Demented Ramblings life is too short to refrain from eating jam out of the jar

14Feb/170

beurre brown

Someone recently left a comment here on one of my old entries, the stuffed bread one. If you search for Enza's, I come up on the first page. Or maybe it was "Enza's stuffed bread". Whatever, I didn't expect that.

Anyway, this prompted me to go back and read through all of my entries here. I guess that's one nice thing about posting so sporadically, it doesn't take long to go through all of the entries.

I realized that I just don't cook like I used to. Is it the meds I'm on? I know I used to have a lot more energy than I do now. Most nights, I'm doing good to make a grilled cheese. Usually I don't even put that much effort into food for myself.

I miss cooking. Add to this the fact that we've gotten disgusted by Friday night dinners out. We don't like to wait and being told it's 90 minutes for a table someplace that has mediocre food just annoys us. So, I'm going to try to make more of an effort to cook. At least on friday nights I can take my time making dinner and it won't matter if we eat at 8pm. Though I'll say that this past Friday's dinner came together very quickly.

Friday afternoon, I had scallops on the brain. While picking up some scallops at the market, I googled a sauce to go with them. I used this recipe for a tarragon beurre blanc. Only I didn't read the directions very well and added the butter too early. This meant that the butter browned and my sauce ended up rather dark colored. However, it was fracking delicious! One other substitution was that I used tarragon vinegar instead of white wine vinegar and fresh tarragon.

I paired the seared scallops with couscous and asparagus. The sauce went well drizzled over the couscous also.

I really don't care for standard couscous. I don't mind the pearl couscous, but I add a lot of butter to it as well. Only with regular couscous it doesn't seem to matter how much extra stuff I add to it, it's always dry. However, the husband likes it, so I make it sometimes. To my tongue though couscous is the most bland food around. I even used a flavored version from a box this time thinking it would be better. I might as well have used the plain stuff for all the difference that it made.

But hey, the scallops and sauce were excellent!

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30Jun/160

Fried Chicken: Demystified

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.

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21Mar/160

A blast from the past

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 egg
1 t vanilla
2 cups fruit cocktail (in heavy syrup, one 16 oz can)

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

Glaze

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.

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19Feb/160

not pretty, but pretty tasty

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)
italian seasoning
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
balsamic vinegar

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.

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9Mar/150

little A artist

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.

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19Mar/140

the quest for the perfect pizza crust

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
1 egg
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP Nutella (optional)

Directions
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

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28Dec/130

lettuce wraps

I totally and completely adore PF Chang. I could eat there weekly. I don't think that I've had anything there that I didn't like. The local one went through a phase for a while where the spring rolls were overly greasy, but the last couple of times I've been there they'd corrected that.

It wasn't until recently that I tried their lettuce wraps. I'd had them other places and didn't care for them, but theirs were terrific.

Last night, I was hungry (skipped lunch, I do that a lot) and decided to stop by the Kroger and just let inspiration hit. I walked directly in to the produce section and looked around. I was kind of having an urge for a vegetable of some sort. I've been eating a lot of crap this week. There was a lovely little head of bibb lettuce and it told me that it wanted to be a lettuce wrap. I tend to like leafy lettuces more than iceberg. So, I popped on the intertubes and found this recipe. I liked the face that I had all of the ingredients for the sauce, so all I had to pick up were the chicken, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. I used ground chicken instead of chicken breasts and doubled the veggies since I had what I thought was double the meat. I also fried up a few rice noodles, those are scrumdiddlyumptious! Our lettuce wraps were great, Sparks says maybe even better than the ones at PF Chang. We have quite a bit left over, so I'm thinking that I may make some rice this afternoon and have it with the leftover chicken mixture for dinner.

Yesterday, I spent the whole time at work knitting and watching vidoes on the YouTubes since I've figured out how to get there through the fire wall. I finished the first of the January projects. I started the next one while watching The Hobbit (first part) with Sparks last night.

We slept in today until about 12:30 and I've cleaned the kitchen. I'm feelilng pretty good about that. Of course, maybe I shouldn't since I had left all of those dishes sitting for a week. For the rest of the day, maybe I'll play some WoW, I haven't gotten to do that in almost 2 weeks! I was so busy with party prep, the giftmas prep, then giftmas itself and knitting and such that I haven't played since before they connected our realm to another.

There's nothing amazing going on in Yshaville today, I just wanted to share that recipe with you guys. *grins*

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15May/130

Fresh Garden Pasta

Most every work day I browse Pinterest. On the days that I skip lunch, I spend all afternoon obsessively looking at recipes. Yesterday was just such a day. I got it in my head that I was going to go home and make old school spaghetti with red meat sauce (Ragu and hamburger) but then this recipe jumped out at me.

I could very easily eat vegetarian meals half of each week. I'd still need bacon and the occasional bit of meat, but I'm fine not having meat with every meal. However, whenever I make some meatless pasta dish, Sparks is all "this would be great with some chicken in it!"

Yesterday being tuesday, I expected him to be shooting pool. However, they had the night off. So, he got stuck eating my meatless dinner. He didn't complain though, not about the meat. His only complaint was that there weren't enough veggies. This is because I looked at the amount of veggies on the pan and decided that I should cook the whole pound of pasta. Bad idea. It still tasted good, but it would have been a lot better had the ratio of veggies to pasta been a bit higher. So, don't do as I did, follow the recipe. At least sort of.

Ingredients
1 cup olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 large plum tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large zucchini, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 summer squash, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 small onion, cut into ½-inch chunks
8 ounces whole grain angel hair pasta
¼ cup slivered fresh basil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper; mix well. Stir in tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and onion until evenly coated. Place in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets.

Bake 30 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add roasted vegetables and juices from pan; add basil and toss gently until evenly blended. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Notes: I changed up the veggies a little. I used a zucchini, a package of button mushrooms quartered, a vidalia onion, and yellow cherry tomatoes halved. It was a very tasty combo!

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10May/130

Fried cabbage

Sometimes when we discuss food that we grew up eating, Sparks laughs and asks how I managed to make it through childhood. There's all sorts of stuff that I didn't have growing up. I didn't eat hamburger helper until I was in my 20s. I didn't have manwich until I started dating Sparks. We just didn't eat that stuff, but I swear I can't remember what we did eat. I remember a lot of soup and burgers but I don't remember much else.

My mom hates to cook, maybe she always did. Now she seems to eat a goodly amount of canned soup. Other than the battles of the peas and lima beans, I can't tell you what I ate as a child. However, I was a fat kid as well as a fat adult, so obviously I was eating something.

Another thing I don't recall eating before (maybe I just blacked out all of the things I didn't like) was fried cabbage. I remember having cabbage rolls a few times, and I just ate the filling and left the cabbage. We also ate sauerkraut with hot dogs, so I guess it's kind of close.

A friend posted this recipe on facebook this week. It sounded good so I gave it a try. I liked it so much that I ate until I was stuffed to the gills.

FRIED CABBAGE WITH polish sausage

This is a quick and easy dish and makes a meal served with cornbread.
3 tablespoons bacon grease
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 of red pepper if you wanna
1 pound polish sausage, sliced into round pieces (I use smoked sausage)
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
few drops of hot sauce (optional)

Put bacon grease in large skillet. Add cabbage, onion, and red pepper if you use the red pepper and cook on medium high for about 5 minutes stirring to keep from sticking to pan. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.
Makes about 8 servings.

The cabbage picked up a lovely bacony flavor, how can you go wrong with that? It was also super easy, the only change I would make is to use the mandolin on the cabbage next time, it was it pretty big chunks. I also left out the red pepper - both because Sparks hates it and Wal-Mart didn't have any other than in 3 packs when I stopped to pick up the cabbage and sausage. This is definitely budget friendly, I got the cabbage and sausage for less than $5 and I already had everything else.

9Apr/130

not dead, I swear

I'm even still crafting! Oh! The crafts! Sock monsters and ceramics and knitted things and tunisian crochet and felted items and hand spun yarn and Big Bob is finally in progress! I rarely take time to post anything more than a quick photo to fb before moving on to the next thing.

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