Monday, October 31, 2005

Lazy Dieter's German Potato Salad

I have been craving my mother's German potato salad, but I am too lazy to make it. My mother has always made the potato salad with hot dogs, and I can't say that's not "authentic," because she is in fact from Germany. She also uses a pressure cooker. I don't have one and probably never will. They scare me and I'm certain I would put an eye out the first time I used it.

Two years ago I discovered Hendrickson's salad dressing at a restaurant in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Not all grocery stores carry it, but I've been able to find it at Market Street and some of the other gourmet restaurants here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Through some experimentation, I discovered you can make a reasonably healthy and tasty version of German potato salad in less than 20 minutes.

Lazy Dieter's German Potato Salad

3 small potatoes
1/4 onion
4 chicken hot dogs
1/2 cup Hendrickson't salad dressing
salt and pepper (or seasoned salt) to taste

Wash the potatoes, place in a covered glass dish and microwave on high until they are cooked, approx. 5-8 minutes (don't let them get too smooshy). Chop the onions and hot dogs into pieces and sautee in the Hendrickson's until the onions are cooked. Once the potatoes are done, cut into thick pieces and add to the frying pan. Cook 5-10 minutes, adding a little more dressing if it seems too dry.

This version is fairly sweet, which may turn some people off. If you don't like it that way, you might try adding a little vinegar.

I calculated Weight Watcher Points for this recipe, and it's about 16 points for the whole thing. If you use it as a side dish, it's about 4 servings. If it's the main dish it'll serve 2.

Hmmm... I just discovered a recipe for German potato salad on Hendrickson's site. Theirs includes a lot more stuff. . . I think if I ever try theirs, I would probably leave out the eggs and celery (yuk, I don't like celery).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Casserole Queen: Pea & Bacon Casserole

I brought a casserole to a potluck last night and was asked for the recipe. I seldom cook with recipes (ask my husband, who happily endures many a schlamassel, some of which turn out better than others), so I thought I'd try to get down the ingredients before I forget what I did.

Pea & Bacon Casserole

1/2 large onion, diced
2 tsp. butter
2 cups brown rice, cooked (I cheat and get frozen rice at Whole Foods)
1 can condensed cream of chicken & herbs soup
1 bag frozen peas
~1/4 cup milk
3 ounces bacon, cooked & diced
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (not with the grater in my post below)

Sautee the onion pieces in butter till cooked. Add rice, soup, peas, and bacon. Add just enough milk so the mixture can coat the rice and peas evenly (but don't make it too runny). Simmer till the peas are no longer frozen. Mix in the grated cheddar and transfer all to a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining bacon on top.

Bake at 350 for about an hour. Everything's cooked already, so cooking time isn't that important... you just need time for all the flavors to mix together.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Cheese Grater?!?!?

I have heard snippets of a news story on two local channels, referred to as "a bizarre food tampering incident." I'm not sure if it happened here in the DFW area, but evidently a guy went into a Fiesta grocery store and scattered fecal matter over the bakery goods. Yes, fecal matter.

If that were not disgusting (and bizarre) enough, the snippet I caught on Fox yesterday morning was a policeman saying it was obviously meticulously planned. Since I was vacuuming and doing dishes (ack, we had another house showing scheduled for yesterday) I wasn't paying all that much attention, but I swear I heard him say the guy either dired or froze the turd, then grated it with a cheese grater!

I really would like to see inside the mind of that man... I'm sure it would be an illuminating trip. And I would hope he would never invite me to his home for tacos.


Aha, I found it here!

Thank goodness the FBI has determined that this is "not a national security issue." Looks like they are right on top of things.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hi Hon

Calling someone "hon" has always been a curious thing to me. I've heard it a lot in Texas, most stereotypically from waitresses with big hair. I find it to be charming in a way, something that seems to represent the friendliness that Texas is rumored to contain (it does, it's just not concentrated in the immediate Dallas-Ft. Worth area). I guess it beats calling someone "what's-your-name" when you don't know, or don't remember, their name.

I think that moniker offends some people because it implies a familiarity that usually doesn't exist. I guess it's more appropriate in some situations than in others. I can't really imagine calling my coworkers "hon" or having them do the same to me. Maybe my nickname "Dark Cloud" has something to do with that.

Because of our move, we have hired a lawn service to keep up with the outside of the house while we concentrate on the inside. The new lawn guy calls me "hon," which was ok the first time: it's kind of a folksy-friendly Texas thing. But it grated on my nerves last time because he didn't show up the week before, and he appeared a day late last week (and didn't even have time to mow). I'm new to the whole lawn service thing (my husband actually likes to mow) so I don't know if it is typical for 45 minutes of rain to throw a business off by two weeks. I found it annoying though, since we're trying to get the house ready to sell, so I don't feel so much like a "hon."

On an interesting aside, during a visit to a St. Louis White Castle (mmmmmm.... tiny little cheeseburgers!!!) I heard one of the girls behind the counter call another one "hon." I guess it's not a Texas thing after all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Top 5 Things I Will Miss About Texas

I love the fall weather we've been enjoying this month. On my commute to work this morning the sky over Ft. Worth was a dark gray-blue, threatening to unload a torrent of water any minute. The native oak trees and cottonwoods in the Trinity riverbottoms glowed a fresh green, as if they could already taste the promised rain (it never came, by the way). The color combination of the trees and sky just before or after a Texas thunderstorm is something I will really miss. That got me thinking about other things I will miss once we move north. Here, in no particular order, are my top 5.

1. The aforementioned native trees/dark sky contrast just before or after a thunderstorm.

2. Armadillos. Yes, I know many people think they are a pest, but they are just too bizarre. I woke up the other morning to the sound of another one building a nest under our deck. Although we have any number of creatures living in our back yard, I could tell it was an armadillo just by the time of day, and the scraping sound of her hard shell against the deck beam as she gathered fallen leaves with her front feet (paws?) and scooted backwards into the space under the deck.

3. February. I have always hated February. To me, February has always meant gray skies and dirty snow, a fake romantic "holiday," and the middle of a winter that never seems to end. At least, that was what it was like in Wisconsin. Texas is so much further south that the winter days are never as short (nor the summer days as long), and by mid to late February there are already some beautiful spring days. By February, I am already harvesting lettuce in my garden and enjoying the blooms of violets, snowdrops, daffodils, leatherleaf mahonia (complete with honey bees), and winter honeysuckle (also with the bees). I will miss the year-round gardening.

4. Running into people I know when I least expect it. I know that's not unique to Texas, but it's unique for me. I've lived in the area for nearly 17 years, and in this house for 10. I had never lived anywhere more than 5 years prior to this, so it's a novelty for me to know enough people that even in a town this size I occassionally recognize some. I ran into an old coworker at a garden tour in Ft. Worth last Sunday, which was a pleasant surprise. And if they are people I don't want to see, it's always easy enough to pretend I didn't.

5. Surprisingly for a social misfit such as myself, the fifth thing is also people. No one could ask for a better neighbor (and friend!) than we have just to the west, and I will also miss our Sunday breakfast (and garden club) buddies. Work will be a whole different ballgame, too, as I transition to a full-time work-from-home employee. I'll still get to talk to my coworkers on IRC, but I will miss the lunches and the gossip that can only happen in person.

There are plenty of things I won't miss about Texas. I will maybe save them for another post.

Or maybe not.

Monday, October 03, 2005

St. Louis or Bust!

Soon, we will be moving from Texas to Missouri. The pottery collection is almost completely packed up, except for a few pieces we've left on display for when the house goes on the market. Packing the pottery wasn't all that difficult, but there was just SO MUCH!

Animal planters and figurines are a bit more fragile than jardinieres and pots, since the animals have ears and legs that can get broken off. But packing them wasn't too bad because I've been collecting (and purchasing) a bunch of smaller boxes. 6x6x6 boxes work well, holding medium-sized pieces by themselves, or holding multiple small pieces (cut up some cardboard and put it in between the pottery, then fill the extra space with corn starch packing peanuts). 12x9x6 were used for some of the larger planters, and a variety of other box sizes in between. The smaller boxes can then be packed into larger boxes so you don't have to keep up with several hundred tiny boxes.

I admit I overboard when packing the collection: I had the time, and thought I'd try to do a good job since we will probably rent for the first year we live in St. Louis, and they'll be moved at least three times before the entire collection comes out of storage (house to storage, storage to St. Louis rental, rental to house). Back when we were transporting pottery from home to antique mall, just wrapping them in paper or in Depend pads (you can often pick them up cheap at estate sales, and they're fantastic for protecting collectibles!) and piling them in boxes was sufficient. Anyway, packing pieces in smaller boxes and then into larger ones offers the fragile pieces more support, so you can actually stack the boxes higher than you would if they didn't have the extra cardboard.

Here are some tips I picked up while packing:

1. Measure all your odd-size expensive fragile things and make a list, then look in the yellow pages for a place that sells boxes: not just moving boxes, but all sorts of boxes (I went to a place called the Box Outlet in Ft. Worth). You will probably be able to find a box the right size to protect each piece. Smaller boxes will cost anywhere from $0.50 to $1.50 so only do this if the replacement price (or sentimental value) of the piece warrants it.

2. If you buy boxes in bulk, you may be able to get them cheaper. Wholesale prices are often less than half of retail for cardboard, so make sure you ask. This is good reason to go to a smaller, independent box store: they are probably more flexible.

3. I recommend the corn starch packing peanuts for most uses, since styrofoam is not the environment's friend. There are a couple of caveats though. They are water soluble (you can compost them when you're done!) so make sure you are not storing your stuff in a humid or wet environment. If you care enough to pack it well, you probably care enough to be careful where you store your stuff. The other caveat is that the corn starch peanuts may not work well for very heavy items (like giant stereo speakers), since they are much more compressible than the regular ones.

4. Smaller boxes don't fit neatly into larger ones. For example, you would think that an 18x12 box could hold six 6x6 boxes on each layer. Not true. I can't remember now if the printed measurement is the outside or the inside dimension, but either way they won't match up because of the thickness of the boxes. If you find large boxes that have odd measurements (like 16-3/8" on a side), they might have been designed to hold smaller boxes (two 8" boxes should fit in a 16-3/8" box).

5. Liquor stores are a GREAT source of boxes, and many of them are perfect for packing pottery and glass. I usually leave the dividers in the boxes. You can wrap smaller pieces in paper and put multiple ones in each cubbyhole, or they fit larger vases quite well and keep them from banging together. You can also stack more of these boxes since the dividers provide extra support and keep them from crushing. Since most of them originally held glass, they are strong. And they're free! They are also good for packing your kitchen glassware and barware, especially once you've priced dish packs at the local Container Store or Lowes.

6. One advantage of purchasing boxes is that you end up with a lot of boxes of identical size, which is good for stacking. When you have a bunch of odd-size boxes, you can end up with the corner of one box in the middle of the top of another, which is a good way to crush the contents or poke a hole in the bottom box when they are stacked high. Moving-size boxes range from about $1.50 each all the way up to several dollars apiece. Try to buy a bunch of your boxes at once so you can get them by the bundle and hopefully get the wholesale price.

7. Look for used boxes. Some of the places that sell new boxes also sell used ones. Used medium or large-size boxes are about $1.50 each (that's about 1/2 price for the larger ones). Since movers or businesses will sell back a bunch of boxes at once, you still have a good chance of finding a bunch of identical boxes so they stack and pack well. If they let you pick and choose the boxes yourself, I'd recommend it: condition varies widely. There are also places online that host classified ads for people buying and selling used moving boxes. Although some people get greedy and try to charge a lot for their boxes, I've seen them as low as $1 each.

8. If you plan to put stuff into storage for awhile, shop around. Where I live there are a ton of self-storage places so competition is tough, and prices vary a lot. Of course, climate controlled areas are a bit more expensive than those that are not, but if you have furniture, books, or other items that can get damaged by excessive heat and humidity it's well worth the price difference. Right now the going special in my area is half price on the first two months of storage. You should not have to sign a long-term lease (mine is month to month, even with the special).

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Eat Steak, Eat Steak!

The last few times my husband and I have been to Boston Market, we left the place commenting how we no longer feel that place delivers a good value for what we pay. I used to love their chicken, and even though they've never been as cheap as fast food, we used to never leave hungry, and were grateful for an alternative to sandwiches and burgers. Nowadays, the chicken is dry and the pieces are small, reminding me of the starlings that mob the parking lot and make a mess of the car if we grab one of the shady spots that are so coveted in Texas.

Lately I've been seeing the commercials that they offer steak. Yeah, that's the bottom line: "We offer steak." There are a couple of versions, but both show a person pigging out on a plate of something you can't see very well. If someone told me it were shoe leather I wouldn't argue given the size and shape of the unrecognizable mass. Nothing in the commercial says it tastes good. Nothing in the commercial says it's a good value. Just eat a big 'ol steer (oh my mouth is watering now).

There are already a lot of chains where you can get steak around here, and cheaply if you're not picky. So if you introduce steak at a chicken joint (yes, they changed their name a long time ago but they're still "Boston Chicken" in my mind... although their meatloaf is good) and price it a couple dollars higher than your already too-high-priced meals, shouldn't you at least try to position it as delicious, and better than Golden Corral? I would think so, unless you slept through Marketing 101.