Friday, March 18, 2011

St Patrick's Day Feast

This year for St. Paddy's Day, I decided to see if I could come up with a less greasy meal.  It turned out great.  The kids ate **ALL** of the cabbage and raved about the meat.  In addition, we had Irish "Champ" (a sort of mashed potatoes) and Irish Soda Bread.  And, of course, we learned a bit of history.

Baked Corned Beef
10 min prep, 2 hours baking

1 pkg (about 5 lbs) Corned Beef
Black Pepper
1/4 C Honey
1/4 C Brown Sugar
10-12 Whole Cloves

Drain corned beef & discard the spices that came with it.  Place meat fat-side up on a large piece of foil.  On top of  beef:  sprinkle black pepper "to taste",  spread with honey, then sprinkle brown sugar on top.  Insert cloves evenly, every couple of inches.  Since corned beef is already salty, you don't need to add any addition salt.

Wrap beef in foil, leaving a bit of room at the top.  Place on a shallow baking pan.  Bake 350 for about 1 hr 50 minutes.  For the last 10 minutes, fold top of foil back & broil or cook on 450 degrees to brown the top of the meat.

Use a larger cut of meat than you need.  You can use the leftover for Ruben Sandwiches or Corned Beef Hash.  Yum!

INTERESTING HISTORY:  Cows were a status symbol in Ireland.  So, the Irish tended to eat sheep & pig more than beef.  Corned beef is an Irish-American food though.  Probably because beef was a more economical choice than pig here.


2-4 Tbsp bacon drippings or olive oil
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2 cloved garlic minced (I use the pre-cut ones that come in a bottle)
1 small head cabbage, sliced
Salt & Pepper

Heat oil or bacon drippings over med-high heat.  Add onions & saute until they are just beginning to brown.  Add garlic, cook for two minutes more.  Add in 1/2 of the cabbage.  Let it sit on the bottom of the pan & brown.  You need the skillet to be hot enough to brown the cabbage quickly without burning it.  Stir & add the rest of the cabbage.  Brown, then salt & pepper to taste.  I didn't salt this too much, since we were eating it with the corned beef.

INTERESTING HISTORY:  When an Irish recipe calls for "rashers", you can substitute bacon.  Rashers are like bacon, but with very little fat.



2-3 lbs potatoes,cut into 2" cubes
1 bunch green onions, sliced incl. greens
1 C milk
2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter

Boil potatoes until tender.  Simmer green onions in milk for 5 minutes.  Don't boil.  Drain potatoes, then mash (or whip) them.  Stir in milk, salt & butter.

INTERESTING HISTORY:  Potatoes became a staple in Ireland due to severe poverty and famine.  I usually peel my potatoes when I'm going to mash them.  However, the peels have valuable vitamins and fiber.  The vitamin C found in the peels can help prevent scurvy.  (Not much of a problem in our society today.)

10 minutes prep.  40 minutes baking.

Irish Soda Bread makes up & tastes a lot like biscuits.  Good with butter & jelly.  Don't let the lengthy instructions keep you from trying this.  It's really easy & pretty quick.

3 1/2 C flour 
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 C buttermilk (OR 1/2 tsp lemon juice and 1 C milk)

Mix the dry ingredients well.  You want the baking soda well distributed.  Stir in the buttermilk.  (I rarely have buttermilk around & never think to buy it.  You can substitute by mixing 1 C milk with 1/2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar & letting it sit 15 minutes.  The flavor is a bit different, but not an issue.)  

You want the dough to be the consistency of biscuit dough - sort of stringy and thick.  However, you may need to add a bit more milk than one cup depending on the humidity, your flour, etc.  You can add just plain milk if needed.  

Once mixed, kneed it once or twice by hand.  It really doesn't need much. The reaction between the soda and acid starts right away, so you don't want to fuss around with this.  

Shape into a ball.  Take a sharp knife and cut half way down to make a cross shape in the bread.  Bake.

There are several ways to bake Irish Soda bread.  Check out Peters-Mums-Soda-Bread-Recipe for lots of ideas & more information.  It's a great site.  I chose to bake mine in a small dutch oven, but it can be pan cooked, baked on a stone or even on a cookie sheet.  

To bake in a dutch oven.  Pre-heat dutch oven at 475-500 degrees.  Flour the dutch oven.  Plop bread into it.  Replace lid & put into oven.  Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375.  Bake for another 10 minutes, then remove the lid.  Bake for 20 more minutes.  Remove from oven & remove from dutch oven.  

For a crisp crust, let sit on a cooling rack.  For softer crust, wrap in a dishtowel.

INTERESTING HISTORY:  In most areas, fuel was limited so bread was baked in a community oven.  However, in Ireland, fuel was much easier to obtain. Most people could make their own bread.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

YUM! Philly Cooking Cream - a must try

Italian Cheese and Herb Cooking Creme
You HAVE to try this stuff!  It's so good.  I tried it because I hosted a "House Party" to promote it.  After trying it, I'm going to keep buying it.  I made two different main courses for my "House Party."  First was chicken enchiladas.  Second was a creamy Alfredo-like pasta dish.  Both were super duper easy and quickly devoured.

The cooking creme made is easy to throw together fast meals with a minimum of ingredients.  In addition, I think the Santa Fe flavor would be a great chip dip by itself or with some grated cheddar cheese stirred into it.  I also want to try the Santa Fe flavor as a layer in a seven-layer Mexican dip.  Yum, yum, yum.

My family loves enchiladas, but they are a pain to make, so I don't do it very often.  This recipe is zippy-fast and easy.   It doesn't look like it'll serve a lot, but, with the addition of a nutritious green salad, and some corn or refried beans, it will fully feed my family of seven.  You can have this done in just over 30 minutes. We will be eating enchiladas more often now!

Saute one diced onion in a bit of oil or butter.
Add about 3 C of cooked chopped chicken (2 cans of "church" cannery chicken, 5 "tuna" sized cans,  1 lb pre-cooked frozen diced chicken...)
Stir in 3/4 container of Philly Santa Fe Cooking Creme
and 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained
Add 1/2 C grated Mexican cheese

Spoon this mix into 8 tortillas, roll each up and place into a 13x9 baking dish (sprayed w/ PAM.)
Top with remaining cooking creme.

Bake covered for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees or until heated through.

Garnish with fresh diced tomatoes & green onions, if desired.


You can never go wrong with bacon.  This has a flavor similar to Alfredo, but it's richer & creamier.  I liked it better than Alfredo.  The following recipe will feed eight as a one-pot meal.  It even has a vegi in it, and takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish.  It would take less time if you already had the bacon cooked.  I'm definitely making this again.

Start water boiling for 1 lb fettuccine.  Cook fettuccine, drain.
Meanwhile, cook 1 package bacon (cut into 1/2 inch pieces) until crisp.  Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon, then drain off all but about 2 Tbsp of drippings.
Saute 1 chopped red onion in the drippings, until crisp-tender.  (You want this to still have a touch of crunch and you want to preserve some of the red color.)
Add 2 containers Philly Italian Cheese & Herb Cooking Creme,
and 1 C milk,
and 2 C frozen peas.
Then cook and stir about 3 minutes, until warm.
Stir in the cooked fettuccine, and the cooked bacon.


Quick tip:  If I'm cooking bacon anyway, I routinely cook up more than I need.  I recently learned to cook it in the oven.  It broils quickly and turns out nice and crisp with a minimum of effort or clean up on my part.  Then I toss the extra bacon into the freezer.  I also keep a pint jar of bacon drippings in the fridge.  Drippings are a great flavoring when cooking eggs in particular.  Just add a smidge to your non-stick skillet or a bit more to any other pan.  This recipe would take next to no time to make using pre-cooked bacon & drippings.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homeschool Book Review ~ Listening to Crickets, A Story about Rachel Carson by Candice F. Ransom

I didn't much like the prior book I reviewed about Rachel Carson.  But, I liked this one.  Listening to Crickets is an easy read that my girls enjoyed listening to.  The black and white illustrations helped keep their interest.

With a lexile score of 930, a seventh grader should be able to read it comfortably by herself.  However, I think this book is more suited to be read aloud to elementary children.

I recommend this book to anyone who is trying to meet the Washington State First Grade objective of learning about Rachel Carson.  It is available through the Bellingham Public Library, as soon as I return it later this week.

Radiological Emergencies

There's lots of information already available about radiological emergencies.  However, in light of the current issues in Japan, I'm going to provide a few links and a bit of information.

I doubt we'll need to worry too much, but I'm of the opinion, that "knowledge is power" and that it's better to be prepared.  Most of the preparing you do is fairly general and won't be wasted.

  • Storing some extra food is useful if there's a heavy snow that makes it hard to get to the store or if temporarily unemployed.  
  • A bit of stored water can be used if your area is under a "boil order", which happens occasionally, or if the water is out on your street during water repairs.
  • Planning on a way to stay warm has you ready next time the power goes out.  
These are all fairly simple ways to help your family be safe and comfortable during even a minor crisis.  

So, on to radiological emergencies.  First remember that your safety is increased as time, distance and shielding from the source of radiation is increased.  Much of the radiation that we could be exposed to has a fairly short half-life, which means that the radiation danger goes away quickly.  Also, the further you are from the radiologic event, the less you'll be exposed.  And, the more you can shield yourself & your family from the radiation, the better off you are.  

Start with this first link which helps explain the difference between radiation exposure and contamination.  It's important to understand the difference.

Next, learn about Potasium Iodine (KI) at  It only helps in certain situations.  Too much can be harmful; the wrong types can be fatal.  Don't take it unless you are advised to by authorities.  

Finally, read about sheltering.  I'm a little hesitant to post this particular link since it is a tad alarmist.  However, I like that it shows simple ways you can shelter your family without building a 1950's bunker in your backyard.  I particularly like the idea of putting shielding (bags of flour, pillowcases of dirt, mattresses...) on top of and around a stair case to use as a shelter.  

My last word on this?  Don't stress.  Just make some simple plans and take some basic steps and you will feel safer.  That feeling of preparedness is good for your health.  :-)