Wednesday 15 January 2014

Clean Out The Fridge Chicken Stir Fry

If I have a single pet peeve in the kitchen, it's food waste.  In North America, we throw out a ridiculous amount of food every year. That food could go a long way both to stretching our budget and sparing our resources, so at our house we make a conscious effort to use things up.  At least two or three of our meals each week are made from leftovers of previous meals.

It can take some ingenuity to use up all the bits and bobs that find their way into the fridge by the end of the week but, over time, every home cook develops a repertoire of go-to dishes to use as refrigerator Velcro:  Dishes that adapt well to the addition of a wide variety of ingredients.  

Some of my favourite dishes for using up leftovers are soup, pizza, quiche, casseroles, and stir fries so when a gander in our fridge yielded a number of small bowls of veggies, a jar of homemade chicken stock, and a single,cooked, chicken breast,  my fella - who knows me well - said "Stir fry for supper tonight?"  And that's just what we made.

To make Clean Out the Fridge Chicken Stir Fry, you'll need:

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1- 1/2 Tablespoons chicken fat, saved from slow cooker roasted chicken pan juices (This adds great flavour but if you don't have it, you can use whatever cooking oil you prefer instead)
  • 1 onion, sliced, about 3/4 cup
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced, about 1 Tablespoon
  • 1-1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1-1/2 cups sweet red bell pepper, cut in 1/4 inch strips
  • 1-1/2 cups carrot slices
  • 2 cups cabbage, shredded into 1/4 inch strips
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced zucchini
  • 1 large, cooked chicken breast broken into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon cornstarch (I use organic, certified GMO free)

Begin by heating the toasted sesame oil and chicken fat (or cooking oil) in a large pan or wok.  When they are hot enough that they begin to shimmer and ripple, add in the onion and saute it until it's tender and a little translucent.

Add in the garlic and ginger, and stir for about 30 seconds more.

Add in the bell pepper, carrot slices,cabbage, broccoli, and zucchini, stirring to combine the vegetables and aromatics.

Add about 1-1/2 cups of the stock, bring it to a boil, and put the lid on the pan.  Cook the veggies until they're brightly coloured and tender crisp, then stir in the chicken.

While the chicken is heating through (this will take just a minute or so), dissolve the cornstarch in the reserved chicken stock and add it to the pan.

Stir again until the stock boils and thickens into a sauce.

Serve your stir fry immediately, while it's still piping hot, over rice or noodles.  

If you have leftovers, you can add some more stock and maybe a little soy sauce to make a quick and flavourful soup. 

This recipe made a generous meal for the two of us with enough left over for lunch the next day.  If you're feeding more than two people, you'll want to increase the quantities.  

Monday 13 January 2014

Card Making on the Cheap

I know several people who used to enjoy making their own cards but no longer do so because of the expense. Paper crafting materials are big business these days and buying them can be quite costly. It is often less expensive to buy a card ready made than it is to make one yourself.

It's true that a person can spend a great deal of money on card making supplies but equally true that wonderful paper crafts can be made while spending almost nothing at all.  If you acquire the habit of looking around you and imagining how things can be repurposed, card making is still an affordable hobby.

You do need some tools to get started with paper crafting.  There are lots and lots of them available at scrapbooking stores but, really, you can get by with just a few basics.  Here are the ones I most often use:
  • Scissors
  • An Xacto knife
  • A ruler, preferably cork backed so it won't slip
  • Glue sticks
  • Tacky glue
  • Double sided tape
  • A pencil
  • A pencil sharpener
  • A metal knitting needle or dull edged letter opener for scoring fold lines in paper & cardboard
I also recommend that you buy a package of heavy 8-/12 x 11-inch white card stock from an office supply store.  It's much less expensive than cardstock from a scrapbooking or hobby store and can be used to make the bodies of most of your cards.  Save the colourful stuff and special embellishments to glue on the front of your white card body.

Other things that are nice for card making, but not essential are:
  • Coloured card stock (Best purchased from the dollar store - I often get four 12 x 12 sheets for $1.25 - and used in small quantities on card fronts only.)
  • Decorative edge scissors 
  • Glitter glue (I buy this from the sale bins a Micheal's or at the dollar store)
  • Acrylic craft paint (often most affordable at either the dollar store or Walmart)

Once you have the basic tools on hand, you can start looking around for materials with which to embellish your cards. Here are some of the many found materials that can be used:
  • Children's artwork
  • Greeting cards you've received (Great for cutting up and re-using in new combinations)
  • Pictures and patterned papers from magazines and advertising flyers
  • Tissue paper and wrapping paper (Reuse paper from your packages if you can. You can iron it if you want it smooth, or leave it crinkled for added texture.)
  • Sewing patterns and embroidery transfers
  • Foil candy wrappers
  • Mylar bags used to package cookies and crackers

  • Pretty packaging like tissue boxes and chocolate boxes
  • Plain box board from cereal and cracker boxes (to use for postcards or to layer behind things for added dimension)

  • Used books including old manuals, dictionaries, textbooks, cookbooks, and children's books
  • Maps (Old National Geographic magazines can be a great source for these.) 
  • Canceled stamps and postmarks

  • Clear plastic bakery containers
  • Printmaking media. This can be almost anything with a texture or to which a texture can be added, including bubble wrap, styrofoam meat trays, string, wool, rubber bands, and corrugated cardboard
  • Flowers and leaves for pressing and pasting or for printmaking

  • Old calendars

  • Fabric scraps, ribbon, yarn, buttons, lace, embroidery thread, felt
  • Scraps of paper from other projects.  Every single bit of card stock or scrapbooking paper you buy or salvage, no matter how small, can be used.  Make your dollar stretch by saving even the smallest off-cuts.

I'm sure you'll find lots more material to work with. Once you get in the habit of looking at the objects around you as potential card embellishments, you'll find inspiration almost everywhere. You'll start seeing interesting designs in the most commonplace things.

The trick to not spending a ton of money on making cards is to let the materials suggest your design rather than making the design first and then shopping for materials with which to execute it.  Gather your materials on your work table and play with combinations until something sparks an idea, then take it from there.

Don't worry if your finished product is not perfect.  People appreciate the gift of time and effort you make every time you send a homemade card, and the individual touches are what make your cards so much more interesting than something that might be found in the store.

Roll up your sleeves, get out the scissors and the glue sticks and have some fun.

Monday 6 January 2014

Carrot and Granola Cookies

Our diets have changed a lot in the past 150 years.  With the advent of steam ships and trains, and then cars and transport trucks, a whole new world of food became available to us.  

We're now accustomed to eating foods from all over the world but it was not always so, and most of us - if we stop to think about it - can think of some (or many) foods that have been introduced to our diets in the course of our lifetimes.

We all take broccoli for granted.  It's such a staple that many folks find it boring, but an elderly friend of mine distinctly remembers the first time it was served to her in a restaurant.  

Likewise, both yogurt and granola are standard fare in most households now but I remember when they first appeared on our tables.  In the late 70's and early 80's both were a brand new trend in much of North America, introduced to us by the back-to-the-earth folks' search for wholesome foods made with natural ingredients.

This recipe, from the Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, dates back to that time, and combines the flavours of two huge food trends of the day:  granola, and carrot cake.  I loved them back then and continue to bake them still.  These cookies are always a hit at our house.

To make Carrot and Granola Cookies, you'll need:

  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded raw carrot
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups granola

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.

Beat the egg, then mix it into the butter and brown sugar mixture, along with the vanilla.

Stir in the shredded carrot.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda salt, and cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until well combined.

Add in the granola and stir it through the batter.

Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of the cookie dough onto greased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets. 

Bake them on the middle rack of a 350F oven until they're set and have begun to brown a little around the edges.

Transfer the cookies to baking racks or a sheet of brown paper (my preference) to cool.

When the cookies are cooled completely, store them in an airtight container.  If, that is, there are any left!  ;^)

Recipe source:  The Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, pub. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984

This recipe has been shared at the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, hosted by Premeditated Leftovers, The 21st Century Housewife, and Zesty South Indian Kitchen.

Friday 3 January 2014

Save Money on Postage

Just so you know: The first part of this post - about the cost of stamps - is specific to Canada.  It's important enough to my Canadian friends that I really needed to share it. The rest of the information is pretty much universal though, regardless of where you live, so please do bear with me.

The two rolls of stamps in this picture costs $132.30, including taxes.  On January 13, they will cost $136.50.  On March 31, the same stamps will cost $210.00.

Please note:  Since the time I originally posted this piece, Canada Post has discontinued permanent paid postage stamps.  They will not be re-issuing them until after the price increase at the end of March has come into effect.  Shame on them, but - sadly - there's little we can do about it.  Costco has sold out their entire stock of these stamps too. 

Canada Post has stated on their website that stamps purchased after March 31 in quantities of a booklet or more will be discounted to $0.85 per stamp.  It's still a big increase but better than a dollar a piece.  They will also be honouring $0.63 stamps for a limited time after the small increase that is scheduled to come into effect on January 13 but definitely not after March 31.

I would recommend that you purchase a small number of $0.63 stamps to use between now and the end of March and that you save what permanent postage stamps you have on hand for use after March 31.

If you do a lot of personal mailing, or if you own a small business that does a lot of mailing, you will want to do what you can to reduce the impact of this very significant increase.  

Did you notice the little "P" in the corner of the stamps?  That "P" stands for permanent postage paid and what it means is that, if you buy these stamps now, you can continue to use them even after the price goes up.  If you have enough cash to do so, I strongly urge you to purchase some rolls of stamps now and within the next couple of months, even if you use a postage meter.  The metered rate will go up.  Pre-purchased stamps, while less convenient to use than a postage meter, will save you money.

Here are some other ways you can save money on postage and shipping.

Ensure that your cards and envelopes comply with your postal service's sizing standards.  If your envelope is over sized or has unusual dimensions, it can cost you extra postage. 

I do a lot of mailing and I make handmade cards.  I wanted to ensure that my cards complied with mailing standards so I purchased this handy mailing template from Canada Post.  You can also find envelope size specifications on your postal service's website.  A simple web search will yield the address of any national postal service.  Here are the links for Canada and the USA.  

If you're going to be mailing a lengthy letter, use both sides of each sheet of paper.  Reducing the number of sheets of paper used will help to keep the envelope thinner and will reduce its weight.  Both will help to reduce the cost of postage.  

If making a card that you will be mailing, try to keep your embellishments and decorations as flat and as thin as possible.  

If you're sending packages, smaller is better.  Package shipping used to be priced by weight.  Now it's priced by both volume and weight.  Mailing a large package can be very expensive, even if it weighs very little.  

Use the online package rate calculators provided by your postal service to estimate mailing costs before heading to the post office.  If you're sending a gift and the cost of mailing is likely to  equal or exceed the cost of the package contents you'll want to consider sending something else instead.

Compare rates.  There are lots of carriers other than the postal service with which you can send a package, including Greyhound, rail service, and courier services.  It may be less expensive to choose one of these carriers instead of the postal service.  

If you are a small business, inquire about rate reductions based upon shipping volume.  If you do most or all of your shipping through either the postal service or a private carrier, they may offer you a price reduction based upon the amount of mailing you do.    

Save the cost of mailing altogether:
  • Send a card and a promise to deliver your gift the next time you see the recipient.
  • Order through a company that offers free delivery and have the package delivered directly to the intended recipient.
  • Send gift cards or gift certificates.  

I hope this is helpful to you.  

If you're in Canada, remember to buy stamps before March 31!