Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beef and Barley Soup

I made this a few days ago, but I was the only one that ate it.  Best of intentions, but things here aren't really under any kind of plan or control.  It was good, and most of it is in the freezer.

It's easy to make, I tried to find a recipe but just ended up tossing it together.

My apologies in advance if I forget anything.  I am exhausted.

Beef and Barley Soup
- 2 lb lean beef stew meat
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 cups beef broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup barley
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 package sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp pepper

Heat oil and brown meat in large stock pot.  Add broth, water and barley.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Add celery, onion and carrots, bring back to a boil, cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Add mushrooms and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baby Gear - What you need with a newborn

I got a request from a dear reader (and one of my best friends in the world who has seen sides of me very few people have, literally) a week or so ago.  She's expecting a baby, but it's been a few years since she had her last one.  And as any parent knows, they come out with all kinds of new baby gear all the time.   She asked me to write up a list of the things a new parent needs, as opposed to the lists you find in magazines and specialty baby stores. 

Truth is, with those lists, most of what is on those lists is stuff you really don't need.

I'll try to organize this list into sections.  First, the things you really need.  Second, the things you will probably need.  Third, the things you should buy only if you really need them. And fourth, the things you truly do not need.

The Things You Really Need
- Diapers - I have always tried to get my husband to do cloth, but he resisted.  I personally love the Pampers Swaddlers.   Don't buy huge quantities of diapers in any small size, chances are the baby will outgrow them before you use them all up.  Most newborns go through 10-14 diapers a day.

- Wipes - Unlike diapers, these are something you can stock up on fairly safely.  Even once your kids are potty trained, which won't be for years, you will still find uses for wipes.  Before purchasing giant boxes of them, make sure you try them first.

- Basic Generic Clothing - Onesies, long sleeved kimono style shirts, soft knit pants and one piece outfits.  Newborns don't wear clothes yet, and everything should be soft.  Don't go crazy buying too much, it will all be outgrown in a few weeks.

- Burp Cloths - You will probably want to have at least 12 of these on hand, since you will use a few a day at least in the first few months.  The best ones I've ever found are actually the plain cloth diapers.  You can spend more on the fancy ones if you want, but just because something costs more doesn't make it work better.

- Receiving Blankets - You will need at least 4 lightweight blankets to wrap the baby up in.  Most flannel receiving blankets sold in the stores work fine for newborns, but the baby outgrows them quickly.  Some companies are now making cotton larger blankets.  I made my own out of flannel in larger sizes. 

- Infant Car Seat - You need a car seat that is safe for a newborn.  Whether it is a portable carrier or one that stays in the car, you need to make sure it is safe for the baby.   The portable carriers are easier when they are tiny, and are often sold with stroller combinations.  Make sure your car seat is properly installed.  Most fire stations will inspect it for you.

- Somewhere to put the baby down - Even if you intend to co sleep with your newborn, there will be times that you need a safe place to put them down alone.  Whether it is a crib, a playpen or a bassinet, you need something.  Bassinets are nice and convenient, but will be outgrown quickly.  Playpens these days usually come with bassinet inserts and will serve more practical purposes longer than a bassinet will.  I had a playpen downstairs for the baby, which I recommend if you have a multi-story home.  Get a few sheets and mattress covers, you don't need more than a few. 

Things you probably need
- Stroller - If you get a travel system with your car seat, you will most likely have a full size stroller to go with it.  Keep in mind that you only have so much room in the trunk of your car, and if it is completely full with the stroller, you may not be able to get groceries in there too. Full size strollers have their benefits but their drawbacks as well.  I'd highly recommend going to a store where they are assembled already and test driving them BEFORE you get one.  Practice folding it, locking it, opening it and carrying it.  Then imagine doing it quickly, in the rain, holding a baby, etc.  We opted with our last one to get a travel system that came with a lightweight stroller.  I also recommend getting an umbrella stroller once the baby can sit up.  I know people who swear by the car seat carrier strollers, but I personally don't see the point since it won't be used very long.  It might be a good temporary option if the car seat you love doesn't come with a stroller, or if the stroller you love won't work with a car seat. 

- Baby Carrier - I used slings in the first months with my babies.  Again, this is a personal preference, and you have to get used to wearing them.  The baby has to like being in them too.  This is also something that you should attempt to test drive before purchasing.  If you aren't comfortable wearing them, ask for help.  Chances are someone around can give you tips.  I loved my slings and my babies did too, plus you get your hands free to do other things.  When they are a little older, I also had a front pack style carrier.  With my last, I had a used Baby Bjorn, and it really is worth the money.  It was far more comfortable than the other front packs I have used.  When the baby is sitting up, I'd also recommend a backpack style carrier. 

- Swing - This is something you will probably need, but might not.  Most babies like the rhythmic motion of a swing, but not all of them.  Baby swings saved my sanity.  Pay the extra and get the kind that can swing front to back and side to side like a cradle.  Also, get one that has a cord, you don't want to be constantly replacing batteries.  They cost a little more on the front end, but you will save a lot in the long run.  You can probably wait until the baby is born, then go test drive a few swings at the store or borrow a friend's before you make the purchase.

- Highchair - You won't need it for a while.  A fairly long while, since it won't be used until the baby is sitting up.  Whether you get a freestanding one or one that sits on a regular chair doesn't really matter.  My only important piece of advice is this: get one that is easy to clean.  Do not get one with lots of padding and crevices and spots food can get shoved into.  Gross.  We have a solid wood highchair.  Easy to clean.  The ones that sit on a regular chair are often even easier, with the tray being dishwasher safe. 

- Bottles - Whether you are bottle feeding or nursing, chances are you will need bottles at some point.  Buy one of a style before you commit to a whole bunch of them.  Babies are sometimes picky, and you dont' want to spend a ton of money on bottles they don't like.  Again, expensive isn't necessarily better.

- Baby Monitor - If the baby will spend any time in a room away from you, you need to get a monitor.  Get one that has a higher frequency and several channels to avoid interference with other signals.  Ideally, get one with more than one transmitter.  If you anticipate being the kind of parent who needs to check on a sleeping baby (and we all do it to some degree), there are video monitors and motion sensor monitors.  These are not necessary for most parents, but may help ease your fears a little.

Things you should buy only if you really need them
- Exersaucers - Test drive them.  Some kids like them, some don't.  It's a big chunk of change if it never gets used.  Even if they like it, they will use it for a very short period of time.

- Breast Pump - If you are nursing, chances are you will need a pump.  I recommend renting one from a hospital first.  If you plan to return to work, get a double electric, and do not go cheap.  This is one thing that you really do need to spend the money on.  Cheap motors burn me.  I have had and loved two Medela Pump in Styles.  I also highly recommend the Avent Isis manual hand pump for times you aren't able to use the electric.  It is by far the best on the market.   

- Breastfeeding Pillow - A regular pillow will do, but there are specially designed ones that may make it easier.  They may also just get in your way. 

Changing Table - No, you don't really need one.  You can get a changing pad and change a baby anywhere.  A changing table, if you get one, should be designed to last longer than the time the baby will be an infant.  The one we currently have is a dresser with a pad fitted to the top.  I do recommend having a little basket with diapers and wipes in every room you might be in throughout the house.

- Glider or rocking chair - You can live without this, but you might want it.  Only buy it if you have room for it and can foresee using it more than a few months. 

- Diaper bag - You don't really need any special bag.  A decent sized bag of any sort will work fine, whether it's a purse or a backpack.  If you get a diaper bag, look for one that has a changing pad included.  You may want a waterproof wet sack for soiled clothing as well.

- Infant Thermometer - This is one of the things you won't think about until you need it.  With newborns, if they are running even a low fever, it can be a sign of a serious problem.  Temporal thermometers work the best (the ones that you glide across their forehead), but are pricey.  We have gone through dozens of thermometers over the years, and the only one that we have kept is the temporal one.  It's probably better to just get one and hope you don't need it than wait until you do.

- Infant Medications - I'm not a huge fan of these and don't recommend buying them until you need them.  The dosages change as babies get bigger and you may not use them before they are expired (or recalled! gasp!) 

- Diaper Rash Ointment - I recommend Burt's Bees, and I know people who swear by Mustela and the Butt Paste.  Major brands don't work in my experience at all.  I'd have a tube on hand just in case you need it.

- Lanolin, breast pads, breast soothers - These are things you can wait and see if you need them.  These days, they are carried by even grocery stores and are easier to find than they used to be. 

- Baby bathtub - You may not need one.  A foam insert for the sink or larger bathtub works great and is easier to use than most baby bathtubs.  I would get a few of the soft baby washcloths and towels though.

- Formula - Unless you are planning from the beginning to bottle feed, you should try to avoid keeping this in the house.  The first few weeks of nursing can be frustrating, and having formula in the house can serve as a temptation.  Stick with nursing, resist supplementing for those weeks if possible, and you increase your chances of successful nursing. 

- Pacifiers - This is a personal choice.  If you want to give your baby one, assuming they will take it, then get them.  If you don't, don't.  Simple enough.

Things you really don't need
- Wipe warmers - silliest invention of all time.

- Bottle warmers - a large cup of hot water works fine.

- Sterilizers - a pot of boiling water works fine.

- Bumbo seats - they shouldn't sit up until they can.

- Floor gyms - none of my kids ever liked these.

- 90% of the stuff they sell in baby specialty stores - Really, you don't need most of that stuff.  My advice for everything else is that you really think about whether you need it before purchasing it.  Read reviews. 

- You should also avoid buying too many things in advance.  Clothing may be the wrong season if purchased in advance.  You won't need to childproof until they are crawling, so don't bother doing it with a newborn.   Newborns also don't need bowls and spoons and sippy cups. 

I am sure there are things I am forgetting.  And I am sure they will have invented something new by the time she has her baby.  Whether she'll need it or not, well, that's anyone's guess. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beef Stew

I have posted a recipe for beef stew before, but that one is more a sweet and savory variety.  You can get the recipe for Strange Brew Beef Stew here. 

This recipe is a more traditional beef stew, with a little twist.

It makes enough for about 6 adults.

Beef Stew
- 2 pounds lean beef roast, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups peeled and sliced carrots
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup flour, divided
- 2 cups chicken or beef broth
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp coarse ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh minced)
- 2 tbsp water
- dash pepper
- 1/2 bag egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

Use half the flour and coat chunks of meat.  Heat oil in large stockpot and brown meat in batches, then remove meat and put in a bowl.  Cook onion and mushrooms in drippings until onion is transparent.  

Add broth, Worcestershire sauce and mustard, stirring to combine.  Scrape any browned pieces of meat and vegetables from bottom of pot and stir in to mixture.  Return meat to pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add carrots, then cover and simmer for one hour.  Mix water, remaining flour and pepper in a separate bowl, then add to soup.  Bring to a boil and stir until thickened. 

Layer cooked egg noodles in bottom of bowl, then spoon stew over top.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

This is awesome, and possibly the most awesome thing about it is that it's quick and easy to make. 

Even my hugely anti-tomato husband ate it.  And he liked it.  He's a smart man.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 large can (28 oz) tomato puree
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup cream (can use skim milk to cut fat and calories)
- pepper to taste

Run tomatoes, peppers and oil through a food processor, adding a bit of the chicken broth if more fluid is needed.  Add puree to large stockpot.  Mix in tomato puree, remaining broth and sugar to pot, stirring thoroughly.  Add pepper to taste.  Heat soup to boiling and reduce heat, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in cream.

Bacon Cheddar Paninis

If you are anything like me, and truly believe that sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them, then thrust this recipe into the hands of another if you must. It's that good.

Bacon Cheddar Panini
- 8 pieces wheat bread
- butter for toasting
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 pieces bacon
- 1 large tomato, thinly sliced

Spread Mixture
- 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp course ground prepared mustard
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp parsley

Combine mayo, mustard, garlic powder and parsley in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Cook bacon, preferably on a griddle that can be used for cooking sandwiches as well. Drain on paper towels and remove most of the grease from the griddle, leaving a little for cooking the sandwiches.

Lightly butter the outside of 4 pieces of the bread, placing butter side down on griddle. Generously smother spread mixture on bread. Top each piece of bread with two pieces bacon, broken into smaller pieces to fit. Layer tomatoes, then 1/4 cup cheese per sandwich. Before placing top layer of bread on the sandwich, coat inner side with spread, outer side with light butter.

Toast both sides until golden brown, cooking until cheese is melted, pressing down evenly to squish the sandwich a bit. Ideally, you would have a panini maker to create this sandwich.

I'm telling you, this sandwich is that good. I've got to stop cooking or my life of eating out will forever be ruined. This is better than any sandwich I've ever paid for.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I made a big giant bowl of this last night to go with the carne asada we had for dinner.   I figured I might as well share it here.  I have a special love of guacamole.  When I was pregnant with Aidan, I actually made it every single day.  Love, love, love it.

This is a basic version of the recipe, subject to the additions you would want to make.  I tend not to add much heat to it since the kids love it too.  But if you like it spicy, feel free to add whatever it takes.  You can use dried cayenne pepper or fresh peppers.  Chili peppers should be seeded and finely minced, then evenly distributed.   If you like it mild, add an Anaheim chili or two.  I'd recommend a Serrano chili which is medium heat.  If you want it even hotter, add half a habanero.

Whatever you do, don't buy one of those guacamole mixes ever again.

- 3-4 ripe avocados, should have blackened skin and yield to slight pressure, but not feel mushy
- 1 large hothouse tomato
- 2-3 green onions
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1-2 limes
- salt and pepper

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and scoop out flesh.  Roughly chop and put in a bowl.  If a smoother texture is desired, mash with a fork.  Dice tomato into small pieces. 

Some recipes call for white onions or red onions, but I personally prefer the green onions.  Slice tops and roots from onions, thinly slice, then separate layers by rolling through hands and add to bowl.  Stem and chop cilantro.  Roll limes firmly on counter before slicing.  Squeeze juice over mixture.  Stir until completely blended.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then chili peppers if desired. 

I serve it with chips, but I'd eat it with a spoon.  ;)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Post-It Education

I've done this before, and I'll do it again.  I love post-its. 

When Ashley was in Kindergarten, this is how she mastered her sight words.  Now that Ally is having a hard time finding the motivation for learning them, I'm doing it again.  My kitchen cabinets are currently covered with bright green post-its. 

I decided to speak her language.  For every row of words she masters, I will paint her nails.  If she gets them all, she gets to go to the beauty salon for a real manicure. 

Ahhh, the things we do.

As soon as she gets them...the multiplcation tables are going up.  Ashley is determined to master those before her big brother.

I've found that this system works better than anything else I have tried for things that just need to be memorized.  The constant reminder of them helps, and I can point out the words, letters or math problems several times a day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Buttermilk Blueberry Crumb Muffins

I got a craving for something today.  This is what happens when I have a craving for something. 

These muffins will change your life.  Really.  I dare you to tell me otherwise.

At the request of a reader, I will include substitutions to make the recipe lower in fat.  In the above pictured version, I used the regular recipe.   This yields about 16 regular sized muffins or 10 jumbo.

Happy Baking!

Buttermilk Blueberry Crumb Muffins
For Muffins
- 3 cups flour
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp baking powder
- 2/3 cup buttermilk (to make lower in fat, I make my own with 1 tbsp vinegar and skim milk, just let sit a few minutes)
- 2/3 cup oil (can substitute with smooth plain unsweetened applesauce)
- 2 whole eggs (can substitute with 3 egg whites)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 cups blueberries

For Crumb Topping
- 2 tbsp butter, softened (can substitute with light spread)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray.  (You could use paper liners, but you would be sacrificing all the muffin stuck to the paper, and believe me you don't want to do that!)  Combine dry muffing ingredients, then add buttermilk, oil and lemon juice.  Add eggs one at a time.  Fold in blueberries until just mixed.  Pour into prepared pans.

For topping, combine with a fork until mixture resembles course crumbs.  Sprinkle generously over muffin batter.  Bake for 23-25 minutes, until toothpick insert in center comes out clean.

Quick and Easy Chili

I've used the same basic recipe for this forever.  It's something you can throw together in 15-20 minutes for dinner or put into a crockpot and let cook all day.  You can use it to make chili dogs, serve it over fritos for homemade gutbusters or just have a bowl of it all by itself.  I made this just last night.  One of these days I will fiddle with it and try adding more stuff to it, but I haven't yet.  Why mess with a good thing?

- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- dash pepper
- 1 large can chili beans
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 small can tomato paste
- shredded cheddar cheese and/or diced onions for garnish

Brown ground beef in deep skillet, adding the onion, garlic, chili powder and pepper to the meat.  Cook until meat is done and onions transparent. 

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.  You can warm it all together on the stovetop or put it in a crockpot on low for a few hours.  I opt not to add more heat to the chili since the kids don't like it too spicy, but you can add hot pepper sauce or dried cayenne pepper to make it hotter. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rosemary Chicken

Hello blog.  I've neglected you.  But I've been busy....had a good excuse and all I suppose. 

Here is one of the things I cooked since I've been here.  It ain't fancy, but it's good.

Rosemary Chicken
- 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 springs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Heat oil in large skillet on medium, then place chicken in pan.  Cook until browned on that side, then flip.  Brown on the other side, then add butter, garlic and rosemary and cover.  Reduce heat to low-medium and cook until chicken is no longer pink in the center.

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