Brunch-at-Home: Simple & Cheap

Do you find yourself wanting to go out for brunch or breakfast on the weekends because it’s too much of a hassle to prepare after a busy, work week? How about a classic Bloody Mary at home with Eggs Benedict – made EASY? I’m certain those two items were EXACTLY what you were thinking of when I was describing easy because of a busy work week, surely not a bowl of cereal, toasted bagel, or instant-toaster waffles!

When people hear Eggs Benedict, they automatically assume hours in the kitchen, fancy ingredients, difficulty level past where they want to be; yet, it’s actually super easy, and you will most likely have all of the ingredients. The staple of any Eggs Benedict is the hollandaise sauce.  If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be intimidated, because even McDonald’s has it slapped on their egg/bacon/cheese bagel (it’s either still on the menu or was for a limited time – I go very rarely, so not sure!)

So, if you stay tuned, you’ll get to read my blog on make-ahead meals made cheap because of shared ingredients, and these two are no exception.  You can share the same ingredient in your Bloody Mary and in your hollandaise sauce, making it a money-saving brunch-at-home! Yes, please.

First up. Hollandaise sauce.

1. Melt 1 stick of unsalted butter. (Healthier meals also coming to the blog).

2. Wisk together 4 egg yolks + 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in a metal mixing bowl until it doubles in volume, either by hand or hand mixer. It will have an appearance similar to instant vanilla pudding!

image

 

3. Put the metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl) and slowly drizzle in the unsalted butter, whisking until it doubles in volume.

4. Remove from heat and now season with cayenne, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, etc.

Done! That’s it.  3 ingredients with whatever seasoning you already own, and we’ll borrow some of the lemon for the Bloody Mary.

Next up.  Bloody Mary (before you start poaching your eggs for the Benedict). Easy recipe to remember that’s in 2’s and 4’s.

1. 4 oz. of tomato juice of choice for every 2 oz. of unflavored, quality vodka.  (I doubled this for two adults, so 8oz. of tomato juice + 4oz. of vodka)

2. Squeeze in the juice from 2 lemon wedges, but I eyeballed this and did it to taste.

3. 4 teaspoons of prepared horseradish

4. 4 dashes of worchestershire

5. 4 dashes of hot sauce. I combined our fave Pittsburgh sauce image with plain ole’ Tabasco.

CUSTOMIZATION: A pinch of celery seed, celery salt, Old Bay Seasoning, Smoked Paprika, your fave bbq sauce, black pepper, etc.

If you want to put in a little more work, then you can take the lemon wedge around the rim of your glass and combine kosher or sea salt with cayenne or smoked paprika or Old Bay Seasoning or pepper (I did all to get the max amount of flavor but it’s not needed).  TIP: In any recipe calling for paprika, I use smoked paprika in lieu of sweet.  It ups the anty on any recipe – especially that traditional, summer, boring macaroni or potato salad!imageGarnish with lemon wedge, olives, celery stalk, a strip of bacon or shrimp if you’d like but not doing so will still get you an excellent Bloody Mary with ingredients you already have!

Back to eggs Benny: For poaching eggs, my boyfriend and I followed Alton Brown because he’s the science behind cooking, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/perfect-poached-eggs-recipe.html . White Vinegar is required, but this is cheap buying in bulk and a shared ingredient in a lot of my homemade cleaning supplies (different blog post ahead).

Finish with canadian bacon on top of a toasted english muffin cut in half.  These items we normally have for quick breakfast sandwiches.  The poached egg goes next, then hollandaise after. Most garnish with parsley, but I found I liked using my chives from my spiral herb garden instead. The delicate, onion-y flavor cut through the richness of the hollandaise.

Leave a comment and let me know how your brunch-at-home went! image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY canning in a boiling water bath (Small Batch)

imageTomatoes! Tomato? Tomato sauce. Tomato juice. Spaghetti sauce. You name it, if I can grow my own organic tomatoes and then can them into any form I want them to take and have it taste amazing in the middle of winter…well, I’m one happy 30-something. Btw, I say organic, but I’m not overly-fussy about everything having to be organic, but it does factor into my life in some areas and then other areas, not at all. Skincare will be one of the areas where I care a little bit more about the ingredients that they contain than maybe other things in my life! Coming up!

So anyway, Spaghetti sauce to an Italian is like what flowers are to bees, hot dogs in mac-n-cheese is to a toddler, or carrots are to rabbits…you catch my drift. I don’t want to spend too much time on the basics of canning (sterilizing the jars/lids, listening for the pop when they come out of the water bath, or checking for a tight seal at the end) as sources are endless online regarding those, so here we go!

Basic tools of the trade:

image

Two topics not easily found online or buried:
1. Almost all jams and fruit jellies will need an additional “tool” of the trade – Fruit Pectin – that you can buy at almost any grocer.
image
2. Tomatoes walk the fine line of being acidic but possibly, maybe, maybe not acidic enough to sustain a shelf life in your canning jar, so to solve that problem – enter Citric Acid or lemon juice. Citric Acid comes in a small plastic container and can be found in the same area as all the canning supplies. This is not needed if you plan on pressure cooking instead of a boiling water bath. Directions on how much to use for both of these ingredients should be on the container.
image

Now, what was overly frustrating for canning is that no sources give you the “number-of-vegetable-per-how-many-quart-or-pint-jars-it-will-make ratio.” Sources instead give you recipes by weight, which doesn’t help if you don’t own a food scale, i.e. me. There’s a few reasons for that. One being everyone grows or purchases different-sized vegetables. With tomatoes, it may depend on what type you use (roma being the preferred for sauces) that will make it vary in size, not to mention how much of the tomato you want to keep whole in your sauce or if you want just the juice, which would render even less of an amount, etc.

RECIPE:
I have 8 roma tomato plants in my garden, 4 grape tomato, and 4 beef steak. This changes every year until I find what works best. I’ve come to notice that the 8 roma tomato plants will yield red tomatoes maybe only 20-30 at a time. This is about the amount you need for doing small work – ONE quart jar. TIP: If some tomatoes are red but not enough to make an entire batch or recipe, you can pick the red ones and freeze them until you have enough to can the rest! In addition, if you don’t have enough finished sauce at the end for a jar, you can freeze the sauce in freezer bags.

For my first quart, I mixed the romas and some grape tomatoes but no beef steaks, as none were ready yet!
1. Cut a slit into an “x” on the bottom of all of the tomatoes.
2. Drop them into a pot of boiling water for no longer than a minute and then shock them in an ice water bath.
3. Doing this, loosens the skin for removal, so go ahead, and do that.
4. Dice ½ a yellow onion, 1 bell pepper, garlic cloves to your taste, & mushrooms.
5. Sautee everything from step 4 into a pan with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt, pepper, fresh oregano, thyme, and fresh basil (added at the end).
a. Some people add a bay leaf, celery, maybe a red wine, maybe tomato paste to thicken
6. Using a food mill, you can either hand-crank the tomatoes making more of a juice with little to no seeds or just mash them by hand with a potato masher.
7. Combine the mashed tomatoes with the goodies from step 4 & 5 into a pan with your citric acid or lemon juice.
8. Slow, gentle boil until you’ve reduced the mixture by half, mostly getting all of the water out.
9. Scoop the mixture into your jars using a canning funnel for less mess.
10. Pop them gently into their canning bath of glory for about 40 minutes for a quart jar.

Voila!
image
*Leave a comment if you would like any other info. I can offer you more on the basics of canning if you’d like or the basics of gardening, types of tomatoes, etc.

Save money on vacation seeing the Nation’s most prominent sites in one weekend? Yes, please.

I do my best work at night. Oh, hi. Hello. Welcome to my blog. This is the first so make it count, Toni! So, it’s summer, in fact, it’s nearing the end of summer here in Pennsylvania, ugh. We all spent the summer either wishing we were on vacation or actually took a vacation… or three. Three. I was lucky enough to take three. Well, two were weekend trips and one I actually took off of work. Why not start the blog out with some travel, let me save you some money, and let me tell you how to do a Washington D.C. trip IN A WEEKEND, hitting ALL of the major sites.

I remember my first trip here, a college class trip, to stand in line outside of the Supreme Court building hoping to get a coveted seat to hear oral arguments. The case was about the postman leaving the mail at the doorstep and the Pennsylvania homeowner somehow injured herself on it – and won. It was a long time ago so the specifics are fuzzy. Anyway, I don’t remember getting to see much else while we were there except for maybe the Lincoln memorial & Washington monument at the time (since they’re so close together).

I wanted to take my boyfriend here for his birthday since he only came once to see the Air and Space Museum. Don’t ask me how someone comes to D.C. and only sees one museum, but that’s alright, he’s cute, he gets a pass.

Saving money: First things first. This is probably already a given but understand that hotel rooms in the city are much more expensive than staying outside of the city limits and riding the Metro in. We stayed in Tyson’s Corner (about a 25 minute subway ride into the city). There are shops and restaurants around the hotel so that helped ease the blow of not being able to walk to the stops we wanted to go to if we would have stayed in city center. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was a nice stay, and surprisingly cheap at $74.25 for Friday night and $126.75 for Saturday night (without taxes+parking). There’s also three metro stops to choose from and other hotels to choose from as well. Our hotel provided a free shuttle to the metro stops, although they were close enough and safe to walk to. In addition, figuring out the metro color coded lines and which stops each line makes was actually really simple for an out-of-towner & newbie!

Now I’m counting this as a summer trip, but really, it was April. I wanted to go while the Cherry Blossoms were blooming so that anywhere we walked or any picture we took, we would be engulfed in Cherry Blossom trees.
image

If you want to see D.C. for the first time, I suggest taking the trip the last week of March to the beginning week of April. There’s actually a website that forecasts when they will bloom each year. If this is something you’re interested in, take a peek at David Coleman’s page, https://cherryblossomwatch.com/peak-bloom-forecast/.

Okay, back to money saving. We purchased a SmarTrip card which was rechargeable and can be used on both the metro and the buses. You can fill it up with any monetary amount and it tracks it instead of constantly buying day passes. All other info on the fares can be found here, http://www.wmata.com/fares/metrorail.cfm. Continue reading “Save money on vacation seeing the Nation’s most prominent sites in one weekend? Yes, please.”