Category Archives: Pantry

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.

Manifest Sticky Bun

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I’m struck with cooking ideas at times that just won’t go away until they manifest themselves into a real life scenario. There I was, sitting on the sofa with the cat, reading and enjoying my coffee, and had a need for cinnamon rolls. Our little hamlet is 10 minutes from anywhere that would have one worth driving for, and even if I could muster the gumption to get dressed and go there is no guarantee that one would be waiting for me. I could make my own, but the mixing and rising and punching and all just sounded so unattractive, This, and I wanted a cinnamon roll before 2:00, and classic risen yeast ones weren’t going to be ready.

I dropped the idea, and drank my coffee with Ted. Read a chapter and thought ‘we could make biscuit buns, ones that don’t take rising time.’ Meh, dropped it. Read another page, ‘Pumpkin biscuit sticky buns?’ That one got me off the sofa. Ted stayed put.

I mishmashed a couple of recipes, most notably the spiced pumpkin biscuit recipe on Cooking Light as the base. Made those, rolled them out thinner and into a big rectangle, added cinnamon and brown sugar to the middle, and placed in buttered muffin tins. Topped with vanilla glaze when cool, and voila, a pumpkin sticky bun in no time flat.

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffin

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffins (Sticky Buns? Sticky Bun Muffins? I can’t decide)
Makes a dozen

Biscuit dough:

2 1/4 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t. salt
5 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. buttermilk, cream or half-and-half
3/4 c. canned pumpkin
3 T. honey

Filling:

2 T. melted butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Glaze:

6 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T half and half

Preheat oven to 350*F, and lightly butter a standard 12 hole muffin tin.

Thoroughly combine flour through salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse mea. In another small bowl, combine combine the buttermilk, pumpkin and honey. Add wet ingredients to dry, and combine  until the dry ingredients are just moist.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4-5 times. Flatten it out into a rectangle with your hands, and using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a roughly 9×13″ rectangle, about 1/4″ thick, making sure one of the 13″ edges is closest to you.. Brush surface of dough with butter, and brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts (if using( over the dough, leaving about 1/2″ space on the long edge furthest from you. Starting at the long edge closest to you, gently roll the dough up and seal at the blank long edge, using a bit more butter if needed to close the dough. Cut into 12 even-ish pieces using a serrated knife, and place cut side down into the buttered muffin tin. Bake at 350*F for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla extract and half and half in a small bowl. When sticky buns are cool enough to handle, remove to a plate and drizzle with icing.

I Guess it’s Something

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Hi all! I sort of don’t know where to pick up, where we left off. My last few posts haven’t been of the food related nature, not that we haven’t been eating but because we haven’t been eating anything that I felt was worth sharing, you know? I’m trying to fine-tune a new series of shop once, cook ahead, prep while you can sort of posts, but they’re a lot of work and I need to get a few in the bag before I can start sending them to you. Also, I need ideas for these posts, so I know what you all do on a busy weeknight (other than grab some take away box from somewhere): What is your favorite go-to dinner? What do you make when you are fresh out of anything, when you’re depending on your pantry to do the talking? For some it’s spaghetti, others it’s eggs, but I really want to know what you throw together when you want something quick, tasty and satisfying? Doesn’t need to be healthy, either, it just needs to be dinner.

Please, help a food-obsessed sister out. And I promise you, I’ll have some food coming at you soon.

For now, though, I have a homemaker-y bit. We all like to save money, but live a convenient life. A lot of us are also concerned with our effect on the planet juxtaposed against our consumerism and quest for convenience. What I mean is, I love the Swiffer wet pads, especially since we have laminate and tile floors in our house. What I don’t love is that they are full of chemicals and that the pads aren’t exactly Earth-friendly. Nick and I have always been recyclers and composters and try to be more green in our every day lives. But regular old sponge mops do nothing but spread the nastiness around (I promise), and the Swiffer pads aren’t part of my reasonable expectations of myself to watch my carbon footprint. Also, after we found out that the cat is Hyper Allergic to Everything he touches this summer, I’ve further embraced a green-cleaning lifestyle since it’s cheaper than a bi-weekly trip to the vet. Enter this idea.

A trip to my local Dollar Tree netted me a some microfiber cleaning cloths (for the low, low price of $1!), which I brought home and washed. These are just about the perfect size for my dust mop base, so I didn’t trim them. Observe:

You could cut them, though, and stitch up the edges, if you’d like. I mixed up a bottle of green floor cleaner (I’ve provided the recipe below) and got to work.

One thing to keep in mind with the microfiber pads: don’t use fabric softener with them. You want them to be clingy and staticky, that’s what makes them so genius in this application. Buy putting fabric softener on them, you’re adding an unnecessary oily layer to them, which is going to get all over your floors and decrease absorbency. We don’t use fabric softener at all anymore, but if you do, avoid using it with your cleaning cloths, dishtowels and bath towels. You’ll see a noticeable difference in them.

My method here is to sweep and vacuum up the little bits of whathaveyou off the floor, lightly spritz the floor cleaner in a small area, and mop away, repeating the spritzing and mopping throughout the house. The floor cleaner is streak free and smells pretty great, and this bottle lasts a pretty long time. Also, the essential oils I’ve chosen are naturally antibacterial for you germ-phobes out there, and mask the vinegar smell (which doesn’t bother me and fades really fast, but some people don’t want their house smelling like a pickle barrel for even one hot minute). And once your done, you pull the microfiber pad off the mop, drop it in the washer, et voila! you’re done.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water (I use bottled because we have hard water in our town)
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup isopropyl alcohol (regular old rubbing alcohol)
  • A couple drops natural dish soap (I use the Safeway Bright Green orange scent, but use your favorite. I’ve heard not-so-green Dawn is a homemaker’s dream)
  • 4-5 drops lavender or tea tree or peppermint essential oil
  • 24 oz. fine-mist spray bottle (my Dollar Tree has these too, or you can get them at the hardware store. Don’t re-use one from an old cleaner, though, you’re aiming for a green cleaner here and leftover chemical residue sorta subverts that whole thang.)

Pour all ingredients into your spray bottle, and shake, shake, shake. Lightly mist your swept floors, and mop ’til your heart’s content and your floors are sparkling.

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.

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.

Breakfast is Served

Standard

Good Morning, and Happy Friday to you all! Are you ready for the weekend? Do you have any big plans? I think we’re just going to lay low and relax again ~ most everyone we  know is busy, so we are going to enjoy the fact that we aren’t!

And what better way to fuel a weekend than to start with breakfast. We aren’t big Every Day Breakfast people around our house; in fact the only one of us that eats his breakfast almost every day is the cat, and lately even he has been off of the idea. Nick and I are coffee with coffee people in the morning, rarely taking in more than that. One of us might muster the gumption to fry an egg every now and again, but only on the weekends. It’s such a bad habit to not eat breakfast, but neither of us wakes up hungry. He goes to work, I go about my day, and the next thing we know, lunch is upon us and our tummies are rumbling.

I’m trying to get myself to eat breakfast, as I have found that I’m less hungry later in the day when I do, thus preventing me from mowing an extra helping of dinner down. I could just eat yogurt and berries and granola, or even just yogurt and berries, but I get tired of it. Even with the endless combination of fruits and nuts and whathaveyou that you can stir in to yogurt, it just gets old. I do eat toast every now and again, but meh. We don’t have a real toaster and sometimes I don’t want to turn on the oven just to toast a slice of bread (note to self: buy toaster). And I do love oatmeal, but with the weather as hot as it has been, the last thing I want to start my day with is something hot.

Lately, I’ve taken the Swiss approach and made my oatmeal the night before (the Swiss call this Museli). There’s no cooking, and the ingredients you can add are endless. Thinking beyond the canister I searched around the internet and found this blog, which is written by the cutest little gal and is chock full of yummy vegetarian things. I’m nto a vegetarian, but for breakfast, it’s something I can get behind.

One of her overnight oats recipes floored me. Chocolate. Oatmeal. No way. For breakfast? What could me more indulgent for breakfast than ChOcOlAtE?! I was hooked. I was also down a couple of ingredients for her version, and wanted a couple bites more than what hers prepared (as I am a bigger girl, I wanted a bigger brekkie. Can you blame me?) And so, Raspberry Chocolate Smash was born.

You can make a couple of these at a time, so you have breakfast for a few days made in one short assembly line. I love my vintage Pyrex fridge dishes for this application, but  if I didn’t have them this would SO be one of those Food In Jars projects. And who doesn’t love eating things out of mason jars these days? It’s almost as fun as food on a stick.

Raspberry Chocolate Smash
Makes 1, multiply by the number of jars you’re assembling

1/3 c. old fashioned oats (you can use Instant, too, I haven’t found a huge difference in texture, but the old fashioned are more hearty. Don’t use steel cut!)
1/3 c. milk (what ever fat level you’re comfortable with, or almond, soy, coconut, etc.)
1 1/2 t. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. chia seeds (optional, I had some laying around so I tossed them in. They add great mouth feel.)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. maple syrup or honey
1/4 t. cinnamon
6-8 raspberries

Combine oats through cinnamon, stirring until well mixed. Gently stir in raspberries. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir just before eating.