Better Chicken Breasts

There are so many great recipes out there for chicken breasts but they often omit one important detail, the quality of the meat that you can buy. Go to any grocery store and most of the chicken has been plumped up with a salt and water solution. Each package will tell you how much has been added and some brands it is quite significant. This is an issue for two reasons. First, you end up paying $3+ a pound for salt water instead of meat. Second, the meat shrinks down so much that you end up with less than you need for dinner.

So what is the solution? Read labels and know which chicken has been plumped. Alternatively there is a company called Zaycon that doesn’t plump it’s chicken, has fabulous prices and is purchased in bulk. Each box has 40 pounds of fresh chicken that you get to divide and either freeze or can in the proportions that work for your family.

The heavy duty box has a sealed bag inside which hold smaller bags of chicken pieces.
The heavy duty box has a sealed bag inside which hold smaller bags of chicken pieces.

Zaycon sells more than just chicken, you can find ground beef, ham and even smoked salmon. Once you have signed up to receive emails you will be alerted to events in your specified area. There is never an obligation to buy. If the increments are too large for your family then find a friend to split the case with. To pick up your order you meet at the designated place and the Zaycon driver places your order in the car for you. All you need to do is go home and divide up into family sized portions. I typically get about 30 meals from each case.

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I love knowing my freezer is full of good quality chicken for the summer months of grilling. Next up is the ground beef sale and currently the price is $3.99 a pound which for me is a good price. Meanwhile I will be receiving my chicken order in just a couple of weeks. I cut up pieces for stir frying, leave some pieces whole and have a few bags marinating for quick meals. I have friends who prefer to an most of it to save on freezer space. Whichever way works for you, give it a try and let me know what you think!

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3 Rules for Better Rose Bushes

Many years ago we moved into a house that had two rose bushes. I avoided them for a long time because I had always heard how difficult roses were to keep. Also that they were easily damaged. One day I found a magazine article that changed how I viewed roses. Their care was explained so simply that I couldn’t understand  how they had ever gotten such a bad rap. Now I have 6 bushes to care for and it really isn’t that big of a deal.

To start with, roses need a very specific nutrient called potassium. Now you can go to Wal Mart and pick up a bag that is in powdered form and it works fine. Or, you can use something you already have and were just going to throw in the garbage, banana peels. Yup, bananas and their peels are just full of potassium. All you need to do is cut up the peels and bury them next to the rose-bush. Not only will they provide the needed potassium, they will rot and create a compost for the soil.

Pruning is where most people worry the won’t do it correctly. There are a couple terms that make it simple to remember. Deadheading is only cutting away the spent blossoms. Doing this allows the plant to continue blooming the entire season. In other words, a few minutes of your time will mean more and bigger blossoms to enjoy. Pruning is selectively cutting a plant. This includes deadheading as well as the proper shaping of the  plant as well as cutting away dead wood.

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There are several things wrong with the plant pictured above and it will greatly benefit from a good pruning. When you are pruning for the first time I suggest taking it slow. Cut some away then come back and cut some more. This prevents you from cutting away too much. The more you prune the better you become at knowing exactly where to cut.

Begin by cutting away all dead wood. These are all the brown branches. This is normal and happens every year as some branches just don’t make it through the winter. Be sure to cut the entire branch off that is dead, don’t leave little stumps behind. Always make cuts at a 45 degree angle with the cut facing out. This may seem trivial but the direction of that cut will determine the direction the plant continues to grow. If you cut facing the center of the plant you will regret it later on. Once the dead wood is gone you can decide which branches are growing the wrong direction. One thing you don’t want are branches who cross each other forming an X. This will give your rose plant a better shape and makes future pruning significantly easier. One thing to remember is that the fewer buds a plant has the more energy is can put towards the ones it does have. This translates into bigger blooms. If you would rather have a lot of small buds then be a little less aggressive in your pruning.

There is a significant difference from where this plant started.
There is a significant difference from where this plant started.

As the season progresses it is time to deadhead spent blossoms. I believe this is best done on a daily basis. Doing it daily only takes a couple of minutes and ensures that you will always have new buds forming. This is ideally in a perfect world and life doesn’t always cooperate that way. So at a minimum it should be done once a week. Let it go too long and you will find time when you have absolutely nothing in bloom.

What to look for are leaflets with specific number of leaves on them, that is where the cuts will be made. Early in the season you cut right above a 3 leaf stem, by mid Summer it should have 4 leaves and by the end if your season look for 5 leaves. This picture is a great visual.

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It quickly becomes habit and you don’t even need to think about it anymore, you just do it.

The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.
The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.

Keep a bucket or garbage can next to you as you prune so all th cuttings can go directly into it.

Perfect cut
Perfect cut

Each cut requires only a few seconds to make. I keep a basket by my front door with my pruners, gloves, shears and something to kneel on. This allows me to do gardening quickly and without having to search the garage for items all the time.

I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!
I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!

Sometimes I find unwelcome visitors living on my roses. While I want lady bugs, aphids are not welcome. One easily made solution gets rid of most pests. In a spray bottle mix warm water with 2 Tablespoons of Dawn dish soap. Dawn is used on animals during oil spills to clean them up so I figure is it perfectly safe to use on my roses compared to other brands. Using the mist setting, spray your plants not only on the blooms, but the top and especially bottom of the leaves. Sometimes you may have to purchase something from the store but always try this first. Not only is it cheap but very successful.

There you have it, 3 rules for successfully growing roses. Provide them with potassium, do regular pruning and use dish soap spray for pests. I hope this makes growing roses a little less daunting and please share how your roses are doing this year.

Toner versus Astringent, is there a difference?

Today I held a skin care class for about 20 teenage girls and it was loads of fun. They learned a lot about basic skin care, such as washing their face every day. When I said removing their makeup before bed was important to keep thir skin looking healthy a couple were heard to say “even if you just wear mascara?” The answer was absolutely because wearing it all the time can lead to lashes breaking. Eventually we discussed the purpose of astringents and I was asked how they were different from toners. What a great question!

Listening to ads on tv can be confusing as various names are thrown around to describe the product being sold. Balancers, clarifying lotions, clarifiers, skin purifiers, toners and astringents are all the same thing. While some distinguish one from another based on the level of alcohol, most companies are working to reduce or eliminate that ingredient while keeping their effectiveness. Most experts classify astringents as being the strongest in this group.

So why use a toner at all? It has four main purposes. Remove residual traces of cleanser, remove the last amount of makeup left after a cleanser is used, remove excess oil and reduce the size of pores. Let’s start with the cleanser and makeup issue. Years ago when makeup removers were not as developed there often was some makeup left behind. Today, a good makeup remover no longer has that issue as it will remove every bit of makeup. A good cleanser rinses away completely.

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Only those with extremely oily skin need to worry about that issue and toner is a great help. If you are prone to breakouts it might be beneficial to use a toner. I prefer to use a toner at night so it has a chance to work on the skin without fighting other products like your sunscreen and makeup.

The last reason is to reduce the size of pores. This is a controversial reason because some feel toners don’t really do that at all. I believe that it depends on the toner. I have seen the results on friends whose skin looks radically different after just one month.

When trying a toner, alcohol is the enemy. It’s sole purpose is to dry the skin. Remove too much oil and the body’s natural reaction is produce even more. If your skin feels tight after using a toner, it has dried out the skin requiring you to use even more moisturizer. A good toner will leave the face feeling soft, smooth and fresh.

To remove excessive oil or makeup, spray a cotton ball with the toner and gently rub your face. You will see the dirt and oil on the cotton. Continue until no more is coming off. To reduce the size of your pores, spritz a light mist in the face and allow to dry naturally.

I don’t have excessively oily skin, but as I hit my 40s I found my pores were getting larger. I tried a cleanser designed to reduce them and saw no results. As I began using rosewater as a toner a couple times a week I saw the difference it made. Now I am sure that my pores were not changed enough that anyone else could tell because they were just beginning to get larger, but looking at my face close up in the mirror I sure could.i also noticed a difference in how my foundation looked.

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A good toner requires a humectant. This will increase the ability of the toner to penetrate the skin. It also draws moisture from the air and into the skin. These effects lead to softer and hydrated skin. How awesome is that?

Now I am the queen of cheap, I have mentioned this in my blog a few times. If something has multiple purposes then I am sold. At first it was hard to rationalize a bottle of toner taking up space in my bathroom. Over time I could not believe the uses for this one little bottle of rosewater. Rose oil has been used as far back as the ancient Egyptians so these are not new ideas. I now use it to set my makeup and even made a video showing how easy it is to do it.

I keep it in my purse all Summer long for sunburns as it reduces the sting and on bug bites as it reduces the pain and swelling. Rosewater also promotes blood circulation and therefore hair growth when spritzed on the scalp. With antibacterial properties it is perfect to spray on small scratches to minimize scarring and infection. Rosewater can also reduce puffy eyes. For that I spray a cotton ball till it is good and wet then place in the freezer for 5 minutes. The cool cotton is place on my eyes and it feels divine. After a couple minutes my eyes are not as puffy.

Can you just feel the love? While you can make your own rosewater at home with distilled water and fresh petals, it is only good for a week so you will need to make a batch every weekend. I opt instead for Refreshed from Younique. It slips easily in my purse during the Summer and I don’t have to make it. It has no alcohol but does have the required humectant.

So my Beauties, I hope I have answered some questions you may of had. If so, please share this blog on facebook. Have a fabulousness weekend!

Bomdiggity BLT

Sometimes a BLT just sounds good. A little bacon with a thick slice of red tomato…..yummy! But I like to change things up a little bit and really give it some UMPH. Thing is it only takes a few seconds and adds so much flavor, and you have all the ingredients already in your pantry.

INGREDIENTS

2 Slices Bread

3 Slices Bacon cut in half

Dark Green Lettuce

Red Onion diced

Butter

Salt

Garlic Powder

Italian Seasoning

Mayonnaise

I begin by baking the bacon in the oven at 400 degrees. Depending on how thick the bacon is how long it will take. I don’t  like it really crispy because I feel it falls apart as you eat the sandwich and makes a mess. Translation, less bacon on the BLT. lol

While the bacon is cooking I dice up the red onion, wash the lettuce and slice the tomatoes. Sprinkle a dash of salt on each slice as well as some Italian seasoning. Allowing it to sit while the bacon finishes does impact the flavor as it gives the salt a chance to work.

Dark greens have far more nutritional content than Iceburg lettuce
Dark greens have far more nutritional content than Iceburg lettuce

Butter the bread and sprinkle the garlic powder and a dash of salt on top. Sound like garlic bread? Well, it is. Layers of flavor can really impact the finished sandwich. Now to assemble the sandwich. A little mayo on each slice of bread, followed by diced onions, tomatoes, bacon and lettuce and dinner is ready. Personally I enjoy a slice of cheese on it as well but I have been informed by my youngest “That is wrong…….just wrong”

Served with a little pasta salad.
Served with a little pasta salad.

So make an easy dinner this week and try a small twist in the BLT. It is a tasty thing of beauty.

2 Ingredient Canned Carrot

Gleaning season has begun and I now have 5 burlap bags to process. I have several things I plan to make with them, but the simplest one is plain ole canned carrots. I don’t do anything special to them, I prefer to do that when making dinner. This makes canning them easy and cheap. Since I got the carrots for free, and am barely using any salt, the most expensive part is buying the lids for the jars.

The advantages of canning vegetables is that you are saving freeze space for other things. Freezing requires blanching which is simple, but you have to be quick and allow the vegetables to dry to prevent them from freezing together or ice crystals forming on them. I will freeze some to be used when making casseroles for the freezer, but I mainly can them. The last advantage is that if you live in a area where the electricity regularly goes out,ou don’t need to worry about food getting thawed and needing to be tossed,

INGREDIENTS

Carrots

Canning Salt

the big question is, how much carrots do you buy per quart? It takes approximately 17.5 pounds to produce 7 quarts of carrots. A full pot of 9 pints would require approximately 11 pounds. If buying by the bushel, keep in mind that is 50 pounds worth. The average suggested serving size of canned carrots is 1-2 a cup per person.

When preparing fresh carrots I prefer to leave the skins on. I don’t mind the texture and there are a lot of nutrients right under the skin. This means peeling them takes them away. But when it comes to canning I think peeling is a necessity, since this is just my opinion you can leave them on. Just be sure to thoroughly scrub the skin so there is absolutely no trace of dirt on them.

All ready to peel, the only part I hate doing.
All ready to peel, the only part I hate doing.

Once the carrots are peeled I cut into 1/4 inch rounds. You can dice or cube them if you like. That is the beauty of canning, you make it how you like it. Place them into a jar leave 1 1/2 inch head space. The carrots will swell when cooked so if you overfill the jars you won’t have enough liquid or they will end up touching the lid. I add 1 teaspoon canning salt to each quart sized jar, (1/2tsp for pints) but again this is my preference. You can cut it down as much as you want as it isn’t required. When used during cooking salt amplifies flavor so adding it now means I won’t when I prepare them. Many just leave the salt out completely.

If you intend to add the jars to a pot of hot water, the water going into the jars needs to be hot. I tend to do cold packing so I make up jars all day  and have them all processed by the end of the night. This means I can add cold water straight into the jar. If you add cold jars to hot water you risk it shattering. Whichever method you prefer, follow the recommended guidelines for cleaning the jars, lids and rings. Leave 1 inch head space on the jars and be sure to remove all bubbles. Wipe the rims with a wet paper towel, place on the lid with ring and tighten finger tight.

Process pints 25 minutes and quarts for 30 minutes in a pressure canner. Vegetables MUST be done in a pressure canner to ensure they are safely processed. Be sure to use the correct pounds of pressure for your altitude.

I will fit 2 more quarts in here. If doing pints I can put a rack on top and process two layers at one time. Imagine getting 14 jars done at once?
I will fit 2 more quarts in here. If doing pints I can put a rack on top and process two layers at one time. Imagine getting 14 jars done at once?

Allow the canner to vent for 10 minutes before adding the weight, do not remove the weight until the pressure is back down to zero. I let t canner set for 10 minutes before removing the lid and another 15 in the canner to cool. Letting the jars sit in the hot water for a bit helps to prevent water siphoning out. Place in a towel to cool for a full 24 hours before removing the rings. Throughly wipe down the jars and date each of them before placing I the shelf.

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Wasn’t that easy? Now you have carrots with no sugar added and as little salt as needed for your diet or preferences.

Wal Mart Brand canning supplies: JMO

I put a lot of time and effort into what I can. Seem of the food I buy at the grocery store, some from the local frames market. A lot is produce from local gleaning expeditions. Generally I can a couple dozen of most things so that I am not running out in the middle of the year, some so that it lasts two years. This allows me to make certain things less often. This is a big investment for me to feed my family.

Normally I call myself the Queen of Cheap. I save money in every way I can. I believe that most times generic brands are just as good as the name brand. Sometimes, it is the same product produced the same factory. However there ar times when generic is not the way to go.

i purchase a couple cases of quart jars recently along with a few boxes of lids at the local Wal Mart. It only saved me a few dollars but hey, it all adds up. Right? I have regretted it even since.

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The jars are difficult to identify as canning jars, they look like mayonnaise jars. I had to educate the kids to be sure they didn’t throw them away and stored them with the other canning jars after being washed.

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The lids, are a whole other story. Almost every single one crinkles while being processed. This occurs in the waterbath as well as pressure canning. All have flattened out for the most part, but some crinkling remains. I thoroughly check each one to make sure it is sealed before putting it on  no shelf, but I worry that they will stay sealed over time. So I have out them in the front so as to use them first.

It was difficult to get the crinkling to show up in a photograph and much of it flattened out by the time I got this shot. But you can still see it is not perfectly flat like it should be.
It was difficult to get the crinkling to show up in a photograph and much of it flattened out by the time I got this shot. But you can still see it is not perfectly flat like it should be.

Since i purchased these items I have seen similar complaints in the canning groups I am in. Personally I intend to stick with Kerr brand in the future. Let me know your experience with the brand.

Perfect Egg In A Well

Now you may have never heard of an egg in a well because your family calls it something else. There are so many Different names for this simple dish that I  can’t remember them all. They are all the same thing, an egg fried in the middle of a piece of bread. It sound simple enough, but people get these very, very wrong. I have learned a few tips over the years that really make them stand out and consistently cook the same way.

INGREDiENTS

1 slice of bread

1 egg

Butter/margarine

Salt

Pepper

Garlic Powder

To begin, allow the eggs to warm up a bit outside of the fridge. This is a technique restaurants use to get eggs to whip up nice and fluffy or fry up quickly. A good 15 minutes at least but 30 won’t hurt. Yes, this is totally safe on the eggs.

Next choose a pan. This time I did not opt for a nonstick, but you can certainly use one. It cuts down on the butter a little but we are frying here, so you will still need some. The most important thing is use the pan that give consistent heat because eggs need that desperately.

Set the burner to medium.

Use a knife to cut out the middle if the bread. If you make it about the size of the egg while still in the shell it fits perfectly.

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I use about 1 Tablespoon per egg. I begin by letting it melt in the pan just enough to cover. Before it all melts, I add the bread making sure the remaining butter stays in the well.

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Before all the butter melts I crack the egg into the well. This makes sure the bread doesn’t soak it up and get soggy but stays there to fry the egg. Season with a little salt, pepper and garlic powder. Just a sprinkle, no need to measure.

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Once you crack the egg into the centered set a timer. The longer you let it cook the more the yolk will cook. I cook the first side longer because that is when the egg white does the majority of the cooking. If you try to do both sides the same amount of time you tend to have underdone egg whites.

If the pan is looking a little dry, once I have the toast on my spatula ready to flip, I add a little more butter to the pan. It melts quickly so I flip and make sure the egg is right on top of the butter. Again, we are frying here.

Looking from the top is a big clue for when to flip the bread.
Looking from the top is a big clue for when to flip the bread.

You can see in the ohoto above that the longer you cook the first side, the more the egg white is cooked. This means the bottom of the yolk is cooking as well. The time difference doesn’t effect how brown the toast gets as much as you think. Yet another reason for the butter in the pan, it gives a nice golden color.

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Using a timer takes out the guesswork. A 4 minute time produced a soft and fully cooked yolk.  A 3 minute time is slightly runny. Cut it down to 2 1/2 minutes and you will have a fully runny yolk.  This is how my family likes it, a little runny, just enough to dip that round piece of toast in. I prefer a little less cooked, but it is a thing of beauty and a fast breakfast to make. And dare I say, perfect for the kids to learn to make for themselves? Enjoy!

That one minute made a big difference.
That one minute made a big difference.