Month: November 2017

If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Her Your Plans

If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Her Your Plans

  I was thinking about a recent post, in which I was bemoaning the fact that so many of our kids live on the other side of the planet. Then I thought, what in my past life has ever lead me to believe that God, […]

A Laugh A Day.  Sort of.

A Laugh A Day. Sort of.

  “Do not take life too seriously.  You will never get out of it alive.” This is one of my favorite quotes.  Throughout my life, it has served me well. There have been very few occasions in my life when I cannot, for the life […]

The Insomnia Post

The Insomnia Post

 

This is an Insomnia Post.  No doubt my husband, who is gently snoring upstairs in our loft (along with Bo and Molly, the dogs, and Leo, the kitty), will wake up because of my absence, come downstairs and demand to know what the hell I’m doing, typing at 2:00 a.m.

Seriously, when you’re 63 and don’t work, who really cares what time it is?

Sadly, he still does work.  Well, he works when he finally manages to get to town.

Today, yet another semi splintered in half, going too fast down a bridge off-ramp.  The entire city area freeways were paralyzed for several hours.  Which meant that, what should have been an hour plus commute for my husband, once again, turned into a 2 hour nightmare on our roads.  Lest I appear unsympathetic toward the semi’s driver, I might inform you that “speed was a factor.”

You see, in this extremely liberal, West Coast city, the “Powers That Be” have decided that, since we are all so “environmentally friendly,” we should all be riding our bikes to work.  (Yeah, even though we live over an hour away).  The County maintains that, since we are all on our bikes, the City should be allowed to build dozens of multi-unit, multi-use highrises, without providing parking.  And they certainly don’t feel a need to widen the jam-packed freeways.

I can’t be entirely sure, but I’m kinda thinking that that sort of thinking is going to make this city a Thing Of The Past.  To be honest, they would deserve it.

It used to be an amazing, clean and beautiful town.  And now, the politicians have invited all the “urban campers” to sleep on any sidewalk they like.  Local merchants are being forced to leave downtown.  Who the heck wants to go downtown to do their Christmas shopping, if you have to fend off angry, drunk people who are pissed off at you for trying to step around their “urban” campsite?  And if they aren’t angry, they’re panhandling.

We have a good friend who runs a very hot boutique hotel.  He’s not legally allowed to remove the squatters from the sidewalk outside of this hotel.  So, every morning, a member of his staff goes out and power washes the sidewalk (which, by then, are in need of it!)  The very taxpayers that pay the local government are the ones that are being forced to endure these crazy policies.

Anyway, I digress.  Personally, I have never had the money to go downtown to shop.  But if I did, I would avoid downtown altogether and head directly to Amazon.

I woke up at 1:00 a.m., thinking how freeing it is to have a blog at the age of 63.  This was not an easy feat for me to accomplish, by any means.  I probably spent 8 hours a day for 8 WEEKS teaching myself WordPress.  But that was because I was so technologically incompetent, it was like a Dinosaur teaching itself to learn how to boil water.  Or invent the wheel.  Seriously, it’s a really good thing modern man wasn’t depending on someone like me to survive and evolve!  We would still be living in caves, chewing on raw wildebeest.

Having conquered “WordPress,” I can now say it is quite liberating, for the following reasons:

First of all, no one is reading this (well, except an occasional kid of mine, and even that’s pretty rare).  I do, however, have two followers that matter:  one, a young friend who has been in my life forever (my daughter’s friend from middle school) and one, an old friend from our small town, whom I love dearly.  And that is enough for me.

I haven’t had a journal of any sort since college, and I’ve always liked to write. So, I guess this is it, now.

And, it’s a great cure for insomnia.

Handmade angelI had a hard day, today, feeling very melancholy.  The kids left yesterday after our Thanksgiving and we had had a really, really great time.  Later, Bill and I went and got our trees at a nearby gorgeous, but really cold tree farm, high up on a windy ridge in the Oregon Coast Foothills.  Brrr.

Today, it was just the dogs, the kitty and me.  I was missing the rest of my kids (4 kids and partners and grandkids) so much.  It really hit me hard, the fact that they wouldn’t be here for Christmas.  One won’t be here because she doesn’t want to be.  At the age of 20, she up and left us for some reason I will never, ever comprehend.

The rest of the clan can’t join us because it’s too far away and far too expensive to travel.  Why the hell they ever invented the East Coast is beyond me.

I know we’re supposed to give our kids their wings.  If I’m completely honest, I just never seriously considered the possibility that they would someday fly 3,000 miles away.

This weekend, the 14 bins of Christmas decorations will go up.  They will be beautiful, the result of years of Goodwill Hunting.  I poured a lot of love into every piece I collected or needle-pointed or made with salt dough, no matter how inexpensive.  I wanted my kids to have a feeling of Christmas Magic and I think they did.

So, with bittersweet, nostalgic feelings of love and longing, joy and sadness, bring on the Season.

On a very happy note, we get our little 5 year old granddaughter for several days in a few weeks.  We are so excited to spend the time baking Christmas cookies, learning to pipe (frosting, not tobacco!), making a mess in the kitchen, reading together, watching Christmas movies and getting some quality and quantity time with our sweetie pie.

I have decided to make cookies for the local soup kitchen this season. I’m just hoping they won’t require a kitchen license.  Back in the day, I would bake my son’s kindergarten class homemade cookies once or twice a week.  Then The Powers That Be said my kitchen needed a commercial license.

I kind of hate “The Powers That Be.”

Cheers and here’s to Insomnia!  Happy Holidays!

Vicky

 

 

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When NOT to Leave Your Warming Quiche to Throw on Some Mascara

When NOT to Leave Your Warming Quiche to Throw on Some Mascara

  Yep, this is a good example of what NOT to do when you are re-warming your quiche, the morning after your holiday dinner. My oven has been acting up for a week or more (great timing, right??), vascillating between 325° and 475°, while I’m […]

Creamy Chicken and Bacon with Angel Hair Pasta

Creamy Chicken and Bacon with Angel Hair Pasta

  It’s Saturday and we are finally getting a few of the kids out tonight for our Thanksgiving dinner. I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen, fretting over my oven, which is causing me to tear my hair out. When set on 350°, it […]

Save that Turkey Broth for Next Year’s Gravy!

Save that Turkey Broth for Next Year’s Gravy!

 

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s all about food, family and celebration, without the stress of all that endless nervous fidgeting about What-to-Get-Whoever.  Ugh.

Leaves on Ground Molly and BoThat being said, hosting Thanksgiving and the next day is a LOT of work.  My daughter-in-law always brings something yummy, and my youngest daughter bakes for me, but sometimes she’s not around to do so.

My stress-free solution is to start at the first of November, and spend a bit of time nearly every day in the kitchen, working on The Feast.  Usually half an hour a day is enough to get me well on my way to Thanksgiving Day without having a panic attack.

Green ApplesI like to make dishes that can be made ahead and either frozen or put in the fridge several days before.  By the time Thanksgiving Week rolls around, I’m in good shape.  I even set the main dining room table days ahead of time.

My first two projects are easy: turkey broth for the gravy and pie crust for the pies and the quiche for the morning after.

Making the broth is super simple but will make a huge difference in the taste of your gravy.

Fireplace burningGet your hands on a couple of big turkey legs. You can find these, packaged, in the poultry section of any store.  In a stock pot or a slow cooker, put the legs, an onion, celery and carrots, all roughly chopped.  Well, all except the turkey legs, that is.  Obviously.  Salt and pepper, and add plenty of water to cover all.

The amount of water you use will pretty much depend on how much gravy you plan on making.

Simmer this for a day or two or until the color of the broth is a deep, dark brown.  This will be a lot stronger in flavor and color than a broth you’d use for turkey soup.

Pie Crust with Maple LeavesWhen it looks good, drain the broth into a bowl and cool.  Then cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a day or so.

At this point, the broth will be very firm and gelatinous.  This happens because the collagen in the bones thickens the broth.  The fat should be a firm layer, sitting on top of the broth.  When the fat has solidified on the top, take a slotted spoon and scoop off the fat, onto a paper towel.  I usually give it a good bang to release it, so if you have nice countertops, do this on a large cutting board.  Personally, I would chuck my countertops in a minute, so I don’t really care, one way or another.

When you’ve removed almost all of the fat, let the broth stand at room temperature for a bit, so that you can pour it into mason jars.  Label and fill, leaving at least an inch of space at the top.  Secure with metal lids and freeze until the day before Thanksgiving, or whenever you make your gravy.

Another thing you can do this early on is to make the pie crust dough.  Once you’ve made it and shaped it into 2 disks, you can wrap them well in cling wrap, then put them in a good quality freezer bag and freeze flat.  Make sure you label this bag or you may not be sure if it’s pizza dough or something.

Thanksgiving Pie Crust with PumpkinsIf you’ve never made pizza dough and have no intention of ever doing so (pity), don’t worry about the label.

This is a foolproof pie crust recipe.  The title says “Test-Kitchen Piecrust,” so I’m assuming it’s from “The American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.”  But I’m not sure.  I get free magazines from the library, so it’s anyone’s guess.  But one thing is for sure: I’m not great with pastry, and these always turn out very nicely.  Well, except for that one disaster…. (see below).

Test Kitchen Piecrust

This makes enough dough for 1 double-crusted or 2 single-crusted 9 to 10 inch pies.

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces, divided

2 ½ c. all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar (omit if this is for quiche)

½ c. ice water

Lay out three-quarters of the butter pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until hard, at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate the remaining butter.

Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add refrigerated butter and pulse to combine, about 10 times.

Add frozen butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some blueberry size clumps.

Add ice water and immediately pulse until water is JUST incorporated, about 10 times.  Squeeze a small amount of dough to make sure it holds together.  Pulse a few more times, if needed.

Lay out two pieces of plastic wrap.  Empty half of dough onto each piece.  Bring edges of wrap together to gather dough.  Press into round disks.

Roll out disks, still wrapped in plastic, to ½ inch-thick rounds (8 inches in diameter).

Wrap again well with plastic wrap, and put in your freezer bags to keep, until you’re ready to make your crusts, up to one month.

Thanksgiving Pie Crust with Oak leavesI have had only two Cuisinarts in 33 years.  The first was just too small, once all the kids started arriving (in our lives, that is; not at the house!).  Mine is the 14 cup Cuisinart and I love it  Here’s your Amazon link.  http://amzn.to/2iQZzuV

Here is a photo of my pie crusts from last year.  I ordered these cute little leaf cookie cutters on Amazon and I think they’re adorable.  Here’s the link, if you’re so inclined:  http://amzn.to/2z6ertC

Later on in the month, if you have the freezer space, you can take out as many disks as you want to work on and refrigerate in the fridge.  After you’ve done your pie crust however you like, put the UNCOVERED pie crust in the freezer and freeze until nice and hard.  Only then can you cover loosely in saran wrap and stick back into a freezer bag.

Now your decorated crusts will be ready to pull out, fill and bake.

A word of caution from one who learned the hard way.  One year, I went to all the trouble to make these fancy pie crusts, but I made the HUGE mistake of leaving them out on the counter while I made the pumpkin pie filling.  Ugh!  The soft pie crust melted all over the floor of the oven, filling the entire house with fatty smoke, ruining the pie crusts and ruining the bottom of the oven, to boot.  So, straight from freezer to oven, placed on a cookie sheet, and you’ll be fine.

I have two more little gadgets you might want to try.

The first is an oven thermometer.  When I recently tested my oven, I discovered it was 25° off!  Rather than having Bill spend his weekend time adjusting the thermostat on the oven, I just set the temperature accordingly.

Turkeys Don't Know About ThanksgivingAnother fun gadget is this pie crust edge protector.  These are silicone and adjustable to fit many sizes of pie plates.  Do yourself a favor and adjust the sizes (or make a note with a sharpie on them.  Leave a little room for the extra room the actual pie crust will take up.  Then, when your crust starts to get a bit too brown, you can pull out the oven rack and gently top it with this protector.  You don’t want to have to mess around with finding the right size when your pie is still cooking.  Just be gentle and the silicone shield will fit right over your pretty pattern loosely, without damaging all of your hard work.

Here is the link for the oven thermometer:  http://amzn.to/2z4UDqn

Here is the link for the silicone pie crust shield:  http://amzn.to/2z4ShIf

I’m going to follow my own advice and work on my Thanksgiving Dinner, next-day brunch and lunch, nearly every day from now until then.  I know how happy I’ll be that I did!

 

Cheers – Vicky

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Links for the Best 10 Gardening Tools

Links for the Best 10 Gardening Tools

  I hope this list of gifts will give you some inspiration and will save you a boatload of time.  Below I have listed my favorite gardening tools, as well as links to the Amazon site and prices. Some of these are very inexpensive and, […]

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

  Ok, obviously, this is a no-brainer. But my 20 year old is hosting her own Thanksgiving dinner tonight and she called up, wanting directions to make homemade cranberry sauce from fresh or frozen cranberries. Here’s to you, honey! Cranberry Sauce One 12 ounce bag […]

More Thanksgiving Funnies for the Older Crowd

More Thanksgiving Funnies for the Older Crowd

 

If You’d Like a Laugh……

Just read that 4,153,237 people got married last year.  Not to cause any trouble, but shouldn’t that be an even number?

Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool. I gave him a glass of water.

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they would eventually find me attractive.

I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom until they are flashing behind you.

When wearing a bikini, women reveal 90% of their body… men are so polite they only look at the covered parts.

A recent study has found that woman who carry a little extra weight, live longer than the men who mention it.

Relationships are a lot like algebra. Have you ever looked at your X and wondered Y?

America is a country which produces citizens who will cross the ocean to fight for democracy but won’t cross the street to vote.

You know that tingly little feeling you get when you like someone? That’s your common sense leaving your body.

Did you know that dolphins are so smart that, within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish?

My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that.

I think my neighbor is stalking me as she’s been googling my name on her computer. I saw it through my telescope last night.

Money talks …but all mine ever says is good-bye.

You’re not fat, you’re just… easier to see.

If you think nobody cares whether you’re alive, try missing a couple of payments.

I always wondered what the job application is like at Hooters. Do they just give you a bra and say, “Here, fill this out?”

I can’t understand why women are okay that JC Penny has an older women’s clothing line named, “Sag Harbor.”

My therapist said that my narcissism causes me to misread social situations. I’m pretty sure she was hitting on me.

My 60 year kindergarten reunion is coming up soon and I’m worried about the 175 pounds I’ve gained since then.

Denny’s has a slogan, “If it’s your birthday, the meal is on us” If you’re in Denny’s and it’s your birthday, your life sucks!

The pharmacist asked me my birth date again today. I’m pretty sure she’s going to get me something.

On average, an American man will have sex two to three times a week. Whereas, a Japanese man will have sex only one or two times a year. This is very upsetting news to me. I had no idea I was Japanese.

The location of your mailbox shows you how far away from your house you can be in a robe before you start looking like a mental patient.

I think it’s pretty cool how Chinese people made a language entirely out of tattoos.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it keeps the kids in touch!

The reason Mayberry was so peaceful and quiet was because nobody was married. Andy, Aunt Bea, Barney, Floyd, Howard, Goober, Gomer, Sam, Earnest T Bass, Helen, Thelma Lou, Clara and, of course, Opie were all single. The only married person was Otis, and he stayed drunk.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Vicky

 

 

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Artisan French Bread for the Best Turkey Sandwiches, Ever!

Artisan French Bread for the Best Turkey Sandwiches, Ever!

  I feel like bread baking, because it’s cold and rainy and it’s that kind of day.  I added up the actual hands-on time with this bread, and it came to less than 15 minutes over two days.  It’s no big deal, seriously! The day […]

Fast and Easy Chicken Marsala

Fast and Easy Chicken Marsala

  As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as too many recipes for dinners that only take a few minutes to throw together, especially during the holidays. I made a rare, “last minute” shopping trip for a dozen items today.  It’s only […]

Mrs. Sunday’s Beef Barley Soup

Mrs. Sunday’s Beef Barley Soup

 

I’m sort of an all-or-nothing kind of gal.  Somedays, I’m full of fire and brimstone, and others, I feel slow and lazy.  There were an awful lot of years (32, to be exact), where “slow and lazy” were not on the menu.  So, nowadays, I relish my ability to do whatever-the-heck-I-want.

Bill with Beef Barley SoupToday, for a lot of reasons I won’t go into, was one of those days.  I’ve been filling my garage freezer with lots and lots of soups lately.  It’s gotten to the point where I can’t fit another thing in there.

Ideally, I’d have another freezer, but then I’d probably never get around to eating the older stuff.

This is Bill, who every single night, insists on putting his mug in front of whatever I’m trying to get a photo of.  I’m a bad enough photographer without his messing with me.  I kept warning him that I’d put him in a post, and he wouldn’t listen.  So, here ya go, honey.  Lookin’ good!

So, today, I reached into the depths of one of my shelves, and decided to have whatever I grabbed for dinner.

What I grabbed was nearly a year old.  Certainly way past time to use it up.

About two years ago, I went on a big soup kick and bought Mr. Sunday’s Soups.  I’m not really sure where I’d heard of the book, but it was inexpensive and on the NY Times Bestseller’s List, so I ordered it and, two days later, my nice UPS driver deposited it on my front porch.  This would make a nice Christmas present for the soup-lover on your list.  Here’s your Amazon link, if you’d like to check out this awesome cookbook:  http://amzn.to/2hGyVBm

“Mr. Sunday” is Chris Wallace, a Sunday news anchor.  The author is his wife, Lorraine Wallace, and they have a blended family with 6 kids, between them.  As you can imagine, that’s a lot of mouths to feed.  She’s big on soups, so she gathered her recipes into this convenient little collection.

Here is her recipe for Beef Barley Soup.  I would say that, if it could last nearly a year in the freezer, you can’t ask for much more that than.  Thaw, nuke, toss together a salad and maybe a slice of bread, and you’re good to go.  It’s great for harried nights – or lazy Sundays.

Mrs. Sunday’s Beef Barley Soup

Serves 8 to 10

2 pounds beef chuck steak, cut into ½ inch cubes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, roughly chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 quarts (8 cups) low-sodium beef broth, homemade beef broth or store-bought.

1 ½ cups pearl barley

1 cup water

1 cup tomato puree

2 bay leaves

½ red wine (my addition)

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

Place a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the oil.

Add beef and onion and cook stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and the beef is browned, about 15 minutes.

Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes more.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the broth, barley, water, tomato puree, bay leaves, 1 ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.  Cover and simmer gently until the barley is tender but not mushy, about 40 minutes.  Discard the bay leaves.

Taste for seasoning and ladle into warm bowls.

For leftovers, freeze up to 3 months.  Probably not a year.

Enjoy!  Vicky

 

 

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Turkey Tetrazzini with Sherry

Turkey Tetrazzini with Sherry

  Ode to my dishwasher:  I believe I own the most gentle-hearted dishwasher in creation. Most dishwashers blast their unsuspecting contents with punishing blasts of scalding water, fiercely pummeling every scrap, crumb and smear from their trapped victims.  And as if that weren’t enough, your […]

Two Brunch Make Aheads – Sweet Apple Hand-Pies and Bacon

Two Brunch Make Aheads – Sweet Apple Hand-Pies and Bacon

  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I think, during a really exciting year, we’d have maybe a temperature range of somewhere around 30°. I was enamored with the notion of living where there were seasons.  Look at the beautiful snow they […]

Too-Tired-to-Care Turkey Pot Pie

Too-Tired-to-Care Turkey Pot Pie

 

I never quite made my Goal-of-the-Day, which was to get a shower before Bill got home.  My blog and Thanksgiving prep were keeping me chained to the kitchen.

I went so far as to lay out real clothes in the bathroom, complete with 2 towels, a fresh top and underwear, socks and knock-off Uggs (because it’s freezing in our back wing.  55° and counting – down, that is).  “Real Clothes” means anything other than yoga pants, which double as “jammie pants.”

At that point, my inner Exercise Nazi called, telling me to get on the bike for ½ an hour.

I try not to ignore my Inner Exercise Nazi.

Reluctantly, I got on the bike.  My book started to lose interest, but I stuck with it.

Bill got home, at a decent hour, for once.  That doesn’t happen often, so I went downstairs to see him.

This Pot Pie was just about ready to pop into an oven, but first, a couple of glasses of wine were calling (hey, I’d worked out – I earned them!).

So, while Bill and I had a nice little happy hour, I rolled out my leftover dough and stuck it back in the fridge.

So much for that shower.

When I did, finally, get in the hot, hot bath after dinner (with Epsom salts – the best!), I brought in my book and yes, my readers.

If you’re young (not that you’d be reading this), “readers” are easy-speak for “old people glasses for those who can no longer read up-close.”  They are not “readers of my blog.”  As far as I know, I have nearly none of those, unless you count all of my kids.  (Hey, kids, are you out there??  Give me a call one of these days!)  Anyway, if you are in your mid 30’s, expect to purchase a pair or two in about 5 years.  Yeah, far sightedness hits us all, usually around 40.  I have a friend who is 75 and she’s never needed reading glasses.  She’s a doll, but I kinda hate her.  Never had a hip or knee replacement, let alone 4.   Oh, well.  I love her, anyway.  Luck of the draw, I guess.

Back to the glasses.  I had ordered a pair of “nice” readers from Amazon a while back.  No more Dollar Store for me, oh, no!  I am worth something!  I will pay for glasses from Amazon and I will have a chain around my neck until the day I die.

Three weeks later, my glasses were so scratched, I literally had to close one eye to see up-close.

Ok, this was ridiculous.  Went back onto Amazon and found 3 pairs.

They came; I loved.  They were awesome, especially the ones that are really pale.  Less impact. I mean, these babies are glued to my face, more often than not.

So, here I am in the hot, hot tub with Epsom salts – soooo nice for the achin’ back.  Only problem is, the glasses steam up while I’m trying to read.  That certainly isn’t the glasses’ fault.

Hey, if anyone out there has a solution to fogged up readers during your nightly soak, please pass it on.

Time to wash my hair and rinse off.  I take my bright and shiny new, unscratched glasses and put them on the floor, and finish my shower.

Out I step.  That’s right.  Blind as a proverbial bat.  Crunch.  Onto my new readers.

Now, normally, I would put those glasses onto my craft table, so I could zap them with E6000, my favorite adhesive, ever.  I use it for EVERYTHING.  Glass, metal, concrete, whatever.  It pretty much does it all, as long as you have a bit of space in your contact surfaces.  In other words, if you’re trying to glue two surfaces together with only 1/8” connection, meh.  Not gonna work, unless your surfaces are fixed to something and you don’t need them to function.  LIke a glasses hinge.

Seriously, there is not a week that goes by that I don’t haul this stuff out.  I keep a couple of tubes upstairs, with my tools, and a second tube in the kitchen.  If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about this, you have got to try it:  http://amzn.to/2zQw8hc   You can find it everywhere, but if you’re partial to not having to make the trek into town, you can get it in two days, delivered right to your door.  Sigh.  I do so love UPS.

Of course, I couldn’t even assess the actual damage, because I couldn’t see.  Guess it was a good call, getting 3 in this set.

I went and got my second pair.  Somehow, I sense a re-order of these glasses in my future.

Now, I could see that the damage was beyond repair.  Sadly, into the garbage they went.

Enough of my blathering.  Let’s get down to business.

This “recipe” is something you might want to pull out of your hat after Thanksgiving is good and gone and you’re wondering what to do with about 10 pounds of leftover turkey.

This will also help you with leftover pastry dough.  If you click here, you’ll see easy instructions, as well as a tip on saving your leftover pastry scraps.

This isn’t an exact “recipe,” sorry.  It’s easy enough to just wing it, depending on the size of your clan.

Remove leftover pastry (in plastic wrap) from the fridge

Onion, chopped (or you could use frozen pearl onions)

Carrot, finely chopped

Celery, sliced

Yellow or Red Potato, peeled and chopped (you don’t want to use Russets for this because they’ll fall apart and be all mushy)

Frozen Peas

¼ c. butter (1/2 a stick)

¼ c. flour

1 ½ c. to 2 c. chicken broth

1-2 Tbsp. dry Sherry (not sweet and not cooking sherry!) (optional)

Salt and Pepper

¼ tsp. thyme (optional)

Leftover turkey, chopped

In a large skillet, pour in enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom.

Add chopped onions, carrots, celery and potato with a good sprinkling of salt.  Add ¼ tsp. thyme, if you like.

Cook on medium-low until onions, carrots and potatoes are soft.

If you’re using cast iron, you can actually use your skillet to cook this pot pie later on, in the oven.  If not, you can cook your final product in a pie plate or even little individual bowls, as long as they’re oven proof.

Preheat your oven to 375°.

Sprinkling Veggies with FlourWhen your veggies are soft (not mushy, just soft), add ¼ cup butter.  When melted, sprinkle with ¼ cup flour and cook, stirring constantly.  To this, gradually add 1 ½ cup to 2 cups chicken broth, stirring like crazy.  Cook until thickened.  Cook long enough to get rid of the taste of flour.

At this point, you can add 1-2 Tbsp. Sherry.

Add your leftover turkey.

Taste your sauce and salt and pepper, as needed.

Pot Pie before CrustSet aside your skillet.

Flour your cutting board and lay the pastry dough disc on top of that.

Lightly flour the disc, then cover with plastic wrap.  Take a long piece and cover, vertically.  Take a second piece and cover, horizontally.  I also use two more long pieces of plastic wrap and cover the disc in an “X.”

Roll out, away from you and toward you.  Take a peek under the disc and see if you need more flour down there.  The dough shouldn’t be sticking to the cutting board.  Sprinkle more flour, as needed.

Turn your dough ¼ of a turn (with plastic wrap) and roll away from you and toward you.  Every time you work this, check under the pastry to see if the board needs a bit more flour.

Pot Pie CrustKeep going until your dough is nice and thin and big enough to fit over your pie plate.  Cut some sort of vent in the top, to let steam escape.

Transfer your filling to a pie plate or whatever baking container you’re using.

If you want pastry dough on the bottom of the pie plate and have enough dough, go ahead and line the bottom.  Click here for beginners.

Transfer the cooled chicken/vegetable/sauce mix into pie plate, whether it’s got pastry on the bottom or not.

Top with a second piece of rolled out pastry.  Use some sort of cut-out, to allow steam to escape.

Pop into your preheated 375° oven for about 30 minutes, or until top crust is a nice, golden brown.

Enjoy!  Vicky

 

 

 

 

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Pork Loin or Tenderloin Scaloppine

Pork Loin or Tenderloin Scaloppine

 

I don’t know about you, but the two weeks before a holiday are a pretty crazy time of year for me.  There’s the menu planning, the grocery shopping (I order online and Bill picks up, which ROCKS), the list double-checking, making sure the guest rooms are ready and, finally, the cooking, baking and more cooking.  And then, in the middle of this, your family actually expects you to feed them every night!  Sheez!  Some people.

My huge crowd has diminished to just the two of us and, while Bill is never, ever demanding about having a nice dinner, I feel it’s the least I can do for him.  He does so many of my jobs for me.

Before you start reading this, I need to warn you.  You’ll need to pay attention between “pork tenderloin” and “pork loin.”  They are both yummy, but they’re not the same thing, at all.  They’re from different parts of the pig.  Pork loin is a not as delicate as pork tenderloin.  Either one works for this recipe, which is easy and fast, but is still far superior to take-out or some cold cereal.  I hope this will make your evening a little easier.

This recipe originally comes from the Diva herself, Martha Stewart.  Except for substituting her pork loin for pork tenderloin, I haven’t changed a thing.  Well, I threw in equivalents if you’re using dried herbs.  I mean, not everyone has a year-round herb garden in her 3,000 square foot greenhouse, am I right?  I don’t, that’s for sure.  But we haven’t had a hard frost yet, so my herb garden was generous enough to give me fresh herbs tonight.

About an hour and a quarter before you start cooking this pork, preheat your oven to 375°.  Scrub a couple of russets, cut off their ends, pierce all over and pop ’em into the oven.  Mine take 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on their size.

Only one thing about this recipe is a pain in the neck, and that’s removing the silver skin on the pork tenderloin.  If you’re lucky, you’ve found a meat counter whose butcher has already done that for you.  You can always ask them, maybe by calling ahead?  It would be worth your time and effort.

I’ve found that, if your pork tenderloin has just come out of the freezer, it’s easier to remove the silver skin before it is completely thawed.  The firmer texture that comes with semi-frozen pork makes it easier to work with.  Likewise, if your pork tenderloin is fresh, stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.  (Tip du Jour: when you’re defrosting frozen meat, pork or chicken in the microwave, make sure you remove your plastic wrap and microwave before placing your protein in a pie plate in the microwave.  Use defrost mode, leave it uncovered, and you won’t have small areas that are cooked through.)

Another Tip du Jour: When you’re working with something like Pork Baby Back Ribs, it’s easy enough to remove the silver skin in one fell swoop.  My hands are not good, so I use a pair of needle-nosed pliers for this.  Lately, I’ve been using them to peel off the stupid protective coverings that come on nearly everything these days.  My arthritis prevents me from getting a good grip on those adorable little tabs that some millenial dreamed up, that are the size of a pin-head.  So, yeah.  Needle-nosed pliers definitely belong in the kitchen drawer.

To remove the silver skin on your pork tenderloin, use a very sharp, thin knife with a long, sharp, pointed tip.  That way, you can gently get under that skin and slice it off.  Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.  Make sure your knife is super sharp.  I sharpen my knives before every use!

Come to think of it, regular pork loin would be easier.  It does have some fat on it, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have the silver skin.  Or it might be lurking underneath the fat layer.  After you’ve sliced the pork loin into “chops,” just trim the fat.  Pork loin has lots of flavor but gets more exercise than the tenderloin, so it’s a bit tougher than tenderloin.  Therefore, pounding for scaloppine is a helpful tip with pork loin.  What we’re doing with pork tenderloin is just a gentle little tap with your fingers (under plastic wrap) to make it nice and thin.

Serves 4 to 6

One pork tenderloin, about 1 ½ pounds, trimmed of silver skin

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

All-purpose flour, for dredging

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter (oh, c’mon, Martha, salted is fine!), divided

1 Tbsp. salt-packed capers, rinsed

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 teaspoon, dried)

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1 teaspoon, dried)

½ c. dry white wine (I like more sauce than this, so I’ll either use 1 cup wine or ½ c. wine and ½ c. chicken broth)

4 cups arugula, tough stems trimmed (optional)

Slice tenderloin into inch-wide slices.  Lay the slices out on the cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and then press gently with your fingertips to 3/8 inch thickness.

If you’re using pork loin, you can use all sorts of things to pound it with, once you’ve covered it in plastic wrap, including a rolling pin (as long as you wash that really well, afterward).  I have a fancy pounder, which I do love.  Because there is no such thing as too many kitchen tools, you know.  You could put it in your letter to Santa.  Check it out here on Amazon:   http://amzn.to/2zJ7uiq.  You don’t want to use one of those pounders with lots of little bumps on them – those are for tough cuts of beef.

Anyway, when your scaloppine are thin, season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off excess.  Transfer to a wire rack, and let stand 10 minutes.

Sauteeing ScaloppineHeat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, and then add 1 Tbsp. butter and melt, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add enough slices of pork that the pan is full but there is plenty of space between each slice.  Cook until both sides are golden brown and the pork is cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Transfer to a serving platter and loosely cover with foil.  (You can also keep warm in a 200° oven).  Repeat with remaining pork.

Add capers and herbs and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, less than 30 seconds.

Add wine and cook until reduced by half (you may need to turn the heat up a tad, at this point).  Stir in remaining Tablespoon of butter and pour sauce over pork.  If you’d like your sauce a bit thicker, sprinkle with a small spoonful of flour and whisk in for a minute or two.

You can add arugula (I like baby spinach, instead) to platter and drizzle with olive oil.  Or throw together a salad of your choice.  Or, hell, nuke some frozen corn and call it a night.

Yank those hot potatoes out of the oven, cut in half, squish and butter, and salt and pepper.

That’s it.  A pretty nice dinner, for very little time.

Who knows, you may even manage to get in a hot bath tonight.  Lord knows, you deserve it!

p.s.  This is a great knife sharpener.  Wusthoff rocks; nearly every knife I own is one of theirs.  If you get into the habit of pulling this sharpener out of your drawer the minute you reach for your knife, your work will go much more smoothly and will be less dangerous, too.  A dull knife requires more force, which means it’s more likely to slip and cut you.  Check this out on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2hzJjON

For those of you with chickens, turns out they like pork, as well as chicken.  I am NOT suggesting you give them your good pork tenderloin.  I’m talking about the silver skin and fat trimmings.

The first time I ever saw my chickens eat meat was years ago, back when we let them free range around the property.  (This was before we discovered the downside of chickens hanging outside our french doors, getting in the house every chance they got, and leaving plenty of “calling cards” for the dogs, and us, to step into.  One time, we went out for a couple of hours.  Our front door has a weird latch, and one of the girls must not have firmly closed it, on our way out.  Anyway, when we got home, the front door was wide open and about 4 of our chickens were “roosting” (and pooping) to their hearts’ desire, all over the carpet.  Nice.).

Anyway, back then, I got a kick out of watching them, and they got along with the dogs and cats, just fine.  Trust me – I’ve never met a cat who is stupid enough to go up against a chicken.  Not with those talons.

Well, at the time, I had gotten some bones for the dogs to chew on.  They had a bit of meat on them.  Bo was minding his own business, chawing away happily, when suddenly, Henrietta (one of the chickens) marched right up and snatched the entire thing away from him.  This was a 6 inch long, heavy bone, covered in meat!  Suddenly, all of Henrietta’s girlfriends were joining her for a feast.  I felt bad for old Bo, so when I finally stopped laughing, I rescued it back for him.  It’s kind of funny, to see an 85 pound lab being submissive to a bird that weighs about 3 pounds!  Anyway, when you’re cooking your potatoes, you can throw the pork trimmings into the oven, on a pie plate.  Or nuke them, under a paper towel.  Chickens aren’t picky.

I hope I haven’t confused the hell out of you.  Just note that “pork tenderloin” and “pork loin” are NOT the same thing!  They’re both yummy, though.

Have a good night.  Vicky

And after all that, I forgot the capers.  Oh, well.  Perfection is overrated.

 

 

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Wonton Soup in Minutes

Wonton Soup in Minutes

 

You’re going to love me for this.  I think you’ll have dinner on the table in half an hour, if you make the salad.

I’m assuming you’ll buy frozen wontons for this soup.  I like to make my own, but I don’t really have a life, so whatever.  If you’d like to see how to make them yourself, here’s a link to a previous post.

 http://grayhairshappen.com/how-to-make-won-tons-and-pot-stickers/

Wontons for SoupOk, like always, I won’t give you exact amounts, because I don’t know if you’re feeding 8 or just yourself.  It’s all a matter of starting with a little bit of this and that, and keep tasting until you love it.  The first time I had Wonton Soup, I was visiting my kids.  My son-in-law is Chinese and he and my 9 year old grandson sat at the table and whipped these up by hand in no time.  I was sold!  I made these yesterday from chicken tenders that I ground up in my cool little Kitchenaid Grinder.  Not sure why I don’t use that more often.  It saves me over half the cost of store-bought ground chicken.

For the broth:

Chicken broth (for the two of us, I used 6 cups)

Soy Sauce

Toasted Sesame Oil

Minced garlic (can use jarred)

Minced ginger (careful – this is pretty strong stuff)

Sliced green onions

Sliced fresh baby spinach

In a deep sided pot, combine all of the above and let the flavors mingle for a few minutes.

Then, just follow the package directions on your wontons and add them ‘til cooked through.  I’ve noticed that if I have my broth on a full boil, the wontons will get too soggy and start to fall apart.  Keep an eye on that.  With my homemade ones, I just do a high simmer.  Add the spinach and green onions and ladle into bowls.

The spinach in this soup isn’t exactly going to go a long way toward “5 servings a day,” sad to say.

Green ApplesSo, I’m going to throw together a salad that you can serve with the dressing I describe below.  I’m just going to shred a little cabbage, add in some green onion, sliced celery and whatever else lurks in the bottom of my fridge. I’d grate some carrot in there, too, but I buy the tiny, little petite ones and I treasure my fingertips.  So, no go. Thinly sliced apple is good, too.  We managed to grow some beautiful Granny Smiths this year.  Their tartness is nice with this sweet salad dressing.  Cucumber.  I love cilantro, so I’ll toss some of that in, too.  Because of my peanut ADDICTION (not allergy — addiction), they aren’t allowed in the house.  Otherwise, I’d throw in a handful of chopped peanuts.

Then I’ll fry up some sliced wonton wrappers and throw them in after I’ve tossed the salad with this awesome dressing.  It makes a good dip for veggies, too.  The original recipe calls for the addition of 2 Tablespoons of honey to my version.  That’s far too sweet for my taste, but you can adjust to your liking before dressing the salad.  Also, a little bit goes a long way, so you might want to lightly drizzle, at first.  I double the recipe and keep it in the fridge in a mason jar.  I take it out of the fridge about ½ hour before dinner, so it’ll come to room temperature.  Otherwise, the cold peanut butter gets super firm.

Peanut Dressing  (the original version comes from LittleSpiceJar.com via Pinterest)

1/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter

Chinese Slaw with Fried Wontons2 and 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons Lime juice

1 and 1/2 tablespoons Soy sauce

2 tablespoons Canola oil

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon (3 cloves) minced garlic

1 tablespoon (1 and 1/2 inch) freshly grated ginger

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Combine and either whisk by hand (the peanut butter makes it a bit tricky) or use an immersion blender.  Don’t refrigerate before using, but do afterwards.

Tip du Jour:

I could write a book about all the things NOT to do in life, and it wouldn’t be a short one.  This is only one of my latest in recent years.  Please don’t tell my husband.

Of course, everyone knows that everything you read on the internet is true, right?  And that applies to Pinterest.

This tip I saw on Pinterest would probably have been just fine, if I’d just followed the directions.  But that would be far too simple.

The tip was this: soak a couple of paper towels in white vinegar.  Drape this around the base of your faucet to get through all the crud that tends to accumulate there.

Well, if 10 minutes is good, then surely overnight is better, right?  Right?

Yeah, I got up the next morning and, to my dismay, discovered that the entire silver coating on the base of my kitchen faucet was completely worn off.  I couldn’t believe it.  It still looks awful, to this day.  So, a word to the wise…. More isn’t necessarily better.  I should have this etched onto my bathroom mirror.  Not a bad idea.

Hope you like this soup.  Enjoy!  Vicky

 

 

 

 

 

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Orange Chicken on Basmati and Thai Sweet Chilli Dressing

Orange Chicken on Basmati and Thai Sweet Chilli Dressing

 

“Thai” Sweet Chilli Salad Dressing — Makes a nice dip for veggies, too.

Makes 2 cups.  A word of warning.  Mae Ploy is very, very sweet.  I think 1/2 to 3/4 c. of sweet chilli sauce would be better.  The original recipe called for 1 cup, but it will depend on how much of a sweet tooth you have OR if your brand is less sweet.  I’d suggest you start with 1/2 cup and work up from there.

1/2 c. to 3/4 c. sweet chilli sauce (I buy Mae Ploy – it’s readily available)

½ coconut milk

2 Tbsp. soy sauce (the original recipe calls for fish sauce, but I don’t do fish!)

¼ c. lime juice

2 Tbsp. peanut butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tsp. ginger, grated (1 heaping teaspoon, out of the jar)

In a small saucepan, simmer on low until peanut butter has melted.  Cool.  Use as a salad dressing.

 

Basmati Rice

If you like sticky rice, you’re on your own.  No, just kidding.  Just lightly rinse the rice (long grain white rice will do, in a pinch) and cook at a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1 3/4 cups water.  Actually, true sticky rice uses a rice that is called “long grain sticky rice,” “glutinous rice” or “sweet rice.”

I personally don’t do sticky rice.  For fluffy, fall apart rice, soak 1 cup rice in warm water for ½ hour or so, and let it enjoy its nice, warm bath.

Empty into a sieve and rinse with cold water, removing as much starch as you can.

Combine with just 1 ½ c. water, add 1 tsp. salt, and bring to a boil.  Immediately lower the heat, give it a little stir with chop sticks or a fork, and simmer at a very low heat.  Check after about 5 to 8 minutes.  When nearly dry, cover and turn off the heat, and let it sit.

At serving time, if you like, you can stir in some chopped peanuts and some sliced green onions.  Maybe some chopped cilantro, if you’re a fan.  Once again, stir with a fork or chopsticks.  You don’t want to smash those separate rice grains and smoosh them together!

Sadly, I’ve never met a peanut I didn’t feel compelled to eat, so I don’t allow them anywhere near my kitchen.  So, no peanuts for me.  Every few months, I will order a gigantic tin of Virginia Peanuts for Bill.  Being a devoted wife, I feel obligated to personally ensure that they haven’t gone bad, so I always manage to grab a few handfuls.  The deal is, he has to take them to the office the next day and save me from myself.  If they arrive here on a Friday, I make him put them in the trunk of his car.  Out of sight, out of mind, you know.  Whew.

Orange Chicken

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, sliced to bite sized

Corn starch, to dust chicken, after you’ve dried it with paper towels

Sauce for 4 servings:

In a saucepan, combine:

1 orange, zested (best but not required)

1 ½ c. orange juice

¼ c. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. hot pepper flakes

1 ½ Worcestershire Sauce

1-2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce

Stir together sauce ingredients and bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce to a simmer until thickened, about 7 or 8 minutes.

If sauce isn’t thick enough, thicken with a cold water/cornstarch slurry.  In your liquid measuring cup, put ¼ cup cold water and to that, stir in 2 Tbsp. cornstarch.  Weird, I know.  You usually add water to dry ingredients, but not here.

Turn up the heat on the simmering sauce, so that it’s at a gentle boil.  Stir, and gradually add your cornstarch slurry to the sauce until the sauce is the consistency you like.  The cornstarch won’t thicken until your sauce is bubbling, but if you cook it for too long, it will lose its oomph and become runny again.  I’d say 5 minutes is a good amount of time.  So, don’t walk away.  Just heat it for a few minutes, making sure the bottom isn’t sticking or burning.

Heat a large skillet on medium.

Orange Chicken on Rice without SauceArrange your dried-off chicken on a plastic cutting board (I never put chicken on a wooden cutting board – no, no, no!!).  Plop some cornstarch in a sieve and shake over the chicken, just enough to lightly dust.  Better yet, get yourself a fancy duster.  I have one for flour and one for powdered sugar, but I’m thinking I need one, just for cornstarch.

Turn over the chicken pieces and dust the other sides.

When your pan is nice and hot, add canola oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

Orange Chicken with Thai Sweet Chilli Salad DressingOnce the oil is heated, carefully lay the chicken pieces in the pan.  Cook both sides until it feels firm to the touch, but don’t overcook.  Once again, an instant read thermometer will tell you when it’s 165º.

One time, my (now grown) son was talking about cooking chicken.  I was telling him about avoiding pink chicken.  He said, “well, a little pink is ok.”  Clearly, my darling 22 year old had not been listening all those years when I was trying to corral the kids into the kitchen for a lesson!  No doubt I was insufferable.  Come to think of it, I probably still am.  Meh.

Remove to a pie plate and keep warm in the oven at 200º.  Finish sauteéing the second batch of chicken, if there is one.

Toss your salad with dressing.  Put your rice in pasta bowls, then add the chicken, then top with the sauce.  My cilantro has seen better days.  Oops!

Enjoy!

BTW, if you’d like your very own dusting thingie, check this one out.  Remember, there is no such thing as too many kitchen gadgets.

http://amzn.to/2iGbhES

 

Cheers – Vicky

 

 

 

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French Toast with Nutmeg

French Toast with Nutmeg

 

Bread for French ToastThis morning’s recipe isn’t Rocket Science.  But it’s pretty yummy, all the same.  If you haven’t made French Toast lately, this can serve as a nice, little reminder.

This very yummy bread is my invention, and it’s not difficult to make, at all.  It’s also very healthy.  I call it Flaxseed 10 Grain Bread and if you’d like to try it, click here.

My 5 year old granddaughter was visiting us awhile back.  When I told her I had French Toast ready for her at the table, she jumped up and said, “French Toast, here I come!!!”  Apparently, it’s a hit with the younger crowd.

Ha ha!  One night she and her parents were having dinner with us, and she looked at me and said, “Your cooking is good but Mommy’s is a little bit disgusting.”  I almost fell on the floor, laughing.

This will make enough for 4 slices.  Adjust amounts, as needed.

3 eggs

Milk

Cinnamon, sugar

Freshly grated nutmeg

Vanilla

Pinch of salt

Butter, for cooking and for topping

Grade A or B Maple Syrup, heated

In a pie plate or brownie pan, mix the 3 eggs with enough milk to get a mixture that is thin enough that it will absorb into your bread.  If it’s too thick, Immersion Blenderthe egg mixture will just sit on the surface of the bread, rather than soaking all the way through.

For mixing really well, I use this very cool immersion blender from Amazon.  I can never seem to get eggs fully beaten, otherwise.  And I don’t like getting blobs of yellow or white on my French Toast, so this fits the bill.  Check it out, if you like:

http://amzn.to/2zkzpqN

To egg mixture, add cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and pinch of salt.

Preheat your pan to just slightly above medium heat.  If you use too high a heat, your French Toast will be browned on the outside, but raw on the inside.  Yuck.

Soaking French ToastWhile your pan is heating, lay the bread in the egg mixture.  Let sit only long enough for the egg/milk to penetrate the bread on both sides.  With this particular bread, I also take a fork and pierce it.  I keep an eye on whether the bread is absorbing too much egg mixture.  If this happens, my bread falls apart.  So, I don’t just walk away from it.

Before cooking, microwave your plates to warm them and warm a pitcher of maple syrup, too.  The last thing you want is to put cold syrup on warm toast.

French ToastWhen your pan is hot, put in a Tablespoon or two of butter and melt.  Then gently place your soaked bread in the melted butter.  Check with a spatula to see how browned the bottom is getting.  When it looks the right color, gently turn over and cook the second side.

If you’re doing a bunch of these, they will keep in a 200° oven on a platter.

After serving, pass the butter and syrup and enjoy!

Vicky

 

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French Lentil Soup with Sausage

French Lentil Soup with Sausage

 

The temperatures overnight took a nose dive, and it’s time to break out the knock-off Uggs.  They are goofy-looking, especially on me, but I really don’t care.  They’re the type that go up to my mid-calf.  So cozy and warm.

Our house is big and almost impossible to heat.  Originally, there were two houses (the second one definitely homemade!).  Someone along the way decided to connect the two.  Unfortunately, the connecting hallways go off at weird angles because the two structures weren’t aligned.  The back wing is just bedrooms, two of which are empty now.

We don’t have central heat.  In the front of the house, we have a pellet stove and a wood burning fireplace.  The pellet stove doesn’t really cut it, because it’s a large, two story, great room/kitchen with two separate loft areas upstairs.

During the day, the poor little pellet stove works hard but leaves me with numb hands and frozen feet.  Hence the Uggs.

The back wing is way too large to heat, although the pellet stove back there will heat up the upstairs (not the downstairs) if we get it cranking.  It’s not worth the money, because pellets aren’t cheap and no one is back there during the day.

One of the reasons I love soups for dinner during the cold months is how easy they are to throw together.  Even better, they freeze very well, so if you make a double batch, you can have dinner on the table in minutes on those nights when you’re too bushed or busy to cook.

And with the Holidays approaching, there seem to be an awful lot those going around.  Especially if you have kids.

Today’s soup is not the prettiest, I’m the first to admit.  But it is pretty darn yummy, filling, easy and nutritious.  If you’ve never made lentil soup, there are some facts you should know.

French LentilsThey are high in protein, low in fat and are a good source of fiber.  Lentils are also a good source of folate, iron, potassium, and phosphorus.  Lentils are not a complete protein because they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. You can obtain all amino acids necessary by pairing cooked lentils with a grain such as rice.

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils, the most common type, can be found in most grocery stores. They are mild in flavor, often described as earthy and can be used in a variety of recipes. Brown lentils soften when cooked but still hold their shape. They can become mushy if they are cooked too long. Use them for soup recipes.

 

Puy or French Green Lentils

Spice ShelfFrench green or Puy lentils are also common. They were originally grown in the Le Puy region of France, hence their name. Puy lentils are often considered the most flavorful variety because they have a peppery taste. They take a bit longer to cook, but Puy lentils tend to stay firm. Use them in dishes that need a little crunch, such as salads.

Beluga Lentils

These resemble caviar.  They are a beautiful black, and also stay firm while cooking.

Red Lentils

Red lentils are commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. They are actually brown massor lentils with the hulls removed. Red lentils have a mild, sweet flavor. When cooked, they turn a golden color. Red lentils do not hold their shape very well and tend to become mushy. Use them for purees or as a thickener for a recipe.

Today’s Lentil Soup calls for French, Green Lentils, but I have made it with brown ones.  And I suppose you could use Red Lentils, if you wanted a creamier texture.

You can throw this together in minutes and then simmer in your crock pot or on the stove top for the afternoon.

This recipe is adapted from the original, from Gourmet Magazine

Browned KielbasaFrench Lentil Soup with Sausage

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium carrots (or equivalent baby carrots), chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 1/4 cups lentils (preferably French green), rinsed and checked for tiny rocks (rare but it does happen)

8 cups water

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground pepper

One package smoked sausage, like Polska Kielbasa (I use turkey), sliced

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, or to taste

French Lentil Soup with SausageHeat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in large stock pot over medium high heat.  Brown sliced sausage, then remove from pan.

Heat 2 Tbsp. in same pot (don’t wash off the brown bits).  Cook onion, carrots and celery for about 5-6 minutes.

Add lentils, water, salt and pepper.  You can add the browned sausage at this time or wait until serving time.  I have tested with both types of sausage.  The full fat, regular kielbasa will stand up to hours on the stovetop.  If using turkey kielbasa, add it, browned, only at the last minute.  Turkey kielbasa has little fat and will dry out if added to the soup at the beginning.

Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Reduce heat to moderate and cook, covered, until lentils are tender, about ½ to 1 hour. If you cook all day, your lentils will stay tender but green ones won’t fall apart.  Your carrots and celery will get softer, though.

When you’re ready to eat, taste your soup.  It will probably need more salt and pepper.  Maybe not, since full fat kielbasa will add a lot of saltiness.

Add in 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (or to taste), stir and ladle into bowls.

Enjoy!  Vicky

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Turkey Broth and Pie Dough

Thanksgiving Countdown: Turkey Broth and Pie Dough

 

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s all about food, family and celebration, without the stress of all that endless nervous fidgeting about What-to-Get-Whoever.  Ugh.

Leaves on Ground Molly and BoThat being said, hosting Thanksgiving and the next day is a LOT of work.  My daughter-in-law always brings something yummy, and my youngest daughter bakes for me, but sometimes she’s not around to do so.

My stress-free solution is to start at the first of November, and spend a bit of time nearly every day in the kitchen, working on The Feast.  Usually half an hour a day is enough to get me well on my way to Thanksgiving Day without having a panic attack.

Green ApplesI like to make dishes that can be made ahead and either frozen or put in the fridge several days before.  By the time Thanksgiving Week rolls around, I’m in good shape.  I even set the main dining room table days ahead of time.

My first two projects are easy: turkey broth for the gravy and pie crust for the pies and the quiche for the morning after.

Making the broth is super simple but will make a huge difference in the taste of your gravy.

Fireplace burningGet your hands on a couple of big turkey legs. You can find these, packaged, in the poultry section of any store.  In a stock pot or a slow cooker, put the legs, an onion, celery and carrots, all roughly chopped.  Well, all except the turkey legs, that is.  Obviously.  Salt and pepper, and add plenty of water to cover all.

The amount of water you use will pretty much depend on how much gravy you plan on making.

Simmer this for a day or two or until the color of the broth is a deep, dark brown.  This will be a lot stronger in flavor and color than a broth you’d use for turkey soup.

Pie Crust with Maple LeavesWhen it looks good, drain the broth into a bowl and cool.  Then cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a day or so.

At this point, the broth will be very firm and gelatinous.  This happens because the collagen in the bones thickens the broth.  The fat should be a firm layer, sitting on top of the broth.  When the fat has solidified on the top, take a slotted spoon and scoop off the fat, onto a paper towel.  I usually give it a good bang to release it, so if you have nice countertops, do this on a large cutting board.  Personally, I would chuck my countertops in a minute, so I don’t really care, one way or another.

When you’ve removed almost all of the fat, let the broth stand at room temperature for a bit, so that you can pour it into mason jars.  Label and fill, leaving at least an inch of space at the top.  Secure with metal lids and freeze until the day before Thanksgiving, or whenever you make your gravy.

Another thing you can do this early on is to make the pie crust dough.  Once you’ve made it and shaped it into 2 disks, you can wrap them well in cling wrap, then put them in a good quality freezer bag and freeze flat.  Make sure you label this bag or you may not be sure if it’s pizza dough or something.

Thanksgiving Pie Crust with PumpkinsIf you’ve never made pizza dough and have no intention of ever doing so (pity), don’t worry about the label.

This is a foolproof pie crust recipe.  The title says “Test-Kitchen Piecrust,” so I’m assuming it’s from “The American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.”  But I’m not sure.  I get free magazines from the library, so it’s anyone’s guess.  But one thing is for sure: I’m not great with pastry, and these always turn out very nicely.  Well, except for that one disaster…. (see below).

Test Kitchen Piecrust

This makes enough dough for 1 double-crusted or 2 single-crusted 9 to 10 inch pies.

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces, divided

2 ½ c. all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar (omit if this is for quiche)

½ c. ice water

Lay out three-quarters of the butter pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until hard, at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate the remaining butter.

Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add refrigerated butter and pulse to combine, about 10 times.

Add frozen butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some blueberry size clumps.

Add ice water and immediately pulse until water is JUST incorporated, about 10 times.  Squeeze a small amount of dough to make sure it holds together.  Pulse a few more times, if needed.

Lay out two pieces of plastic wrap.  Empty half of dough onto each piece.  Bring edges of wrap together to gather dough.  Press into round disks.

Roll out disks, still wrapped in plastic, to ½ inch-thick rounds (8 inches in diameter).

Wrap again well with plastic wrap, and put in your freezer bags to keep, until you’re ready to make your crusts, up to one month.

Thanksgiving Pie Crust with Oak leavesIf you don’t have a food processor, here is a link to a Cuisinart on Amazon.  I have had only two in 33 years.  The first was just too small, once all the kids started arriving (in our lives, that is; not at the house!).  Mine is the 14 cup Cuisinart and I love it.  Here is an Amazon link:  http://amzn.to/2iQZzuV

Here is a photo of my pie crusts from last year.  I ordered these cute little leaf cookie cutters on Amazon and I think they’re adorable.  Here’s the Amazon link, if you’re so inclined:  http://amzn.to/2z6ertC

Later on in the month, if you have the freezer space, you can take out as many disks as you want to work on and refrigerate in the fridge.  After you’ve done your pie crust however you like, put the UNCOVERED pie crust in the freezer and freeze until nice and hard.  Only then can you cover loosely in saran wrap and stick back into a freezer bag.

Now your decorated crusts will be ready to pull out, fill and bake.

A word of caution from one who learned the hard way.  One year, I went to all the trouble to make these fancy pie crusts, but I made the HUGE mistake of leaving them out on the counter while I made the pumpkin pie filling.  Ugh!  The soft pie crust melted all over the floor of the oven, filling the entire house with fatty smoke, ruining the pie crusts and ruining the bottom of the oven, to boot.  So, straight from freezer to oven, placed on a cookie sheet, and you’ll be fine.

I have two more little gadgets you might want to try.

The first is an oven thermometer.  When I recently tested my oven, I discovered it was 25° off!  Rather than having Bill spend his weekend time adjusting the thermostat on the oven, I just set the temperature accordingly.

Turkeys Don't Know About ThanksgivingAnother fun gadget is this pie crust edge protector.  These are silicone and adjustable to fit many sizes of pie plates.  Do yourself a favor and adjust the sizes (or make a note with a sharpie on them.  Leave a little room for the extra room the actual pie crust will take up.  Then, when your crust starts to get a bit too brown, you can pull out the oven rack and gently top it with this protector.  You don’t want to have to mess around with finding the right size when your pie is still cooking.  Just be gentle and the silicone shield will fit right over your pretty pattern loosely, without damaging all of your hard work.

Here is the Amazon link for the oven thermometer:  http://amzn.to/2z4UDqn

Here is the Amazon link for the silicone pie crust shield:  http://amzn.to/2z4ShIf

I’m going to follow my own advice and work on my Thanksgiving Dinner, next-day brunch and lunch, nearly every day from now until then.  I know how happy I’ll be that I did!

 

Cheers – Vicky

 

 

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