Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We will sink and be quiet as mice/While the cat is away and do what we want/Do what we want - Smoky, spicy and thrift.

On Sunday all I wanted to do was go outside and start a fire. I didn't even have any intent to cook over it. I was chilly, it was nice outside and I hadn't had a fire in the firepit in days. Since everything had been rained on in the last week, it took a stupid long time to get a decent fire going. So long that by the time it was burning well, it was time to make dinner, so I thawed out some chicken thighs, sliced up a couple potatoes and wrapped them in foil, and made a salad. Earlier in the day I had made  cowboy candy (sweet/sour [but mostly sweet] sliced jalapenos) and was left with nearly a quart of the leftover liquid that the jalapenos were cooked in. It seemed like a good finish for grilled meat so I brushed it on the chicken once it was nice and golden. It left us with a glazed, grilled chicken that was slightly sweet and quite spicy. I can't wait to brush it on other stuff. For that matter, I can't wait to try the cowboy candy. Unfortunately, it's supposed to sit for a month before eating.

Today, circumstances allowed the Boy and I to do a bit of thrift shopping (after a lovely lunch at Spaghetteria Mamma Mia). First stop was the Goodwill Outlet, which was teeming with people, even on a Tuesday afternoon. Right away I found some greenware (unpainted bisque pottery). What I didn't buy was a greenware mushroom ashtray. So yeah, you should go get that.)
As I am constantly in search of interesting wood pieces, I couldn't turn down a peanut, two apples, and two, um, well, I don't know what they're supposed to be. Acorn squashes?
I can't imagine what this little wooden table was meant to be used for, but I love it.
To keep with the wood theme (and it's part of thrift store mojo to go with a theme when a theme presents itself) I had to have this large-ish jewelry box, even though it brought the overall weight of our purchase up quite a bit. It was still under $10, but still.
And then, a pink melamine gravy boat!
And finally, at the last minute I found this really thick and soft (and handmade, I think) leather bag. Lot of pockets and compartments, it holds my laptop, and it has a strange dimensional applique that appears to be an abstract rendition of lady parts. Yes, you read that right.
Then it was on to St. Vincent de Paul's. Another wooden bowl - hooray!

A lighted magnifying glass and an otherwise unremarkable if not for its wooden handle serving spoon.
 I wish I knew more about porcelain and china. This plate is gorgeous and has an art nouveau design. I'm not sure, however, how old this plate is. It was made in Japan, the colors are beautiful (though the silver trim is rubbing off) and it is so thin and fragile feeling, I'm afraid I will break it in half just touching it. The moth/butterfly design is just so beautiful.
Finally, from both locations, the Boy's books.
And my books.
The BH&G books are from 1958, 1963 and 1968. Score! I'm pretty sure I had the Joys of Jello book when I was a kid.

Dinner tonight was born of necessity; basically finding something easy to thaw in the freezer - beef smoked sausage sliced and browned with a bit of honey mustard; steamed broccoli; and steamed potatoes with a little butter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Night Spicy Peanut Noodles

 I was roaming around Target this afternoon when it struck me that I needed spicy peanut noodles, and pronto. Since they had them, I bought a package of whole wheat thin spaghetti. I've steered clear of the whole wheat stuff for some time; last time I bought it (which was, admittedly, a few years ago) it wasn't good. Way too heavy and with too much texture. Obviously the manufacturing process has been quite refined as it was hard to even tell these were different than regular pasta.

I always wing the sauce and this time it went as follows: Big glob of peanut butter, a splash of white wine vinegar, a couple splashes of low-sodium soy sauce, a couple shakes of fish sauce, a big squirt of sriracha, a few glugs of chili-garlic sauce, a shake of cayenne, and some warm water to thin it all out. I wanted a couple of extra things this time round, so I thawed a cup of frozen peas and sliced the green part of two scallions. For extra protein, I wanted to add tofu, but I didn't want it to be soft and white. To that end I heated some canola oil in a frying pan and let it get quite hot while I sliced a block of firm tofu into several slabs. I let the pieces fry for some time, turning frequently, until both sides of each piece were browned and crisp. Once they cooled, I sliced them up and added to the noodle and sauce mixture.

Peanutty goodness.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meatless Monday - Cheese broccoli soup and baquettes

Have you seen Pinterest? It's a different kind of social networking site, one in which you "pin" photos onto your "boards" and share them with your followers. Your boards can be any category you like, but the most popular seem to be food/recipes, clothing, and cute animals. I have come across a lot of really great sounding recipes and sometimes they must be made pronto (you might remember the homemade Butterfingers...). Since it was Meatless Monday today when I came across the cheese broccoli soup recipe that someone pinned it sounded like just the ticket. And I remembered coming across a recipe recently for 30 minute baguettes so I put that on the menu too.

The soup is seriously the best cheese broccoli soup I've ever had. I did make a couple of changes - I used all milk and no half-and-half, and I used 8 oz. of sharp cheddar and about 4 oz. of 2% Velveeta. I also didn't add the cardamom because I was too lazy to poke around in my cabinet to find it, and I didn't add any hot sauce because it just seemed to taste too good without it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday - Jewelry, Beef, Pie

And here is my first batch of jewelry made with my first round of ceramics. I'm pretty happy with how things have turned out. I still have a pile of beads, but I can't decide what to do with them yet. Now I need to make more. Must. Make. More.

Dinner tonight was rare roast beef, smashed potatoes and salad. I used a liquid steak marinade stuff on the roast and I think it left it a little too soy-y. For some reason, the flavor was more overpowering on a roast than on a steak. Lesson learned. Still, it was rare beef, which is never a bad thing.

I also made little apple pies today with empanada rounds. Because I didn't want them to bake too long, I precooked the apples (two Jonagolds made eight little pies) with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. I let them simmer for quite some time, probably around 45-50 minutes. The little pies then baked about 15 minutes, till they were light golden brown.

Last but not least, a gratuitous shot of Boomer being really cute.

Every time i see your face/It reminds me of the places we used to go/But all I got is a photograph/And I realize you're not coming back anymore

Even though I am occasionally annoyed by various posted mobile phone photos because of the "vintage" effects and what not, perhaps I was mostly jealous that I had a simple phone with a very simple camera. Now I have a not so simple phone and access to a great deal of camera apps with a wide range of photographic effects. Thanks to Jim Varvaris for introducing me to Vignette, a free demo. (There is also a pay version, but for now I'm sticking to the free until I understand it more and figure out what the pay version can do better.)

I'm playing around with lots of effects, though I've barely scratched the surface. You know I love tilt-shift more than anything, but the Vignette's aptitude for it leave a bit to be desired. I need to figure out how to use it to its best advantage. Lots of trial and error in my future.

This last one is my favorite. I love transforming the backyard to a tiny tableau!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday Thriftin'

After the deluge of yesterday's rain left me with little to do at work today, I was home well before lunch time. As the Boy was off work entirely, we decided to trek to Fenton to the far flung Value Village, with a stop off at Target to check out the dregs of the Missoni collection. And it was the dregs. No adult clothes were left other than a few lingerie items, there were some kid clothes, a few comforter sets, some plates and a few hair accessories. Some of it was cute, some not so much. I'll be checking the clearance racks for the odd item in the coming weeks.

I have a little superstition regarding my thrift store excursions that I will confess to. It's bad luck, as far as I'm concerned, to get a shopping cart when I first get in a thrift store. That guarantees that I won't find a thing to put into the cart. So I don't get a cart until my hands are too full. It does mean an annoying walk back through the store nearly every time, but I just can't risk it any other way. It's silly, but pretty much my only superstition.

Today was a pretty good thrifting day, though mostly for new-ish rather than vintage items. Shoes for me, shirts for the Boy.
 I finally found a pair of Danskos that work for me! And for $3!
OK, these surely aren't sexy, but they are super comfortable, I like the overall style and they are slides which I love - easy on, easy off.
Two shirts that will fit the giant Boy, at 50% off!
I have no idea what this dish was originally for, but it looks like it came off of a spaceship, so of course I love it.
An assortment of things including a vintage eyeglass case (dig that print!), wooden S&P shakers, cute mug, and a vintage flour sifter. I can't believe that I don't have one of those already.
Funny little Lefton ceramic kitchen plaques.

Painted wooden bowl of an indeterminate ethnic origin.

Some magazines and a sewing book I got a couple weeks ago from St. Vincent de Paul. Not shown is another Better Homes & Gardens from 1974 with, basically, an article on upcycling!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meatless Monday - Pasta and Salad

Today was a breakthrough day regarding my learning curve and my new mobile. After being directed to Lifehacker (thanks, Marie!) for help, things began to come clear and once I downloaded a new app for my home pages, I was well on my way to having a slightly more than basic understanding of how to make my way around my own damn phone. What a relief!

Anticipating Meatless Monday this morning and not having any ideas for what to have, I consulted the Boy about dinner. He responded, "pasta with veggies." Easy enough. I sauteed a yellow squash, half a green pepper, a zucchini and three fat cloves of garlic in olive oil, then added cooked farfalle noodles and some parmesan cheese. Easy peasy and good and the Boy declared it a success.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I may be paranoid, but no android/Roasted Pork

In the last several weeks, my mobile had started doing odd things, nothing rendering it unusable, but making it rather annoying and sometimes cumbersome to get a text sent or a call made. Then a few days ago, with the battery almost completely drained, I discovered that someone in the household had stepped on the business end of the charger, rendering it useless and leaving me phoneless for a couple of days. I don't really use my phone that much for anything terribly important except for a few daily work calls, but still I felt disconnected. I immediately ordered a replacement charger online, but that was going to take a few days to arrive, of course. And while I was at it, I made the plunge and ordered a new Android phone. Buttons and keyboards are so early 2011.

Whenever I order something I'm eager to get online I am an online tracking idiot. I mean, I check the status every 30 minutes if I happen to be at home by the computer. It drives me crazy, but I can't stop. All the info I had received said I would get the phone delivered via USPS Priority Mail on Saturday. It didn't arrive with the regular mail delivery (though the charger for the old phone did), so I was obsessively checking the mailbox and online for updates. At one point in the afternoon I ran upstairs for approximately 8 minutes. When I got back downstairs I had an email update that a delivery attempt had been made and that a notification was left for me. Of course I rushed outside to find NOTHING. No package, no notice. And the time listed on the "delivery attempt" email was when I was still sitting on the couch.

I was outraged, of course, and called the USPS 800 number to complain, ranting and raving but reserving the curse words because, well, that lady on the phone didn't have anything to do with the lazy son of a bitch mail carrier who didn't really come to my house but said they did. I apologize to the Boy, however, for the rather brusque and salty phone call he got from me. Then, in a frenzy, I decided to get in my car and drive around the neighborhood looking for mail trucks to flag down. Just a couple blocks from home I spotted my first one, parked and marched over to the carrier. On my way I noticed that is was our regular carrier, Johnnie and I thought for sure he wasn't responsible as he would have known I was home (the goddamned front door was WIDE OPEN, for one thing...) and he would have left the package (it didn't require a signature, I should add). When I asked him, just in case, he mentioned the small package he had left for me that morning but that he hadn't been by again. OK, let's review that last sentence. Johnnie knew exactly who I was, where I lived, and what he had left in my mailbox that day. Already, that seemed pretty extraordinary to me. At this point I felt my anger diffusing a little bit, but still, I wanted my package!

Unprompted by me, Johnnie said he was on his way back to the station (the PO on Manchester at Vandeventer) and that I could follow him and he would go in and look for my package while I waited. What? Huh? What? Seriously, I think my head started spinning at this offer. Holy shades of Mayberry, Batman! I stammered and thanked him profusely and ran to get into my car, of course, and gave chase. By the time we were halfway there, I was feeling a little ashamed by my escalated upset, but ecstatic I was going to get my new phone! Johnnie pulled into the station via the back way and I awkwardly parked across the alley, feeling rather sheepish. He popped inside and came out less than a minute later with my package (which is when I again cursed the lazy a-hole who didn't attempt to deliver it and just took it back to the station). I love my mailman!

Now, do I love my Android phone? Not so much, yet. My smart phone makes me feel a little stupid. Hopefully I will catch on soon enough.

Since it was nice and cool yesterday, and I had found a nice piece pork butt on sale the other day, I fired up the oven for a roast. I found a recipe that suggested coating the roast with Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar and then baking for four to five hours at a low temperature. The weather was cooperating, so I did it and it turned out quite nice. Part of the recipe was also pouring in some apple cider which I didn't have. Considering the sweetness of the sugar already in there, I poured in a bit of apple cider vinegar instead. To go along with it I made some buttered egg noodles as we'd had enough potatoes in the previous days. And to use up some bits and bobs I sauteed a chopped up tomato and several white mushrooms in a skillet until soft then added some thawed whole green beans and cooked until everything was done through. I thickened the roast's pan juices for a quick gravy and spooned that over the meat and noodles.

I think I shall add barbecue sauce to the leftover pork for sandwiches tonight. Then I need coleslaw, right?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

With Six You Get...Deconstructed Potstickers?

OK, it's a big stretch to reference the movie "With Six You Get Eggroll" in a post about potstickers but it popped into my head. I love Doris Day and even more I adore how so many movies in the 1960s had an almost obligatory nightclub scene with groovy kids doing groovy dances to groovy music. In this one we get the Grass Roots!

But on to the real purpose of this post, food; specifically my take on making an appetizer into a meal. I crave potstickers; I love everything about them from the chewy/crunchy/soft outside to the juicy little ball of highly seasoned pork on the inside to the perfect umami flavor of the dipping sauce. However, I have seldom had any sort of luck making filled pastas. My little packets, though they might have the right flavors, rarely survive boiling or whatever cooking method I inflict on them. I think I just don't enjoy that sort of labor-intensive preparation so I get sloppy on my sealing methods. I have never attempted potstickers, knowing I had no patience for the careful pleating of the dough around the filling, particularly important since the dumplings have a somewhat complicated cooking process.

So, when wandering around the grocery store the other day, I came upon packages of ground pork on sale. I immediately thought of potstickers and just as immediately dismissed the idea. In the past I've made ground pork kebabs or meatballs with Asian seasoning combinations so I figured I would do something like that again. Upon further wandering, though, it suddenly occurred to me I could deconstruct the dumplings and make instead a pasta dish. I made a beeline back to the produce section to grab a package of wonton wrappers and started getting really excited (I told you, I LOVE potstickers!)

To start, I mixed about a pound of ground pork with about an inch or so of finely grated fresh ginger, two cloves of garlic, some soy sauce, pepper and two or three sliced green onions. I formed smallish meatballs and put them in a splash of hot oil to brown. In the meantime, I heated another frying pan with a bit of canola oil. I took the package of wonton wrappers and sliced the stack into approximately 1/2 inch strips. It's a little tiresome to separate all those layers of thin pasta, but it helps to get them [mostly] separated when putting them into the pan. By the time I got all the piles of strips into the pan, the bottom layer had browned and crisped up nicely. Keep the heat high and rotate the pasta, making sure to get some browning on most of the noodles. Once I got the noodles browned how I wanted them I added about 1/3 cup of water mixed with a bit of chicken bullion to the noodles and let them simmer until the liquid was cooked up.

To make the signature potsticker sauce I mixed up soy sauce, a bit of water, rice vinegar, a splash of sesame oil and garlic powder (I wanted the flavor not the heft of minced garlic). After tasting, having used up all the rice vinegar I had, I added a splash of lime juice for a bit more tartness. That ended up leaving things a bit too tart so I added about a teaspoon of brown sugar to mellow it all out.

At this point I added the noodles to the pan with the meatballs, poured the sauce over all and sprinkled on another thinly sliced green onion. I let it all simmer together for a few more minutes, until the noodles had soaked up a bit of the sauce.
I will definitely be making this again. The photos kind of suck because I was too eager to eat!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Homemade Butterfingers? Why yes, thank you!

The lair of consumerism and bad-for-you-but-so-good recipes that is Pinterest offered me something yesterday I could not deny: a recipe for homemade Butterfinger candy bars. Not only that, but a recipe that had only three ingredients, which are candy corn (yes, you read that right), peanut butter and chocolate (the original recipe called for chocolate candy coating).
Specifically you need 16 ounces of candy corn, 16 ounces of peanut butter and at least 12 ounces of chocolate for coating.  Start by melting the candy corn in the microwave (1 minute first and then in 15 second intervals until completely melted), add the peanut butter and mix thoroughly. Push the mixture (it will be stiff) into a parchment lined pan (I used a pan that's around 11x7) and let it cool. I made the mistake of putting mine into the refrigerator and that definitely made it too stiff to cut, so just let it cool to room temperature. When cool, cut into the size bars you'd like for your finished product.

The bars are supposed to then be dipped into chocolate and set on wax paper to harden. As you can see in the photo (besides the fact that I had to take a bite before I took the photo - oops!), the chocolate portion of the candy bar didn't work out as it should have, though the taste is the same. Because I was too lazy to use a double boil method and used the microwave to melt my chocolate instead, it seized up and wouldn't liquefy. I ended up having to add a little butter and some heavy cream, but still had to just sort of ice the top of the bars. This is a case where the recipe's called for chocolate coating would have been fool proof. Still, while these look a little messy, they taste great.

While you don't get the crispiness of a Butterfinger (which is actually my least favorite part of a Butterfinger), you do get that flaky, layered thing they have. Don't ask me how the combination of candy corn and peanut butter gets your there, but it does!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good/When the weather breaks, mama, you got to move

I woke up Sunday to beautiful, cool weather, and even overcast skies. After weeks of relentless sun and heat and humidity, it was like being reborn. As we were driving around doing errands, I remarked to the Boy that it was a whole new world. A prettier, happier world that doesn't try to kill you with bright, burning sun!

As soon as I knew the weather would finally be turning on Sunday, I started plotting to get the Boy to sit outside with me around the firepit. It really didn't take much plotting, just the promise of alcohol and food. He's easy. And he looks pretty relaxed.
And yes, Foxy Brown's back end is shaved. She's been biting and chewing and her fur is so thick back there, plus she had gotten some matted hunks, that I wanted to just get it off her. Sadly we discovered that she has a nasty case of fleas and she's still mad at us for the whole shaving/flea spraying ordeal.

Our appetizer was crusty bread dipped in a bowl of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Simple and delicious.
Though I suppose we should have enjoyed the quiet of the outdoors (such as that is in the City - what was with the firecrackers on Labor Day weekend???), we had music to entertain and possibly annoy the neighbors. The hipster boys a couple of houses over spent most of their day outside, but soon after we turned on music, they all retreated indoors. Related? My J. C. Chasez to Interpol segue too much for you boys? The sound system was comprised of my laptop and my Virgin Boomtube. I love that thing.
I marinated boneless, skinless chicken thighs in teriyaki sauce (low sodium soy sauce, water, brown sugar, crystallized ginger, garlic and siracha), and skewered mushrooms, zucchini and onion on bamboo sticks. And even though it didn't go with the theme, I was craving macaroni and cheese, which I made using our old family recipe (which means with Velveeta, milk and butter).
I'm still smelling smoke, but it's worth it