Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two spoons.

I never write here anymore because I can't seem to make the time to do it, so, I will no longer try to make time.  I'll write what I have time to write.

I make meatballs of some sort a couple times a month, and ever since I started making them, I've used, or attempted to use, tongs to turn them while they were cooking.  I have discovered, though, that using two spoons to flip them over is MUCH easier than using tongs, forks, or fingers to do the job.

That's my blog post and I'm stickin' to it.

Next time- hamburger salad.  Really.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Week-day-lazy-day Chicken Stock

Before I started writing this post, I paused to look up the difference between stock and broth and found out there really isn't one. Good.  I love dictionaries, and although I HATE e-books and reading online, the online dictionary does prevent one from browsing and spending all afternoon looking at words and never getting to the one word you actually came for.

I hesitated at first to call this a recipe for chicken stock because "stock" sounds professional and complicated, and this method is anything but that.

This whole process is slow and easy and lazy from start to finish.

Sunday morning,  I made a coffee cake that required cooking at 400F. Once the cake was in the oven, I got a chicken ready for roasting.  Dried it off well, rubbed it all over with kosher salt, cut an orange in half and nuked it for thirty seconds or so and stuck it up the chicken's bum along with some herbs and garlic cloves. (I was out of lemons on Sunday, so I used half an orange.)  Laid the chicky down in a cast iron pan and popped her in the oven for an hour while I finished making breakfast, ate breakfast, including some of that cake, and lazed around with the family for a while.  After an hour, I checked for doneness, and let the chicken rest on a rack for a bit. I probably left my chicken out longer than the salmonella Stasi would like, but I'm still here. 



Word, bird.

Once the chicken was cool I broke it down into it's chickeny components- breasts, legs, thighs, etc., separated the meat from the bones and refrigerated everything separately.

I made a quick pan sauce with the scrapings in the cast-iron pan and some wine and refrigerated that right away.  That night I heated up the chicken, finished off the sauce, and served it all with mashed potaoes and apples (YUM!) and baby peas. Everyone was happy and nobody broke a sweat.

I had planned to make the stock the traditional way that afternoon, but never got around to it, so Tuesday- TUESDAY!- morning, I whacked up some baby carrots (how lazy is that?) and an onion and tossed them in the crock pot with the chicken carcass, poured in enough water to cover everything, put it on low, went to work and texted hubby to please turn it off when he got home.  Once I got home, the broth had cooled enough for me to strain it into jars, leaving plenty of room for freezing, and put some of  them in the fridge and some in the freezer. To be safe, I should have had Kevin put the crock part of the crock pot on ice till I got home, but he has Mimie to deal with after work and we all apparently have cast-iron constitutions.  Comes from playing in dirt while you're young. Still, safety first, don't let your chicken or your broth sit around at room temperature. You should refrigerate them as quickly as possible to prevent food-borne illness.  The best way to chill your stock, the method they teach you in culinary school, is to fill your sink with cold water and ice and place the stock pot in that. The book "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen has step-by-step illustrations for making stock the "real" way and cooling it down the safe way. Amazon has it.

For more on cavalier attitudes towards the nastier side of cooking, see the inimitable Harold McGee's column on the subject in the New York Times here.   For more on roasting the perfect chicken, see Michael Ruhlman here. I owe my lack of chicken-roasting trepidation to Mr. Ruhlman, and my technique, too.  You really can't go wrong with Ruhlman.

Anyway, roast a chicken and make stock with the carcass.  It's easy and it'll save you money and keep free from all those nasty additives in store-bought broth.

Peace out.

e

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the 27th Time


Here's my second place-winning entry to The Colony Public Library's 30th anniversary writer's competition.  Thanks Kevin for encouraging me to enter.  I love you!                                    


                                  On Reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the 27th Time



I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t aware of Harper Lee’s only novel. My mother and sister referred to it often, quoted it when the occasion presented, and Atticus stood but one notch below my own father in my personal pantheon of male achievement. 

I had heard so much about this book and seen my sister act out the main scenes of the film so many times that by the time the paperback became available to me through a school book sale and my mother handed over the $1.95 Scholastic wanted for it, I could hardly wait to get it home.

I still have that yellow-covered paperback with its red-block title font somewhere, although it’s the hardcover version I read now. I’ve read “To Kill a Mockingbird” every summer since my seventh-grade year. This story means summer to me. Summer and freedom. Freedom from school, freedom from kids my age, freedom to read whatever I feel like reading- the freedom of childhood. 

The opening sentence is never far from me: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow,” and the last sentence “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning,” crosses my mind every time my own daughter is sick.

This summer, though, I only managed to skim through the book, but I watched the movie with my three year-old daughter. I watched it and I watched her enthralled with the first half of the film, then watched her drift off to her toys when things got serious and sad and adult- just as I had drifted away from the sad stuff when I was a girl.

What strikes me now, listening to the book on CD and doing dishes while everyone else is sleeping, is how life carries on. I vividly remember thinking that things were “over” at each turning point in the book. Scout goes to school and isn’t allowed to read with Atticus anymore. Miss Maudie’s house burns down, Jem is waylaid by old Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, Scout is confined to petticoats and tea parties by Aunt Alexandra; Atticus’s fellow citizens show up to lynch his client and him, too.  How will things ever be the same?

As I grew up, each of these developments wrenched me, saddened me, laid me low, but I kept reading, kept loving this book. 

At forty now, it hits me. Alone at night, listening to the book on CD and washing dishes while everyone else is asleep- this is what happens: life carries on.

As children, as young people, every major shift in life is the end- how will we go on?  Our family moves, our friends marry and move away, our loved ones die- life will never be the same comforting tableau we’ve come to know. 

Then we wake up the next morning. We brush our teeth, go to work, take the kids to school- and things carry on. Tom Robinson may be gone; Boo Radley may have been explained and demystified, but still we go on. 

We carry on living and working and loving and reading- above all, loving and reading. Then we share “To Kill a Mockingbird” with our daughters. We share that sense of summer, of fun, of youth, of melancholy, of fighting even though “we were licked a hundred years before we started.”


Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Humble Potato- Elevated

Ronald Reagan said that "all great change in America begins at the dinner table."  I'm not a Reagan fan, but I am down with that statement.   Let's start with the basic, the favorite, the most potentially delightful object on many an American dinner table, or supper table, if you're from my neck of the woods, and change THAT- or at least the way many of us prepare it.   


Mashed potatoes.  They don't come out of a box. They're not made by fictional tarts called Betty or Ida. :-)  They DO take more than ten minutes to prepare, but most good things in life take more than ten minutes to make, do, arrive at, or accomplish. 


If you've been dragged down into as many caverns by your spelunking parents as I have, you will know that potato flakes smell exactly like bat guano. If you haven't been dragged down into countless caverns (or as I like to call them, the bowels of hell) consider yourself blessed and lucky. 


You with me still?


Get some potatoes.  Figure on one per person- or two per if you're feeding the family I grew up in.  Big brown potatoes.  You don't want tiny new potatoes for this.  Those little red guys you roast entire with olive oil and herbs or you turn them into a yummy German potato salad- no mayo allowed.  But that's another post.


Give those taters a good rinse and scrub off any visible dirt with a veggie brush or non-soapy scouring-type pad. Peel those potatoes, or don't.  That's up to you.  Kevin and I like the peel in there, but Mimi won't touch it.  Dice up those taters into smallish cubes.  The smaller your pieces, the faster they'll cook.  (A sharp knife is really important here.  You don't want a dull knife slipping off the potato's damp flesh and into yours.)  


Add the cubed potatoes to the big pot of salted water you've already got going on the stove.  I usually smash a clove or two of garlic and throw them in the water along with the potatoes.  


Let the water come to a boil, then boil a couple of minutes, before reducing the heat a little so the pan doesn't boil over.  Prod a piece of tater after five or ten minutes- the cooking time is totally dependent on how small you diced your praties.


Once they are tender, but not disintegrating, drain them in a colander as you'd drain pasta.  Now for the fun part.  


Melt some butter in the tater pot, which you should have over low heat now, add some milk, salt, pepper, and a dash of Tabasco, and let the ingredients warm up.  Alternately, you can you use chicken or veg broth to cut fat and calories, but this is mashed potatoes, so...


Now return your taters to the pot and mash away with a potato masher.  If you have a potato ricer, use that for finer, fluffier taters.  You can also use a big spoon or fork if that's what you have.  I wouldn't recommend any electrical means of mashing or whipping here- a hand beater, immersion blender , or fo-pro will only turn your fluffy little lovelies into wallpaper paste.


Once you've got your babies mashed, you can add diced green onions, chives- whatever strikes your fancy.  Chipotle mashed potatoes anyone?  Bacon mashed potatoes?  Oh, my!
Mmm, taters!
Anyway, there you have it.  Homemade mashed potatoes are easy and you can get creative and/or crazy with them, and you're keeping all those potato flake boxes out of your recycling bin or landfill. 


Your new mantra: 


NO MORE ICKY FLAKES!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pasta pet peeves


Been pondering that pasta article from the previous evening.  Yes, every pasta shape has its particular uses and some perform better with pancetta than with pesto and these precepts are all good to know, but the particular problem most people have with pasta pertains to preparation.


My pet particular pet peeves pertaining to pasta are plentiful- puny pan, parsimonious portions, and partially-heated pots of water.   


1) You a need a big-ass pot-  big enough to hold enough water for the amount of pasta you're going to cook.  "The bigger the better" is your rule of thumb here.


2) Fill that pot to the highest level possible while still permitting bubbling space for the water after the pasta has been presented.


3)  SALT the water.  Don't be parsimonious with your NaCL.  Your pasta water should approximate the waters of the Mediterranean.  Use good kosher salt, too.  Regular table salt contains chemicals that can lend an ICK  factor to your finished dishes.  Nobody wants an ICK factor in his/her finished dishes.


4)  Let your pasta water come to a full rolling boil before you add your noodles. (This goes for tea-making, too. There's a reason that the phrase "she can't boil water" is so derogatory to us cooking-type people.)  


5)  Once your water is BOILING, add the pasta and stir that stuff till the water is fully boiling again- this is how you keep it from sticking. (Don't put any damn oil in your cooking water. The only thing you'll accomplish doing that is pasta that glue won't stick to. Oil is a lubricant, folks- think about it.)  On a side note, one of my most-used kitchen tools is a plastic pasta measure/stirrer/server.  I don't use it to measure pasta now that I've discovered the scale, but it's the best tool I've found for stirring, separating, and serving pasta.  You don't want clumps, you gotta stir.


6)  When your pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness (I refrain from judgement here- I prefer mush to crunchy clumps of not-dente half-raw noodles), drain it in a large colander/strainer then add it directly to whatever warmed sauce you're serving it with.  If you're making a pasta salad, drain it and then rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking or follow the directions of whatever recipe you're following.  The  circa-1973 bowl of naked spag with a blob of Ragu on it ain't cuttin' it here,  buddy. 


7) Last but most important of all, if you LIKE half-raw pasta half-doused in cold sauce and no one is coming to dinner, by all means cook your pasta that way.  Cooking is personal, very personal.  Please yourself but please your friends, too.  Keep a can of that Kraft crap in the back of your fridge where no one can see it if that's what makes you happy. 


E  





Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No time to post because I'm reading cracked.com...

Check this out:

"You know what happens when you add oil to pasta water? The pasta, regardless of the shape, will be so slippery that it will no longer absorb your sauce. After all of the work that those diligent pasta magicians went through, you ruin all of it by pouring oil all over your pasta, and it won't even keep the pasta from sticking together. Selfish. That's what you are."


SO VERY TRUE!  

Read more: 9 Ridiculous Cooking Myths You Probably Believe | Cracked.com http://www.cracked.com/article_19628_9-ridiculous-cooking-myths-you-probably-believe_p2.html#ixzz1j7ixg8BU

Monday, January 9, 2012

Two followers- whoo-hoo!

Hey, I have two followers already!  Nice!  And I'm only related to one of them.  :-)  Tonight I cooked Chicken and Noodles from your mom's copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  It was delicious and Kevin and I scarfed it down, but the Mimi wouldn't touch it.  Live and learn, kid- more for us.  No pictures tonight- we were too tired and too freaking hungry.  I'll probably only manage real posts with pictures on weekends, but I'll try.


What did YOU make for supper tonight?