Babbling


I am going to have to write this in bits and pieces, because for some reason I decided at 9:00 pm that I really needed to make banana muffins. Actually, I decided a couple of hours ago when I pulled 5 frozen bananas out of the freezer and chucked them into a bowl to thaw. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe to speak of, so I had to trawl food blogs for one.

This one from Whipped caught my eye. And I had had my hubby get a bag of chopped pecans out of the freezer to thaw – so it looked like good planning. Maple Pecans Banana Bread – how awesome!

Except I had too many Bananas so I decided to double the recipe. Then I didn’t have enough butter or Maple Syrup – so I made up the difference in fat with canola oil and in sweet with honey. And I was using eggs from my chicken flock, who apparently failed to attend the USDA standard egg sizing class – so I had to finagle the number of eggs I was using.

Who knows how it will come out? It’s a Mystery. But that isn’t why I am posting this evening. I wanted to share with you a little slice of my life:

A truck on the kitchen counter

The view from in front of my stove/oven.

Here I am cooking along merrily (I made Avgolemono soup for dinner – we ate it with a side of left over homemade Parmesan nuggets. Yay meal planning not) and this is what I see when I glance to my right. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t bother me at all. My approach to housekeeping is, how shall we say, flexible. But it isn’t that I am completely lazy, I think I just have different priorities.

I don’t mind that there are toys strewn all over my house. That when I go to get in bed and flip my covers into something resembling a sleep-able bed I uncover several cars who had been residing in the “garage” that had been built out of my quilt. And this view, this view is something that makes me happier than I have ever been in my life.

I am sure I should be trying to impart some responsibility or some such approved parenting stuff by making my little man clean up all of his toys and keep them in one spot. But you know what? My stuff is all over the house too, it’s my house. It’s his house too, I don’t believe in restricting him to one designated room that can be closed off so that we can pretend that there isn’t a child in the house and everything is presentable.

It took us five years to have this child. The process of having him almost killed me – but it was worth it. Every time I glance up and see a little reminder that he is in my life I am happy. This little truck, standing sentinel over my cooking while he sleeps away in his bed keeps him close to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There has been quite a bit of canning going on around here if you hadn’t noticed, and we have been consuming the canned products. Because that is why we can correct? One of the challenges with canning is that the product is sealed away and it is tough to know if it went well. There is the urge to crack it right back open to see how it turned out, but then there is an equal but oppisite urge to let it sit in the cupboard for as long as possible – because that is the whole point of canning right?

Quite the conundrum.

But we have been eating, and I want to share my thoughts on my results. First off, the citrus fest! The Orange Coriander and Thyme Jelly is delicious, but putting the sprig of thyme in there turned out to be kinda annoying. Sure it looked nice, but it is woody and you just have to pick it out. Next time I will stick with leaves and skip the sticks. And the Kiwi Lemon Marmalade – verrah tasty. Wouldn’t change a thing.

The Thai Basil Pickled Carrots were a big hit – for both of the people who sampled them. I know that a critique of only 2 people isn’t that great, but they each ate an entire jar. I only had 2 jars so I wasn’t able to get any additional opinions. Both tasters said that the carrots had a nice heat to them, but not so much that they were “fiery”. The hubby liked pulling out 3 or 4 and put them on his plate next to his lunchtime sandwich. He ate them straight like a side-dish. He has an order if for me to make more – I am debating trying different sizes and shapes. Spears are one possibility, but I have been thinking about using shredded carrots and making a hot slaw. The possibilities are manifold.

And finally, the B&B Pickled Onions.  It is really nice when something comes out exactly as envisioned.  They work beautifully as a sandwich topper and I cannot wait until grill season gets fire up and we can try them on hot-dogs and hamburgers.  Unlike the cucumber version, with these little puppies a little goes a long way. Next time I make them I believe I will pack and process them in 1/2 pints instead of full pints. You can get so many more onions in a jar when you don’t have those awkwardly shaped cucumbers to wrastle with.

So, there’s the skinny on some canning results. My big problem now is to figure out what to do for this month’s can jam. Citrus and Alliums inspired me, carrots challenged me – but in a good way. This month, well this month we have the choice between a vegetable that I categorically despise and a fruit that I loathe only slightly less than the vegetable. It really isn’t looking good for me.

If you want to know what I have been doing lately – why there haven’t been too many food posts – you might want to check over here: Fhlockston Paradise.

You see, it is time to get your spring chickens!

I will have a Can Jam post by the end of the week, don’t worry.

sneak peek at the link:

Killing you with cute

It is way beyond obvious to state that I took a hiatus from this blog. Don’t know if anyone particularly cared, but I had a very good reason. It was just a reason I didn’t feel comfortable talking about on this here interwebs.

Due to the ass-tacular economy my husband had to take contract work. Not bad if you can get it – but it was a three month contract.

In Columbus, Ohio.

We live in Atlanta, GA.

I could draw you a map, but I am gonna assume that you passed 3rd grade and save you from my mad drawing skillz. His absence put a huge cramp in my giddy-up blogging wise, and there was the whole sole caregiver to our three year old thrown into the mix. It was very hard for me to come up with anything to post that didn’t involve whining about how lonely and frantic and stressed out I was.

And short of hanging a sign out at our Mailbox saying “HEY AXE-MURDERS. WOMAN AND CHILD LIVING ALONE HERE. OK? THX”, I didn’t think there was a way that would make me feel more exposed than admitting my alone-ness on this blog.

But as of tonight he is home. And he has his own axe so back off!

To ensure at least one post a month (and I am hoping for more) I have signed up for a blog “event”. Yeppers – an actual commitment that is in print on someone else’s blog – so it is a fact, correct? The event is tigress in a jam’s can jam. She apparently has a phobia of capital letters, or maybe I need to mail her a spare Shift key? How very e.e. cummings.

I have a second confession to make. Another reason that I quit posting and that I really need to get over. Tastespotting. I got very depressed by all the rejection. Almost paralyzed and unable to post for fear of it not being “good enough”. I consider myself a pretty good photographer – but the lighting in my kitchen is for shit. And I have better things to spend my money on than an itty bitty food photography studio, really doesn’t everyone?

So the only decent light I get is in late morning – and unless I turn this into a breakfast food blog that isn’t gonna fly. I usually get to cooking and have an opportunity to take pictures at dinner. Once fall rolled around light went bye bye way too early for my schedule.

OK ’nuff kvetching. Although it is not a food photo, I will leave you with one of my favorite photos I have taken. To put my money where my mouth is regarding photography.

And I think of it as Cat Jam. So that is sorta foodie.

ps: I totally got kicked out of Daring Bakers.

You know the problem with a garden? Well, you spend all of this time and effort preparing the ground. Then you have to plant all of the little buggers. And then there is the weeding, and hoeing and composting and it is just work, work, work.

And then – after you have worked your fingers to the bone how do these ungrateful little plant buggers show how much they appreciate your efforts? THEY MAKE YOU MORE WORK.

Somebody has to pick all of those damn veggies & fruits. Somebody has to process them before they go bad and you feel guilty for putting in all of that work and letting it rot. And let me ask you, who has two thumbs and is the only person around to do all of this work?

THIS GAL!

I will be able to better document the canning efforts that I have been engaging in at a later date but for now I can give you a list. In addition to the peach fest I have already recounted I have produced:

  • 7 half pints of Red Onion & Sage Jelly
  • 4 half pints of Red Pepper & Garlic Jelly
  • 7 half pints of Banana Pepper Jelly
  • 6 half pints of Tomato, Coriander and Ginger Jam
  • 6 half pints of candied Cantaloupe
  • 7 pints of Corn Relish
  • 5 pints of Tomato Salsa
  • 6 pints of Tomatillo Salsa

And that doesn’t include the 12 quart bags of tomato sauce, 6 bags of corn on the cob, 4 quart bags of creamed corn and 4 quarts of home dehydrated figs in the freezer.

There is a full sized paper grocery bag in the ‘fridge full of banana peppers waiting to be turned into jelly and hiding below it is a bag of jalapenos to keep things interesting. The tomatillos have just started producing – so I anticipate more on that front. I have yet to dig the Irish or Sweet potatoes – who knows what they have in store for me.

And it is almost Apple season! Yay.

Have  you participated in the harvest season with an eye towards preserving? I would love to hear what you have been doing.

Chicken! ChickenChickenChicken! Despite the aspersions cast upon this king of poultry, I love chicken. I think that chicken started getting a bad rap when it became “healthy”. Boneless, skinless chicken breast eroded the reputation of what is a most delicious addition to any meal. I don’t care for breast meat, it is pretty tasteless and dry most of the time. Gimmie the dark meat every time, and don’t you dare remove the skin. The skin is what makes it superb.

So, I decided to cull the food blogs to find y’all some good ideas for using chicken in a different way than you might regularly consider. First off, the best way to serve chicken – FRIED!

First off, from [No Recipes] we have Karaage or Japanese Fried Chicken. A soy, ginger & garlic marinade and cornstarch breading – how can you go wrong. I am especially intrigued by the mention that it is a commonly packed Bento (lunch box) item. I think this would make my little dude the envy of the entire preschool should I pack it for him.

From the always fabulous Chez Pim we score Thai-marinated fried chicken. I have never been to Thailand but this recipe with a garlic & cilantro marinade and rice flour for your dredge sounds like a good reason to book a flight. Or at least buy the slightly specialty pantry items to make it yourself.

Apparently the Asian type areas take their Fried Chicken as seriously as we do in the South because My Asian Kitchen rounds out the pack with Asian Ginger Marinated Fried Chicken. Again with the ginger and garlic – I really must try this, all of these people cannot be wrong. This recipe has an unusual aspect in that it uses self-rising flour. If you do not have any of the stuff you can make your own by combining 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 t baking powder, and 1/8 t salt.

For some people, the fried is not their friend, and I am here to give you some love too. Don’t you worry.

I love witty blog names and Ezra Pound Cake cracks me up every time. They have provided us with an insanely tasty sounding Hawiian Chicken. With a lot of the Asian flavors included above it might just allow you to not miss the fried (tho I doubt it). Thoughtfully they have provided optional cooking directions for those of us who are grilling impaired. I don’t know what it is, but grills and I just don’t get along.

Getting even more exotic (at least for me)  Life’s Ambrosia gets all slow cookey on us with their Braised Indian Coconut Chicken. There is an awfully long marinade here – but hey it isn’t like you are actually doing anything when the chicken is marinading. And then, when your guests arrive and rave about how good the chicken is you can sigh and say “I am so glad you liked it, I was concerned that 10 hours for a dish might not be worth the time.” Then they will feel all guilty about the cheap a$$ bottle of wine they brought and next time you go to their house they will feed you steak.

Not that there is anything wrong with chicken. As I believe I mentioned, I love chicken. Y’all let me know how these dishes work out for y’all. My problem is deciding which one to make first.

summerfest-badge

What I should be posting right now is an entry for thursday night smackdown’s Hobo Tuesday. But I am a slacker, and a chicken. Specifically the theme for this month is super spicy food, and my idea of pretty darn spicy is the regular stuff at Taco Bell. When they ask me if I want some of the Medium sauce I am all like Whoaaaa there Nelly, let’s not get too crazy.

So I found another event to participate in – it is the Summer Fest! Apparently the whole shindig started last month with Herbs, but I always tend to be a little slow on the uptake. The theme of this month is tree fruits – and well, I live in Georgia and I really do not have any choice in the fruit I will be using. I mean really, could there be any other option?

So for this soiree I am getting back to one of the core values of this blog (since I have such a long and illustrious history, snort) and that is using one of my most precious commodities – time – to compensate for one of my more unsavory character traits – cheapness.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

One of the best cheap tips I can give you is to cut out the middle-man. If you can, buy your produce straight from the Farmer/Grower. Luckily I live in a State that believes in that very principle and sponsors the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, a place where you can go year ’round and purchase produce directly from the Farmers that pulled it out of the ground, or off of the tree, or plant, or … you get the picture. There is even a meat market there that has three butchers there every week day – prices & sizes like a warehouse club without any taxes.

My mother and I toodled down there a couple of weeks ago and picked up a 1/2 bushel of peaches. Glorious peaches that smelled like … peaches, not those rock hard impostors you find at the grocery. Those, the best thing you can do with them is hot-glue on some googley eyes and try to recreate the ’70 pet rock craze only fuzzier. And the best thing, for our 22 lbs of peaches we paid $11. That’s right, .50 per lb. Does little cheap-ass happy dance.

And Here is Where you start Robbing Peter

We have beautifully high quality peaches at rock bottom prices, but we also have 22 lbs of highly perishable fruit that has to have something done with it NOW! So we pay for it with time. An entire day of canning with my Mother to be precise. But ooooh, the rewards.

Angelic & Delicious

Angelic & Delicious

The Yield:

6 Quarts of Peach Pie Filling
6 1/2 Half-pints of Peach Preserves
6 1/2 Half-pints of Ginger Peach Preserves
8 Quarts of Frozen Sliced Peaches

All total 20 quarts + 1 pint of peachy perfection to last us for the coming year. Trying to calculate how much money we saved would be difficult. Figure that each 1/2 pint of “gourmet” peach preserves that you buy at the grocery would run you at least $3 x 13 half-pints and you get $39. Already $28 more than we spent on the fruit. Of course you have to factor in the cost of the canning supplies – but those are re-usable and I really do not want to get into amortizing the crap. A quart sized bag of frozen peaches is going to run you at least $2.50 x 8 =  $20. The peach pie filling, and let me tell you this isn’t anything like the stuff that comes out of the can, you would pay at least $5 a jar for this x 6 = $30.

So, for our $11 basket of peaches and lets say and additional $15 in supplies (including sugar, spices etc…) we yielded $89 worth of the good stuff. $89 – $26 = $63, obviously not enough to compensate two such talented ladies for an entire day’s work (or at least one talented lady and one who can almost stir without drooling into the pot) but that is where the love comes in to play.

I think we might need to go buy more peaches before the season is over.

p.s. I haven’t included any recipes because they all came from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I usually avoid posting recipes if I haven’t made some changes to them because that would run afoul of copyright issues. And anyone reading about home preserving will know full well that if you change anything then OH MY GOD YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE AND YOU WILL KILL YOUR FRIENDS WITH YOUR CANNED GOODS!!!!!!!!
I may exaggerate slightly.

I spend a good deal of time reading other blogs – some of them are even food blogs, Heh. And while a large number of y’all readers (not that I think a large number of people read my blog – but we are talking percentages here) are most likely as addicted to blogs as I am – some of you might not be. So I thought what would it hurt for me to share some of my finds.

I have a bookmark folder nested in my Food Blog Bookmark folder (which in turn is nested in my Blog folder – but I believe I have mentioned my anal-retentive nature previously) that is titled simply “Recipes to Try”. I just added one that made me excited enough to think of re-posting it here in my blog.

Over at Open Mouth Insert Cookie we have been gifted with the most elegant explanation of a dish that I have been dying to re-create – Scallion Pancakes. I have read explanations on how to make these before – but they never made much sense to me. I follow along just fine, but then I hit a set of instructions that might as well say “And a Miracle Occurred” voila,  Scallion Pancakes. A picture is worth a thousand words – and this lovely blogger has provided us with several thousand, so go forth and Pancake!

It has gotten me thinking about other flavors I could incorporate into the technique, who knows, perhaps I will have a post of my own based on this inspiration. Thank you OMIC – rock on with your bad self.

Considering that I am not posting anything original, should at least provide a couple more links from my stash. In keeping with the technique themes that made me go WOO HOO!

From Chaos in the Kitchen: How to make Homemade Air-popped MICROWAVE Popcorn. Someone who can free me from the Iron Fist of Doom held by that heinous chemical laden aisle of the Grocery.

And in an ironic twist, from the uber-healthy chomama: how to make your own small, square, onion soaked hamburgers courtesy of the chowpapa.

I guess that is enough for now, is this something y’all are interested in seeing more of? Because I am willing to sacrifice my online time to make y’all happy. I will throw myself on the food-blog hand grenade to save y’all. I am just that kind of girl.

Tonight for dinner I practiced a bit of desperation cooking. It is the kind of cooking where you have to eat something, but you really don’t feel like doing anything creative, or interesting, or even that is actually cooking. Luckily I have a toddler that is in his “I can live on Air and Milk” phase. I tried to be nice to him today and got him one of his favorite foods – Chick-fil-A. Long story short … I ended up with a CFA sandwich that had approximately 2 gnat sized bites taken out of it in my ‘fridge.

So I asked myself “What would Sandra Lee do?” and then I started “cooking”. I fished around in the back of the freezer and came up with 6 cubes of frozen spaghetti sauce and tossed them into a saucepan with some olive oil and garlic. Then I arranged the piece of CFA on a cookie sheet flanked by it’s buns (I peeled off the pickles and ate them). Sprinkled some garlic powder on the buns and some shredded mozzarella on the chicken and then slapped them all into a cold oven. Fired it up to 350 and put some water on to boil for spaghetti.

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda … Faux Chicken Parmesan.

I am ashamed.

Not looking so embarassing after all

Not looking so embarassing after all

But, it makes me feel much better about posting this meal, which I previously thought might be too boring/pedestrian to blog about. Obviously standards are not something that I am really strict about around here.

Pork Cutlet Parmesan

So lets talk about the Tyranny of Chicken. Perhaps it is the fact that Veal is both expensive and gauche that has led to the rise of Chicken Parmesan – but somehow the poultry lobby has managed to make any other version of a “Parmesan” dish nigh on unthinkable.

That is not to say that I bust out the boxed baby cow for a home meal – moral beliefs aside, I am too much of a cheapskate. But I do believe if I can pound it flat, bread it, pan fry it, and put some cheese on it then it is a viable candidate for inclusion in a “Parmesan” dish.

When my spelunking adventure into the freezer unearthed pork cutlets – the game was on!

A Process

Take chubby pieces of meat that are roughly the size of your closed hand (like you are going to give someone a high 5, not Jazz hands) and place them on a piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top of them and whack the bejeebus out of them with something heavy and flat.

Not literally, you actually have to be kinda careful about not tearing the meat – but it isn’t hard. Just thwack it with something and get it flatter – now we are looking for Jazz Hands size. Do the breading thing to your pieces of flattened flesh.

The Hardware:
Skillet with oven-safe handle containing a kinda thin layer of vegetable oil and an oven preheated to 350ish.

The Breading Thing

Set up three containers with the following mixtures:
1: A beaten Egg
2: A mixture of Bread Crumbs (I am all snooty and like Panko, because nothing says Italian Breaded Meat like Japanese bread crumbs) and Parmesan cheese.
3: A mixture of plain ole flour, salt and pepper, (if you likea the espicy you can adda some red peppah).

I like having 1 & 2 in Tupperware type containers – boxes, you know something with high sides to contain the mess. 3 can just be on a plate – it isn’t crucial. When breading you need to remember that wet stuff sticks to dry stuff. So to start with your meat is wet so you want to dip it into the flour first – not to heavy, just a dusting. Then you dip it into the beaten egg to get it wet so that the dry crumbs will stick to your cutlet. From the egg mixture you move to the breadcrumb mixture – I tend to pat it to get things good and stuck to each other. I also just like fiddling with things.

If you are doing a small number (I tend to be doing 2) place them directly into your oven-safe skillet with a goodly layer of hot vegetable oil shimmering away. (Do we need to talk about melty handles again?) Let the first side get good and brown and crispy then flip them over. Chuck the whole skillet into the oven and it will brown on the other side. When it is close to being done open the oven and sprinkle whatever kind of cheese on top that tickles your fancy – I tend to always have mozzarella around the house, but I wouldn’t kick provolone out of bed.

I really cannot tell you how long to cook the things because I don’t know how efficient your pounding is. It won’t take to terribly long. Make sure you have your pasta on the boil and about ready to go and that your sauce is pretty much done and just bubbling happily on a back burner. The cutlets can sit for a bit while the pasta is finishing – but you don’t want to lose the crispy. I mean, isn’t that what it is all about? Plate your pasta, sauce to liking and top with crispy meat cutlet.

Voila! Fancy pants dinner; if Fancy Pants to you is Olive Garden, and considering the frequency of my dining out Olive Garden might as well be Sotto Sotto.

It has been a crazy week, and it only promises to get crazier. But hey, who wants a boring life? I have been cooking, just nothing exceptionally interesting, or photogenic. We hosted a play-date and I made a big batch of French Dressing in anticipation of having salad for lunch. When I pulled out the lettuce it had gone to meet it’s vegetable maker- so I had to punt. Luckily I had made rice the day before and had plenty of leftovers. That might be considered a frugal tip. Whenever you cook rice make at least 2 cups (dry, which yields 6 cups cooked). Even if you do not need that much, it comes in exceptionally handy for quick meals. And you must, must, must use leftover rice to make Fried Rice.

Which is what I whipped up for the play-date mommy. Not that I took a picture of it, because that is pretty boring. But it was tasty. When I had a latecomer walk in the door starving I used the rest of the rice to make what I call “Mexican Fried Rice”. The same cooking technique as with fried rice – but instead of using soy, ginger, garlic and sesame oil I use Lizano salsa. I could also see tossing in some beans, chopped onions, corn – whatever you have. Not particularly authentic, but again very tasty. And again, not particularly photogenic.

That’s been the theme of the past week – non-photogenic foods. I tried, I really did. Here is a picture of the Stromboli I made a few nights ago:

Much tastier than it looks.

Much tastier than it looks.

Homemade pizza is one of those things that is worth the time, especially when your dough recipe makes enough dough for a pizza and then another pizza or pizza like application. We usually eat pizza one night and then I put together something else a couple of nights later. Usually it is a calzone, but the ‘fridge was devoid of the requisite ricotta – so I made a Stromboli. Which is rolled instead of folded and does not usually contain ricotta.

I think that Stromboli is going to be the default for the foreseeable future. Waaaaaay easier than a calzone. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to keep ricotta in the house.

This particular bad boy involved a thin layer of pizza sauce topped with layers of bacon, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and thinly sliced onion. Normally I would have put some caramelized onions in there, but I didn’t think of it until too late. I was afraid that the onions wouldn’t cook enough so I sliced them super thin with my Most Excellent Knife of Sharpness (all kitchens should have one). In the future I will not bother with the thin slicing or the caramelizing. They stayed in the oven long enough to get nicely cooked/steamed inside the dough.

Lack of Recipe

I am afraid that is what we have today. I am not happy enough with my pizza dough recipe to share it yet. It was delicious for the Stromboli, after sitting in the ‘fridge for several days. But  the pizza I made with the fresh dough did not do it for me. It lacked that certain “chewiness” that is needed in good pizza dough. This version was much too bread like, but it lost that characteristic in the ‘fridge.

But I will leave you with one last tip – always bake bacon in the oven, do not bother with the stove-top. By using the oven you avoid 3/4 of the mess and get much better bacon (less of the fat cooks away before the lean is done). Use jellyroll/edged cookie-sheets lined with aluminum foil and clean-up is as simple as draining the fat and tossing the foil. The bacon keeps well in the ‘fridge and even longer in the freezer. And hey, bacon fat! Wonderful stuff for cooking pretty much anything. I used it to saute some mushrooms for spaghetti.

What do you use bacon fat for?

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