Monday, December 26, 2011

What's on the shelf today?

Reading: You may have been wondering what I am reading right now.  Maybe not, but I have noticed there are quite a few people who regularly ask me what I am reading.  And I kind of like talking about what I have on the shelf currently.  ("on the shelf" is not meant literally.  My current books are usually in a pile by my bed or in various rooms in which I have dropped them off after reading a few pages.)

Sunday night bookclub is reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  This non-fiction book tells the history of 4 plants (the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato) that satisfy four fundamental human desires (sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control).  I have finished the section on the apple.  The author shows how plants have evolved to satisfy human needs, and also how the plants have benefited from us as well, asking the question of who is really domesticating whom?  So far, so good. 

The former "breakfast club" that now meets for dinner has been assigned to read Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart.  This is the author's second book, a follow up to Haunted Ground (aka "the head in a bog" book), and this time involves bodies in a bog.  These books take place in Ireland and are part murder mystery, part romance, part history/archeology lesson.  They are pretty good.  We read the first one for Sunday bookclub a few years back (may have also read the second one - I can't remember off the top of my head) and people seem to like them.  I am kinda of "meh." about them, myself.

Creating:  I made a kind of cool hat for my brother-in-law for Christmas but now realize I didn't take any pictures.  Will have to beg my sister to send some for me...  I tried a new-to-me technique on this hat, which, in retrospect, may not have been the best idea when making a gift for someone.  It turned out pretty well but I was learning as I went.  It was made like a traditional hat in shape but was double knit, which makes it double thickness and also reversible.  I would do my decreases differently next time (the second row of decreases went better than the first) and would finish it off differently, but overall it looks okay, I think. 

A new kind of "creating" has entered my life - creating music on the electric bass guitar E gave me for Christmas.  It is beautiful, shiny and red.  The amp came with headphones so only I have to hear myself practice until I know what I am doing.  I went out tonight to buy a battery for the tuner because I could tell it was not tuned but couldn't hear where it needed to be.  Now the tips of my fingers are sore and I know a little how to play it, at least how to hold it and play some basic notes.  Look for me on tour soon - haha!

Eating:  This was mostly a weekend of other people cooking for me.  I don't mind, really!  E made dinner on Friday (Christmas Eve Eve) - steaks with bourbon thyme sauce and mashed potatoes.  So yummy!  Recipe is from Food Network - recipe says 8 steaks, but after you cook them to medium, you save 4 of them for another meal.  We make 2 steaks (because there are two of us, duh!) but all the sauce because it is super tasty and makes good gravy.
Seared Steaks with Bourbon-Thyme Pan Sauce
Heat 1 Tbls olive oil in a large skillet.  Season 8 boneless steaks (ribeye, sirloin, etc.) with salt, freshly ground pepper, and 1 Tbls dried thyme.  Sear 2 minutes per side until golden brown.  Add 1/2 C bourbon and cook 1 minute.  Add 1/2 C beef broth and bring to a simmer.  Cook 2 minutes, until cooked to medium.  Remove steaks from pan and transfer 4 of them to a serving platter.  Reserve 4 steaks for another meal. 
Dissolve 1 Tbls cornstarch in another 1/2 C beef broth and add to pan.  Simmer 1 minute, until sauce thickens.  Spoon sauce over steaks before serving.

Saturday night (Christmas Eve) we had meatballs with E's family.  His mother seasons her meatballs with ginger and nutmeg (I asked - I thought I had detected nutmeg but would not have guessed the ginger).  They are really tasty meatballs.

Sunday (Christmas Day) we had soups with my mom and step-dad.  How I love soup (you may have already guessed that from my previous 2 or more soup posts...)!  We had corn chowder, and a new one - Italian chicken noodle.  As Mom said, it's chicken noodle with Parmesan cheese and basil.  So yummy.  Quite the tasty holiday overall.

Hope your Christmas was tasty as well! 
Until we eat again,

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cooking class, Paul Wellstone, and Scarves

Eating:  Our cooking class was a lot of fun.  It was a class on the "mother sauces" - the five sauces that are the basis for all sauces.  We were at a table/cooking station with 2 other couples who we had not met before we got there.  Cooking by committee with 4 people you do not know is, well, interesting.  Anyway... We started with bechemel, a kind of basic cream sauce, the base for creamy soups, cheese fondue, anything creamy and saucy.  Secret tip I learned?  A dash of nutmeg.  Who knew?  We tried this sauce on a croque monsieur (fancy French ham and cheese sandwich). 
Next was a veloute, a stock based sauce, which we made into a pasta and prawns dish with coconut chili lime sauce - super tasty and flavorful. 
The "entree" portion of the meal used an espagnole sauce, which is a dark brown sauce (think brown gravy) using beef stock.  In the sauce, we cooked some little gnocchi, then once the sauce was nice and thick (and full of flavor from the "holy trinity" (aka mire poix, aka carrots, celery and onion), stock and a bit of wine), it was serve over beef for beef bourguinone.  This was our favorite dish of the evening.
We then made, with a bit of difficulty, a hollandaise type sauce.  I say a bit of difficulty because the cooking by committee was in full force here, and the chef/instructor had stated that we now knew all the science we needed to make this sauce on our own.  Not that I am blaming either the committee or the instructor but this is a difficult sauce on a good day and ours needed to be started over.  Once we finished, though, it was scallops with a bacon garlic aioli, and it was good. 
For dessert, we made a vinagrette.  Vinagrette is not actually one of mother sauces (per the internet, anyway) and I was a bit curious how a vinagrette becomes dessert but it was an excellent balance to the sweetness of the other parts of the sauce and to the vanilla custard.  We started with chopped apples and some sugar, caramelized a bit in the pan, then added balsamic vinegar and some macerated berries.  Yum, yum, yum.
It was fun and I would definitely take a class there again, especially with a groupon, and especially with my hubby by my side.  It would be fun to do with friends, too.

Reading:  I finished Paul Wellstone: The Life of a Passionate Progressive about a week ago.  I really really liked it, and realized that I am still sad about his death.  He was a voice for the people who rarely have a voice - children, the poor, the mentally ill.  He learned how to work well across party lines and was well-known for making sure his opinions and views were heard.  The book was well-written by a guy who had been part of Wellstone's campaign and a friend. He had access to Paul's unpublished autobiography and clearly a lot of insight into the life of the late senator. 
A couple of my favorite quotes from Wellstone: "The many should not have to suffer so that a few can prosper.  Some people are very generous with other people's suffering."  "A society that abandons its children with inadequate health care, child-care, education and nutrition is a society that has failed its mission." 

After I finished that book (and added another about Wellstone to my list to read someday), I picked up a new copy of an old favorite, The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  We read this together as a family when I was a kid.  If you have not read this, or have not read it in a long time, or have not read it to your children, I highly recommend checking it out.  The fascinating story of little people who live beneath the floor and "borrow" things from the "human beans" is clever and entertaining.  I found myself amazed by how the Borrowers used our everyday objects (this also explains where things like safety pins and postage stamps are always disappearing to), and caught up in the adventures of them, as they risk being "seen" when "borrowing".  Awesome book.  Now, I will need to read the continued adventures in The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, and more. 

Creating: Here is the picture of the scarf I made for my favorite 5 year old for her birthday.  When we arrived yesterday with a pink gift bag in hand, she asked me who it was for.  I asked her who she thought it was for.  She said, "Me!" to which I replied, "Why would it be for you?"  "Because you forgot to give me a birthday present!"  She's got me there.  It wasn't so much I forgot, more like I wasn't done with it yet.  The sooner she accepts that handmade gifts for me are going to be late, the less disappointed she will be in the future...
And as a bonus, a couple pictures of the scarf I made for her 5" tall stuffed penguin.
naked penguin
penguin with scarf
Penny joins the nuns' choir

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Bloody Mary

Reading: Steve Jobs has been placed on hold.  We are saving that one for longer car rides of which we have a few this time of year.  We decided some time ago that I would read to E while he drives.  It is a win-win, really, (I get to read in the car and E has something to entertain him while he drives) and we both enjoy it.  Think of it as books on CD but with a personal reader who occasionally adds her own commentary! I had just reached the part of the book where Jobs gets booted from Apple (not doing a spoiler alert, here, people.  This is common knowledge unless you have no idea who Jobs was, in which case, you really don't understand what I am talking about anyway), and then we decided to read it aloud, so I started over.  That is how much I love you, E.

The other night I finished reading, Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer.  If you have not heard of this one, I would understand.  I bought it probably 8 years ago when Scholastic Books had its warehouse sale that I used to go to.  I think I paid about $2.  It is a "usually-sold-at-school-book-fairs" type of book, a young adult historical-fiction account of Mary Tudor, (later Queen Mary I).  The majority of the book takes place during the Anne Boleyn years, starting right before her father, King Henry VIII, divorces Mary's mother Catherine and declares his daughter a bastard, and ending shortly after Henry has Anne beheaded and takes up with Jane Seymour.  There is a short "historical note" at the end that summarizes the rest of Henry's wives, the succession of the next heirs to the throne and the reign of "Bloody Mary".  I truly enjoyed it and would be interested to read more about Mary or her wacko dad.  Also makes me extremely glad that I live now and not then.  And I really liked that there was a Tudor family tree in the beginning of the book that showed dates and the whole pile of wives so I could keep it all straight.

Apparently I am on a biography kind of kick, because the book I started after Bloody Mary was Paul Wellstone: The Life of a Passionate Progressive by Bill Lofy.  I don't remember when I got this one but it has been a number of years now.  I am not a terribly political person, but Wellstone is one of the few political figures I admire.  I am enjoying this book so far - will write more as I get further in.

Creating: I knit the cutest scarf for my favorite 5 year old.  It is fluffy with sprinkles of pink throughout, just the right size for a little girl with attitude to toss over her shoulder.  I was going to give it to her as a late birthday present last weekend, but I forgot my knitting bag at Mom's.  Whoops.  Maybe for Christmas instead.  I will have to post a picture once I have the bag and scarf in my possession again.

Eating: I don't think I am going to get any holiday baking done this year at all.  Weekends are busy, work is very busy (actually seem to be having a really productive and profitable year-end this year which is great come bonus time but somewhat hellish with the hours and demands for the last 2 months of the year), so I don't see making time for it.  Oh, well.  We don't need thousands of cookies and candies, right?

Our cooking class is this coming Friday and we are both looking forward to that.  We are also starting to decide on what food we will have for our 12th annual New Year's Eve party.  There are a few that we always do (Teriyaki Wings, Chili Queso Dip, Spinach Dip), a few more that are popular repeats (Caramel Corn, Puppy Chow, Chex Mix).  I like to have 3 warm selections (mostly because my electric roaster has 3 separate containers), 3 cool selections, and at least 3 sweet option - suggestions of your favorite appetizer/snacks/treats are welcome!  E, the bartender of the party, is planning the signature drink.  I always enjoy the NYE party, but will even more this year because it is on a Saturday and I don't have to work all day before the party! 

The stew is in the oven and will be torturing us with good smells for the next 2 hours before it is ready. 

Here's hoping for tasty smells at your house as well.

Until we eat again,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Comfort Foods, continued

The theme of comfort continues...

It snowed yesterday, about an inch or 2 but the first real snow of the season.  Thankfully it was Saturday so I could stay in and wear my PJs all day.  Wait... That is what I do during the work week too.  The difference was I didn't have to sit at my desk.  So I continued my comfort pursuits.  I finished E's Vikings hat, started the Steve Jobs biography, made two batches of soups and a casserole, gathered the ingredients for two kinds of cookies and remade the bed with clean flannel sheets and put the courderoy duvet on.  "Should" be cleaning my house but...

Eating: I've already blogged my soup recipes.  On to casseroles.  Or as we call 'em here in MN, "hotdishes".  E's favorite is Tatortot Hotdish, but I refuse to put a recipe for that here.  Everyone in the world has their own recipe (or doesn't make it) and likes it their own way.  Most other casseroles are also things like my family's "I-don't-know hot dish".  This is what Mom would make when she asked us what we wanted for supper and we would say, "I don't know.".  It varies depending on what is in the house but generally is a type of pasta ("noodles" we called them back when I was a kid) - typically macaroni or egg noodles, a can of soup - usually cream of mushroom, cream of chicken or tomato, browned ground beef, and some veggie - corn is always good but frozen mixed veggies work too.  Mix it all up and serve.

The one I made yesterday is a recipe served by a friend a year or 2 ago that I just got around to making myself for the first time.  Great use of turkey leftovers, if you have them.  You could, of course, use chicken instead.

Butternut Squash and Barley Casserole with Turkey
2 tsp olive oil
1 med green pepper, diced
1/2 C minced onion
1/2 C pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried sage
black pepper to taste
15 oz chicken broth
1 C cubed cooked turkey breast
2 med butternut squash (about 1.5# each), halved, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2" cubes (I hear Trader Joe's has peeled cubed squash available for purchase)
1/2 C crumbled feta

Spray 4 qt. baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over med-high.  Add pepper and onion, saute 2 minutes.  Add barley, sage, and black pepper, stir to combine well.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 45 minutes.  Add turkey and squash and continue to simmer 15 minutes more or until all broth is absorbed and the squash is tender.  If mixture seems too dry, add 1/4 C broth or water.
Heat oven to 350.  Transfer to prepared backing dish and top with cheese.  Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until cheese is golden. 4 servings

Turkey Noodle Stew - another great use of leftover turkey.  We make this one fairly often, sometimes with chicken.
2 turkey breast tenderloins (about 1/2# each) cut into 1/4" slices (or similar amount of other poultry)
1 med onion, chopped (surprisingly (haha!) this never gets added chez Anderson)
1 Tbls oil
14.5oz chicken broth
1 can condensed cream of celery (or cream of chicken) soup, undiluted
2 C frozen mixed veggies (or your favorite frozen veggies - I like green beans)
1/2 to 1 tsp lemon-pepper seasoning
3 C uncooked extra wide egg noodles (guessing you could use a less-wide noodle instead!)

In a large skillet, cook turkey and onion in oil until turkey no longer pink (or just reheat leftover meat), about 6 minutes.  Combine the broth, soup, veggies, and lemon-pepper.  Add to the skillet; bring to a boil.  Stir in noodles.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until noodles and vegetables are tender.  6 servings

Reading: E bought the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.  I know, I know!  For those of you keeping score at home, that is 2 books he has purchased now in his life and in the last couple months!  Anyway, I picked it up while he was gone this weekend and started reading.  For some reason, it is really sucking me in and I stayed up too late reading on Friday night.  I am only on the part about the Apple II (those of you in my age range may be able to place a year or timeframe on that, thinking of how old you were playing Oregon Trail or Lemonade Stand), but I am really enjoying it.  Not sure I am a fan of Jobs the man, but his story is a good one.

Creating:  As promised a couple weeks ago, some photos of the hat I knit for E to wear to the game that he won tickets for.  I used Lion Brand Yarn "Hometown USA", a super bulky yarn, in New York White, Pittsburgh Yellow and (this name I just don't get) Portland Wine.  I forget how quickly super bulky on 10 1/2 needles knits up.  Done with the hat in a day, the earflaps and braids added last night.  I made my gauge swatch, measured his head to figure out how many stitches to cast on, did a couple inches of ribbing, changing color for stripes, knit until at the right height to start shaping (made him try it on many times) and then did a clean Kitchener stitch to finish off the top.  I then picked up 6 stitches on each side (trying it on to see where the ears are), purled across, decreased one stitch, knit across and decreased a stitch on the other side, purled across, decreased one and then bound off 3 stitches.  I left a long tail as part of the braid, then attached 8 other strands, braided them and knotted each end.  No horns because that would just be silly.  Skol Vikings!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Comfort foods

This has been a strange week and I have been feeling out-of-sorts since Monday.  Our chief underwriter at work passed away early this week after a battle with lymphoma and the chemotherapy that went with it.  He was only 60 and had just announced a month ago that he would be retiring next spring.  He said that something like cancer makes you look at your life and think about how you want to spend your time.  He had decided that he wanted to spend his time fishing, and that spring would be a good time to get on with that.  I know that people tend to elevate the recently departed to a higher level, choosing to remember them in a fonder light than we perhaps consider them in life, but he actually was a really nice, decent, approachable guy who did a lot of good both in his career and in his life.  The department was given the day off today to attend the memorial service or to remember and honor Chris in another way.  We packed that darn chapel full of underwriters and did our best to support his family.  And we talked to each other - a kind of rare gathering of 100+ of my closest co-workers.

Underwriting is an unusual profession.  Death, or rather "mortality", is in our daily language.  We have enough medical knowledge to know when someone says they have lymphoma, that we ask, "what kind and what stage?" and then we mentally begin assessing the risk.  We do this automatically, even off the clock.  We comfort ourselves with knowledge that our loved ones are getting the appropriate treatment to extend their life expectancy, but we still know the inherent risks with both the disease and the treatments.  We know that, statistically, a percentage of people with the disease are not going to survive 5 years.  Doctors and other medical professionals also know these risks, but they are in the business of giving hope.  People heal better with hope.  Underwriters are in the business of managing the risk.  Waiting until you are ill with a terminal disease to get life insurance is like applying for car insurance as you are heading the car toward a tree, or homeowner's insurance when the fire department is on the way.  When someone tells an underwriter that his doctor tells him he is perfectly healthy, what the underwriter finishes that sentence with is, "for someone who has had ___ disease."  Anyway, what I am saying is that I think about death every day and tend to have something of a gallows humor about it, but this week made me think.  I don't know when my time will be up.  Chris didn't know last November that he was eating his last Thanksgiving dinner or that the teleconference last month was the last time he would discuss our plans for year-end.

What do I want to spend my time doing?  I do love my job but struggle with balancing my work and "real-life" time. Would I still do this job if I didn't "need" to work?  Yes, I think so, but maybe only a couple days a week or on a reduced work-load basis - there are parts of the job that are very rewarding for me.  What else would I do with my time?  I would cook, read, knit, garden, scrapbook, spend more time with family and friends.  The same things I take comfort in now, just perhaps in greater quantity.  For now, until I am miraculously independently wealthy (can't win the lottery since I have almost never played the lottery), I can only strive to take more time for the people and activities that bring me comfort and joy, to live with more purpose and intention.

I am going now to knit some comfort items, plan some comfort food dinners, read a comforting familiar book, and then curl up in my comfortable bed.  I take comfort in knowing I have you, my friends and family, reading this and loving me despite the fact that I am assessing your mortality rate in my head.

Hoping this is not my last post,

Monday, November 14, 2011

More Soups for You!

Eating: As promised, some more soup recipes. 

Carrot Soup - The first time I had this soup was while I was working as a fill-in nanny for a crazy mean lady, taking care of her 3 adorable children while she went for coffee and to "workout".  She was an "artiste" so I think she also did some painting.  Oh, and she was a gourmet cook (according to her).  Anyway, this is a very tasty and easy soup.  This recipe has some curry in it but if you don't like curry, you can leave it out and still have a very yummy soup.
Heat 4 C. chicken broth.  Add 4 carrots (peeled and sliced), 1 small Granny Smith (or other tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped), 1/2 medium onion (chopped), 1-2 tsp curry powder to taste, and 1/2 tsp turmeric (as I type that, I don't think I have ever added the turmeric because I don't think I have ever had turmeric - feel free to leave it out).  Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Puree in small batches (no more than 1/2 blender full or you will have boiling carrot soup in your hair and on your hands and on your white t-shirt and... you get the picture).  Thin, if necessary, with additional broth.  Serve warm or cold.  Also freezes well.  Makes 4 generous servings.

Potage de Mme. Miclot - Along similar lines as the carrot soup, as far as texture and technique, is a French vegetable soup called potage (poe-tahge').  I had this soup at the beginning of nearly every meal the first 3 months or so that I lived chez Miclot in Angers, France, I think until the weather warmed up (having trouble remembering - that was nearly 20 years ago.  Good god, I am getting old.)  The recipe is written in French so I am translating as I type. 
Chop into pieces: 1/2 kg potatoes, 1/2 kg carrots, 1 onion and 1 or 2 leeks.  In a large pot, cover the veggies well with water, add a little salt and 2 bouillon cubes (or equivalent).  Cook a good half-hour until vegetables are very soft.  "Mixer et voila".  I think that means puree it and you are done.  If I remember correctly Huguette (aka Mme. Miclot) used a hand mixer.  One of those wand mixers would work well.  I would use my blender, because that is how I work.  Remember: in small batches unless you want to be scalded with soup on your face and hands.  Oh, and in case you have forgotten your conversions, 1 kg=2.2lbs.  So 1/2 kg is about a pound.

Lentil Soup - As long as I am on a roll here with soups E doesn't like, here is another.  This is a hearty vegetarian soup, which seems to me like a contradiction in terms.  Not a vegetarian (I like steak waaaay too much to eat a vegetarian diet), but I do like this soup. 
In a large pot, cook 1 large onion and 1 green pepper (both chopped), in 4 Tbls olive oil until soft.  Stir in 2 Tbls flour. Add: 1 16 oz can diced tomatoes (with the juice), 3 carrots (chopped), 2 C lentils (do not presoak), 1 Tbls salt (I prefer kosher salt unless I am baking), and 8 C water.  Cover and simmer on low for 2 hours. 

African Chicken Soup - Another soup E is not a fan of (I don't know why).  This recipe is from my mom.  She did not go to Africa to get the recipe - I think she got it at a coffee shop.  Loads of flavor,  very hearty and filling.  The secret ingredient is...peanut butter.
Heat 2 Tbls oil.  Cook 1 C cubed chicken breast in the oil 5 minutes.  Season with 1/8 tsp red pepper and 1/8 tsp black pepper and add 1 1/3 C chopped onions, until browned.  Add 1/3 C. diced green peppers, 1/3 C. diced red peppers, 1 Tbls minced garlic, 5 1/4 C chicken stock, 2 1/4 C canned diced tomatoes (28 oz can, drained), 1/3 C rice.  Simmer until the rice is done.  Stir in 1/2 C peanut butter.  Add peanuts for extra crunch and flavor.  Yum.  Soooo good.

Hamburger Soup - a slow-cooker/crock pot recipe, and one that E likes.  I got this one from Kate who I used to baby-sit for back in the mid '90s (before I gave up babysitting).  3 of her 4 little girls really liked it (ages 8, 6, and 4).  The other little one was just a baby and didn't yet eat soup.  I bet she grew up to love this one, though.  I would recommend using really good quality ground beef, very low in fat, because it cooks in the soup and you won't be draining the fat.  A trick on the onion soup mix if you have someone who doesn't like onions because of the texture - grind the contents up in a food processor so it is like dust - all the flavor but no discernible onion bits.
Crumble 1 lb ground beef into slow-cooker.  Add 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp basil, 1/4 tsp seasoned salt, and 1 envelope onion soup mix.  Stir in 3 C boiling water, 8 oz can tomato sauce, 1 Tbls soy sauce.  Add 1 C sliced celery and 1 C thinly sliced carrots.  Cover an cook on low 6-8 hours.  Turn on high - add 1 C macaroni (cooked) and 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese.  Cover and cook 10-15 minutes.

Oven Stew - Speaking of slow cooking, here is one of my all-time favorite recipes (I may have said this about other recipes but I really mean it about this one).  E likes this one a whole lot.  I love it for many reasons - it makes the whole house smell really good and happy, it warms us from the inside, it tastes really yummy, and (maybe most of all) it is a lazy person's dream recipe.  So many beef stew recipes I have seen start with "brown the stew meat" and involve making a gravy or sauce.  Not this one!  Dump it all in the pot, and then leave it bake for 4 hours.  A bit of chopping and that is it!  The original recipe does not call for potatoes but I say, "what is a stew without potatoes?!"  Another of my mom's recipes, I have been making this one for years.
2 lbs beef chuck cut into 2" cubes (you can buy "stew meat" which is already cut up - this is my lazy option); 1 onion, quartered; 4 carrots, pared and quartered; 4 celery stalks, quartered; 4 medium large potatoes, chopped in bite size pieces; 1/4 C quick-cooking tapioca (this is NOT pudding - it is the little tapioca pearls.  The same people who make Minute Rice have a quick cooking tapioca.  The box even looks like a mini-Minute Rice box.  This is the key to this recipe - do not skip it!); 1/4 C. dry bread crumbs; 1 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp pepper; 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained (you can break them up a bit if you like).  Note: I have been adding about a half a can (rinsing out the tomato can in the process) to this so it makes a less thick sauce.  Combine all ingredients in a large Dutch oven.  Cook at 300 degrees COVERED (do not uncover while cooking) for 4 hours.  That's it.  I told you it was easy - even the veggies are minimally prepared.

And my last soup recipe, Lazy Lasagna Chili.  I don't know why they call this one a chili but they do.  It is a Pampered Chef recipe and is pretty darn easy.  Other than browning and some chopping, hands-on work is minimal and it cooks up pretty quickly with things you might usually have on hand.
Remove the casings from1 lb sweet Italian turkey sausages (4 links).  Brown sausage with 1/2 C coarsely chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic (pressed).  Add 1 jar (26oz) of spaghetti sauce, 28 oz beef broth (2 - 14oz cans or water with beef bouillon or soup base), and 1 C. water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in 1 1/2 C uncooked pasta nuggets (radiatore - rotelle also works).  Reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 7 minutes.  Stir in 1 C coarsely chopped zucchini.  Cook 2-4 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.  Remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbls snipped fresh basil.

I think that is all my usual soup recipes.  Seems I have some others but these are the main recipes I make.  Here's to a winter of warm tummies.

Soup's on!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Soup's on!

Eating: My favorite cold weather food is soup.  It warms us from the inside and warms the house while it simmers.  I like most soups and usually serve with a crusty French bread or biscuits.  These are some of my favorite soup recipes.

Chicken Noodle - who doesn't like good old chicken noodle?  I use either the carcass of a rotisserie or roast chicken (best for flavor) or whatever chicken I have on hand (usually boneless skinless breasts).  Simmer them in a pot of water with an onion, a couple carrots and some celery, all chopped up, a bit of chicken base or bouillion, and some herbs, fresh or dried - parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary.  And of course salt and pepper.  Simmer until chicken is done (if raw) or until it falls off the bone (for leftover whole chicken).  Then skim off any fat or that foamy stuff.  I also usually take out the onion, etc. since the flavor is all cooked out of it by then anyway.  Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces and toss it bac.k in the stock.  Taste the stock and add seasoning as needed.  Add veggies of your choice (fresh or frozen - I like carrots, green beans, corn, lima beans and peas) and some noodles (we really like the "homestyle" frozen egg noodles - big fat noodles like grandma makes, but you could also use dry egg noodles, spaghetti or whatever).  Cook until noodles are done and veggies warmed.  You can also, of course, add rice instead (white, brown, wild or some other).    
Corn Chowder - my family has been making this soup for a really long time (since I was a kid).  Recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker cookbook ("Big Red") - This is howI make it.  Chop 1/2 pound of bacon into 1/2" pieces (bacon is nearly always frozen at my house so I just chop it from frozen and let it cook/thaw at the same time) and fry in a soup pot until crispy.  At the same time, boil some potatoes (cut into bite-size chunks).  Once bacon is done, remove it from the pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.  Discard all but 2 Tbls of the bacon drippings.  Saute 1/2 large onion and 2 stalks of celery (finely chopped) in the bacon drippings until crisp-tender.  Stir in 2 Tbls flour and mix until bubbly.  Remove from heat and whisk in 4 C milk.  Return to heat (and here comes the boring tedious part that I dislike) and heat over medium until boiling (stirring constantly - the super boring part).  Boil 1 minute.  Add about a cup of frozen corn (Betty calls for cream-style but someone at our house doesn't like cream-style so I just started using regular corn.  Betty also uses canned potatoes - no comment), and the potatoes (don't forget to drain them first!).  Heat over med low until warmed through.  Add bacon  and fresh-cracked pepper and serve. 
Zamboni Stew - This is a recipe that I made up.  E  called it chili but I said it was NOT chili and said it was nothing like chili and dubbed it (completely randomly) "Zamboni Stew".  I have no idea how my brain works - it has nothing to do with Zambonis and is not a thick stew (at least not until you have the leftovers the next day).  Brown 1 pound ground beef, with 1/2 green pepper, chopped (onion too, if you like).  At the same time, cook about 2 C macaroni according to usual macaroni-cooking directions.  To the ground beef, add one large can of tomato juice and a generous bunch of chili powder (I shake it in until the entire surface is covered with chili powder, then stir and taste and add some more).  Add about 1 C. frozen corn (or other veggie if you like) and heat until warmed through.  Stir in the cooked, drained macaroni.  I also add kidney beans to my portion.  I like to serve this one with corn muffins.
Cheese Soup - this is my mom's recipe.  Actually, I think she got it when she worked at a little place called Toby's way back when I was in 6th grade.  Mmmmm... Toby burgers...  Sorry - I am back now.  Cook 3 C bite-sized chunks of potatoes, 1/2 C chopped carrots, 1/2 C chopped celery (and 1/4 C. chopped onion if your family doesn't mind) in 1 C chicken stock/broth with salt, pepper and parsley flakes until veggies are tender.  Do not drain.  Whisk 2 Tbls flour into 1 1/2 C milk and add to the potato/carrot/stock mixture.  Cook until thickened.  Stir in 1/2 pound chopped Velveeta (don't say "ew" - it melts better than anything else and makes a smooth creamy soup, unlike cheddar or one of those other cheeses) until melted.  Add fresh cracked pepper and serve.
Other soups to look forward to in future posts: Carrot Soup, African Chicken Soup, Lentil Soup, Hamburger Soup, Lazy Lasagne Chili, Oven Stew, and Potage de Mme. Miclot (recipe from the woman I lived with in France).

Reading: I really really liked Treasure Island.  It was a fun adventure story, kept me guessing up until the end (was anyone going to get the treasure?  Was Long John Silver a bad guy or a good guy?  Would they get off the island?).  I would recommend this to most people.  And one of the women at book club had a really cool edition of the book that had multicolored wood block (wood cut?  not sure of the term for this type of art) pictures.  I could get that version, if I read it again.

I didn't re-read the "head in a bog" book, Haunted Ground for the Friday night book/dinner club.  I ran out of time and have been too sleepy.  It didn't matter because no one else had read it recently either.  And it turns out, we may have already read this book for this bookclub a few years ago.  We don't have a very good record keeper or, apparently, good memory, either.

Next up for Sunday night bookclub: I don't know.  It hasn't been picked yet, which is okay because we take December off.  Next up for Friday night club: I don't know.  Maybe the next head in a bog book?  Or maybe a biography of some sort?

What am I reading currently?  A knitting book I got from my mom: Knitting without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann.  It is a 'how-to' book but very chattily written (kind of in the style of this blog) and I am enjoying it.

Creating: Speaking of knitting, what am I knitting, you ask?  I still need to add the ear flaps and braids to E's Vikings hat.  I have the yarn for a pink fluffy scarf for a 5 year old.  That should knit up quickly (thick yarn).  I am percolating some ideas for Christmas presents and baby gifts, too.  I wish work wasn't so busy this time of the year - I need more knitting time!

Other creative projects: none in the works but ideas in my head all the time.  I like to make calendars and E has requested one for Christmas.  A couple years ago after getting a "scenic America" calendar from a realtor or insurance agent, I thought, "E takes really beautiful scenic pictures.  It would be cool to have a calendar with some of those, instead of these places we have never been."  Thus was born the idea for a personalized scenic calendar.  He loved seeing a new one of his photos each month.  The pictures are attached so he can remove and frame them after the year is over.  And it is useful as a calendar, too!  We'll see if I get one done for him this year.  Also working on other ideas for people who may read this blog so I will not mention those at this time...

Go eat some soup!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cabbage galore

Eating: I am cleaning out the fridge.  For some people that would mean that there is meal of odds and ends of leftovers - a little meatloaf, some chicken soup, a dab of mashed potatoes, a couple spoonsful of green beans - for me today it means figuring out what to do with 3 heads of cabbage, 10 parsnips, 5 turnips and a bunch of other produce just "hanging out" in the frigo.  Our CSA ended over a week ago but I still have a bunch of things that apparently store really well (when they are so fresh to begin with, even a week or more in the fridge and they are fresher than most things at the grocery store).
With the cabbage, I have chopped it all and am first making Freezer Coleslaw.  This idea came from our CSA - I had no idea you could freezer cabbage.  This is the recipe I am using. Super easy and I plan to freeze in smaller portions so I can grab some to have with meals this winter, maybe with some BBQ ribs or pulled pork.
That takes care of about 10 C of it (I have about 30 C), so the next idea is some Weight Watchers Zero Point Soup (I think it's official name is Garden Veggie Soup or something similar to that - I have always called it Zero Point Soup).  It is very tasty and a great way to eat your veggies.  Plus it is zero points (at least it was under the old points system, though, as I understand the new system, it might still be zero points because veggies are "free"), low calorie, high fiber.  And tasty.  Did I already say tasty?  This was the "0 point" item that inspired me to ask, in a WW meeting, how many servings of something zero points per serving can be eaten before you have to count a point or two.  The answer was something about thinking why you are eating 4 servings of something, even if it is zero points, yadda yadda yadda.  That's another 5 C or so used. 
Here's another soup I would like to try sometime.  Unfortunately I do not have all the ingredients on hand.  Another day, perhaps.  Internet search for recipes often turns up a bizarre assortment of things.  For example, "Vegan Smothered Cabbage" - why would I want a vegan all over my cabbage?  And the soup recipe that calls for some beef short ribs, "preferably from a jewish butcher" - guess I am out of luck on that one (I don't think I will ask the butcher at Super Target about his religious background). 
Well, enough about cabbage.

Reading:  I am still working on Treasure Island.  I have been unusually sleepy the past few nights and fall asleep while reading more often than not.  I have only been reading maybe 5 pages before this happens.  Not because I am not interested in the book.  Just excessively sleepy.  May need to try reading during the daytime more.

Creating:  Yesterday I knit up E's new Vikings hat.  I still need to do the ear flaps and braids but it is coming along nicely.  The super bulky yarn knits really quickly.  I will post pictures as soon as I figure out how to upload from the iPod. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weeding: First frost was Friday morning.  I discovered this Friday afternoon.  On Thursday I had the thought "I should take a picture of the compost tomato plants" because they were so huge and so heavy with fruits.  I also figured I needed to harvest a few more cherry tomatoes, if not more Lemon Boys. So Friday I went out with my camera and harvest basket (really a shallow vinyl bag), only to discover the plants were kaput and the tomatoes not looking so good (oozing a bit).  That afternoon, I battled the gnats (which apparently did NOT die with the frost) and wrestled the huge plants out and into the tarp bag to haul to the yard waste site.  Fifteen plants in there.  FIFTEEN!  And I tried to clean up as many fallen fruits as I could, but they are small and got squished.  So I fully expect more volunteers next year, not that I am complaining.  Those were truly the best tomatoes we grew this year.  They did not suffer blossom end rot or whatever it is called.  They were beautiful fruits.  And so tasty.
Now that corner of the yard just looks empty.  No more 4'x4' tomato shrub.  The end of the season is so sad.  I do still have the mums and asters lighting up the sides of the house with Viking spirit, though.  Gotta love late season blooms!

Eating:  We went to Nectar last night, just for happy hour.  If you don't know us, you may not know about Nectar though I am 99% positive everyone who reads this blog knows me and knows of our obsession for this fantastic wine bar/bistro with the chef-driven menu that changes every 2 weeks.  Anyway, it is the shrimp cakes I wanted to write about.  We have had the crab cakes in the past and they were very good.  But the shrimp cakes are even better.  I don't know how Chef Kevin makes them (will need to ask when we are there for dinner next week), but they are so full of meat and have very little filler (crumbs, etc.).  They taste absolutely divine, better than I imagined shrimp cakes could taste.  And the chili-lime cream sauce they were served with (a small amount drizzled on the plate, not an overpowering puddle of it) SO good.  A little heat, very finely chopped onions and peppers (so small and unobtrusive that E actually ate them), added just the right zip and flavor. If you ever find yourself in or near Osseo, MN, for any reason, stop by Nectar.  Tell Justin, the bartender, that you know E and order any one of the starters or entrees.  You will not be disappointed.  We never have been.

We signed up to take a cooking class.  E found a Groupon and we are going to learn 5 sauces, including Hollandaise, bechamel, and vinagrette (can't think of the other 2 right off the top of my head), and make dishes to go with them.  We are really looking forward to this class.  Sadly, it is not until December.  E swears he is not a foodie.  But he really is.  I at least admit it.

The roast chicken of last week later became chicken noodle soup.  I simmered the carcass in water (with chicken base, herbs, carrots, celery and onion) for a while until the meat literally fell off the bones.  Then chopped the chicken into bite-size pieces, added corn (which had been frozen shortly after roasting the fresh corn from the CSA), green and wax beans (also from CSA by way of the freezer) and some thick "home-style" frozen noodles (cooked according to package directions). I could have made by own noodles with my grandma's recipe but since I was cooking while also working, I opted for the easier method.  The pot of soup made several meals (we had soup 2 nights, 2 bowls each person, each night, then I had soup for lunches 3 times).  It seemed to get better each time we ate it.  Is there anything better than homemade soup when the temperature outside starts to drop?

Yesterday I mixed up some applesauce muffin batter and we had fresh-from-the-oven muffins each morning this weekend.  Here is my recipe, tweaked from a couple recipes I found on-line in various places (not giving credit for the recipes because, really, a muffin recipe is a muffin recipe and I took parts of different recipes to make this one).  A couple weeks ago I had made a small batch of applesauce with the assistance of a 4-almost-5-year-old.  I used this for the muffins.  We added streusel because we like streusel.

Applesauce Streusel Muffins
Combine: 1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Mix together: 2 eggs
2/3 C brown sugar

Add eggs/sugar mixture to the dry ingredients.

Stir in: 6 Tbls butter, melted
1 1/2 C applesauce

Mix just until combined.

Divide batter into 12 muffin cups (or as we did, 6 muffin cups and then store the rest of the batter in the fridge until the next day).

To make streusel topping combine these ingredients and cut butter into dry ingredients until resembles crumbs:  1/4 C brown sugar
3 Tbls flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbls butter

Top muffins with streusel and bake for 20 minutes. 

Reading:  Treasure Island is the most recent classic.  I love it.  I am all caught up in the adventure and can't wait to keep reading to find out what happens.  It is the quintessential pirate adventure book.  And who doesn't love pirates?!?

The Saturday morning bookclub (which is now going to meet Friday evenings for dinner - can we still call it "Breakfast club" just for fun?) has chosen Haunted Ground by Erin Hart for our next read.  I read this one a few years ago for the other bookclub.  It is a mystery but I actually liked it more than I thought I would.  Maybe because it takes place in Ireland and starts with finding a perfectly preserved head in a peat bog.  And who doesn't like Ireland or heads in bogs?!?

Creating: E won tickets to an upcoming Vikings game.  So naturally he will need purple hat with braids.  We went to the store last night to pick out the right yarn colors for said hat and knitting will begin shortly.  I will try to take pictures of it as it goes.  I have no pattern but he found pictures of similar hats that he likes so we will tweak and pattern as we go.  First to measure his big head...

Sorry for the long post. I had a lot of words, apparently.

Until we read/eat again,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reading:  So are you dying to know if I finished Tattoo Girl and what I thought of it??  I did finish even though I had purchased it only 10 days before bookclub (well, I was 30 pages from the end of my 644 page version when we discussed and all the big stuff had already happened).  And, I ... didn't mind it too bad.  It was graphic and icky and disturbing.  Violent, sick and either not terribly well written or not translated very well.  But the story was interesting and kept me reading through the disgust.  I did throw it down at one point and tell E that I hated it and couldn't believe that had happened and it was just too much.  But the next day I picked it up again and tried to block the image from my head.  And I finished.  No, I will not be reading the rest of the series (unless "forced" to by bookclub), and no, would not recommend it.  But I read it, got through it and now can offer my opinion on this book that everyone in the world seems to have read.

Now, on to Treasure Island.

Weeding: This time of year is a little sad in the garden.  Yes, the asters are blooming their beautiful purple heads off and mums the size of small shrubs are also covered with flowers.  There are a few others with leaves that turn brilliant red or golden or purplish.  And of course my tomatoes are still going (though I looked at the forecast for the week and this may be the end of them now).  But overall, things are dead or dying.  I did some cutting back this weekend: daylilies, peonies, and a few others that looked more scraggly and sad than not.  I also cut back the monarda.  Though I usually leave their seedheads for a little winter interest, they have been seeding a little more prolifically than I need them to, so chop chop.  I tidied the garden some, emptied some of the pots (I have a hard time cutting back or tossing things that are still green so they didn't all get done) and put away my 'garden art'.  I wore the metal ladybug on my head as I carried the ducks and a small hedgehog (who seems to have lost his toes on one foot!) back to the potting bench in the garage.  I still need to rescue my gnome (though he is so adorable walking out from underneath the huge mum!) and some dragonfly stakes, but by that point I just needed to be done with it for a little while.  I will say goodbye to the garden a little at a time.  Until it snows and I am running around grabbing stuff and shoving it in the shed. 

Eating:  We made a delicious roast chicken last night.  It was my first time cooking a whole bird.  It turned out wonderfully and we will make it again.  It is packed with flavor (squeezing the orange over the chicken made it amazing) and the gravy was easy and very flavorful.  Here's the recipe we used.  I like Tyler Florence a whole lot.
We always buy boneless skinless chicken breasts.  Once in a while we will get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.  Why did we have a whole chicken this time?  Well, it's like this.  E is on the board of a really cool camp.  The camp does a fundraising silent auction.  One of the items on the silent auction this year (and in the past also, I believe) is a half a "chicken share".  If you are familiar with a CSA (community-supported agriculture), it is a similar idea, except instead of veggies, you get chickens.  I really like the idea, but was hesitant because I had never cooked or cut up a chicken before.  Dave, the chicken man (as we call him), was at the auction and when I told him that, he started telling me of at least 3 ways to cook and use a chicken without having to cut it up (aka "butchering it").  This convinced me to bid on the chicken share and we won the bid.  So this summer we got our first 2 chickens (the other 3 will be here in November, I think).  And we finally cooked one this weekend.  Now I plan to stick the rest of it (aka "the carcass") in the stock pot with some water, celery, onions and carrots and make a nice stock and then some yummy, warm-your-tummy chicken noodle (or dumpling) soup.  Yay for the chicken man!
Also, in late October/early November we will be getting our 1/4 of a beef.  Roasts and steaks and stew and various ground beef recipes for the winter (actually it will last us about a year and a half).  The ground beef is so lean and tasty, I hope to never run out again.  I just can't bring myself to eat the stuff from the grocery store.  Bleh.  Yay for the cow men!

Creating:  I know, eating reading weeding... creating.  It doesn't exactly rhyme (or rhyme at all for that matter) but I have been trying to come up with another headline for my other interests and that is the best I could do.  I did some scrapbookingHmmmm... retreating rhymes...  Other suggestions?

How are you spending your time?  What are you reading?  Eating? 

Until we eat again,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Weeding: Remember when I told you about the compost tomato plants, aka volunteers?  Well I have been harvesting cherry tomatoes from this ginormous tomato shrub for weeks now, filling a 24oz cottage cheese container each time.  Today, I went to harvest (it has been about 5 days since I last picked them) and I filled 2 of them and probably enough leftover for another one (but I ran out of containers).  I also picked 4 full size 'Lemon Boy' tomatoes from another plant within the compost bin!  This was in addition to the 13 full-size Big Boy tomatoes from the garden (the plant I actually bought and put in the soil).  Tomato City, man!
I find this all quite amusing really, considering that I am supposed to either start my tomato plants inside or buy them already started, stake them, water and fertilize, etc., all summer and then protect them from the frost in the fall.  How about this instead: I don't plant them, they don't start growing until the middle of June, they get flowers on them the beginning of September, I don't cover them when it freezes, I don't water or stake or pay any attention to them, and then I harvest bushels of tomatoes in October.  I like that kind of lazy gardening.

Reading: I am over half-way through Tattoo Girl, aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It is okay, still not on my list of Things I am So Glad I Read.  Will I finish by Friday at 5?  Stay tuned.

Eating:  What do I make with all those cherry tomatoes, you ask?  Well, here is one of my favorite summertime recipes, using about a cottage cheese container of cherry tomatoes.  It is another Pampered Chef recipe.  I think the real name of it is Pasta Fresca with Chicken or something like that.  I call it "that one with all the cherry tomatoes and pasta that you cook in the microwave" or something similar.

4 cloves garlic, sliced or pressed
2 C. grape or cherry tomatoes
3 C. pasta (penne) uncooked
3 C. chicken broth
3/4 C. dry white wine (or another 3/4 C. broth if you already drank all your wine)
2 C. chicken, cooked and diced
1 1/4 C. fresh basil, divided, coarsely chopped
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 C. )

In Deep Covered Baker (or other microwavable casserole with a lid), drizzle or spritz olive oil.  Add garlic and tomatoes.  Cover.  Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes.  Crush tomatoes with a spoon or similar (basically just break up the ones that haven't already exploded themselves).  Add pasta, broth, and wine.  Cover and microwave on high for 16-18 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring after 10 minutes.  Add chicken cheese and all but 2 Tblsp. of the basil.  Stir and serve, sprinkling remaining basil on top. 

Super easy, all in one dish, doesn't heat up the kitchen at all, and the flavors are the best of summer.  If you don't have fresh basil (sad!!), you can use some dried basil instead.  I would add it when you add the broth and pasta so it has time to infuse the flavor into the pasta.  And there is plenty of time while the tomatoes and then pasta are cooking to cook the chicken breasts.  We serve this with French bread so we can soak up every last drop of the juice.  It makes about 6 generous servings, so we always have lots of leftovers.

We are actually having this as leftovers tonight!

Until we eat or weed again,

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Weeding:  I realized I talked about my plant swap many times before it happened.  And the day of.  But I have not yet posted about how the plant swap went.  And I know you are simply dying to know, so...

When I started planning it, the dog days of August were blazing upon us, so I was planning iced tea, lemon bars, fresh chips and salsa...summery fare, to be served on the deck surrounded by flowers.  The day of the swap turned out to be very autumnal and it was sprinkling on and off all day, so what I ended up with was hot cider and fresh from the oven apple crisp.  Served in the living room.  Where we can see the flowers if we stand up and look out the window.  That was okay though.  I like apple crisp a whole lot.

When I picked the date, I had 7, possibly 8 people coming.  Nice enough size for a swap and good balance of people with diverse selection of plants and people without plants.  Due to scheduling conflicts and last minute things, I had 4 people.  Two of whom had no plants and were there for the garden tours and camaraderie.

It worked out well, though.  I got rid of, errrr, generously gave away several plants that needed to be divided and/or thinned.  My friends got new plants to add to their collections or to start new gardens with.  I got to share my late season garden and discuss my future garden plans with friends who also like plants.  And I got some apple crisp. 

It was a lovely swap.  And we didn't even get rained on.

Reading: I am on page 126 of 644 in the Tattooed Girl book.  It reads pretty quickly but I am not wrapped up in it.  I just bought it Tuesday night.  Half of the pages I have read so far were accomplished with a night of insomnia.  If I just have another week of no sleep, I should be done by Friday when we meet.

For the Sunday night bookclub, our final selection for the year of classics is Treasure Island.  I am cool with pirates and a good adventure story.  I haven't started it yet but I have all the way until November 6th to read it.  Piece of cake, right?  First I need to get the Dragon Girl done, though.

Eating: When last I posted, the roast was coming out of the oven.  It was super tasty.  While we were eating it, we realized that when we did menu planning for the week (yes, we plan menus for a week at a time), that we had forgotten to add our favorite use of leftover pot roast.  So a little erasing and switching around on the whiteboard and, suddenly, Tuesday was Beef Pot Pie night.  Yahoo!  Here's how I make pot pie.

Beef Pot Pie (adapted from Betty Crocker - now more Weight Watchers Points friendly (old points program))
2-2 1/2 C. cut up cooked beef
about 2 C veggies (the recipe says 10oz frozen peas and carrots rinsed and drained - we use 2/3 C frozen corn along with some of the leftover potatoes, carrots, onion, etc. from the roast)
1/4 C. butter or margerine (you know which I would use...)
1/4 C. flour
pepper to taste (salt too, if needed, but with the broth/bouillion and the meat already salted when cooking, you don't really need it)
1 3/4 C beef broth (I use Orrington Farms Beef soup base - 2 tsp in 1 3/4 C hot water)
1/2 C skim milk (okay so it doesn't have to be skim, that is just what I used to get the points value down)
1 9" pie crust (make your own if you like.  I use frozen. The original recipe called for both a top and bottom crust but it really didn't add much in my mind, besides extra points/calories/carbs so I took it out)

In a 9x9x2 pan (or similar size round pan - I use Pampered Chef stoneware, naturally), spread the beef and veggies.
In a 2 quart saucepan, melt butter/margerine over medium until melted.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly.  Stir in beef broth and milk.  Heat until boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Pour over the beef and veggies.
Top the beef/veggies/sauce with the pie crust (it is okay if it doesn't reach the edge or cover everything).  Bake at 425 for 35 minutes or until golden brown.
6 servings, about 6 points each (per my calculations, and using the OLD system. It was about 9 per serving before)

You can use the same recipe for chicken pot pie (the original recipe was for chicken).  Just use chicken and chicken broth instead.  And whatever veggies you like - fresh cooked, frozen, leftover.

When I first made this recipe, I loved the sauce so much that I made it quite a bit.  I mixed it with chicken and some veggies and used it on top of biscuits, or noodles.  It is very tasty and easy.

Okay, now I need to get back to the Dragon Tattoo Girl. 
Oh, and if you missed my last post (because I am a dork and had hit "save draft" instead of "publish" last week), you can always go back and read it.  In fact you can read any of the old posts.  I was recently reading some of my posts from 2003.  I had forgotten about some of those events like the Life and Times of Mrs. Quackers. 

Until we eat again,

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Reading: I finished P&P today, in plenty of time to lead the discussion tonight at bookclub. I liked it better the more I read, but it was a tough one for me, I must admit.  If I had not selected it myself, I may not have been motivated enough to finish.  It was hard to read and seemed to put me to sleep.  I can usually read for at least a half hour (many hours if really into the book) before I go to sleep but this one I struggled to read more than a couple of pages before my eyes were closing.  And I had to re-read things to understand them.  So overall, even though my version was only 262 pages, it took me the entire month to read it. 
Anyway, I liked it more than I thought I would.  And when I discovered on SparkNotes that someone had blogged P&P as if it were a teen novel, I got sucked into that and had to read it all too.

I am probably not going to finish Girl with Tattoo in time for the other bookclub, seeing as I have not yet obtained a copy of the book and we meet in less than 2 weeks.  I will try though. 

Eating:  I have a roast in the oven tonight.  It smells SOOOO good!  I brown the roast in a bit of olive oil, getting a nice crust on each side, after salting and peppering it well.  Then add a large can of crushed tomatoes, 1 large onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2-3 large carrots, 4-5 medium potatoes, a couple cloves of garlic, a couple sprigs of rosemary, some thyme and 2 bay leaves, 1 C. water.  The veggies are all cut into chunks.  I cook it at 325 in a covered Dutch oven for 3 hours.  Then we shred or slice the roast (it is so tender it is usually just easier to shred it), serve with the veggies and the sauce (almost the flavor of a marinara), and a little crusty bread.
Timer just buzzed so off to dinner.

Until we eat again,

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Holy produce, Batman!
Ready for a whole day of processing my over-abundance of produce, mostly from the CSA, some also from our garden and the farmers' market. 
9:00am Home from getting coffee, I google how to roast corn (again).  Tyler Florence says "350 for 30mins".  Corn in the oven.  I get out my compost bucket and cutting board and start trimming green beans.
9:10 Beans are ready to blanch.  Just need to get the water boiling and set up the ice water bowl.  And google how to blanch beans (again). Ignore my ringing work phone.  Place in boiling water for 2 minutes then in the ice water.  Drain and spread out on wax paper lined cookie sheet and pop in the freezer.  Now just waiting for water to boil...
One way to skin a tomato...
9:45 Beans blanched. While they were in the boiling water, I cut a small x on the bottom of each of the tomatoes. When the beans were in the ice bath, I popped the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then into the ice bath. They had to bathe with the beans because I didn't get the beans out fast enough to do the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes were done with their cooling bath, I removed the skins and cut out the stem ends as well as any bad spots. They are now ready to be placed in freezer bags.
don't look!  Naked tomatoes!
"We are super green and ready to freeze!"
Meanwhile, the corn timer buzzed. Corn now on a cooling rack and getting ready to be husked and de-kernel-ized. Cranked the oven up to 425, put all the beets into covered casserole dishes with 1/4" water and put them in the oven to roast. 30-40 minutes for the small, 40-50 for medium and 50-60 for the large. They go in with skins on, golden and red beets, all together, living in harmony. Spread the beans out on cookie sheet and ran downstairs to toss them in the freezer. 
9:50  Time for a little break.  Mmmmmm... coffee... Also doing a little research on squash.  Ever the multitasker...
My vacuum-packing device
10:00 Back to work. Bagging the tomatoes for the deep freeze.  First, I cut them in half, squeezed out some of the seeds and water, then "vacuum packed" them.  Unfortunately I do not have a nifty vacuum-packing device.  Fortunately, I had a straw and my mouth.  Beet timer buzzed but not quite ready.  10 more minutes.
10:22 Time to tackle the corn. Ready with my trusty de-kerneling device. Smells sooooo good in here.
10:31 Got distracted by the beets. Baby beets and medium (adolescent?) beets are done. Big boys back for another 10. Now onto the corn...

de-kerneler in action

10:48 Corn ready for freezer bags. Beets cooling and will be peeled later.
11:03 Corn in freezer.  6 ears = about 4 C corn niblets.  Finally remembered on my third trip to the freezer today that I needed to take out meat for dinner tonight.  Google how to freeze beets... U of M Extension site, you are my friend.  Peel, then slice or dice beets.  Easy 'nuf.
Out, out damned spot!
11:56 Beets were more difficult to peel than last time.  Trying to figure out why... Maybe they were not as fresh as they should have been.  That would be my fault, not the CSA's.  Diced them, bagged them and into the freezer with them.  Many hand washings later, beets are done.  Hands slightly stained but nothing a little vinegar can't fix.  Now I am hungry.  Off to lunch.  More later.
12:50pm Yummy lunch courtesy Caribou.  The girlie pouring the iced tea was a little confused by the "no ice" request but unlike Starbucks, they gave me a whole glass of iced tea. 
Back to the kitchen - get the apples in the pot for a little applesauce.  I am only doing a few apples (4) so will not do the usual crockpot applesauce this time.
stained forever?
Good as new with vinegar!
1:26 Okay, so I had to stop to plug in the battery charger for the camera.  Then decided to clean up the kitchen and the cutting boards, etc. that I had used so far.  Apples went quickly with the Pampered Chef Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer (it's almost like I used to sell these things...) and are now simmering for 15-20 in a covered saucepan with 3/4 C water, 1/4 C brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon (using the fancy Pampered Chef Korintje Cinnamon - okay I'll stop with the ads now).  Next up, some chopping.  I will start with the watermelon.
1:44 Applesauce smells amazing.  Next time will use a little less water, especially with soft apples like Zestar.  Watermelon is half chopped.  Battery charged enough to take more pics.  Back to the watermelon.
1:54 Seeing how much watermelon I have (1.5 "personal-size" watermelons), looked into freezing some of it.  Seems it should work as long as I don't fully thaw before using.  Will try some of it frozen, maybe pureeing later for slushes or other watermelon beverages.
2:12 Making a mess with the watermelon.  At one point I had a slice of it on my lap (How YOU doin', watermelon?).
2:47 A call to my SIL to see which squash she would be most interested in (spaghetti) and to E to find out which squash is coming down the turnpike next week (ambercup).  Now I can split off the portion of the CSA for the in-laws and process the rest of it.  I have the following types: acorn, ambercup, spaghetti, buttercup, carnival and sweet dumpling (though I don't know which of these last two is which since the pictures I have of both of them look the same and none of the pictures matches one of the squashes I have).
3:24  Acorn, half a spaghetti and a sweet dumpling are in the oven.  Will also be cutting up and roasting half an ambercup.  A couple of the squash were VERY hard so were difficult to cut in half so I need a rest.  Oh, and the squash in the oven were cut in half, scooped out, dotted with butter and placed in 13x9 pan with 1/4" water, covered, and will cook for 30-40 minutes at 400. 
3:37  Lied about the resting part.  I found a recipe for cooking the ambercup so I sliced that into wedges, drizzled with EVOO, sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  It is roasting with the others.  Now I will rest... Or blog...

I didn't finish everything but made great progress.  E will help with the peppers (he has mad knife skilz), will likely make more applesauce (or apple cake or apple crisp or...), will chop and freeze the onions, make a batch of carrot soup and freeze for my future lunches.  I may need another day!

Hope you enjoyed this blog post.  If you have questions on any of the processes or want more info on the results let me know.

Until we eat again,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tattoos and Pizza

Reading: I will be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by the Swedish guy who wrote it (can't think of his name right now... I am sure it will come to me eventually, or I will actually look it up because it will bug me.  Anyway...).  I have resisted reading this book for a couple of reasons.  First off, it is popular and everywhere.  That almost always turns me off a book.  Ask me if I have ever read some of the other books that "everyone" has read.  Unless it was chosen for a bookclub selection, the answer will nearly always be "no". 
Secondly, it is not my style of book.  Nothing I have heard about it has endeared me to it or made me want to read it.  Mystery/thriller kind of genre, graphic sexual violence, long descriptions and lots of character
Third of all, I don't like tattoos.  And the title always gets the Fountains of Wayne song, 'Red Dragon Tattto" in my head and then I call the book "The Girl with the Red Dragon Tattoo".  Look up the song.  It cracks me up.

Stieg Larsson.  That is his name. So anyway...

Why am I reading it?  Because one of the bookclubs wants to.  And bookclub is not all about reading only what I want to (as much as I try to sway people away from certain books...).  Maybe it will be a treasured read.  I didn't want to read Harry Potter and I ADORED that and became obsessed with the series.  I also did not want to read Twilight and HATED that and did not read any more after the first one.
We'll see.  I'll keep you posted.

Eating: When last we saw Hallie going off to cook, it was Aloha Chicken Pizza on the menu.  Did she make the pizza?  Did they enjoy it?  Will she share the recipe?  The answers are all "yes".
Aloha Chicken Pizza was truly delicious.  It may have bumped the previous favorite off the top of the list (though I must admit the top two are quite similar - the former #1 was BBQ chicken pizza).  It is a Pampered Chef recipe, though I have made my own tweaks (of course!).  First off, I made my own crust.  Second, I used rotisserie chicken instead of cooking and chopping chicken.  Thirdly, I made my own BBQ sauce.  And finally, we used green peppers instead of red, mostly because our red pepper plants barely produced one fruit, we haven't seen any at the farmers market, and the grocery store feels the need to charge up the wazoo for red peppers.  But I digress...  Here is the recipe.  Feel free to buy your own crust and BBQ sauce, and to cook your own chicken.
Aloha Chicken Pizza

Crust (from Betty Crocker, aka "Big Red") >>>>If you are using refrigerated pizza crust, it takes 2 of them.
1 package yeast (or about 2 1/4 tsp)
1 C warm water
2 1/2 C flour
2 Tbls olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt (Note: when I am making for a red sauce pizza, I add a sprinkling of Italian seasoning into the crust mixture)
Combine yeast and warm water in a medium bowl and mix until yeast dissolves.  Add remaining ingredients and beat 20 strokes (don't ask me why 20).  Let rest 5 minutes.  Roll out onto warmed pizza stone (or of course you can use another type of pizza pan or other flat pan - I always use my stone and I always preheat it with the oven when making this crust). 

BBQ Sauce (from Pampered Chef Casual Cooking)
Cook 1/4 C finely chopped onion in 2 tsp vegetable oil over medium heat (I always skip this step because someone doesn't like onions - the sauce turns out fine without onions).
Stir together in medium saucepan:
1 1/2 C ketchup
3 Tbls Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbls cider vinegar
1/2 C honey
2 Tbls BBQ seasoning mix (I use the Pampered Chef BBQ rub)
1 tsp prepared mustard
(You will end up with about 2 1/3 C BBQ sauce - you only need about 3/4 C for the pizza.  The rest will refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 weeks.)

To make the pizza (as I made it - we like a thicker crust so we use the pizza stone instead of a larger pan like a cookie sheet)
Preheat oven to 425F.  Roll crust onto warmed pizza stone.  Spread 1/2 to 3/4 C BBQ sauce onto crust.  Sprinkle 2 C shredded rotisserie chicken, and 2 C well-drained pineapple tidbits over pizza (you can of course use fresh pineapple instead - it calls for 1 medium pineapple).  Top with 2 C grated mozzarella and 1/2 of a red (or yellow or green) pepper, chopped.  Bake 20minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is to your desired melted-ness and color (I like mine to be golden brown.).  YUM!  We served with Blue Hawaii drinks but would also work with Mai Tais!

Weeding: Today is the day of my plant swap and garden party.  So of course it is raining.  Sprinkling on and off, in the 60s and cloudy.  Good thing we cleaned out the garage and picked up the house too!  When I started planning this, it was August, hot and sunny.  I was thinking of summery snacks and dessert, summery drinks.  Now we are baking apple crisp and warming some cider.  We'll swap in the garage if we need to and retire to house for refreshments.  I am still looking forward to it and already thinking how I will do it differently in the spring.  Ready to swap monarda, black-eyed Susans, lambs ear, and ajuga.  And could be persuaded to dig up a few others on request.

Until we weed again,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eating: One of my favorite quick, go-to menus for when I forgot to plan something for dinner or when I am short on time is Salmon Patties with Pesto Pasta.  The ingredients are always on hand at my house.  Prepare yourself for receiving my top-secret recipes...

Salmon Patties (adapted from the recipe on the back of the package)
1 large pouch of salmon
1 egg
about 1/2 C. bread crumbs (I use the Progresso ones, unflavored)
about 1/4 C. frozen corn (or by all means, fresh if you have it)
about 1/4 C. finely chopped red and/or yellow bell pepper (we nearly always have some peppers sliced and in the freezer)
2 T. butter (use real butter, it really is that much better than any of the fake stuff)

In a small non-stick saute pan over medium heat, cook corn and peppers until slightly browned.  Meanwhile, in a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the salmon, egg, and 1/4 C. of the bread crumbs. Add the corn and peppers and mix together well.  Use your clean hands - it is okay.  While you are doing this, melt butter in large skillet.  Spread the other 1/4 C. breadcrumbs on a small plate.  Divide the salmon mixture into 4 equal parts.  Form 4 patties.  I usually squish it into a ball shape pack it together well so the patties don't fall apart too much, and then smush it down gently onto the breadcrumbs on the plate, flip it over and get crumbs on the other side while shaping it.  Set patties into the pan (the butter should be melted and bubbling a little - don't let it get too brown or it may taste burnt).  Cook patties until golden brown on both side.  Serve atop the pesto pasta.  I usually do 2 per person.

Pesto Pasta
As soon as I start cooking the corn and peppers, I begin boiling the water for the pasta (we use bow ties aka farfalle for this recipe 99% of the time - I don't know why), and start making the pesto too.  My secret pesto recipe?  Knorr's pesto packages.  Just add water and olive oil as per the package instructions.  If you are a super-do-it-yourself person, use the fresh pesto you made this morning.  Go for it.  I don't care.  Just like I don't care if you use jars of Ragu instead of making your own bolognese, and I don't care if your idea of "from scratch" brownies involves scratching open a box from Betty Crocker.  Just telling you what I do.  Trader Joe's sells pesto in a jar that I use to make my tomato soup from a can taste just a little more special.  You can use that.  Anyway...  I cook the pesto and the pasta while my salmon cakes are cooking, mix the pesto and pasta together, serve it up on a plate and top with salmon cakes.  If you are feeling fancy, drizzle a little of the pesto around the plate.  OH!  I almost forgot!  The pine nuts.  They are kind of expensive but we like the extra little crunch in the pesto.  I keep a bag of them (from Trader Joe's, of course) in the freezer and toss them in at the end. 

Et voila.  Dinner served in about 15 minutes.  Add to your grocery list: salmon pouches, breadcrumbs, eggs, frozen corn, peppers, bow tie pasta, and pesto.  You will be prepared for an anytime, no planning dinner.

Getting hungry now.  Time to start the pizza...  Tonight we are trying an Aloha Chicken Pizza.  New recipe, I will let you know what we think and share the recipe if it is a good one. 

Until we eat again,
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