Monday, January 30, 2012

Identity Theft and Fraud

Very recently my better half (Da Boss) was the victim (I hate that term) of credit card theft/fraud. Thankfully I picked up on this rather quickly because I am extremely anal about constantly checking our transaction history on our statements. Thankfully we use mainly one card for most purchases and pay off at the end of each billing cycle. So it makes monitoring this account rather easy and not at all time consuming. That brings us to last week when I noticed a rather large (a few thousand dollars worth) purchase on our joint card. Now while Da Boss doesn't always tell me when he is making a purchase, neither of us spends that type of money without a household conversation happening, if for no other reason than to keep everyone in the loop. So when I saw this unexpected purchase I asked him about it. Thank God I did because turns out he didn't make it. Someone had gotten his credit card information (the police suspect one of the accounts that he does business with frequently had their site hacked and that is how our number was obtained) and was busy going on a shopping spree.

That brings me to this post... ways to prevent identity theft.

1. At least twice per year obtain a copy of your credit report from all 3 of the major reporting agencies.
All of these agencies will provide *free of charge* copies of your most recent credit report 2 times per year. Use it. It's important to check all 3 because different things are reported to each agency.

2. Be mindful of where you shop and how you use your card. Keep a record of what purchases are made. (you can do this through computer programs such as Quicken, Quickbooks, or similar programs, or keep a paper journal etc.) If you see a purchase that is out of the ordinary be sure to question it timely.

3. If you have to give information about yourself out to others, be careful about how much information you put out there. Don't give your social security number out unless absolutely necessary. There are in fact very few reasons to ever provide that piece of information to most people.

4. Be sure to check your bank statements often and reconcile them to ensure that the information presented is accurate (many people simply check their online record and assume that banking institutions don't make errors and/or have people who choose to steal money from others). This happens with banks as well as other companies, so reconcile your accounts monthly.

5. Never provide your social security number online unless you are doing so with a government approved secure site. Again there really isn't many reasons why you would ever have to provide that number.

6. Buy a cross cut paper shredder and shred any unwanted documents, bills, etc. It isn't enough to simply rip them in half and throw them into the trash. People choosing to commit identity theft have no problems going through garbage looking for information.

7. Do not leave important documentation laying around or even loosely kept in your home. Either get a safety deposit box at a reputable bank, or have an in home fire proof box and/or safe.

8. Read articles such as the one at this site 9 ways to prevent identity theft online This article had LOTS of useful information.

I am sure you may know of even other ways to help limit your exposure and risk. Please share any good tips you might have in case others don't have it.

Even with doing all of the above, we are prime examples that identity and credit card theft can still happen. But at least it's important to do all you can to minimize your risks.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Favorites

Thrift Store Shopping - this articles gives some tips for shopping at thrift stores
100 Reasons to Get Rid of Stuff - this a gold mine of information and resources for donating, recycle and how-to throw out things you don't want or need anymore
Speed Cleaning 101 - a quick guide to speed cleaning
Dark Chocolate Oatmeal - Chocolate for breakfast - yes!
Bleach Pen T-Shirts - using bleach pens to create designs in t-shirts.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chocolate Banana Cake

Well I always set out with intentions of posting about something other than food, but then I wind up finding something food worthy to post about. Today is no exception. Last week while waiting at the pediatrician's office with my girls I was reading a canadian living magazine (rather odd considering I live in New Jersey). In it was a recipe that caught the attention of not only my four year old but myself. It was for chocolate banana cake. How could you go wrong with that combo I ask? So last week we set out to make the cake. It was YUMMO and I thought I would share the recipe as I definitely plan to make it again in my house.
Chocolate Banana Cake

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/t tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas ( I used closer to 2 cups of mashed bananas)

White Chocolate Icing:
3 cups whipping cream
10 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 tsp vanilla

Dark Chocolate Ganache:
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

4 bananas, sliced
1 oz melted chocolate

1. For cake: Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Beat in sour cream and banana. Combine flour, baking soda and chocolate. Add in 3 additions to creamed mixture. Mix until wet.

2. Spoon into two greased 8 1/2 inch cake pans. Bake at 350F for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pans. Let cool completely.

3. For white chocolate icing: In sauce pan, bring half of cream to a boil, pour over chocolate in bowl, whisking until melted. Add vanilla. Chill until cooled (1 hour, whisking often).

4. Beat chocolate and cream just until ridges hold shape. Beat remaining cream just until soft peaks form. Gently fold cream into chocolate cream.

5. Slice cakes in half horizontally. Spread each layer with about 3/4 cup of white chocolate icing and a layer of sliced bananas. Using a palette knife cover cake with a remaining icing and chill until firm (about 1 1/2 hours).

6. For ganache: bring 1/2 cup cream to a boil, pour over chocolate. Whisk until melted and let cool 20 minutes until room temperature but still pourable. Pour over cake, letting some run down the sides.

7. Drizzle melted chocolate over remaining banana slices and arrange on top of cake.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Favorites

Fixing Scratches on white plates - there are other things in this post but what I really was focused on was how she fixed the scratches in her white plates - we have those on our plates so I want to try this as nothing I have tried so far has worked
Free Labels - really great labels all different sizes and shapes
Should I keep that Paper? -  gives you a graph and then some tips on what to do with the papers
14 Ways to Spruce up Your Bedroom - some very simple things to change up your bedroom
Beef Wellingtons with Gorgonzola and Madeira Wine Sauce - looks like a really good recipe

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My First Roast Chicken

Confession time: I'm nearly 40 years old and have never cooked a whole chicken or turkey. Turkey breasts I've done several times. Never a whole bird. I'm seriously squicked out by the though of sticking my hand, to quote a friend "up a chicken's hiney".

But I figured it is a good idea, will generate left-overs and come on, I need to get over it.

So I bought a small bird for Sir and I and gave it a try. Here's my recipe and the running narrative of things I wasn't expecting.

1 lemon, seeded and chopped (skin and all!)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried
1 3lb whole chicken
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 tbsp orange peel
1 tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1 cup chicken broth

Mix the lemon and rosemary and rub under chicken skin, all the way down to the thighs
Huh? How do I get under the skin? Hmmm... ok, so if I take a knife and cut a small slit. Hey there we go. But there's this membrane holding it to the bird, better break that first. Ok! Now we're doing good. Woot1 Go me! Crap, I ripped the skin a little, so let's skewer it back together. Damn that doesn't work, better just skewer it down to keep the lemon from falling out

In a saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion, apple, fennel, thyme and orange peel. When cool enough to handle stuff the bird.
What's cool enough to handle? Hey what's this packet in here? Oh right, the giblets, better remove that. Hmmm I wonder if I have to stick my hand in or if I can just spoon stuff into there?

Skewer ends of the chicken together (I used toothpicks).

Roast for 90 minutes at 350 degrees, basting every 15 minutes with chicken broth.
Ok! 15 minutes down, better baste the chicken. Hmmm it's browning kind of fast. I think I'll try to cover it with tin foil.

Ok, it's time for the second 15 minute basting, how are we doing? Smells great. Uh oh, the oven is heating it unevenly, I better turn it half way around to keep it cooking evenly!

Halfway there, I better check the internal temp, my oven cooks fast and my chicken wasn't 3 lbs. I'm not crazy about how the skin is turning out. Maybe I should have basted it with softened butter mixed with chicken broth? Internal temp is 150 degrees. I'm about halfway there. I need it to be 170 before it's "done".

30 minutes left, maybe I should take off the tin foil now to brown up the rest of the skin a bit?

15 minutes left, going to turn the bird again! Time to take the temperature again 160 degrees.

Just a note here, to take a chicken or turkey's temperature, stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. This is generally in the thigh area between the drumstick and the body.

Take the temperature when you baste to determine how fast your chicken is roasting. My oven doesn't always follow "recommended" cooking times. I ended up cooking this for just about 5 minutes shy of 90.

Also, have a good thermometer. I recommend an instant heat one!

Also, just because the chicken is bloody when you cut into it, doesn't mean it is underdone.

As an additional note, you may not want to do a different baste on it after all, the chicken gets crispy, but would be probably be bitter to eat because of the lemon right up under it. But if you like that, go ahead!

This recipe turns out moist and juicy and fall apart tender!

And here is the finished product:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lemon Berry Pancakes

Over the weekend we had company and I always enjoy cooking up large breakfasts for company. So this morning was no exception. Since there were many mouths to feed in addition to the standard egg dishes, breakfast meats, and fruit, I also made the pancakes below. They were a hit so I thought I would share the recipe with all of you. Hope you enjoy!

Pancake Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose baking flour (you can use whole wheat baking flour but I find it makes the pancakes a lot heavier)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 (8 ounce container) lemon-flavored yogurt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups blue berries

Pancake Topping Ingredients:
1/2 cup red currant jelly (we make our own but you can certainly purchase this at most grocery stores)
3 cups berries ( I used a combo of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries)

** you can use frozen berries but be sure to thaw them well and drain off any excess water**

1. Combine all pancake ingredients in a bowl (except the berries) and mix until smooth.
2. Heat lightly greased griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees or until drops of water sizzle. For each pancake, spoon about 1/4 cup batter onto griddle. Let cook for a few seconds and then add some berries to the pancake. Cook until bubbles form on top and then turn pancakes and finish cooking until cooked through. If they are browning too quickly reduce heat a little bit.
3. Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, melt jelly over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and add berries. Mix until berries are well coated. Serve over warm pancakes.

We like to also either sprinkle with a little bit of confectioners sugar on top or fresh whipped cream.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Favorites

50 Tips to Be Frugal -  tips to start the year off penny pinching to save money
Quick Guide to Herbs and Spices - a guide to herbs with description
DIY Greeting Card Organizer - how-to on making a greeting card organizer
Homemade Laundry Cream - it looks interesting - and only 1 tablespoon used per load
Everyday Exposure to Toxics - it is a site that helps you identify the things you are exposed to everyday that are toxic.
Chickpea salad with roasted red peppers  - looks like a good lunch

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday Tips

No Spattering

One way to keep frying food from spattering is to invert a metal colander over the pan, allowing steam to escape.

Hurry-Up Baked Potatoes

Boil potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes, then place in a very hot oven.

Easy Topping

A good topping for gingerbread, coffee cake, etc. can easily be made by freezing the syrup from canned fruit and adding 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 2 cups of syrup. Heat until bubbly, and thicken with 2 tablespoons of flour

Hurry-Up Hamburgers

Poke a hole in the middle of the hamburger patties while shaping them. The burgers will cook faster and the holes will disappear when done.

Shrink-less Links

Boil sausage for about 8 minutes before frying and they will shrink less and not break at all.

Removing Ham Rind

Before placing ham in the roasting pan, slit rind lengthwise on the underside. The rind will peel away as the ham cooks, and can be easily removed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mondays are Meatless

One of the things we are trying in the new year is to incorporate lots of new recipes into our weekly and monthly meal plans. One of the areas we are trying to boost up is the amount of vegetables that we eat. While we do eat vegetables with meals, it isn't the main focus of our meals. So for 2012 I plan to change that for at least one meal a week if not more than one meal a week. This past week I made a really great dinner that was all vegetables to I thought I would share it here. I had tried to take a picture of the end result but sadly it did not photograph well at all, so rather than posting one very ugly looking dish I will leave you with one very tasty recipe.

Spagetti squash with spicy tomato sauce

1 spagetti squash, halve lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of fresh basil chopped
1/2 cup of black olives sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp. hot pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Place spaghetti squash cut sides down on the prepared baking sheet, and bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a sharp knife can be inserted with only a little resistance. Remove squash from oven, and set aside to cool enough to be easily handled.

3. While this is baking in the oven, combine the remaining ingredients to make a spicy tomato sauce to put over your spagetti squash. let it simmer together on the stove in a sauce pan until the squash is done in the oven.

4. Once your squash is out of the oven and able to be handled, scrape out the squash meat (it will resemble spagetti strands as it comes out). Using a fork is best for this task.

5. Spoon spicy sauce over and serve with a tossed salad on the side.

We are trying to not add cheese or bread to our vegetable meals this year, but this would certainly be yummo if you sprinkled some parmesan cheese over it while it's hot, as well as serve with a nice crusty bread and some softened butter.

But even without these additions we found this to be a very satisfying, healthy, low calorie meal. I almost didn't miss having the pasta or meat. I won't say that I didn't completely miss those things as I do love pasta and a good hearty bolognese sauce however this truly was satisfying.

So perhaps in 2012 you will challenge yourself to eat one vegetable meal a week as well. it's a great way to add some healthy stuff back into your meals as well as shed some calories throughout the month in your meals.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

All About Eggs

We have been eating a lot of eggs lately as we got several dozen fairly cheap. Plus we love breakfast for dinner so eggs gives me many meal time options. In eating so many lately, I thought I might share some things about eggs.

How to Make Boiled Eggs

Hard-Cooked Boiled Eggs
Place eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in single layer. ADD cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. Heat over high heat just to boiling. Immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs sit in hot water about 12 minutes for large eggs. With a slotted spoon transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Let cool completely. I usually just stick the whole bowl into the refrigerator until I am ready to use/eat. Store in refrigerator unpeeled up to 1 week.

Medium-Cooked Boiled Eggs 
Place eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in single layer. ADD cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. Heat over high heat just to boiling. Immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs sit in hot water about 8 minutes for large eggs. With a slotted spoon transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Let cool completely about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Soft-Cooked Boiled Eggs
Bring a medium pot filled about with water (enough that will cover the eggs by 1 inch) to a boil over high heat. With a slotted spoon, lower each large egg into the water. Cover pot and immediately remove from heat. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and serve immediately.

How to Long is an Egg good & How can you tell if an Egg is still good and fresh

According to the Egg Safety Center raw eggs will be good for about 3 to 5 weeks after the date you bought them. Usually the sell-by or expiration date will come and go during that time but your eggs will be still perfectly safe and good to use and eat as long as they are not cracked or damaged.

To find out if an egg is still good and fresh take a bowl with some depth and fill it with cold water. Place your the egg inside. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it's fresh and good. If the egg sinks to the bottom, but stands on its point, it's still good but probably need to be using those that do this first. If the egg floats to the top, it needs to be discarded as it has gone bad.

How to Freeze Eggs

Whole Eggs
Break one egg at a time into a bowl then pour into a strainer or colander with large holes and through to a second bowl. Don't beat the eggs just use the strainer as this allows the whites and yolks to mix gently without adding air. Gently break the yolks and push them through the strainer.

You can do one at a time into each egg into ice cube tray slot so you have individual eggs. Or do several together and pack in freezer containers such as ziplocks.

How to Use: Take out what you need and thaw slightly before using in a recipe. Three tablespoons of egg mixture equals one whole egg.

Yolks Only
Separate eggs - yolks from whites (setting aside whites to freeze as well). Put yolks in one bowl. Add either 1 teaspoon sugar or 1/2 teaspoon salt per every six yolks (to prevent coagulation). Make sure to mark if you use sugar or salt so you know to use in sweet or savory dishes. Prepare and pack as for whole eggs.

How to Use: Take out what you need and thaw slightly before using in a recipe. One tablespoon of mixture equals one egg yolk.

Whites Only
Separate eggs - yolks from whites (setting aside yolks to freeze as well). Put whites in one bowl. Prepare and pack as for whole eggs.

How to Use: Take out what you need and thaw slightly before using in a recipe. Two tablespoons equals one egg white.

Freeze for up to 12 months.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home

I admit it, I have thing for books that are divided into seasons and menus. Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home does both. It has 13 menus for each season so 52 meals - one for each week. It is arranged seasonally so that you can take advantage of what produce is in season. These recipes aren't your typical all-American meat and potatoes type of menus. They go beyond but not so much that it is out of reach. Ingredients used are fairly simple and a person should be able to pick them up at the grocery store. Although I do think these recipe aren't exactly everyday meals for the average American family but I think it does give ideas and starting points to maybe think out of the box for your next weeknight meal. I also don't believe them to be all that quick even though the title says "Quick Meals..." Quick always makes me think of Rachel Ray and 30-minute Meals (many that don't look like they could be done well in 30 minutes either) but anyway what I am saying is quick means 30 minutes or less to me. These will take at least an hour - sometimes a little more with prep. These recipes would be good to serve to friends and family that you are having over for dinner or some would be good just to mix up your usual menu.

This book has beautiful photographs and good print on quality paper. It gives you sidebar extra info for each menu along with a preparation schedule. At the end of the of the book, Stewart includes some basics of cooking such as soup stock recipes and hints on cleaning and prep of some foods. The menus are also broken down into categories instead of seasons - so starters, main dish, sides and desserts. But overall I love how the table of contents is set up - because of the seasonal menus. I would go that direction first because being able to find in season produce would be the best.

Sample of menus in the book...


Spring Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
Turkey and Pancetta Meatballs
Pasta with Mint Pesto and Fava
Coffee Ice Cream Affogato

Strip Steak with Chimichurri
Roasted Potato Wedges
Sauteed Spinach with Vidalia Onions

Fontina and Herb Flatbread
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Cutlets
Wilted Escarole
Amaretti-Ricotta Sandwiches


Pancetta Cheeseburgers
Balsamic Mushrooms
Tomato, Basil and White Bean Salad
Coconut-Topped Cupcakes

Salmon with Creamy Leeks
Dilled Rice Salad
Sugar Snap Peas with Toasted Almonds
Raspberry Mint Gelatin Cups

Cantaloupe Wedges with Feta Cheese
Honey-Glazed Chicken Skewers
Summer Squash and Olive Phyllo Tart
Espresso Cream Crunch


Warm Swiss Chard and Bacon Dip
Braised Chicken Marsala
Sage Polenta
Sauteed Pears in Honey Syrup

Skillet Rib-Eye Steaks
Broiled Peppers with Melted Cheese
Broccoli with Garlic and Anchovies
Molten Chocolate-Espresso Cakes

Pork Chops with Sauteed Apples and Onion
Shaved Fennel-Celery Salad
Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Maple Custards


Roast Chicken Breasts in Creamy Tarragon Sauce
Warm Lentils with Spinach
Caramelized Endive
Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Broiled Red Snapper
Citrus- Soy Sweet Potatoes
Sesame Spinach Rolls
Rice Pudding with Candied Kumquats

Butter Lettuce with Brie and Pears
Curried Vegetable Potpie
Spiced Lemon Cookies

It is my suggestion to always check cookbooks out from the library and cook a few recipes before buying.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Favorites

Declutter Calendar 2012 - I could just link to the calendar. I have signed up for it and got the link but this person wants you to sign up so real easy - email and name. And if you haven't already create an email for things like that you sign up for that you don't necessarily want to spam your regular email account.  I have an account that I give whenever a store or restaurant wants an email address to get coupons.  I use it for these kind of things too. Anyway - the calendar is great each day it just has one thing like January 10th is "Clear off the top of a nightstand",  April 13th is declutter cookbooks and each day has tasks like those.

52 Weeks to an Organized Home - another of the same vain as above.  You can sign up to have it delivered to your email but if you scroll beyond that there is the link to the post for each week. 

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget - just as the title says. Posts help you to a better grocery budget.

Creating the Perfect Plans by TinyBuddha -  Just a good life lesson on things not always working out and being perfect.

Granola Bars - looks like a good recipe for Granola Bars

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Guest Post: Review of ToodleDo

Organization can make or break you.  If you’re anything like me, I have lists, then have more lists and then have list of lists and finally a list to organize the lists … and before long all of that gets thrown into the shredder without thinking twice.  What I was lacking was a central place that could store all of my to do lists in a way that made logical sense.

Then I found ToodleDo, a cloud service that allows you to sync up your to do list with your computer, iPad, Android, iPhone, even your Blackberry.
But ToodleDo is the ultimate of ultimate to-do lists.  What makes it that way?

It allows you to get as anal with your to-do lists as you care or want.  You can categorize them, then prioritize them, assign them, and setup reminders to your heart’s content.  You can have it send you daily reminders of the most pressing things on your list and have that wonderful satisfaction of crossing off (okay – clicking a check box) when you gleefully finish an item on the list.
The service is FREE – with some limitations or you can get an annual subscription that has other capabilities including – nested to-do lists. Wait.  Nested to-do lists?  What are those?

Let’s say you’re going to have a dinner party of guests, but there’s a lot of things to do in addition to the other 10 things you have on your list.  For example:
-      Clean dining room
-      Fix blinds
-      Remember Sally’s permission slip
-      Get Roast from Piggly Wiggly
-      Polish silverwave
-      Take car in for tune-up
-      Call to have prescription refilled
-      Clean the flower garden
-      Rake up the leaves
-      Clean the kids room

It all gets jumbled until you can nest the to-do list or batch them into better pockets:
-      Thursday's chores
o   Fix blinds
o   Take care in for tune-up
o   Rake leaves
-      Kids
o   Call to have prescription filled
o   Clean kids room
o   Remember Sally’s permission slip
-      Sunday Dinner Party
o   Cleaning dining room
o   Get roast for Piggly Wiggly
o   Polish silverware

Okay – that might be just a minor plus but it can help in some when needing to organize some tasks.

Something else you can do is email the to-do list to whoever else is a collaborator.  That’s kind of cool when schedules get bent out of shape everywhere and you need a central place to focus on the things that need to get done.

And if you’re into micromanaging, you can estimate the amount of time it would take to complete a said item.  Why would you want to do that?  Because if you micromanage things right down to the minute, ToodleDo can then assign you a task to do.  Have a 20-30 minute spot between projects or appointments?  ToodleDo can tell you to vacuum the living room or get bills ready for next week or whatever 20-30 minute project you have defined.
All told – ToodleDo is a great, comprehensive task, to-do list with a whole host of features and tools that can help better organize your life.

BIO: LordSpooner aka Michael is a sadist, bondage enthusiast, a fetishist, a geek, an all around good guy who everyone thinks would never hurt a fly.  (Little do they know.)  Having a passion and love for all thing technological, he's found a niche being a tech-geek for those around him.  You can learn more about him on his blog or on FetLife

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rice and Sausage Casserole

This dish looks really pretty when coming out of the oven but also is full of flavor and piping hot on a cold winter night.  It would be a good dish to serve when having people over for dinner. Not diffifcult to make and it is warm and comforting to eat.  Serve with a salad.  Such as a salad with shaved fennel and Parmesan on it. Or a salad with some pears or apples and toasted pine nuts or walnuts would be a good compliment too. 

1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
2 bell peppers -  stem and seeds removed and cut off 4 to 6 rings and then chop the rest
2 tsp. + 2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning (a blend of dried oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary)
4 or 5 links turkey/chicken Italian sausage (1 lb.)
2 cups cooked rice - brown or white 
3/4 cup cheese (low-fat cheeses work too - I used colby-jack mixture)
1 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3/4 cup any broth (I use chicken but have used beef too)
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)

Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a large heavy frying pan. Add the chopped onion and bell pepper and saute until the vegetables are cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the cooked vegetables to a bowl.

Add 2 tsp. more oil to the frying pan (or less if you're using a non-stick pan.) Squeeze the Italian sausage out of the casing and saute until it's fully cooked and nicely browned, breaking apart with a turner as it cooks. This will take about 5-6 minutes, but don't rush the browning.

When sausage is done sprinkle with 3 tbsp. flour and add 1 tbsp butter to the pan, stir until well coated/mixed.  Add broth and milk.  Stir and cook until mixture thickens.  After it the mixture thickens add the cooked vegetables, Italian seasonings and rice into the pan and mix with the sausage. Cook this mixture a few minutes, until the rice is warmed through. Put the mixture into a casserole dish that you've sprayed with olive oil or non-stick spray. (I used a dish that was 9 x13  but a slightly smaller size will work.) Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Add bell pepper rings to top. Push them into the casserole slightly. 

Put the casserole into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned and the whole thing is piping hot, about 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

1 can of cream of chicken or mushroom soup can be substituted for butter, flour, broth and milk.  You will probably still need a little water or milk to smooth it out some though when mixing it in. 

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuesday Tips: New Year's Edition

In lieu of the regular Tuesday Tips post, I wanted to change it up a bit and make it more personal. I came across an article that seemed to fit in with the theme of the New Year when people are prone to making resolutions. This isn't a list of things to do-it's a list of things to stop doing.

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself by Marc 

Stop spending time with the wrong people. – Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot. Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth. And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.

Stop running from your problems.
– Face them head on. No, it won’t be easy. There is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. That’s not how we’re made. In fact, we’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall. Because that’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time. This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.

Stop lying to yourself. – You can lie to anyone else in the world, but you can’t lie to yourself. Our lives improve only when we take chances, and the first and most difficult chance we can take is to be honest with ourselves.

Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too. Yes, help others; but help yourself too. If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

Stop trying to be someone you’re not. – One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that’s trying to make you like everyone else. Someone will always be prettier, someone will always be smarter, someone will always be younger, but they will never be you. Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.

Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.

Stop being scared to make a mistake. – Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing. Every success has a trail of failures behind it, and every failure is leading towards success. You end up regretting the things you did NOT do far more than the things you did.

Stop berating yourself for old mistakes. – We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.

Stop trying to buy happiness. – Many of the things we desire are expensive. But the truth is, the things that really satisfy us are totally free – love, laughter and working on our passions.

Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness. – If you’re not happy with who you are on the inside, you won’t be happy in a long-term relationship with anyone else either. You have to create stability in your own life first before you can share it with someone else.

Stop being idle. – Don’t think too much or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place. Evaluate situations and take decisive action. You cannot change what you refuse to confront. Making progress involves risk. Period! You can’t make it to second base with your foot on first.

Stop thinking you’re not ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.

Stop getting involved in relationships for the wrong reasons. – Relationships must be chosen wisely. It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company. There’s no need to rush. If something is meant to be, it will happen – in the right time, with the right person, and for the best reason. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.

Stop rejecting new relationships just because old ones didn’t work. – In life you’ll realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you and some will teach you. But most importantly, some will bring out the best in you.

Stop trying to compete against everyone else. – Don’t worry about what others doing better than you. Concentrate on beating your own records every day. Success is a battle between YOU and YOURSELF only.

Stop being jealous of others.
– Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own. Ask yourself this: “What’s something I have that everyone wants?”

Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself.
– Life’s curveballs are thrown for a reason – to shift your path in a direction that is meant for you. You may not see or understand everything the moment it happens, and it may be tough. But reflect back on those negative curveballs thrown at you in the past. You’ll often see that eventually they led you to a better place, person, state of mind, or situation. So smile! Let everyone know that today you are a lot stronger than you were yesterday, and you will be.

Stop holding grudges. – Don’t live your life with hate in your heart. You will end up hurting yourself more than the people you hate. Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay.” It is saying, “I’m not going to let what you did to me ruin my happiness forever.” Forgiveness is the answer… let go, find peace, liberate yourself! And remember, forgiveness is not just for other people, it’s for you too. If you must, forgive yourself, move on and try to do better next time.

Stop letting others bring you down to their level.
– Refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.

Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway. Just do what you know in your heart is right.

Stop doing the same things over and over without taking a break. – The time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.

Stop overlooking the beauty of small moments. – Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and discover they were the big things. The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.

Stop trying to make things perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done.

Stop following the path of least resistance. – Life is not easy, especially when you plan on achieving something worthwhile. Don’t take the easy way out. Do something extraordinary.

Stop acting like everything is fine if it isn’t. – It’s okay to fall apart for a little while. You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well. You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either – cry if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again.

Stop blaming others for your troubles. – The extent to which you can achieve your dreams depends on the extent to which you take responsibility for your life. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you give others power over that part of your life.

Stop trying to be everything to everyone. – Doing so is impossible, and trying will only burn you out. But making one person smile CAN change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but their world. So narrow your focus.

Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy. One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time? Three years? Five years?” If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.

Stop focusing on what you don’t want to happen. – Focus on what you do want to happen. Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story. If you awake every morning with the thought that something wonderful will happen in your life today, and you pay close attention, you’ll often find that you’re right.

Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life. Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs. Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.

Shared from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

Happy New Year!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Organization in the new year

It seems that for many the new year is a time for resolutions, changes, and trying to "lose" things from their current way of doing things. This year I have decided not to set about "losing" anything, but to set about positive change. To frame things in the positive in a way that adds to my daily life instead of worrying about having to lose (generally a negative) something. One of the areas I always seem to like to re-work and make even more efficient than it was is organization of our home, our lives etc. Here are some websites that I felt had some very useful and practical information.

While I may not choose to incorporate all of their suggestions, in reading over these I was left with some very positive changes that my family can make to the coming year.

I hope your 2012 is filled with much happiness, good health, and positive energy.

Here are some useful organizational websites and tips:

OrganizedHome is a site that I find has easy to understand useful information for those looking for quick ways to change something on the home front. They seem to have tips for all times of the year.

House Beautiful is not only a site that has some great information on organization, but it has some fun and interesting tips for decorating your home, getting rid of clutter, organizing furniture, and pretty much anything you would want to do with the look of your home, they seem to have some useful information.

Buttoned UP has so much useful information. You can get their newsletter via email, they have daily tips that while short are useful and give you much to think about in ways to change how you do things not only in your home, but with your personal self, your finances, the whole picture. I find it to be a useful site about balance in all areas of your life. So if you are looking to make some easy, small, positive changes to your life, your home, your finances in 2012, take a few moments to look through this site. You may just find something to be of use for you.

Lastly I will lend a few tips that I started to incorporate into my life in 2011 that I plan to continue to in 2012:
1. Do a load or two of laundry daily and you won't get behind.
2. Find a 5 minute routine for the morning and for the evenings. In the mornings I use the 5 minute routine to do a quick wipe down of bathrooms and kitchens. I use the evening routine to pick up the million toys that my little girls leave all over the house so that at night I don't go to sleep with a messy looking house. Perhaps you don't have children, but you could instead use your 5 minute evening routine to make sure your dishwasher is loaded and ready to be run, your "stuff" is picked up etc.
3. Leave a small basket by the door of your house that can hold winter gloves, hats, scarves, and whatever other winter apparel that seems to always find its way to the floor. By having the basket handy things will always be picked up and easy to find in a quick minute.
4. If your floors look clean people tend to think the rest of your house is clean even when you know it may need a better cleaning than you had time for. So always make sure you vacuum or dry mop your floors daily (if you have pets) or every other day if you don't. it only takes a few minutes and makes the whole house look much better.

Please be sure to post any tips you have to a more organized house and life. Happy New Year to you all.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Edible Massage Lotion

Massage is something I do lot of for Master.  Generally I use a non-edible massage oil, but there are times when a little edible version is handy.  Over the years, I've purchased commercial versions but they generally come in bottles larger than i can use before they expire.  We used some after the expiration date once and it made me a little ill and so i've been gun shy since. 

Well I set about making my own version.  I looked at several different recipes and in the end did a little combination of several.  It works well and doesn't make too much that it'll spoil before you can use it all.  Also you can make it any flavor you desire, which is always a bonus.

The ingredients are simple enough and relatively easy to find.

Edible Massage Lotion
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Glyerine (very important to find an edible or food grade glycerine)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Honey (depending on how sweet you want it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Flavoring Extract (vanilla, almond, chocolate, coconut, etc.)
Whisk everything together and store in an airtight container.  Use like any massage lotion but lick it off when you're done.

Note: I'd be careful with flavors like mint or cinnamon, they might add a tingle that could either be pleasing or uncomfortable depending on a person's skin.

Again, I can't stress how important it is to find edible/food grade glycerine.  The bottle should tell you so:

I think this could make a fun wedding / bridal shower gift too. 


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