Monday, August 16, 2010

Cooking...condensed (and someone will win $150!)

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and The Laughing Cow.

This month, my task was to share a cooking or eating mishap.  And folks, if you've read my main blog (Smaller Fun Pants) for long, you know that I don't do a lot of whatever it is that people do in the kitchen.  I think people call it "cooking."

Alright, alright...I may not be THAT bad.  I know how to make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, a good bowl of cereal, and a boiled egg - but not a whole lot else.  Recently, I decided to try one new recipe a week for myself and my boyfriend, Joe.  We have this deal, Joe and I  - if I cook and its absolutely horrible, we get to throw it away and go out to eat.  It's worked out well so far but as luck would have it, everything I've made is edible.

Incidentally, I blame my lack of natural cooking ability on genetics.

My father is a good man; a smart man.  He, however, does not have any interest in cooking.  Truthfully, when my sisters and I visit his house once a year, we're surprised that he's been able to live on Ramen, Hungry Man dinners, and Easy Mac and Cheese for as long as he has.

This past Christmas was no exception.

My two sisters and I live in various parts of the country so while arranging the flight schedules, we decided to make something special for my Dad that Christmas...a family tradition that has no actual recipe and has been passed down to us.  Chile con queso.  Since I know not everyone will know what that is, think of it as awesome, spicy cheese dip.  Although writing such a description of this wonderful dish makes me want to cry a little inside.  In fact, if I had the time, I'd go into all the wonderful details that is our chile con queso, but I'll just say that my father hadn't had it in over 15 years and STILL salivated over the thought of it.  It's that good.

Since we were all arriving and leaving within a day or two of Christmas, we told my dad what items to pick up at the store for the queso.  Dad carefully made a list of the ingredients and assured us all would be taken care of by the time we arrived.

So picture this: it's Christmas Day and it's snowing A LOT.  The grocery stores in his Chicago suburb are closed.  We are all flying out the next day.  We decided it was the perfect time to start making the much anticipated queso - the queso that beats all other queso - a queso WORTHY of celebrating baby Jesus's birth (or Santa's arrival depending on what you believe in).

We start making the roux (base for the dip) and then ask our dad for the rest of the ingredients.  My father comes forward with a bag of groceries and proudly places it on the counter, much like a hunter would display something he had just slain for his family's nourishment. 

As we're shuffling through the contents, my older sister says something like, "Uh oh.  This is NOT good."

I look over and realize that my father did NOT buy the right ingredients.  Instead of normal condensed milk, my father bought SWEETENED condensed milk. For the non-chefs out there, sweetened condensed milk is condensed milk with eleventy billion pounds of sugar in it.  It's like cotton candy and whipped cream got together, had a baby, and then put it in a can so that people could make pies with it. 

We asked him about it and he shrugged his shoulders saying, "What? They didn't have any other kind of condensed milk -that's all they had in the store.  I looked.  It'll be fine."  He then left the kitchen to go read in the den, as he is wont to do.

Of course, it was NOT fine and even thinking about making the queso with sweetened condensed milk was likely causing the person who created the recipe to roll over in her grave, rise up as a ghost, and immediately start making plans to haunt us starting that very night.

But, it was Christmas.  And my dad had been looking forward to it.  And isn't Christmas all about miracles?

So we quickly tried to think of alternatives for condensed milk.  It was like we were the MacGuyvers of the kitchen.  What could make the queso creamy but not soupy?  What could we add that wouldn't change the taste but would could take the place of condensed milk?

AHA!  We had it.  We would just take the 2% milk in my dad's fridge and reduce it (which is a fancy word for heat it up until it thickens).  Then it would be like condensed milk.  We congratulated our quick and resourceful thinking by drinking a bottle glass of wine.

So we poured the milk into a sauce pan and heated it, stirring the whole while.

My younger sister and me stirring.
My two sisters...still stirring.

We stirred.

And stirred.

And stirred some more.

Want to know what takes longer than watching a pot of water boil?  Watching milk thicken. 

I wish I was kidding.

After about 45 minutes of non-stop stirring and a few glasses of wine, we decided to just use the slightly thickened milk anyway.  Dad was getting grumpy - and besides?  What's the worst that could happen?

When we added the rest of the ingredients to the milk, we were left with the runniest queso ever.

"I know!" I exclaimed, "let's just add something to the queso to make it a bit flour!"

"Yes!" my younger sister exclaimed.

"Sure, why not?" my older sister agreed.

(Wine may or may not have been a contributing factor to their quick agreement.)

So we added flour.   At first, it seemed to be working - it was thickening!  This was working!  We celebrated by drinking more wine.

Only, after a few tastes it was like tasting runny bread dough because it was well...doughy.  So basically, it was a cheesy doughy (and yet still runny) mixture with onions, chiles, and jalepenos. 

I'm not going to lie to you.  It was pretty much the worst thing I've ever made...and that includes any baking I did via my Easy-Bake Oven when I was 6.

At that moment, my father walked into the kitchen, grabbed a chip, and used it to scoop up some of the queso from the pot.

"Great job girls," he said.  "See?  I knew it would be fine."

It turns out a Christmas miracle DID happen that day.  Well, either that or my dad's taste buds had dulled over 15 years.

So now it's your turn. 

Laughing Cow (and BlogHer) are giving away another $150 Visa card in return for a laugh. 

Share any funny story, video clip, picture etc in the comment section (it doesn't have to be cooking related) and you will be entered to win $150. Please keep your comments G-rated as any profanity or offensive content will automatically disqualify you from sweepstakes entry. You should also visit The Daily Laugh hub to read funny content each day and for weekly chances to win $100 at the “Play For Laughs” game. If you share something really funny, we may even use it in The Daily Laugh!

Click here for the full rules.

Want more chances to win? Visit the The Daily Laugh hub and comment on the other funny bloggers and their cooking/eating mishaps.

Bon appetit!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

JMS Clothing Review - and a chance at $500

This is a sponsored review from BlogHer and Just My Size Sportswear apparel.
When BlogHer approached me to review Just My Size (JMS) clothing, I was a bit skeptical. I'm one of those women (much to the dismay of the cranky receptionist where I work) who doesn't wear pantyhose with my skirts.  So, what would I actually review?

But I was relieved to learn that they don't just sell pantyhose, bras, undies, or socks. They have LOTS of selections of shirts, blouses, jeans, casual wear, and work attire. In fact, they have this whole Mix and Match wardrobe selection, which makes matching clothes super easy.

I walked into my local Wal-Mart, armed with a gift card, and ready for the task ahead of me.

It was easy to find the JMS shopping section - the Wal-Mart that I went to had that brand almost exclusively in the plus section.  I was relieved to see that the selection was almost as varied as what I could find online.

I'd like to say here that my eyes bugged out at just how much I could get for my money...seriously.  It was like Stacey and Clinton from "What Not To Wear" had just handed me a Visa with $5000 on it.  Each cute top that I first picked out were only $6! 

I loaded up my cart with tops of vibrant colors.  I usually gravitate towards blues and greens, but I even sneaked a few others that I normally wouldn't have chosen.

Then it was time for the bottoms.  I wasn't a capri girl when I walked in the store, but I decided to try them anyway.  Yoga pants? Check.  Stylish jeans? Check.  Trendy tops?  Check.

My cart overfloweth.  Such that the dressing room attendants must've been looking around for Richard Gere because they wondered who was spoiling me.  Well, the Wal-Mart version of Richard Gere. 

Anyway, here's my honest opinion:

Shirts: This is tough.  I am, like most women, not the exact same size on top as on bottom.  I wear a large for tops since the smallest size I could get was a 16/1X at this store, I went swimming in most of the tops.  Having said that, it was not long ago that I could fit into all of these shirts...and I wish I would've known that these shirts were available then. 

Do you remember the days where, as a plus size woman, you could only get tent-sized plain t-shirts?  Well, that is no longer your only option.  Although you can get the plain every day staples to your wardrobe (which I did), I'm happy to write that they had several shirts that had cute necklines.  Some had capped sleeves...which in my book shows that you're trendier than the average slumpy looking person (aka me from ages 14 - 26, much to my mom's chagrin). 

The shirts were all cut for plus sized women.  Larger sleeves for those of us who have big upper arms (alas, I am one of these) and a generous tummy area.  I personally have a lot of junk in the trunk and not AS much in the tummy area.  So most of these shirts were cut for people that might carry a bit more of their weight in the tummy area. 

I did find a few tank tops that were cute.  Although I would've preferred them with the extra support of a bralet (which would've made it a bit more versatile for me), I loved these tank tops.  They had a cute neckline (which I tried to show in my picture) that I can see me wearing underneath several sweaters/cardigans in cooler weather.  They had other tank tops that I chose too, but I liked these the best.

I did find a top that I really liked...stretchy/gathered at the waist and flowy at the top.  Kind of like the one here, but different.  I have it pictured below - it made me feel like a rocker.  Well, a suburban, 30-ish, white rocker...  There were also a few in this same line (evolution by JMS) that were cute too...more younger versus older looks.

Skirts:  There were a handful of skirts in the JMS selection...and none of them were size 16s (what I wear), so I can't really speak to the fit.  The design of the ones in the store made me glad that there weren't any to try on.  I can't imagine wearing such things.  This would be an area that I hope JMS jazzes up a bit.

Capris/shorts: These fit remarkably well.  I own ONE pair of capris and they are currently too small for me to get into.  I just think I look weird in a capri-less person is how I will remain.  But if you like capris, they had several that were cute styles and details.  As for shorts?  You will NEVER catch me in them.  It's the one area of my body I'm so self conscious in that I don't reveal to anyone.  Pasty, jiggly, white cottage cheese legs is what I'm saying.  Not so pretty....and even JMS couldn't get me in them.  But they had several styles to choose if you're a shorts gal, these would probably be fine.

Slacks/Jeans: Here they did pretty well.  Unlike the top part of my body, I am a true size 16 in pants.  They had a few jeans that were the darker/distressed type that are trendy these days.  They were narrower at the ankle than what I prefer and had some interesting distressing near the crotch area that left them in the "return to rack" pile for me.  But had I found some in my size that were not weird in that area, I would've purchased a few.

They did have a cute pair of jeans that had butterflies on the butt pockets.  And while I'm concerned that I was about 15 years too old to be wearing such a thing, I felt sassy in them.  In fact, paired with my cool new rocker shirt, I thought that the outfit was pretty cute if I do say so myself.

The slacks were cute...although I had to hunt for ones that didn't have a 100% stretchy waistline.  They fit really well and the details on them were sensible and work appropriate.

I even purchased some yoga pants and shirts for workouts...which was great and much needed.

All in all, I think the brand did a great job at providing value for the cost...and I was really happy to have been given this opportunity.

So here's your chance to WIN a $500 shopping spree for JMS clothing at Wal-Mart.  I'm not kidding you, you guys could basically get A WHOLE NEW WARDROBE for this amount of money. 

In this economy, I can't think of a better gift from the kind people at JMS.  I mean, can you IMAGINE getting to shop for all your needs for the coming school year, season, or new size that you're just now fitting into?  It's a gift, an answered prayer that many won't have.  We've all gained and lost dozens or hundreds of pounds.  Whether you're on your way up or down the scale, this is a way for you to feel as beautiful as you are.

Although you can read the rules here, here's what you have to do:

1) Be a plus sized woman.  Size 16W to 40W only - sorry skinny minnies - you'll have to enter some other giveaway.

2) Go to Just My Size's website and pick out at least ONE thing that you would like from their line of clothing.  You can play around in the mix and match section, you can watch a video, or you can just pick out the item of clothing that most speaks to you.

3) Come back here, comment on what it is and tell me why you'd like it on or before 8/31/10 (that's when the contest ends!).

That's it. Could it be any easier?  I mean really?

Make sure that I have a way to contact you - via your blog or email - should you win.  If you don't answer back in a timely fashion, I pick a new winner (via random number selector)...and you don't want that to happen, do you?

While you're at it, consider going to the JMS Round Up Page to enter the other reviews for this program or checking out their Facebook Page.

What are you waiting for?  Let your fingers do the shopping!!!