Tammy's Disasters

Warmth in my kitchen: Chicken Soup with Rice and homemade bread

I just added my recipe for Whole Grain Chicken Soup with Rice. This is a recipe that I created this winter, using chicken from the freezer, veggies from the fridge, and rice from the pantry. I did have fresh herbs to use in this soup, but dried will work as well.

We all love this soup and the leftovers are great re-warmed! I like to use brown rice, which adds a whole-grain chewiness and a bit of fiber. :) I've made chicken soup with rice in the past, using white rice and making a creamy chicken "soup" (maybe more of a gravy), but this whole grain chicken soup is much more hearty and filling!

I also love that using rice is healthier and cheaper than using noodles, and definitely easier than making noodles! I do really enjoy a good homemade chicken noodle soup but need to keep things simple much of the time.

Homemade whole wheat bread recipe

Homemade bread is a great addition to any wintertime meal! With boys who love to toast their own bread (and can each eat several slices!), our homemade bread goes quickly.

Isn't that photo just perfect? Well, here is what I found when I sliced a few more slices from that same loaf:

Homemade whole wheat bread

Can you believe it?! I don't think I've EVER seen such a huge hole in a loaf of bread! The top was actually a little too dark, too, due to me turning off the timer and then forgetting to take the bread out of the oven until about 20 minutes later! Thankfully, the bread was still good inside, and the dark top was hardly noticeable when we ate it.

Pancake batter in the waffle maker

Just an FYI: Pancake batter doesn't make good waffles, even if the eggs are separated and whites beaten stiff and the resulting batter looks identical to my favorite waffle batter. I guess there's a reason waffles have all that butter or oil in them. :)

The waffle iron after some scraping... I decided to just let it cool, take out the removable grid, and soak it before washing. That worked, and we made pancakes with the rest of the batter. End of (unsuccessful) science experiment! :)
Now, to help the rest of the house (and my sanity) recover after a busy weekend...

Humbling Beginnings (aka: Grow and Learn!)

Our small garden plot...

Two years ago, we embarked on our first solo gardening experience. I miss our yard and small garden plot -- and the beautiful morning sunshine on our rich soil! Republished from June, 2008.

I know I mentioned that we weren't doing a garden this year, but that got changed. :)

It started with a request that we remove our compost pile. (Long story!) We certainly didn't want to give up composting, and since the landlord didn't care what we did, we moved our compost pile into a bin (aka garbage can). By the way, the bin was almost full after we moved our pile, but it has now sunk to 2/3 or 3/4 full and there are pumpkin plants growing inside... :)

Moving our compost pile, along with some brush, left a bare spot of dark rich dirt in our yard. Garden time!! :)

In years past, we have helped my parents with their garden in return for some of the produce. This year, with three little children to take along, and the price of gas, I wasn't going to try to go over there to do a garden.

So, we decided we'd have our own little garden. And the learning process began... ;)

Somehow, being completely on our own for this tiny little garden is a whole lot different from being under the direction and guidance of our expert-gardening parents...

Our first step, we thought, was to borrow a rototiller to work up the plot. After consulting with one possible source (my mom), it was suggested that we just work it up with a shovel. Why hadn't I thought of that myself?!

I felt up to the challenge, so I went out and shoveled and worked... and several hours (and blisters) later, we had a perfectly lovely garden area. The dirt was dark (thank you, old compost pile!) and crumbly and soft (thank you, brush pile!).

By the time I got the soil worked, it was too late that night to plant anything.

The next day was rainy.

And the next day, we went to the garden store and bought more stuff than could possibly fit into the too-small plot we have.

We came home with our plants (tomatoes [12], peppers [16], onions [all colors], chives, cucumber seeds and squash seeds!). The sun was shining brightly, and I went in the house to make lunch while Joshua said he'd go out and get the dirt ready to be planted.

I wondered if it would be too muddy to plant, but I didn't check. I should have realized that Joshua knows much less about gardening than I even do.

Almost an hour later, I called Joshua in for lunch. When he came in, he told me that it had been a lot of work, but he had gotten the garden ready to plant. It had been extra difficult because the dirt was all clay.

"Clay? I didn't see any clay out there when I worked it up. Was it orange?"

"No, it wasn't orange... it stuck to the shovel something terrible, and it felt just like clay or something."

"Oh, great. You mean mud. Our garden is full of mud."

I started to get worried when I realized that Joshua had just spent over an hour working in the garden, when all it needed was to have the dirt hoed a little and leveled out so we could plant.

When I went out to the garden to see what he had done, I groaned. There in the garden were 4 rows -- each row was a neat strip of mud about 5 or 6 inches high. In between each row was a trench of firmly-packed mud.

All I could say was, "This isn't level."

"Well, no, of course not! I made rows for us to plant in. This is how rows look, in the pictures I've seen of gardens."

"They might look like this after they're planted, I guess."

Let's just say that that was a wasted couple of hours. Except now we know to not set foot in a muddy garden, ever. And I'm gonna double-check next time Joshua heads out to "work in the garden"!

The next day, the ground had dried enough for us to plant, for real. I went out and re-worked the dirt. The mud had dried and was rock-like, making it more difficult to re-work the plot than it had been to turn it all over the first time around. And the rock-hard mud-mounded-rows drove me crazy, as I constantly slipped off of them and down into the trenches... it was like trying to balance on little ledges while shoveling.

By the time I was really ready to plant, it was 9pm. I figured I had at least 30 more minutes of light, and was aiming to get the tomatoes planted.

The mosquitoes came out. I think I have 50+ bites on my arms, legs, and back! And feet! (I wasn't wearing socks.) It was also still 90+ degrees out that night. And it got dark enough quickly enough and I hurried enough that I wasn't paying close enough attention to how closely I was planting those tomatoes.

I was just relieved to get in the house, away from all the mosquitoes, and take a cold shower to cool off.

The following day, we went out to plant the rest of our garden. When we got out there (in daylight, of course), I saw how close my tomato plants were. Way too close. We had to transplant over half of them before we started on the rest of the plants.

Thankfully, with Joshua's help (and my oh-so-expert guidance) we managed to get the garden finished up in a couple of hours.

Except that 8 of our pepper plants simply would not fit, anywhere. We were already pushing it with the squash and cucumber spots... planting them on the corner and hoping they take over the yard rather than the rest of the garden. We'll see.

Now, just so we don't kill the plants. I hope that having a shed close to the garden doesn't block too much sun (it's to the west of the plot). I hope we get some food for all our hard work!! :)

If not, I'll call it a science lesson for the boys. They had fun with all the worms we dug up, anyway. :)

Our current compost bin

Our current compost bin. After a few more food scrap dumpings, I'll add a layer of carbon (newspaper or twigs). The compost keeps shrinking/settling and the bin is surprisingly not very full yet! :)

The cake roll that ran

The disastrous cake roll!

Yesterday, the children and I made a cake roll together. I envisioned a beautiful strawberries-and-cream cake roll, using the fresh strawberries and whipping cream we had on hand. (I should have just stuck with our fail-safe whole wheat strawberry shortcake recipe, but wanted something new...)

I did some browsing online and decided to go with this vanilla cream roll recipe. They describe the cake as "simple" and "easy to make" -- and it could be, if the directions weren't so overly-detailed as to be confusing. When I finally spread the cake batter into the pan, I realized that the batter was almost completely identical to my whole wheat strawberry shortcake recipe, anyway! But my cake batter directions take 2 steps, and their batter took 6 steps. And I honestly thought the end result was the same! :)

The disastrous cake roll!

The cake turned out very good, but my filling did not. I used cream cheese and powdered sugar, and added fresh chopped strawberries for flavor and color. I didn't realize just how much water fresh strawberries contained, because the filling just didn't get thick despite my attempts to beat it and then a long time in the fridge (which I had hoped would make the cream cheese get all thick).

When Joshua came home from work, he reminded me that he has tried using fresh strawberries in fillings and such, and they always make things too runny. Well, now I've learned the lesson first hand and I won't be repeating the mistake! ;)

The only cake roll I've made successfully was a pumpkin cake roll. Do any of you have a favorite cake roll recipe for me to try? :)

Kitchen Tipless

Actual conversation this evening...

Tammy: Hey Honey, which cupcake filling recipe was our favorite? My mom's, or this other one?

Joshua: You'll just have to make them both again.

Tammy: I don't have time for that. I need a kitchen tip for tonight, so I'm gonna tell everyone, "Hey! You can make your own cupcake filling."

Joshua: Hahahahahaha

Tammy: (laughing) Okay, I know. That's a dumb tip. Do you have a better one?

Joshua: How about... go to the local GoodWill store and buy cook books for cheap. Then you can gift them to other people when you're done with them.

Tammy: Hahahahahaha Hey, you know, maybe I should just "recycle" one of my better tips that's a couple years old.

Joshua: Yeah.

A fresh loaf of bread... gone wrong

A fresh loaf of homemade bread... flat on the top

I've made my homemade bread twice now here in Washington. The first time, the loaves sunk as they baked and the texture was a little "off" and I also had to add about 1 cup of extra flour for 2 loaves.

These little things were alarming to me, since I was following my recipe exactly as I always did, and I had been making bread often enough (1-3 times a week) that I had it figured out (or so I thought!) and it basically always turned out perfectly.

I made bread again this week, and again the dough was not the right texture (I use the bread machine to knead it, so I know there should have been no difference in the time/intensity of the kneading!), it took extra flour, and the loaves sunk substantially during baking. When I pulled out my bread (this oven has no window) I was shocked to see that my loaves were about half the size they would normally be. The bottom was dense and the top was so bubbly that it had sunk.

What could possibly be so different between here and Ohio?! Sometimes I wish bread-making weren't such a science. If any of you have any ideas for me, I'm ready to hear them. :)

I brought my wheat and grain mill, so the flour should be the same. I couldn't bring my honey, oil, or milk (obviously), but I wouldn't think those would affect the bread very much.

If I were just looking at the bread and trying to diagnose the issue, I'd say it looks like I used soft wheat (pastry flour) instead of hard wheat, since the texture is NOT right. But I was using right from a brown 50-pound bag that was labeled "Prairie Gold Hard White Wheat" so I don't think I could have accidentally gotten the wrong kind of wheat.

So, I spent the day feeling depressed every time I looked at the pathetic loaves that should have been delicious homemade wheat bread.

And then I planned some meals like French toast and grilled cheese, and now the bread is almost gone.

I'm going to try again tomorrow. I have to try again. I mean, I do have a grain mill and wheat. And memories of the bread I made in Ohio... I just hope I can figure it out. When we lived in Missouri (for 2 years) I never could figure out what was wrong about my homemade bread. And when I moved back to Ohio, it was instantly solved and turned out great. Strange!!

A soaked disaster

Not-so-yummy oatmeal

Our oatmeal this morning was a disaster. Did you know it was possible to ruin oatmeal? It is. Let me tell you how I did it. ;)

Last night I was getting ready for bed and thought about breakfast for the next day -- oatmeal.

Now, we all know that the really good, truly health-conscious wives and mothers are the ones who soak their grains before they use them.

I had been meaning to try soaking some grain for our breakfast cereal, and here was my chance -- my brain was actually still functioning at 10pm!

I put some steel cut oats in a pan, added enough water to sufficiently cover, stirred, and put the lid on. In the morning, I added some more water (though they weren't dry, I knew they would absorb more water during cooking) and put the pan on the stove to cook.

I stood there stirring until the oatmeal came to a boil, and then cooked and stirred. I added more water. I tasted the oatmeal. It tasted horrible! Starchy, pasty, gooey, blobby. So gross!

I kept stirring, cooking, and tasting. I stirred because my pans are thin and burn easily. I cooked and tasted, hoping that somehow during the cooking process, that awful pastey flavor would disappear.

It didn't. :( The oatmeal was survivable with some salt, brown sugar, and milk. And a little more brown sugar than usual.

Even the boys noticed the odd taste, despite the extra sugar I put in theirs, and opted for a banana instead.

Joshua's reaction? First, he asked where in the world I had gotten the idea to soak the oats. (Yes, I named names -- you know who you are!!!! ;D) Then, after tasting the oatmeal, he said "Never again. This is awful!"

What did I do wrong? Did I totally mess up the process of soaking, or do people actually consume oatmeal that tastes like glue?

Faux Apple Crisp

Zucchini Crisp

Some relatives gave us several huge zucchini from their garden. I decided to try making a zucchini version of my apple crisp. I peeled the zucchini, removed the seeds, and sliced it thinly like apples.

I cooked the zucchini slices in a little water. Then I added lemon juice (6 tablespoons), sugar (1 cup), cinnamon (1 tablespoon), nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon), and some flour/water for thickener.

The result looked very much like apple pie filling, but it didn't really have the taste I was hoping. I sprinkled in a little citric acid, hoping for a more fruity, tangy flavor. It got slightly tart, but still tasted bland.

The sweet and crunchy crumb topping somewhat redeemed the zucchini pie filling.

Joshua asked if he should try a piece and I said "Only if you eat it with the mindset of 'This is zucchini!' and not 'This is supposed to taste like apple crisp!'" :)

Overall, I think it made a nice zucchini dessert... but it falls short of any apple dessert I've made. :)

My sister Bonnie made some zucchini pie (like apple pie) and when I asked her how it was, she said "Well, it did taste like apple pie... but it tasted like other people's apple pies... not ours." :)

But hey... free zucchini, right? :) And my big plate of dessert counts as 2 servings of veggies? :) Okay, maybe not... ;)

Getting back into it...

Five days ago, I thought I was recovering from being sick. I guess I wasn't really doing as great as I thought! In the process of trying to write that update I actually deleted the whole thing twice. I also used a random food picture, completely forgetting that I had taken a picture of my throat comfort tea to use.

The children and I are finally much better -- just lingering coughs and stuffy noses. Joshua started getting sick on Thursday and seems to be in the worst of it right now.

I think being sick kinda zapped my brain, and when I turned on my computer, the first thing I would see (my Firefox homepage) was my email inbox -- 180 unanswered emails (usually it's under 100)... and when I would view my camera's memory card, there were hundreds of pictures, many being ones I need to write up recipes for... seeing how far behind I was became a little overwhelming so I just shut down for a few days.

Today, my sister Bonnie came over and we tackled a lot of chores. A LOT. It's nice to have a clean car, a clean house, and clean children. All at the same time! Of course, we didn't finish my massive lists. I am a perfectionist and I was feeling pretty motivated when I made those lists.

Plus, we're getting ready for some out-of-state and out-of-country guests in just two days. That's enough to make anyone want to clean, organize, and just generally try to look like they have everything under control, right? ;)

Hot dog buns? Yeah, right!

My hot dog buns... lol!

I hope you're all ready for Tammy's Recipes: Breads Edition. I know, I know... wrong time of year to be baking bread every day. I should have ordered my grain mill last Fall. ;)

Today I tried to make hot dog buns. I can't stand hot dog buns from the store, but Joshua likes having that perfectly shaped bun for hot dogs instead of wrapping a slice of bread around it.

We made the dough for our homemade wheat bread. By the way, when you're in any sort of a hurry, it's best to NOT use flour from the refrigerator or freezer. Yeah, I knew that but somehow forgot... until the dough was taking three times as long to rise. At least we didn't forget the yeast, which was my first thought!

Finally it was time to shape my hot dog buns. I already knew not to make them too tall, after my experience with hamburger buns that were like round balls and twice as thick as they should have been when they came out of the oven.

My hot dog buns didn't come out too tall, but they were too big all around. Like a hot dog bun meant to hold two hot dogs.

Sub sandwich!

Or a sub bun.

Oh well, they tasted great! But for future reference: bread dough for one large loaf of bread will make 6 sub buns or 12 hot dog buns. ;)

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