Category Archives: Money Savers

Smoky Sweet Chipotle Shredded Beef

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Over wine with a friend earlier this week, it was noticed and noted that I’ve been blogging in spurts when I blog at all. I try to live my life in a way that I don’t have to apologize, but I really am sorry I don’t make it around more often. I have a handful of posts drafted but haven’t taken pictures of the food, or I’ve taken pictures of the food and haven’t drafted recipes. Or, like this post, I didn’t make up the recipe at all, I once again tinkered with someone else’s. I’ve been reading and cooking a lot from other peoples places, and I feel like I’m just repeating their efforts (which makes me feel bad). But this one, well, I have to share. It was too damn good NOT to share.

So first, go visit this website. Andie’s blog is chock full of tasty goodness, and her writing is so honest and candid, I assure you, you will be hooked as fast as I was. She’s an inspiration, and her love of food is something to be reckoned with.

Second, make this shredded beef. I made it for Superbowl and we were going to make nachos out of it, but I lost steam and didn’t want to dirty another pan (and we were out of foil, so there went that idea), so we made tacos soft tacos with the sultry, silky shreds of beef. It made me feel a bit better that we sat around in our pajamas all day and didn’t have or attend a party. In fact, it made me a little glad that we didn’t do either – because we had enough meat left over for dinner another night and it was even better.

Andie’s recipe called for chicken which I’m planning to make soon, but I had a vision of shredded beef which was fueled by my visit to the clearance section of the meat counter at the store, which my dad affectionately refers to as the ‘used meat’ section. I had two pounds of boneless beef short ribs that needed to be used or frozen – and here’s what they became.

Shredded Beef Tacos

 

I actually like the picture below better because it’s prettier with the cilantro, but you couldn’t see the beef, so you get two pictures today.

 

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In making this beef I have found my One True Love of shredded beef –  replacing my other recipe, possibly for good. Try it out and see what you think. And take my advice, it tastes even better when eaten in your pajamas.

Smoky Sweet Chipotle Shredded Beef (In Taco Format)

1 T. canola oil
2 lbs. boneless beef short ribs
1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo
1 t. sauce from the chile can
1/2 of a yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 T. brown sugar
1/4 t. liquid smoke
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves
3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper

Optional, for serving:
Corn Tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded red cabbage
Lime wedges

Grab your crockpot (should be a 4-6 qt. crock) and get it ready for game time. In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until glistening. Lightly salt and pepper the ribs on all sides, and brown all sides, removing to the crockpot when they are caramelized to your liking.

In a food processor or blender, add all ingredients from tomatoes to Worcestershire, and blend until smooth. Pour contents of blender/processor over meat in crockpot, apply lid and cook at low heat for 8 hours. Shred meat with two forks and serve on corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, shredded cheese, lime wedges and cilantro leaves.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Like many that love to cook, I have a vast array of cook books. It’s an incomplete collection, constantly growing and evolving. Some of my favorites have been bestowed upon me by my mom, who also has a vast collection of cookbooks and recipes.

A couple of  birthdays ago Mom gave me a couple of great cookbooks that she found at a local home collective, one of those being The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I flicked through it a few times and dog eared some pages for future reference, but didn’t do a whole lot other than make some killer fried rice. Well, a few weeks ago I was paging through it while exploring the idea of an internet-search-free month of cooking (which I think I’m going to do, should be fun!). I un-dog eared a few pages and turned down a few different ones for things that are our ‘restaurant favorites’, now that we don’t have a Chinese resto within 15 miles of home (what the what? how’s a girl supposed to get a fix?!). We have a good one two towns south of here, but unless I’m already there I probably won’t make a special trip too often.

With the sadness of my dearly departed greasy Chinese joints (I used to live across the street from one of them and have fond memories of takeout and Sapporos and Sex and the City with a pal of mine), I decided to deploy some of the stuff I found in this book. The techniques that I learned in it made for superb fried rice, so what the hell, said I, let’s try some more.

One thing I love at most Chinese joints is really good Sweet and Sour Chicken. The bad stuff is bad to say the least, all that Red No. 5 and MSG and the 5 lbs of sugar and all. But when it’s done well, and is actually sweet AND sour it’s so, so good.

Granted, there’s still sugar in the sauce recipe but you can sub for honey if you have some, or brown sugar which is really tasty too. And spread out between 4 servings, it’s not that much sugar per capita.  The ingredients couldn’t be simpler and for me are things I always have on hand, so a batch of the sauce + whatever vegetables are in the crisper + a boneless skinless chicken breast + a pot of rice = dinner for 4 in less than no time. Less than the time it takes to order and pick up/have delivered your takeaway of choice. And I know there are a lot of recipes that claim this status, but this one means it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 4 as a single main, 6 if you throw in some frozen egg rolls or pot stickers, and makes great leftovers.

First, start a pot of rice, make a cup and a half (dry), using your favorite method. I like white rice with my Chinese food, and make mine on the stove top in a 2:1 water to rice ratio for 20 minutes, and this whole recipe comes together for me in about that time. But use your rice cooker, or boil and rinse method, whatever method you prefer. Start it early unless you’re using parboiled rice.

Sweet and Sour Sauce, adapted from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook

3/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar, honey, or brown sugar
1/2 c. rice wine vinegar (or regular distilled white or apple cider, whatever you have)
1 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch
3 T. water

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add in vinegar and sweetener of choice, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir together soy, cornstarch and remaining 3 T. water and add to vinegar mixture, stir until thickened. Set aside.

Chicken and Veggies

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces, AND/OR
1 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces,
1/2 yellow onion, cut down the poles (top to root end), cut into thin half moon slices
1 1/2 c. pineapple chunks, preferably fresh but drained, canned chunks will work too
4 green onions, sliced into 1″ pieces
Canola oil, for frying (don’t use olive oil here, it doesn’t have a high enough smoke point and tastes icky when it gets this hot)

Cut up all vegetables and chicken and set aside. Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan over high heat until SMOKING HOT. Add in 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil, swirl around the pan, and add in the chicken. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes, letting the outside of the chicken brown a bit and get crispy, and remove from pan. Add another teaspoon of oil, add in onions and stir fry for a minutes. Add in bell pepper of choice and pineapple, and stir fry for two minutes or until all vegetables/fruits are starting to char. Throw the chicken back in the pan, pour sauce over, add green onions and cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

Desktop Breakfast: Warm Blueberry Compote and Greek Yogurt

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Breakfast has always been a struggle for me, even as a kid. My mom would try her hardest to make me eat something before school each day and I just never wanted to. If I eat too soon after I get up in the morning I get an upset stomach, but I can’t hold off eating until lunchtime or else there’s no filling my stomach for the entire rest of the day.

I’m a 10:00 kind of breakfast eater. No earlier, no later. It’s the Goldilocks approach to breakfast. It’s got to be just right.

My far and away favorite quick breakfast is a slice of  buttered sourdough toast with a gently fried egg on top, heavily peppered and lightly salted, all runny yolk and tasty goodness. During the work week, though, this isn’t easily accomplished. Granted, my office has a full kitchen with a range and oven, but the last time I tried making an egg in there I had 6 different people hovering around wanting one. I decided it’s just too much, and I am not a short order kitchen.

I usually keep some individual packs of yogurt in the work fridge for snacks and breakfasts on days when I don’t have any. I go in spurts with brekkie stuff: for a few weeks I’ll make oatmeal packets, one week I’ll make muffins, another I’ll grab some English muffins and a jar of jam from the pantry and I’m set. My goal is to bring breakfasts to work for a whole week each Monday, so I don’t have to think about it in the morning as I perpetually run late (but please don’t tell my boss!). My bottom desk drawer is full of tea, vitamins, my tea cup and saucer, a set of silverware, my Trenta sized reusable Starbucks cup for water (24 oz. at a time means I don’t have to get up as often – and I drink 3 every day), and my chosen breakfast for the week if it doesn’t require refrigeration. A veritable cafe of healthy goodness.

This is a yogurt week, and I’ve been craving fruit lately. I was fresh out of oranges and bananas to take and slice into my yogurt this morning – sad day! While washing my hair in the shower I took mental inventory of the freezer and remembered I have a few pints of blueberries stashed in the back waiting for a rainy day. As I blew through the kitchen and made my coffee, I tossed my soup and a slice of bread for toast into my lunch bag, along with 1/3 cup of blueberries in a baggie and the honey bear off the counter. Iblew a kiss to the cat and ran out the door.

When my 10:00 hunger pangs struck, I put my blueberries in a bowl, drizzled on about a teaspoon of honey and eyeballed a tablespoon of water over the top. Covered with a paper towel and zapped for about a minute, the berries blew up and bubbled into a thin compote, into which I spooned the contents of my yogurt cup. I reminded myself to get a cute bowl from home (that matches my teacup, natch) to make stuff like this, because while a paper bowl is convenient, I like real ‘china’ when I’m dining a la desktop. It just makes the whole experience of eating at one’s desk a bit more civilized.

Warm blueberry compote

Warm Blueberry Compote
Serves 1

1/3 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 T. water
1 t. honey

Place blueberries in a microwave safe bowl. Drizzle water and honey over, stir to combine. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Spoon 1/2 c. yogurt over the top, and dine a la desktop.

Smoky Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

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Anyone pinching pennies knows that brown bagging (or cute coolering) one’s lunch saves a bunch of money on a weekly basis. I take myself out for lunch every now and again, but I really try to bring something every day.

I had a soup a week or so ago when I was under the weather that I’ve been dying to knock off. It was a vegan sweet potato soup with chipotle powder that was so silky and wonderful, I was sad that I didn’t buy the larger size. The nice man running the soup and prepared food counter at my favorite little lunch spot in walking distance of my office winked at me when I asked for the recipe, which told me I was on my own.

I bought some sweet potatoes at the store this weekend and roasted them last night, knowing I would make this soup tonight to tuck into my lunches all week long. it’s not vegan, but it’s still healthy, clocking it at under 250 calories a serving. A slice of buttered sourdough toast and a glass of hearty red wine were the perfect end to a cold winter’s day, and I have plenty for lunch for the next couple days.

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Smoky Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
Makes 4 generous servings

2 lbs red skinned sweet potato
1 T. butter
1 c. diced yellow onion
1/4 to 1/2 t. chipotle powder (start slow, this soup gets spicy quick. You can always add more but can’t take it back!)
1/2 t. smoke paprika
1 t. fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 quart of chicken stock
1 t. worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. molasses
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350*F. Wash sweet potatoes, pierce with a fork, wrap in foil and bake until easily pierced with a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle (potatoes can be roasted and stored in the fridge, still wrapped, for 2-3 days prior to use. Let them come to room temperature before using).

Melt butter in a 6 quart pot over medium low heat, add onion and saute until onion is soft, 3-5 minutes. Stir in chipotle powder, paprika, and rosemary. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out of the peels, dropping them into the pot and mashing with the spices and onion (I peeled them and squished them with my hands before dropping into the pot, it was so much fun). Stir all together and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in chicken stock, Worcestershire, and molasses. Add about a teaspoon of salt and simmer all together for 15ish minutes. Puree in a blender in batches or grab a stick blender if you have it and puree the soup until it is smooth, uniform and silky. Season with pepper and a bit more salt if you’d like, and more chipotle powder for the daring. Serve in warmed bowls with buttered sourdough toast for dipping and bowl wiping.

The Best Homemade Hummus

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If you’re like the majority of red-blooded America, you’re either hosting or headed to a houseful of people for at least one football game this weekend. What would January be without playoff games? I think for many (men, at least) it keeps the inevitable doldrums away. You get some time to be social, some healthy team rivalry, beer drinking time with buddies, and good food.

Football food falls into the same indulgent category as camping food in my book. It stuff that’s on the far end of the health spectrum, and oftentimes includes but is not limited to chicken wings, burgers, gooey baked dips, pulled pork sandwiches, and on a lot of buffets the inevitable veggie platter of carrots, celery sticks and broccoli with a bowl of ranch dressing for dipping. (The ranch, by the way, completely negates the health of the veggies for the most part. Just saying, ) A smorgasbord of tasty saturated fat, punctuated by a platter of vegetables. It’s nice to have something different.

And like many of you, we hosted some friends for the later game yesterday (go niners!). I’m on my annual campaign to health it up and in that trying to put out healthier snacks, for the most part. Getting away from the group favorite cheese board and bowl of butter and truffle salt-laced popcorn was a must. There were no wings, no sausages or spinach dip or sliders on the table. I went a different route and made hummus because I had everything I needed here and didn’t have to go back to the store to make something else, and I wanted to give us all a little something tasty and good for us, since we were eating fried abalone and tri tip for dinner.

And so, hummus, the humble dip of champions, with a bag of pita chips and some carrots for dipping. Creative? Nope. But I made my hummus from scratch and have deployed the best method ever for doing so. The secret is, well, um, how do you say?… you have to peel the garbanzo beans.

Yes. Peel. The. Garbanzo. Beans.

So, if you’re done laughing at me, we can move on. Thoughts on absurdity aside, by peeling said garbanzo beans, you eliminate the sandy texture that generally comes with homemade hummus. The peels break down into what can only be described as grittiness, and my previous adventures in homemade hummus netted me precisely that. I’ve seen a hundred times over in as many recipes as I’ve looked at a suggestion or instruction to peel the beans, but I’m WAY too busy to do something so tedious. Except that, well, the product of the peeling is perfect, puffy fluffy hummus that you can’t get enough of, and I am remiss anytime I haven’t peeled my garbanzos and subsequently throw half of my hummus away. Peeling a can of garbanzo beans took me less than 8 minutes, including the time to gather up the ones that shot across the counter.

To peel your beans, open and dump the can (or for you hipsters boiling your own, boil them up and cool them then dump them) into a fine strainer, and rinse thoroughly, using your hands and some high-pressure from your faucet. A little garbanzo bean massage. This will take the skins off some of them, and rinses a lot of the sodium out of the canned types.

Then, grab a bowl and one by one, take the beans, with the pointy ends facing toward your palms, and squeeze the bean into the bowl. Try to aim, they’re slippery little beasts and will fly everywhere. Discard the skin. Tom Sawyer some kids into doing this if you happen to have any roaming around, they’ll have a blast. Repeat as necessary, then proceed with the recipe.

I have listed in here high-test olive oil, which can be described best as the stuff you bought at gold prices that you don’t use because the flavor is so delicate and grassy and gets lost in most food. Yeah, that one. Use it here.

On an unrelated note, does anyone have a recommended brand of commercially produced pita chips that they buy? Every single brand I’ve ever bought is nothing but pita chip DUST when I open it and it’s getting really old. I’d like to get a bag that is mostly whole chips, if it isn’t too much to ask. Anybody out there with a suggestion, for when I’m too lazy to make my own? Let’s see if any of you are brave enough to comment.

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Best Hummus Ever
Makes about 1 3/4 – 2 cups

1 15 oz. can of garbanzos/chickpeas (they are one and the same), drained, rinsed and peeled. I buy low sodium beans or make my own.
1/2 c. tahini paste
Juice of 1/2 of a juicy lemon
3 small or 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or run through a press
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
4-6 T. water
Good, high-test olive oil for drizzling

Toss garbanzos into the bowl of a food processor, and whizz until they are powdery and uniform, close to a full minute. Add in the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt, and blend away for another minute, stopping to scrape down the bowl to ensure everything is incorporated. With the machine running, add in the water a tablespoon at a time, until the hummus is smooth and creamy and fluffy. Stop and taste it for consistency, as less water is more here, but you’ll need at least 4 tablespoons. It should be super fluffy and light. Adjust salt and lemon to taste.

Scrape into your favorite serving bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour. Before serving, drizzle with a few tablespoons of good olive oil, a couple cracks of black pepper, and a sprinkle of fresh rosemary if you have it. Or, use the olive oil and whatever spices/seasonings you’d like (smoked paprika, a dusting of cayenne, some minced fresh cilantro and lime zest, whatever sounds good). Serve with your favorite dippers.

Switching it out

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Our home is in a constant state of evolution. It’s no great secret that the key to making a house a home is to make it beautiful but inviting, lovely and lived-in. Somewhere between Please Use A Coaster and Of Course You Can Put Your Feet on the Sofa. Striking that balance isn’t always easy.

One thing I can change seasonally to make things feel bright and new and lovely are the surface decorations in my living areas. Changing out the covers on the sofa pillows, getting a different colored throw out of the linen closet, and adding a seasonally appropriate tablecloth are a couple of quick fixes that instantly make the place spiffed up. Well, that and vacuuming. What is it about hoovering the house makes it look instantly polished? You’d think that would make us do it more often.

Anyway. I wanted new pillow covers and of course I’m too cheap to buy them outright. A trip to the fabric store during a particularly coupony sale netted me a piece of tapestry that I’ve been coveting for MONTHS. I bought a yard, and found a remnant in a bin in a light peacock blue microsuede that nicely complimented the first piece I found. Finally, a piece of peacock blue trim that was clearanced out for $0.97 a yard (down from $6!). And all for about $40. Not exactly cheap, but the pillows I love and covet in my favorite boutique-y stores are usually about that much for just the cover, never mind the actual pillow insert, for a 20″ pillow.

To my sewing corner I went. I have a storage ottoman that I keep some of my shears and things in, and in it I found some beautiful complimentary green remnants in there that I had forgotten about. I make a practice of haunting the remnant bin at the fabric store for this very reason. I’ve gotten some beautiful pieces of fabric, and good sized, for 50% off the bolt price this way. By using some of these pieces along with the two I just bought, I had enough fabric recover a seat cushion for one of our occasional chairs and the throw pillows that go in it. Score!

What I didn’t have were zippers. Well, I’d gotten this far, and I was in that zone where nothing was going to stop me but the power going out. I was just going to have to make envelope backed pillows, which to me are easier anyway.

This pillow style is a great project for a start-up sewer. It’s really forgiving, and you don’t have to fuss with making button holes or installing a zipper, both of which can be intimidating and difficult when you’re learning (and I still fight with zipper installation, to be honest with you). And when you’re done you’ll have something lovely to enjoy every day.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your pillows:

  • Your pillow fabric(s)
  • Thread in a matching or complimentary color to your fabric(s)
  • Pillows

Here’s what you do:

Complete step 1 and/or 1A before fabric shopping if you already have the pillows at home, otherwise you can do the math portion of the project at the fabric store after picking out your pillow forms. Taking a tape measure and calculator will be helpful, and the folks at the store are always happy to help out with questions.

1. If your subject pillow has a removable cover on it you’re ahead of the game. Remove the cover, flip it inside out, and measure it top to bottom, and in the case of a non-square/rectangular pillow, from left to right as well. Write down your measurements for reference. My pillow covers are 18″ squares from edge to edge, with a 1/4″ seam allowance, making them about 17 1/2″ across on the inside of the seam placement. I like my pillows to fit tightly inside of the covers so I make them a little smaller than the pillow itself. Keeps them fluffier that way.

1A. If your subject does NOT have a removable cover and you want to make one for it don’t fret. Get out a tape measure or yard stick, grab your pillow, stretch the corners out, and measure from corner to corner along one side. This guy is 18″. Again, I like my pillows to fit snugly in the case so my front piece is going to be cut to exactly 18″.

2. Take that trusty tape measure or yard stick and measure your square on your chosen fabric, checking for pattern placement. Sometimes its worth buying a little more fabric than you need in order to get the right look on your pillow, so take this into consideration before you go to the cutting counter at the fabric store. If you have a smaller print it’s easier to line up your shot, but on a large pattern sometimes it’s not so easy. Another trick is to make a paper template of your square and use that as a guide so you can really see what your pillow is going to look like when it’s completed.

3. Grab your contrasting fabric, if you’re using one, otherwise keep going with your original fabric. To make the envelope back, you want your overlap to be a good 3-4″ in the center of the pillow, to keep it’s belly covered. I take my pillow length, divide by two, and add 4 to get the right amount of overlap. This provides ample room for your seam allowances as well as hemming your raw edges in the middle.

The equation for my pillows is this:
18 / 2 = 9
9 + 4= 13

My envelope flaps need to be 18″ wide and 13″ tall. Measure and cut two (2).

4. If you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag one long edge of each of your two pillow back pieces to check the fray. On one of the long edges on each of your flap pieces, fold each of the zigged pieces down about a half an inch on the wrong side of the fabric, press and pin in place. Sew down with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

5. Turning the right sides of the fabric together, lay the two envelope pieces over the pillow front and pin in place, being sure to put the bound edges facing the center of your square.

6. Sew around the edges of your square with 1/4″ seam allowances, and again if you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag around the outside edges of the pillow to keep the fray down. Flip inside out, cram in your pillow, fluff accordingly, and VOILA!

7. Be smug about your crafting abilities and your smart new pillows.

Now, wasn’t that easy? If you shop the sales and remnant bins you can find some gorgeous fabrics for a fraction of the retail price and make pillow covers that look like they cost a fortune. Happy sewing!

A fun little trip

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So, I have this giant glass vase full of wine corks sitting on our little wine fridge. Generally I stack them up and then take them to a little store in town that recycles them through a program somewhere when the vase is full to overflowing. This time, though, I decided to upcycle them into something fun instead of just recycling them at the grocer. Observe this skinny little wall:

Sort of a good for nothing spot that stares right atcha when you sit on the sofa and look toward the kitchen. This wall bugs me anyway because I wish there were a cut out over the sink that looks into that hall, but whatever. If we buy this condo that’s the second thing we’re doing, right after swapping the swing on one of our bathroom doors. But I digress.

{I respectfully request that you do not judge the number of wine corks that are in that basket.} A little hot glue, a yardstick, a pile of corks and a glass of wine in front of Big Bang Theory. I had a fun little trip down memory lane with this project too; there were all sorts of corks from many different wineries – some we drank at dinner parties with friends, some were gifts, some were consumed at special occasions. There are corks from our family’s winery, corks from wineries that friends work/have worked at, and a couple of blanks from who-knows-where {and many of us know that those were some of the best bottles}. It made me smile, and is something with a story on display while displaying our holiday cards in the soon-to-be-arriving holiday season. For now, I pinned anniversary cards up there. See how cute?

Now I just need to find some cute little pushpins instead of the brass tacks that are on there now. But they’ll do for the time being. I have another yardstick, too so I can make a second strip of corks to expand the space and get a full six feet of space for hanging. I love little art projects like this! Satisfies my need to do something creative but doesn’t take hours of work and planning. Bring on the holiday cards!

A Little Something Extra

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Happy Saturday Campers!

The sun is shining, the weather is set to stun, and it’s going to be a great weekend! A good friend’s wedding to attend tonight, some beer making with my dear Dad tomorrow, maybe some sewing somewhere in between. Relaxing, fun, festive.

I was up and at ’em this morning at a weekend-early 7:00. I’m not exactly a morning person, but I do love mornings. When I’m allowed to wake at my own body’s ready-set-go and not at the sound of the alarm, I get up in a good mood and ready to start my day. I found my slippers, made some coffee, and took a cup out on the balcony with the cat to let Nick sleep for a bit. And what a lovely morning it was, and even the grape trucks and picking machines rolling through couldn’t bring me down.

For those with a romantic dream of harvest in the the Wine Country, I’m going to spoil it a bit. When everything around you is vineyards, and all of the grape varietals ripen in Nature’s succession over a couple of months, well, how do I put this? Most vineyards aren’t hand picked, they’re machine picked. And picking machines look like a mechanical hell-beast and sound like one too, scaring the bejeezus out of the cat and most of our tourist population. To top it, even vineyards that are still hand-picked have to have a big bin at the end of the rows, that goes on a big tractor trailer to go to the winery crush pad. Did I mention that picking always happens during darkest night so the berries (grapes) are nice and cool and firm? You get the idea. It’s a beautiful time of year and if you have the good fortune to visit during these golden months do so, but bring your earplugs if your visit means you’re ‘sleeping’ in the country.

ANYway. I was going to tell you about my coffee. We are everyday Joe drinkers in this house (can I get an A-men), nothing fancy, just good, locally roasted fair trade coffee, a splash of milk, and sugar for the husband and maybe a drop of honey for me if I’m in the mood. But sometimes, like this morning, I make it special, with just a little something extra.

Long ago, with a roommate far, far away, when we could afford nary a bag of fair trade coffee and in fact didn’t even know what the stuff was, we were making toast and coffee in our kitchen one weekend morn and getting the day started. After putting the coffee in the filter, she sprinkled in a little bit of ground cinnamon. ‘Really?’ I asked, having never actually seen this before. It was a nice surprise. Just a little added depth of flavor, and makes for a festive cup. Since then I’ve riffed (of course) and added a piece of vanilla bean, some dried orange peels, some nutmeg, whatever sounds good that  won’t be overtaken by the coffee or changed too much by the bitterness of the brew.  I don’t do it often since we aren’t really flavored coffee people, but some mornings, like this beautiful crisp fall morning, it sounds too good not to add. Give it a try someday if it sounds tasty to you.

Enjoy your weekend, guys, I’m off to go smoke a couple of pumpkins for beer making.

School’s In

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T-minus 24 hours and I’ll be a working girl again. An 8-5er. A breadwinner. A mover-and-shaker. A quivering mess of first-day-of-school nerves (!).

I finished my list of errands and To Dos for my Last Day of Freedom, and I’ve carefully penciled in some time for ‘just me’. Just me time includes some sewing (to hopefully finish a cute dress for my First Day), and a trip to town for some grocery shopping (this isn’t a chore for me, I love grocery shopping) and a new pair of jeans, since my new office has a CASUAL DRESS CODE. That’s right guys, I can wear whatever I want to work everyday. I just need to be clean and tidy and that’s about it. I am SO EXCITED.

Of course, though, I’m jittery and nervous. Like, what if they don’t like me nervous, and what if I can’t make friends nervous, and what if I’m making a terrible mistake nervous. I truly have First Day of School nerves, but this is almost worse, since my school nerves were usually delightful and buzzy and electric, this feels more foreign.

This tells me, however, that I’m probably making a great decision. The last two times I walked in to a job and didn’t have these nerves, well, let’s just say I learned something about my guts and how they check things.

Breathe. Anyway. Like any good little food obsessed girl, I’m already worried about what I’ll eat for breakfast most days of my first few weeks. Once I get settled into my desk I can designate a drawer for oatmeal, granola and snacks, but when a girl is in training it’s hard to say ‘can you hold that thought? I need some brekkie.’ I am not one of those people who can eat within a half hour of getting up so a nosh while primping is out. And getting up earlier to accommodate eating before leaving for work is a big fat Yeah Right.

What to eat, what to eat? Smoothies came to mind but they aren’t satisfying. I do love a nice scrambled egg in the morning, but this falls in to the Yeah Right category. I’m in love with Overnight Oatmeal, but this requires two hands to eat and I’m usually eating in the car when I’m headed to work. And Nick strictly forbids me to drive with just my knees (though I am a very good kneecap driver, for the record). An obvious solution here is an egg sandwich, but I don’t like them when they’re reheated, the egg gets rubbery and weird, not to mention the English muffin gets soggy.

Another obvious route is baked goods, something of the muffin or scone persuasion. The problem, though, is that they are usually so fat- and sugar-laden that one is better off eating a bagel with bacon and cream cheese on it (one of my favorite camping breakfasts). At least there’s protein in a bacon bagel sammie!

I like the idea of a muffin for breakfast, though. They are decidedly breakfasty, and a pan of them is more than enough for me for breakfast for a week; in fact it’s enough for one for breakfast and one for afternoon tea (which I also won’t be taking while I am training with someone – ‘one lump or two?’). I searched around and didn’t find too many that fit my bill – too fatty, to many ingredients, to many muffins in a batch, too too too. And then I found one, over here. (If you haven’t been over to Andie’s blog, well, get there. She is amazing. You’ll fall in love with her posts like I have.)

With a couple of substitutions from the original healthy recipe I made it even healthier. This muffin clocks in at around 185 calories/19 g. carbs/10 g. fat/6 g. protein per muffin, which leaves enough calories and fat in my daily count to add a smear of butter or reduced-fat cream cheese (YES… makes them like carrot cake). They also freeze really well, so make the whole pan, cool them completely, individually wrap them up nice ‘n’ tight in cellophane and freeze them inside of a zip top freezer bag. Pull one out the night before or in the morning to defrost for a quick breakfast.

Even Healthier Morning Glory Muffins
Adapted from recipe at Can You Stay For Dinner?
Makes 18 muffins (still kind of a lot, but I’ll send some to work with Nick)

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2/3 cup sugar or honey (I used honey)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (including juices)
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (2-3 medium)
1/2 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, or raisins if you prefer
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cups. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar (if using, otherwise mix the honey in with the wet ingredients), baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat together applesauce, eggs, vanilla and pineapple (including pineapple can juices). Stir egg mixture into the flour mixture, just until combined. Stir in the carrot, cranberries, coconut, and pecans. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

For the Love of Leftovers

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I read a book last week called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. If you haven’t read this book, run out and get it, it’s a game-changer. I’ve always considered myself to be a  thrifty and frugal cook, but this book brought me up to a whole new level. I mean, I make chicken stock from my clean-picked birds, but hadn’t thought about saving the skins and ends from onions, scraps and tops of carrots and ends and tops of celery to make my stock with, I always start with whole vegetables that I go out and buy. I’m familiar with the adage Waste Not Want Not, but this, this was different. Her creative use of what’s left and what most people think of as trash is outrageously amazing. We’re talking about saving artichoke cooking water to be the basis of soup, here. Stuff like this was head-slapping realization for me. Why not? As such, I’m rereading the book this week, a bit more slowly, and taking notes. In a time when we should all be a bit more cautious with our spending, I urge you to read her book.

And beyond her uses of these cast-away items, her description of food, how it should taste, her use of salt, her use of olive oil, her encouragement of nibbling and savoring, was, in a word, beautiful. It spoke to my food obsessed soul. Yes.

In reading this book, it’s changed my view of leftovers yet again. I’m pretty good about not throwing away food, but will admit my guilt about the things that compost in the vegetable bins (whoever named them the Crisper Drawers was either a liar or horribly misinformed). Now, though, with some of the new things I learned in this book, I’m armed with some new game plans for lifeless lettuce and dying cucumbers. Not that dinner last night contained either of these things. It did make use of some rather morose looking bell peppers, though.

The weather took a turn toward cooler this week, which I’ll be honest with you is fine by me. After last week’s 100+ degree blitz for more than a couple of days, I’ll take some overcast drizzly mornings, 70 degree afternoons, and cool evenings. Last night I almost wanted to put another blanket on the bed, it was so chilly! (Un)Luckily for me, the cat decided he needed to sleep on top of my feet all night long (no matter where I put them), so I had toasty toes without getting out a blanket. He’s such a needy little beast sometimes.

And with the turn in the weather, my appetite took a turn toward comfort. Last week I could hardly bear to turn on the stove, this week I made Chicken and Rice Soup for dinner on Monday. My mom thought I was crazy but it just sounded so good. I got myself a double-coupon deep discount organic chicken on Saturday (that cost me less than $5 for a 6.5 pound bird), and though I didn’t need one I couldn’t pass up the price. A whole chicken is a poor housewife’s savior if she’s a crafty girl, and can be made into not just one but upward of 4 dinners. Warm chicken bistro salads one night, another night he was Chicken and Rice Soup, last night he was pasta, and today he’ll be chicken stock to re-up my freezer coffers. Chicken stock means polenta, quick soup, and risotto base. I blast through a ton of it any given week and making it is a skill that I’m happy to have.

For those of you freaking out that it’s Friday and that chicken was just used up last night, well, calm down. The mystical powers of refrigeration and high heat made it perfectly safe to eat. I assure you.

And oh, that pasta. Sometimes a girl has to dispatch with the healthy and just have creamy pasta for dinner. On the whole the husband and I eat pretty healthy, but you have to give in every now and again. This pasta jogs somewhere in between. And for those of you who don’t think they like leftovers, I promise you, this pasta will change your tune. You see, the thing about leftovers is that they just need a little finesse to turn them into something else. This isn’t Saturday’s Chicken, this is Thursday’s Pasta.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Serves 8 (easily divides in half)

1 lb. short pasta (penne, spirals, something that will hold the sauce in. I used gluten free brown rice penne.)
3 strips of thick cut bacon
1 t. butter
2 c. chopped bell pepper, whatever colors your family likes (no bell pepper? Use whatever is about to die in your ‘crisper’ drawer)
1 c. chopped onion
3 c. cooked, shredded chicken (we used white and dark meat, the choice is yours)
½ c. low fat buttermilk
½ c. sour cream or mayonnaise (use light or fat free if you’d like, I used good ol’ full fat mayonnaise because it’s what I had)
½ t. dry mustard
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
¾ t. dried dill
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese
½ c. minced green onions
½ c. bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk through minced garlic, mixing well to combine, and set aside. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400*F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until very crisp, drain and crumble into bits. Drain all but 1 t. of the bacon drippings, add in butter. Sautee’ peppers and onions in skillet over medium heat until cooked and onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add in chicken and warm through.

Add pasta, chicken mixture, and bacon to the buttermilk mixture, stir together well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour all in to a 13×9” oven safe baking dish (if you’re halving the recipe, put it in your favorite 2 quart baking dish). Top with cheese, green onions, and bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 400*F for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through. To crisp breadcrumbs, run the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, if desired.