Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Week 21: How to get your interest rate re-adjusted, down!

I decided to deviate from my normal blogging of food related topics this week to see if I can help anyone who is having problems with their adjustable rate mortgages. I know this doesn’t seem very hillbilly, but actually it fits into my hillbilly theme really well. I am writing about helping my brother get his crazy adjustable rate mortgage that was at a 11.25% interest rate, re-adjusted down to 6.68%! Now I would say, that is like help’in my kin, and that is hillbilly.

So here is the short version of what has been going on for the last 3 months. My brother’s home had an adjustable rate mortgage that adjusted over a year or two years ago and was sitting at 11.25%!! Crazy! No wonder so many homeowners are defaulting on their homes with rates like these. So I began trying to help my brother either refinance or see if we could get his interest rate re-adjusted. We first decided on trying to get the rate dropped, since refinancing was really not a good option for him, since his home has come down in value. We decided that collectively, we spent over 8 hours on the phone, getting transferred from one department to the next, trying to find someone that knew anything at the lender! I kept track on one of my attempts and was transferred 8 different times, was given 7 different phone numbers, and got nowhere! No wonder so many mortgage companies are going out of business, their service is horrible. So after my fury and relentlessness, we prevailed! My brother went to phone in his next payment today and got a live person that said, his rate was being adjusted from 11.25% to 6.68% and that he didn’t need to make his next payment until April. VICTORY!! He was about as happy as a clam.

So I wanted to give anyone that has a loan with GMAC the steps needed to re-adjust your loan. Watch what vocabulary you say on the phone and do not deviate from the script given below, because it took multiple attempts to learn the right words to say, to get through to the right person, to get the result we wanted. Each department does not know what the other department is doing, so you will most likely get wrong information if you just try the regular customer service department. Good luck, best wishes, and I hope you have the same success as we did!

Step 1: Download the following form from GMAC’s web site, Financial Analysis for Homeowner Help. Fill it out and fax it back to the number on the document: F: 866-709-4744 http://www.gmacmortgage.com/pdfs/Financial_Analysis.pdf

Step 2: In the income & expense section of the document, make sure your income is at least $250 more than your expenses. They want to see that you have a little cushion in your finances. (Trust me on this!)

Step 3: Follow up about 3-5 business days after you have faxed in the document. Your information should be in the system by then. The number to call for this is: 800-799-9250. Ask for an Account Specialist. (Very important to say this, don’t describe your document or anything, just ask for an Account Specialist)

Step 4: The Account Specialist is the only person that can help. I believe they are in the Loss Mitigation Department, but if you ask for the Loss Mitigation Department directly you will get sent all across the company! This person will ask some questions and whoever’s name is on the loan will need to be on the phone. Trust me on this too. I do not have 3-way calling, so I had to put my land line on speaker phone and my cell phone on speaker and do my own hillbilly method of 3-way calling, so that the Account Specialist could hear my brother and he didn’t have to try and call back and get lost in the transfers, again. Answer all the questions. If they ask if your hardship is permanent or temporary, say that it is permanent.

Step 5: They said it would take about 10 business days to see if he could get his rate readjusted. Make a note in your calendar and call back if you have not heard anything to: 800-799-9250 and ask for... yes, an Account Specialist.

Well that is it. No guarantees, but at least you will get to speak with someone that can help you. Remember, the Account Specialist is your friend. These steps seem pretty easy as I am writing them up now, but this was days worth of calling and re-calling to get the right information. Another note, if you don’t have your taxes escrowed/impounded, do it! Ask to speak with someone in the Escrow Department and they can help you out. Make it easy on yourself and just have your taxes taken out every month and be done with it! No one has all that extra money just lying around waiting to pay their taxes, and if you do, then you probably are not in this position anyway and signed up for a fixed interest rate when rates were at historic lows! Best wishes!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Week 20: Brownie Bread Pudding

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day! We decided to cook in for the holiday and made a wonderful ham with a yummy cranberry glaze, homemade mustard (for another Blog), scalloped turnips (from the Pioneer Women’s web site), and broccoli. A pretty good meal!! We were about 2 hours behind schedule somehow and didn’t eat until 9pm, but hey, we had fun anyway.

We were trying to decide what to do for dessert, of course we were planning something chocolate, and it got decided for us. A few days before Valentine’s Day, one of Scott’s co-workers had brought in some brownies for their Valentine’s party and they were like bricks! They were made from one of those brownie pans that is shaped like a zig-zag so that every piece of brownie has edges. Well, I guess they got over baked or maybe the zig-zag pan is just not what it’s cracked up to be?! Who knows? Anyway, Scott said why not just make a bread pudding out of the dry brownies & the next thing I knew we had a bag of brownies at home to make bread pudding. So the challenge began!

Well, first let me say, bread pudding is about my most favorite dessert in the world. There is something about bread pudding, with just simple ingredients, you can make so many varieties of sweet and savory bread puddings. Valentine’s Day 2004, Scott researched about 50 bread pudding recipes on the web and put them all together in a bread pudding cookbook! Ah, how romantic! It was a wonderful gift and I have been making all sorts of bread pudding for years now. So now I needed to adapt a recipe to use brownies instead of bread. I decided on a chocolate bread pudding recipe and just omitted adding chocolate, replaced it with brownies and reduced the amount of white bread. I was amazed how wonderful this bread pudding turned out. (okay, they're brownies, how bad could it be?!) We were going to add cherries in the recipe and forgot to put them in. So we decided to soak the dried cherries in some liqueur and then just pour it over the top, and let me tell you, an excellent choice!! Our little cherries were so drunk on Grand Marnier, they were amazing!

Well, have fun with it. Bread pudding is pretty forgiving and you can pretty much add whatever you want and it will pretty much turn out great! This was definitely a hillbilly recipe and thanks Emeril for getting me going!

Yummy Brownie Bread Pudding

  • 3 cups dry brownies

  • 1 cup day-old white bread

  • 2 cups Half & Half

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier (separated in half)

  • ½ cup dried cherries

Special ingredients: Grand Marnier or any type of brandy or specialty liqueur you would like would give a nice little flavor to your topping

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 pan with cooking spray.

Step 2: Pre-soak the dried cherries in 1/4 cup Grand Marnier (super yum!)

Step 3: Wisk together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier

Step 4: Add Half & Half to the egg mixture. Mix well.

Step 5: Cut brownies and bread into 1-inch size pieces

Step 6: Place white bread in the milk/egg mixture and let soak for 15 minutes.

Step 7: Place brownies in the bottom of the greased pan.

Step 8: Pour white bread, egg, and cream mixture over the brownies.

Step 9: Bake in the oven for about 45-55 minutes. Bake until the pudding is set. Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve the brownie bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream (my favorite type) and pour the soaked cherries over your ice cream. You could even heat up the drunken soaked cherries a little and then pour them over the ice cream, that would be pretty good too!

Enjoy just one of my favorite bread pudding recipes. It is any easy dessert & pretty impressive. And it might be a little hillbilly!

Recipe credit to: Adapted from Emeril’s Creole Christmas

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Week 19: Homemade Crackers

I am a carb lover!! Give me pasta, bread, sweets, and crackers and I am all over them! I can admit that I am addicted to carbs and I am okay with it! We have been making a lot of soups lately since it has been chilly in Southern California, yes, in the 50's! Well, we finally used up all of our crackers and I thought, hey, why not make our own crackers. We used to love a home brand of multi-seed crackers at Whole Foods, that were loaded with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and all kinds of spices. Well, I guess Whole Foods decided to out source these crackers to someone else and we just don’t like them anymore. So I thought I would try and see if homemade crackers would do the trick.

So, I took out my Joy of Cooking and of course, they had a section on crackers. Really, all they said is use any bread dough or pizza dough and just roll it out thin and cut them into crackers. Easy! Who knew?! So I decided to use a basic pizza dough recipe, which used ingredients I always have in the house (I think all bread is like that). The process was really easy and I just used my dough hook with the Kitchen Aid mixer. The part I had a hard time with was trying to roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick! How the heck do you do that? Any suggestions would be appreciated!! I was able to get the edges pretty thin, so they crisped up nice when they were baked, but the middle pieces were thicker and didn’t crisp up and dry out as much as I would like in a cracker. The taste was great, but when they cooled down, they were a little more rubbery. (They are great re-heated in the toaster oven!)

So, it is worth a try to make your own homemade crackers and experiment with different doughs and toppings.


  • 1 package active dry yeast

  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (105 to115 degrees)

  • 3 ½ to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Special ingredients: nothing, just use what you have in the house for seasonings. I had some truffle salt crystals that I crushed and sprinkled on top of the crackers, YUM!!

Step 1: Place yeast and water together in your mixer bowl and let stand for 5 minutes until dissolved. (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook, but this could all be done by hand as well, just a little more tiring!)

Step 2: On low speed mix in the flour, salt, sugar, and olive oil and stir.

Step 3: With the dough hook mix on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes. I found I needed more flour in my dough since it looked too sticky and no way I could roll it out. I think you just get a feel for how much is enough flour. I stopped it a few times and pushed on the dough to see if it sprang back a bit, if so, then you probably have enough flour and the kneading process is about done.

Step 4: Transfer dough to a bowl that has some olive oil in it and just coat the dough ball with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 1 ½ hours in a warm place. I just sat it on top of the stove to keep it warm.

Step 5: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 6: After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into two balls. Let sit for another 10 to 15 minutes, lightly cover.

Step 7: Now the messy part! Put flour down on the counter, take one of your dough balls and start rolling it out to 1/8 inch thick. (Tips would be helpful!!) Try and get the dough as thin as possible. You may need to add flour on top to keep from sticking, but I tried to roll it into a rectangle so my crackers would be square-ish.

Step 8: Cut into squares or any shape you want.

Step 9: Place crackers on jelly roll pan. (I think it will work better than a regular cookie sheet, since we want them to be crispy) Brush crackers with oil.

Step 10: Place any toppings you want. I used course salt, but if you have other seeds, herbs, garlic, etc. go for it! Have fun.

Step 11: Bake for 6 to 9 minutes. I found my thinner crackers were done in about 7 minutes, but the thicker crackers got a little puffy and were just good to eat right out of the oven.

Step 12: Let cool completely and enjoy. For storage, I put mine in zip lock, but they soften up some. I decided to freeze most of them and take out a handful of crackers when I need them and they will stay much longer.

I think that is it. These crackers were pretty easy and fun to make. I definitely like them better than the new Whole Foods version of a flatbread cracker, but you really can’t beat a Triscuit every now & then. Have fun and enjoy!

Recipe credit to: Joy of Cooking

Monday, February 2, 2009

Week 18: Cranberry Vodka

Okay, you might think I am a big drinker, but no, not really. I just like making things from scratch and experimenting with food. My boyfriend got crazy over the holidays and bought a million bags of fresh cranberries before they were out of the grocery store. Fresh cranberries can only be found in the fall and around Christmas time since they are harvested only once a year. If you have always wondered how cranberries are grown, just Wikipedia cranberries! I have seen the commercials with the two guys in the cranberry bog, but how do they grow, in the water? We had no clue, so we looked it up and in short, they do grow on bushes and as an easy way to harvest them, they flood the area and the cranberries then float and are easy to collect. Check it out, amazing!

Anyway, we have been getting creative with our cranberries and decided to make a liqueur. Wow, did this really turn out wonderful. A nice tart liqueur and can be made into all sorts of drinks. Martini’s are a great use for this fresh and really dark red drink.

So, if you have a bag of cranberries in the freezer and don’t know what to do with it, try this easy recipe and enjoy!!

Cranberry Vodka

  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries

  • 3 cups vodka

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 cups sugar

Step 1: Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and cool completely.

Step 2: Place cranberries in a food processor; process 2 minutes or until finely chopped.

Step 3: Combine sugar mixture and cranberries in a large bowl; stir in vodka.

Step 4: Pour the vodka mixture into clean jars; secure with lids. Let stand 3 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every other day. We put our mixture in a big glass bowl that we stirred every other day. Depends on what you have available.

Step 5: Strain the cranberry mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl, and discard solids. Carefully pour liqueur into clean bottles or jars. Note: Liqueur can be stored refrigerated or at room temperature for up to a year.

193 calories for 1/4 cup.

Recipe credit to: Cooking Light, December 2003

Week 17: Homemade Granola Bars

Sorry for the long delay in posts. Was on vacation for a little bit! Little too cold in Florida for January for me and back to California for 80 degree weather!
I was watching the Food Network again! I really love Alton Brown, he is quirky and always has good ideas and interesting things to cook. I saw his program on making homemade granola bars and thought, perfect. Protein bars and granola bars are always expensive and I tend to eat snacks during the day and really liked having some granola bars around for my mid-day treat. The great thing about making your own granola bars or protein bars, is that you know what is in them and no preservatives! These are pretty simple and you should have most of the ingredients in your pantry.

I took a few of these granola bars in a zip-lock bag on a trip and ended up putting in a brownie I had made as well for my afternoon snack. Well, you can imagine the brownie mashed into the granola bars and, WOW, what a combo! Brownie Granola Bars! Yum. The combo was really great! Since you are baking the granola, you really can’t put in chocolate chips or anything that would melt, but this is a nice way to add some chocolate.

Homemade Granola Bars

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

  • ½ cup raw sunflower seeds

  • 1 cup sliced almonds

  • ½ cup wheat germ

  • ½ cup honey

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 1-ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or almond extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit, any combination of apricots, cherries or blueberries

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin tins.

Step 2: Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a half-sheet pan. (I lined the sheet with tin foil, just for easier clean up.) Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: Combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract, and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.

Step 4: Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine.

Step 5: Put mix in muffin tins and press down. Place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

The granola will look like it will fall apart when you take it out, but when it cools, it will harden due to the honey and sugar. Not to worry! Well, there you go, homemade granola. Has some fun with it, mix up your dried fruit, nuts, etc. I think this a pretty flexible recipe, so be a little hillbilly.

Recipe credit to: Alton Brown, Good Eats on the Food Network