The Perfect Day

It’s January – that time when 87.882 percent of the U.S. population begins to think about losing weight. Of course, nowadays nobody says they want to “lose weight.” Instead, they say they want to “get healthy.” Which is code for I want to lose 15 lbs. so that I don’t pop the final button on my jeans and no one thinks they are looking at the Titanic when they see me from behind. You know. Healthy.

Since January 1, my email inbox has been filling up with message after message about exercise and healthy eating. I got really excited recently when I got an email from Silver Sneakers, which is a free fitness program for seniors with which I am truly impressed. They actually send useful information for people my age. The email was entitled A Perfect Day of Eating.

AWESOME, I thought. Breakfast: A Cinnabon cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee, followed by a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal; Lunch: A hot dog all the way, French fries, and a Diet Coke; Dinner: A grilled bone-in ribeye steak, Brussel sprouts with bacon, a baked potato topped with a generous helping of butter and some more bacon, a dry Tanqueray martini, up with two bleu cheese-stuffed olives, and a dish of toffee fudge ice cream for dessert.

A perfect day of eating.

Alas, that wasn’t their idea of a perfect day of eating. Their recommendation — Breakfast: a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of raw almonds, and some oatmeal; Lunch: steamed vegetables with olive oil MISTED on top, a bowl of vegetable or bean soup, and fresh fruit; Dinner: a raw salad (obviously dreamed up prior to Romaine lettuce being DANGER DANGER DANGER), more vegetables on top of brown rice, 1-2 oz. of animal protein (Seriously? 1-2 oz.? Who are they kidding?), and yes, you guessed it, fruit for dessert.

How is that a perfect day of eating? Sigh.

The other day I was making our bed. Bed making, my friends, is not a strenuous task. Suddenly a spasm in my back sent me reeling to my knees. I was able to relax, and with some ice applied to the area of the spasm and a couple of ibuprofen, I managed to avert a spend-the-day-on-the-couch crisis. Still, I gave myself a stern lecture. In fact, I heard both of my sisters’ voices in my ear saying, Kris, you must exercise to strengthen your core.

Turns out I listen to myself better than I listen to my sisters. Go figure. I have, indeed, begun doing core exercises, as well as walking. It seems those Nordic walking sticks that I bought this past fall are good for more than retrieving items that roll under the couch……

Though I poke fun at the term get healthy, the fact is I really have no desire to return to the weight I was on my wedding day. That ship (not the same one for which people mistake my rear end) sailed quite some time ago. I do, however, want to be able to make a bed without having to call paramedics.

I won’t, however, call steamed vegetables with a MIST of olive oil a perfect lunch. Nope. Not gonna happen.

I did make a relatively healthy dinner last night, however. Healthy if you call a meal made with five eggs, cream, bacon and cheese healthy, and I do. It’s got spinach, people. I got Bill to agree to eat quiche by bribing him with Dairy Queen for dessert….

 

Bacon and Spinach Quiche

Ingredients:
1 (9 inch) pie crust
5 eggs, beaten
1 c. heavy cream
1 -1/2 c. spinach, chopped
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk eggs until well blended. Add cream, onion powder, salt, and pepper. In the bottom of your pie crust layer chopped spinach, bacon, and shredded cheese. Pour egg and cream mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until egg mixture is firm and the top is golden. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Nana’s Notes: I used a frozen pie crust. You can use any kind of cheese you prefer. I just happened to have cheddar cheese in my refrigerator. Bribe your spouse with Dairy Queen.

It Only Sounds Like a Dirty Word

The week following Thanksgiving, I was having lunch with a friend at our favorite Chinese restaurant. As we poked our chopsticks into the sesame chicken, I asked her if she had a good Thanksgiving. She said her Thanksgiving had been nice, not the least because she had a total of two – count ‘em – two complete Thanksgiving dinners. The first dinner was good, she admitted, but the second, ahhhh, the second.

She spatchcocked the turkey, my friend told me with reverence.

It’s an understatement to say that I was impressed. I was certainly impressed that the woman had spatchcocked a turkey. But I was mostly impressed that I knew what the word spatchcocked meant.

I frankly don’t know exactly how I knew what it meant. Perhaps it’s having watched Food Network since its very beginning when Emeril Lagasse was getting applause from his studio audience every time he added more garlic or wine to whatever dish he was making (and perhaps spatchcocking). What I do know for certain is that I didn’t learn the term from my mother, who never spatchcocked a thing in her life. She may or may not have butterflied a chicken, but I believe she died without having ever heard the word spatchcock.

Not to wander too far from the point of this blog post (on the off-chance there is, in fact, a point), I looked up the word to see if I could learn its etymology. Here is what Wikipedia says about the word’s origin:

The word comes from “dispatch cock”, that is, a fowl that is dispatched quickly, and is first attested in 1785.

So there.

But as I read on in the article, Wikipedia suggested I also see blood eagle. Foolishly, I clicked on the link (as I often do on Wikipedia which then takes me off into a link-clicking route that may end up explaining the history of crochet stitches). It seems blood eagle is a type of human execution in which the victim lies prone on a table, his/her ribs are severed from the spine with a sharp tool, and the lungs are pulled through the opening to create a pair of “wings.” I’m telling you, those ancient Brits knew how to torture.

But back to spatchcocking, which is simply another word for butterflying. In other words, you use your kitchen shears or poultry shears and cut out the backbone of some kind of poultry, thereby allowing the bird to lie flat and roast or grill more quickly. The result is a crispier skin.

And, my friends, with chicken, it’s all about the skin.

My mother used to make Cornish game hens. She did not spatchcock them. Instead, she stuffed them with wild rice, slathered them with butter, sprinkled on salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven. They were heavenly.

One day a year or so ago, I invited Addie, Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith to dinner. I was serving Cornish game hens.  They were thrilled at the prospect. As excited as they were for dinner, they were equally disappointed when instead of little tiny hens lying on their plate, there were spatchcocked hens. Cut in half, no less. They would have been more impressed with KFC.

Ever since that lunch in which I was reminded about spatchcocking, I have been itching to get my hands on something to spatchcock. So last night, I made Cornish game hens, and as you can see, I got my chance…..

 

 

I mixed up about a half stick of butter with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, 1 t. chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t. dried thyme (which came from my summer garden). I didn’t have any lemons, but lemon zest would have been good too. I salted and peppered the hens on both sides. I then put some of the butter under the skin, and (like my mother) slathered the remaining butter all over. I roasted them at 375 degrees for about an hour. I let them sit for about 10 minutes to rest……

Yum.

For kicks, you could drink a shot of Fireball Whiskey every time you read the word spatchcock in this blog post.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Soup?

If my mother would have ever plopped down a bowl of soup in front of my dad for dinner, well, she just wouldn’t have done it. Pork chops, yes; fried chicken, definitely. Cream of broccoli soup? Rethink it, Marg. Rethink it.

I, on the other hand, occasionally plunk down a bowl of soup in front of Bill for dinner, and he doesn’t complain. I’m sure he doesn’t think to himself Wow, in all of my hopes and dreams, I didn’t allow myself to imagine that we would have cream of broccoli soup tonight for dinner. But he doesn’t complain. He simply eats his mandatory one bowl, and then looks longingly at the freezer, hoping there is ice cream. There almost always is, by the way.

I, on the other hand, love soup. I love it for lunch or dinner. I especially love soup if it includes noodles or potatoes. Best yet, both. If my options for a starter at a restaurant are either soup or salad, and if the soup is homemade, I will almost always choose soup. My favorite lunch among all lunch choices is pho – Vietnamese noodle soup. Someday I’m going to get up my nerve and try preparing pho. Someday.

But back to Bill for a minute. There is a restaurant in our Denver neighborhood that is a Jewish deli. In fact, it’s cleverly called New York Deli News. Though their menu is chock full of good, homemade and hearty options such as beef brisket and stuffed cabbage (and a corned beef and tongue sandwich if you are so inclined), we rarely go there except on Fridays. On Fridays they serve a delicious and affordable prime rib, along with boiled potatoes and steamed mixed fresh vegetables. It really is very good. I want it right now.

Their starter options are — predictably — salad or soup, and their soups are homemade. On their busy Fridays, they offer mushroom beef barley and chicken noodle. I always get the beef barley and Bill gets the chicken noodle. And he always raves, nearly weeps with joy, over the chicken noodle soup. He has gone so far as to proclaim it the best he’s ever eaten, and I’m pretty sure he has said these words: IT’S TO DIE FOR.

Well. As a person who prides herself on her soup-making skills, and who is pretty darn sure has never heard IT’S TO DIE FOR as it relates to any of the meals I have prepared for him, I bristled the first time. Really, I said to him, settle down; it’s only chicken noodle soup. Lots of people make chicken noodle soup. I, for example, make chicken noodle soup.

And so I recently decided I would prove to him that I could make chicken noodle soup that is as good as that served at New York Deli News. I immediately chose to use a recipe I’ve had for a long time from Paula Deen.

Why did I choose Paula Deen? Two reasons, really. The first reason is that she is (to put it bluntly if quite inconsiderately) plump. Fat, really. Or at least, she used to be. I can’t say for sure anymore because she was sent packing after she admitted that she had once used the N word. Which brings me to my second reason. I relate to Paula Deen because there have been a number of occasions in which I’ve said something that I wish I could take back almost immediately. I’m pretty sure she wishes she had kept her past mistake to herself. And as for her being overweight being a reason to use her recipe, I go with the philosophy that you should never trust a skinny cook. I’m looking at you, Giada.

Anyway, I made my soup, and I thought it tasted delicious. Bill ate his mandatory bowl, sheepishly asking for some salt, and looked longingly at the freezer. But I’m pretty sure he will show a bit more restraint when praising the chicken noodle soup at New York Deli News.

Look for yourself…..

And here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup. While I used Paula Deen’s recipe as my guide, I made quite a few changes. She adds cream, which is perhaps why she’s plump. I find cream unnecessary. Deceased Jewish grandmothers world-wide rolled over in their graves at the thought of cream in their chicken noodle soup…..

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
2-3 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-3 lb. whole chicken, cut up
1-1/2 t. Italian seasoning
3-1/2 quarts water
2 c. carrots, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. sliced mushrooms
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
2-3 c. uncooked egg noodles
2 T. dry marsala wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Process
To make the chicken stock: Add bay leaves, bouillon, onion, garlic, chicken pieces, Italian seasoning, water, and salt and pepper to a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Remove chicken and bay leaves. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Allow chicken to cool, and then remove the meat from the chicken, tossing away the bones and the skin, and set aside.

To make the soup: Bring the stock back to a boil. Add carrots and celery to the stock. When they are soft (15 to 20 minutes), add the noodles and cook according to package directions. When noodles are done, add the chicken back to the stock, along with the mushrooms and the parsley. Drizzle in the marsala or sherry. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.

Noodles

A couple of weeks ago when our family was visiting us in AZ, we were eating at our favorite pizza restaurant here in the Valley of the Sun. As we ate, I asked a variation of the age-old question: If you were eating your very last meal, what would you have?

I learned several interesting things from that question. The first thing I learned is that if you’re going to try to ascertain the answer to that question from an 11-year-old boy, you’d better phrase the question carefully. I unfortunately worded it as such: Hey Alastair, if you were on death row and they were bringing in your last meal, what would you have ordered? Okay, okay; I admit that perhaps you shouldn’t ask a child any questions that relate to Death Row. Lesson learned. Because Alastair – who loves good food – couldn’t be pinned down to the food part and instead concentrated fully on the Death Row part. Despite my pressing him further and further, his answers continued to be along the lines of a cake with a file in it, or a piece of sausage in the shape of a key.

But the other interesting piece of information I learned, particularly once I rephrased the question to be if you were on a desert island and could only eat one thing, what would it be?, was that my daughter-in-law Jll chose lasagna.

I thought about that conversation the other night when I cooked dinner for my sister Jen – who had arrived that day for a week’s visit – and her daughter Maggie and the family. I had texted the dinner invitation to Maggie earlier in the day, and didn’t know technology could work that fast when her response of YES! came almost before I set down my phone. Such is the life of a mother of two, including a very busy 3-year-old, as she prepares for the arrival of her own mother.  I had some of my red sauce in the freezer, so making lasagna was going to be simple. Or at least as simple as making lasagna can be.

As we sat and ate our lasagna, Caesar salad, and French bread, we learned that Maggie’s husband Mark would also choose lasagna as his last meal. Funny, that. I like lasagna, but who would choose lasagna when you could choose a wonderfully dry and ice-cold Tanqueray martini, a perfectly-cooked bone-in ribeye steak with a dollop of herb and garlic butter, a crisp salad with a mixture of homemade Roquefort cheese dressing and the homemade Italian dressing made by my favorite childhood restaurant Husker House, and crème brulee with that crackly burnt-sugar topping?

As a result of Mark’s proclamation, much of our conversation at dinner that night revolved around making lasagna. I created a bit of a controversy when I admitted that while I liked lasagna, I found it a pain in the booty to make.

Maggie was astounded. She doesn’t share my sentiment. But let me be clear. The most troublesome thing for me when it comes to lasagna is the noodles. Cooking lasagna noodles is flat-out messy. Dripping water, noodles splashing back into the cooking water as you try to retrieve them, noodles sticking together. All-around messiness.

Maggie, however, uses the lasagna noodles that cook as your lasagna bakes. I’m all for convenience, but I fear that any kind of pasta that you put uncooked into a dish soaks up too much of the liquid as it cooks. So despite the ease, I continue to cook my noodles before I begin the layering process.

I will admit that I like my lasagna very much. I use a meat sauce from my favorite Italian chef, Lidia Bastianich. It involves using pork neck bones, which result in the most flavorful sauce imaginable. Of course, no matter how careful I am, a few little bones will make it into the sauce. But the best part of using neck bones is that after a couple of hours, you remove them to cool. I, however, begin nibbling on them almost immediately, always burning my fingers in the process. Lidia’s sauce also involves ground pork and ground beef, so the flavor is delightful. Don’t tell Lidia, but sometimes I substitute Italian sausage for the ground pork. The sauce cooks for a couple of hours, making the house smell like an Italian home on Sunday. It’s pure heaven.

Here is a link to Lidia’s sauce, though it doesn’t come from her website. As for the lasagna, just like dressing for Colorado springtime weather, it’s all about layering.

Include as many layers as your pan will hold, and then eventually this happens…..

And maybe that is worth a last meal.

Heads or Tails

As the temperatures hovered dangerously close to 80 degrees these past few days in AZ, you would think I would be focusing on grilling or making fancy salads. Nope. Oddly, braising is what sounds good. Maybe it’s a fortuitous that St. Patrick’s Day is on the horizon as I can satisfy some of my braising needs by cooking a corned beef.

My mother was a traditional cook, at least during the years when I was growing up, and she did a lot of braising. I remember eating beef pot roasts and pork roasts and spare ribs that she would cook slowly in the oven until they were tender. I remember beef stews and green beans made with ham hocks and vegetable soups made with beef shanks.

But what I was recalling as of late was a stew that she made occasionally that featured oxtails. Little pieces of beef that came – not shockingly – from the tails of a cow. I’m guessing probably not necessarily an ox, but at least some sort of beef. Oxtails probably stemmed from the mentality that was common among people who grow up on farms: you don’t waste any part of the animal.

Mom didn’t necessarily take this philosophy to heart, as I don’t remember her ever serving us, well, heart. At least not beef heart. I remember battling my brother and sisters for the chicken heart, that teeny-tiny, chewy organ that comes in the little sack that frequently is shoved inside a chicken, along with a liver or two, a few gizzards, and the neck. Since chickens, as most animals, only have one heart (earthworms have five hearts, but I wouldn’t want to eat a single one of them), it was a valuable commodity. Livers were first runner up, and we happily gave Dad the gizzards.

I don’t have my mom’s recipe for Oxtail Stew, but I sure remember the meal. I recall that they varied in size but I always seemed to get the small ones. But mostly I remember that they were extremely slippery. I loved them. I joyfully picked up the scalding little devils with my fingers and gnawed until I got most of the meat, not necessarily an easy task, but I have always been good at getting meat from a bone. I think I was a hyena in a former life.

I decided to make Oxtail Stew.

Since I didn’t have my mother’s recipe, I did what any normal 21st century cook would do: I went to Pinterest.  There, I found a yummy-sounding recipe for oxtail stew cooked in a slow cooker. That sounded spot-on to me, so I invited my brother Dave and my sister Bec to dinner where we could eat with our fingers and reminisce about Mom. I warned Bill (who had never eaten oxtails) that it was likely that he was going to have to swallow his pride and eat with his fingers, something he is loath to do unless it’s a pizza.

But first I needed to find oxtails. None at Basha’s. None at Fry’s. AJ’s Fine Foods took 15 rings before they answered the telephone and then, upon my request for their meat department, sent me to a black hole which produced no meat department. Cross them off my list, then and forever, no matter how fine their food is.

However, when you’re on the hunt for any unusual cut of meat or any unfamiliar vegetable, your best bet is to hit the Mexican markets and/or the Asian markets. Bill and I set off on our adventure, where our intent was to hit the Mexican market first and if that produced no results, go a bit further into the Asian part of Mesa. We lucked out on our first try and found delicious-looking oxtails at Los Altos Ranch Market…..

uncooked-oxtails-los-altos-market-2-17

Those oxtails eventually became this……

oxtails

After eight hours in a slow cooker, the meat was indescribably tender and tasty, and the broth was rich and packed with flavor. I served the stew over mashed potatoes, and there was none left at the end of the meal. My assessment? I was sad that they were so tender that they didn’t provide my desire for slipperiness. However, my brother (looking carefully around for Mom’s ghost bearing some sort of weapon) said he thought mine were better than Mom’s. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Here’s the recipe…..

Slow Cooker Oxtail Stew

Ingredients
2 – 3 lbs. oxtails
2 T. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
½ lb. mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
½ c. red wine
1-1/2 c. beef broth or stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 T. tomato paste

Process
Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove to a plate, and crumble.

Coat oxtails in the seasoned flour, and cook in the bacon grease until brown on all sides. Cook only a few at a time to aid in browning.

Place vegetables, wine, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste into slow-cooker. Add the bacon and the oxtails to the vegetables.  Cover with lid and cook for 8 hours or until oxtails are tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Childhood Treats

When I was growing up, I was in somewhat of the minority among my friends as my mother had a job outside the home. It’s true that she wasn’t someone’s secretary or didn’t sell shoes at Monkey Ward’s (though that was the job she DID have when she met my father). But once my dad bought the bakery from my grandfather (and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how old I was when that transpired), she helped my dad run the business. Dad ran the back end (which included the baking) and handled the finances; she ran the front end and handled the staff. At least most of them.

Bill’s mom was a full-time homemaker, and so Bill talks about her fixing lunch every day for himself and his siblings. I don’t think she fixed anything fancy – maybe a turkey sandwich or a sandwich made from what he proclaims was the BEST egg salad ever known to man. And he always adds that she peeled the skin from her tomatoes and cut the celery really fine. For years, I thought that Wilma was trying to be fancy like Martha Stewart who probably not only peels her tomatoes, but likely turns them into rosettes. Eventually it occurred to me that she suffered from the same stomach ailments as I, and probably peeled her tomatoes for the same reason I peel mine – to avoid the fiber.

Anyway, as I try to recall my youthful years (not an easy task because I can’t even recall what’s in the Tupperware bowl that I put in my refrigerator last night), I’m certain that there was a time when Mom was home with us kids most of the time. But nearly all of my memories are of the times when we were old enough to stay alone and make our own lunches.

As I pondered this reality, I began wondering just what it was that we made for our lunches. My siblings might correct me, but I recall a lot of bologna or salami sandwiches on Dad’s yummy white bread, and opening many cans of Campbell’s soup or Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti or ravioli. Spaghettios had not yet been invented, but let me tell you, once those made an appearance, they were my very favorite lunch. That lasted until — well, frankly, I still secretly love spaghettios. Hold the little weinies and the meatballs. And don’t even try to give me the ABCs. I like the tiny little circular pieces of pasta.

As for Campbell’s soup, my very favorite was Bean and Bacon, but running a close second was Chicken with Stars. There was just something about those teeny tiny little stars that brought Chicken with Stars soup a notch up from regular Chicken Noodle soup.

A year or so ago, I ran across an Italian deli that sold little circular pasta called annelletti. Well, I immediately purchased the pasta, thinking that I would certainly be able to find a recipe to make spaghettios from scratch. I did, indeed, find such a recipe, and then scarcely gave it another thought. Every once in a while I would come across the pasta in my pantry and think, “I should make spaghettios,” but didn’t. The pasta moved from AZ to Colorado, and then moved back to AZ, still unopened.

In the meantime, I was recently at Superstition Ranch Market, a store at which I shop solely because they have the Stewart’s Diet Orange Cream sodas that I love. Remember this post? In addition to Stewart’s sodas, they also have a fairly acceptable selection of Italian products, including pastas. What do you think I found? Pasta shaped like little stars, called stelline.

Which made me think, “I can make homemade Chicken with Stars soup!” And which then inspired me to take out the the well-travelled annelletti and make homemade Spaghettios as well.

pasta-collage

I made the Chicken with Stars first, and later that week I made the Spaghettios.

The result?

The soup was a home run. The recipe, as you can see, is basically a regular recipe for chicken noodle soup, but uses the stelline in place of noodles. As for the Spaghettios, I was sorely disappointed, and here’s the reason why: Chef Boyardee’s Spaghettios are sweeter, which is why kids (and I) like them. I tried adding more sugar, but it just didn’t taste the same. If I’m going to have Spaghettios that don’t taste like the Chef’s, I would just as soon not have my base be tomato sauce, but instead, make a good red sauce of my own.

Here are the recipes….

chicken-stars-soup

Chicken with Stars Soup

Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
1-1/2 c. diced onion
1 c. diced carrots
1 c. diced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
8 c. chicken stock
2 c. chopped cooked chicken
2 bay leaves
½ t. dried rosemary
½ salt
½ t. dried thyme
½ t. black pepper
1 c. dried stelline (or other small pasta)
Process
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add carrots, celery, and garlic, and saute for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock, chicken, bay leaves, rosemary, salt, thyme, and pepper, and stir to combine.

Bring mixture to a simmer, the reduce heat to medium and stir in the pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally. Season with additional salt if necessary.

db052469-7b8d-43e2-b512-9f4dd89fdc89

Homemade Spaghettios

Ingredients
15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 T. milk
½ t. onion powder
½ t. garlic powder
¾ t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 c. uncooked star-shaped pasta, or other small pasta

Process
In a small saucepan, mix ingredients (except for pasta) and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook on low until the butter melts completely. Meanwhile, cook pasta per instructions until al dente (or to your liking, remembering that the pasta will soften up more as it absorbs the liquid). Drain pasta and combine with sauce.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Well, That’s a Crock

We live in a fairly roomy house in Denver. Despite the fact that it was built in the 1970s when often homes lacked a lot of places to keep excess things (because frankly, back then people didn’t really have excess things like they do now), there is considerable storage space. The house has large closets, lots of cupboards, a fair amount of countertop space, roomy cabinets, a pantry, an attic, and lots more storage in the basement.

Lots of storage space is a blessing and a curse, at least for me. I am the queen of if there is space, it will be filled.  I have so much storage that is out of sight, i.e., in the basement, and that’s where I keep things like the popover pan I’ve used only once, the French bread pan I’ve used only once, the wicker dumpling steamer that I have used only once (are you sensing a pattern?), and the punch bowl that I have used on several occasions but will almost certainly never use again. There’s a Fry Daddy, a Seal-a-Meal, two ice cream makers, an electric wok, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Well, not that last thing. But lots and lots of stuff.

Our house here in AZ is a mere 1,300 square feet in which there are often three adults residing. We have a small kitchen with a smattering of counter space. There is a small pantry, and a few below-counter cabinets and above-counter cupboards. Space is at a premium. Bill has installed a few cupboards in the garage.

Which (finally) brings me to the point of this post: Crock Pots.

I have long been a fan of crock pots. For working people, I think they are life savers. If you can get yourself organized either early in the morning or the night before and get ingredients into a crock pot, you have dinner waiting for you when you get home.

I, of course, am not a working person. I could spend the entire day cooking if I wanted to. Which I don’t. But I still am a big fan of slow cookers, primarily because if I put food in the slow cooker at 10 o’clock in the morning, I will not talk myself out of cooking and into going out to eat at a restaurant at 6 o’clock.

At some point after we bought this house and Bill and I started spending entire winters here, I decided I needed to get a new crock pot. My existing crock pot was literally from the 1970s, and though it worked just fine, I wanted one that was oval. I think at the point I purchased the new crock pot, I had fallen prey to the Mississippi Pot Roast craze, about which I blogged here. Unfortunately, the roast wouldn’t fit properly in my existing crock pot, so I ended up borrowing one from my niece Maggie. Shortly after, I predictably went and purchased my own oval crock pot – a 6 quart pot in which I could cook the CU Buffaloes’ mascot Ralphie. It worked fine for the one-and-only time I made the Mississippi Pot Roast (as I was frankly underwhelmed.  The pot roast that owns the internet indeed!).

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that a 6 qt. crock pot is far too big for the meals that I cook 99-and-44/100th percent of the time (for Bill and me). So the other day, I spontaneously went to Target and bought a 4 qt. crock pot. I brought it home and used it to make smothered pork chops with mushrooms. As I dumped all of the ingredients into the crock pot, I quickly realized that despite being two whole quarts smaller than my other crock pot, it was still too big.

At the crack of dawn the next day, before I could give myself time to reconsider, I went onto Amazon and ordered (with one click!) a two-and-a-half quart crock pot.

Voila! It’s perfect. Except for the fact that I now own four (count ‘em) crock pots in a house which, if you will recall from this exceptionally long and boring post, HAS NO STORAGE SPACE. Jen’s going to be very surprised when she comes next to AZ and finds her bedroom filled with crock pot boxes.

crock-pot-plethora-2

Just kidding, because by time you read this post, my niece Kacy will have picked up my 4-quart crock pot which I brilliantly thought to give her, as she actually IS a working mother with three small kids. And look at the little teeny tiny crock pot on the right. It doesn’t count because it is so small. Right?

For good measure, here is a recipe I recently made in my crock pot. I’m sorry for the poor photo. At some point I will remember to not shoot photos of my food when it sits on a yellow plate. Everything looks a sad color of orange….

beef-and-noodles

Beef ‘n Noodles with Mushrooms and Onions

Ingredients
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck roast, cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper
3 T. vegetable or olive oil
2 c. beef broth
1 medium onion, cut into wedges and separated
Half of a 1-oz package of onion soup mix
1/8 c. A1 steak sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
½ T. horseradish
½ t. spicy brown mustard
½ t. salt
2 T. butter, cut into pieces
½ lb. sliced mushrooms (any kind)
2 T. cornstarch
2 T. cold water
16-oz. bag noodles or macaroni

Process
Season beef with salt and pepper as necessary. Brown pieces of beef in the vegetable or olive oil until seared nicely. Put into slow cooker. Add the beef broth, onion, soup mix, steak sauce, garlic, horseradish, mustard, salt, butter and mushrooms to the crock pot. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Mix cornstarch and cold water, and add to the mixture, stirring well. Turn to high and cook for 10 minutes more or so, until the sauce begins to thicken.

Serve over noodles, cooked as instructed on the bag or box.