Monday, September 29, 2014

Retreat! Retreat!

Yeah, I retreated back into myself.  I suppose this post is a bit more somber than what people usually expect from me.  I took an involuntary hiatus from my blog after a car wreck.  It's taken me longer to sort through insecurities, frustrations, and stress that has come with it than I would have liked. (At least it wasn't my fault; I might not have ever slept again!) And paperwork.  I think they are physical manifestations of worry.  My stomach still turns a little when I see my stack of records, waiting for everything to be resolved. But, I am blessed.  I am still whole and intact, regardless of those small flecks of glass slowly working their way back to my skin's surface months later, or those involuntarily flinches I get when I feel cars too close in my periphery. (I think those are worse in the passenger seat, since I feel I have no control of movement, a sort of helplessness.)  And I have a new joke to share with my husband, as he lovingly reminds me to take my gummy vitamins - the source of my mutant power to escape totaled cars with relatively minor injuries.  But, I am blessed.  I have gotten to wake up since then, numerous times.  My family and friends have been a wonderful support through this, as has my faith. Time to sound the charge, and get back to the world.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Pail List, Revisited

Spring break has came and went, and what a busy time it has been.  I think in all fairness I should take a look back at that pail list o' mine I discussed earlier and see what actually happened.

My Pail List for Spring Break 2014

  1. Start my first soutache project  Success!
  2. Try at least one new recipe Did it!
  3. Make headway in reorganizing and spring cleaning the kitchen
  4. Read Oh yeah!
  5. Learn to fold napkins
  6. Continue to kick butt Mission Accomplished
 1. Soutache Project
Two broken needles, another one severely bent later, my first soutache project.  I worked it up following directions from the appropriately named book, Soutache by Anneta Valious.  It was more complex than I orginally thought and definitely takes a slow and steady approach.

2. Try at least one new recipe.

I tried two, and both were mediocre.  They all can't be winners. C'est la vie.  Trying and being underwhelmed is way better than that burning curiosity I would be living with had I not.

3. Make headway in reorganizing and spring cleaning the kitchen.

Whelp, I'd like to say I gave it the old college try, but no one likes a liar.  I take that back, I did some reorganization, but not quite as much as I had wished.  I finally got my pot rack installed!  Oh, honey, I almost did a cartwheel.  It only took 8 months to find someone with the time, tools, and know-how, but I am in absolute lurve with the results.  The other project I managed is a simplified version of something floating around on Pinterest.  My one bulging silverwave/tool drawer is sighing in relief, and frankly has saved me tons of time already.

My matryoshka measuring spoons are happy on their own personal hooks, and measuring cups are super easy to identify and snag.

4. Read

Oh yeah.  That happened in spades.

5. Learn to fold napkins.

It kind of happened.  I've learned I need bigger napkins to fold properly.  After multiple, multiple attempts, I managed a bunny with the biggest napkin I had, but I can tell it would be much easier if I had the right linens.

 Back to the drawing board.

6. Continue to kick butt.

One of my best friends tells me I had this covered from the beginning.  Who am I to argue?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Pail List

At last, spring break has arrived, and not a moment too soon I wager, as I think of the weary looks of my co-workers.  Pretty sure it's the same fatigue I see in the mirror.  But in the weeks leading up to this time, I've been secretly daydreaming of things I want to do, and the niggling chores that have been gnawing at the back of my mind.  Not a grand "bucket" list - no, I don't plan on kicking one of those soon - but more of a "pail" sized list of things I can get done over a few days off.

My Pail List for Spring Break 2014

  1. Start my first soutache project
  2. Try at least one new recipe
  3. Make headway in reorganizing and spring cleaning the kitchen
  4. Read
  5. Learn to fold napkins
  6. Continue to kick butt
Yeah, you read it. Me, who would eternally wear jeans and t-shirt for every occasion if possible, wants to learn high-falutin' napkin folding.  It's been a secret obsession for several years now, rekindled by Knoxville Junior League cookbook I picked up awhile back. I have a few church and junior league collections, and this is one I find near and dear as one whose childhood spanned the 80s.  It was written to coincide with the 1982 Worlds Fair, and showing we indeed are a classy bunch in these parts, the cookbook had a section of suggested menus, paired with appropriate napkin folds.  Well, what better time to learn something new than now!?  Learning new things is always reinvigorating.  Here's hoping for a slightly productive and restful break.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kitchen 101: How to Shred Chicken with Minimal Time and Effort

I'll never make chicken salad the same way again.  Ever.  Or anything else that requires shredded chicken, for that matter.

Meet Idris.  Yep, I finally got one - a KitchenAid mixer.  After years of hemming and hawing over whether it was worth the hefty price tag, and my other stand mixer that-shall-not-be-named finally kicking the bucket, I got a lovely refurbished unit for Christmas.  (I could not bring myself to ask for a new unit - not when my refurb food processor has kicked serious culinary booty for me for some time now.)  And yeah, I have to say, in the short time I've had my baby, she's worth every red cent.  But this is not meant to be a bragfest - it is to say, stand mixers are useful kitchen tools and can do the best kitchen hack for poultry lovers.

It will shred your chicken.

Okay, so it doesn't seem to be the end-all, be-all, some of you think I was building up to, but!  It means lots of time and effort saved, not to mention, avoiding the accidental wince of burning your fingers on hot, hot chicken.  I may or may not have done that several times in my kitchen career.

After cooking your boneless chicken breast with your preferred method (steaming, poaching, etc.), cut the still hot meat into 3-4 pieces and place it into the bowl of your mixer.  Affix the paddle attachment, lower the head, lock in place and start it up.  I work my way up to Speed 4 on my KA, and in a few seconds, I have shredded chicken.   Freshly cooked chicken tenders buzz up super quick.

Now don't think you are left in the cold if you don't have a stand mixer.  I haven't personally tried this yet, but from what I have read, a hand-held electric mixer will do the same helpful trick.  I would probably cut my chicken into more pieces before trying this out.  If you do happen to try it out with a hand-held mixer, please, by all means, report back on your findings!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Re-Appearing Act

Hello, darlin'.  Nice to see you.  It's been a long time.

Well, here I am.  It has been quite the busy year in reality, and very silent on the online front.  For that, I apologize.  In that time, I've did the real estate thing, browsing houses and properties. My job changed from teaching math to sixth graders to teaching reading, math, and answers to any other questions a first or second grader can ask.  Unexpectedly in the real estate tour de force, my husband and I ended up having a house built in a quiet neighborhood. (Quiet, barring the one time an intoxicated stranger and all active policemen on duty in our tiny town were in my driveway, at least.) We're still settling in, trying unsuccessfully to get grass to grow in our back and side yards.  I suppose that's fitting with my brown thumb.  There are still more boxes packed in our garage than I would like, and I'm still growing accustomed to cooking in my new kitchen.  That's a nice word - my.  After renting a townhouse for over a decade, it feels pretty darn good to have new appliances and walls that don't allow you to hear everything a neighbor is doing on the other side.  The kitchen in our new home is about the same size as our old place, but with fewer cabinets and drawers.  So this is a readjustment period for me as I am trying new ways of organizing the space.  It's going to be a work in progress for awhile, I imagine. And Pinterest.  That place will take your very soul, or at least more time than you would like to admit spending.  But I have a board full of daydreams for my house and more recipes pinned than I'll ever have time to cook.

This year long silence?  It's broken.  Let's get back to cooking and enjoying life together again.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cornmeal Biscuit Redux

  We are thawing from Thursday's snow here in East Tennessee.  Today was a perfect day for Creamed Chicken and Cornmeal Biscuits for dinner.  But I realize I didn't tell you before what to do with leftover dough when I gave you the recipe.  Take the scraps and give it a couple of quick kneads, just enough for the dough to come back together.  Re-roll, or re-pat as I prefer, to an 1/2 inch thickness and punch out more biscuits.  You should be able to get about 5 more biscuits, plus or minus one.  I place mine on the small baking tray from my toaster oven, leaving about an inch of space between them, and pop them in the oven at the same time as the skillet.  But here's the kicker, they will get finished faster than the creamed chicken & biscuits.  Bake them for about 10 minutes, or until nice and golden brown.  They will rise up much higher than the biscuits in the chicken.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crescent City Skillet

  Crisp mornings, replete with dew and a touch of frost, tree boughs heavy with apples....this is my time of year.  I love autumn in the way I wish I could love spring.  Alas, that's what happens when you live in the worst areas in the United States for allergies.  Naturally, as the seasons go, one may start getting cravings for heartier fare.  Being a good southern girl, I say bring on the cornbread.  If you have been reading this for awhile, you know I've got a fancy for Lodge cast iron and the National Cornbread Festival.  While I've not been to one yet, the recipes coming out of those prize-winnin' skillets make me feel like I was there.  Recently, the first prize winner from 2004 graced our dinner table, the Crescent City Skillet from Valerie Watts Holt.  Being a hectic weeknight, I didn't bother with the garnishes, but boy howdy, the regular dish was something else.

The Crescent City Skillet
Serves 4-6

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound hot bulk sausage
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
15 medium uncooked shrimp, shelled, deveined, and tails removed
1 (6.5 oz) package Martha White Buttermilk Cornbread Mix
2/3 cup milk
Possible garnishes - sour cream, chopped and seeded plum tomatoes, or fresh parsley

  Preheat the oven to 425°F.   Place a 10 inch cast iron skillet on medium heat and add the oil, sausage, and onion.  Cook until the sausage is no longer pink, breaking up the sausage as it browns.  Drain the meat and onion mixture onto a paper towel, and return it to the skillet.  But do not wipe the skillet clean - you need that residual fat.  Add in the chicken stock, cream, garlic and both cheeses.  Drop the heat to medium low, and make sure the mixture doesn't boil.  Stir until the cheese has completely melted.  Move the skillet to a cool stove eye and add shrimp all around the pan, nice and even.

  Stir together the cornbread mix and milk in a small mixing bowl until smooth.  Pour the cornbread mixture evenly over the goodness in the pan.  Don't worry; when it bakes, the cornbread will rise and make a delicious topping.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cornbread is light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and serve with any garnishes, or just tuck in.

Note - I used 8 ounces of shrimp since the smaller ones were on sale.  It worked out perfectly.