Winter Comfort Food – Wizard Finger Stew

We are now in the very low digits weather-wise in New Hampshire; it’s COLD. Our two indoor/outdoor cats walk outside, pull up one front paw to keep it off the cold ground, then the other, and repeat. They make a unilateral decision to come back into the house where they can lounge and sleep in comfort on our bed and chairs.

When it’s this cold, we want winter comfort food. This is when we make what we’ve come to call Wizard Finger Stew. It’s easy to make, delicious and filling and doesn’t take a whole lot of prep time. Here it is:


1-2 T. olive oil

3-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 onions, minced

1 red pepper, minced

1 green pepper, minced

2-3 stalks of celery, minced

1 package of *Nathan’s hot dogs

1 large can of baked beans (28 oz.)

1 small can of black beans (15 oz.)

1 small can of whole kernel corn (15 oz.)

Add to taste:



BBQ sauce

1-2 T. liquid smoke


Brown the hot dogs in a frying pan until they are cooked through, then remove from heat. Heat the oil in a 4 quart saucepan, and saute the garlic, onions, peppers and celery. When the vegetables are soft, add in the baked beans, the black beans and the corn, and stir to mix. Add the mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce and liquid smoke and stir. Cook on medium low for about 10 minutes.

While that’s cooking, cut up the hot dogs into coins, and drop them into the bean and corn mixture. Mix well, and remove from heat. You can add shredded cheese to it before serving if you like. Serve with coleslaw and hot **cornbread.

Yummy, filling, and keeps you warm inside!

*Nathan’s hot dogs are not only tasty, but they are long and thin; hence, wizard fingers.

**My own recipe for quickie corn bread is this:

In a bowl, empty a box of good old Jiffy cornbread muffin mix. Follow the directions on the box and serve hot (BTW, I never make muffins with it; I just grease a square glass casserole dish, pour in the batter, bake, then cut the cornbread into squares. Be aware that it will take a longer time to bake than muffins).

OR, you can make my easy Chili Cheese Cornbread:

After you empty the box of Jiffy cornbread into a bowl (again, just follow the directions), mix in a can of creamed corn, a small can of minced chilies, and about a cup of grated Cheddar cheese. Mix well and put into the aforementioned glass casserole dish to bake. This is going to take a lot longer to bake because of the addition of the wet ingredients, so test it after about 30-40 minutes. About halfway through cooking, you can also sprinkle more grated Cheddar cheese over the top to make a light crunchy crust. So good!!


My wonderful son-in-law is South African, and I asked his advice about bobotie. He said that there are many variations of it, but I tried out this one and we all love it.

Pronounced ba-boor-tea, the national dish of South Africa is a delicious mixture of curried meat and fruit with a creamy golden topping, not dissimilar to moussaka.

Serves 6.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (1 1/2-inch piece)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
  • 2 pounds ground lamb (or hamburger)
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (1 ounce), toasted
  • 4 slices white or wheat bread, crusts removed
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • Accompaniments, such as cilantro sprigs, lemon or lime wedges, mango chutney, sliced banana, and unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Aromatic Basmati Rice with golden raisins, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, then onions, apple, and ginger; season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and tender, about 15 minutes. (Reduce heat if vegetables brown too quickly.) Add turmeric and curry powder to onion mixture; stir to combine. Add lamb, and cook, breaking up large pieces with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in almonds, and cook for 2 minutes more.
  2. Tear bread into large pieces, and place in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let stand until milk is absorbed. Add bread mixture to lamb, and cook, stirring frequently, until bottom of pan begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in apricot preserves and lemon juice, scraping up browned bits from bottom. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon lamb into a 6-cup shallow baking dish. Whisk eggs, nutmeg, lemon zest, and remaining 1 1/2 cups milk in a medium bowl. Pour over lamb. Place bay leaves in dish, pressing into filling. Bake until set around edges and center is no longer runny, 35 to 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with desired accompaniments and rice.

Whole Grain Fruit Crisp

Two years ago, I gave up sugar and instead use agave for sweetener. However, I still have a sweet tooth and when I want something “dessert-y,” this is a good alternative. You’ll find you use much less agave than if you use sugar.


Note: The agave nectar in the topping makes it less crumbly and more like a cookie batter. Crumble it as best you can over the fruit.

For the fruit:

6 cups of your favorite fruit, pitted, peeled and sliced as necessary

2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon agave nectar

For the topping:

1 stick margarine

1 cup agave nectar (I used ½ c. and it was fine)

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or just plain whole wheat flour)

3/4 cup pecans, broken into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350*.

Combine the fruit ingredients in a Pyrex pie plate. Mix well.

Combine the topping ingredients in a mixing bowl with your fingers till well mixed.  It will be less crumbly than a traditional crisp topping. Scatter the topping in bits over the fruit.

Bake for about an hour, till the top is beginning to brown.

Serve warm or refrigerate for up to three days. If you are refrigerating it, bring it back to room temperature before serving.



Ba’s Christmas Chowder

My grandmother, “Ba,” always made this wonderful chowder especially for Christmas Eve dinner. You can use any or all of the seafood listed. Serves 5 (plus seconds and thirds!)


2-3 slices bacon (in pieces) 

1 pint fresh or canned clams (one each whole and chopped) and liquid

1 pint fresh oysters and liquid

1 pint scallops

1 pint haddock, cod, or tilapia pieces

1 pint cooked shrimp

1 cup lobster pieces

1 cup crabmeat

1 chopped onion

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. flour

1 T. paprika

1+ cup regular whole milk (do NOT use evaporated milk) – use more as needed to add volume

1+ cup light cream

2-3 T. butter

S & P

Cook bacon in the bottom of the chowder pot; remove when crisp. Pour off the excess fat, but keep some in the pot. Fry the onion in the bacon fat til golden. Add the Worcestershire and S&P. (We also like to add a shot of Siracchi sauce to give it a little kick) Add the clam juice and bring to boil. Turn heat down to medium. Add the seafood:

  • oysters
  • clams
  • fish
  • crabmeat
  • scallops
  • lobster
  • shrimp

 (The idea is to add the seafood that needs the least cooking LAST)

Stir and add flour and stir again to thicken. Add cream and milk, stir and simmer. Add butter and allow to melt. Salt and pepper to taste. Chop the bacon into small pieces, and add on top. Take the chowder off the heat and let cool.

Store in refrigerator at least overnight to let the flavors combine. Heat and serve with oyster crackers, sweet pickles and Parker House rolls.


How To Make Your Own Laundry Soap

I found this ‘recipe’ online by Crystal Miller. The Crankee Yankee and I have been washing our clothes with it for a few years, and it works beautifully. Not only does it get clothes and towels clean, but everything out of the dryer smells wonderful, and towels and blankets come out soft and fluffy.

Don’t worry if the soap isn’t very sudsy. The whole point of laundry soap is to clean, and this recipe does it beautifully. Best of all, it’s cheap and easy to make; a load of wash costs out at about a penny per load.

Have fun! Here’s the recipe, and some FAQs as well:

“Making your own laundry soap is very easy!  No longer do you need to rely on store bought detergents.  With a few ingredients on hand you will be able to make batch after batch of laundry soap.  The cost savings by doing this is incredible!

What Ingredients Do You Need?

You will need 3 basic ingredients; a soap of some sort, washing soda and borax.

The Soap:  The most typical type of soap to use is Fels Naptha.  It is an old-fashioned type of soap usually found in the laundry aisle.  The other options for soap are Ivory or another brand called, Zote.  Any of these will work.  If you use Ivory or your own homemade soap you will need to use the whole bar.

Washing Soda: This is not to be confused with baking soda.  Washing soda is sodium carbonate or soda ash (baking soda is sodium bicarbonate).  It is a white powder.  Its purpose is to help remove dirt and orders.   The brand to look for is Arm & Hammer Washing Soda.  I find it in the laundry section of my grocery store.   Many people have a hard time finding this locally.  I know you can purchase it online, even through  I would also suggest asking your grocery store manager if it would be possible for the store to get it for you.

Borax: Borax is a naturally occurring mineral: Sodium Borate.  It is a white powder.  Its purpose is as a laundry whitener and deodorizer. The brand to look for is 20 Mule Team.  It comes in a 76 oz. box.  You should be able to locate this in the laundry detergent aisle.  Again as with the washing soda, if you cannot find it ask you store manager or look online.


  • 1/3 bar Fels Naptha or other type of soap, as listed above
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • ½ cup borax powder
  • Small bucket, about 2 gallon size~

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan.  Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts.  Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket.   Now add your soap mixture and stir.  Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir.  Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel.  You use ½ cup per load.

NOTE: The finished soap will not be a solid gel.  It will be more of a watery gel that has been accurately described as an “egg noodle soup” look. Also,  the soap is a low sudsing soap.  So if you don’t see suds, that is ok.  Suds are not what does the cleaning, it is the ingredients in the soap.

Optional: If you want your soap to have some sort of scent you can scent this with ½ to 1 oz. of essential oil or fragrance oil of your choice.  My favorite scent is orange essential oil.

But is it Really Less Expensive?

Is the laundry detergent a cost saver?  How do the numbers on this add up?  Well I am a person who likes to know what I am spending and if my efforts save me in one way or another.  This is one of the areas that I wanted to know if I was actually saving money.  We do a lot of laundry and I make double batches of this soap and knowing that the time spent doing this was a savings for my family was important to me.

Here are my calculations:

The cost of making the above recipe of laundry soap was .71 cents.  That was amazing to me!  With this 2 gallon size recipe you will have enough to do 64 loads of laundry.  That translates to about .01 cent a load.

Breakdown of Laundry Soap Cost

Here is the breakdown of my costs and how I came up with those numbers (I am using the prices I paid for these items and you may find your price varies some based on what you pay):

Fels Naptha: $1.12  for a 5.5 oz. bar.  The recipe says to use a 1/3 of a bar.  I calculated 2 oz. just to make the math a little easier.  The cost of the Fels Naptha per batch is: .40 cents

Washing Soda: $2.23 for a 55 oz. box.  This came to .17 cents per batch.  I calculated how much per oz. (2.23 divided by 55) and then weighed a half cup of washing soda (4.2oz.) and multiplied my per oz. price by 4.2

Borax: $3.27 for a 76 oz. box.  This came to .14 cents per batch.  Did the same calculations as above, however a 1/2 cup of borax weighs 3.5 oz.

For the final numbers I have .40 + .17 + .14 = .71 for 2 gallons of laundry detergent.  Two gallons translates to 64- 1/2 cup portions and .71 divided by 64 = .01109, etc… or about .01 cent a load!


  1. Can you use this laundry soap in a high efficiency (HE) washing machine?
  2. Is the laundry soap supposed to be clear and smooth like manufactured laundry soap?
    No–It will be a liquid gel.or a liquid with bits of gel in it, sort of like an Egg Noodle Soup consistency. If it is more or less gelled it still works. If it does not gel at all, next time add more soap.
  3. Will the laundry soap clean badly soiled or smelly clothes well?
    It depends–the soap works fine for every day dirt and grime. But if you have extra dirty clothes then you may add a scoop of Oxyclean to the load.