using a red cotton border edged with red braid. The letters and shapes are to be cut from remnants - presumably not in yellow and white as shown here!

Two more menus for the holiday:

Today's young girls would still like cupcakes, of course. These were to be made with any Betty Crocker Cake Mix and topped with Fluffy White Frosting. A small red-tinted homemade frosting heart and pink-tinted coconut completed the cupcake decorations. I'd make things easier by just using a red-tinted frosting and sprinkling untinted (because it's already white, naturally) coconut on top. 

"Strawberry Milk", by the way, is just milk with either strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream topping or thawed frozen berries mixed in. Sounds okay to me. 

But the menu for the Valentine Supper doesn't, at least in my opinion. Creamed Chicken in Pimiento Mashed Potato Nests - yuck. Celery Hearts and Radish Roses - rather boring. Ice Cream and Milk - the only part of the menu I'd really like.

Well, kids' parties aren't just about food anyway; there needs to be some activities pertaining to the event. Of course, Betty Crocker knows this:

After having made "lots of simply decorated heart-shaped cookies", mother supplies the party with clean, empty food containers and various materials for decorating them.  I think this would still be a fun party activity for kids, and it sounds like something I would have seen in Family Fun magazine when our daughter was younger. 

Some decorating ideas for the "Valentine-decorated Cooky Boxes" are given:

If you eat oatmeal or cakes made from mixes, you can do this too!

I wouldn't make "bows of rose-colored pipe cleaners", but I do like the idea of decorating a tea tin for a gift presentation - and I like the idea of filling it with tiny cookies! It could be really quite charming, I think. 

But alas - while cruising a local thrift store earlier today, I forgot to check to see if there were any tea tins for sale there. My poor family and friends - they'll have to make do with the printed cardboard gift containers I already had on hand for the holiday. Such a disappointment. :) 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eats: Shortbread Cookies

Hello! With Valentine's Day soon here, a quickly-made, yet tasty and pretty treat is a good thing. A shortbread cookie recipe in my files fit the bill on all three counts. It was clipped from a thrifted community cookbook, so I don't know the source. 

Technically, these probably aren't really shortbread since the recipe calls for baking powder; I don't think traditional shortbread has that ingredient. But this was still an easy recipe to whip up - and yes, it was tasty and pretty too. 

The recipe:

Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
(vanilla, optional; see notes)
2 cups flour (may need a bit more if adding vanilla; see notes)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Prepare the dough: Preheat oven to 350. In large bowl, cream butter with electric mixer. Gradually add the powdered sugar and then add the vanilla (if using). Beat until well blended. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Beat until blended. 

Make the cookies: Roll the dough 1/4" thick on floured pastry cloth. Cut into shapes with floured cookie cutter. Place the cut shapes on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: 48 cookies (Note: keep in mind that yield depends on size of cookie cutters used.)

Notes: I added vanilla to give the dough a bit of a flavor boost; didn't measure the amount. You can add any other flavoring of your choice if you want. Because the vanilla added liquid to the dough, I added a bit more flour as well. 

The dough was soft, but I floured my pastry cloth and rolling pin well and the dough didn't stick at all. I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter and topped the heart cookies with colored sugars before popping them into the oven. This kind of cookie is delicate, so I thought it best to decorate them in this way rather than frosting and decorating them after baking. 

Here's how they turned out:

Like I'd said - quickly-made, tasty and pretty; just the thing to share with family and friends for Valentine's Day. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get Carded: Valentines For Vets 2014

Hello! As I've done for several years now, I crafted 24 handmade valentines for the Valentines for Vets program. The valentines were mailed off to a regional VA medical center earlier today.

My cardmaking began with a fresh batch of serendipity paper. I'd recently seen a project in which pieces of paper bags were decorated with rubber stamps. I liked the look, so headed to my paper bag stash to see what I could find. 

I first learned to make serendipity paper on atlas pages, so wanted to find a paper bag with an interesting design printed on it. I was in luck with a paper bag from Cost Plus World Market. 

I painted and stamped to my heart's content (no pun intended), and here are some close-ups of the three papers I made:

White acrylic paint was dry-brushed on, then red acrylic paint was rolled on with a Koosh brush, a thrift store find (this is a paint brush with plastic bristles. I'm sure it was meant for kids to use, but that has never stopped me from buying something that I can use to get interesting effects on paper). Blobs of fuschia acrylic paint were added last. 

I added rubber stamps next. The starburst stamped shape was from a thrift store purchase, a set of shape stamps (probably vintage). Though not visible in the close-up, I also used a small rubber stamp to stamp the word "LOVE" in red ink. Lastly, I placed a red marker dot in the middle of each starburst. 

Round two:

Similar techniques, only I added the red acrylic paint with a dry brush instead of with the Koosh brush, used an X-shaped stamp, and a stamp that has mini heart shapes to make one larger heart image(thrift store purchase).

The last one:

Again, similar in technique, but here a circle from the shapes stamps set and a rubber stamp that spells out "love love love" (thrift store purchase) were used. 

I was pleased with how my new batch of serendipity paper turned out, but the proof is in the pudding - how did the Valentines for Vets look? 

Here's the answer - close-ups of three of the valentines I made: 

From Paper #1:

Paper #2:

And paper #3:

To make each valentine, all I did was cut a heart shape out of the serendipity paper, glued it to white card stock, then stamped "love love love" in red ink underneath the heart. 

The fun thing about serendipity paper is that you never know how it's going to look in a project until you start cutting it up. And since the design is random, my hearts looked different from each other even when cut from the same piece of serendipity paper. 

It's not all about card design, of course - I wrote a brief message inside each valentine, wishing the veteran a Happy Valentine's Day and giving my thanks for their service to our country. 

I hope that the veterans who receive my valentines enjoy them; I enjoyed making them!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thrifty Acres: A Bit Of Beatlemania

Hello! As has been widely reported lately, today is the 50th year anniversary of the night the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. According to a story about this event that I read in today's Parade magazine, as the show's musical director watched the Beatles perform, he predicted: "I give them a year". 

Of course, he couldn't have been more wrong. The Beatles' popularity and influence continues to this day, long after they disbanded. And in honor of the band I will present the bit of Beatles memorabilia that I have. 

Found this set at a church rummage sale a few years back and paid a dime for it:

Images of the Fab Four in cardboard, with matching plastic molds. 


Paul McCartney and John Lennon

Ringo Starr and George Harrison

Above, I've placed the cardboard Paul McCartney figure behind the corresponding plastic mold. 

When I first bought these I turned to eBay to see what I could learn about this set. I didn't find any listings, but a few days decided to search eBay again. This time, I found a listing describing these as candy molds.

That just didn't sound right to me, so I tried the Internet, and came up with this site. If you scroll down to the "Yellow Submarine Plastic Model Kit" and click on the photo showing the kit's contents, you'll see what looks like the mates to my set there.

Through my Internet research, I also learned that the Yellow Submarine Model Kit has been reissued. I'm fairly certain that my Fab Four are from an original kit, though, as the cardboard pieces show a bit of wear. 

I couldn't find enough information on the original kit to learn what material had been used to fill the molds, but I'm guessing it probably wasn't chocolate. Not sure if the molds are even food-grade. 

Well, that's it for my Beatles memorabilia find. Maybe I'll get lucky and find some more Beatles stuff at another rummage sale sometime!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Get Carded: A Card Maker's Evolution

Hello! I often get compliments on my handcrafted greeting cards, but I wasn't born knowing how to make them - no, it's been a matter of "practice makes perfect". My early efforts were pretty lame compared to the cards that come out of my studio these days. 

This was readily apparent when I hauled out our Valentine's Day card collection earlier this week to display as seasonal decor. For comparison's sake, in this post I'll show two cards I'd made for my husband, a decade apart. 

First, from 2001:

White card stock has been decorated with a strip of art paper and eight small hearts, each cut from a different kind of decorative paper. That's it - no words, no stamps, and not a scrap of vintage ephemera to be seen! 

A close-up:

See what I mean? It's a pretty boring card. 

Let's move on to ten years in the future, to 2011:

White card stock again, but it's been layered with a part of a page from a vintage science textbook, a piece of serendipity paper, part of a page from a book about Victorian gardening, a heart cut from scrapbook paper and the word "Heart" stamped beneath the heart. 

A close-up:

Using a page from a vintage science textbook may seem odd for a Valentine, but its inclusion paid homage to my husband being in the chemical engineering field. (He knows what a "characteristic equation of a perfect gas" is!) The pear image was used to add some whimsy, which he also appreciated. I rubbed a bit of red acrylic paint on the pear image to blend it in better with the serendipity paper behind it. 

I've taken very few craft classes in my life, but one of them was a four-week ATC (artist's trading cards) course here at the local arts council. That's where I learned to make serendipity paper. In the class we decorated atlas pages with acrylic paints and rubber-stamped images to make this type of decorative paper. But with the serendipity paper used in the above card, I started with an old poster. Besides paints and stamped images, I also glued on bits of art paper and flowers punched out of an old brochure. 

It's obvious that this card took longer to make than the first card, but I feel it was worth it! The crafting process was more fun and the resulting card was more appealing to the recipient as well. 

But to be honest, I can't say it was mere practice alone that caused an improvement in  my card crafting from 2001 to 2011. For one thing, the "show and tell" aspect of the Internet means that countless examples of creative inspiration are now instantly at one's fingertips. Back in 2001, sites like Etsy, Pinterest and You Tube weren't around, and blogging was still in its infancy. 

In 2001, most of my crafting "education" came from TV shows, books and magazines that pertained to my hobby interests. In 2002 I discovered the mixed media magazine Somerset Studio. It was like waking up from a long sleep; I was truly inspired by the artistic sophistication of the works shown in its issues.

Somerset Studio's parent company, Stampington and Company, has since added more arts and crafts magazines; their website says they now have over 30 publications! Artful Blogging, GreenCraft and Somerset Life are some of the ones I've enjoyed reading.

And it was through these magazines, and all that Internet content, that I became interested in using vintage and upcycled materials in my card crafting. In 2002 I moved to a town that has several thrift stores in the area, so I've had plenty of opportunities to expand my creativity - and the supplies to help fuel it.

It's been a great journey for me, and I look forward to more crafting and creative growth in the future! Wonder what my cards will look like ten years from now?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thrifty Acres: The Land Of A Thousand Recipes

Hello! There's a 1960's hit song called "Land of a Thousand Dances". Well, I have the "land of a thousand recipes" in my home! 

Actually, I don't know how many recipes I really have, but I know it's a lot - indeed, more than I can ever possibly use! But that doesn't stop me from looking at the cookbook section in thrift stores anyway. I know there's always the chance that a new-to-us recipe lurks within, destined to become a family favorite. 

The number of recipes in my hands increased last week with the thrifted purchase of this:

With around 680 pages of recipes, this is a hefty collection! It was compiled by the Tennessee-based Chapter #21 of the Telephone Pioneers of America. That's the main reason I bought the cookbook; with its Southern base, I figured there'd be a lot of down-home recipes in it. 

But I also noted that this must have been a popular cookbook since over 200,000 copies had been sold. My edition, which came out in 1992, was the 16th printing. 

I'd never heard of the Telephone Pioneers, so I turned to the Internet for more info. I learned that it's a charitable non-profit organization whose members - not surprisingly - come mostly from the telecommunications field. The organization was founded in 1911, with none less than Alexander Graham Bell receiving the first membership card. 

Just for fun, I looked to see if this cookbook is on eBay. It is, and judging from the results of completed listings, it's apparently considered a collectible. I'm glad the thrift store folks didn't know this; I paid their usual price for softcover cookbooks. 

I've been looking through the cookbook in spurts; it'll take awhile to get through it. Truth be told, there's recipe categories I'd never consider, like salads made from Jello and a bunch of other ingredients. (I despise Jello no matter how it's made.) Not going to make those casseroles that consist mainly of various canned goods either. 

But there's a lot of good recipes as well - after all, in a volume this lengthy, there's bound to be! No wonder it's sold so well on eBay.