Recipe – Greatest time crunch mashed potatoes ever (four ingredients)

If you had told me a year ago that I would be posting recipes that include a convenience food in the list of ingredients, I would have laughed. You see, for 99.9% of my life I have been a scratch cook. I’m one of those people that own cooking software and actually use it. However, the game of life has its curve balls and now time is always on my mind. I have made this recipe many, many times and people always comment on the wonderful flavor of these potatoes. Try it, I think you’ll agree.


2 packages Idahoan “Baby Reds” instant mashed potatoes
4 1/2 cups water
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 package cream cheese


Heat water and bouillon cubes on stove top or in microwave oven. When water comes to a boil, remove from heat source and stir in Baby Reds until texture is consistent. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Add cream cheese and stir until blended. Makes 8 servings.

Note: The package direction call for 2 cups water per package. I have found that 2 1/4 cups works better. You can cut this recipe in half or multiply it without any effect on flavor. You can also dress it up by sprinkling it with grated cheese.




Quick Tips (4) – Hard water solution for hand washed dishes

I recently read an article stating that some degree of hard water could be found in a majority of American households. None of us like the look of spotty glasses and silverware. When using a dishwasher, the solution is easy since all one has to do is add a product such as Jet Dry. However, some items always get washed by hand, so what does one do to prevent hard water buildup on these items?

The solution is the same. Place a few scant drops of Jet Dry or similar product in a small sink-sized tub and fill it with hot rinse water. The key here is scant drops. If your rinse water foams up, you’ve probably added too much Jet Dry. Wash your dishes as usual and then give them a quick dip in the rinse. They will dry spot free.

This tip is great for coffee decanters as well. They’re often washed by hand and quickly take on a cloudy look in homes with hard water. You will save time in the long run because you’ll never have to spend time scrubbing or soaking your dishes in special solutions made for hard water deposit removal.



Recipes – Roast Beef with Balsamic Wine Sauce (four ingredients)

Roast Beed with Balsamic Wine Sauce

Don’t let this deceptively easy recipe fool you. It may be short on ingredients (only 4), but it’s long on flavor and elegant presentation. I often make this for Sunday dinner or for special guests. Preparation time is approximately 2 minutes and that includes hitting all the buttons on my digital crockpot. Leftover slices make wonderful sandwiches the next day.


3-4 pound beef roast (your choice, I use eye of round).
1 package dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup red wine (any you would drink)
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar


Spray crockpot interior lightly with a cooking spray. Place roast on bottom. Sprinkle with onion soup packet. Pour wine and vinegar on top. Cover and slow cook on low for approximately 7 hours. That’s it!

When the roast is finished cooking, I pour the liquids into a saucepan, heat them on medium, and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch that has been stirred into a little cool water. The sauce will thicken quickly and have a wonderful glisten to it.

Note: Sauces/gravies made with a cornstarch base will not keep their consistency when reheated.



Sponge abuse revisited

Well, as if being soaked in wastewater wasn’t bad enough. Apparently there were a few folks that didn’t quite follow the directions given in news reports detailing a study found in the Journal of Environmental Health. (If you didn’t read my earlier entry regarding this subject, you can find the details here.) Failing to wet their sponges before zapping them in the microwave, some “sponge testers” smoked up their homes after setting the sponges on fire.

The original study was conducted at the University of Florida. Therefore, the university felt it necessary to issue this warning:

To guard against the risk of fire, people who wish to sterilize their sponges at home must ensure the sponge is completely wet. Two minutes of microwaving is sufficient for most sterilization. Sponges should also have no metallic content. Last, people should be careful when removing the sponge from the microwave as it will be hot.

Although the results of the sponge study just came out in December, I read a similar study several years ago that stated the same thing. I can personally attest to having practiced (wet) sponge sterilization via the microwave for years without any adverse effects to me, my home, my sponges, or my microwave.



Recipes – Barbecued Cranberry Chicken (three ingredients)

This is a crockpot recipe. I love the convenience of crockpot cooking, especially with the new digital crockpots that automatically go to a warming cycle when the food has completed cooking. They are great timesaving devices since most recipes involve little preparation and leave you with only one pot to clean.

Makes 6-8 servings.


3-4 pounds boneless chicken breast, skinned
1 can cranberry sauce (16 ounces)
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce (whatever brand you like)


Place all ingredients in the crockpot. Cover and bake on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4 hours. That’s it!

Serving ideas:

(1) Serve with a rice or potato side dish.
(2) Serve on buns with chips

Note: You won’t even recognize the flavor of the cranberry sauce in this dish. So, if you have family members that normally wouldn’t eat cranberry sauce, don’t let that stop you from trying this great recipe. The first time I made this, my husband commented several times on how much he liked it. I saved the news that it contained cranberries until he was finished. He still won’t touch cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, but he loves this recipe.



Quick Tips (3) – How to nuke that sponge grunge


In the December issue of Journal of Environmental Health a study involving sponge germs revealed that a quick spin in the microwave left kitchen and bathroom sponges virtually germ-free.

Researchers concocted an awful mix of things we won’t mention here and then soaked their sponges in it. After 2 minutes at full power, 99 percent of germs were terminated. Four minutes were required for B. cereus spores, known to be tough little critters to kill.

Although most of us would never subject our sponges to the kinds of things the laboratory sponges fell victim to, our sponges do encounter pathogens all the same (eggs, meat, etc).

The method is simple and quick: wet your sponge and place it in the microwave at full power for 2-4 minutes. Do this every other day.




How to say no (and only no).

About a year ago I received a call from someone wanting me to do a mailing within my neighborhood for a charity organization. At the time, I was helping with the care of my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s type dementia. I explained to the caller that I was the primary caregiver for my mother, that my mother had Alzheimer’s disease, and that free time did not exist in my world.

Believe it or not, the caller went on to say that it would only take me about an hour to address the envelopes and surely I could find that much time to help their organization. As I listened to all her prepackaged comebacks for subjects that didn’t answer “yes,” I thought about some sound advice I had been given years before and how I had forgotten to apply it with this caller.

When the woman finally took a breath, I interjected this question: “Excuse me, but have you ever cared for an Alzheimer’s patient, even for as little as 24 hours?” The phone went silent. After a few seconds, she mumbled what I think was an apology and hung up.

You’ve probably experienced the above scenario many times. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all been there and we’ve all regretted saying yes when we should have said no. Why is it so hard to say that little two-letter word? In most cases, it’s because we just can’t say no without following it with a long string of justifications, reasons, and excuses. It’s as if we’re on trial and must give a defense for our answer. So to avoid the whole unpleasantness of the situation, we say yes. Then we hang up the phone and wish we had never answered it in the first place.

I recently read an article that presented a number of similar situations along with sample answers that one could use in order to say no and satisfy the person making the request. However, real life experience has taught me that few (if any) justifications or reasons are ever good enough. For every reason I put forward as to why I can’t do something, the person making the request will find a way around it, informing me that I can if I just do as they say.

Here is the sage advice that came to mind during my experience with the charity caller.

1. Know your life priorities (e.g., family, friends, church, work, previous commitments, etc.)
2. When asked to do something that will compromise your time priorities, politely say “No, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that.” Do not give reasons or make excuses.
3. If the person making the request asks you for a reason, simply rephrase your answer and say “I’m sorry, but I simply can’ t do (whatever it is) at this time.”
4. If appropriate, you may suggest someone who can or offer your help in the future if possible.

Personally, I have found this advice highly effective. Callers often have a prepared arsenal of rebuttals for every excuse they hear. When you don’t give any, they have nothing at which to fire back. I must warn you that it will feel awkward at first because you will be tempted to justify yourself. Don’t give in. You’ve appraised your priorities and know what you can and cannot do. When “no” is the honest answer, enjoy the freedom that honestly brings.