Saturday, July 22, 2017

#24in48 post two

So yeah, not so much with the nonfiction. A couple of weeks ago, I started rereading Larry Correia's excellent Monster Hunter International series. It's urban fantasy at its best - inventive villians, brave, if slightly unlikely heros, lots of guns and things that go boom. Perfect summer reading.

The reread was prompted by a recent read of two books set in the Monster Hunter universe, but co-written by John Ringo and Larry Correia. Fun reads, both of them.

What I didn't know until this morning, when I finished the fourth book in the series, and went to pull up the fifth (MH:Nemesis above) is that the sixth book is due out...on August 1st. Hurrah! My preorder is in.

Tomorrow I'll switch over to the nonfiction, both of which are actually paper books, rather than pixels in the kindle.

Time read to date: Roughly four hours.

#24in48 post one

The #24in48 Readathon is off to a blurry start in the quiltbabe household. Ironically, it's because I'm tired to due staying up too late last night...reading.

Need for coffee: Caffeine level five.

The plan, assuming things don't get derailed (and the train of my life never, ever runs on new, smooth track) is to get some coffee and breakfast into me while reading for about an hour. There is still housework to be done, but even that has a reading strategy: clean for twenty minutes, read for twenty minutes. Off and on until the housework is more or less done, or I get so deep in a book I forget to clean. (I know which of those two things is more likely)

The two books I'm trying to finish this weekend:

Giddy Up, Eunice, by Sophie Hudson
This is a simply delightful book on women's mentoring relationships among believers. If you are familir with Sopie's style from her previous books (A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet and Home is Where My People Are) you know that her books are much like sitting down with a good friend and letting the conversation flow.

This book is a bit more structured, as she shares what she has learned both from Scripture and other women on the importance of us mentoring one another. It's worth noting that unlike a lot of other books on the subject, she is not pushing a program, but promoting relationships. I think I'm over halfway through (nonfiction is not my usual jam; it may have been over a month since I last read any of this book.)

Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, by Barbara Oakley
A couple of years ago I took a free online course called Learning to Learn, for which Dr. Oakley was one of the teachers. The course went through the science of how we learn, and why certain strategies for learning were effective/ineffective. This book carries those ideas a bit further. Through stories of people who have successfully made radical career changes or discovered passions they did not know they had, Dr. Oakely explains the shifts in thinking needed to make those changes.

Interestingly, most of the people whose shifts are documented here have moved from a more creative or less structured realm into the areas of math and science.

I'm slowly making my way through - I'd say I'm about a third of the way done.

I suppose I should wash my face, put in the contact lenses and get to it, huh? Will come back and post the updated hours read periodically.

Total hours read: Zero.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Not Your Momma's Mac & Cheese

Last week, the cheese lady at my local grocer (yes, they have a cheese lady) wondered what I was going to do with all the cheese I bought. This is it. As usual, my personal notes are at the end.

Pasta Al Quattro Formaggi

1 pound penne -- uncooked
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese -- shredded
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese -- crumbled
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese -- grated
1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese -- grated
Bread crumb/Parm topping - see below

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon table salt and the pasta. cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about one minute. Slowly whisk in the cream; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Combine the cheeses in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta, then pour the hot cream over all. Immediately cover the bowl with a plate or foil. Let stand for three minutes. Uncover and stir with a rubber spatula, scraping the cheese from the bottom of the bowl, until the cheeses are melted and the mix is thoroughly combined.

Transfer the pasta to a 9 x 13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb topping. Bake until the topping is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bread crumb/Parm topping

4 slices white sandwich bread -- torn into pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted
1/2 ounce parmesan cheese

Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl and toss with Parmesan cheese.

My notes:
1. Buy the best cheese you can, as the cheese is the star of the dish.
- Fontina is very soft. Sticking it in the freezer for 10 - 15 minutes before shredding/grating makes it easier. I used the food processor to shred mine.
- YES, Gorgonzola. Do NOT skip this or substitute something else. Regular mac & cheese uses dry mustard to provide a bit of a bite. The Gorgonzola provides a nice tang in this dish.
- Pecorino Romano and Parmesan - For the love of heaven, do NOT use the dust in a can! Both of these are hard cheeses. If you buy a small quantity of the good, imported stuff and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it will keep indefinitely. If you have never had the real thing, you are in for a treat. It is so much better than the green/red can stuff.
2. Don't substitute milk for the cream. Really, over six servings, it is only 1/3 cup per serving. I know people who use that much cream in their coffee over the course of the day. This dish is a treat, not an everyday thing, so live a little.
3. Again, do not skip the topping. This crumb mix is outstanding. Here, you can substitute Panko breadcrumbs if you don't have squishy sandwich bread handy - eyeball the quantity.

This is from Cook's Illustrated, a sister publication to America's Test Kitchen. This is hands down the best variety of mac & cheese I've ever had. There are a few variations to the dish, one adding a drained can of diced tomatoes and some fresh basil, another adding peas and four ounces of chopped Proscuitto. Both sound equally wonderful.

Fast and fairly easy to make, this is a keeper.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rambling

Wow, it's been more than three weeks? Lots has gone on, some of which I'll backtrack on at a later date.

Meanwhile, how do you tell someone that their contribution is valuable, appreciated and well worth what they are asking in consideration - but there is no way in hell they will get it? It's not that the desire isn't there, but the resources are in short supply and will be for some time to come. Life isn't fair, and this particular situation certainly isn't, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. This is going to be a difficult conversation with a very, very nice person.

This summer is racing by. It's less than three weeks until the fourth of July, which most consider the "middle" of summer. Around these parts, that's about when Lake Michigan warms up enough to consider actually swimming in it. We stretch our summer out as far as we can on both ends, with patio heaters, lots of layers of clothes (you need them in the morning, and peel them off through the day) and a dedication to enjoying every possible second of even moderately summer-like weather.

This is my slower season at work, or it should be, at any rate. Staffing issues, combined with an utter disregard for written procedures on the part of the staff who is the issue, will make the summer a bit more challenging than I'd like. I'm trying hard to revamp my own processes and timetables so I don't end up the kind of crazy I was this spring (through someone else's love for "fire drill" style of management, not my own fault). It's difficult to do when you are trying to figure out someone else's job on top of your own.

Annual increases came out last week. Have I mentioned I work for a nonprofit? My life seems to be nonprofit (I'd say "lol", but it is nothing to laugh about). Thanks to changes in insurance coverage, I think my salary has actually gone backwards, though due to changes in out-of-pocket limits and drug program things, not premium increases.

I am oh-so-slowly eating my way through the contents of the freezer, cooking many more meals at home. The sad reality of my single life is that I really don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on weeknights. I'm hoping, through the aforementioned changes in processes at work, to not arrive home in the evening too emotionally drained to put on a pot of pasta. I tend to pick things up for dinner on the way home; I realized after my most recent vacation(where I cooked almost every meal) that I feel much better when I eat my own cooking regularly.

And then there is the financial savings, as well.

The advantage of cooking more often is the gain in speed. It's not so much that I'm a pokey cook, but more that I'm one who enjoys the process. I'm learning that there is great value in just speeding along to get the #@%$% food on the table. Making a large side dish (a potato gratin this week) near the start of the week cuts down on weeknight prep time. All the little things people who have to feed families daily (they do rather whine if not fed on a regular basis - sheesh) probably already know.

Trying to quilt on a regular basis as well. Not getting in there as quickly as I'd like.

Waiting for people to come and pick up the doggone furniture they've said they want. The twin bedroom set is in my way, and I'm tired of looking at the four drawer file cabinet. I've other furniture to move around, once those things are gone. The file cabinet is going to a family member, but needs to wait until either they find a place of their own, or until after their wedding in October. The bedroom set is going to the daughter of a friend, and I thought they would pick it up when they moved apartments several weeks ago, but I've heard...nothing.

Bah. Anyway, that's some of where I am right now. Now I need to have that difficult meeting...

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.