Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pan-Fried Chicken and Something-a-Roni and Plants

I put off making dinner last night up until the very moment before the Boy became frantic. He likes a more uniform meal schedule and sometimes I challenge him that way. But sometimes I just can't force cooking inspiration, particularly with something so variable as chicken breasts.

Lacking any other inspiration, I seasoned the breasts and put them in a hot skillet and cooked them till crispy and done. After I took it out the pan, I made a teeny bit of cream gravy with the drippings. I had a hankering for my version of Rice-a-Roni which means browning broken up spaghetti noodles and rice with onions, and then adding bullion (I used beef because that's what I had) and simmering until the rice is done. Easy, cheap and so much tastier than the boxed stuff. We also still had leftovers of the stewed okra so that became the other side dish.
Today I had plans to try to make pretty wearable things out of my ceramic pieces. So far, I have not been inspired in that direction. Instead, I went outside (in the lovely weather) and potted and re-potted a bunch of plants I had hanging around. I don't know where I'm going to put them all once the weather changes, particularly since the kittens will be hard to thwart and they surely do like chewing on plants. Perhaps I should plant a pot of cat grass for them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thrifty thrifting

The Goodwill Outlet on Market, just off Vandeventer, is one bustling place. At 1:30 on a Friday afternoon the joint was packed. I noticed that a good number of the patrons were wearing rubber gloves which is a seriously good idea as I've washed my hands a couple of times and they still feel kind of grotty. I was hoping that maybe the store was providing the gloves, but it didn't seem that way.

After poking around in many of the bins, here's what we got. First a vintage green plaid plate. I just really like that pattern; it looks like rubbery wallpaper.
 A big blue-striped crock. I don't think this is a vintage one, but it's not terribly new either.
I have some other little shallow bowls in this pattern. Not sure what this was for though it perhaps was a little crock and is missing its lid.
 This tote bag isn't vintage, but I figured I could add it to my arsenal of reusable shopping bags. It's a cute print, as far as Hawaiian prints go.
A little enamel bin and lid.
A quilted-on-the-inside flannel shirt for the Boy, in his size!
The Boy kept digging and kept finding these funny little dime books. Lurid covers and titles!
How to make puppets from anything.
Coronet Magazine from 1965!
Sports books and short stories.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hawaiian plate

As is often the case, today's dinner inspiration came courtesy of my daily email and a recipe for shoyu chicken. Shoyu chicken is the Hawaiian version of teriyaki, basically, and it generally uses chicken thighs. I've written about my previous foray into a plate lunch after having it served from a Portland food truck (though really that post is more about getting a new Macbook...) but I see that I didn't write at all about the recipes. So I shall fix that here.

For my version of shoyu chicken I used skinless, boneless breasts (I don't generally buy them, but they were on sale) and marinated them in the following mixture.

Shoyu Sauce

1/4 cup of something I bought called "medium soy sauce" - it's quite sweet and molasses-y so no need to add extra sugar
2 T regular soy sauce
1 big, fat clove of garlic, smushed in a garlic press
2 t siracha
Black pepper
Two slices of crystallized ginger, finely chopped (I didn't have fresh and this works particularly well considering the sweetness already in the recipe)

I marinated the chicken for an hour or so, then grilled it on the indoor grill (waaaaaay too hot for the firepit today!). In the meantime, I boiled the marinade for a couple minutes so I could use it as a sauce. I basted the chicken halfway through cooking, and then dunked them in the sauce after they were done cooking.

Earlier I prepared the macaroni salad so there would be time for the flavors to marry and mellow; the onion can be somewhat harsh if eaten right away. The basic recipe is very simple and I got the basis here. I only added grated carrot to mine, to best match what I had in Portland. And I most definitely didn't use two cups of mayonnaise.

To finish this carbolicious plate, I made plain white rice, which I drizzled with the shoyu sauce. And because we needed some vegetable other than that bit of grated carrot, I made a salad of tomato, cucumber and rice vinegar with a teeny splash of oil.

Mai e `a! Aloha!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meatless Monday - Vegan steak fail, okra win

I've had a bag of VegeUSA dried vegan "steaks" for months but I've been a bit afraid to attempt them. I'm good with TVP in small chunks or pieces. Once it gets bigger, it's a little iffy. To prepare these things, I had to soak them in water first, then wring them out (ick), and then marinate before cooking. I made a mixture of soy, siracha, garlic, vegetable broth, peper and a bit of oil and let them soak it up for 45 minutes or so. When I got ready to cook them, I heated the indoor grill and let them cook until they had nice grill marks on their fake beefy sides.

I also had a grocery bag full of fresh, home grown okra courtesy of our generous friend Thomas. While I had intended to make a dish that involved chick pea flour and deep frying with it, I just didn't feel like the mess, the smell or the calories of all that oil. Hopefully fresh okra will be around long enough till it's cooler outside and frying isn't so oppressive. At any rate, I decided to go the stewing route with the okra. I have very little okra experience as I refused to eat it until a few years ago and only started cooking it in the last year or so.

I started with heating some canola oil and adding a chopped medium onion, then the sliced okra (I know you can eat the stem part, but I cut them off), then three chopped medium tomatoes, including all the juice. To make it more stew-y, I poured in about half a cup or so of tomato juice and about an equal amount of water, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I decided to add about a cup of frozen corn kernals, as well. At one point I thought I had over-salted so I mixed in about a tablespoon of sugar, which sort of mellowed everything out in a nice way. I let this simmer for about 30-35 minutes, wherein it thickened up nicely. I guess that sticky okra goo is good for something! To serve under the okra, I made some quick cooking grits, then stirred in a bit of butter and some grated cheese (I happened to have some Mexican shredded mix so I used that).

Then came the tasting. The "steaks" were strangely (authentically?) stringy, like a cheap piece of beef. The flavor wasn't great, which was my fault for not highly seasoning the marinade. While the Boy ate his up, I could not deal with the weird texture, which was also a little slimy, for good measure. Foxy Brown got the remainder of one of my slices and I'm not sure of the fate of the other. I suspect the Boy put it in the refrigerator whereas I would have put it straight into the trash. Lesson learned!

Firepit Cooking: Don't tell me this isn't barbecue

Even though it was rather hot yesterday, I couldn't get the idea of barbecued pork steaks out of my head. Since the propane grill is non-functioning at the moment, that left the firepit unless I wanted to turn on the oven. And I didn't want to turn on the oven. Firepit it was. Since I'm too much of a cheapskate, at present anyway, to spring for real firewood, I burned some of the many sticks in the yard the first time around. I was a little afraid I wouldn't have enough large pieces to get some significant heat and fire this time around, but I did manage it. I'm sure wood fire cooking purists would be absolutely horrified that I am just scrounging whatever sticks I find and using them to cook food. I suppose that there is a mixture of elm from next door, mimosa, maple and my mystery tree that is some sort of ornamental cherry (maybe, I've never been able to identify it).

Whatever the wood is I've been using in the firepit, it really does make food taste good. Since I was using so many smaller pieces of wood, I had a lot of embers really quickly so I placed separate foil pouches of potatoes and broccoli down in them to get cooking. I got a little thrill from seeing the packets swell up with steam; then I knew it was all cooking! Very exciting! (Yes, cooking vegetables gets me excited. What about it?) When it was time to cook the pork steaks, I gathered up my biggest pieces of wood and added one to the fire. I liked the idea of cooking the meat over actual flames and kept the fire stoked until the steaks were nearly done. After I basted them with sauce, I let the fire die out so the sauce would caramelize gently and slowly.

The potatoes and broccoli were both seasoned with canola oil, salt and pepper. I added garlic to potato packet and after the broccoli was done I splashed on a little lemon juice and dusted with parmesan cheese. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bacon and eggs

Bacon and eggs go together like...bacon and eggs. Pasta alla carbonara is one of my favorite ways to eat bacon and eggs when it's not breakfast time and it's a completely simple and very delicious dish. All you need is hot pasta (and I will say it again: PASTA BOAT!), beaten egg, grated cheese and bacon (or pancetta, of course). To Friday night's dish I also added some chopped parsley and basil (swiped from Deb's garden - thanks, Deb!) and the basil added a really nice level of flavor. A touch of cream can be really good added to carbonar, but I didn't have any and I didn't really miss it.

Feeling somewhat lackadaisical about dinner Saturday night and having neglected to get anything else out of the freezer, I turned to bacon and eggs again. This time in a spinach salad with a fried egg on top. Spinach, tomato, leftover potatoes crisped in bacon grease (!), bacon, and croutons tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, topped with a crispy edged fried egg (in bacon grease!).

I feel a bit like the dog in that treat commercial, "It's bacon!"

Finally, actual finished ceramics!

After many starts and stops, wrong glazes, blazing hot weather and the shop forgetting about my stuff, I FINALLY have my first batch of clay work done done done! I obviously have some things to learn and work on (namely, thickness of glazes and larger holes in pendants and beads), but overall, I'm really happy with the results. The mystery of glazes is that these two colors were supposed to be a very green green, and a blackish dark red. I got a gorgeous turquoise instead and something that very much approaches a wood color which absolutely supports the faux bois work.

I've definitely learned from mistakes and I will definitely get some more low-fire glazes to go with the pounds of low-fire clay I still have courtesy of my friend Karen Lynn Miller (check her stuff out here). I only wish I could buy smaller quantities of glaze rather than the big pints as it is rather expensive and it's really nearly impossible to know what you're going to get after firing. For example, as far as I could tell, the glaze that turned brown here wasn't necessarily supposed to have a matte finish. But there you go!

Now, to actually make jewelry out of this stuff!

Boomer decided to help me.
And help some more.
And still a bit more.
She wants you to look at this faux bois bowl.
The beads, which still need the firing wires taken out of them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lotsa meat/notso meaty.

I was wandering around the grocery store yesterday, hungry. That can be dangerous but it just resulted in a stop at the salad bar and a decision to make burgers for dinner. It did mean beef two nights in a row, but what the hell.

I found a more expensive ground beef on sale and bought it, despite a little doubt. I'm not keen on the very lean beef; to my mind, the flavor is often lacking. And it did turn out that my initial feelings were right, but it was still a burger and it tasted good, just not as good as it could have been.

As usual, I sauteed some onions and got them slightly caramelized before adding the beef. I had also bought a basting/marinade sauce and coated each patty with that before cooking which I assumed would take care of the salt (it didn't, really). I cooked them to medium and then topped with a slice of Swiss cheese, the onions and a teeny bit of my newly beloved sweet salad peppers and mayonnaise. A side salad and some baked beans (I confess to using canned beans straight from the can) rounded out the plate.

Tonight it was finally time for Meatless Monday since we've been quite meatful all week up to now. A tray of fried tofu, one of snow peas and a bag of bean sprouts from Jay International later, in combination with some sliced onion, chopped mushrooms, rice noodles and bottled kung pao sauce later and we had big bowls of stir fry. Yum.
And now it is time for my hot fudge concrete, with extra malt, from Ted Drewe's!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Let me stand next to your fire

I've had a huge stack of bricks in the yard for years. A while back I decided to dissemble the brick patio in the backyard as it had shifted and humps and dips had formed so that it wasn't exactly pleasant to walk on. I certainly didn't want to get rid of the bricks, so I just stacked them up at the bottom of the yard for future use. I've been thinking about building (and I use that term loosely) a firepit with some of the bricks and today, with its lovely temperature, seemed like the day. Since I was just placing and stacking bricks, not using any kind of mortar or anything, this was a pretty quick job. I started with some concrete blocks and surrounded them with bricks, adding a second layer on the inside for a sort of insulation. (I have no idea what I'm really doing, officially, but I figure I can't do much harm burning some sticks in my yard.) In the inside bottom, I poured a half a bag of river pebbles I happened to have, just to give some separation between fire and the ground. It seemed like a good idea.

We have three trees in our yard so there is no shortage of dried sticks and wood to burn. I started the fire with some tightly rolled newspaper, piling on some larger pieces of wood and kindling on top. Soon enough I had a pretty good fire going.
I love fire. I love playing in fires. I love poking at fires. I love burning things. Is this a bad combination? Time will tell, I suppose. Although I intended to eventually cook on this fire, initially I just wanted to kick back and enjoy it. I had attempted, just by eyeing it, to match the width of the pit with the grill grates that I had. Not so much, but it still works for the time being.
Foxy Brown is somewhat skeptical about the fire.
On the menu for the inaugural firepit meal was steak, fish and foil-packet potatoes. I threw the potatoes into the embers and covered them with a fairly flat chunk of ember for a time.
Then it was time to amp up the flames for the meat cooking. I put the monkfish in a small cast iron skillet with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and covered it with foil.
After letting both of these things cook for a bit, I added the steak and did add a little wood to get the flames going a bit more.
I also pulled the potatoes out of the embers before they could burn.

I couldn't be more pleased with the food results. The steak was unbelievably delicious, cooked quickly and licked by the flames and infused with the smoke. The fish absorbed a bit of smoky flavor, which was a wonderful counterpoint to the lemon. The potatoes were nicely steamed and had a bit of smoke too.

I can't wait to cook over the fire again soon. I will have to get a bigger grate and some bigger chunks of wood to grill something that needs a slower, gentler cooking. Also, this is as close to campfire cooking as I'm ever going to get with the Boy in tow. And that's okay.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday night - Chicken and green bean red Thai curry

I love green beans with red curry a.k.a. pad prik khing, so it seemed to make sense to combine them with chicken and coconut milk for a full blown Thai coconut curry.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 T vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 large onion, slice
1/2 inch of ginger, minced
1 heaping T red curry paste
1 can coconut milk (I used the 'lite' version this time, but I prefer the regular)
12 oz. frozen whole green beans, thawed (of course you could use fresh)
1 t salt
2 t sugar

Heat the oil in a wok till hot, add the chicken and stir fry until done. Remove from pan, leaving the oil. Add the onion and ginger and saute for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add the curry paste and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and stir till the paste is incorporated into the liquid, then add the chicken back into the pan. Add the salt and sugar, then cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes or so until the beans and onions are tender. Serve over rice (I used brown).

1 heaping T red thai curry paste

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thrift on the East Side

Today seemed like a perfect day to head to Belleville to check out some of their many thrift stores. I was home from work early, the Boy was off, and the weather wasn't too hideous. Results were pretty good, overall. Suffice it to say the Boy got a pile of books not pictured here.

First up, a older, but still functional salad spinner. Since a conversation on FB, salad spinners have seemed even more precious. And this one cost 12.5 cents.
I've always wanted a little hot water pot, but have never gotten around to buying one. For $1.50 this prettily colored one became mind.
One of the more practical things I've been looking for during thrifting is a springform pan. I haven't come across one in weeks and weeks and now today I find two - one big, one small! Cheesecake is back on the menu!
This little dish has a chip, but the blue and red color scheme was so pretty, I don't care about that dang old chip.
 My quest for wooden items continues and today was a banner day. First, this shallow (and quite large) salad bowl with matching wooden salad fork and spoon. I can't wait to make a big salad in this. It seems perfect for a Caesar.
And then, from Haiti, this cool serving dish. I don't know that this one is vintage, but it's lovely.
Five skeins of what is labeled as "rug yarn." It's 75/25 rayon/cotton though it feels a little itchier than that to the hand.
I think I'm going to experiment with putting a plant of some kind under this cheese keeper glass.
 I'm not sure what the intended purpose of this dish is. It is oven proof and has a lovely mod floral bird motif. I love the bright colors.
This teeny (about 2 inches) spaniel figurine might be used for a snowglobe. Allison?
These two scotties are just kind of weird. Sort of the Easter island heads of dog statuary.
And finally, a prettily embroidered linen table runner.