Home Ec 101’s Weekly Menu a few weeks ago called for a Lentil Casserole for Meatless Monday, which is something I haven’t made before but am going to try out soon. I recently discovered I love lentils, so I am on the hunt for great lentil menu ideas.

Something I sometimes run into when trying out a new recipe is buying an ingredient just for that recipe.  I make the recipe, but it doesn’t use all of that ingredient.  So, what do you do with the remaining lentils in the bag you buy to make Heather’s dish?  Try making today’s recipe as a side dish during the week, or add to next week’s Meatless Monday meal – leaving out the bacon, of course.

This dish was inspired by the dish Sautéed Bacon, Mushrooms, and Lentils, which I recently tested for Leite’s Culinaria, and it was a big hit with myself and my husband.  Of the kids, our 2yo, the lover of all things bean, was the most impressed.

Step One: Cook Your Lentils

If you have never had lentils before, I will warn you they are not anything like a pinto or a navy bean.  They are just a bit more firm when fully cooked.  They do not get to that consistency of being able to easily mash them up with a fork so you can feed them to the baby.

Veggies on a Cutting Board

Some variations I have made:  I cook my lentils for about 45 minutes (the recommended time is about 30 minutes on the bag, but I like my lentils a bit softer), I use two onions and five cloves of garlic.  If I am cooking for our friend who has dairy allergies, I use olive oil instead of butter.  I also chop the mushrooms into tiny pieces, to hide them from the 17 and 4 year olds who don’t like the look of mushrooms and will not eat the dish if they see them.  I also sometimes will add diced carrots to the dish, to give it some colour. Sometimes I fry chopped chicken pieces (you can also use leftover chicken) with the bacon and add to the dish to make a whole meal.

Mushrooms Sweat, So Don't Be Alarmed When Your Veggies Get Watery, Just Keep Cooking Until Liquid Is Reabsorbed

Bacon gives extra flavor AND colour - A two-fer!

You get the idea, though, right?  Take a recipe, make it the way it is written, and then add your own flare(s)!  Make the recipe your own.  This is what cooks do, adapt to suit your own tastes.  Try recipes with ingredients you have never tried before, or haven’t had in a really long time.  Stretch your palate.  If you don’t like the ingredient, find a substitute, or leave it out entirely!  Bob and weave, bob and weave! And not all of your variations are going to be home runs.  You will have some strikeouts (we do not mention peanut sauce and noodles in this house without shuddering) and you may end up ordering pizza out instead of what you cooked, but don’t let those speed bumps stop you from trying!

Cooking doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t have to take hours of prep followed by hours of cook time.  I love spending time in the kitchen cooking, it relaxes me, takes away a lot of my daily stress.  But I still don’t like to spend more than 45 minutes to an hour on dinner (unless I am making Peruvian Roasted Chicken, cause then the extra time is totally worth it!)  I like to take my iPad in the kitchen with me, put on Pandora Radio (Eagles and Carole King are my two favorite stations to cook along with) and dance and chop and stir away the time – sometimes I even stream a tv show through Netflix while I’m doing the prep.

So, as Heather recommends, plan your menus around what activities will hinder your schedule.  This will determine the amount of time you have to prepare meals.  Consider this, and the amount of time you want to spend preparing a meal.  If you all about twenty to thirty minute meals, this is totally not a problem.  Hamburger Helper?  Brown your own meat, add your own spices and cheese, boil your own pasta and you have a hamburger helper meal without the preservatives in the same amount of time.  Kraft Mac and Cheese?  While your macaroni is boiling, make a rue with 1/4 tsp butter and 3 Tbsp of flour, cook on medium high about 3 minutes, add 2 1/2 cups of milk and cook until the rue is incorporated and the mixture is bubbling) and add the cheese (about 3 cups) to make the sauce (this only takes a max of three to four minutes!) and you have something that actually tastes BETTER in just a minute or two longer than the boxed version (add tuna or chicken and some peas or other boiled or steamed veggies and you have a whole meal free of preservatives!).  Change it up a bit, put this mixture in a casserole dish sprinkle shredded cheese and bread crumbs on the top and bake for 20 minutes at 375F.

Dinner does not have to be a four course event.  Casseroles are truly amazing things to behold.  One pot dishes you can make on the stove, oven or crockpot are nothing to sneeze at because they are simple.  One of my secrets is chopping veggies and meat ahead of time, usually on a Saturday when we get back from Sam’s Club with our bulk purchases of stew meat, carrots, etc.  I divvy up the spoils into meal sized portions (I use Ziplock gallon sized bags, due to the space limits of our freezer).  Veggies stay in the crisper drawer of our fridge, though.  I try to thaw out the protein in the fridge for a day or two before I know I am going to cook with them (this is where a weekly menu plan comes in handy).  I also try to keep some marinara sauce (or the ingredients for it) on hand, for those days I don’t feel like doing much of anything, so we can have spaghetti – or else I let Rogan loose in my kitchen.  Rogan is a good cook, especially Asian meals, even though people don’t seem to want to believe it – he makes a mean Tandoori Chicken!

Now it’s your turn.  What meals would you like make simpler (more simple?), or what is your simple go to meal?


Today I decided to do the veggie marinara sauce I have been talking about in my weekly #HomeChat posts on Twitter.  If you are not already on Twitter, I HIGHLY recommend you sign up and check out the weekly #HomeChat on Tuesdays at 9PM EST.  They have conversations about organizing, food, kids, etc.  Wonderful group of people, if I do say so myself.  It is hosted by the wonderful Angela England of The Untrained Housewife and Heather Solos of Home Ec 101. (You should also check out Heather’s book Home-Ec 101 !)

Oh, and that was a totally unpaid endorsement people!

Ok, onward and forward!!  Where were we?  Oh, yes, hidden veggie marinara.  Although my kids are fairly good at eating their veggies, they can sometimes be stubborn.  However, they love anything with pasta!  I got this idea from Giada’s book Everyday Italian.  I put my own tweaks to the recipe, and tripled it!  I make a HUGE pot of this sauce at least once a month – sometimes two.  I get four servings and freeze them for future meals.

First, you need a bulk store can of crushed tomatoes (you can pare this down to 28oz can).  We use crushed instead of diced because Rogan doesn’t like the texture of tomato chunks, but is ok with crushed.  Put this in your sauce pan (we use a 6 qt enamel coated dutch oven) and start your simmer.

Crushed Tomatoes in Dutch Oven

Pot O' Tomatoes

Meanwhile, you want to grab the veggies you want to include in your sauce.  I use carrots, onions, garlic – sometimes I will include celery, spinach or other green.  Peel and chop into small bits.  I like to use the food processor to make something just a step up from a mush.

Dirty Food Processor


Add this to your skillet, with a few tablespoons of butter and cook on medium heat for about six or seven minutes.  Don’t have your heat too high, you do not want this to brown, only cook thoroughly.

Mushed Carrots

Skillet o' Carrot Mush

Now you can add your carrot mixture to your pot of tomatoes.  Mix thoroughly and let simmer for about ten minutes, so the flavors can mix.

Mush and Tomatoes

Tomatoes and Carrots

Mid Point of Marinara

You are almost done!

After simmering for a while, you want to add your crushed basil.  You can use fresh or dried – if you use fresh be careful of your portion, fresh has more flavor punch than dried.  Add a bit and then taste.  If needed, add more.  Ok, ok, ok…add two teaspoons, geesh!  You people are very needy with all the measuring and stuff :p

Basil in Tomato sauce

Basil, It's What's in Marinara

Now, let that simmer at medium low for about thirty minutes.  Just before serving, you can add Parmesan cheese directly to the sauce, if you wish.  This sauce is good for any kind of pasta or rice dish.  You can even add browned hamburger meat, meatballs, beef tips or chicken bits for a bit of something different.

Pot of Marinara Sauce


This recipe is so stinkin’ easy to make, I challenge each of you to try it.  Yes, getting out the food processor, setting it up, breaking it back down and cleaning it can be a pain in the rear, but it is sooo worth it.  Let me know what you think of it!

Do you have any recipes which are good for more than one dish?  One that will make up two, three or more different dishes for dinners, lunches or breakfasts?  Let us know!  Don’t forget to also post it on Twitter, with the hashtag #HomeChat!


Hi, it’s me again, Margaret…if you want this recipe to be even easier, and have a family/spouse who eats veggies without much problem, you can leave out the veggie puree.  Then you just open a jar or can of tomatoes, add basil and parma  cheese, simmer for about 20 minutes, throw over your favorite pasta and, viola!, you have dinner!  I like to make the big batches of this recipe and freeze into three or four dinner servings, then I have a quick meal throw-together plan on days I really don’t feel like cooking.  It’s healthy, and we don’t get a jar of preservatives or a take out window full of grease and fat and sugar.


French Bread

Loaf of Bread


Bread Flour, Bread Machines, History and Other Stuff



According to, the definition of bread flour is thus:

bread flour


wheat flour from which a large part of the starch has been removed, thus increasing the proportion of gluten.

Also called gluten flour.



Unlike self rising bread, I cannot find a site for when bread flour was first introduced to baking.  I have seen suggestions bread flour came along when the bread machine was invented.  It was patented by an African-American inventor, Joseph Lee, in Boston and patented in 1902.  However, in the UK, Hovis flour was created in 1886, when miller Richard Smith discovered a way to separate wheat germ from the flour, cooking it and adding it back into the flour while preventing fermentation which spoils the flour.  His partnership with Thomas Fitton was later to become The Hovis Bread Flour Company Limited in 1898.  Later, in America,  Gold Metal introduced what was called “High Protein Flour” in the 1920s.  It was discontinued in 1974, but brought it  back as “Better for Bread Flour” in 1979.  Therefore I do not believe it the bread machine was the catalyst for the creation of bread flour.  However, if you know of the history of it’s creation, please feel free to add comments.  I am curious, but tired of internet searches.



Several sites, including Smitten Kitchen, suggest making your own bread from all purpose flour by adding a tablespoon of gluten to each cup of flour in a recipe.  You do not have to use all purpose flour exclusively for your homemade bread flour, you can also use rye, buckwheat and barley – though other flours do not have the extra gluten in them to hold your breads together as these do, so I wouldn’t use another type of flour if you are planning on company.  I do wonder if you can do this with spelt flour, though.  Bread flour has a gluten rate of about 13-14%, whereas all purpose flour is around 12%.  So you will want to substitute the AP flour with something with a similar gluten rate, or use a little extra gluten in your mix.  Experiment!  This is what makes cooking and baking fun!



As with other flours, bread flour only has a shelf life of six months.  If you refrigerate it, you may be able to keep it a little longer.  If you store it in the freezer, you can keep it up to two years.



Keep your flour away from other stored items which have strong odors, such as onions, as the flour will absorb these smells.  A bay leaf in your container will help keep insects out of your flour, as well.  I am a huge proponent of buying your supplies in bulk (family of five, it saves us money), but remember, if you aren’t a big baker buying in bulk is not worth the savings if you throw out most of your purchase because it has gone bad.



I hope you enjoyed this installment of my flour series.  If you have any requests, or just a comment, please feel free to leave it below.  My next post will be all about rye flour, so keep an eye out, and maybe spread the word 🙂

What Your Kitchen Needs For Cooking

After hearing a tale from my husband regarding one of his coworkers, I have decided to do a kitchen basics post instead of a recipe today.

A little background:  My husband works with someone who grew up in a house that didn’t cook, therefore there is no cooking in their house.  When I say no cooking, I mean fast food and microwave meals – they have never even had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!  From indications I have picked up from his stories, they would like to learn but their kitchen lacks materials needed to make even the most basic of dishes.  There are no pots or pans!

So, today’s post is dedicated to what a beginner cook needs to make simple meals at home.  Nothing outlandish, like a rotisserie machine, but simple, basic kitchen items you will use every single day.




Sharp Knives

Two Knives And A Board

You will need a good cutting board – I recommend having two, one for veggies and one for meats, with a groove around the edge for catching juices (so it doesn’t spill onto your counters or floor).  I do NOT recommend a glass cutting board – the glass will dull your knives!  Plastic is ok, if it is what you already have, but my personal preference is bamboo.


I also recommend you have two basic knives – a Chef knife (or a Santoku knife) and a Paring knife.  You will also need a good knife sharpener.  I know it is expensive, but the sharpener is just as important as your knives!  Your knives will be no good to you if they are dull and do not slice through something like a raw carrot like it was softened butter.  (You can wait a few weeks between getting your knives and your sharpener, if, like our family, you have to budget for the purchases between paychecks.)  And I will concur with the wonderful Julia Child, do not buy stainless steel knives.  Invest in your knives and they will last you a lifetime, not just a few years.  Also, I do not like wooden handles, I am always worried about bacteria in the kitchen and a hilt which is not part of the knife as a whole always worries me.  I like solid knifes, from tip to hilt they should be one unit.


Pots And Pans


Iron Skillets Hanging



As I have mentioned in previous posts, I use cast iron for cooking.  I have five different sizes and types.  I have a single fried egg size, two slightly larger small skillets, two medium skillets, two large skillets and a griddle.  I also have two enamel coated cast iron dutch ovens and a cast iron wok, along with several miscellaneous products.  Yes, they are all from Lodge (it is what I grew up with and I have never had an issue with the brand).  Now, if you live near Myrtle Beach, SC – or go there on vacation in the summer – there is a Lodge Outlet Store you absolutely have to visit!

Now, you don’t have to have every single one of these products to do basic cooking in your kitchen.  I have collected these products over the last three to four years.  Some I bought, some were gifts.  All you really need to start out is an 8-inch skillet and a 12-inch skillet, a dutch oven is nice as it doubles as a sauce pan for our large family, but they also have cast iron sauce pans, though stainless steel works just as well.  An iron skillet works on the stove top AND in the oven.  I make roasted chicken in the big skillet, when I take it out to rest on the cutting board (this is where the groove in the cutting board really comes in handy), I then put the skillet on the stove burner for making the jus – one pot for roasting and jus!  I also make oven baked veggies in my skillets.  You can make bread, cakes, meats of various kinds, fish, veggies…just about anything you can make in the oven or stove top can be made in a regular old iron skillet.  Don’t believe me?  They make cookbooks just for cast iron!



Ok, so we have our cutting boards, our knifes, and our skillets and sauce pans.  Yes, this is all you need to start your kitchen! You don’t need a gourmet kitchen with all the bells and whistles to cook for your family.  You don’t need every electronic gizmo known to man – though you can pry my Kitchen Aid Stand out of my cold, dead hands…  All you need are the basics.  This is where I started.  I have added to my collection over the course of years.  When asked what I want for gifts, I point to my Amazon wish list and tell them to look for the kitchen items (yes, I have to be specific, I have about fifteen pages on my wish list and in departments all over the board – Amazon can be dangerous for me lol).

Oh, and if you bake, you will also need measuring cups and spoons – you know, if you need to be precise about the recipe (hey, I occasionally measure!!!).  However, you are on your own for plates and cutlery.


Now it’s your turn!  If you were on the proverbial desert island, what kitchen items would you absolutely HAVE to take with you (besides the coffee machine, of course)?

Sack of Flour


Self Rising Flour, The Facts and Storage

White flour has been around since medieval times (we’ll get more into this in later posts, I promise!).  However, self rising flour was first patented by Henry Jones, a baker, in 1845 in Bristol, England.  His USA patent came in 1849 and he was issued a gold medal for the flour in 1852.

From the research I have done, you can make self rising flour yourself from 1c Flour (if you do not have all-purpose flour, research indicates cake flour is an acceptable substitution for this recipe), 1tsp Baking Powder and ½ tsp Salt.  (Remember, don’t add extra salt to a recipe which calls for self rising flour!)  When you purchase this flour premade in the stores, it comes premixed with leavening agents, which release gases to make the flour, and thus your baked goods, more light and airy.  Leavening agents can include baking soda, phosphates, ammonium bicarbonate (powdered baking ammonia), potassium bicarbonate (potash – potassium), potassium bitartrate (cream of tarter), potassium carbonate (pearl ash – used before the invention of baking powder) and hydrogen peroxide.  Personally, I am going to stop buying it in the store, so I know what is in my flour (sort of).


Self rising flour is low-protein and recommended for buiscuits and quick breads, some cake recipes (such as this Lemon Drizzle Cake), as well as some pastry recipes – but never, ever use it in yeast bread!!


As with all flour, you must keep self rising flour in a cool and dry storage space.  Do not use the flour after about six months time, per miller recommendation, because of the oils going rancid when exposed to air.  However, if you keep your flour in your freezer, it will keep for a several years.  During summer, especially in the extreme heat of the south, keep your flour refrigerated, if you do not use your freezer.


Insects and rodents can be attracted to your flour store, due to exposure to moisture and odor.  So make sure you keep your flour in a sealed container!  You can also place a bay leaf in the container on your shelf, as it is a natural insect repellant.


If your flour changes colour or starts to smell a little different, throw it out immediately.  Another reason for throwing out old flour, your biscuits will not plump up if your flour is too old – and that, my friends, is a real tragedy in our house!!


Girl Covered in Flour

Baking Can Get Messy


I was going through a cookbook a while back and ran into a recipe which called for bread flour.  At the time, I was out of bread flour and wondered about different flour substitutions to my wonderful followers on Twitter.  The consensus was, go out and purchase bread flour.  Phewy!


Since that time, I have had this post rattling around in my head.  I run into recipes which call for all-purpose flour and wonder if self rising flour really would work just as well?  My mawmaw and my mother never had all-purpose flour in their homes, that I can recall.  We always used self rising flour.  I never noticed a difference.  But now I’m all recipe-tester person, which means I have to be precise.  In the interest of science, maybe I will do a few experiments and make a recipe twice, each time using a different type of flour.  Stay tuned, this calls for a whole different Saturday Recipe than you are used to receiving!


This pondering has led me to this post.  Yes, this one.  You are reading it right now.  Aren’t you glad I let you know? 🙂  What are the different properties of each variation of flour we use in everyday baking.   For that, how the heck to they even come up with the different flours????


Field of Wheat

Wheat Field


Keep an eye out on your email or RSS feeder, folks.  I am planning on doing a whole series of posts on flour.  Why a series?  Because I can…also, when I started researching I found a TON of information on the subject.  Plus, it has captured my unschooling interest and I am following my joy with the research and learning something new.


What posts will be forthcoming?  We will do a post of different baking flours, we will do a post on the history of flour, a post on different milling techniques and maybe even a post on the history of milling in the US.  I told you I found a lot!!


Well, hello there, strangers!  I suppose you are now thinking one of two things – 1) Whoa, I forgot I had this blog on RSS/Email notification.  2) What happened to HER?!

I know, I know, I have been a very, very bad blog mom!  No updates, if you discount the Wordless Wednesday posts with no updates in them, since October.  I am still here, though!  The holidays, as usual, kicked my butt.  This was the second year since losing my beloved grandfather and I get in a funk.  Plus, life kicked me in the butt, it was crazy here the last few months with the two little ones and the oldest finally finished her 11th grade work and is now a SENIOR!!!  (How did she get this old without me noticing??)

We had another chicken go broody and hatched four eggs.  We lost all four chicks to the hawks around the area.  We have also lost a few of our hens, as well.  We are now down to eight chickens.  Rogan and I have decided when the weather turns warmer (it has been freezing almost every night since right before Christmas) we are going to fence in their coop and start keeping them in the pen and safe from the hawks and the neighborhood dogs (this is entirely the chickens’ fault, as they keep flying over our “jailhouse” fence -out from under the protection of the tree cover of our yard- and over to the neighbor’s yard and in an empty field across the road).  We may order some more chicks this spring.

I have started garden dreaming.  I have catalogs, both paper and virtual, I am going through and trying to decide on exactly what to plant this season.  I am planning on expanding our largish-small plot and maybe do greenhouse hoops we can cover in the winter and have a year round garden!  The little ones are getting old enough now that I can spend a bit more time on gardening – and I am planning a separate herb garden and a kid’s plot for them to learn how to work the earth.

I will confess to weakness and admit I have not been using my clothesline since it got cold.  Our laundry room is outside in an alcove off our carport and it takes all I have to just walk out there and do laundry.  So I have been succumbing to the luxury of using the dryer more and more.  We have to run a small heater in the room with the double doors shut so the water line does not freeze on us, but I still find myself having to run an empty load before I can start on the day’s laundry to clear out ice in the line (we do not have a hot water line, only the cold line).

We also discovered at the beginning of the month we need to replace our septic tank and field drains – they are original to the house, so are about fifty years old or so.  The field drains are being blocked by all of my precious trees’ root systems in that part of the yard.  We are looking at about three grand for that.

Plus, we bought the little ones some wooden blocks and building sets for the holidays.  Right before the septic tank issues one of them tossed a block and it hit our HUGE picture window in the living room and cracked it – we are talking about around two to three thousand if we replace it, as it is now structured (also original to the house and is only single pane and had spider cracks running through it already).  This is where I beg you for work, or to recommend me to anyone who needs administrative or bookkeeping work!

Paperwork and Headaches

Bills, Bills, Bills

So, it looks like any refund we get from the IRS is spoken for this year.  The house is starting to remind of two movies – the first obvious choice is The Money Pit and the second is Baby Boom – where the ad executive moves into this great old house in the country, only to discover everything is breaking down.  (Did I mention the kitchen floor also needs replacing, because the subfloor is starting to buckle?)

Oh, well.  I suppose this is the price you pay for living in an older house.  We have a project lined up to replace the two prong outlets with three prong ones (which requires a lot of rewiring).


House Falling Down

The Money Pit


Oh, and something no one really warns you about when you move from the big city to the country – and have a house surrounded by woods – is critters.  Yes, I theoretically knew there would be creepy crawlies, but was not prepared for my new arch enemy – MICE.  Apparently my chickens (and dogs and cat) suck at killing these things before they get into the house!  We have tried traps of all kinds and we keep the population from getting out of control, but we still seeing them scurrying around in the corners sometimes.  I have ordered a product from my favorite online store – Greenfeet – that is supposed to keep them from coming into the house, due to the odor of the herbs and cedar in the product not agreeing with their olfactory senses.  I should be getting it in this week and will let you know how it works.

Saturday Recipe will hopefully continue soon, but some posts may be teasers – I am now a recipe tester for one of my all time favorite recipe sites and will not be able to disclose the recipe for you until it is published on the site.  But I will show you some pics and give you some tips (like how to truss a chicken and how to chop chocolate blocks).

I hope you will not delete me from your feed and will continue on with me in this journey of learning homesteading and country living and homeschooling (oldest will be graduating soon, but the middle one will be starting kindergarten this fall!).  I will give you all the good AND the bad of it all (like mice!).  You will see me fall on my face and learn from mistakes.  So, stay tuned – same bat-ish time, same bat channel!!

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