Monday, August 31, 2009

Simple Spinach Salad

We all have the friend who is the perfect cook. Well, you’ve invited her to dinner…what were you thinking? Don’t panic. It isn’t all that difficult to prepare something that will impress, and yet take no skill or time. This simple spinach salad is a favorite of mine. People are always impressed and yet I can whip it up in just a few minutes. If you want to serve it as a main course, you can always add grilled chicken breast (or slices of a roasted chicken purchased from your local market). If you really want to dress it up, crumble a little goat cheese on top.

*Mom hint-This is actually more than a hint, it is a pet peeve of mine. When you buy pre-washed spinach (carrots, cole slaw, lettuce etc.) wash it anyway. There have been many cases of bacteria found in pre-washed foods. It only takes a few seconds, and might save your family from illness.


1 bag of baby spinach
(regular spinach works fine, but takes longer to break off the tough stems)
1 cup of sliced strawberries (this doesn’t have to be exactly a cup, and you can substitute blueberries or drained mandarin oranges if you prefer)
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted (pecans or almonds work just fine)

1/3 cup white vinegar
(red wine vinegar or cider vinegar will work)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
¼ cup sugar
1 T. Dijon mustard (don’t use regular mustard, just leave it out if you don’t have a brown, spicy mustard)
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste
To toast the walnuts (or whatever nuts you are using) I use a piece of foil with the ends turned up (see picture), so that I can remove it easily from the oven. You can use a cookie sheet, but I’d rather throw away foil than wash something else. Place them in the cold oven, turn it on to 350 degrees and bake about 10 minutes. They can burn easily, so watch them closely. You will know they are toasted when you can just begin to smell them. Remove from oven, and let cool a few minutes.

Rinse the spinach and let it drain. You don’t want it too wet. Wash and slice the strawberries. Assemble the salad with the spinach, strawberries and nuts. Make the dressing.

I like to make my dressing in a measuring cup. It is less messy, and easier to pour either on the salad or into a pretty pitcher to place on the table. You can also do it in a medium bowl. Place all ingredients in the cup or bowl, and wisk until the sugar dissolves and the dressing is creamy looking. If you don’t have a wisk, use a fork. This can take 2 or 3 minutes, and may need to be blended again if you don’t use the dressing immediately. Serve the dressing in small pitcher or a small bowl with a spoon. Enjoy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Should I Buy My Girlfriend? (Wife or Significant Other)

Ladies-print this now, and leave it somewhere that your special person can see it.

I was going to title this, “Don’t Buy Your Wife A Vegetable Bowl” but I’m new here, and I do want Google to find me! Believe me, I’ve never let my husband forget the year that he bought a vegetable bowl to go with my everyday dishes for my birthday. We’d only been married a couple years, and I was still at that stage of trying to appear grateful and nice when I opened it, until I started sobbing. It wasn’t that the bowl sold for only $7 (it was the 70’s, stuff was cheap) or that I already had 2 of them that upset me. It was the fact that he didn’t give it any thought at all. I have to say, he didn’t make that mistake again.

Women are generally easy to please. Most of us don’t really care if we get huge diamond rings or lavish trips to exotic islands, we just want to know that you care about us. We want to know that you pay attention to the little things that make us happy. Women tend to take care of everyone else, and on those few days a year that are truly “ours” it is such a treat when someone does something nice for us. I have a few suggestions that might help you with your shopping this year.

1) If we say we don’t want anything for our birthday, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or Christmas…we don’t really mean it. The budget may be very tight, but we would still like a token gift that is special just to us. One year I had a photo enlarged at Walmart, and bought an inexpensive frame for it. It hangs in my husband’s office as a reminder of a special vacation. I didn’t spend more than $15, but he loved it.

2) Do not buy us a gift and charge it to a credit card that we have to pay. Trying to work an extra expense into the budget takes the pleasure out of the gift.

3) Some women love to get lingerie, some don’t. If she doesn’t generally wear lacy lingerie and that is what you buy her, you are really buying yourself a gift. If you buy her the comfy boxers and t-shirt she loves, she (and you) will be much happier in the long run. On the other hand, if she loves sexy lingerie, don’t buy her a flannel nightgown.

4) We don’t want cash to go shopping for ourselves. We can do that any time.

5) Most women would rather have a small bouquet of a favorite flower than a dozen red roses. Red roses don’t require thought, but every time my husband brings me tulips (my favorite flower) I am thrilled. I don’t care if they come from the grocery store, the unexpected surprise makes me feel loved.

6) There are times when an extra special gift is nice to receive. If it is one of those special birthdays or anniversaries, plan ahead. Many jewelry stores will let you put something in layaway, or start a special savings account. Don’t wait until the day before her 30th birthday and try to find something for the $20 you have in your pocket.

7) You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to make her happy. Grab an inexpensive basket from Target and fill it with a book from her favorite author, her favorite chocolates, a candle and some bubble bath. Tell her you will watch the kids for an hour while she soaks and reads. If she has children, there is nothing she would love more than some quiet time.

8) If there is no money to spend (and we’ve all been there), make her some coupons to trade for your services. Some suggestions might be, I’ll Make Dinner, A Backrub, I’ll Take the Kids to the Park, I’ll Clean the House This Week, I’ll Watch a Movie That You Like…you get the idea.

It isn’t difficult to shop for a woman. You know your partner, all she really wants is to know that you’ve been paying attention.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How Do I Hard Boil An Egg? Then What?

I have no doubt that there are more “recipes” for hard boiling eggs than there are egg varieties. I only know what works for me. I’ve been boiling eggs the same way for 30 years and it works every time. If you don’t cook an egg long enough, you will end up with a runny center. If you cook it too long, the yolk with have a greenish tinge to it. You can eat the eggs in either of those cases, but what you are going for is a nice bright yellow, cooked yolk. Once in a while I will get an egg that is slightly undercooked because of the position in the pan (I eat it).

For this article, I used 6 eggs. There are only 2 of us here, and we have to eat everything I’m posting for all of you. I didn’t want us to overdose on eggs today. You can do this exactly the same way for any number of eggs, just adjust your pan size accordingly. Place the eggs in a pan and cover them with cold water. Place on the burner and turn onto high heat (my stove is electric, if you have a gas stove, you may need to adjust the temperature a bit or add an extra inch of water to the pan). Set your timer for 16 minutes. Do not forget to set the timer and look at the eggs to make certain they are not boiling dry. If the water boils dry, the eggs will explode. I know this for a fact. Remember how I told you I was sharing my mistakes? The eggs will come to a rolling boil. When the timer goes off, remove the eggs from the heat and set the timer for 2 more minutes. After the 2 minutes, fill the egg pan with cold water and let the eggs cool down. At this point, your eggs are ready to peel and use. Some eggs are harder to peel than others. If the eggs don’t peel “pretty” they can still be chopped and used on salads, or mixed with a little mayonnaise, pickle and celery for egg salad.

*Mom hint-fresh eggs are harder to peel. If I know I’m going to be making deviled eggs soon, I try to buy my eggs at least a week in advance.

Deviled eggs are a favorite at my house, and for potlucks or cocktail parties. They are inexpensive to make, easy and will disappear before most of the other food items.

Deviled Eggs

This recipe is for 6 eggs which makes 12 deviled eggs. If you want to make 24 deviled eggs, cook 12 eggs and double the rest of the ingredients.

6 hard boiled eggs, cooled and cut in half
2 tsp. yellow mustard (you can use spicy mustard for a slightly different taste)
2 tsp. white vinegar (red wine vinegar will also work, but will change the color of the eggs a little bit)
2 T. mayonnaise (I use light, you can also use Miracle Whip if you like the taste of it)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Place the cooked yolks in a bowl with a pinch of salt (I use kosher salt) and mash with a fork until all large lumps are gone. Add vinegar, mustard and mayonnaise and stir rapidly with a fork to blend. Add a little black pepper and mix. Spoon filling into empty egg whites. Be careful not to fill them too full or you will run out of filling. You can serve as is, or sprinkle with paprika or top with olive slices for a “party” look.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flowers For Free-Decorating on a Budget

There is something about having fresh flowers in your home that brightens up the day. It doesn’t matter if you live in a house, an apartment or a dorm room, bringing in a simple arrangement of something living will make you feel better. It will also make a house feel like a home. The great thing about bringing something live in from outdoors, is that you don’t have to spend a fortune at a florist in order to make a statement. You don’t need a cut glass vase, or long-stemmed roses to create something wonderful. There are times when I just go out in the yard and pick what I can find. It is easier to find things in the spring and summer, but possible to do any time of year. In the fall you can find twigs with bright leaves, in winter you can pick a few sprigs from an evergreen tree or holly bush and make the house smell like the holidays.

This time of year, I love to add fresh herbs to my arrangements. It is so easy to grow basil or rosemary from seeds. You can grow them outdoors, or in a pot indoors near a window. Sometimes I add a few flowers if I have something in bloom, other times I just use the herbs and twigs or leaves. You don’t need any special supplies. The arrangement above is in a drinking glass with a few rocks on the bottom. I added some water, and took a walk through my yard. You will see rosemary stems, some basil leaves that are past their prime (I grow basil all year long), some green stems off of one of our shrubs and a few random flowers that were still blooming. It works the best if you put all of the “greens” in first, making sure you have some differences in heights. Go back and add the flowers if you have them. You simply can’t imagine how wonderful the herbs make the house smell. This doesn’t have to look perfect, it is supposed to look a bit wild.

If you don’t have a yard or park where you can snip a few sprigs of something, you can go to your local grocery store and get a bouquet of flowers for around $4. I have found that I can make them last about a week if I buy mums or daisy blooms. I try to keep something fresh on my kitchen counter all the time. You will be surprised how you catch yourself smiling when you look at them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mom’s Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

The first thing to know about cooking with chicken is to be very careful with sanitation. Rinse the chicken in cold water before cooking it. Wash your hands and all surfaces that come in contact with raw chicken with hot, soapy water and/or a product made for kitchen clean-up.

For this soup you can use whatever form of chicken you want. You can buy a whole chicken and cut it into pieces (I don’t think it is worth the effort), frozen bags of boneless breasts, or assorted fresh chicken pieces from the meat case. I like to use a whole chicken already cut in pieces. The skin gives the broth more flavor than the boneless, skinless bagged pieces. I generally cook the gizzard, liver, heart and back in a small pan of water and give it to my dog. Some people actually eat those parts. We don’t.

Chicken Noodle Soup


1 whole chicken, cut in pieces. Do not use liver, gizzard, or heart for soup.
1 cup chopped carrots (baby carrots or whole carrots peeled)
1 cup chopped celery
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves
15 cups water (I have a big pot)
7 oz. dry egg noodles (I try to buy the most homemade looking I can find)

Rinse the chicken and place in large pot. If you are cooking for one or two people, and don’t have a large pot, just use one or two pieces of chicken and cover it with water. You will need to cut down the other ingredients as well, including the salt. You really can’t mess this up. Cover the chicken with the 15 cups of water, add the carrots, celery, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let cook for about 2 hours until the chicken is very tender. Remove the chicken from the pot to cool. Remove the bay leaves.

At this point in the process, I remove 5 cups of the broth and put it in a freezer container. Let it cool, and freeze it. You will be very glad to have it on a different night. Bring the remaining broth back to a boil, and stir in the noodles. Reduce to simmer and cover. The package should give you the amount of time for your particular noodles to cook (mine took 20 minutes). While the noodles are cooking, remove the chicken from the bones and skin. Cut or shred into bite size pieces. Measure 2 cups of chicken and add to the cooked noodles and broth. Add salt and pepper as needed. The remaining chicken can be placed in freezer bags and frozen, or you may refrigerate it for sandwiches the next day.

At a later date you can thaw the frozen broth, add the frozen chicken and simply place in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add a handful of rice, pasta or noodles and you have a second meal.
*Mom hint-Bay leaves are not poisonous but they do have sharp edges and can be a choking hazard. Make sure you always remove them before serving the food.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black and Khaki Will Take You Anywhere

Have you seen what people look like when they apply for jobs these days? I don’t care if you are applying to serve burgers in a place where they wear Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts, don’t wear that to the interview. You may love your tattoo, cover it anyway. That cool nose ring, take it out. The same can be said if you are meeting with your kid’s teacher, the minister of the church and so on. You get the picture. People really do notice how you present yourself. Wouldn’t it be nice if people only noticed what was on the inside? If people would just listen to your qualifications and not judge you by the fact that you are wearing jeans and flip-flops, you would get that job. Blah, blah, blah…welcome to the real world. First impressions still mean everything when it comes to getting jobs or developing other professional relationships. I may sound old-fashioned, but remember that it is someone just like me, hiring someone like you.

A few simple basics should be found in everyone’s closet. Women should all own a black skirt that isn’t too short, black dress pants, a white blouse, a blazer or cardigan that can go with either the pants or skirt and a pair of low heels. Boring…but, necessary. You can dress it up or dress it down. You can add a glittery top and go out for the night or wear the skirt and jacket to a funeral. Throw in a pair of khaki pants, jeans, casual sandals, some fun tops and you can take off for a week. For that job interview-don’t forget to wear hose. I know, we all hate them.

The same really holds true for the men. Black or Gray dress pants, a white shirt, a sport coat in either gray or navy (to match the dress pants) a conservative tie, dark socks and a pair of dress shoes in black. Once again, a pair of khakis, some casual shirts, jeans and you are good to go for a week. The khakis and a nice shirt are fine to apply for a fast food job, anything more wear the sport coat and tie. Don't forget to wear dark socks. I’ll assume that anyone, male or female, applying for a job on Wall Street or a law office, would know to wear a suit.

A local business owner tells the story about the guy who came in to apply for a job. He was very qualified for the position. He didn’t get the job. He brought his Pit Bull to the interview. Need I say more?

*Mom hint-Buy a few quality basics, and less expensive trendy pieces to go with them. That little black skirt will last for years. The one in the photo is available at Talbots.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Someone died, and I have to take food! Help!

Okay, so someone doesn’t really have to die. Maybe your boss had surgery, or your best friend had a baby. It could be that you want to fix dinner for that special someone who doesn’t realize that you a) can’t really cook or b) don’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen. I have the answer! It is easy, adaptable, and affordable.

*Mom hint-If you are giving food away, buy a disposable aluminum baking pan to prepare it in. You can get them at the grocery store or any dollar store. If someone is in a position to be getting gifts of food, the last thing they want to worry about it getting the pan back to the giver.

Stuffed Shells

This recipe will make 4 servings (2 shells each) and fits in a 9x9 baking dish, or small rectangular pan. If you want to make a 9x13 or larger-double the ingredients. I make a meatless version of this meal. I don’t add meat to the sauce, because so many people don’t eat meat these days. You may brown 1 pound of ground beef or turkey until done, drain and add to the sauce before putting the dish together if you want to. You can also substitute frozen cheese ravioli or tortellini for the shells if you can’t get the shells at your local store.

8 Frozen Stuffed Pasta Shells (available in the freezer section of the grocery store in a bag, or sometimes in a box)
1 26 oz. (or larger) can or jar of prepared spaghetti sauce (Any brand will do, and any flavor you like will work)
12 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (It also works just fine with cheddar or a blend)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I generally spray a little Pam in my pan to make washing it easier, it isn’t necessary. Spoon a thin layer of spaghetti sauce into the bottom of the pan. Place the frozen shells (open side up) into the pan, spacing them slightly apart. Spoon the remaining spaghetti sauce over the shells, covering them completely. Cover pan tightly with foil and place in pre-heated oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and sprinkle cheese over the top, return to oven for just about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.

I like to serve this with hot bread, and a green salad. If I am taking it to someone’s home as a gift, I often just pick up a loaf of bread from the grocery bakery to take with it. I assume they can make their own salad. It is embarrassing how many people request “the recipe” for this dish. They are always surprised it was so easy to prepare.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What inspired this blog?

When my youngest got her first apartment 2 years ago, I made her a book of “mom stuff.” It included recipes for simple and inexpensive foods, as well as family favorites. I also added laundry tips, ideas for entertaining on a budget and helpful hints that I hoped would make her transition a little easier. Even so, I have still received frequent phone calls with questions about everything from crushed tomatoes to what outfit to wear to an interview.

I am often told I’m the “mom” of the group, regardless of the average age of the people I’m with. It isn’t unusual for me to get a text message or call from a friend asking about recipe ingredients, or home remedies. My kid’s friends will tell them to “call and ask your mom” when they have questions about everything from finances to travel arrangements.

Make no mistake, I’m not the perfect mother. I’m not an expert at anything! I raised two kids and we all survived. I’m still married to my best friend after almost 35 years, but it hasn’t always been easy. I am no Martha Stewart. I won’t be telling you how to make napkins out of hand towels, or stenciling a holiday tablecloth. I do hope to share some practiced ways to simplify, save money, entertain and prepare some easy meals. I’m just offering a few pointers from someone who has already “been there and done that.”

As my daughter often says, “Mom, what should I do about…?”