Tuesday, March 12, 2013

This Past Week at My House

Spring is just around the corner! I am so excited about that. However, winter wanted to make it's presence known this past week, but my town decided to fight. We received little more than a dusting of snow. However, we went to Charlottesville, Virginia for an overnight trip and that area received 9-12 inches of very heavy, wet snow. There were tree branches down all over, and utility companies were working hard to restore power to their customers. By the weekend it was melting fast in the 60 degree weather!

This past week I have worked on a place for a corner desk I bought a year ago. I haven't been able to find it a home where I will actually use it. This week I placed it in a corner of the living room.

This is the livingroom without the desk.

I put the recliner on the other side of the room, took away the sofa table, placed the desk where the recliner used to be, and added a picture above the table/lamp.

Here is a closer pic of the desk/chair and lamp.

I would like to add something to the wall beside the desk, and a few knick knacks on it. My plan is to mainly use the desk for my Bible studies.

I was in the market for a food processor. I have never owned one, except a 5 cup model that attaches to my mixer. On Macy's online store, I found this closeout model. It is an 11 cup Cuisinart, for only $89.99. I do love a great deal! Everyday I try to find some excuse to use it. It is so powerful, and more important, the learning curve to use this thing is very low. Perfect for me!

I have been using an online company: www.cutleryandmore.com to build my cookware collection. I have found some fantastic deals with this company. I usually get my items two/three days after I order, and they are always in excellent condition. They have a Deal of the Week, so I always check them out each Monday morning. If you go to Amazon.com and search for cookware, at the bottom of the page is an ad for Cutlery and More and if you click on that, you will save an additional 20% on your purchase.

I read that garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place in a container with holes. It needs to breathe.

I made the Pioneer's Woman "Green Bean Casserole" this past week. It is on page 218 in her cookbook.

Start with your green beans...

Pour on a rich sauce made with onions, garlic, bacon, pimentos, cream, cheese, chicken stock, butter, and seasonings.

Bake at 350 degrees till it's bubbling. This is in a whole other league from the cream of mushroom soup/french fried onions green bean casserole most of us are use to. I was not impressed with it as a leftover...just didn't look appetizing.

I made my own hoagie rolls this week. I calculated each one cost me 33 cents! (one looks more like a sub roll!)

Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thursday's - It's Thyme to Cook

This week I have watched Ina Garten's show, "The Barefoot Contessa" like a preschooler hooked on Dora the Explorer. Her show comes on three times a day, and I think she is amazing.

I have to admit I've developed a slight obsession with Ina Garten, but not in a weird way. I want her to teach me how to cook well. Growing up I watched Julia Child's show so I have a special affection for her, but Ina's style is much more approachable. She makes cooking look not only easy, but she gives me hope that I could pull off a great meal without my hair standing on end like Chef Anne Burrell's hair.

Both Ina Garten and Julia Child write about the importance of making your own stock. It's used in many of their recipes. According to Julia, you have white stock and brown stock. The difference is not the type of meat, but the roasting or braising of the meat, bones, and vegetables prior to the long simmering time (about 4 to 5 hours). These two techniques make the stock brown.

I've never made my own stock and really could not see a reason to, as store bought is so available and easy to use. However, once I made it, I could really tell the difference between the two. Store bought stock tastes like flavored, salted water. Homemade stock, that is made from fresh ingredients, adds so much depth of flavor to a dish. It's as easy as putting the bones/meat of poultry/beef/veal, any vegetables you'd like (root, such as turnips are not recommended), and an herb bouquet bundled in cheesecloth into a big stockpot. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover ingredients by about two inches.

Simmer together for 4 or so hours, skimming off any fat that comes to the surface. Strain out all the ingredients (best accomplished by pouring contents through a colander into another pot). When the liquid has cooled, strain it through cheesecloth into a clean pot. Pour into storage containers and refrigerate. The next morning skim off any fat that has collected on top, and freeze, if not using immediately. Lesson learned: Don't throw jellied stock down the drain. It's actually a good thing when it jells.

A cook's best secret ingredient...homemade stock!!

I had some leftover turkey and used my homemade stock to make individual turkey pot pies. These were a first for me. Ina Garten says if you can perfect a pot pie recipe, then you have a dish you can use with great variety, such as adding crab, lobster, vegetable, etc.

I made my filling with homemade stock, cream, onions, garlic, rutabagas, carrots, green beans, and a little cheese sprinkled on top.

The crust was made in the food processor: whole wheat flour, very cold butter, and ice water. Just mix salt and pepper, the flour/butter in the processor till the mixture is crumbly. Add ice water slowly, while processor is on, till a ball of dough forms. Wrap in plastic and chill for half an hour. Then roll out slightly larger than the pie pan being used and place on top of filling. Brush dough with egg wash, slash top to vent, and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Lesson learned: wrap any leftover dough in plastic and freeze for next time. No need to throw away enough pastry dough to make an apron.

I actually didn't get to bake these until the next evening. I just covered with foil in the fridge. The next evening I baked at 350 degrees until the crust was golden and the filling was bubbling. So delicious!

This week I learned that homemade stock really makes a difference in the outcome of a dish. It adds a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved with packaged stock. I also learned to not be afraid to make my own pastry dough. I even used soft whole wheat flour, and it was still tender and flaky. Both of these cost less to make homemade than to buy, so you are saving money too!

Have fun cooking!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Thyme To Cook ....

I thought I might try writing a once a week blog post on my disasters adventures with cooking. I have been trying new recipes and trying to move past either making the same old thing, or more common, eating out instead of cooking.

I have always been a mediocre cook. I can make a tasty meal, but nothing that would knock your socks off. One night while looking through a cookbook from Ina Garten that I have owned for years, I came across a page that listed 10 kitchen tools you'll use over and over. (Ina Garten, Family Style, pg. 244). She lists:

Braun electric juicer
Stainless steel mixing bowls
Cuisinart food processor
Parchment Paper
12 x 18 x 1 1/2 inch stainless steel sheet pans
Good quality knives: paring, 8 inch chef's, a serrated blade
Rasp zester
Kitchen Aid electric mixer
Oven thermometer
10 and 12 inch All-Clad saute pans

So I took inventory in my kitchen of the things that I have from her list:

Parchment Paper

Hmmmm, not good. How did I get to be my age without owning any of these things? Furthermore, I don't even know why I have the parchment paper. I have no memory of buying it.

I took this as a sign to buy new cookware, good knives, and perhaps learn to make something really memorable. In short order I purchased the requisite All Clad saute pan and skillet, and a set of Wusthof knives.

All Clad makes the most fantastic pans! They heat evenly and clean up is a snap. However, I didn't realize that cookware could cost so much!

Wusthof knives are unbelievable! I've never owned a good set of knives. These have been worth every bandaid I've needed for cut fingers.

I've never been a big fan of non-stick cookware, but I also bought several Caphalon Nonstick cookware pieces. This braiser pan is large and perfect for braising meat.

I now own several pieces of nice cookware, Ina Garten's "Family Style" cookbook, The Pioneer Woman's "Food from my Frontier" Cookbook, by Ree Drummond, and Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I grew up watching Julia Child on T.V. every week. So my first attempt at cooking something fabulous was Julia's "Boeuf Bourguignon". Okay, maybe I was a little influenced by my recent viewing of the movie Julie/Julia....

This recipe is found on page 315 in Volume One of Julia's cookbook. It is a two page recipe, not difficult to execute, and uses an entire bottle of red wine (none for the cook). As if making a Julia Child recipe wasn't daunting enough, I had defrosted twice as much beef needed to make this stew (doubling the recipe never occurred to me). So to solve this predicament I made the Pioneer Woman's beef stew too, (page 165, Food from My Frontier) and then had a taste test between the two. A rather ambitious endeavor if I do say so myself. I was still on my All Clad/Wusthof high and forgot for a moment that I wasn't America's Test Kitchen.

As I mentioned, Julia's recipe uses red wine. The Pioneer Woman's recipe uses a bottle of beer. I have never cooked with either (meaning IN a recipe, not as an accompaniment), so that was a new experience. Here is a picture of both stews side by side. Pioneer Woman's is on the left, Julia Child's stew on the right.

Julia Child's recipe was over 4 hours in execution, most of it just simmering in the oven except for this awkward maneuver where you have to pour the liquid that is as hot as boiling lava, from a dutch oven into a separate pan. This was how I accomplished that task:

The Pioneer Woman's stew was placed in the crockpot and just simmered all day long.

Both were delicious, and we ate stew for a week, but the winner was Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. It had much more depth of flavor and a richer sauce.

These recipes were tasty and pretty easy to do. Julia's was more time consuming, but the end result was worth the effort. I don't think I really busted any culinary chops with these recipes, but I did learn that cooking with wine means more than having a glass while cooking.

Until next time, have fun cooking!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Last Month at My House - January

It's hard to figure out how to title a blog post when so much time has passed since I've last written a blog. People were wearing bikini's and sunscreen the last time I wrote something! I've decided to limit this post to the month of January, and hopefully, will post more regularly this year.

Daughter Susan has moved yet again, this time to the Fells Point area of Baltimore. She loves her new home.

On January 5th, Julie, Cassidy and I went to Susan's home for a belated "Christmas Celebration." We had dinner, which was just superb. Susan made stuffed portabello mushrooms and a green salad and bread. I provided the main course, which was chicken spaghetti.

We had a great day. Susan is a real city girl and loves living there. If it wasn't for the fact that she works 12 hours a day in a different city it would be perfect...but it's her life.

Julie gave me a belated Christmas gift. It is something I've wanted for years...

She is having another baby!!!! We are all so thrilled for her, Tommy, and Miss Cassidy. The baby is due on September 18th. I am so happy that God is blessing this family with another little blessing from Him!

I have been very busy trying to reorganize the kitchen cabinets again. I decided that I no longer needed two pantries for food, since there are only three of us here at home now. So my large pantry shown here...

Is now housing my growing collection of cookware...I am having so much fun buying these pots and pans. I didn't know there were so many different pans for specific cooking tasks. I'm sure you really don't need so many different pans, but what fun is that line of thinking?

My spice cabinet is always a mess. I straightened it up again, and grouped spices according to type, and especially how often I use them. The odd spices I rarely use are now at the back of the line. All hot sauces and vinegars are on the second shelf.

For dinner one night I made a pizza with Italian sausages. I made my own sauce, which was so easy and tastes so good I will never buy jar sauce again. After prebaking the crust, I topped it with some sauce...

A slice of fresh mozzarella with an italian sausage on top of it, plus onions and sweet red peppers...

Mounds of shredded mozzarella, fontinella, and parmesan cheeses...

All baked to perfection.

Pizza anyone???

The Queen Cat would like to wish you all good health and happiness in 2013...not really. Have a great day!!