Sunday, May 28, 2017

Kitchen Duty part II

I've spent so much time in the kitchen the last two days, I've actually almost forgotten what I had for dinner last night. After some thought (and putting away the rest of the box of pasta), I realized it was whole wheat spaghetti with butter and Parmesan as aside to a wonderful piece of skin-on salmon. The salmon got a bit of lemon pepper on the flesh side, then was put skin side down in a very hot pan coated with olive oil. Let it sit for five minutes until the skin is crisp, then turn it over for a few seconds. The skin should be crisp, the inside still pink (unless you are one of those people who likes your fish really well done).

It was annoying me that I couldn't remember at first what I ate.

Today, I don't have that problem.

Prep for several dishes began shortly after breakfast (toasted pieces of yesterday's English muffin bread topped with peanut butter). It always seems most efficient, when I'm doing several dishes, to do all the prep work for everything all at once (and it usually keeps me from saying to heck with it and stopping halfway through the plan). Dice an onion. Chop up the rest of the bread. Shred two different types of cheeses (really, it takes only a minute or two to shred cheese from a block, and then it has none of the cornstarch coating that keeps preshredded cheese from sticking together - and makes it gummy when it melts). Peel and slice potatoes. Boil the huge pot of water for the brine.

Once the water cooled, all sorts of good stuff was added to it, and the pork tenderloin (two smaller ones, I found when I opened the package) were put in it to soak for half a day. The linked recipe is the brine I used; if you make pork chops rather than tenderloin, a half hour is all they need. Soak too long, and the meat starts to deteriorate.

A potato gratin was meant to accompany the pork (this was all planned for dinner). Last grocery order, I bought half a dozen russets. They must have been "baking" potatoes, as each was pretty darn big. The two that were left filled up my regular size gratin dish. My standard is a variant of this dish. No leeks, but some shallots in with the cream. Not Gruyere (at least not if I have to make a special trip), but lots of Swiss. It's easy to make, especially if you have a mandolin to help slice the potatoes thinly.

The bread, if you will recall from yesterday, was made to be the basis for a new-to-me breakfast casserole. The other ingredients are sauteed pork sausage, cheddar cheese, eggs and milk.

Naturally, I didn't have any pork sausage, but I did have a pound of ground turkey, as well as a magic ingredient: Penzey's breakfast sausage seasoning. Used that with the turkey, and it was delicious. It is this recipe, though I also added sauteed onion...I had a couple of corner nibbles when it first came out of the oven (it's meant to be cut up and frozen for future breakfasts) and it is really good.

In the end, dinner was some of the potato gratin, some of the pork, green beans and a rather sizeable glass of Stag's Leap Aveta Sauvignon Blanc. There are leftovers of everything. There are two tiny lamp chops in the freezer that may be dinner tomorrow, with the potatoes. The pork can be sliced for sandwiches, or, if I do a bit of grocery shopping later for spinach and berries, my favorite salad.

tomorrow will be spent deep cleaning the kitchen. The A/C annual service is Tuesday, and part of what he has to check is attached to the furnace...which is in the closet in the kitchen. Eh, it's supposed to rain off and on all day, anyway.

My legs and feet ache from all the standing. The kitchen is so small, you sort of stand in one place and pivot, or take just one step from side to side. No chance to really stretch your legs. Must remember to take an Advil before bed so I can move in the morning.

In between things, I've been reading and sewing. I'm machine quilting a baby quilt for a coworker. The batting I'm using is wool - very soft and fluffy, but I think I underestimated the warmth factor. Good thing this baby is due in late September.

On that, I'm off to bed. Trying hard to maintain regular bed/rise times over this vacation. I did get up at the usual time this morning, but after half an hour of wandering around online, went back to bed for an hour. Don't want to do that tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Kitchen Duty

I am on vacation this upcoming week - finally. To say I've been looking forward to this is an understatement. The one fear I have, though, is that I'll spend it just lazing around, not actually getting any needed chores done, nor actually having any fun.

As with other vacations, I have a "list". Haven't looked at it yet, though I know what the highlights are. One of those things is a two-part goal of 1) Cooking more of my meals, rather than grabbing some sort of takeout/fast food, and 2) Cooking through the stuff in the freezer. Notice how those two things dovetail so nicely?

When I went grocery shopping a week ago, lemons were on sale three-for-something. Since then, those poor lemons have been languishing in the refrigerator, until I remembered a lemon/chicken/orzo soup I've done before. A quick look at the ingredient list showed I was only lacking the boneless thighs and the orzo. I have plenty of bone-in thighs in the freezer, but thawing and taking them off the bone seemed like a bit too much work for the first afternoon of vacation (when I went to put the orzo away after making the soup yesterday, I discovered I did, indeed, have half a box of orzo in the cupboard...I really do need to cook more often, so I can remember what I do and don't have on hand).

While today the sun came out and the temperature hit the low seventies, it will not stay that way. The soup is actually pretty light, particularly with the lemon and rosemary flavors. Do not use chicken breast; thighs have more flavor and are much juicier.

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 T olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" chunks
salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 t dried thyme
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 sprig rosemary
Juice of one lemon
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Heat 1 T oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to the pot and cook until golden, about 2 - 3 minutes; remove from pot and set aside (chicken will not be cooked through).

Add remaining T of oil to pot. Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in thyme until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Whisk in chicken stock, water and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo, rosemary and chicken; reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender, about 1-0 - 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.


Another thing on the vacation list is to cook some breakfast-type things for the freezer. I have the supplies to make homemade Egg Muffins; they taste almost like the fast food ones, in addition to freezing/reheating well. But the easier way to make breakfast ahead is to make a big old egg casserole, cool it, cut it into portions and freeze them. I'd uncovered a recipe I'd saved for "Sausage Muffin Egg Casserole" that sounded like the right blend of carbs, protein and fat.

However, the English muffins I have on hand are earmarked for the sandwiches. I'm not about to make a special trip to the store for more.

My extensive recipe collection came to the rescue. I've never made English muffins - too much standing over the skillet watching them cook. I have, however, made English muffin bread. It bakes in a traditonal loaf pan, and putting it together is as easy as putting together a quick bread (in other words, no kneading). The muffins form the base of the casserole, on which you put pork sausage and sauteed onion (more on the pork sausage adventure/solution another time).

As I told a friend with whom I shared this, toast a slice of the bread, top with peanut butter and/or Nutella, along with (maybe) a sliced banana, and you have an excellent breakfast.

I use a nonstick spray to coat the loaf pan, before dusting it with cornmeal like you would dust a cake pan with flour, and the finished loaf slides right out.

English Muffin Bread

1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons, or 7 grams)
1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Warm water
1-1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
7/8 cup Milk, nonfat, warmed

Combine yeast, sugar and warm water; stir until dissolved.

Combine flour, salt and soda and add to yeast mixture. Add warm milk (not too hot or you'll kill the yeast). Mix well.

Cover and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Stir down and put in greased bread pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Sprinkle top with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 40 to 45 more minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on cooling rack. Makes 12 servings.


Not that I want to spend the entire week cooking, but...I have Italian sausage in the freezer and had a vague idea of making brioche hot dog rolls to have them on, along with homemade tomato sauce and parmesan. It's been a while since I've made brioche, so I pulled out Julia Child's The Way to Cook, and flipped to the bread section. Since I'm making sauce, I'd like to make pizza from scratch later this week, so I flipped to her section on pizza doughs. Be still my heart, she has a recipe there for an onion and anchovy pizza! I grew up begging for anchovies out of the can, and in fact, have three cans in my pantry right now. I cannot wait to try this.

Anchovies and onions...well, at least I can be pretty well assured I won't have to share.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

SWAT teams of academia

Seen on Instapundit this morning: U Chicago Students Demand Race-Specific Housing and Requiring ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ to Graduate.

It's staggering to think these students believe they can demand major changes to university programs and facilities, based on racial preferences (so they want segregated housing...isn't that one of the things the Civil Rights movement moved to abolish?).

Yet that is not what caused me to spit out my coffee. This did it: they are also advocating for "revitalization of the Bias Response Team".

//blink//

Do you see what I see? It seems as if the University of Chicago already has a "Bias Response Team" - they would have to, if this group of students wants to see it revitalized, right?

What, pray tell, does this Bias Response Team do?

Do they rush around campus in a big van, carefully painted in equal sized patches of rainbow colors, to provide the interior of the van as a "safe space" for students who feel marginalized because of perceived bias?

Do they rush to the side of the minority student who has received a failing grade on a test, ready to check the exam questions for cultural bias that would make it impossible for the student to earn a passing grade?

Does the team carry smart phones and tablets, set to immediately social media-shame anyone they judge has exercised "white privilege" or "cultural appropriation", or heaven forbid, a conservative viewpoint?

To my knowledge, nothing this ridiculous has yet invaded my own campus. But it is coming. In our staff meeting this week, we watched a video of a forum with the university president and faculty members. Questions had been submitted in advance, and one of them asked when/if/how upper administration would become more diverse. The president pretty much apologized that the three highest university positions - president, provost and the executive vice president for operations - are all white males.

Really?

It is no longer enough to be the best person for the job, if your skin color/sexual orientation/gender fluidity/religion/politics are not "correct".

What the heck is the world coming to?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Devil Chicken

While I certainly haven't been blogging this last two weeks plus, I have been doing a bit of cooking. I've a backlog of "recipes to try" that would keep a small country fed for a year. Tonight's recipe is courtesy of Jacques Pepin, chicken thighs in a spicy tomato/vinegar sauce.

Chicken Diablo

6 large, bone-in, skinned chicken thighs (if you insist, you can use breasts, or even boneless, skinless breasts, but honestly, learn to eat dark meat - it is so much more flavorful, and thighs are actually easy to eat with a knife and fork off the bone)

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 1/4 cup vinegar and no wine)

2 tablespoons dry white wine

8 ounces tomato sauce (or 3/4 cup tomato puree)

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon Tobasco sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Cook chicken:

Sprinkle both sides of chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add thighs, cover and cook five minutes. Turn, cover and cook an additional 10 - 15 minutes, reducing heat and turning as needed, until done (check near the bone - for more even cooking, before putting them in the pan, make a 1/2" cut on the backside of the thigh on each side of the bone, not going all the way through). Remove from pan and put somewhere to keep warm.

Make sauce:

Add garlic to pan drippings and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds, without browning. Deglaze pan with vinegar and wine, stirring to melt the solidified juices. Cook 1 to 2 minutes; most of the liquid should have evaporated. Add water and tomato sauce and bring to boil over high heat. Cover and boil 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper, Tabasco and tarragon. Spoon sauce over the chicken and serve.

Serves 4

Diane's take: The tang from the vinegar and the heat of the Tabasco combine to give you spicy, but not overly so (maybe my Tobasco is old - I put in closer to two teaspoons). Don't skip the fresh tarragon - it adds needed depth.

I wasn't sure I'd like bone-in chicken with a sauce on it, but as I said above, chicken thighs, having pretty much just the one, round bone, are very easy to eat with a knife and fork. They also cook up very juicy and flavorful. There was rather a lot of chicken juice/rendered chicken fat in my pan when I took the thighs out; though I left it in the pan, the sauce wasn't unduly greasy. My one change would be to serve this with something to soak up more of the sauce - rice, couscous or some other grain. While I made oven baked fries, they didn't soak up as much of the sauce as I'd have liked.

This is a keeper.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It's not Friday

Yet here I am. Sort of.

Every so often I feel like shuttering this place, but I live in hopes that I'll come out of this slump and get back to making sense and decent posts...still hoping.

I realized this past weekend that it's really been a difficult 2017 so far. So many people were anxious for 2016 to end, mostly because of the slew of celebrity deaths in that year (news flash: everyone dies eventually). This year, though, at least for me, has stunk on a more personal level.

Much of the stink doesn't actually emanate from me, so to speak, but is clouding the lives of people I hold dear. Serious health issues. Parents passing away. Long term unemployment and the associated financial troubles. Serious relationship difficulties. Much, if not most, of it beyond anything I can do other than pray.

Add to this generalized anxiety about society. Since the election, already acrimonious public discourse has taken a turn for the worse. Any position but your own is not only unsound, but by default makes you a racist, homophobe, uncompassionate ass who doesn't deserve to breathe. Our college campuses, especially, have in large part begun indoctrinating students in a particular world view rather than teaching anything like free thought and free speech.

That last bit makes life at work a bit...interesting. It's hard to listen to our student workers parrot back what has been force fed them in class, knowing that for the most part, they've not thought through the actual issue, much less what defenses there are for their position. Isn't the job of the university to teach young people to think for themselves, not hand them conclusions on a silver (or platinum, given today's tuition rates) platter?

Eh.

Personally, it's been a season of discontent. I'm not entirely sure I've felt well since before Christmas. Head colds, the knee issue, headaches, another cold, stomach issues. There is a fair chance some of this is stress-related.

Not feeling well makes me cranky (ok, crankier) and makes small inconveniences and idiocies loom much larger than usual. In short, the craziness gets to me more than it should. That, in turn, makes me wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing, not only professionally, but in all areas of my life. I want to make some changes, but a combination of inertia and not-sure-I-give-a-darn keeps me from actually starting anything.

Over the top of this is a layer of grieving. Stay with me on this - a lot of people just don't or won't understand. When I reached forty, I started a year or two of grieving over the biological kids I'd never have. It didn't matter that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would be a lousy mother (I love kids, and am great with them, as long as I can give them back within about four hours, and no, I would not feel any different if they were my own - deal with it), and God is absolutely right in not putting that in my life; still, I grieved.

And that's ok. It really is ok to need to work through the fact you will never have something you never really wanted in the first place. (it's my life, it only has to make sense to me).

Anyway, here we are almost twenty years later, and all sorts of "grandkid" posts start popping into my Facebook feed. I'm genuinely happy for my friends, but...it's started a new season of mourning. This round, for the lack of continuation that kids and grandkids bring.

Again, it's ok to mourn. And again, I am perfectly content with the lot God's given me in this regard. But it's still difficult in some ways.

So there's that.

The sun is finally out today, after what seems to be weeks of grey and rain. Hoping that the extra light helps to brighten my mood as well. At five this morning, as I walked from the desk in the loft to the bathroom, I could see plenty of light through the giant, east-facing windows. Spring, in spite of the thirty degree temperature, is well on its way.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Obligatory Friday brain dump

It's been a rough week. I'm exhausted, and want nothing more than to go home and go to bed. The irony is that I'm at that stage of tired where I most likely would not be able to sleep.

Anyway, it's supposed to be a decent (by my standards; your mileage may vary) weekend, with highs in the mid fifties with sunshine. It's a bit too cold yet to do things like powerwash the patio, but I will putz with the little stuff. Hook up the hose, fix the flag mount, put in the solar powered spot for the flag. Anything that doesn't require putting on gardening clothes and actually getting dirty. In other words, the little stuff I was going to do last weekend, when it was seventy degrees.

Eh. It will (mostly, and eventually) get done.

I've not done much sewing at all this month. On Good Friday, I finished putting borders on the Galaxy quilt. Cut out the binding. Still need to press the top, press the binding and piece the back. Then it will all go on skirt hangers in the closet until I can afford to have someone else quilt it. Yes, for the first time ever, I'm sending something to someone else for quilting.

There may be some organizing in the studio this weekend. A while ago, I picked up a box of vacuum bags - the plastic zipper bags that have a valve on them through which you can suck out the air inside the bag. Well, not you, but your vacuum does the sucking. My winter linens/quilts are stored this way.

Someone on a quilt message board mentioned she puts all the fabric and bits for her quilts-in-progress into these sorts of bags, as they tend store in much less space than otherwise. I cannot see doing this with things that are already started, as the wrinkling is rather pronounced once you open the bags, but I happen to have a number of quilty things that are in the "large hunks of fabric" stage. The fabric needs to stay together, but I certainly don't have to have it loose in a bin.

While I have rather a lot of these bins of projects and potential projects (//cough//four or five//cough,cough//), I do have an inventory list. Somewhere. More specifically, in one of the three spiral notebooks of various sizes and shapes that live in the drawer of the sewing machine cabinet. The last time the list was updated, though, is at least two years ago.

Other than those couple of things, I intend to laze around all weekend. How about you?

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Spring Saturday

After weeks of clouds and rain (and a little snow, too), today is sunny and high sixties. So how do I celebrate?

I went in to work at 6:30 this morning (more on that later).

Came home, read for a while, then took an hour and a half nap. Did a bit of multi-player online gaming, and now about to go back downstairs and...

...either clean or sew. Maybe read again.

No ambition to open the drapes (I'll just see more dust) or go outside. Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer, and maybe then I'll putter outside a bit. The lilac should be trimmed. I can connect the hose, maybe pull out the shepherd's hook.

Actually, I did do a bit of design work for a baby quilt. A coworker is pregnant with her first, due in September. A while back there was a special on a charm pack (42, 5" squares) of the cutest Winnie the Pooh fabrics...I bought a pack, thinking I'd pick up some of the coordinating fabrics later. I forgot that when this shop puts these things on special, it's because they are almost out of them. I managed to get one yard of a coordinate to use for a border, and another charm pack that is just a solid color.

Figuring out what to do with it, to get a decent sized baby quilt, has been a bit interesting. I put the question to the Facebook quilting group, and got a variety of responses. It's pretty apparent not everyone read the portion of the post that explained I only had ONE charm pack of the pretty prints; if I'd had two, I would not have had this problem. In the end, someone had a simple but cute pattern, one that will show off the cute prints in spite of the small size.

The plan early this morning was to go to work to accomplish a couple of very specific things. I'd get there like I always do, just before 6:30, and stay no later than 9:30. Well...the little gas pump icon lit up as I pulled into the garage last night. So I left a few minutes earlier than usual to stop and fill up. Cruised through the McDonald's drive through for coffee and breakfast...

...well, not cruised, exactly. The car in front of me apparently had ordered a frou-frou iced coffee drink (go to Starbucks for that, darn it). When the clerk went to hand it to her, she must have changed her mind, because he disappeared with the drink. Eventually, he reappeared with a shake (I think). There were only the two cars, hers and mine, and I sat there for five minutes, even though she was already at the pick up window when I pulled into the lot. The whole time, I could see my bag of food sitting on the counter, getting cold. When I finally did get up there, he rang me up, gave me my coffee, then said "your food will be right up", and turned to take another drive through order while my food continued to sit there, congealing. I've had issues with this clerk before.

Got to work. I haven't been in on a Saturday in over a year. Get to the building door, and find it locked. No sweat, I can swipe my ID in the reader and it will open.

Only it didn't.

The reader may have been upgraded to a proximity reader, where you just tap your ID on it to activate it. But my ID is twenty years old and doesn't have that tech. The reader still has the swipe slot. Was not at all happy - it was 6:30 a.m., and the building does not unlock until 9:30.

I almost went home. But no, I called our Police Department, and eventually, someone came to let me in. Sheesh.

At least I got the things done I had planned on, plus a bit, and was on my way out at 9:15.

Obviously, I'm a grumpypants. It's more than just physical weariness, though a sizeable amount of the grumpy comes from that. Lots of unfocused stress at work, as the hunt for a new CFO continues. Not much getting done at home, cleaning, cooking, putting together the exercise bike I bought at Christmas... On top of all of this, the knee that was so very much improved decided to have a major hissy fit last night. My entire leg felt like one big cramp, and the sharp pains in the knee have returned. I haven't been to PT for a week, thanks to the work schedule, which may account for some of it. It certainly doesn't put me in the mood to try to limp around to clean.

Eh. I'm going to go read, I think. And eat goldfish crackers. I needed to fill up the Amazon Pantry box (monthly order of various paper products), and the giant box of goldfish fit the bill. Goldfish crackes always make me smile.