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The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: March 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Quick and Cheap Asian Meal

A staple at our house is something we call Fried Noodles.  It's similar to Chinese fried rice, except it's more like a meal than a side dish.  Surprisingly, my husband endorses this meal.  He spent two years in South Korea serving a mission for the LDS church, and has very high standards for Asian food.  He avoids Panda Express because it isn't authentic enough.  That being said, you know this is fairly legit.  I think it's good too.  It certainly doesn't hurt that it's also incredibly easy, quick, and cheap. 

I had every intention of including pictures in this post, but this meal is so quick to make that I literally didn't have enough time to snap some pictures.  Fortunately, it's so simple that visuals really aren't necessary.

Here's what you'll need:
1 splash of Sesame Seed Oil
1 splash of Vegetable or Olive Oil
1 handful of Vegetables
1 portion of Meat
1 package of Top Ramen (the flavor doesn't matter--you'll throw that part away)
1 Egg
Soy Sauce (optional)

Yes, my measurements are vague, but there's really no point in measuring.  Put as much oil, vegetables, and meat in there as your heart desires.

First of all, put a splash of both oils in a large wok or frying pan and heat it on the low-ish side of medium.  As a side-note, you could probably make do without the sesame seed oil, but this is what makes it really Asian.  It will make your house smell like Asia.  That's what my husband says it smells like, anyway.  I've never been to Asia, but I trust my husband's judgement of Asian smells.

Once you've got your pan nice and hot, you're ready to throw in some stuff.  What stuff?  It depends.  This is a social worker's favorite answer.  It depends what you're working with.  The beautiful thing about this meal is that you can just use what you've got on hand.  As far as vegetables go, you can use fresh or frozen.  Anything goes with meat--chicken, beef, ham, Spam (yes, Spam--I never thought I would ever consume Spam, but it's pretty good fried), or you can just go meat-less.  The rule of thumb is that the first thing you put in the pan should be what you think will take longest to cook.  Add the vegetables accordingly.  If they're frozen, add them earlier, if fresh, add later.  Use your best judgement.

Here's an example of what I've done before:  I started by frying up some diced Spam.  It's already cooked (yay!  fast!), so after a few minutes I added some frozen mixed vegetables (this is a very inexpensive way to go).  At this point I covered the pan with the lid so I had some steaming action going on.  After the vegetables had cooked long enough that they were thawed (but not fully cooked) I added some fresh diced red bell pepper.  After everything was cooked I moved on to the next step.

Here's the next step.  When your meat and/or vegetables are a few minutes away from being done, get some water boiling in a pot.  Boil the Ramen for about a minute, keeping it in the block shape for easy transfer.  You will only need the noodles, so do what you want with the flavor packet.  You don't want to boil the noodles quite as long as you would for Ramen soup, or it'll end up really mushy.  Gross.  Actually, it tastes about the same, but the texture is weird.  When it's sufficiently boiled, use a slotted spoon (or the like) to transfer the noodles to your veggie and/or meat-filled pan.  Then crack an egg on top of your Ramen block and start stirring everything until the egg is well incorporated into your noodles and vegetables/meat.  You'll have to do this kind of quickly, as you don't want the egg to cook in one blob--it should be scrambled-esque.  It doesn't take very long to cook after this point, so watch closely.  It's fairly obvious to tell when it's done--when the noodles stop looking ooey-gooey, it's probably cooked.  We like to add a little splash of soy sauce before we eat it.  Neither of us are huge fans of soy sauce as a condiment, but we both agree that it adds that perfect little something to our noodles.

That's all!  How neat is that?!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Sour Cream Cinnamon Twists

My husband and I are in love with honey lime chicken enchiladas. They are blow your mind away delicious. But after I've made them, I always run into this dilemma: sour cream. No, I'm not talking about the sour cream you put on your baked potato or taco. We're talking cream gone bad. Well, not exactly bad, because it is good for something: Sour Cream Cinnamon Twists.

I always think of the "One Semester of Spanish Love Song" when I hear the words "cinnamon twist" even though there is nothing remotely Latino about this recipe. On the contrary, this recipe comes from my great grandma--a shepherd's wife. Her cow was a plentiful source of milk and cream, and the cream sometimes went sour (it happens to the best of us). Thus she made this delicious treat. They're way better than any cinnamon twist you buy in the doughnut section of the grocery store.

You'd think this would be a tricky and time consuming recipe. Nope! Piece of cake!

Sour Cream Cinnamon Twists
1 C liquid sour cream (not the baked potato kind) (or you can use half and half with a bit of vinegar added to it)
2 T shortening
3 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 egg, well beaten
1 pkg yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
3 C flour
Butter, cinnamon, sugar, and brown sugar--to taste
Powdered sugar and vanilla (for glaze)

Bring sour cream to a boil and remove from heat. Add shortening, sugar, salt, and soda. Stir. Let cool slightly before mixing in the egg and yeast (you don't want the yeast to die or the egg to instantly cook, but you want it to be warm still). Add 1/2 cup of flour. Once mixed, add remaining flour. I can never quite get the full 3 cups of flour kneaded in without creating a really tough dough, so I usually shoot for about 2.5 instead. Knead dough for 30 seconds, then cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

On a slightly floured surface, roll dough out to a 18"x6" rectangle (approximately). Spread melted butter over the dough (go with as much as you want, but don't be too skimpy). Sprinkle with ample amounts of sugar, cinnamon, and brown sugar (once again, as much as you want). Fold dough in half hotdog style (so now you'll have an 18"x3" rectangle). Cut into 1" strips (perpendicular to the fold). It will make about 18 strips. Simultaneously stretch and twist each strip (twist them as much as you can) and place on greased cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in warm place for about 1 hour. I put the cookie sheet on my stove top and turned the oven to warm while it was rising, and this seemed to work really well. There's a good chance your twists will untwist a little while rising.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Let cool, then drizzle with a light glaze. For the glaze, start with about a cup of powdered sugar and a little splash of vanilla, then add water until a drizzle-able consistency is reached. It really doesn't take much water, so be careful. If you melted a bit too much butter when you were doing the cinnamon/sugar thing, go ahead and add the extra to the glaze. Butter makes everything better.

Let the glaze dry, and then voila! Sour Cream Cinnamon Twists!

You can definitely vary the size of these twists. Rolling it out to 18"x6" makes pretty short twists, as you can see. You can roll it out to different dimensions to get longer twists if you'd like. Also keep in mind the more you stretch them while twisting, the skinnier they will be. Mine are a bit short and chubby, but when my mom makes these, they end up skinnier and longer. She must stretch hers out more. But these are all just superficial details--the bottom line is they are good no matter what they look like.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Easter Eggs

I was on Pinterest (of course) and came across this tutorial for some super cute Easter eggs. I'm slowly but surely building up my repertoire of holiday decor, and when it comes to Easter I've got nothing. So I attacked this project. Her tutorial is helpful, but I think I came up with a pretty efficient way of assembling them. Also, I made my eggs a little different than she did. You can adapt it however you want, but this is how I did it.

Cute, right? My photography is a little lacking, so I apologize for that. The pictures are good enough to figure out what I'm doing, though, and that's what is important.

First of all, buy some paper mache eggs from the lobby of hobbies (Hobby Lobby). These are not found in the Easter section--they're with the rest of the paper mache stuff. That's right, they have a paper mache section. I had no idea. It's by the wood craft stuff. There are three sizes of eggs. I got only the big and middle size, and that's what is shown above. I put the paint bottle in there so you can sort of gauge how big they are. They're pretty cheap. The big ones were $1.59 and the middle size was $.67. You could use the small ones too, but I didn't want to. All paper mache was 30% off when I got it, so that was a bonus.

First of all, paint the eggs with a color that goes with the paper you've chosen. I only painted one coat because I planned to pin the flowers on pretty tightly, but if you want to do it less tightly I'd paint two coats. I don't have a huge collection of acrylic paint, so I had to buy the colors I needed at Hobby Lobby. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Anita brand is only about 70 cents. Every other kind I've seen around seemed to be $1.30 or so. Win!

Oh yes, while you're at Hobby Lobby you can get paper too. Unless you're the sort that keeps a stash of scrapbook paper. Scrapbook paper was 40% off when I bought it at Hobby Lobby. Win again! I used two different paper patterns per egg and it took a total of two 12x12 scrapbook papers to do a big egg (one page of each pattern). It took about half that much to make the medium sized egg. I did it really tight, though, so it would take less if you space it further apart. Keep in mind that both solids and patterns look cute (although I'd pair a busy pattern with something more solid). I used the striped paper on top of the above paper pile along with hot pink for the complete egg at the beginning of this post, and I love how it turned out. I was nervous that the stripes would look weird, but definitely not. Be bold.

I suppose you could cut out the flowers by hand... but that would take sooooooooo long. Get a flower shaped paper punch. It's worth it, especially if you want to make a bunch. Mine is the medium size. I bought mine at Joanne's for $6.99 (it was 40% off! I'm just a winner all around!). You can get it at Hobby Lobby for $9.99 and Michaels for $7.99 (or maybe $8.99... they were all sold out so I didn't pay too close attention to the price). I didn't see any at Walmart. Yes, I looked at all of these stores before purchasing one. I'm thrifty like that.

My punch came with a little compartment to catch the flowers in. However, I wanted to punch my flowers as tightly as possible on my paper, so I chose to hold the punch like so. Thus, I could see exactly what I was punching.

I caught my flowers in a tupperware container instead. You can see how tightly I tried to punch it. If you choose to pack your flowers on your egg tightly like I did, it really doesn't matter if you have the occasional oddly shaped flower. If you have slightly not enough paper to make a perfect flower, punch it anyway. It's not noticeable. If all of your flowers are weird looking it might be noticeable, but the occasional ugly one isn't going to ruin it.

After you punch a whole row of flowers it's necessary to trim the extra off like so. These odd edges make getting the punch on the paper a little difficult, but you can do it. I believe in you.

The way the other tutorial carried out this part seemed kind of inefficient. I lost my patience very quickly with her method. First of all, find some cardboard. I used the box from my husband's diploma frame. We love this box. We do puzzles on this box, play cards on this box, and now I've made eggs on this box. You don't have to find a diploma frame box. You just need something cardboard that you can hammer pins into. I'll explain the method later, but just keep this in mind. The beautiful thing about my box is that it's really big and only about 2 inches thick. It's also very sturdy. Sturdiness is important. If you don't have a box as ideal as mine, you can just layer some cardboard thick enough so that you don't hammer pins into your kitchen table. Anyway, on your cardboard place some bottom flowers color-side-up. I chose a light blue. You can do as many at a time as you'd like; it doesn't really matter. I started out doing only 10 or so at a time, but by the end I was laying out 30 flowers to pin at a time.

After that, place your other flavor of flower on top of your bottom petal like so. This is a good time to mention that you need some pins. Now, the other tutorial says to use the pearl topped pins. This makes it pretty dang adorable. However, at Walmart, these only come in a box of 100 for $2.97. And she said it took a whole box to make one egg. That seems $$$ to me. I opted for something more economic: a 450 count box of normal satin pins for $2.37. Yes. 60 cents cheaper, but 350 more pins. Perfect. They aren't quite as cute as the pearls... but still cute. It's shiny. What more could you ask for? One box got me through 2 big eggs and 1 and 1/4 medium eggs. Not bad!

Hammer a pin into each flower. You only have to hammer them in a little bit, as you can see from the picture. You could try to just push them in... but it's really ouchy on your fingers. Use the hammer. The beauty of this method is that when you pull the pin out of the cardboard, it takes the flowers with them. That way you're ready and rearing to put them on your egg.

Now hammer them in there. You can see how tightly I arranged them. There's really no wrong way to put your flowers on your egg, but I'd suggest doing the ends last (especially the smallest end very last). I worried my plain Jane pins would look slightly tacky, but I ended up really liking the result. I like the simplicity of the little silver dots. And if you cross your eyes a little bit, my eggs almost look diamond studded. Haha. Ok, not really.

With how tightly I've got the flowers you'd think this took forever. Not really. It took me maybe 10 minutes to punch and pin this many flowers on the blue egg. If you want, you can punch all the flowers at once before starting any pinning, or you can punch 20 or so flowers, pin them, then punch some more. I tried it both ways and I think they're equally fast.

That's how it's done!


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Margharita Toast

I have been really excited for my March theme. I've mentioned before that I have fallen in love with Pinterest. It really has been life-changing. In fact, I'm going to name my first-born child after Pinterest. If it's a girl I'll name her Pin-elope and if it's a boy he'll be named Pin-eus. Don't tell my husband. Anyway, I've never ventured down the food and craft avenue on my blog, but I've decided that this month I will. It is Pinterest Month!

I have to give a little background info before I begin. Last summer, every time we went to my in-law's house my husband's mom loaded us up with produce from her garden. It was amazing. One time we were given fresh basil, tomatoes, and a recipe for Margharita pizza.

It started with a pretty basic pizza dough recipe, but for some reason, I haven't had much luck with it. I have tried and loved this pizza dough recipe I found on Pinterest (of course). I'm sure my mother-in-law's dough recipe didn't turn out simply because of my pizza dough inexperience. I've become much more experienced with the rising dough family since, but I'm still reluctant to stray from the Pinterest recipe. If it works beautifully, why fix it?

Anyway, here is the rest of the Margharita pizza recipe she gave me:

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp oregano

Diced fresh tomatoes (I suppose drained canned might work... but I've never tried)

Sliced or grated mozzarella cheese

Fresh or dried basil (fresh is infinitely better, but dried works just fine)

Instructions: Crush garlic into oil, then add oregano. If you're like me and never keep garlic on hand, garlic powder works the same--it's 1/8 tsp per clove. So with this recipe it's 3/8 tsp garlic. Do what works for you. The nice thing about the garlic powder is you don't have to crush it. You just stir it in along with the oregano. You then spread this oil mixture on top of your rolled out and shaped pizza dough and top with cheese, tomatoes, and basil. Of course, you can put the toppings on in any order. Some folks prefer the cheese on top, while others like it on the bottom. Or you can get the best of both worlds and put some on top and bottom. Do what you like. Then follow your pizza crust's instructions as to how long and how hot to bake it.

This leads us to the main topic of my post. After we make the pizza, it is almost inevitable that we'll have some oil mixture and other toppings left over. But there is no leftover pizza dough. After going through the ordeal of making homemade pizza dough (which isn't that hard, but I always feel like I ran a marathon afterwards) I'm usually in the mood for cooking something simple. Super simple.

Now, I come from a family that thrives on cheese sandwiches. To mix things up, we have two varieties--the open face and the closed face. Closed face is just a normal cheese sandwich (I think 'closed face' is a term solely used by my immediate family). Open face is a slice of bread topped with cheese, then broiled in the oven until the cheese is nice and melty. When I considered my leftover toppings, it seemed as though I could make an mock-margharita open face cheese sandwich. We've made it frequently ever since and have affectionately dubbed it Margharita Toast. I've gotten in the habit of always having some of the oil mixture on hand even when I'm not planning on making pizza anytime soon.

It looks good, right? It is good. And so fast. Almost ridiculously fast. Faster than making a grilled cheese sandwich (closed face). I'll be honest--it's not as good as the real margharita pizza. But considering how long (or short) it takes to make it, it's pretty dang good.

To start, put a slice (or two) of bread on a pan or cookie sheet--just whatever fits best. Then spread some of the above oil mixture on the slice of bread. Put a pretty good amount. I keep my oil mixture in the fridge simply because it makes it a nice consistency to spread with a butter knife. Room temperature oil mixture you have to use a spoon, and depending on how spongey your bread is, it might just soak it up. Soggy bread just seems ick to me. The refrigerated oil stays on top, which just logistically seems better. But try it different ways to see what you like best.

Then top with your cheese, tomatoes, and basil. As you can see, I'm a cheese on bottom person. My husband sprinkles a little more on top at this point. I used dried basil (which is why it's so tiny), but if you use fresh go ahead and put whole leaves on that puppy. Don't go to the trouble of trying to cut the leaves up all tiny. When you are satisfied with the appearance of your Margy Toast, pop it into the top rack on the oven and turn it to broil. This way (as opposed to letting it preheat a bit) the cheese is starting to melt as the oven warms up. Otherwise the crusts brown up before the cheese melts. And I like evenly melted cheese and non-burned crusts. It's really no use setting a timer--you'll burn it if you do. The best thing to do is to check on it periodically. When the cheese is looking melty and the crusts are looking crispy, pull it out. It only takes a couple minutes, so watch it closely.

Now, if you want to double your pleasure, there's a slightly more time-consuming way to cook it. My biggest problem with the above super quick broiling method is that while the top gets nice and warm and melty, the bottom is a little lack-luster. There's no crispiness to it. Or warmness, really. It's just plain bread with a nice top. Thus, if you've got the time, you can turn the oven to pizza cooking temperature (450ish degrees) and let it cook for a little while to give the bottom a little umph, and THEN switch it to broil to put some crisp on top. If you do it this way, I'd recommend spraying a bit of cooking spray on the pan so it doesn't stick. I don't really know how long to cook it for. I've only done it like this a couple times, and I've never really kept track. I usually cook it until I'm tired of cooking it.

And that, my friends, is the Margharita Toast.