A few years back, Sparks and I took a vacation in Rockport, MA. I don't remember exactly why I chose Rockport. I think I wanted to hit the area because I'd never been anywhere in the Northeastern US. Rockport was nice though, we stayed in a lovely little B&B which was just a short walk from the beach. It was August, but the water was frigid. Mostly, we wanted to eat our weight in seafood.
The first night there, we arrived a bit late and were hungry. The innkeeper recommended a place down the street and we walked down. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but it sat right on the docks and outside was a little red building referred to as Motif #1. We were informed that it was the most painted/photographed scene in all of the Northeast. I can't tell you much about the restaurant other than the fact that it had the best lobster roll ever (and the first one I ever had!) and this really tasty mixed drink named after the scene outside the window.
We returned from that trip with some serious food inspiration. This was the same trip where I discovered Spiced Tomato Jam and recreated it as soon as I got home. We also worked to recreate the drink that we liked so much while on our trip.
Sadly, I couldn't find the recipe, though I did still remember the ingredients. Lucky for me, which visiting friends this weekend, it turned out that my friend had it written down in her recipe book! I'd better notate it here so that I don't lose it again.
1.5 oz spiced rum
1.5 oz coconut rum
3 oz pineapple juice
.75 oz pomegranate juice
If you really want a kick, float a little 151 on the top. But even without that this is a sneaky drink. It's a smooth fruity thing going down, but packs a wallop.
When my parents were first married, way back before they'd even thought about me, my mom tried to make fried chicken. She bought a whole chicken, because that was cheaper than buying on already broken down and money was of course an issue being newlyweds, and cut it up. She'd never done this before. Cut ahead to dinnertime and my dad ridiculed her chicken pieces for being naked (the breading fell off) and unrecognizable. She never attempted fried chicken again. Growing up, my chicken always came in a bucket. I occasionally got some made by my Granny, but I preferred the deep fried commercial stuff.
Recently, I had some fried chicken from my aunt who is the master of all home cooking. She's taken to using boneless chicken breast strips for frying. I don't know why I never thought that I could fry chicken that wasn't a whole chicken that I had to cut up. But this week, I decided that it was time. I planned to make a chocolate cake later in the week and it calls for buttermilk. So does most of the fried chicken recipes I've seen. Kismet!
So, I put my chicken strips in a ziploc bag with enough buttermilk to cover them and left them in the fridge to hang out until the next night. Most recipes just call for soaking the chicken for a couple of hours, but if I do that after work then I'm cooking dinner at 9pm. One thing I didn't do and should have, I should have salted the chicken before it went in the buttermilk. Or added some salt to the mixture. My chicken needed a bit of salt when all was said and done.
Fast forward to the next evening. I mixed up flour and seasonings. I just added some random spice blends (cajun, greek) and other spices that I thought would work (salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne) and stirred it up. Without wiping off the buttermilk, I flopped each chicken strip around in the flour, trying to pack it on. Then I set each one aside on a rack. Once all of the pieces had been breaded, I ran each one through the flour again, once again letting them sit on the rack for a few minutes. This is supposed to help the crust to adhere.
I brought some oil in a wok to 350ish degrees (F), someone in a book told me to toss in a bit of bread, the oil is hot enough when the bread fries. Then I gently placed each chicken strip in the hot oil. Now, the most important part - walk away! Go make your side dishes or wash up your flouring dishes. If you have to touch it, just give your pan a light shimmy to make sure that nothing is sticking. The more you fiddle with the chicken, the more you knock the crust loose. So, I waited until it got pretty brown on the first side (the oil was deep enough that most of the chicken was covered) before gently rolling the pieces over. Once the chicken is nice and GBD all the way around, move it to a paper towel lined plate. I stuck a thermometer in the thickest piece to make sure that it was 180F. If it isn't, you can bake it for a few minutes, but mine was perfectly done. I think that's probably due to not having any bones and all of the pieces being roughly the same size.
My chicken wound up being delicious! I feel so accomplished. It only took me 40 some years to get over my fear of frying.
This weekend, while watching Pioneer Woman, I got fruit cocktail on the brain (she made some). More specifically, I got fruit cocktail CAKE on the brain. My mom used to make it all the time when I was a kid. Suddenly, on saturday, I was obsessing about it. Of course, the internet has 1000 recipes for it, but I couldn't be sure which one was the "right" one. Mom didn't have it, and it took Dad a while to find it but at least he did. It wasn't so much a recipe as just a list of ingredients.
Fruit Cocktail Cake
1.5 C sugar
2 C flour (I assumed self rising, that's what Mom always kept around)
1 t baking soda
1 t vanilla
2 cups fruit cocktail (in heavy syrup, one 16 oz can)
Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
1 sm can cream (I assumed this meant evaporated milk, that's the only cream I know of in a can and it tasted right)
1 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1 stick butter
Cook 20 minutes.
It took more like 45 minutes to bake in my oven, and it fell. But I seem to remember this cake always being sunken in the middle. It's dense and a bit gooey. As for the glaze, it's a bit grainy, but the texture seems to jive with my memory. It's so tasty, I've eaten a lot of it this weekend.
I swear, I'm not dead. I post almost daily on livejournal and multiple times per day on facebook, but I've just never gotten into the habit of blogging here.
But the other night I threw something together that I just had to record, it was scrumptious!
This is a sort of recipe, I didn't measure anything.
Braised Sausage with Vegetable Ragu
1/2 medium eggplant, diced and salted. Allow to drain for 15 minutes before using.
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
2 sm/med yellow onions, sliced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
minced garlic (I dunno, enough)
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
Cook all of this until the veggies are done enough to suit. You could leave out the eggplant, but it sucks up the flavors from everything else and you don't even notice it.
In a skillet, cook 2 sausages (I used roasted red pepper this time, but I think any would work) in a bit of olive oil. Add balsamic vinegar and braise while vinegar/oil thickens to a sauce consistency.
Serve with some pasta.
Super yummy, it was surprising how good it was.
In other food news, The Boyfriend has been making scrambled eggs a la Gordon Ramsay's method and they are amazing. Very good served over toasted rosemary sea salt bread.
I'm jealous of those people who know what they want to be when they grow up. Even more so if they've always known. At age 6, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was "a horse." By the time I finished high school, I wasn't much better prepared for the world.
I took the scenic route through college, so it took me a bit longer than most to graduate. I was 25 when I graduated with a BS in Physics, and still I had zero idea what I wanted to do with my life. I sort of fell into a job as a network administrator for a small security company. I stayed there for a couple of years and then started working for local government. Over the years, my responsibilities here have changed.
During my tenure here, I've had some times when I detested my job so much that it made me depressed. As part of our employee assistance program, I was able to see a career counselor. She gave me a litany of tests in order to determine what field might be proper for me.
After several weeks of tests and exercises, the results came back. According to my personality and temperament, I should be an artist. I do like to make things. I've always considered myself more of a "crafter" than an "artist". I didn't make anything that I considered "art". I knitted a bit, sewed, and did other general "crafty" things. I believed that there was no way that I could support myself as an artist. I declared that I was entirely too addicted to eating and having a roof over my head to consider a career as an artist.
My counselor told me something that has come to be my motto. If I couldn't be an artist as my career, I needed to create things in my spare time to feed that need or else I would forever be unhappy. It's absolutely true. When I get super depressed, I can look back at the last few weeks and will realize that I've not made anything. All I have to do is pick up a project and make a little progress on it and my happiness returns. Or I can take an art class. I just have to give my brain something creative to work on.
These days, I call myself "craftmaster" of my own tiny label. I still dabble with many different mediums, expert at none, but I am beginning to see myself as an artist. I am not an "Artist", but definitely an "artist".
I still don't know what I want to be "when I grow up". But I know more about myself and what it takes to make me happy. That matters more than what I do to pay the bills.
Back in the mid to late 80s, there was an Italian restaurant in town called Enza's. I never set foot in the place, but every so often my Pop would bring home a loaf of their stuffed bread for dinner. Enza's has existed in Lexington at various times over the years, most recently they were in Eastland Shopping Center, but they're gone from there now too. Internet research tells me the owner was Enza Morris. The stuffed bread is a loaf of white bread containing 3 meats (at least when my Dad picked them up) and some cheese. You eat it with their marinara sauce.
For the last week or two, stuffed bread has been on my mind. I used to make it back in the mid nineties, and I think I did a fairly good job. I don't think I've made it for the last 20ish years though. I probably burned myself out on it at some point, and then it just disappeared from my brain. I got to the point on friday that I was totally obsessing about it, so I knew for sure that I'd have to make it this weekend. Turns out, I had to make it twice.
The biggest problem with stuffed bread is that you have to know several hours ahead that you want it. It's not hard to make, just time intensive.
It's more method than recipe. So, I'm going to give you the step by step. Some of my pics are sideways, and some of them out of focus, but you're getting them anyway. I'm sure you'll get the drift.
Recently, on some cooking show or other, (I watch a lot of them) we saw salt crusted potatoes. On friday, we attempted them. Super easy and very yummy.
Start with some small potatoes. I think that the recipe I found called for fingerlings. I used some sort of small golden potato that Kroger had. Put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover and a handful of kosher salt. Boil until done, then pour off most of the water and return to heat. Continue cooking (but watch so they don't burn) until the water has all evaporated and the salt is sticking to the potatoes. Scrumptious!
The recipe I found called for brushing off most of the salt. We didn't do that. We also didn't make up any sort of weird sauce to go with. We just ate them with a little butter.
I will definitely have to remember this one, it was so easy.
My favorite cake is a wonderful thing. I adore it so. My auntie who is such a great cook came up with the recipe one million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was maybe a teen. She's not a restaurant style cook, she is one of those fabulous church ladies who show their love through food. I've been told that she makes the best chicken n' dumplings on the planet, but I don't much care for chicken and dumpllngs, so I don't have much frame of reference.
Anyway, she brought this cake to some family function or other and ever since then it has been my favorite cake, I sometimes make it for my birthday. I thought I'd share with you. I'm guessing the recipe probably originally came from Kraft foods, due to how many of their products are included.
Pig Pickin' Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup oil (I use vegetable)
1 can mandarin oranges
1 cup coconut
1 cup pecans
Mix all of these ingredients together (including juice from mandarin oranges!) and spread between 3 cake pans. Bake @ 350F for 30-35 minutes. Let layers cool. Then frost with:
1 large container of cool whip
2 boxes instant vanilla pudding
1 can crushed pineapple
Throw all of these ingredients into a bowl and mix (including pineapple juice) then spread on cooled cake. Refrigerate cake.
I managed to give most of my cake away, so I didn't have to eat it until I was sick of it. Since Sparks doesn't like it, that leaves a lot for me to eat.
A couple of weeks ago, while watching The Worst Cooks In America, I saw them make pizza dough from scratch. Surely the recipe they gave them was foolproof, right? I decided to try it out myself.
I tried for the first time last week. My crust was rock hard. I think that is due to rolling it out.
I tried that same recipe this week, adding a bit more moisture (I had trouble getting all of the flour mixed in last week) and not rolling it, just forming it by hand. I decided to forgo the pre-bake this week, thinking that may have contributed to the hardness. This time the crust was a bit doughy in the middle, but overall much better. I probably should have given it a pre-bake this time. *laughs*
My facebook friends have been full of suggestions and links to recipes. This morning, my pal Charley showed up at my desk with his wife's pizza crust recipe. I'll definitely give it a shot next. It doesn't even require rise time! It does, however require "pizza yeast". I didn't know such a thing existed.
Last week, post rock hard pizza, I wanted something chocolatey. Really, I wanted a chocolate souffle, but that was just way too much effort for 9pm on a tuesday when I'd already spent the last 4 hours cleaning the kitchen. Plus, I didn't want to make something huge that would hang around for days. I ended up settling on a recipe for chocolate lava cakes that made exactly two. I used this recipe. It took all of about 3 minutes to mix up and was great. While it was baking, I threw some freezerburned raspberries into a pot with some sugar and turned them into a nice sauce (they were only a little freezer burned) and whooped up some sweetened cream. The recipe was so awesome that I repeated it the next night. I need to repeat it once more, I've got just enough raspberry sauce left for about one more round.
If next week's pizza crust is a winner, I'll post the recipe. Until then, here's the text of the recipe for those fine lava cakes.
Chocolate molten lava cakes for two
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBSP butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP Nutella (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease 2 ramekins with non-stick cooking spray. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.
In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and butter in the microwave for about 1 and 1/2 minutes. Stir every 30 seconds until smooth.
Add the powdered sugar and mix until incorporated. Then add the egg and whisk until smooth.
Stir in flour and vanilla extract and mix until no lumps remain.
Evenly distribute the batter into the two prepared ramekins and put the baking pan into oven.
Bake the cakes for 12 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let them rest for 1 minute before inverting onto a plate.
Dust with powdered sugar and a dollop of Nutella if desired. You can also garnish with berries, ice cream or chocolate sauce for a super indulgent treat!
Yield: Two servings
A livejournal friend asked me how I go about spinning wire. I took photos of the whole process from wire to bracelet. There are a million pics under the cut.