Thursday, March 22, 2012

March is Confused.

Greetings! Aren't you all enjoying this wonderfully warm weather we are having? I know I am but I keep having this dreadful feeling that April is going to come in with blizzards and hail storms. Is it possible, I don't know but I just can't bring myself to believe that this amazing weather is going to last.

Even if this weather doesn't stay, I'm going to make this salad. It's perfectly light, crunchy, and refreshing. It makes me think of summer.
I hate black licorice and most things anise, but fennel is delicious. The anise flavor is very subtle and with such strong flavors in the dressing, you mostly just get the "crunch" from the fennel, and not the flavor.

Fennel Orange Salad
adapted from Shutterbean

1 head green leaf lettuce, cut or torn into bits
1 orange, segmented and juice reserved
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced (cut off the fronds first)
1 Tbsp of the reserved orange juice
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar

Toss the lettuce, sliced fennel, and the orange in a large salad bowl. In a small bowl, mix the orange juice, vinegar, and brown sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Give it a taste to see what else you want to add. I usually add more juice and more vinegar. I like it tart. Pour over the veggies and toss to combine. Munch away!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

From Bacon to Bean Burgers

Before I moved in with DB (dearest Boyfriend), I was a bit nervous about what the whole experience of living together would be like. Did he leave hair in the sink? Toss his dirty clothes on the floor? Wear the same outfit for weeks at a time? What I mostly worried about was whether my cooking would match up to that of  his mother. She was a stay at home mom throughout his childhood and man, she can cook! Her style is more down-home, while mine tends to be a bit fancier. I worried, would DB scorn my taste for balsamic vinegar (yes!), could he live without bacon for weeks a time? (yes, but with reservations)
 While I do cook things other than black bean burgers, risotto, and tuna salad, some of those recipes don't make it here. (sorry!). Before we moved, I made one of the best purchases I think I could have made. No it wasn't a memory foam bathmat or super suction vacuum. Mad Hungry, Feeding Men and Boys, by Lucinda Scala Quinn.  Almost every recipe from this book ends up DB- approved but I think this chicken recipe is one that would get not only his approval, but his mom Maggie's as well!

Flat Roast Chicken
slightly adapted from "Mad Hungry, Feeding Men and Boys" by Lucinda Scala Quinn

1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds.
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice, I used bottled
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

Preheat the oven to 400*. Use kitchen shears (or if you don't have any like me, use regular scissors and swear a lot) cut out the backbone of the chicken. If you don't know which side has the backbone, look for the side that has the little "tail". Cut on either side of the "tail". Voila!. Flip the chicken cut side down and press firmly on the breastbone to flatten it. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. A little rosemary would probably be excellent here too.

Heat the oil in a large 12 inch ovensafe skillet until very hot. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until very well brown, 3-5 minutes. Flip the chicken skin side up (be careful not to tear the skin) and put the skillet in the oven. Cook for 40-45 minutes or until cooked through.

Remove the skillet from the oven with mitts (the handle is hot!) and let rest for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, garlic,and red pepper flakes to the pan drippings and swirl to mix. Alternatively, you can remove the chicken to a cutting board, add 1 TBSP butter to the drippings along with the lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes and simmer until slightly thickened.

Carve the chicken (I do this in the pan. Fewer dirty dishes!) and serve with the sauce. Biscuits make an awesome side. Enjoy!

Note: sometimes if the drippings are very hot, adding the lemon juice and garlic at the same time will cause the garlic to turn blue. This is due to a chemical reaction between the acidic lemon juice and a compound in the garlic and is perfectly safe to eat. It only happened to me once but is interesting to see.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I promise I haven't died!

Life has just been so crazy lately! I haven't even had time to cook, let alone photograph it. I'll try to get something up soon.

Here's a cute picture of my ferret Bandit to get you by.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chicken and Potato Braise for a Lazy Day

I can't believe it's January and  it has yet to have snow. Sure it's flurried a few times but nothing sticks for more than a few hours. I was hoping to have a picturesque kind of winter, with billowy snowdrifts and shining icesicles. Alas, it it raining and flooding the yard instead. Ah well.

With weather like this, I just want to light some candles and bundle up on the couch with a good book. Add a bowl of this steaming hot chicken stew and we've got a date.

This recipe comes adapted from Cooks Country Magazine. If you need a belated Christmas gift (Valentines Day is coming up too!) for the foodie in your life, I highly recommend this magazine. I have yet to have a recipe be a total flop (though the cookies I just made were kinda flat and migrated together into one large pancake...serving size= 1 cookie. Whole pan eaten without guilt.)
The recipes are endlessly tested and each is accompanied with an explaination of what the cook tried and why it did or didn't work. Brilliant.   *this is not an advertisement*

On to the food!

Chicken Bon Femme
serves 2-3

1 1/2lbs skinless chicken thighs
3 slices bacon, chopped
3/4 pounds baby red potatoes, washed and halved
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp white wine vinegar (originally called for white wine, use 1/4 cup or so)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp dried parsely

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Chop up the bacon. I use scissors for this and it's a lot easier than trying to cut it with a knife. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat until crisp then set aside.

Those big pieces in the back were for me :-)

Crank the heat to about medium high and then add the chicken. Cook it until well browned then remove to a plate. If you used thighs with the skin, remove it and discard.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and use this to brown the potatoes, cut side down. It'll take about ten to 15 minutes but will smell awesome. Once the potatoes are brown, stir in the onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook another minute. Stir in the broth, vinegar,  most of the bacon bits (save some for garnish), and hot sauce. Bring this to a boil and add the chicken pieces to the pot, pouring in the delicious juices. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley and reserved bacon. Serve and enjoy.

Happy Belated Christmas from Wesley the ferret!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall Apple Cake

Where has fall gone? More importantly, where has time gone? The leaves have almost completely fallen off of the trees and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Time has flown since September and summer seems like a far off notion. Lately my thoughts have been filled with apple cider, pumpkin pie, and warm cinnamon confections. Even though winter is trying to rear his head early this year (We had snow!! I almost fell down the steps...) I'm determined to make fall last.

This cake is a perfect way to savor the fruits of fall. A lightly spiced cake studded with crunchy pecans and soft baked apples, all cloaked in an amazing brown sugar glaze. (Wow that sounded poetic)
No process pictures here today, just enjoy a picture of the final product. Which, by the way, I'm devouring as I type this.

Recipe from Lick the Bowl Good

Apple Cake, slightly changed from original
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped apples, I left mine unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Brown Sugar Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350* and grease an 8 or 9 inch baking pan. Either round or square will work.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs until light and foamy then beat in the oil and vanilla. Gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Dump in the apples and pecans and lightly stir. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Place the pan onto a rack to cool.
Immediately after the cake comes out of the oven, make the sauce. I made mine in the microwave and it turned out fine. Combine everthing in a glass 2 cup measure and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and then heat in 15 second increments, stirring in between, until the brown sugar dissolves. My microwave is not very powerful so check often!
Pour the glaze all over the hot cake and let it soak in. If you want to be like me, immediately cut a slice and devour. If not, let cool completely and then devour.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Picture for you.

I realised I did not share a picture of my finished and cut Crock Pot soap. Here it is. I renamed it North Woods Cedar  because cedar is what it primarily smells like. Though in a good way. Reminds me of when I went to New Hampshire all the balsam trees there.

I was testing out my new light reflectors. A bit of a challenge when the sun isn't out to provide light!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crock Pot Soap, part two.

Now that you've read up on soapmaking, here's how I made my soap!
I found my recipe online but checked it in a lye calulator to make sure it was accurate.
Note: do not use an online recipe without first running it through a lye calulator. Do not substitute oils in a recipe without using a lye calculator.

My preferred calculators are
Soap Calc and the one from Majestic Mountain Sage.
Once you've completed your recipe, time to get down to business! Gather up your gear.
This includes: oils and fats, lye, water (distilled is preferred), fragrance, a container to mix the lye solution, a container to weigh the lye in, a bowl to weigh the oils in, lye mixing spatula/ spoon, oil/soap spatula, accurate scale (which at least measures in ounces, I use grams) stick blender, crock pot, and molds. If you want to do a swirl you need additional containers. It sounds like a lot, but a lot of these things I found free or cheap from thrift stores and from family who were getting rid of some things.
With hot process, you can use almost anything for a mold. I used a Pringles can and an old cardboard butter box. No need to line them. (Though my soap stuck like a beast to the chip can)

I apologize in advance for the lack of prep pictures but I did not want to get too distracted while handling the lye and make a mistake.

Step One:
Prepare all of your supplies in your soaping area and don your protective gear. I wear long pants, long sleeves, and heavy gloves for washing dishes. My gloves like to slip so I put bands around them.
I think I paid a dollar for them.

I would also recomment eye protection/goggles and a face mask if you are sensitive to fumes. I like to protect my work counter with a plastic tablecloth as well, just in case the lye spills.

Step Two: Take your designated oil-weighing bowl and weigh your liquid oils. Add them to the slow cooker. Be sure to scrape out the bowl really well (I had the cooker off at this point, warm would be okay too).

Step Three: Measure or weigh out your water. I weigh since I like to use a mixture of ice cubes and regular water. Note that water is the only thing that you can use fluid measures for!
Step Four: Place your lye bowl on the scale (don't forget to zero/tare the scale!!) and measure out the lye.  Then, slowly pour the lye into the water, stirring constantly. Always pour lye into water, not the other way around or it may cause a very serious reaction. I like to think "the snow falls on the lake."

Step Five: Stir until the mixture becomes clear and all the lye has dissolved, then set aside to cool a bit.

Step Six: In your oil bowl, measure out all of your hard fats. At this point you can add them to the slow cooker to melt or melt them in the microwave. I let them melt in the cooker but that took a long time and I would use the microwave next time. Once melted (if using the microwave) add the the cooker. Here are my oils melting


Step Seven: Slowly pour the lye water solution into the oils. You'll start to see the oils become more opaque. This is the lye reacting with the oils. This is good. Now we get to blend!

Step Eight: I first like to stir with my blender, without it running, just to distribute everything evenly. Stir around a few times and then, with the blender completely submerged, mix with the blender on. I like to run it about 10 to 15 seconds then stir, then move to a new part, then blend again. Doing this prevents the stick blender from heating up to much and lets me see what my soap batter is doing. We're looking for the batter to achieve "trace" which is when you can see trails left on the top of the soap. Trace can be light- like a thin sauce, or it can be thick- like pudding. I blended to about a medium trace, mostly because the lighting in my kitchen is not good and I could not see a light trace.
This is about the consistency of cooked pudding before it has been cooled. See the lines left by the blender?

Once trace has been achieved, you can begin cooking! If you were doing CP soap, this is where your would scent it and the soap put into the mold. In HP, the soap is not scented until after it cooks. Cooking the soap is speeding up the saponification process for us.

Step Nine: Put the lid on the cooker and turn it to low. I use low because I didn't want my mixture to heat up too quickly. Note:There is actually not much of a temperature difference between the "low" and "high" settings on a slow cooker. The difference is how quickly the cooker reaches its maximum temperature. Low takes longer while high is faster.

Step Ten: After about 30 minutes you'll notice the soap starting to "cook", or turning translucent at the edges. This is a good sign. Sometimes there will be beaded liquid on top. This didn't happen to me but if it does, it is simply just the glycerin being produced. Put the lid back on and continue to cook.

Here is my soap psumani

You can choose to stir up your soap if you wish or let the "psunami" contine. I did not stir. Cover and let cook some more. Eventually, after another 30 to 60 minutes, the soap will look like Vaseline and be clear-ish and shiny. Mine had the consistancy of mashed potatoes. At this point, do stir the soap. If you see any light or white colored bits left, the soap is not done cooking and needs to go longer. It all depends on your cooker and recipe. Once it all looks clear, then your are good to go to the next step!

Step Eleven: It is okay to turn the cooker off at this point. Now you can add your fragrance and any colorant, if using. I used about an ounce (weight) of  Sage Sweetgrass and Cedar fragrance from Sweet Cakes for my 2 pound recipe. I also added about a half cup of ground oatmeal to the whole batch then removed about 2 cups and colored it with a bit of turmeric for a yellow swirl.

Step Twelve: Once all of your additives have been stirred in, scoop your soap into your desired molds. Try to work quickly before everything  cools down. Once the molds are filled, set aside and let cool and harden. I let mine rest overnight.
Soap in the molds

Step Thirteen: Once your soap has cooled, take it out of the mold and cut into your desired thickness. I didn't measure my bars so they don't look as nice as they could. Also, I had a heck of a time peeling of the Pringles can; my soap kept wanting to stick. Your mileage may vary. Once cut you can either use right away or, if you want longer lasting soap, let them dry on a rack. I have some that I am using now and the rest are drying in a cardboard box lid. When drying, be sure to turn the soap every few days.

Step Fourteen: Do all those dishes!! It actually isn't too difficult since the residue in the cooker is soap. Because of this, I have no problem with using it to cook in. Actually, I made dinner in it the next day! As long as it's washed out well, there is no problem. However, I would not use my stickblender for food. It comes in contact with raw (with the lye still active) soap and has too many small nooks on the bottom for me to feel comfortable using them for food. I also have separate dishes, bowls, and spatulas for soap making.

My recipe bubbles really well and isn't drying to the skin! I do hope you'll reasearch soap making and give it a try!