Monday, May 30, 2011

Back in the Kitchen Again

As you probably already know, if you know me or have read my blog, cooking is not my favorite activity. It's just not a gene I inherited from my mother who epitomized homemaking. Yet, I've done more cooking or food prep in the last couple of weeks than I have in a long time. I jokingly said on a Facebook post, "What the heck's wrong with me?!?" after a particularly productive day.

I froze just over 10 lbs of chicken leg quarters after buying them at a super bargain price, froze chicken broth created by my friend who was making chicken curry for us one night, froze ham broth from cooking my ham bone with a bag of frozen green beans, froze the beans for later use, then cooked pinto beans using some of the ham for seasoning and froze them, and so on. I made a great bean soup using a container of beans and a container of beef broth, baked a couple of leg quarters for my daughter and, finally last night, boiled another leg quarter with the intention of making creamed chicken today. 

Well, the creamed chicken didn't come to fruition. I just didn't feel like waiting for the crescent roll cups I'd planned to bake, so I decided to make some drop dumplings. I didn't have any baking mix, but I did have some "complete" pancake mix, so I used that. I added some parsley and some poultry seasoning to the dry mix and added water to make the dumplings. I had already pulled the meat off the leg quarter and added peas and corn that were leftover from our baked chicken dinner (normally, I'd use peas and carrots) to the broth I'd made last night to which I also added poultry seasoning, Adobo seasoning, salt, pepper, minced onions and celery. Since the broth was already at a rolling boil, I just dropped forkfuls of the batter (the same fork I mixed it with) into the broth. I meant to thicken the broth as well, but didn't think about it until after the dumplings were nearly cooked. So, I made a quick flour and water slurry and poured that in past the dumplings that I pushed to one side. Stirring to prevent lumps, I then added a lid to make sure the dumplings cooked completely through (I hate dumplings that are dry in the middle).

Although I think the combination of corn and peas made the broth a bit too sweet, it turned out pretty good. More like a thick soup than anything else, but good. The one leg quarter wasn't enough to make the creamed chicken I'd planned, but it was plenty to provide flavor and some meat for this dish. I had two helpings, so I obviously wasn't too disappointed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thinking of Creamed Chicken Again

Back in March, I posted about the Creamed Chicken that my mother used to make and that I was attempting to reproduce it for dinner. It turned out great. I'm thinking of making it again with a single chicken leg quarter. There's enough skin and fat on that one piece to provide loads of flavor in the broth, but I'm not sure there's enough meat. I'd have to make a much smaller batch.

I also do not make pie crust. Period. It isn't that I haven't tried. It's that what I end up with really can't be called pie crust. It's more like short bread because it crumbles into powder so readily. My mother was the baker, not me. I can make a decent cake if I'm using a tube pan or cupcake papers, but forget anything with layers. So, making the pie crust shells for the creamed chicken just isn't going to happen.

What I'm thinking of doing is opening the crescent rolls I have in the fridge and putting them in the cup cake pan, each one making a 3-cornered "cup". So, it won't hold the filling - I'd end up breaking the crust shell into pieces anyway. I just haven't decided.

No matter what I end up doing, I'm going to cook that leg quarter so I don't lose it. I can decide what to do with the finished product later. 

The Creamed Chicken I made in March

Dining at Midnight (sort of)

Well, actually it's just past 1AM and I haven't left yet. My friend decided to bar hopping with friends in the city, but his brother is hungry as am I, so I am about to leave and will finish this when we're back. Unfortunately, I'm going to miss the episode of Storm Chasers where they actually intercept a tornado. Bah!

Home again and there was more to this than something to eat, unfortunately. But, we did go to one of several 24-hr diners in our area (Colonial Diner) where I had a delicious cup of seafood bisque and one of their pulled pork specials called "The Big Pig". YUM! Mounds of pulled pork on a Kaiser roll topped with crispy bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings with French fries on the side. I also got a Diet Pepsi which I immediately knocked to the floor with the menu because I never even saw her bring the drinks. Scary, huh?

So, while we were eating, I get a call from my friend (my dining companion's brother) who wants to know where his brother is and can we come get him in Philly because he's had too much to drink. OMG! This is the third time in a month that he's pulled this stunt. I've told him I would never again "rescue" him because he's old enough to be responsible for his own actions. But, no, he calls me over and over again until I give the phone to his brother and then keeps calling to find out if we're done eating, etc. I finally hung up on him telling him to call his own brother since he had his phone number and to leave me alone so I could finish my meal!

His brother tells him we'll be there in 40 minutes (after telling him everything I'd already told him about where we were and what we were doing because he didn't listen the first time). We get done, I pack up the half sandwich and fries I had left and we leave the diner, getting on Rt 295 to go to Philly to pick him up.

We're just about to our exit when my phone rings yet again and he wants to know where we are. When I told him, he tells me he's already on the train from Philly to New Jersey, don't come to Philly. OMG!! WTH??? So, OK - we saved bridge tolls, but will you please stop this craziness? Before we can even get to the next exit to go to the train station, the phone rings AGAIN wanting to know where we are. He is so damned annoying when he drinks. Then a mile later, ANOTHER call wanting to know where we are. I had to holler at him to stop calling, that we were on our way and we would be there. He drives me crazy, this one. Seriously crazy - like I really need to be pushed any further in that direction.

So, at the train station, despite the fact that they are both going to the same destination, the brother drives his car home alone and I drive my friend home in his car and now I have his car at my house. Lunacy!!! What did I do to deserve this?? They say no good deed goes unpunished. What the heck did I do???

So, now I'm home, my friend is in possession of my leftover half sandwich and fries (and a single onion ring), and my cats were beside themselves at the fact that I was out at such an odd hour and only now coming home. All three of them looking out the front windows, pacing back and forth. My unusual behavior apparently got their attention big time.

I'm glad, though, that we have such diners. Big cities have pizza places and the like that are open round the clock, but the suburbs don't usually have that. But, diners in Jersey - they're a special breed. I have to admit, that's one of the things I like about being a Jersey girl.

Colonial Diner, Woodbury, NJ

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Fabulous Elgin Diner - A Bit of the Past in Present Day South Jersey

We parked where the white truck is.
Today I had the pleasure of stepping back into the past when we ate breakfast in the wonderfully maintained Elgin Diner in Camden, New Jersey. It can be found on Mt. Ephraim Avenue just a few blocks from the border of Mt. Ephraim. There was a time when this was the perfect stop on the way to the shore for many people since Mt. Ephraim Avenue becomes the Black Horse Pike which is the original route for most people to Atlantic City. Times changed and things became bleak for Camden in general, but this part of Camden lived on with its proximity to Rt. 130, Lady of Lourdes Hospital, and several state and federal offices across the street. Yet without warning, the diner closed in 2007, despite having been featured on Al Roker's Diner Destinations on the Food Network.

Isn't this great? All original!!
But, new owners decided there was still life left in this 1958 Kullman diner and reopened in early 2010. We immediately went back for breakfast because they were one of the few places that served grits for breakfast. I had come to love grits during one of our brief road trips to Savannah a few years back. Unfortunately, the new owners didn't have grits on the menu - but the breakfast was still good and we were happy to see this wonderful historical gem open for business.

The buffet sits where the free-standing tables are in this photo.
Today, we went back again for their newly instituted breakfast buffet (weekends only). All You Can Eat for $6.99, this breakfast also includes coffee and juice. Up for grabs on the buffet table were scrambled eggs (perfectly done, still moist, not overcooked), potato wedges, hash browns, hash browns with peppers and onions, sausages, scrapple, fried whiting, pancakes, French toast, sausage gravy & biscuits, dried beef gravy and a big bowl of fresh fruit. You could also order (one time) omelets and fried eggs if you wanted plus toast. But, the most pleasant surprise was seeing the big bain marie full of grits!! Hot diggity!! Needless to say, I had that along with my eggs, both gravies and potatoes, cranberry juice and coffee.

The buffet runs from 8AM - 2PM and I plan to return, you can count on that.

I want to thank for the wonderful photos I've borrowed. They show the diner as it sits today. If they ask me to removed them, I will, but you will find a link in this paragraph to their site so that you can find other retro eateries all across this great country.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Easy Peasy Baked Chicken Leg Quarters

Not too long ago, I bought 10 lbs of chicken leg quarters for $5 at our new local grocery. I packed three to a bag and froze them. I thawed a bag yesterday and got to work on dinner today with two of the three quarters in the bag.

I got out my vintage Pyrex baking dish, got out the chicken and just didn't feel like doing the marinade I had planned. I had wanted to marinate the chicken in sour cream that had been seasoned with a variety of seasonings. So instead, I coated the chicken with the sour cream and then sprinkled the seasonings over the sour cream (I used chili powder, Mrs. Dash's original, paprika, poultry seasoning, Adobo seasoning and salt). Then I covered the dish with foil and put it back in the fridge along with the third quarter I have other plans for.

When it was time to start baking, I got the dish out of the fridge, uncovered it, lightly sprinkled bread crumbs over the now enriched sour cream, poured some chicken broth around the leg quarters and put it in the oven at 350 (with the foil lightly on top). About 15 minutes before taking it out of the oven, I took off the foil and started my sides of peas, corn and microwaved "baked" potatoes. Total baking time (I didn't pre-heat) was about an hour.

Now, I'm not a fan of dark meat, but will eat it. But, this chicken was so moist, so flavorful, so tender, I couldn't believe it was dark meat. I really dug into it. Even my daughter complimented me on it (she's one tough cookie when it comes to being happy with food). The cats were doing everything in their power to be offered pieces, so it must have smelled good to them as well.

The only things I'd do differently the next time is to cut off the excess fat and skin and to leave the foil off for longer so the skin would crisp up really nice. But, as far as flavor is concerned, I'm all about doing chicken this way again in the future. I just wish I'd remembered to take a picture!

Guillermo’s Fine Italian Cuisine & Guillermo’s on Broadway

Let me introduce you to Guillermo’s restaurant, now open in two locations in Gloucester County, NJ. The first location is situated on the corner of Salina Road and Egg Harbor Rd in Washington Township. They are situated in a small strip mall in one of the fastest growing communities in South Jersey. But, don’t let the strip mall image stop you from trying them.

This is not some pizza joint with hoagies and steak sandwiches. This is a full-blown Italian restaurant that serves top quality Italian dishes such as Salmon Diavolo, Lobster Ravioli in a spinach alfredo sauce, Chicken or Veal Scallopine, a divine sounding Chicken Harrington consisting of sautéed chicken breasts, scallops and fresh asparagus in a light garlic cream sauce over capellini, and the usual pasta dishes served with marinara sauce, meatballs, sausage, Aurora sauce, Alfredo sauce or Carbonara style.

We have eaten at Guillermo’s many times and have never had a bad meal. We usually go for their prix fixe Sunset Menu. All meals on this more limited menu are $12.95 and include soup, salad, garlic bread, entrée and a beverage. Although they don’t serve alcohol, they do allow you to bring your own. If you forget the bottle, there is a liquor store conveniently located a few doors down.

The ambiance of Guillermo’s is definitely upscale without any hint of haughtiness. It’s not a dive, yet you do not have to dress to the nines to dine here. The service has always been fast and attentive. Dishes can be tailored to your tastes (if you don’t like mushrooms, they can be left out of your order). That’s something most restaurants can’t offer.

They recently opened a second location in the small town of Pitman on South Broadway called Guillermo’s on Broadway. They are located directly next to the rescued and refurbished movie theater. The same menus are offered in Pitman as are offered in Washington Township and, despite Pitman being a dry town (no alcohol sales at all), BYOB is permitted. Dinner and a show side by side - who needs dinner theater!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Have you ever eaten huckleberries? Have you ever seen them? For years, I thought they were a type of blueberry since they look and taste so much alike. But, they’re not.

When I was beginning my teen years, my friend and I would go into the wooded area behind her house and pick them just to eat. I though it was so cool that these berries were just sitting there, no one wanting them, and we could have as many as we desired. Those days are gone since the area behind her house has since become a township park and the wooded area cut back dramatically to accommodate it. Plus, we’ve both since moved away (I returned), married, divorced (in my case), had children, grandchildren and lost access to both of the homes of our childhoods. Things just aren’t the same.

Part of the confusion lies in the fact that huckleberries are called blueberries in some parts of North America. The blue varieties’ look and taste is similar to that of blueberries. Huckleberries also have a red variety, which makes confusing them a bit more difficult. Another difference is that blueberries have many tiny seeds while huckleberries 10 larger seeds that are very noticeable when eating them. I imagine that the red berries resemble cranberries since all three berries belong to the same plant family, Ericaceae.

Whatever you can do with blueberries, you can do with huckleberries, be it jams, syrups, jellies, pies or cobblers. So, don’t hesitate if someone offers to give you some fresh picked huckleberries.These berries are harder to come by in the marketplace since they are not cultivated like blueberries and cranberries. Their rarity makes them a very special treat indeed. (link to HuckleBuckle in the image)


Indigo yarn

Indigo, that color that sits between Blue and Violet on the rainbow spectrum (you all remember Roy G. Biv, don’t you?). That was my first introduction to such an exotic sounding word – Indigo. Elementary school is when we learned that mnemonic technique to help us remember the colors of a rainbow or of light through a prism. It’s a word that has long been a part of my vocabulary (as has the wonderful Crayola colors “burnt umber”, “chartreuse” and “periwinkle”, although I still wonder at times just what “umber” is).

You’re probably more familiar with Indigo than you realize, though. Indigo is the traditional color of blue jeans. A dye that originated in India (see, I told you it was exotic!), indigo is produced using a derivative of the Indigofera plant through oxidation of the amino acid tryptophan. It is the oxidation process that releases the color used for dying cloth.

It was most heavily used in the Mediterranean regions and throughout Asia. Recipes for making dying wool have been found on 7th Century cuneiform tablets out of Mesopotamia. It increased in popularity in Europe after explorers opened sea routes to trade with India and the Spice Islands, thus avoiding the overland tariffs imposed by Persia and Greece who acted as middlemen in the spice trades.

But, there is something calming about the color of original blue jeans, don’t you think? Something that makes you think “comfort”? I’m always disappointed when I find something I like in the indigo color, be it pants, blouse, purse or something else and the fabric is so synthetic that it feels almost plastic. It’s almost an insult to denim. Polyester pants dyed to look like denims just don’t cut it in my book. It just ain’t right, as some might say.

Indigo-colored foods are popular in the holistic care industry. Some assume that because the color indigo affects our sight and hearing, then eating foods of that color help with treatment of diseases related to eyes, ears and nose. This is something I have a hard time connecting, myself. I understand that dark green, leafy vegetables are high in iron, but eating a specific colored food just because the color is calming seems a bit over the top.

That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits in indigo-colored foods. You have blueberries, plums, eggplants (which actually are more purple), huckleberries, etc. There’s no doubt that these foods are full of antioxidants and great additives to your regular diet. But, to eat them simply because they’re indigo colored (or red or yellow or orange or green) comes off as a bit too Feng Shui for me. How about you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Insomnia = Inability to Sleep

Well, I’m again a day late and many dollars short. It is 8:15 AM and I have yet to go to sleep. My friend will be here at 10 AM to start on his class work that I promised to help him with, but he actually expects that I’ll be doing it all for him. We had, and will continue to have I’m sure, a loud and boisterous discussion on how that is not something a true friend would do to another friend.

I took chicken out of the freezer last night for tonight’s supper. I’m not sure what I’ll be making with them, especially since it’s supposed to be a hot one today. The humidity is already up and everything is sticky tacky. But, I think baking them is the easiest. I was thinking of putting some spices in sour cream and letting them marinate in that blend until I bake them. These are some of the leg quarters I bought last week for $.50/lb. We don’t usually use legs and thighs, but for that price, I wasn’t going to stick my nose up at it. I think I’ll boil the third quarter and make “creamed” chicken with it (kind of like chicken stew, but the chicken gets shredded and then the stew gets put into pastry cups). With there just being two of us, it only takes the one quarter to supply the flavor and the meat to go with the vegetables. I’m just not sure what to put with the baked quarters.

The cats are all asleep now that breakfast is over. They’re so boisterous when they think it’s time to eat; running around, getting into trouble, coming up and poking and prodding at you while you’re trying to get some kind of sleep. It’s like having a house full of furry, four-legged toddlers.

Since I forgot Caturday on Saturday, I’ll post some photos of them today.

Chloe in the kitchen

Baby Cat watching the outside world go by

Tiki's favorite perch

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quick Cooking Ideas

It’s “Q” day and as I was thinking about what I could write about for the letter Q, I realized I was eating something that fit perfectly into a Q concept – quick cooking. I was supposed to go shopping this morning, but my ride called and said they couldn’t make it until this afternoon, so I decided to cook something to eat. I didn’t want it to take too long because I was really hungry. So, I threw a handful of tater tots into the pan with some oil, put some hot tea in the microwave, got two eggs out to scramble and sliced some thin pieces of cheddar. When the tots were done, I smashed them into the hash browns they used to be and poured the scrambled eggs over them. When the eggs were set, I put the cheese on top and put a lid on the pan to help melt the cheese while I was getting my tea and getting the tortillas out of the fridge. I put my newly cooked eggs and potatoes into a bowl, set my tortilla on top of the bowl (the steam from the eggs helped to soften it) and came in the dining room to eat. Less than 10 minutes and I was ready to go. Having eaten a perfectly quick meal, I realized it was the perfect Q topic for today’s entry.

And, here I am.

I was reading my current copy of the Food Network magazine (really, you didn’t think I’d subscribe??) when I saw what I thought was the perfect pasta salad in its “Fun Cooking” section. The concept is Mix & Match Pasta Salad and the first salad just grabbed me. It consists of medium sized pasta shells, small slices of steak, bell pepper, green beans, bacon and creamy Parmesan dressing and it looks WONDERFUL! In fact, they lay out a formula where you can you can make any number of pasta salads in five easy steps: 1) Choose a Pasta; 2) Pick a Protein (optional); 3) Pick the Vegetables; 4) Pick a mix-in and 5) Dress the Salad. With all the choices in each of those areas, you could theoretically have a different pasta salad every day for over 56 years (assuming my math is correct). And, pasta salads are very easy to make. I’d provide a link, but this issue of the magazine is not online yet. But, here’s the link to the last issue: Food Network Magazine. I’m sure the one I’m looking at will be online soon.

Speaking of Food Network, here’s a quick recipe for Chile-Rubbed Pork Chops that looks pretty good (if you like to kick up your chops, that is). One note, though – New Mexico Chile Powder is NOT the same as the chili powder you use when you make chili. Do not use regular chili powder in this recipe. This would be great served with a salad and maybe some fruit.

Then there’s this Honey-Mustard Chicken and Apples recipe that really does look pretty spectacular. I’m not overly fond of honey because of how sweet it is, but I think this would be a good meal. In fact, when I do get to the store today, I’m planning on picking up 10 lbs. of chicken quarters for $5 on sale at our new local grocery and I may have to make this with some of them. This is another Food Network recipe.

Giving both chicken and Food Network another nod is this Broiled Lemon-Garlic Chicken recipe. Holy cow, does this look good or what? And, your total time for prep and cooking is only 40 minutes. (Of course, that doesn’t include my forgetting to open windows and turn on fans to keep the smoke alarm from going off, but you understand.) Even though this calls for half-chickens, I think those chicken quarters would work great in this. Add some boiled new potatoes or baked with a green veggie and you’ve got a meal.

Beef needs to play a role somewhere in this quick cooking roundup, so here is one from Guy Fieri that even I should be able to do. If you like beer and coffee, this’ll be right up your alley (although I’m sure you could leave out the stout and use another sauce if you chose). It is Java Crusted New York Steak with Stout Sauce. It calls for reducing the stout in a saucepan and then adding the juices from the cutting board, but I’m wondering if you couldn’t also reduce the stout in the pan you seared the meat in to add even more of the meat’s flavors to the sauce.

Finally, there is a recipe by Rachael Ray that should satisfy both meat eaters and vegetarians alike. That is Rachael’s Three-bean Chili. This one has a five-star rating with 137 reviews, so it must be pretty darned good. That doesn’t mean everyone will like it, but a very substantial number of people did. Even I would enjoy this one. It incorporates refried beans into the blend (as one of the beans) as a thickener, so you can’t get any beanier than that! She suggests serving in a bowl on a plate and surrounding the bowl with tortilla chips and having shredded cheese and other condiments available. I think this would be good served ON the tortilla chips, myself with sides of cheese, guacamole and sour cream like having dinner nachos. Make sure you have a green salad to go with this; or shredded lettuce like they serve in Mexican restaurants. It just seems to go together to me.

That’s it for Q’s quick cooking ideas. You might have noticed that everything in today’s post is Food Network related. I am nothing if not a dedicated foodie fan. And, yes, I also subscribe to Rachael’s magazine! But, rest assured, if I don’t like the looks of something I share or don’t think I’d want to be bothered making it myself, I wouldn’t share it. I like real food that tastes good and is easy to make. I try to share just that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Irish Cream - More Than Just Cocktails

I discovered Irish Cream when I had my first Mudslide. Since then, I've learned that a shot of Baileys and a shot of Kahlua over ice with milk is also mighty tasty (and easier to make). But, my purpose here is to show you that drinks aren't the only thing you can make with this tasty whiskey and cream liquor.

Irish Cream loans itself up perfectly as a dessert ingredient with its sweet and creamy taste and texture.

First up is this tasty and rich-looking Bundt cake. For those of us who do not own Bundt pans, I'm assuming that a regular tube pan would work because I'm sure I'm not going to go out and buy a pan just to make this cake. There are a total of 48 photos on this recipe by people who have made it. Some look fabulous. Others...well, others probably taste fabulous. You'll understand when you look through them. Regardless, this would be a great  treat to take to someone's home in return for a dinner invite. (The photo is the link.)

Then there is a wonderful cheesecake dessert. I just love rich, buttery cheesecake. I can only imagine how good this would be, especially dusted with cocoa powder. So decadent. I especially like the looks of the second one!

If you're a candy freak, then these little balls of pleasure might just be up your alley. Can you imagine??

Now, even though I'm not a chocoholic, I do love French Silk Pie. I think, though, that this might just steal the thunder from that creamy cloud of loveliness.

How about some super rich dark brownies layered with a creamy Irish Cream center? (Are you drooling yet?)

The best thing about all of this is that these recipes and more are available at your fingertips on the Internet. Sure, you run into the occasional "error 404" where the site has either been shut down or hacked even though Google's indexing is still showing it, but that's really infrequent and where one used to be, plenty more are sure to follow. All you have to do is keep looking. People's creativity and willingness to show it off knows no bounds. So, you are only limited by your willingness (or the lack thereof) to look for the recipe of your dreams using the ingredient of your choosing. And, my ingredient of choice today is "Irish Cream"!! 

So, take in a little Irish "luck" of your own today and surprise those around you with a luscious, rich, delectable dessert. Whether for a gift or a celebration, it will surely stand out above the rest.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Should Employers Do Justice To Those Who Juggle Diners' Needs?

Most of us understand the concept of a living wage. We also know that, despite recent increases, minimum wage isn't really a living wage (unless you're sharing expenses with someone else). We assume that the minimum wage laws that we're familiar with apply to everyone. But, they don't.

Students are exempt, which isn't too problematic for most students since they're frequently living at home, although there are exceptions. Another exempt group is waiters and hotel staff. You'll be amazed at how little they're paid for the amount of work they do.

I was a waitress once back in 1980. My wages at that time were $1.90/hr - just a touch below the minimum wage of $3.10. That was 31 years ago. Regular minimum wages has grown by $6/hr. Has the exempt wage for waitstaff kept up?

Currently, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania for waiters and waitresses is $2.83/hr. That's only $.93/hr more than I was earning 31 years ago. In New Jersey, that wage is $2.13/hr!!! This is because the state allows the employer to figure in tips as part of the employee's wages. They are supposed to ensure that those tips are actually being made before taking taxes out, but I can assure you that this is rarely done. So, even if you aren't receiving over $5/hr in tips, taxes will be taken out of your paycheck on the assumption that you have received enough tips to equal Federal minimum wage standards. 

One thing I didn't know until now is that not all states have such an imbalance in wage standards. In California, minimum wage is $8/hr - period! In Alaska, it's $.7.25 (same as Federal minimum). They don't allow employers to assume anything about tips. But, if you think Pennsylvania and New Jersey are bad, take a look at Kansas. Their minimum wage for waitstaff is $1.59/hr!!! Even in Utah, where I received $1.90/hr in 1980, the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses has increased only $.33. OMG!! Are they insane??? Don't they realize that tips are voluntary??? Yet, they aren't required to pay because state legislatures believe that tips are substantial enough to make up the difference. Something is wrong with this picture, don't you think?? 

I think we should ALL write to our state legislators and demand that all employees be paid the minimum wage, no tip credit allowed. I don't have a problem requiring employees to declare their tips at work so that taxes can properly withheld, but to assume that all employees are receiving enough tips to average $7.25/hr is just plain criminal and unnecessarily takes money away from these hard-working people who are, for the most part, being paid slave wages (for lack of a better term). It's an insult to them and to customers who believe they are tipping, when and if they do, for quality service rather than to help the employer pay the employee's wages. It's just plain wrong!

Is There Kitsch in Your Kitchen?

Kitsch is a word of German or Yiddish origin that refers to something of inferior value that imitates something else, generally artistic, of greater value. A broader use applies it to items that are generally in bad taste, trite, or that have an exaggerated sense of aesthetics. As we are all probably aware (either because of ebay, QVC and HSN or because of one of our eccentric friends or relatives), one man's kitsch is another man's collectible.

When I think kitsch, I think: black velvet Elvis paintings; Elvis impersonators; leg lamps with fringed lampshades; Buddhas with clocks in their bellies; ornate, imitation gold-leaf frames on everything from photos to mirrors; almost anything with tassels; you get the idea.

Sentimentality reigns supreme when it comes to kitsch. Remember all those souvenir ashtrays, trivets, plaques, salt & pepper shakers, etc., you would buy as a kid when you were on class trips or trips with family to give to your parents or grandparents? Most of the time, with grandparents in particular, they held on to each and every one of them and kept a mental log of what each of them meant. Then you, when it was time to help decide what to do with Mommom and Poppop's belongings, would come upon the items and suddenly be filled with memories as well - all because of a cheap, often Japanese, knock-off that meant everything to them because it came from you.

Well, times have changed. Many of those souvenirs now come from China. Technology has altered our world dramatically. Communications travel at the speed of light (or faster, it seems sometimes). Yet, the love of kitsch has not diminished. Somewhere, in almost every part of this country, somebody is secure in the knowledge that they are true aficionados of whatever category of item that has won their hearts.

My mother's neighbors, the third owners of the family homestead since my grandfather's passing, have done a wonderful job of lovingly restoring the home, carefully making sure that any changes they make or additions they build stay true to the original. But, the wife's domain is the interior decor. And she loves cows. Cow plates, cow wallpaper, cow figurines, cow tree ornaments, cow flags for the front porch, carved cows, molded cows, cows, cows and more cows. It's not that you feel overwhelmed by cow presence - she has actually presented her passion in a very tasteful way throughout the public portion of the house. But, she leaves no doubt that her favorite kitsch critter is a black and white cow.

My friend in Lousiville, Kentucky - the girl loves pigs. She is a porcine princess. She has pig plates, pig magnets, pig knick knacks, several stuffed pigs (OK - I helped her with those, much to her husband's dismay) and, my favorite - a pink pig phone with his curly tail being the handset cord. The pigs are a lot less organized than Mom's neighbor's cows, but they are an expression of my friend's personality, none-the-less. She simply adores all those little porkers. And they all reside in her kitchen.

I happen to like cats. I have all sorts of cat collectibles, some by Goebel, some hand-carved by local artisans, some carved from granite, some purchased from vendor kiosks in a German train station or a visitor's center in Chester England, cat wind chimes, cat blankets I even had cat bedroom slippers once. But, I don't have the display skills to really show them in a creative manner.

Another thing that has become increasingly popular since 9/11, I think, has been Patriotic-themed items especially with families whose children have enlisted and with retired military vets. Flags, American Bald eagles, red/white/blue drapes on porch rails, etc. If it shows love and pride of country, it's a hot item.

For many people, it isn't enough to just have a flag on a pole. Not that that's a minor item. It's just that how they feel goes so far beyond that. Their blood doesn't just run red; it runs red, white and blue and they want it to show! So, they fill their homes and their gardens with every expression of patriotic emblem they find that appeals to them. Not only that, but the style of their expression can run from the serious, heart-on-their-sleeve patriot to the "I love my country, but darn these politicians are funny" tongue-in-cheeker. They don't always agree with how someone shows their patriotism, but neither does it diminish the reality of its existence.

And, of course, you often find any or all of these items in someone’s kitchen. So, my question to you is: is there kitsch in YOUR kitchen? What kind is it? Does it have a theme? Or is it elsewhere?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lots of Broth on Hand - Low on Ideas

My gentleman friend cooked chicken curry for the two of us last week. He soaked the chicken in salt water before adding them to the crockpot to make them more tender and flavorful. Then he realized that there wouldn't be enough leftovers for his brother, so he hurriedly cooked up some more chicken in a pot of salted water in order to add the already cooked chicken to the curry sauce in the crock. He was about to pour all that chicken stock down the drain when I stopped him. I asked him to put it in some containers for me to bring home. Since it wasn't cool yet when I left, he didn't bring it until the next day. I repackaged it into my own containers and froze it for future use. I have about a quart and a cup of chicken broth frozen.

Yesterday, I re-cooked the bone portion of my ham with frozen green beans in water. Because my daughter doesn't like potatoes cooked in with the ham, I left them out. There was plenty of ham stock in the pot, so when I was putting everything away, I poured off the stock into containers and froze them along with the green beans we didn't eat. I have around 30 oz. of ham stock now in the freezer. 

I'm going to try to make some ham salad with some of the ham with my meat grinder. Maybe even some ham croquettes. But, I've also never used ham stock to make anything before. This will all be new to me.

I'm thinking of making some bean soup with the pinto beans I also cooked this week (I have no idea what has got into me with all this cooking - maybe Mom's paying a visit this week?) I think I'll add some carrots and potatoes, maybe some celery and onion. I love pintos and so does my daughter, but neither of us has ever had pinto bean soup before. How different can it be from regular bean soup? I used some of the ham to flavor the beans near the end of their cooking, so soup seems to be a natural extension of that. By the way, the beans are frozen in containers, too.

I would love to have some more ideas on using the ham stock (other than cabbage - that is NOT a vegetable of choice here). If you leave me comments and have an idea, I'd really appreciate it.

New Phone, Nice Lunch and Prescription ReNewals

Had a doctor's appointment this morning. My first in almost three years. I was long past due. My prescriptions had run out and she needed to see me before renewing them. I have Type 2 Diabetes and haven't been as good to myself as I should have been, although I'm much better than I used to be. Lifelong bad habits don't change overnight. They did a blood sugar while I was there and it was 267. Of course, I had an overfilled cream donut for breakfast, so that didn't help. (What can I say - I was hungry when I drove by the bakery. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.) I was happy to see her, though. I really do need to go more often. I just kept putting it off because I don't have insurance and I didn't want to do the paperwork I needed to go for free. But, this time I did and I'm glad. I need to start caring for myself better than I have. 

I can't do a blood sugar test on myself because I haven't found my meter since moving, so the doctor is going to give me one once I find out the cheapest test strips offered by Walmart. She'll match the meter to the strips. They're 
Different kinds of glucose meters
very pricey, I have to say. I got most of what I had used previously either through eBay or through Freecycle. Since the charity program run by the hospital doesn't include testing strips or prescriptions, I'll have to pay for them myself. Still, the overall cost will be less than out of pocket, for which I am grateful. I get my prescriptions at a local grocery pharmacy that offers FREE diabetes meds and antibiotics and virtually matches Walmart's $4/$10 program. So, a quarter of my prescriptions will be free. I really can't complain.

Yeah, I got the blue.
My daughter called me as I was leaving the doctor's office (the desk clerk loved the song I had on as a ringtone - I'm Here For The Party) to tell me that the phone I could get for my line upgrade was now on special. I should stop at the Sprint store or Radio Shack and get one while they were waiving the $10 monthly premium data add-on to encourage customers to take advantage of the eco-friendly phones Sprint was offering. The Sprint Replenish, an Android model, is made of 34.6% post-consumer recycled plastics with fully-recyclable packaging. The keyboard is larger than the one on my old phone, so there will be fewer keying errors because of my fat fingers (I hope). I have to get used to it, though. It constantly locks the screen and I have to swipe the icon to the side to unlock it. I need to see if I can disable that. So far, what little I've used it, I like it.

As for the food part of today's message, we were supposed to go for breakfast before going to the doctor. We didn't. He didn't get up until just before I needed to leave for the doctor. So, we went to lunch instead. Considering I had eaten the worst possible food for breakfast and had elevated blood sugar, I decided I would be good to myself at lunch. We went to Don Pablo's where I got their $5.99 Speedy Lunch special. I had a choice of enchiladas, tacos and tamales. I chose two different enchiladas (with corn tortillas) and black beans with my rice. I also had a cup of white chicken chili soup. Plus the chips and salsa and a diet Coke. All fairly low carb (the carbs were complex, whole grain carbs). 

Although we had at least one heavy downpour while we were out, it was a fairly productive day. I got the dishes washed (thank God for dishwashers that can do the work while you're away) and didn't have that waiting on me to start when I got home. I even got some genealogy in this morning before I left!  I'm satisfied with my day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meat Takes Money

There's a lot of talk these days about Food Stamps and childhood obesity. There are those dead set against the concept of Food Stamps or any kind of assistance that helps people put a balanced meal on the table. There is also concern about the increase in childhood obesity; and heads are butting over who should do what about it.

It's easy enough to point fingers, lay blame and make assumptions about the reasons behind poverty and/or obesity, but, as with anything else in life, it's simply not a black or white situation. There is no either/or. And, as odd as it may seem, poverty and obesity often go hand in hand. Here's why.

Meat takes money. Poor people don't have it. What they do have is pasta, potatoes and beans - the most affordable and filling items in the store. You could add flour since breads, cakes, cookies and other flour based homemade items are relatively inexpensive, especially if you have chickens around to provide the eggs. The best things in a balanced diet are the items that cost the most. If you're a poor mom, you're going to want your kids to be full. What fills them and keeps them from wanting more food right away are often the very things they should have in moderation, the heaviest in carbs and calories. Whether you're on Food Stamps or paying out of pocket, you're going to try to make that money go as far as you can make it go so it will last until the next month.

People who are not abusing the assistance they receive (and, honestly, that's most of them) are not stockpiling steaks or roasts or ribs for that backyard barbecue. They're not buying beer with Food Stamps. They're buying the most for the least that will last. Until ground beef jumped in price, that was a poverty standby; the affordable meat.

But, with the recent economic crisis, some people who never thought they'd have to stretch a dollar until it screamed are doing just that. They're finding out that the "make do" of our parents and grandparents really had purpose and validity. Sure - there are some who still scoff, but they're only a paycheck away from learning it first hand. They just don't realize it.

So, how do you make your money work for you? How do you buy that meat you long for when you can no longer afford it? Creativity.

If I buy ground beef in bulk, I repackage it when I get home. I'll take three pounds of hamburger and get four packs for the freezer. Since we usually use them in meat sauce or chili or other mixed ingredient meals, we don't miss that fraction of a pound of meat in the recipe. 

If you want to make a pot of chili go farther, then serve it with rice or pasta. I prefer rice.

Talk to your meat department manager. Ask him if they mark down meats near their sell-by dates. Find out when that is and be there to buy the mark-downs. Freeze the meat as soon as you get home. 

We have several farmers' markets in our area that have meat departments. I know that the one marks their meats down near the end of their last day to get rid of as much as they can before closing shop for the week. 

Watch your store flyers carefully for outstanding sales on roasts, steaks and chops. I use bottom round roast for making pot roast. I'll buy a couple, if I have the money, when they're on sale for under $2.00/lb. 

Make more stir-fries or fajitas. That one steak can feed four people if cut into strips and added to lots of vegetables seasoned to mouth-watering precision.

Cut your own beef cubes from one of the discounted meats you bought, then make stew. Eat half of it at one meal with crusty  bread, biscuits or drop dumplings and then make a meat pie with the rest. It's better in the pie!! (Or, make two pies, bake one now and freeze the other to bake another day.)

Instead of feeding everyone a chicken breast each, cut the breasts in half horizontally and flatten them to make cutlets or roll them around stuffing and top with a savory sauce such as onion soup mix combined with some orange juice and cranberry sauce. You'll feed four people with two breasts. 

Katsu, looks similar to medallions
Take a chicken breast and slice it into medallions (slice it like it was a loaf of bread). Take each of those medallions and dip them in your favorite dressing or marinade and then dip them into plain bread crumbs. Fry them in a shallow pan with light olive oil (or an olive oil blend). I fed three of us with one breast (of course, there were no male appetites present) because of the sides I also had on the table.

Guatemalan meal
Try to incorporate beans into your meals more often. They are one of the proteins that are the most affordable. When combined with rice, they become a complete protein, so try to enjoy more red beans and rice or black beans and rice or pinto beans and rice. You can add leftover chicken or throw in that ham bone from Easter or Christmas for added flavor (and ham bits). 

Eat more eggs. Yes, they're full of cholesterol, but they're not as high risk as they were once considered. Try some fritattas or quiches for dinner (another great way to use leftovers). Have breakfast for dinner. Have leftovers for breakfast (assuming you enjoyed the dinner they were from). If you can get two meals out of one, you've kept yourself from having to buy food for that second meal.

So, those are a few ideas on how to stretch the meat you bought with the money you don't have as much of anymore. If you have any ideas that I haven't mentioned, please share them in the comments area.

NOTE: I'm a day off. I owe "N", but at least "M" is on time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ordering Out

Ordering out, ordering in or ordering delivery, no matter what you call it, it's a very popular option in our house. We often (too often, probably) don't want to be bothered cooking because we've waited until we're hungry to decide we want something to eat. Because we don't feel like going anywhere either, we start going through our collection of menus to see which delivery place calls out to us the loudest. When my daughter's home, it'll never be Caribbean or Indian (unfortunately).

We live in the shadow of Philadelphia where there are a variety of different food cultures. Some of that overflows to our area and we are fortunate. We have the choice of Italian, Caribbean, Indian or Chinese in our area. Of course, most food delivery isn't up to the same caliber as being seated at a top notch restaurant. The Indian delivery, however, is from an actual full-service restaurant that has won awards, whose chef worked for award winning restaurants before opening one of his own. He believes in giving everyone access to good food, so he also offers the delivery service. Of course, his prices are the same for delivery as they are for the meal in the restaurant, but that was still nice when it was snowing and no one wanted to be on the road (they were brave souls, I  must say).

I haven't yet had delivery from the Caribbean restaurant, but I have eaten there more than once. It is excellent! The menu leans heavily towards the Dominican Republic, but they also have Cuban, Puerto Rican and some Mexican thrown in for a more pan-Hispanic flavor. I do wish, though, that we have a Mexican restaurant that delivered. I'd be one of their regulars!

Our Italian places are more accurately called steak and hoagie shops, but don't ever think that's all they have to offer. Some have fried chicken, fried seafood, crab cakes, seafood bisque (granted, some are better than others), hamburgers, pasta platters, traditional pub grub appetizers and, a pleasant surprise for some, hand-dipped ice cream and milk shakes. 

pizza turnover
I personally like pizza turnovers, which are similar to calzones, but not the same thing. Think of having a pizza with sauce and cheese and folding it in half, sealing the edges and either deep-frying them or baking. Although frying them is not the healthiest way to have them, that's my favorite way to have them. 

Cheese steak extra cheese
I also like chicken cheese steaks with fried onions. So so so good!!! And, if I can get it in a wrap, even better. Now, you may have heard of Philly Cheese Steaks, but don't overlook the cheese steak's little cousin. When done right, they're just as flavorful and tender as the original; thinly sliced chicken cooked and seasoned on the flat-top grill with cheese and/or peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.on rolls only bakeries in the Philly area can supply. Talk about comfort food!

Sicilian Pizza
Pizzas come in all styles (except Chicago), from New York thin crust to Sicilian thick crust. Some have excellent sauces, but questionable cheeses; others hit the mark on both things, but the bread used to make the crust is lacking. Yet, each place has something to offer that the others don't. That's why we keep the menus on hand because we never who we'll be in the mood for. 

General Tso Chicken
The Chinese deliveries are fairly basic and have almost identical menus with different prices. They differ only in the taste of their items. The one I like the best uses garlic more heavily than the rest (which is surprising given my dislike for garlic). They are also the cheapest. There is one that just began delivery service that I haven't tried yet, so the jury is still out on them for me. 

Everyone has to go or take out service (or take away, as it may be called where you are), so if we desire, that is also an option we can take. But, when we're not in the mood to go out, it's not likely we'll be in the mood to pick up. 

And, now a few images from CATURDAY!!

Really, Mom? Another picture?

Fishtail Kitty

Sleepy time baby