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New Year’s Resolutions for the Cook—2016

Seriously how did it come to be 2016 already? It seems like just yesterday was Easter!


This resolutions thing has become something of a tradition now, and you know me—always striving to improve. So without further ado, here are my resolutions for 2016!

1. I will stop writing 2014 on my checks.
2. I will stop eating the frozen cookie dough straight out of the wrapper. I will cook it first.
3. I will clean my oven. Or, I will buy a self-cleaning oven.
4. I will organize my coupons. Or at least throw away the expired ones.
5. I will stop making pretend emergency trips to the grocery store just because I want to get away from the children.
6. I will limit my impulse purchases to one per grocery shopping trip. Unless, of course, I see something else I didn’t know I needed, but really do.
7. I will stop burning the baked goods. Or, I will stop watching television while baking.
8. I will stop accusing the children of eating the last chocolate chips.
9. Either I will sell the canning jars or I will learn how to can things.
10. I will clean out the chest freezer, even though I haven’t seen the bottom of it in years. Pray for me.

Happy New Year friends!

Posted by Robin

What to Bring to the Potluck When You Don’t Have Time or Money

Argh, the dreaded potluck. And it seems like the holidays are the potluck heydey. I’ve been invited to six potlucks in one week. And it is tough to find the time or money for them.  Between heating this old house and buying presents for seven thousand nieces and nephews, I’m in the red.

Which is okay. My kids and I are eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and oatmeal. Tis the season. But it’s not really okay to bring peanut butter and oatmeal to the potluck. So what to do? I did some research and found a few things that have helped me save potluck face without breaking the piggy bank.

Pasta Roni to the Rescue! Okay, so we won’t tell anyone that it’s Pasta Roni. That’s between you and me. Buy three bags of the instant side dish. They’re only like a buck a piece. Then, buy a can or two of tuna. Follow directions on the noodles and add tuna. It’s fast and cheap, but it doesn’t taste fast and cheap.

Vegetarian Chili! Hold the meat, and save on money. If you’ve got a stocked spice shelf, this is any easy thing to whip up. (If you don’t have the spices, it’s probably not cost effective to do this one.) I made a pot of acceptable chili for less than five dollars. Here’s a recipe you can use.


Fruit Crisp! I noticed that a friend of mine always bring this to the potlucks, so I asked her why. You guessed it: cheap and easy. She has blackberry bushes in her backyard, which gives her an advantage, but the beauty of this is, you can use any fruit you want. (Well, maybe not avocado.) She’s used blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, and combinations of these. I once used canned peaches and my hubbie thought I was brilliant. So, choose your fruit and then spread it out over the bottom of a 9x12 baking pan. Sprinkle sugar over the top. The more you use, the more popular you’ll be. Then add a layer of old-fashioned oats. Then sprinkle brown sugar over the whole business. Then, and this is the fun part, pour melted butter over the whole thing. Again, the more the merrier, but I just use a stick. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Super easy, and you probably have the ingredients on hand.

Posted by Robin

Brownie Mix Hacks

The brownie mix can be an incredibly versatile little pile of goodness. I know, I know, real bakers don’t use boxed mixes, but I’ve fooled everyone into thinking I’m a real baker. I just don’t tell them it’s a mix. Anyway, as delicious as the plain old boxed brownie mix (especially Ghirardelli—those folks are not messing around) can be, here are some ways to spice it up even more.


Andes Mints Brownies—You can probably find Andes “bits” in your grocery store’s baking aisle, right alongside the chocolate chips. Just follow the directions on your brownie mix, but add half a bag of Andes amazingness to the mix. Since I’ve first started doing this trick, Andes has come out with Peppermint Crunch baking chips, which are definitely going to make it onto my holiday shopping list.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies—Along the same lines, you can also go the peanut butter route and add either peanut butter chips or Reese’s Pieces minis. This trick is especially delicious straight out of the oven, and you’re going to want to serve these with milk.

Turtle Brownies—Prepare your brownie mix as usual and pour it into baking dish. Then, drizzle some caramel syrup on top (I recommend Smuckers—it comes in a handy squeeze bottle and tastes divine). You can get fancy and swirl the caramel around with a fork or knife if you want. Then, top the brownies with pecans. Bake as usual and prepare to receive some praise!

Cream Cheese Brownies—Prepare your brownie mix as usual and pour into baking dish. Then, in a separate bowl, beat together one 8 oz. package of cream cheese, ½ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and 1 egg. Beat until smooth and then pour over top of brownie mix. Use a fork or knife to swirl the cream topping around. Then bake as usual.

S’mores Brownies—Add a few cups of mini marshmallows to your brownie mix. Then pour into pan. Crush 3-4 sheets of graham crackers and then sprinkle over the top of your brownie mix. Then bake as usual. This is a good one to eat warm, but make sure you have napkins!

Posted by Robin

How Much Money Do Coupons Really Save You?


Couponing seems to be in its heyday right now. We’ve got books galore and reality television telling us over and over that smart people coupon. And it’s partially true: some of them do. I know two different people who coupon for hours each week and shop so skillfully that they have bounties to give away to local food cupboards and homeless shelters. This is wonderful. But I’m starting to think that it’s not for me.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I work at least 40 hours a week, have two kids, and am active in church, so I just don’t have a lot of extra time to give. Still, I’ve tried to give it. Clipping and downloading and printing and clipping some more.

And I found that my grocery bill just wasn’t changing all that much. We try to keep our grocery costs under $200 per week. And despite the coupons, that number just wasn’t shrinking for us. And I think I’ve figured out why: without couponing, I’m still a fairly frugal shopper. I buy basic “scratch” ingredients, in bulk when I can, and very little processed or pre-prepared foods. The coupons I was getting were for more exciting items for sure, but also more expensive. I had $1.00 off two frozen pizzas, but this wasn’t cheaper than making the dough, the sauce, buying the block of cheese and shredding it myself. I had 75 cents off frozen cookie dough, and for a minute I got excited; then I realized that the dough only made 18 very small cookies. Using basic ingredients, I can make a batch three times that size for less money (and it only takes me about 10 more minutes).

So, I’ve decided to take a stand. I’m not saying I’ll never use a coupon, but I think my time will be better invested in continuing to find the cheapest, basic ingredients I can, and making things the old-fashioned way. If you want to be an extreme couponer, all the power to you, but if you don’t, don’t let social pressure make you think couponing is the only way to save money. It’s just not.

Posted by Robin

What to do with leftovers Test


You realize you’re missing one of your Tupperware containers. You find it in the back of the fridge. Hmm. How did that get there? You open it and find … what is that?

Why, it’s leftover beef stroganoff from June 17th; don’t you remember? You couldn’t bear to throw it away. It was so good the first time; you were so sure someone would eat it—eventually.

It’s happened to me more than once. Then I read somewhere that it’s not really safe to eat leftovers that have been in the fridge for more than three days. (This probably isn’t true, and it certainly can’t be universally true, but I read it, so now I’m scared.)

So here are some things I’ve been doing lately with leftovers. Some of them may seem obvious, but I have a friend who told me she never even saves leftovers because she never uses them, and that just seems like a crime.

Lunch. I know, right? Duh! But I know people who leave perfectly delicious meatloaf in the fridge and then go out to Burger King for lunch. Why? Your leftovers are bound to be healthier, and they are free!

Hash. I love this one. My grandparents got me hooked on hash at an early age. All you need is a small amount of meat (beef, ham, chicken are yummy), a vegetable (carrots, parsnips), and potato. Cut everything up in small pieces and cook (or reheat) together in a frying pan in butter or oil. Cook on a low heat, stirring and flipping frequently, and you come up with a creation that is probably better than the original. And a tasty hash can be accomplished with very little meat.

Casserole. My kids haven’t yet caught on that my casseroles usually feature the veggies they didn’t like the night before. The secret to a good casserole? Cream of mushroom soup. All you need for leftover casserole is one meat, one starch (small potato pieces, pasta, or rice work well), one binding fluid (cream of mushroom soup or white sauce), and if you’re really fancy: a topping (such as cheese or crushed crackers). Put them all together in a casserole dish and reheat at 350 degrees until hot (often takes about 40 minutes). Last night we dined on chicken, carrots, rice, and cream of mushroom soup, topped with sprinkled parmesan.

Buffet. Keep all leftovers (in the front of the fridge) and take them all out on Friday night. Set up a buffet. Make it a Friday tradition. Sometimes when we do this, we run a little short on food, but that just means we get to have popcorn for dessert!

And you can always check Say Mmm for recipe ideas that fit your leftovers

Posted by Robin

Silly Supper #3 — Unsoaked Black Beans


It was the end of the week. I was out of money, out of food, and out of energy. (I know, this is why we meal plan, right?) We had planned to go to a friend’s house for dinner, but when plans fell through, I was left standing in front of the pantry, taking inventory: 1 bottle of maraschino cherries; 1 opened box of Fryin’ Magic (a product I highly recommend, by the way); rice; and beans.

It was obviously going to be rice and beans, right? Maybe with a cherry on top? Except that I hadn’t soaked the beans. And the kids were already asking “What’s for suppa?” So, I googled, “Can I cook black beans without soaking?” And it turns out that a few people have tried this successfully! Or at least they’ve blogged about it?

So I tried it. I rinsed the beans. Then I filled a casserole dish with them, and added water until there was about an inch of water on top of the beans. (Don’t forget, the beans will expand, so leave some wiggle room.) I added some spices: coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, and ample salt. And I cooked them on 350 for a little over 2 hours. (I checked at two hours and decided they could use a few more minutes.) I also added some more water after about an hour.

And then, they were delicious. My daughter said they even tasted like Chipotle. Now that’s high praise in this household. They had more color than they do when I cook them after soaking (which makes sense, seeing how the soaking water turns brown). They had tons of flavor and my kids went for seconds. We all ate till we were full, and then my son had the gall to ask for dessert. Of course, you can guess what he got: maraschino cherries in a wine glass. How chic.

So I know what you’re thinking. My grandmother told me we soak our beans so as not to offend the neighbors. Granted, I only have anecdotal evidence to share with you, but our family did not notice any unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects from these beans. At least, no more than usual. 

- Posted by Robin

How to Use Turmeric in Cooking

If you’ve had an ache or pain in the last three years, chances are good you’ve heard of turmeric. Some well-meaning maternal type has said to you, “Ah, you need some turmeric!”

It has certainly happened to me. Turmeric is being heralded for its anti-inflammatory effects. Some even claim it works better than anti-inflammatory medicines. But when I ask “How do I use it?” I am told to buy it in a capsule form. And then I put it off. Capsules just don’t excite me. I’d rather chew my food. So, I set out to figure out how to incorporate this Indian spice into my everyday cooking.

What is turmeric? It looks like ginger, but isn’t quite as delicious or potent. In fact, many South Asian cooks use it just for its color, which is a gorgeous earthy orange. Its gentle influence makes it easy to add to just about any dish—just don’t go hog wild, because too much turmeric tastes bitter.

Combining turmeric with other spices can offset this bitterness (black or rainbow pepper work well). You can also combine turmeric with its cousin ginger for a one-two anti-inflammatory punch.

I recently added some turmeric to my homemade moose meat stew and no one even noticed. I also add a pinch of turmeric to our scrambled eggs every morning. Fresh turmeric (if you can find it) goes well with fruit smoothies. We also eat a lot of rice in this house, and I’ve begun adding a bit of turmeric and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to “spice it up.”

But my favorite way to eat turmeric has been on cauliflower. I knew I had a winner when my children began requesting cauliflower!

Cauliflower w/ Turmeric

  • 2 heads of cauliflower (enough to generously serve 4)
  • ~ 3 tbs. butter
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. ginger
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt (add more to taste—I use pink Himalayan)


In skillet, heat butter over medium heat until it is melted. Add spices and combine well. Then add cauliflower florets. Stir and cover. Heat until cauliflowers reach desired tenderness (usually about 10 minutes).- Posted by Robin

5 Cool Things to Do with Potato Chips


1. Put them in your sandwiches. Okay, so this isn’t an original idea. I actually got it several years ago (I’m dating myself here, I realize) from The Cosby Show. But because I am an enthusiastic Mainer, I have discovered that adding potato chips to a lobster roll is really the only way to improve on the lobster roll.

2. Put them on top of your macaroni and cheese. It only takes a few potato chips to transform an ordinary mac and cheese into something extraordinary. Just crush them up, sprinkle them on top, and bake! For an extra savory experience, add bacon. And because I am an enthusiastic Mainer, I also sometimes add lobster. You really can’t go wrong with pasta and sharp cheddar.

3. Put them on top of baked fish. To make your white fish extra crunchy and salty, add a layer of mayo and crushed potato chips to the fish before you put it in the oven. Then bake as normal. My kids love this so much, they now refuse to eat fish any other way.

4. Put them in your omelet. I stole this one from Rachel Ray, so give the credit to her. To keep your omelet extra fluffy, don’t crush the chips, and fold them into the eggs. You can make this with or without the cheese, though I recommend sharp cheddar and kettle cooked chips. And yes, this counts as a vegetable omelet!

5. Dip them in chocolate. I know, I know, I dip everything in chocolate, but for real, this is a delicious treat. I recommend hot, melted semi-sweet chocolate and plain ridged potato chips. Dip each chip halfway into the chocolate. Then let cool and harden, and you’ve got yourself a simple yet sophisticated party snack. (You’re welcome.)

And you can always check out Say Mmm for potato chip recipes!

Posted by Robin

The Cook’s New Year’s Resolutions


It’s that time again! I have done some soul-searching and come up with some New Year’s Resolutions that will help me make 2015 even bigger and better than 2014 was. Happy New Year!

  1. I will stop talking about starting an herb garden. Instead, I will go out and buy an actual herb plant.
  2. I will water herb plant and keep it alive.
  3. I will figure out how to put the juicer back together. Then I will drink more juice.
  4. I will throw out all of the “left over” fortune cookies in the pantry. No one is ever going to eat those. It’s time I admit that.
  5. I will stop trying to trick my family into eating things baked with stevia. No, you’re right. It’s not sugar. I’ll stop lying to you now.
  6. I will clean the waffle maker. Then I will sell it. Anybody want a waffle maker? I’ll give you a heck of a deal!
  7. I will find the fermented ginger carrots I made last month. (Last month, I peeled a bunch of carrots, added some ginger, and put it in a “dark cupboard to ferment.” Then I forgot where I put it.) They should really be done by now.
  8. I will make sure every single meal has a vegetable. (The little green peppers on frozen pizzas count.)
  9. I will not be hurt when my kids complain about my homemade mac and cheese, and beg for “real mac and cheese” from the box.
  10. I will try to be thankful that we have enough food, and that I have an awesome kitchen, and I will complain less about having to prepare food sixteen times per day, every day, all. year. long.

Posted by Robin