Tag Archives: food

Things I Do When My Husband is Out of Town

"Hobbit" succulent

Last week, Brian went to a work-related conference for four days, so our dog, Cola, and I were home alone. I observed that my behavior and habits shift a bit when he is not around for several days. According to my observations, I am very productive when trying not to miss someone and I do not care about having a lot of variety in my meals. What do you do when your spouse (or roommate) is away?

  • Keep the doors locked unless I’m using them. Just in case a burglar knows I’m alone and tries to walk in.
  • Stick extra pillows on his side of the bed. The pillows are basically insulation because our bedroom is chilly at night.

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Candy Cane Coffee Syrup Recipe

Homemade Coffee Flavoring Syrup Gift Set

I like my coffee dark and sweet, preferably with a flavor. As I have written before, I like to experiment with making my own flavoring syrups. Since I have accumulated several favorite recipes, I suggested to Brian that we make our own gift sets for family members we would see for Christmas. Although many of them do not drink coffee, the syrups are also good in tea, hot chocolate, cider, and steamers (hot milk with a flavor add-in).

Holiday Flavors

I posted the recipe for Cinnamon Stick Syrup a while ago and found the Gingerbread Syrup recipe on AllRecipes. I invented the Candy Cane Syrup recipe, which uses actual candy canes. I much prefer this recipe to peppermint syrups I tried using peppermint oil or peppermint leaves.

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Science Mom’s Hot Chocolate Mix

If you have been reading Stories on the Stairs for long, you know I grew up with a Science Mom who loves to experiment and try new things. When she decided to make her own hot chocolate mix, she researched by reading various recipes. Next, she set up a double-blind taste test where the rest of the family tasted, evaluated, and rated samples of different recipes. Imagine kids describing flavors:

“I like this one because it’s more chocolaty.”

“This one is creamy and vanilla-y.”

I still use the recipe that won our family taste test. Last Sunday, some of “our” college students came for lunch and had hot chocolate for dessert… but then we ran out of hot chocolate mix! Conveniently, I had enough ingredients to make more mix. The girls watched, asked questions, and even helped add ingredients. They were so impressed that they asked me to share the recipe on my blog.

Hot Chocolate

Science Mom’s Hot Chocolate Mix

(This recipe too big for my largest mixing bowl, so I make half at a time)

Enough powdered milk to make 8 qt.
30 oz Nestlé’s Quik
16 oz. powdered sugar
18 oz. extra rich powdered coffee creamer
8 oz. French vanilla powdered creamer
3/4 cup cocoa

Mix the all ingredients and store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use 1/3 cup mix in a cup of hot water. Use more for a larger cup. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows. Enjoy!

If you have requests for anything (not just recipes) you would like me to share, let me know and I will consider them.

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Simple, Speedy Cooking for One

One of my college student friends recently asked for recipes and tips for cooking for one. Before I got married last year, I spent the previous four years living on my own and either working two jobs or working and going to grad school. I love food – a lot! – but had limited time to cook. Here are my tips & recipes for her. Most of these are scalable recipes that can be easily increased to feed a crowd.
 Cooking for One: Tips & Tricks (StairStories.com)
Tips
  • Brown several pounds of ground beef in a skillet and freeze it in one-pound or half-pound portions to speed up meal preparation later.
  • Rotisserie chicken from your local deli can be a healthy, fast way to add protein to several meals (especially if you do not eat the skin). Meal #1: Have the legs and wings with vegetables and a roll or biscuit on the side. Meals #2-3: Use chopped breast and back meat in a Quesadilla or Chef Salad or on Baked Potatoes.
Cooking for One: Stir-Fry with Potstickers Recipe (StairStories.com)
Stir-Fry with Dumplings/Potstickers 
1 serving frozen potstickers, sometimes labeled as Asian dumplings (check package for serving size)
1/2 cup broccoli slaw
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts or sliced almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Prepare potstickers using the skillet directions. When they are done, leave them in the skillet and add the broccoli slaw. If the bottom of the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon of water. Cover the pan and steam for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl. Top with soy sauce and nuts to taste.
 Cooking for One: Italian Chicken & Potatoes Recipe (StairStories.com)
Italian Chicken & Potatoes
2 frozen chicken tenders or one breast (split)
1 medium or two small potatoes (white, red, or sweet potatoes are fine)
1 cup Italian salad dressing
Preheat oven to 350. Place thawed chicken on a casserole or baking pan with high sides. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into medium-sized chunks. Place the potatoes around the chicken. Pour the salad dressing over the chicken and potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes. The chicken should be white all the way through and the potatoes should be soft.
 Cooking for One: Baked BBQ Chicken Recipe (StairStories.com)
Baked BBQ Chicken
2 frozen chicken tenders or one breast (split)
1/8 – 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Preheat oven to 350. Place thawed chicken on a casserole or baking pan with high sides. Pour the barbecue sauce over the chicken. Bake for 15-20 minutes. The chicken should be white all the way through.
 Cooking for One: Quesadillas Recipe (StairStories.com)
Quesadillas
2 tortillas
1/2 cup cooked meat (ground beef, chopped chicken, prepared barbecued pork)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (mild cheddar, American, colby, jack)
Heat skillet or griddle to medium high. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Lay one tortilla flat on the hot skillet and spread meat evenly across the tortilla. Sprinkle cheese over the meat and top with second tortilla. Cook while frequently pressing down on the top tortilla with a spatula or a plate until the cheese is melted enough to hold the tortillas together and the bottom tortilla is nicely browned. Flip the quesadilla and brown the other side. Cut and serve!
 Cooking for One: Sweet & Tangy Meatballs Recipe (StairStories.com)
Sweet & Tangy Meatballs – adapted from Ring Around the Rosies
1 serving turkey and romano cheese frozen meatballs (check package for serving size)
1/4 cup grape jelly
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Place all ingredients into small saucepan heat on medium, stirring occasionally until meatballs are heated completely according to package directions and jelly is blended with sauce. Serve over rice or pasta.
 Cooking for One: Chef Salad Recipe (StairStories.com)
Chef Salad
1 cup greens (I like spinach because I can use it in other favorite recipes)
1/2 cup other vegetables or fruits (fresh berries, tomatoes, peppers, celery, shredded carrots, beets)
1/2 cup protein (cottage cheese, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped sandwich meat, cooked chicken, sliced boiled egg)
1-2 tablespoons salad dressing
 Cooking for One: Loaded Baked Potatoes Recipe (StairStories.com)
Loaded Baked Potatoes
Scrub potatoes. Cook in oven (350 for 30-45 minutes, depending on size) or microwave on high (4-7 minutes, depending on size). Top as desired. Some of my family’s favorites are cheddar cheese, sour cream, olives, ham or any kind of sandwich meat, cooked broccoli, cottage cheese, bacon bits, Italian salad dressing.*
* Not all on the same potato!

 

Make the whole recipe and eat one serving. When the casserole cools, wrap individual servings in plastic wrap and place in a gallon freezer bag to freeze. Unwrap and reheat whenever you need a quick meal. It tastes far better than store-bought freezer meals!
What is your advice on cooking for one?

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DIY Coffee Flavoring Syrup

Cinnamon & Vanilla Rum

I like my coffee strong, dark, and sweet, so I like coffee-flavoring syrups. Did you know it is easy to make your own, customized syrups that taste better than store-bought? I start with the most basic simple syrup recipe and add whatever suits my taste. Both microwave and stove top work well for me, so I have included directions for both.

What is your favorite coffee flavor?

Basic Coffee Flavoring Recipe

Basic Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

 

Cinnamon Stick Syrup
Add 1 cinnamon stick (3-4 inches long), broken into pieces

 

Vanilla Rum Syrup
Add 1 teaspoon vanilla (Mexican or some other really good kind), and
1 teaspoon rum or rum flavoring

 

Microwave Directions
Stir all ingredients together in a clear, microwave-safe container that holds at least four cups. (I use my four-cup Pyrex measuring cup.) Cook on high for two minutes, stir, and then heat until bubbling but not to a rolling boil. Stir about every minute and keep a close watch so it does not boil over. Cook at a “bubble, not boil” for about five minutes in total.

 

Stovetop Directions
Stir all ingredients together in a small saucepan that holds at least four cups. Heat to a low simmer, but not a rolling boil. Stir occasionally. Simmer for about five minutes in total.

 

Taste Test & Finishing
When the sugar is completely dissolved and the solution is thicker than plain water, you can check the flavor: Scoop up about a half-teaspoon of HOT syrup and let it cool before you taste it. If you prefer a more intense flavor, you can simmer for a little longer and consider adding a little more of the flavor add-ins. When you like the flavor, let the syrup cool.

 

If your add-ins are not dissolved (like the cinnamon stick), strain out the pieces with a strainer and cheesecloth. Pour the syrup into your preferred containers. I prefer easy-to-pour bottles. Use right away or store in refrigerator.*

 

*I always store mine in the refrigerator and have no idea how long it lasts because I use the syrup quickly!

 

 

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Simple, Summery, & Fun

Wedding Planning2

Have you ever planned a wedding? Boy, can it be a lot of work!

I have attended, helped plan, and bridesmaid-ed lots of weddings, so I’ve seen how much work wedding planning can be. Now that we are planning our own wedding, Brian and I have a philosophy that the important thing is the two of us committing to each other before God and the rest is just a party with people who care about us.

We want to enjoy our brief season of being engaged and to spend the majority of our time preparing for a lifetime of marriage instead of for a one-day wedding.

Early in planning, I told him, “I think we need to communicate clearly about what’s important to each of us. If neither one of us has a strong opinion about something, we should pick the simplest, least expensive option or eliminate it altogether. Like, if neither of us care what kind of mints we have at the reception, maybe we shouldn’t have mints.”

“I agree and I don’t really care about mints.”

“Okay, bad example. I care and we’re having cream cheese mints.”

For some reason, he laughed really hard.

We still laugh about that conversation, but it greatly simplified the planning. For example:

  • Our theme (wedding themes are trendy, right?) is simple, summery, and fun.
  • Decorations will be cute but minimal and I will probably delegate them to friends who are better at it than I am.
  • We are having an afternoon wedding because more people will be able to make it a day trip.
  • Plus, a cake reception lets us include more people on our budget than a dinner. (We are going to have a light lunch of party subs and chips and fruit with our family and wedding party between photos and the ceremony, though.)
  • We made our guest list in a spreadsheet so we (read: my mom) could do a mail merge to print address labels with minimal effort. The invitations do not require any folding or assembling, so we will just stick them in envelopes.
  • We chose music we like but that is not particularly traditional for weddings.
  • We will have our favorite cake flavors (lemon and red velvet) and some of our favorite drinks (iced tea and peach Italian soda).

Do you have any ideas for simplified wedding planning?

If you need a fun, talented photographer in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, check out Keri (she didn’t ask me to say that). She is our engagement/wedding photographer and I really like her!

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Engagement Party

20130222-112954.jpg

Brian’s aunt and uncle hosted a lovely, fun engagement party for us. We were able to introduce several of our family and relatives for the first time and everyone seemed to have a terrific time!

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31 Days of Random Questions – Day 28

I really thought I had today’s post all written and scheduled to post at 6:00 a.m… It has been a busy weekend with meeting my nephew for the first time, partying at a wedding (where I saw no bouquet throwing!), taking a four-hour road trip, and catching up with two different friends. I have had a marvelous time! Bonus question: How was your weekend?

Actual question I intended for Day 28: What is one smell that brings back a childhood memory?

The smell of coconut reminds me of sunscreen and summer and swimming at the lake or pool. As far as I remember, all sunscreen smelled like coconut in the 80’s and early 90’s. To this day, that olfactory trigger is why I avoid coconut-flavored drinks. They taste the way sunscreen smelled.

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31 Days of Random Questions – Day 22

If you could not have cake of any kind for your birthday, what dessert would you choose instead?
I would pick my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls with pecans inside and cream cheese filling on top. I love pastries, cinnamon, and cream cheese, so cinnamon rolls would be perfect if I couldn’t have my usual cinnamon swirl cheesecake.

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31 Days of Random Questions – Day 13

What do you like on your pizza?
My favorite toppings are Canadian bacon and pineapple. When we make pizza for a crowd at my parents’ house, we usually make 4-6 pizzas. Since the oven only holds three, we cook them in shifts. My mom and I both like the Canadian bacon and pineapple, so we save that one to cook at the end so that all the hungry people who don’t appreciate it like we do will fill up on the first pizzas and leave more of our favorite for us. Opportunistic? Sure, but we do announce which pizzas are still coming, so those who choose can save room.

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