August 18, 2010

Another quick, easy, cheesy, crustless quiche!

The Bob's mom and her fiance stayed with us over Labor day, and I was looking for an easy, no-fuss breakfast for Monday morning. Monday was a work and travel day for them, so I wanted to give them a good breakfast before they hit the road. This was just the ticket, because it was tasty, but filling, low carb for me, and it took all of 5 minutes to throw together while everyone was getting ready. It was also easy for everyone to "graze" and grab when they were ready to eat – equally good hot or closer to room temperature. I served it simply, with just toast and some fresh grapes. For a brunch you could go all out and serve it with some potatoes, and maybe cheesy biscuits or sweet rolls.

You'll need:
6 eggs
3 T Sour Cream
About a cup or so of diced ham – I used the pre-diced, pre-cooked stuff, but you can get fancier if you wish
A good cup or cup and a half of shredded cheese – I used about 2/3 Colby/Jack and 1/3 mozzarella, but it's not exact, just use whatever you like that melts well

Here's how you make it.
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Liberally spray a 9" pie plate (or the like) with non-stick spray.
  2. Whisk the eggs and sour cream together. I found it worked best to stir the sour cream a little first, and add the eggs one at a time until it's very creamy. Pour into your pie plate.
  3. Sprinkle the ham evenly over the egg mixture. Sprinkle the cheese over all, in an even coating.
  4. Bake about 40 minutes, or until the center is set. I checked with a toothpick and when it comes out clean it's good. Top will be slightly browned.

That's all there is to it. Let it sit about 4-5 minutes before cutting, and it should come out in nice wedges for you. It's creamier and cheesier than the crustless quiche I have made before, and The Bob said, "we can have this again." Always a good sign.

Of course you can see that the sky's the limit on this recipe. Change the meat and cheese to your heart's content. You could try it with some sausage and some sauteed vegetables like onion and mushroom. Get creative. I intend to!

This quiche will keep refrigerated a few days and is very good heated through in the microwave for weekday breakfasts. Give it a try.

June 26, 2009

How to hard boil eggs. Foolproof method.

Hard boiling eggs is one of those little things that seems to stymie many people. But take heart. No one is born knowing how to do it, but it's actually very easy. Here's my foolproof method of hard boiling eggs.

1. Place eggs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water.
2. Put on the stove and bring to the boiling point – and by boiling I mean big, rolling bubbles.
3. Cover and move off the heat, and set a timer for 12 minutes. (The American Egg Board says 15 for large eggs, so maybe my eggs are more like medium size, cause 12 minutes works for me every time.)
4. Run the eggs under cold water until they are cool to the touch, and refrigerate.

That's it! If you can run water and turn on the stove, you have the skills.

Bonus…deviled eggs recipe. I vary this a lot, and so can you, but my basic recipe calls for mayo, sweet pickle relish, a dash of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Cut your eggs in half, scoop out the yellow, and mash them with a fork. Mix in the mayo - I usually go for about the same amount of mayo as I have egg yolks. Then add some Dijon and relish. I use about a 1 to 4 ratio of mustard to mayo. Salt and pepper and then taste it. Adjust as needed to your taste. Then spoon a healthy dollop of the yellow yumminess back into the whites. Sprinkle with a little paprika if you like, and be prepared to take compliments.

You will need to know how to hard boil eggs to make my EXTRA wonderful Scotch of the best party tray recipes ever. Look for it soon!

April 26, 2009

Time to glow - sunless tanning moisturizers compared

I don't go to tanning – the truth is I have never even been in a tanning bed. I don't lay out much, and, much to The Bob's chagrin, when I do it's always after I have dipped myself in SPF 30 (his comment is, "what's the point?"). I'm a fair skinned, blue eyed person, and I don't like getting sunburned. Also I would like my face to stay in decent shape, meaning that time will naturally take its toll - I don't need to speed up the process.


But this time of year, when arms and legs start coming out from under layers of clothes for the first time in months, I would prefer my skin not blind people. I would like just a little color to take the edge off.


But, for the reasons stated above, I am not going to start tanning. And I am also a complete klutz when it comes to self tanners. That's why, when they came out with the gradual-tanner-slash-moisture lotion, I thought, "woo hoo this is for me." Apply like moisturizer, and a color builds gradually over time.


the Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer wasn't doing it for me. I was using the kind for fair skin tones, applying every day as recommended, and maybe maaaaybe saw a tiny bit of color difference. But, the biggest, hugest drawback that eventually became a deal breaker for me was the SMELL. I could not focus on the end goal because I was so self conscious about smelling like self tanner all day long! Boy, I wish perfume could last as long as that stuff did. To be fair, I went on just to see if any reviewers had the same complaint and sure enough, many said the smell of the lotion was just too strong and too "self tanner ish."


Then I tried Avon's
SKIN SO SOFT Satin Glow Firming Body Moisturizer. Based on my experience with the Jergens lotion I was doubtful. But since I am now an Avon rep, I want to try as many products as I can, so I can give honest reviews and comparisons. (And, yes, sell good products to people who need them.)

Without a doubt my biggest rave about the Sin So Soft product is that it does not have even the teeniest "self tanner" smell to it. It actually smells GOOD. I put it on in the morning after my shower, and my skin feels very moisturized. I have used it for about a week now and my skin is gradually getting a little darker. I also notice that after using it my skin has a more firm feel, a sensation I can't quite verbalize, but it is noticeable.

Another benefit to
SKIN SO SOFT Satin Glow Firming Body Moisturizer is that it has sun protection built in – SPF 15. Perfect for me for everyday use. The Jergens lotion has no sun protection.

Price-wise, they are comparable. On Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer is $7.99 for a 7.5 fl. oz. tube. (They are running a special on Jergens products - buy one get one 1/2 off.)

On my Avon site, you can get 8.4 fl. oz. of SKIN SO SOFT Satin Glow Firming Body Moisturizer for $6.99. A larger size for less than the regular price of Jergens. You can read customer reviews of this lotion on my site as well.


If you want a little glow, a little firming, and sun protection all in one great moisturizing lotion, ditch the smelly tanners and try SKIN SO SOFT Satin Glow Firming Body Moisturizer.

April 22, 2009

Product Review: Makeup remover I love for more than one reason.

Now that I am... ahem... of a certain age, it behooves me to treat the skin around my eyes a bit more delicately than I did in the past. So, I have taken to using makeup remover to gently take off my eye shadow and mascara before washing my face.

Ideally, makeup remover will effectively remove the gunk without having to scrub, thereby defeating the purpose. Stinging and burning is not an option. And then, if I could have everything I ever wanted, it would not cost me an arm and a leg.

I have found the product that meets all those criteria. Avon Moisture Effective Eye Makeup Remover Lotion (product #475-800).

It is a lightweight, creamy consistency which at first took me off guard. I was a bit concerned that something that looked like hand lotion would sting or burn. I applied it to a cotton ball and started gently swiping, and low and behold I experienced not one tiny bit of burning in my eyes. It did a great job of removing mascara, liner, and eye makeup. I used one cotton ball, one side for one eye, the other side for the other eye. Then I washed my face as usual. Done and done!

Now for the best news. This stuff is only $4 for a 2 oz. bottle. Compare that to a similar lotion style remover from Clinique, Naturally Gentle Eye Makeup Remover, which sells for $16.50 for a 2.5 oz. container. I don't know about you, but the extra half an ounce is not worth $12.50 to me!

So there you go. Eye makeup remover with a lot to love, for a little bit of money. Give it a try.

To shop for Avon products right now, go to my site any time!

UPDATE 4/24 - this product is now on special for just $.99 a bottle. Stock up!

April 11, 2009

Why I think it's time for Avon

It has been six months since I last posted, and there are many reasons for it, not the least of which is just life happens. Also, I have been seriously considering where I want to take this blog, and what it comes down to is that I believe there are many wonderful blogs covering crafts, decorating, recipes, and tips as well as, or better, than I can. In the end I have a passion for helping people get answers, and find ways to make their lives easier or more enjoyable, but I may be transitioning this blog into something new that is more encompassing of what that really means in a way that goes beyond just "home ec" topics.

So, until that plan comes together, I wanted to fill you in on what's new here.

I just became an Independent Sales Representative for Avon. And you may be wondering WHY!?

Well, besides being a woman who grew up with Avon (what woman growing up in the 70s didn't?), there are a couple of big reasons, and I thought I'd share.

I recently went to an In-Store Marketing Institute seminar (for my day job), a three day event that brings together retailers, marketing professionals, and manufacturers to share industry trends, news, and strategies to market to "shoppers" - which is all of us!! A major topic in every session I attended was the economy and how it is affecting our shopping behavior. Apparently I'm not the only one that is cutting back and returning to the basics in order to save money. While brands and marketers are out there trying to figure out how to get us to spend our precious few dollars, we are just trying to figure out how to pay the bills without having to give up anything we need.

This is one of the big reasons I decided to become an Avon rep. These are great products and great values. Don't believe me? Email me and I will send you a chart comparing Avon products with some department store brands - including some I used - that will show you exactly how much you will be saving if you switch. Here's an example. I used Clinique repairwear anti-aging makeup, with spf 15, which retails for $28.50. I'm switching to Avon's Anew Age Transforming foundation, also spf 15, that costs $12.50. That is a $16 savings!

I know most women are like me... we love to save money. And when you can save money and not really be giving up on quality, why NOT do it? If it's been a while since you have looked at what Avon has to offer (beauty products, really cool perfume, personal care stuff, kids things, jewelry, clothing, etc etc), just go visit my site at

The truth is, being an Avon rep goes directly to my core desire to help people get what they need and solve some daily problems in a way that frees them up to really focus on what's important in life.

Look for more from me soon.

October 05, 2008

An easy crock pot Reuben dip for your next carry in

You have the invite to a pot luck, but what to take? A bag of chips or store bought cookies might count, but it looks like you picked them up on the way to the party. (Sometimes that is definitely okay!) You want to put forth a little effort... very little... but take something people will like, and bring home an empty dish at the end of the night.

For our last carry in, I concocted a Reuben dip that elicited raves, and requests for the recipe. This was just one of those crazy ideas I had that worked. And the best part was, The Bob assembled it all, and if he can do it, you certainly can!

Dump into a crock pot or slow cooker:
1 lb. deli corned beef, shredded, then chopped
1 lb. shredded Swiss cheese
1 lb. shredded Mozarella
1 brick of cream cheese
1 regular sized can of sauerkraut (most of the liquid left in)
1 regular sized bottle thousand island dressing

Melt all together on low, stirring occasionally.

Serve this with little rye bread slices, toasted if possible.

If you like Reubens, this has all that flavor, but in a creamy dip consistency. Easy to serve at a pot luck or carry in.

July 03, 2008

Don't let the elephant watch these peanuts. Super-easy microwaved spiced nuts.

The Bob loves his dry roasted peanuts. There is almost always a jar in the pantry for a quick snack whenever he is craving a little something salty. It wasn't until he opened my most recent purchase and ate a big handful that we realized I had picked up the unsalted variety by mistake. Now we are well aware that unsalted nuts are healthier, but the man likes the salted kind, what can I tell you. These were going to completely go to waste.

Until one evening I saw the jar on the shelf and had a little brainstorm. Why not spice them up? Well, this is a take on a recipe I found on All Recipes. They called them spiced nuts, but really they are more of a sweet snack as prepared by the recipe. And, the original called for pecans, but I thought any kind of nut would work. So I modified it to come up with a sweet and salty combo that Bob and I really loved.

Here's what you need.
1 16 ounce jar unsalted dry roasted peanuts
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 t ground nutmeg (I used whole nutmeg and grated it on a microplane)
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t cayenne pepper (optional, and add more as you like...)
2 T water
Kosher salt

Here's how you do it.
In a microwaveable 4 qt. casserole, melt the butter. Stir in everything but the nuts and the salt. Microwave on high for 1 minute, remove, and stir. Add the nuts and microwave 4-5 more minutes, stirring after every minute. I went the full 5. Turn out onto waxed paper, and spread out with a spatula. Sprinkle kosher salt over all, to taste. Let them cool as long as you can stand it, and try them! I stored them in plastic containers and they kept well. But, they didn't last long! Bob took them to work to share with his coworkers and they all agreed that I should make these again. They were so easy, why not!? I think they'll be great around the holidays, and I will try this with all kinds of nuts.

I hate to see food go to waste, so this satisfied my need to use up the nuts, and satisfied Bob's love of salty (and sweet) snacks!

How to move a mountain of mulch and live to tell about it.

Having moved to a pretty large piece of property with very little landscaping, The Bob and I decided to take on a couple of projects designed to improve the curb appeal of our 1970s ranch.

The previous owners were just about having a lawn. So the front yard was devoid of anything other than the 5-6 huge, towering oak trees. Beautiful, but a pain to mow around. We like "laaaandscaping" - well thought out areas with shrubs, hardscape, and perennials.

We consulted with a landscape designer who was recommended by a friend. The deal was, for a minimal fee, the designer would come out, look over the property, and give us some ideas, a layout, and a plant list. We would do the work ourselves. The Bob was dubious about this, but after it's all said and done he truly saw the benefit of getting just a little advice from a pro. We personalized it somewhat, but followed the basic plan and it worked.

The two projects we decided to do this year were a large, more formal shrub and perennial bed to frame our front porch, and a HUGE, kidney shaped "mulch bed" that encircles three of the big trees in the front yard. Better for mowing, he said.

A mountain - two pickup loads - of mulch was needed to cover these two areas, which we had delivered. The first day moved the mulch in a wheelbarrow with shovels. It was hard, backbreaking work, but I didn't think there was any alternative. My magic wand was on the fritz. The next day when I mentioned to my friend how badly my back hurt, he asked why didn't I borrow his mulch fork. MULCH FORK? Well, my friend is as particular as I am about most things, and seems to be a semi-pro at do-it-yourself. I decided to take his advice.

I purchased mine from Lowes and let me tell you, it's the best $35-ish dollars I've spent on a tool in a long time. I could not for the life of me figure out how this was going to work, though. To me it looked like eating soup with a fork. But, it worked, easily moving a large quantity of mulch and making it a cinch to spread... just shake it a little and the mulch falls where you want it.

In case you think this tool is a one-hit wonder, guess again. We have used it to move piles of leaves and weeds, and it will be useful for stirring compost piles. I am sure that's just the short list of uses we'll find for it around the King Ranch.

If you are doing any landscaping in the near future, run, don't walk, to your nearest garden center and pick up a mulch fork. Find out for yourself what it feels like to move mountains!

June 18, 2008

A recipe that elicted a WOW - easy grilled chorizo-stuffed chicken breasts.

I stopped at the store on my way home one night with no ideas in mind for dinner. Probably chicken, but after that I was stumped. I wandered the meat section and ran across some Mexican chorizo, that spicy sausage you see often scrambled up with some eggs. I picked that up, along with a few other things, thinking maybe some sort of Tex-Mex kind of dish might do for the night. What I came up with elicited a WOW from The Bob. He even said "we can have this again," (a sure sign I'm onto something) and even more comments for days afterward. So, if you like chorizo, and are thinking of another spin on grilled chicken, you might want to give this one a try.

For the stuffing:
About 1/4 lb. of chorizo, crumbled and browned, then cooled completely
About a cup of shredded taco cheese, I used the three-cheese blend
1 diced green chile (about a tablespoon) - you buy them in those little cans and these are mild, not spicy
A few diced pickled jalapenos to taste (I used about a tablespoon) this gives a kick, but not too much

Mix all together in a small bowl and set aside.

For the chicken:
2 pretty large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Chili powder to season

To make them:
1. Cut a pocket into each chicken breast - take your knife and make an "incision" into the thicker side of the breast, then runthe knife in and around, until you have a decent-sized pocket
2. Stuff each one with as much filling as will fit, then just pull the pocket closed (you can use toothpicks if you want to, I didn't this time).
3. Season both sides with chili powder to taste (gives them a pretty color).
4. Grill over medium high heat until they're done. Ours took about 10-12 minutes a side.

While it was cooking I made a sauce to pour over. Take about a cup of regular store-bought ranch dressing. Stir together with a handful of cilantro chopped very fine, another chopped green chili, and some chopped pickled jalapenos to taste. This was a delish, fresh-tasting salad dressing for me, but Bob put it over his chicken and he said WOW again.

This could also be baked instead of grilled. I would just put in a baking dish sprayed with some non-stick spray, in a 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes or until done.

I plan to make this again, and often. It isn't every day that a weeknight meal gets WOWs. But it turned out well enough that I might bust it out on company some weekend, too.

Let me know if you try it, and what your results are!

May 02, 2008

Another reason I love L.L.Bean - the guarantee is really real.

I have said many times how much I love L.L. Bean. I love love love their Boat and Tote Bags, and now have one in just about every size. I have praised their Double L Polos, for both men and women. I have been enthralled with many of their home accessories. All the stuff is downright charming. None of it is what I would consider "high fashion," and that's kinda the point.

Anyway, a while back I ordered a pair of Kathadin Khakis out of the clearance section of the site. Must have been a discontinued color, but the price was right and they looked like something The Bob would wear to run around in. He was only a little dubious at first, because they were sort of a cross between a jean, a work pant, and his old khaki standbys. The heavy duty fabric was tough, but not rough. The fit was relaxed. But, believe it or not, with the right shirt or sweater they were decent enough to wear to a casual dinner out. Superb. Home run. They became his favorite pants, seeing more action than even his comfy jeans.

But, a few months later the riveted button thingy broke. Just broke right off. I have never ever had a problem with a Bean product, so I was surprised. But there was no fixing it. I told the near-inconsolable man that I would see what I could do.

I have an account on Bean's web site, so I went online and found the record of the order, and sent a short email to the company explaining what happened, referencing the order, and asking how to go about getting a replacement pair. A few days later I received an email that "my order" had shipped.

They sent me another pair in the same size and color, no questions asked. Bob was happy. I was happy. Bean has a devoted customer for life.

Not many companies stand by their products like that. That's yet another reason I love L.L. Bean.

April 01, 2008

Lettuce be thankful for the little things.

I was standing at Target recently, and wandered down the kitchen gadget aisle. And this happens from time to time - I became mesmerized by all the shiny, pretty, colorful stuff. Mostly I am traditional when it comes to gadgetry. I like my mini chopper, but most of the time I just reach for a knife. Every utensil in my drawers closely resembles the utensils used by my mom, and her mom. Nothing fancy.

But a little piece of plastic stopped me in my tracks. A LETTUCE KNIFE?

It had a clear blade and a lettuce green handle. And the card to which it was attached suggested that metal knives cause lettuce to turn brown, while plastic will produce nice, chopped greens that stay fresh looking longer. HUH? I had never heard this before, but I did think back to all the lettuce I threw away because it turned brown and ugly. I know, I know. Most chefs recommend tearing the lettuce into bite sized pieces. But I'm always in a hurry to get the stuff ready, so I chop it.

Anyway, I snagged the knife for about the same price as this one on Amazon and gave it a try.

First, I wondered if it would mash the lettuce because it's not a sharp metal blade, but it sliced through the head of iceberg like it was meant for this job (and it was!). Then I wondered if the claims of fresher-longer were true, and they are. My first try with this gave me fresh looking lettuce for about a week, and then it only had a few brownish areas. This was nothing like the 3-5 day lifespan of lettuce chopped with a metal knife. I have a head of lettuce in the fridge right now that I chopped about 5 days ago that looks like I just bought it.

Sometimes it's the little (cheap) things that make me happy, and this time it came in the form of a plastic lettuce knife. Happy chopping!

February 03, 2008

A cordless stick vac that swept me off my feet.

At our house, the laundry room, pantry, half bath, and entrance from the garage are high-traffic areas that need a floor touch-up on a daily basis. The cat litter box necessitates dragging out the broom and dustpan every day, to keep from feeling like we're walking on the beach. Another problem is that I deal with two different floor coverings - some vinyl and some carpet - so a broom alone won't cut it.

Enter the Dirt Devil Quick Power cordless stick vac. This lightweight little devil has a rotating brush so it works on carpet, or you can turn the brush off for hard surface floors. On vinyl, it easily picks up scattered litter, and on carpet it does a good job of picking up pet hair. Its bagless design allows me to empty the collection thingy after every sweep. I just wipe it out with a damp paper towel after dumping and put it right back on, so it's ready the next day (or in the next few minutes, depending). I keep it plugged in so it's always ready, and have never run out of a charge. The low cost was another selling point for me. At just around $30, I felt like the risk was relatively low, and I have been very happy with its performance for that price. Before, it would take me several minutes to run the broom around the vinyl floor and sweep sweep sweep. The carpeted area would only get attention every few days at the most. Now, in a matter of minutes (literally) I've got both vinyl and carpet looking neat and clean.

I don't expect this stick vac to do the job of my big vacuum. But it is perfect for what I use it for - speedy touchups every day.

Three reasons Netflix works for me.

Renting movies from a video store has always had its frustrations. I nearly always felt I needed to rent more than one movie - since I was there, why not, right? But, most of the time we only watched one, and the others went unwatched because they were all due at the same time. Even though there was no "late fee" per se, I still had to make a special trip to the store, usually after a couple of automated voice mail messages warning me that I was about to become the proud owner of the movies in question. I dealt with these frustrations for years, just resigned to the fact that "that's the way it is."

Until a friend of mine recommended Netflix. After a little investigation, I tried it, and I will never look back. Here's why it works for me.

1. It's cheap. The Bob and I are on the "One at a Time - Two a Month" plan, for $4.99 a month. Membership plans start there and go up to "Eight at a Time, Unlimited" for $47.99. Two a month is just right for us, and at $2.50 a movie, that's cheaper than the store we used to go to. And, because we get them one at a time, I'm not renting three for 12 bucks and just watching one.

2. It's easy. Making your queue of films is a cinch, and if you take a little time to rate movies you like, Netflix automatically makes recommendations based on your preferences. Changing order in your queue is simple, too, so you can bump a movie up or down in your list. You can even save movies to your queue that haven't been released on DVD yet, so they're automatically added to your queue when they are available. When you log in, you can see how many movies you have left to use for the month, and report any problems you have. (I have never received a bad disk, by the way.) You can go online to manage your account - if you want to cancel it's effective immediately (no refund for partial months), or if you need to put your membership on hold (such as if you're going on vacation), you can do that.

The utmost in ease for me? To return the movie all you do is throw it in the mailbox. It can not get any simpler than that. (Of course another bonus for me is never having to set foot in a video store again! More time at home!)

3. It's fun. Now that we have joined Netflix, we look forward to movie night. Twice a month now we set aside a night to watch the latest movie... and since there's no rush when we get the disk, we can plan ahead and make it more special. We can even invite friends over to watch, and make an occasion out of it. Netflix also allows you to build your own little community, so you can see what your friends are watching, and leave them notes and reviews about films you recommend.

My experience with Netflix has been a great one. I know it's probably not for everyone, but for us, it works. Now, I have to go watch "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" again before I pop it in the mailbox tomorrow!

January 25, 2008

Three cool tips for organizing your refrigerator to save time and money.

There aren't many jobs I hate quite as much as cleaning out the refrigerator. The furry remains of some dinner a month ago hiding behind the mayo. Lettuce "soup." Five bottles of barbecue sauce with about 1 teaspoon left in each. Six containers of mustard, all open, but full.

It happens, as much as we don't want to admit it. Recently I went to our fridge and realized that I needed to take drastic measures. Not just cleaning and purging, but really organizing it so we would save money by not buying duplicates of things we already had, and so we would stop wasting money on food going to waste.

I decided to look at the fridge as no different than any other organizing project I take on. Just like my closet tips, I found there were the same three steps.

1. Purge. My first step was to remove everything from the fridge to the counter, and look at every item for an expiration date. Anything over the line was gone. Anything close to the line was evaluated - would we really use it. If not, it was gone too. I was ruthless. Leftovers more than a few days old were gone.

2. Plan. Leaving everything out on the counter, I took out all the removable shelves and door bins and wiped them down. Then I took a hard look at the position of every shelf. Moving some shelves up or down would give me a better view of the contents of that shelf. If it helped, I moved it.

Just like a closet or a dresser, it is a helpful time saver to put like things together. Salad dressings. Jams and jelly. Pickles and olives. Dairy products. Snacks. Meat. Leftovers. If they're together, they're easier to find. Designate some items for drawers, and some for bins in the door.

This is where my favorite little tip comes into play. Just like my pantry, I bought a few handy little Sterilite containers (about $1.50 - $2.50 each) and filled them with like food items. Not only does this make it infinitely easier to see what you have on hand (and know what you're out of), but it makes the refrigerator look amazingly neat and organized. I purchased two different sizes of these containers. The smaller size fit two side by side on a shelf. The larger fits one to a shelf with room on one side for odd shaped or sized items. Not everything needs to go in a container. The object is to make it easier to see what you have. If you don't want to invest in the containers, consider using something like an old cake pan or dish pan, whatever you have on hand that might fit neatly in the fridge, slide easily in and out, and allow you to see what's inside.

3. Commit. You will have such a sense of relief when you get the refrigerator looking this spotless. The trick is to keep up with it. Just like you put your undies back in the undie drawer, put the dijon back in the condiment bin. Even The Bob is finding it easier to reach in and grab what he needs - and has promised that he will put the milk back in the "milk section." If he can see where things go, chances are he will stick with the program.

It's not complicated. It took me about an hour to get the fridge looking great. I think that is a minor investment, considering how this will save me time and money in the long run.

January 19, 2008

Best supporting dish on movie night - twice baked potatoes only not really.

The Bob loves twice baked potatoes, and I love making them for him. Just not when I'm pressed for time. There's the baking, then the scooping, then the mashing, the assembly... and then the baking again. The end result tastes great and makes a great presentation.

But, on our recent dinner and movie night with our friends I did not have the time. Twice bakers would have been great with the super easy baked chicken I was making... What to do?

A while back I experimented with a mashed potato recipe that simulated the yummy insides of a twice baked potato without all the fuss, and was pretty successful. I have fiddled with the recipe until I like it, and call it "twice baked potatoes only not really." You don't get the little potato boat, but for a lot of people that's just the dish the mashed potatoes come in anyway, so it just gets throw out. This is easier, and no waste!

Here's what you need:
1 24-oz package microwaveable mashed potatoes (like Bob Evans)
4 oz. sour cream
1 T (more or less as you like) horseradish sauce (I used Dietz & Watson Hot & Chunky Horseradish Sauce)
1 cup (or so) shredded mild cheddar cheese, plus more for top
1 cup herb flavored stuffing mix
1/2 stick butter, melted

Here's all you do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl combine everything but the stuffing and butter. Mix well until thoroughly combined.
2. Spread the potato mixture into a 2 quart casserole, sprayed with non-stick spray. Top with a big handful of shredded cheese. Crush and sprinkle the stuffing mix on top, and drizzle with the butter.
3. Bake for about 40 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned.

Obviously you can use your own favorite twice baked potato ingredients, like bacon or green onions... whatever floats your boat. I added the stuffing mix on top to add a little crunch and texture, and to replace the crispy potato skin. But if you don't like that idea, leave them off. The idea is to create a potato casserole that simulates the flavor of the original dish.

Our movie-watching friends wanted the recipe, so I consider that a compliment, and a success. And a time saver! Give it a try on some weeknight with meatloaf and see what your family thinks!

Starring role for a movie night dinner: super easy baked chicken.

Friday night movie night with friends seemed like a good idea at the time. Tuesday night we decided to invite another couple over for dinner and a movie (3:10 to Yuma (Widescreen Edition)), and I thought I would make dinner. Simple enough, right? As the week wore on, I started thinking it was a mistake. Friday I would still have to work a full day, then I'd have to go home, tidy up the house, and make a good dinner for the four of us, keeping in mind that we'd need to eat relatively early so that we weren't starting the movie too late. Panic set in. How was I going to pull this off without getting stressed or making a ho hum meal.

I did a little research on some recipe sites (All Recipes and Food Network), and got some ideas for a menu. My strategy was to keep it simple, adding flavor and variety without adding to the labor. I settled on what The Bob called "chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans." But I called "Baked Chicken with Cheese and Creamy Sauce, The Most Delicious Green Beans Ever, and Twice Baked Potatoes Only Not Really."

Here's the recipe for the chicken... (Look for the other two recipes in future posts.)

Here's what you need:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Poultry seasoning
1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded (on the large holes of a box grater)
1 can cream of celery soup
1/4 c. water
About 2 c. herb seasoned stuffing mix
1/2 stick butter, melted

Here's all you do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a rectangular casserole with non-stick spray. Place chicken side by side in dish (in mine they just fit the pan, touching) and sprinkle with poultry seasoning (eyeball it). Cover the chicken with the shredded cheese, evenly covering all the breasts.
2. Combine the soup and the water and pour over the chicken and cheese. Take a couple big handfuls of the stuffing mix, crush in your hands and sprinkle over all. Drizzle with the butter.
3. Bake for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. Mine took an hour and a half, because they were really large chicken breasts. Let them sit for about 7-10 minutes. Serve them up and take the compliments!

This chicken literally took me 5 minutes to throw together and put in the oven. That gave me time to get the "Twice Baked Potatoes Only Not Really" ready for the oven (I put them in the oven 30 minutes into the chicken cooking time). The Most Delicious Green Beans Ever came together on the stove top and cooked away while I freshened up.

By the time the doorbell rang, I had everything under control so we could visit with our friends and have a little appetizer (bar cheese and pita chips... store bought lovelies) while dinner finished up. It was a hit.

Notes on this recipe. You could substitute slices of Swiss cheese for the Gruyere. I intend to use this as a base recipe and mix up the ingredients, but keep the method the same. Cream of chicken, or even cream of mushroom soup would work. I'll use whatever kind of cheese I have on hand - smoked cheddar or swiss would be good. I'm thinking of a Tex-Mex take on this with Monterey Jack cheese and nacho cheese soup mixed with a little salsa. Or an Italian version with mozzarella cheese and a pasta sauce instead of the soup. In my mind the non-negotiables are the bread crumb or stuffing topping and the butter. (No, this isn't exactly diet food, folks!)

No more sweating a Friday movie night dinner with friends when I have something this easy and quick, not to mention delicious, in my arsenal! Try it and let me know if it works for you!

December 04, 2007

How I learned to stop worrying and love my hair

I start out liking a hairstyle. We date for a while and then I fall in love with it. Eventually the honeymoon is over – it's not doing a thing for me, but I'm stuck with it. Finally, I fall out of love with it and want a divorce. Then I move on to the next hairstyle.

I recently divorced a hairstyle, and moved on to the next one, which got me thinking about how to stop worrying and love my hair. This isn't very scientific, but I thought I would share my strategies for dealing with it.

1. Hair grows in a spiral.
Keeping that in mind helps me realize that no matter how hard I try to create a perfectly symmetrical style, I'm fighting nature. Just let it go.

2. Use your texture to its best advantage.
I just tried the sleek, short bob like Katie Holmes sports, and if I took the time to style it I liked it. When I didn't, I thought it looked horrible and I felt self-conscious. The reason is that my hair has a bit of natural wave to it, so it wants to do its own thing – not Katie's thing. I talked to my stylist about it and we came up with a style that uses my wave to my advantage.

3. No one EVER thinks your hair looks as bad as you do. Even if I think I'm having a bad hair day, other people don't think that much about it. They're busy worrying about their own hair.

4. Don't let your "The Bob" have a vote.
A lot of women will probably have problems with this part. If I let Bob have a vote, my hair would be to my waist in the back. At my height, this would just look silly. In my experience, guys like a women who a.) is confident that she looks good and b.) doesn't spend a lot of time complaining about her hair.

I am not saying that I am not eventually going to leave this hairstyle for another one, but I do know that as the years go by I am learning to stop worrying and love my hair.

October 24, 2007

See, I have fashion questions, too! Check out my Q&A at StyleBakery.

I use StyleBakery as a great resource for fashion trends, wardrobe ideas, shopping links, and a bit of celebrity gossip. The editors seem to have it together in terms of their recommendations, and they solicit questions on style.

Just so happens I recently purchased this little swing jacket and wanted advice about what to wear with it... taking into consideration two factors: my height and my age!

Check out my question & Alison's great answer here.

I encourage you to submit a question when you have one, and check out the site for ideas for this fall and winter! Have fun!

October 23, 2007

Recipe for comfort - beer cheese-cheese-cheese soup.

A big pot of soup is the perfect cure for a rainy, blah night, but who has time for something that tastes like it's been cooked all day? Not this girl. I need something quick and easy to put together, but something that can simmer on low until The Bob is ready for dinner. This is my take on beer-cheese soup – I took the basic idea from several recipes to come up with my own, and it was delish if I do say so myself.

Here's what you need:
3 slices bacon, diced
1 clove (or so) garlic, minced fine (I used the preminced jarred kind to save time)
1T butter
2T flour
1t dry mustard
1 small can chicken broth
1 cup (or so) half and half
1 12 oz. bottle of beer (I used a Bud, but anything works - the alcohol cooks out)
16 oz. (or so) Velveeta, cut into chunks
1 jar (5 oz.) Kraft Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread with Bacon
1 jar (5 oz.) Kraft Old English Sharp Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread
Salt & pepper to taste

Here's all you do:
1. Cook the bacon in the bottom of a large saucepan until crisp. Remove to a plate to drain and reserve for garnish.
2. Add the butter and the garlic and sauté until the garlic is transparent and flavorful, just a minute or so.
3. Turn the heat down a smidge, and add the flour and dry mustard to the pot. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes until the mixture forms a pretty thick paste.
4. Whisk in the broth, then the half and half, until incorporated. Add the beer and stir. Let this come up to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add the jarred cheeses, one at a time, stirring until melted. Add the Velveeta in chunks, stirring until melted.
6. Taste for seasonings, and then simmer on low, stirring pretty often, until you just can't stand it any more! I let mine simmer for about 20 minutes.
7. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the reserved bacon bits, and/or anything you like. Bob topped his with bacon AND croutons.

I thought pumpernickel bread sounded good to dunk into this soup. I cut slices of the bread into strips, brushed with butter and toasted in a 450º oven until they were crispy.

While this soup was delicious on its own, we immediately thought of about 3-4 different things you could do with this as a base. This would be awesome with crab meat and/or shrimp. It would be great as kind of a chowder with a couple of potatoes and some drained corn. Tonight I plan to take some fully cooked chorizo flavored smoked sausage, slice it into disks and add it to the soup.

Experiment with what you like. But, try it this the first time. You will sink down into that bowl of cheesy goodness and it just won't matter what the weather's doing outside.

October 05, 2007

We never get tired of a good old casserole – especially with tater tots & cheese!

You already know that The Bob is a casserole junkie. I swear if you layered nails and glass in a dish and covered it in cheese and topped it with crushed potato chips, he would lick his plate clean. I think he might eventually catch on to nail & glass casserole, so I guess I will keep looking for easy, cheesy casseroles to make the man.

I came up with this one as a substitute for my Reuben Bake, and it went over pretty well.

Here's what you need:
1 lb. fully cooked, skinless smoked sausage
1 can green beans, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. Velveeta, cubed
Tater tots (YES, tater tots!)

Here's what you do:
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Spray an 8" square baking dish with non-stick spray.
2. Cut the sausage into 3/4 inch disks and put in the bottom of the pan. Top with the green beans. Spread the soup over top. Top this evenly with the Velveeta. Then (and this is my favorite part!), put tots all over the top. Really pack them in!
3. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the tots are nice and golden brown.

Modify to your heart's content, but for goodness sake, keep the tot! This actually reheated pretty well the next day, so it won't go to waste.

September 28, 2007

10 Random Tips that Save Time, Energy, and Frustration

After a very busy and eventful summer, I am happy to be back and healthy and ready to start bringing you more ideas, hints, tips, recipes, and rantings.

Here are a quick 10 super-easy tips that you can incorporate to save yourself time, energy, and frustration. They aren't complicated, and they work for me.

1. Say it, don't spray it. To keep non-stick spray from getting your counters sticky, place your dish on the open door of your dishwasher and then spray away. The overspray will just go on the back of the door, which will be clean next time you run the dishwasher.

2. Pick a pepper.
Next time you have an extra red, yellow, or green pepper languishing in the produce drawer in your fridge, don't let it go to waste, roast it. When we have the grill going and have an extra pepper, we throw it on, even if we don't plan to use it that day. Put it over the hot part of the grill and turn it every now and then until the skin is mostly black. Put the pepper in a plastic container and refrigerate until you're ready to use it. Then just slip the skin off, take out the seeds and membranes, and slice or chop to use in your recipe. The pepper will keep in the fridge for a few days.

3. In the fold.
This may sound like your mom, and if so, I apologize. Fold your underwear. No, I'm not joking. Years ago I just shoved my panties in a drawer willy nilly. I had to paw through the pile to find the color I wanted, and it took more time. Besides that, it was unpleasant aesthetically. I promise you, it only takes 2 seconds to fold a pair of panties (and coincidentally, it takes 2 seconds to fold a pair of The Bob's boxers), and I promise, when you open that tidy drawer you will feel good, and you'll find what you're looking for more quickly.

4. Lost and found. I read cookbooks for fun (I don't think that makes me strange at all!), and, of course, to get ideas. When I sit down with a cookbook I always have a pack of those little tape flags next to me so that when I see something interesting, I can just mark it. That way, instead of getting frustrated wondering, "Now where did I see that recipe," I can just quickly flip to the marked pages.

5. Fill 'er up.
Always fill the tank in your car. Now, I know there are people who will play the "gas price lottery" and try and wait until the price is lower to fill up. They just put a few dollars in at a time until they see a price they like. If you're one of those people, more power to you. The way I look at it, if I go back to the station several times a week to put a few more dollars worth in the tank, then it's costing me in time, which is worth something to me.

6. Iron it out. This is one of those tips that is almost so unconscious for me I don't know that I consider it a "tip." But I guess it is. I keep a water bottle next to the iron and ironing board, so I can fill up the iron when it needs it without having to traipse to the sink every time. One 20 oz. water bottle fills my iron up several times. One trip to the sink instead of 5? I guess that is a tip!

7. That's neat.
Storage under the sink can be scary. It's deep, it's dark, and there are all those pipes and fixtures and stuff. It is necessary to store things under there, but typically what I did was open the door, grab something quick, and slam it without looking. I hated that! So, a while back I came up with a way to keep it neat and organized without spending a bunch of money. Plastic dish pans, which you can pick up at your local dollar store, make neat under-sink bins and cost a fraction of what the under-sink organizers do. They slide in and out out easily, and keep your stuff from falling over and making a mess. For about two bucks, you can have a neat and tidy under-sink area.

8. Sign here. I have a jacket that I love. THE jacket. It's a shaped, denim blazer-type jacket that fits me to a tee, knows where my elbows go, and never needs ironing. I realized about a year ago, that this jacket was getting more action than any other single item in my closet. And for good reason. It looks good, fits great, and goes with everything. I wondered if there was a problem with the fact that I was wearing this jacket 2-3 times a week with various outfits – one day with a black skirt, white shirt, tights and boots - another day with cords, a long sleeve tee and flats. The answer is NO, there's nothing wrong with having a signature piece, something that makes you feel happy and wonderful every time you put it on. Do my coworkers notice that I wear this jacket a bunch? YES, but it is ME, it reflects my personality and because I mix it up, it always looks new. Get yourself a signature piece, whether it's a jacket, a bag, a piece of jewelry, or a pair of boots. The bonus is, when you're in doubt, you'll reach for that item, and save yourself time and preserve your sanity.

9. Take five. When I get home from work, no matter how I feel, I take five minutes and... do more work! Fooled you, didn't I!? This is no joke. The problem is, at least for me, if I go home and start to relax, I get tired and lose my motivation to do anything. If I take just five minutes to tidy up, put the coffee cups in the dishwasher (or wash them), clear off the table, and swipe down the bathroom sink, I sail into the evening feeling like things are much more in control. After that, I treat myself to a break before making dinner. Since I have done a little work, I'm that much further ahead. This works, give it a try.

10. You're on your way. I've said it before, I'll say it again. One of my top tips of all time is "Clean as you go." Make it a habit and you will always save yourself time in the long run. While making dinner, take the few seconds to wipe down the counter. While doing laundry, take a second to dust the washer and dryer. After you're finished in the shower, spritz it with daily spray. Little jobs can become major jobs if you wait until it's out of control. (I learned this thanks to my high school job at McDonald's. I guess it wasn't a waste of time after all!)

I hope you'll find some of these helpful, and try one or two out to see if they work for you.

August 07, 2007

Organized closets don't have to cost you

I love to watch decorating shows on TV (almost as much as I love to watch cooking shows). I get ideas and tips, and keep up on what's new and trendy. I don't always love everything I see, but it's a way to keep my decorating senses keen. One show I like to catch now and then is Clean House. It's like watching a train wreck – they take a super-cluttered house, clear it out, convince the owners to sell some of their stuff, and then put it back together, decorating and organizing it.

Now, on this show, closets are usually a major issue. Clothes are usually on the floor, on the bed, under the bed, and yes, in the closet but without a shoe horn they aren't getting one more thing in there. The "organization host" is given a budget, and cleans and organizes the closet with brand new closet systems. Of course this makes for good TV, because in the reveal the difference is drastic.

However, not all of us can be on "Clean House" and not all of us have the cash to spend on new closet organization systems.

So, here are my ideas and tips for organizing any closet. The idea here is to be able to see what you've got, regardless of the size of the space.

1. Purge. If you haven't done this in a while, or ever, it's a very cleansing process. Anything (and I mean anything) you haven't worn in a year or more, put in a pile. Then, take a look at each item, and try on if necessary. If it doesn't fit you now, don't keep it thinking it will eventually fit. Be realistic – if it's making you feel guilty, throw it out or put it in a donate pile. If it's stained, worn, or needs repair, throw it out or put in a donate pile. (Note: I'm not a total fascist about this – if it has some deep sentimental value, store it away with like things in a container.) The main thing is to stay focused. You're trying to improve your life by making it quick and easy to find something to wear, and by making the space to store what you really need.

2. Plan. I don't care particularly HOW you plan to organize your closet, but pick a system and be religious about it. It truly will make your life so much easier if you have a system to things. In my case, I have all my shirts, tops and jackets arranged by color, then by sleeve length, with jackets last. So when I want a white blouse, I know exactly where they are. My pants and skirts are organized by color, pants first then skirts. If it's a multi-colored item, I classify it by the most prominent color. It's very subjective, and that's okay. What matters is that you're able to find what you want quickly and easily.

3. Commit. This is your closet; no one is going to police it for you. So commit to keeping it this way, or even better, from here on out. Don't let yourself slip. The time you'll save every day will more than make up for the time it took you to get it organized.

This article deals with hanging clothes, but similar systems can be developed for your drawers and shelves. You have to take control of them. Be willing to let go of things that don't fit, aren't in style, or are damaged or stained. Try this technique with even one closet and you'll feel like you've been the star of an episode of "Clean House."

July 17, 2007

Simple Beefy Grilled Onions

This seems too simple to be good. But then again, I am a big fan of simple. To me, some foods just taste better when you allow their real flavors to shine through, not hidden by unnecessary ingredients. At a recent cookout, I had a request for these. They take only minutes to put together, and are nearly foolproof. Another bonus is that they're cheap - it's just onion, beef bullion cubes and butter. Just be ready for your guests to turn greedy and start guarding the platter..

Start with large yellow or Vidalia onions – each one serves about 2 people.

For each onion:
1. Remove outer layer of papery skin, and slice off top and bottom of onion.
2. With a paring knife and a spoon (or a melon baller if you have one), hollow out the center of the onion, about twice as large as a beef bullion cube. Don’t go all the way through the bottom of the onion.
3. Drop a beef bullion cube into the center, and pack with about a tablespoon of butter. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Wrap each onion individually in heavy-duty foil.
5. Grill until soft to the touch. Move to the side of the grill or take off the grate and keep warm until time to serve. They take about 30 minutes depending on the grill’s heat and the size of the onion. Note: you may also bake on a cookie sheet in a 350º oven. Check for doneness after about 30 – 45 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the onion.

These are delicious with just about anything. We had them with brats and burgers, but I could just as easily see them on a plate with a nice steak, or even a pork loin.

One thing to note is that they really taste best the day you cook them. I tried one leftover and found it to be too mushy after reheating. So, plan to make ‘em and eat ‘em – not that you’ll have much leftover if it’s anything like our cookout!

June 27, 2007

Give the gift that keeps on giving (great parties) – a stainless beverage tub.

When it comes to wedding gifts, The Bob and I typically shop "on the list." We go straight for the bridal registry and choose something the happy couple has selected for themselves. I highly recommend this approach for most couples, and I have appreciated knowing that I'm getting them something they really need or want.

While shopping on the list has its advantages, what it lacks in most cases is the personal touch. I can give the newlyweds their 5th flatware place setting, but will they remember me every time they eat chicken cordon bleu? Probably not.

I was faced with this dilemma when some great friends of ours recently got married. I will admit it. I was at a loss. I was at such a loss that I didn't have a gift selected by their wedding day!

(NOTE: I fell on strict wedding gift protocol on this one – feel free to use it yourself – you have up to ONE YEAR to gift the couple. That saved my bacon on this one!)

I had several criteria for the "perfect gift" for our friends. First, I wanted to find something that was useful, but not "utilitarian." Second, I was leaning toward something monogrammed – to me, it feels old fashioned in a good way. And finally, and to me most importantly, I wanted the gift to be something that, whether they reached for it once a month or once a year, they would think of The Bob and me.

After an exhaustive search, several ideas that were abandoned (including a personalized bocce ball set), and many...ahem...discussions...between Bob and I (he said shop on the list), I ran across this sweet stainless steel beverage tub from Personalization Mall.

This fit all my criteria. And, by my way of thinking, they can use it for any number of occasions, it will look great on a buffet table full of ice and bevvies. But, they might decide to use it for something completely different. They could use it as a planter, a magazine bin or even to hold diapers someday, should the mood strike them.

When the tub arrived, I opened the box to check it out (and to make sure their name wasn't misspelled!). I was impressed with the heft of the thing, and the hammered texture and other details gave it an upscale look compared to some tubs I have seen. I recommend this, not only because it's worth the money, but I was also impressed with the ordering and shipping process – I had a good experience.

So if you're looking for the ideal wedding gift, try this one out. It's a great value, looks fantastic, and it keeps on giving – great parties - for the bride and groom for years to come.

June 12, 2007

How to control runaway plastic container lids in one easy zip

This is a trick I have been using for years to reign in the clutter of miscellaneous plastic container lids. Zip-seal bags.

I got tired of the endless searching for the right shape and size lid, and the annoying slidy-aroundy thing they did right before they fell out of the cabinet onto my head. So, out of frustration I grabbed a gallon-size zip-seal bag and threw in all the round lids. I did the same thing with the square or rectangular lids. The bag seals and goes vertically along the side of the cabinet next to the stacked containers (by shape and size, of course).

The odd thing about this little technique is that it has been very effective for me for YEARS, and it's one that The Bob has learned and sticks with. His cleanup job after dinner is to put leftovers in containers for the fridge, and it's quick and easy for him to find what he needs because they are separated and in clear bags. He even puts them away in the correct bag!

I know there are lots of newfangled container-and-lid combos out there that are supposed to help you stay organized. But unless I throw all mine out and start over, I will always have the odd-ball container to deal with. So, I will stick with my zip-seal bag trick, and encourage you to try it, too!

June 01, 2007

How to please a dozen hungry campers – extra beefy, extra easy beef stew

Our first big camping trip is over, and despite some interesting things happening (one ER trip, one tick, a case of strep throat, and one tornado warning), we ate well as we always do.

Traditionally one day of our trip everyone is coming and going, and we have guests coming and going, so it's always nice to plan one evening meal that can just cook on low all day and be ready whenever anyone's ready. This year I decided to try beef stew, and it was a hit. I of course use all the help I can get from the store, especially when camping, so I'm not slaving over a hot camp stove all day.

Everyone who tasted the stew loved it. It was beefy, filling and very flavorful.

Here's what you need for a huge pot:
5 lb. boneless beef chuck roast, cut into about 1" cubes
3 big baking potatoes, cut into about 1" cubes
A big handful of baby carrots, or you could use big ones cut into 1" cubes
1 big onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large can beef broth
About 2/3 that can full of water
1 can French onion soup
1 packet beefy onion soup mix
About 1/4 cup flour
Olive oil

Here's how you do it:
1. In a big zip-lock bag, flour the meat, coating it pretty well.
2. Over medium high heat, coat the bottom of your stock pot with olive oil. When it's hot, add your meat in batches, turning frequently to brown. Take the batches out to a plate and loosely cover w/foil until you have all the meat browned. There will be lots of yummy brown bits in the bottom of the pan.
3. Lower the heat a little, add a tad more olive oil and sauté your onion and garlic. Stir to coat and cook until they are translucent.
4. Pour in the French onion soup and deglaze the pan – scraping the bottom to get the brown bits up. Then add the meat back in and stir to coat everything evenly.
5. Add the potatoes and carrots, the can of beef broth, the water, and the beefy onion soup mix. Stir thoroughly to combine.
6. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat. Cook on low, uncovered until the meat is tender and the potatoes are falling apart. I kept it on very low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 4 hours.

Really I should say I knew it was done when no one could resist the aroma any more! I fed 8 people with this one night, and had leftovers for about four people the next night. We served it with buttered bread for dipping up the really beefy gravy.

You could easily make this in your stock pot on the stove inside, but there's something wonderful about making it over a camp stove outside.

May 11, 2007

Finally, a really wearable lip gloss

I am not a lipstick girl. It's not that I don't like the way it looks, I just don't like the maintenance involved. Refreshing my lipstick is a process that requires a mirror so I do not color outside the lines. I tried the long-wearing "paint" type lipstick and that just dried out my lips horribly and in the end it looked like I was suffering from some kind of lip funk. Ug.

However, I am prone to dry lips, so I always have lip balm with me. I apply that about a hundred times a day – no mirror needed. But I get no polished look from Chap Stick. Lip gloss seems like the obvious choice for a girl like me, right? Easier to refresh, no long-term commitment, no lip funk. I have tried tons of the stuff, and nothing really worked for me until I tried CoverGirl Wetslicks.

I actually read about the stuff at Style Bakery in their Spring Beauty Trend Report and thought I would give it a try. It was cheaper than the other products they recommended to get the pale lip look, so why not.

My first color choice was Honey Talks – it's a light, fleshy color with a little glint to it. The color is fresh and trendy, and gives me that finished look I wanted. I liked it so much I went back and got Sugar Maple, which is darker than it looks on the CoverGirl site. It's like a sugared raisin color. I am now eyeing something with a little more pink in it, which is another color trend for Spring.

Wetslicks really does feel like lip balm, which makes it perfect for me, being a Chap Stick addict. It isn't high-maintenance, and you aren't making a 24 hour commitment to the color. Slick some on and see what you think.

May 05, 2007

I have taken to wearing men's jeans. Again.

Years ago, I wore men's jeans from the Gap. A friend of mine gave me the idea to try men's jeans because I could get the exact length I needed. Made sense to me. They sat a little lower, and had a little closer fit through the hips, but with a straight leg. The bonus was that they were very comfortable.

As the years went by, I tried all kinds of jeans, with varying degrees of success. See my previous article about buying jeans. I ended up committing fairly squarely to the boot cut, because they make my short legs look longer and help balance out my proportions (read into that whatever you will). They are more fitted through the hip and thigh and flare out gently at the hem.

While I still like my sleek boot cuts, I recently started craving something a bit slouchy. I noticed that several retailers have introduced something they called "boyfriend" cut, like these from L.L.Bean ($49.50), or these "boy" jeans from J.Crew ($98). You know me, I am not willing to part with anything close to that for a pair of jeans. So, I went right to Wal-Mart and found a pair of men's boot cut jeans on sale for $13. And I get compliments on them every time I wear them. I went back and picked up another pair a couple of inches longer to wear with heels.

I have a few suggestions if you want to give this a try.

• The only way to know how they fit is to try them on. Don't be afraid to take them to the women's dressing room! Try a variety of sizes to get the right fit.
• Stick with either boot cut or straight legs, never, ever tapered. The idea is for them to fall straight from the hips.
• No extra pockets, zippers, loops or other bells and whistles. Keep them simple.
• Start with a cheap pair like these Wrangler boot cuts from Wal-Mart – they're only $16.82. You don't have to invest a lot of money to get this look.
• Don't go slouchy head to toe. Keep the look balanced by choosing a more fitted top. You don't want to look like you actually raided your boyfriend's closet.

What goes around comes back around – I have taken to wearing men's jeans again and I'm loving it.

April 23, 2007

Easy and cheesy – my simplified recipe for cheesy potatoes

We spent a lot of this past weekend grillin' and chillin' at home with friends, and while we want to eat well, we don't especially want to make too big of a production out of it. We would rather be sitting around the grill talking and having fun. So when it comes to sides, I always want to do something fast and no-hassle.

Everyone loves cheesy potatoes – they go as well with burgers and dogs as they do with a steak, and this recipe takes all of 5 minutes of prep, so you will still have plenty of time to relax. Check it out.

Here's what you'll need:

1 30-oz package of Ore-Ida® Country Style Hash Browns – the shredded kind (NOTE: I used about 3/4 of the bag – it fit better in my casserole, and I found it kept the dish pretty creamy)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1 cup sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste
A couple of handfuls of French fried onions, crushed up
2 T butter

Here's how you do it:

Preheat your oven to 350º. Spray a 2 quart casserole with non-stick spray. Take the bag of hash browns and give it a few whacks to break it up. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the frozen hash browns, the soups, the sour cream and the salt & pepper. Turn this into your prepared casserole. Top with the French fried onions and dot with butter. Bake for about 45 minutes until bubbly and golden on the top.

I am sold on using the cream of chicken for added flavor, but I know other people who use cream of celery and it works just as well. The onion topping gives nice crunch, but also imparts a subtle onion flavor without a single minute of chopping. But, you could try substituting potato chips or crackers.

Give this recipe a try and let me know what your friends and family think!

April 18, 2007

A comforting meal that is so simple to make – hamburger stroganoff

I know there are times when The Bob and I feel the need to hunker down, and we have had that feeling after the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Watching the non-stop coverage is painful, and we feel for the families and friends of the students and university personnel who are the innocent victims of this horrible crime.

I have a feeling we are not the only ones who need a bit of comforting right now and one way we can comfort each other is through food. It may not be totally logical, but for some reason it works. Last night I put together a super-easy hamburger stroganoff – a yummy, creamy, mushroom-y, meaty feast for the two of us. There are "upgrades" you can make to this meal if you have the time and energy, but I took the easy way last night.

Here's what you'll need:
1 lb. hamburger
Dash of garlic powder
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup half and half (folks, this is not diet food!)
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
2 teaspoons paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Here's how you do it:
Crumble the ground beef in a deep skillet and sprinkle with as much garlic powder as you like (I used about 1/2 teaspoon, not too much). Brown and drain. Add to the skillet the remaining ingredients and stir until it's all incorporated. Bring up to a bubble and stir occasionally until it's thick and creamy. That's all there is to it.

You can let the stroganoff simmer gently over very low heat while you prepare egg noodles and then ladle a big generous serving over top. It would probably be delicious over mashed potatoes or rice, too. (I did the low carb thing and had mine over mashed cauliflower and it was wonderful.)

The upgrades, you probably figured out, would be to mince a clove of garlic to replace the garlic powder, and of course you can use fresh mushrooms instead of canned if you feel like slicing.

The thing about a dish like this is that, while it has flavor, it's not overpowering. It's bland in a good way – the way Nigella Lawson describes bland – more as a texture that is soothing. Which was the whole point last night.

I hope you try this the next time you're feeling the need to sink down into a bowl of pure comfort.

April 13, 2007

Tips for an easy, good-looking home pedicure

After a long winter of neglect, my feet needed a little attention. Clomping around in winter boots and shoes made my heels hard and cracked, and my toenails, well, they were just scary. So, last weekend I took the time to give myself a pedicure.

Pedicures are one of life's little pleasures. Nothing makes you feel more pampered and pretty than smooth feet and polished tootsies. Back in the day, I loved to go with my girlfriend and have the pros take care of my feet, but these days I do it myself and save the money. I consider myself all thumbs when it comes to these things, but if I can do it, you can do it.

Here's how I do it.

1. The tools. Lay out your toenail clippers (the big kind that cut straight across), an orange wood stick, a large emery board, nail block, a pumice stone and a towel. You will also need polish remover, cotton balls, base/top coat, and your polish. Get it all assembled now to save time. I also consider a fashion magazine part of the routine – for me, it completes the pampering, spa-like experience.

2. The soak. If you have polish on your nails, remove it first. I start by soaking my feet in nice, warm water with some great-smelling bubble bath or shower gel. If you have one of those cool foot massage thingys, I am jealous. I just sit on the bathroom counter and soak my feet in the sink. While you're soaking one foot, pumice the other (heels, toes and the soles of your feet), then switch. Next, while soaking one foot, clean under nails and push your cuticles back on the other, then switch. After that, sometimes I use a scrubbing cleanser to get my feet super-soft. Take as much time with the soak as you like. Rinse and dry your feet, then apply lotion.

3. The shape. This can be the trickiest part, it was for me, but if you try this a few times, you will get it down pat. Find a comfortable way to sit so that you can easily reach your toes. I sit on a dining chair with my feet on the floor and just bend over at the waist. This position makes it easy for me to spread my toes out, so I don't need any cotton between them.

To start to shape the nails, trim them straight across – I like mine fairly short. Then take the emery board and shape your nails. The rule of thumb is to shape the nail to mirror the shape of your cuticle. Take your time on this part, because the final appearance depends a lot on the shape of the nail. Take your orange wood stick or cuticle pusher and just go around each nail to make sure that the cuticle is pushed back and the nails are immaculate.

Once you get the shape like you like, take your nail block and buff. This helps the base coat and polish adhere, and it also takes off any ridges so you get a nice, smooth look. Using a cotton ball and some polish remover, clean off the nails and let them dry.

4. The polish. Here's my top tip for making a home pedicure look professional – use lighter colors. With the darker shades, mistakes are more obvious. I use a pretty gold/apricot polish from Ulta that is not too light but not too dark.

Believe it or not, I put on a pair of thong sandals to complete this step. That way I can still (carefully) walk around while it dries and not worry about it. Start with one base coat, then read an article in your magazine while it dries. Apply one coat of color and let it dry while you read another article. Apply a second coat and let dry. I ALWAYS apply two coats of color, even with the lighter shades. I believe it makes for a longer-lasting pedi. Finally, apply a top coat.

Here are a few more tips I have learned from experience. With basically four coats on your nails, it takes time for them to cure and harden. Plan to do your pedicure early in the day so you are not going to bed right after – you may end up with sheet marks! The same applies with socks and shoes.

5. The final result. That's it! With just a little effort and some patience, you can give yourself a good-looking home pedicure that rivals a professional job. And with the money you saved you can get yourself that cute pair of sandals to show off your tootsies!

April 11, 2007

Four simple grilling tips that save time and dishes

Despite the fact that it doesn't feel much like spring yet, we have begun grilling season at the King house. The Bob is a charcoal junkie, and we both prefer the flavor over gas grilling. I suspect real reason Bob likes the charcoal grill is the Big Fire, and the fact that he can have a couple of beers while he waits for the coals to be ready. Regardless, grilling is a relaxing, fun and no-fuss way of making a delicious dinner, whether it's just a couple of burgers or shrimp and chicken kebabs.

Over the years I have sometimes been surprised at the pile of dishes that winds up in the sink after grilling out. Washing a huge pile of platters and tongs is not my idea of a relaxing evening. So, along the way I have developed a few time- and and dish-saving strategies.

1. Season your meat right on the butcher paper or Styrofoam tray it came in. This works when it's a dry rub, dry seasoning blend, or even just salt and pepper. Then put the package on a clean platter or tray to take out to the grill. When you've got the meat on the grill, toss the packaging and you've got a clean platter ready for the cooked meat. If you can't use the packaging the meat came in, lay down a length of aluminum foil or waxed paper – it will work the same way. This saves you a dish in clean-up, and also helps you avoid any cross contamination.

2. Zipper-seal bags work the same way for marinades. Throw your meat or veggies in a large zipper-seal bag and let them marinate. When they're ready, don't transfer them out onto a clean dish – instead carry the bag and a clean platter out to the grill. Take the food out of the bag and then toss it (and the marinade) and you have a nice clean platter to put the cooked food on.

3. Foil-wrap veggies for a simple side dish or garnish. Instead of pulling out a pan to cook your veggies, lay out a healthy length of aluminum foil and pile them in the center (use a double layer if your foil isn't the heavy-duty kind). We use this technique for asparagus, onions and peppers, corn, whatever we have. Season right on the foil – butter or olive oil and whatever seasonings you like – then wrap them like a package. Toss them on the grill with your main dish and just check them every now and then. We often take the foil pack inside and just pull the veggies out with tongs rather than dirtying another dish. You could also pile the cooked vegetables alongside the cooked meat on your platter.

4. To save on clean up and reduce the risk of cross contamination, keep a few things handy by the grill. A container of disinfectant wipes are great for not only hands, but sticky tongs and spatula grips. A roll of paper towels is better for the occasional drip than a wet cloth or sponge that would hold bacteria. We keep a trash can right by the grill, too, to save steps and keep the area tidy.

So, relax and enjoy grilling out with these ideas that save on cleanup. You just might find that there's enough time for one more beer while dinner's on the barbecue.

March 30, 2007

Spring decorating ideas on the cheap

When sun is coming up a little earlier every day and I can hear the birds singing, it’s time for me to take a look at my “nest” and give it a quick Spring makeover.

Get organized. I set aside a day when I won't have many interruptions and start by folding up the winter throws and blankets, putting away the dark accessories and taking down the heavy fall/winter curtains. I'm basically emptying the room out to start fresh. Just by doing this I feel the energy coming into the room along with the sunlight, and everything seems larger and more airy. After a quick cleaning and dusting, I take stock of the room, evaluating furniture placement. If moving a couple of things around makes me look at things in a new light, I go for it!

Get inspired. My goal this year for my front two rooms was to replace anything dark with something light and give it a summer cottage feel. I decided to use vintage textiles as my main inspiration – starting with a light pastel wedding ring quilt as a foundation item. The first place I always go "shopping" is my linen closet. I take stock of what I have in the way of blankets or quilts, tablecloths, curtains or panels and pillow covers. Over the years I have gathered quite a collection of "this and that" that can be changed out when I get the urge. Then I wander around the house and look at art, accessories and lamps with my goal in mind. If it's light and "cottage-y" it was a candidate for the Spring makeover.

Get started. My sofa is a deep, rich color which tends to make the room feel darker. By putting the wedding ring quilt with its cream background on the back of the sofa, I instantly brightened the room. From there I went to the window treatments. In place of my faux suede drapes in the front room I hung off-white embroidered sheers I had stored away, and suddenly the window looked like it was wearing a pretty petticoat. I brightened the room even more by using some of my vintage embroidered tablecloths on a couple of dark wood tables. On another dark wood piece I placed a light, floral-patterned vintage tray.

Get creative. Now you can have some fun with the accents. To enhance the comfy cottage feel, I literally piled the sofa with various pillows, in similar textiles – embroidered, white, floral and even ticking stripes. Loads of pillows make the sofa look lighter and more inviting. A couple of little white lamps were brought out of the guest room, and a small white storage bin was put into service as home to an ivy. I brought in an old painting in a lighter frame to replace a darker wood framed piece, then a light cotton throw was tossed onto the armchair. This is the time to experiment – place things then take a step back. Try a couple of different locations until it feels just right. Things start to really come together at this point. (By the way, so far I haven't spent a dime!)

Get the total picture. If two of your rooms flow together, like mine do, it's a good idea to consider both in your makeover. In the study adjacent to my front room, I replaced dark, heavily patterned drapes with chambray sheets – yes sheets – gathered onto the rod. Because they're a solid color, and chambray, they don't look like I stripped a bed to cover a window. They actually give me the feeling of a cute farmer in his chambray work shirt. I have a pile of vintage ladies hankies, which I used as tiebacks, to give the window treatments just a little whimsy. I tossed another old quilt over one of the chairs, and with just those two changes this room now coordinates nicely with the front room.

Get a few new things. Of course part of the fun of a mini home makeover is a few new items to add to the mix. I spent an hour or so in my local Kmart and snagged just a few little things that were nice touches, and didn't break the bank. I picked up two plaid "rag" rugs in light pastels that would pick up the tones in the quilt and still blend well with the color of the sofa. I also grabbed a couple of cute "travel pillows" that were covered in a ticking stripe. I did absolutely nothing to them, they were cute just like they were. I put one in among the pile of pillows on the sofa, and one on the armchair across the room, to tie them together visually. All told, I spent $20.98.

Get happy! When I was finished I stood back and just smiled. My rooms had a fresh, new look with a cottage feel just like I was going for.

If you haven't given your room the Spring treatment, try some of these ideas. It's just like the first time you pull out your favorite flip flops when the weather gets nice. You can suddenly see your toes and it just has to make you smile!