Post #687 Cooking the Easy Peasy Way

January 12, 2020 at 1:15 PM | Posted in Basics, Easy, Main, My Recipe List, Standard | 3 Comments

**** NOTE ****  Sorry, I started this post five days ago, but my gut system acted up on me (probably rushed the whole fatty element part of the plan) and I spent a couple of days feeling like a slug.  I’m much better now, so here’s the finished post!

 

Unfortunately, for this post, there are no pictures for the meals we cooked.  But each one was so good and in such different ways, I wanted to share what’s been going on here.  But first, health update.  Things have been going exactly the way they were expected to.  I’ve been introducing more of the fatty elements into my diet and have suffered no ill effects.  So, yay me!  There’s still one more thing, ice cream, but since I’m not a big fan of the stuff, it shouldn’t pose any kind of a hurdle.  Had bacon one day over the weekend, and sausage the next.  Both times I had bread of some type with butter and not even a twinge.  I’m not overdoing it, and I’m always trying to eat healthy, but for the moment, it looks like normal eating habits are around the corner.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that Partner/Spouse and I are big fans of Mexican cooking.  We both grew up with it, and have missed it tremendously since moving away from the southwest.  So we try to keep the flavors going as best we can wherever we are.  Sometimes it means growing the ingredients ourselves, and other times it’s just finding good local sources.  Here, we have good local sources, but since the growing season is so short, winter time can be rather a dry time.  Don’t get wrong.  We do tacos any time because we love them so much.  As long as we can get corn tortillas, or make them ourselves, we can do tacos.  But there’s so many other things.  So I was casting about for something to fix for dinner that was going to be easy, and quick, and tasty.  I took out some chicken thighs cuz they’re just so darn good.  I wanted to make some kind of braise, or stew, but not a soup cuz we’ve been eating a lot of soup recently due to cold weather.  I noticed some pico de gallo (think a very very chunky salsa) and some hot salsa, although around here, nothing is really very hot to our taste.  I also found a tube of cilantro paste that we’ve been using that has actual chunks of cilantro in it.  I browned the chicken, added the two salsas, some “Better Than Bouillon” roasted chicken flavor, and some fresh garlic.  I let that all simmer for a couple of hours, adding water when it was in danger of burning.  When it was close to being done, I put on some white rice and added a good helping of cilantro and some lime to the rice to flavor it.  Since there was still a good healthy squeeze or two of cilantro paste in the tube, I put the last of it into the chicken.  When the rice was done, I set it aside to stay warm, and finished up the chicken by adjusting the balance of salt and water for thickness.  The chicken was served over the rice and was spicy and tangy and warm and chickeny (is that a word?) and so good we both said it would have to become one of our staple recipes.  There was enough leftover for lunch which I enjoyed a couple of days later and it was still so good.  It helped that the salsas were so good.  Oddly enough, they were both store brand salsas that we got right here in Vermont.  As I’ve always said, anyone who can read can cook.  They must have been following the right recipe.  We just like a little more heat.

On Saturday, to test out my new digestive system sans gall bladder, we wanted to make steak and salad.  You’re probably saying to yourself “They’ve had that since his operation.” and you’d be right, except for one thing.  I’ve had the leanest cut of steak known to mankind, the sirloin.  Apart from a strip of fat on the outside, there is no internal fat to a sirloin.  Some people call it flavorless and coat the thing with all kinds of spice rubs.  I like the flavor of beef, so I cook it rare, sprinkle it with a light coating of salt, and eat it hot or cold.  But this time, I got a rib eye!  Bone in for flavor, and well marbled throughout.  It’s the tenderest cut of beef, and the marbling adds so much flavor it’s like the meat is basted from the inside.  I used our cast iron griddle pan for both steaks, and did the Bobby Flay method of getting the cast iron blazing hot, and searing the steak for two minutes a side, flipping the meat until it’s done to your liking.  The salad was a standard garden salad, but that steak was so good!  I made fresh bread to go with the meal, and had cold steak and fresh bread the next day for lunch.  So Yum!!

On Sunday, Partner/Spouse decided he wanted tacos.  It was fairly late in morning when he decided that, so there wasn’t really time to thaw out a piece of roast beef to cook until tender, then add seasonings, etc. to get the full flavor of Mexican.  But, we could thaw out some chicken pieces pretty quickly and get them cooked well for tacos.  However, while the chicken was thawing (and I was working on loom knitting a scarf that was his last Christmas present, and I’m very nearly done), he changed his mind and decided to make a crockpot full of chicken chili.  I will say that although I offered suggestions, he made this on his own, following his own designs, and I didn’t watch or participate since I was sitting in the living room with balls of yarn around me.  But the aroma as it cooked slowly filled the house and was so tantalizing.  By the time it was done, it smelled perfect.  Then, he made home made corn tortilla chips that were excellent!  Scooped into a bowl with a small sprinkle of local cheese and tortilla chips sitting on top, it had just the right amount of spicy heat without being killer.  Against the backdrop of snow falling lightly for three days, it was a cozy homey meal.

During all this, we were trying to schedule with our local auto glass shop to get our windshield replaced.  We got a small chip which the cold temperatures turned into a large crack running from one side of the thing to the other.  Not at eye level which is typical, but at the bottom where it could easily be ignored, but we didn’t want to.  They were originally supposed to come by on Friday morning, but the tech split his hand open on the previous job and the poor guy called from the ER to explain he was going to be late.  I called and rescheduled for Monday morning, but because of the incessant snowfall, I ended up going into the shop.  From there, I drove to Partner/Spouse’s office and waited about a half hour for him to get off work.  We got home later than usual, and I wanted something hot and satisfying.  I made Beef Mushroom Risotto.  What I did was cut up some chuck roast and onions.  I fried them up in a tablespoon of olive oil for the onion to soften and the beef to brown, then added a cup of Arborio rice.  I’ve written about the different types of rice before; Arborio rice is short and plump and very starchy.  It absorbs three to four times its weight in liquids and takes on the flavors of whatever liquid is being used.  Once the rice had cooked for a couple of minutes, I started adding mushroom stock that was heat to simmering.  I’d added minced garlic to the stock while it was heating so it would pick up that flavor.  I added the stock to the rice and beef by the cupful and stirred the rice constantly.  There are two reasons to stir the rice.  First, so the liquid is all evenly absorbed and the rice doesn’t scorch; and second, so it creates a sauce with the starch from the rice.  For one cup of rice, I had five cups of stock simmering.  Cooking risotto isn’t an exact science, so it’s best to have too much liquid than you think you’ll need, just in case.  I ended up using all of it to make the rice more fluid at the end.  Normally, when the rice is done, you finish it off by added about a half cup of finely grated parmesan cheese.  Instead, I added a quarter cup chilled butter in small chunks to give the sauce a silky finish.  It can take up to an hour to cook properly, but the best way to figure out when it’s done is to cook for about 30-40 minutes, then keep sampling small bites till the rice is al dente.  It was so good!

Then, the next day, which would have been “yesterday” from the original timing of the post, with the snow still falling lightly, I made lemon chicken and pasta.  This is one of those dishes that is so quick and easy that the longest part of the process is getting the water to come to a boil.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I cut up onions and chicken thighs to bite sized pieces.  I was heating a large skillet while doing this, so when I added a touch of oil it shimmered immediately.  I used a Myers Lemon infused olive oil for the flavor.  I started the chicken and onion cooking then put the pasta in to boil.  I used a shaped pasta rather than a long pasta because we like them better.  Then it was just a matter of letting everything cook.  Once the pasta was done, it went into a colander.  By this time, the chicken was done.  I added more of the Myer’s Lemon oil, and then some lemon juice.  I added a handful of pine nuts, too.  Oddly, while the lemon flavor was there, it seemed bland to both of us.  So I added some lime juice and that made it turn the corner.  The oil became saucy, and the flavor when Boom!  I added the drained pasta and flipped it all around.  From beginning to end, thirty minutes, give or take a minute or two.

So, that’s been the menus for the week.  Nothing took long, except the slow cooked chili, and nothing was to hard or too intricate.  I love cooking!

So how is everyone else bearing up to the winter?  Are there any recipes that make you feel warm?  Or do you prefer to embrace the cold and reflect that in your meals?

Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

Post #686 Beginning the New Year

January 1, 2020 at 12:34 PM | Posted in Easy, Holiday | 2 Comments

Happy New Year to everyone!  How cool the blog post falls on the new year’s start.  So much I want to see for this year.  I guess the most important is this is an election year and it’s an opportunity to flex our political muscles and see to it that the person we want to hold elected office(s) gets in and does the work that needs to be done.  So everyone, get out and vote!!

New Year’s Day was always a big deal when I was growing up.  Mom was Irish and Dad was German and Scots.  So any traditions for the new year was a blend of the cultures.  Predominantly, the German tradition was what we followed, which meant the first main meal of the new year included pork and sauerkraut.  Mom always added boiled potatoes because she was Irish and potatoes were included in practically every meal of any kind.  She would always cook a good sized pork roast so the fat cap was rendered and crispy while the meat was tender and juicy.  She never drained the sauerkraut but added sliced apples while it was cooking so it took on a sour and sweet flavor, but all the flavor of the meat juices.  We kids only ate a tiny bite of the sauerkraut, just so we’d get the good luck, but went to town on the potatoes and pork.  Sometimes she would add ice cold apple sauce which was like dessert during the meal.  But once I was on my own, I switched from a pork roast to pork chops.  For one, I like pork chops a LOT, and while I like pork roast, pork chops are the bomb.  So I now do the new year’s meal with pork chops that I’ve seasoned myself.  When the chops are done, I move them to a plate, and fry the sauerkraut in the same pan as the pork chops so they pick up the flavor of the juices and fond and seasonings.  I’ve left out the apples since I left home, but this year, I’m adding them back.

When we moved to Arizona, I found that many of my friends had different traditions for the new year.  Since they were Hispanic, their traditions were mostly from that culture.  As I explained the Germanic/Gaelic flavor of our family’s traditions, they in turn explained theirs.  They were mostly the same as their Christmas traditions, and since I love tamales, it was like extending Christmas far beyond the day.  But there was one that I used to like and giggle at since it was a challenge.  Just before midnight, each person is handed a small bowl or saucer with twelve grapes or raisins in it.  When the clock chimed midnight on New Year’s Eve, each person ate one grape or raisin at each chime of the clock.  Every sweet grape was good luck for that month, and every sour grape was bad luck.

When I moved to Virginia and started dating the girl who became my wife, she introduced me to the custom of Black Eyed Peas.  I was already familiar with them and like them okay.  But I didn’t know they were considered good luck on new year’s day.  In the South, black eyed peas are considered a must to ensure good luck for the upcoming year.  If you don’t eat them, you may as well stay in bed for the year.  We both like them, so eating them was a simple addition to the pork and sauerkraut we already had.

Of course, another tradition from the South that goes hand in hand with the black eyed peas is crispy corn bread.  The way to make corn bread crispy is to cook it in a cast iron skillet.  The trick is to put the skillet in the oven and let it heat up while the oven is heating.  Once the oven has reached its temperature, make the corn bread batter, open the oven, melt a good amount of butter in the skillet, and pour the batter in while the butter is still sizzling hot.  Close the oven and bake according the recipe.  When it’s done, all the parts that touched the skillet will be a crispy crust that is to die for.

Another legume that is considered lucky at New Year is the lentil.  I love lentils.  My sister introduced me to them back in college.  They’re small, round, flat with a bulgy middle, and look like tiny coins.  In Italy, and many Hispanic cultures, lentils are considered good luck and prosperity for the new year.  It doesn’t really matter how they’re made as long as they’re eaten.  I’ve mostly eaten them in soups, but they can be made into a salad and any number of casseroles.

Fruits of various types are also looked on as lucky.  The key is they must be round.  That symbolizes the turning of the year and success as the old year passes and the new year is born.  When we were kids, our Christmas stocking always had tucked among the candy and small gifts, at least an orange or a tangerine.  We never knew what they were for, but I found out a few years ago and it made sense.  Plus the bright color seems almost like a jewel.

Pomegranates are also thought to be lucky at the new year.  Apart from being round, the abundance of seeds symbolized fertility in all endeavors.  Some cultures will slam the ripe pomegranate on the doorway making the rind crack and the seeds scatter to bring fertility to all inhabitants in the house and all their deeds.

One tradition I learned about during my travels was the Filipino Twelve Fruits.  From what I can remember, the actual fruits didn’t matter as long as there were twelve, one for each month.  The fruits were eaten to bring good luck for each month of the year.  Some people fruit juice will also work, and try to find the most pleasing tasting blend of twelve fruits they can.

Finally, there’s the tradition of the Long Noodle from Asia.  It represents longevity and prosperity.  The noodles must be unbroken and cooked in a savory broth.  The person who could eat one noodle without breaking it or biting it would have exceptional good luck for the year.

So, what New Year food traditions do you have in your family?  Let us know.  Feel free to share this post far and wide.

As always,

 

Post #685 Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag

December 29, 2019 at 11:19 AM | Posted in Easy | Leave a comment

I had my followup with the surgeon on Friday.  She cleared me to go back to regular activities but with a couple of caveats.  First, there may still be a stone in the common bile duct.  I misunderstood the phone message where I thought she said it was abnormal.  What she meant was there’s an abnormality in the scan which might indicate a stone.  She gave me the signs to watch for if the stone became a problem, and told me what steps would be taken.  Second, she reminded me that I was a very sick puppy for a very long time and my body is still readjusting to being better and to not having all its organs so she cautioned me to regain my strength in stages as opposed to what I want to do.  Partner/Spouse seconded that opinion.  It was corroborated by something on Saturday.

Saturday morning, a coworker of Partner/Spouse’s came by.  We had agreed to assist her in dog training.  She’s training her dog in tracking humans for the local police dept.  With a tracking dog, she can find people who are lost either by nefarious means, or by natural disasters, that kind of thing.  She wanted one of us to wander the neighborhood leaving a scent trail for her dog to follow.  I volunteered for that part.  The path she wanted to follow via Google Earth couldn’t be done because the area was enclosed by a chain link fence.  So after we discussed it for several minutes, we decided to just wander the neighborhood since that would provide the dog with the challenge of other dog scents, other people scents, and traffic scents.  So, I climbed a small embankment where I walk Buddy a lot, planted the marker, left my sweat pants, and wandered the neighborhood for a few minutes.  It was a total of about 700 feet all told, and I ended up hiding in a bunch of trees.

I was totally out of breath by the time I stopped and alerted them I was ready (by text.)

Okay, so I caught my breath pretty quickly, and it was quite steep in two sections of the walk, but I wasn’t running, or even walking fast.  But it did show how much I’m out of shape at the moment.  Which I don’t like.

On the up side, the dog did extremely well, even following a path I laid to try to confuse him.  He found me in just a few minutes and was so happy to see his toy.  We’re going to keep assisting her and suggested a few “wilderness” areas to go to.

So what’s all this got to do with feeding birds?  During the whole adventure, Partner/Spouse noticed that there were a lot of birds hanging around.  He wondered why they hadn’t flown south for the winter.  I didn’t have an answer apart from maybe they forgot or didn’t know the way.  I know climate change has messed up a lot of that kind of thing, but I would have expected the birds to go where the food is.

So, while we were out and about, he picked  up a cute bird feeder.

If you blow the picture up you’ll notice that it’s made entirely from bird seeds, except the decorations.  He hung it on the lilac bush in the front smack dab middle of the porch so we can see the birds visiting from inside.  We talked about feeding the birds all winter and I mentioned suet feeders and peanut butter feeders for squirrels as well.  He did some research and found out another thing we can use to feed the birds and other animals.

Yup, those are apples drying in our dehydrator.  We’re drying them out to a pliable stage and hanging them from the branches of the lilac bush.  Birds and squirrels both like them.

And so do people.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can still dry out fruits and meats in the oven.  The key to drying foods in the oven is air flow.  Well, actually, that’s the key to dehydrating foods in anything.  If your oven has the convection fan, all you need to do is set it at it’s lowest temp setting, cut up the food into thin, uniform sizes, place them on a tray, and shut the oven door but block it open with a wooden spoon laid across one corner.  If your oven doesn’t have the fan, do the same as above including the wooden spoon, but put a wire rack across the tray so air flows underneath the foods.  Remember, the thinner the foods the better.  Drying takes a long time since it’s so low temp, and the point is to remove moisture from the foods, not cook it.

My mom and I used to make home made beef jerky in the oven all the time.  One time, I saw her prepping some beef for jerky just before I was leaving for a two day hike.  When I got home, I asked where the jerky was.  In a very disgusted voice, she explained that my sister-in-law ate every bit of it. It must have been a good batch.  When dehydrating meats, it’s important to remove all the visible fat.  Fats will turn rancid pretty quickly and don’t dehydrate well.  They will also cause spoilage and mold growth pretty quickly, too.  When I was heavily into hiking and backpacking, I used to dehydrate about three quarters of the food I took with me.

These apples will take about 8 hours to dehydrate to the point where we’re going to put them outside.  If I was making apples chips for us, I’d let them go even longer.  Also, you’ll note that the skins are still on them.  That’s a personal preference.  Some people remove the skins so they dehydrate faster.  I like the dried skins and the thin layer beneath the skin of fruits and vegetables is where 90% of the nutrients are.

When I first moved to the DC area, my apartment had a balcony and it jutted out against a tree.  We had a lot of squirrels for visitors.  I put out unsalted nuts for them, but my favorite (and probably theirs) was when I put out seeds mixed in peanut butter.  I put a big dollop on a cracker and they’d eat those like an appetizer.  It was so funny to watch their little tongues jut out trying to get the peanut butter off the roof of their mouths.

So, we’ve decided we’re committed to keeping the birds fed all winter, as well as ourselves.  Their diet is going to be a lot fattier than ours, but I imagine we’ll both weather the cold okay.

So, I hope your holidays went well.  We’re almost to the other side and still alive.  Share any special moments you like and share the post if you like.

As always,

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