Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pyrex Snapware

I really like these storage containers.  They are made by the Pyrex company, who make so many fine products.  They are glass, not plastic, and are, therefore, safe in the oven and the microwave.  The lids fit snugly and easily and don't slip loose.  They are stack-able and don't take up much space in the cabinet.  They clean up easily in the dishwasher.

Ever since I started packing GrandDad Fabuloso's lunch (because I like to control what he eats... and he likes it) these have been especially useful.  Often as not, his lunch is last night's leftover's (because I am lazy... and he likes it) in one of these containers.

And if all that's not recommendation enough, these healthy, durable, indispensable containers are made right here in the good old U.S. of A.  Thanks, Pyrex.  Carry on.

Happy Box Week 2

Another week; another Happy Box!  Here are the organic goodies Fulton Farms sent me yesterday:

  • more spinach (hooray!)
  • a bag of Romaine lettuce
  • a bag of carrots
  • several potatoes
  • several bananas
  • two tomatoes
  • two cucumbers
  • a green pepper
  • a mango
  • a pile of monkey brains

Okay, they didn't really send me monkey brains, but they did (as they often do) send me stuff I've never seen before, don't know what it is, what it tastes like, how to cook it or how to eat it.  I LOVE THAT!  Seriously, I have discovered so many great things to eat through this program that I may never have tried on my own.

Anyway, the "monkey brains" are actually sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes.  They are not actually artichokes, but relatives of the sunflower family.  They were first cultivated by the native Americans, who called them "sun roots."  They are supposedly a great substitute for potatoes, with a similar taste and texture, but with far less starch/sugar.

Like potatoes, you say?  In that case I scrubbed them really well (since they also say not to peel them) and threw them in the crockpot with the brisket I made for dinner tonight.  They were good.  The best way to describe them would be, if a potato and a carrot got married, this would be their baby.  Okay, maybe that's not the best way to describe them, but it's one way.

Adding sunchokes to the list of things we like to eat...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Trash Becomes Treasure: Glass Planter

In this project I took an old brass candle holder and a glass bowl vase and turned them into a rather pretty planter for succulents.

The base of the planter started out looking like this -- not horrible, but kind of outdated.

I purchased it at a thrift store for 99 cents as part of an experiment in which I used oil-rubbed bronze spray paint to "de-uglify" a crazy assortment of items selected for that purpose.  Read more about that here.  I was so pleased with the result of that experiment, I decided to find some creative way to use my beautified little holder.

I found a fishbowl-shaped glass vase that fit it perfectly, and I knew just what to do...

First step, I filled the bottom of the bowl with some small, pretty stones.

Next I added some activated carbon, which I have heard is a good thing to include in terrariums and such to avoid funky odor build-up.  I found it in the fish section of a pet supplies store.

On top of that I placed a coffee filter that I folded to a shape slightly smaller than the surface of the material beneath it.  I used this to prevent the potting soil from filtering down through the pebbles.

I added a layer of soil directly over the filter, placed my plants in the soil, and gently added another layer of the pretty stones around them.

Here is my planter, happy in its new home.  (I'm happy, too.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How to Chop a Pepper

I used to hate chopping green peppers.  They’re so round and unruly – such impudent little vegetables.  But then I learned a method to quickly and easily chop them into nice, uniform pieces. 

Creamy, Delicious, Decadent... Cauliflower?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of food that was healthy AND low-carb AND gluten-free AND low in calories?  And wouldn’t it be fantastic if that food also tasted creamy, decadent and delicious?  And wouldn’t it be awesome if that food was also inexpensive and super easy to make?  If such a food existed, I would make it two or three times a week.

Well, there is, and I do.  It’s cauliflower puree, and if you‘ve never had it, try it tonight.  Tonight!  You will be gobsmacked to discover how, with almost no effort, this humble, much-maligned vegetable can be transformed into something creamy, comforting and truly delicious.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hail Caesar! Salad, that is.

I’ve had Caesar salad at fine restaurants, prepared table-side with all kinds of flash and flourish.  It was good, but what a bother.  I’ve had so-called Caesar salad off of quickie lunch menus that I wish I hadn’t bothered with at all.  You might conclude from this that good Caesar salad is complicated.and difficult to prepare.  Not so. 

To make a really great Caesar salad at home, you need just four simple ingredients:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Favorite All-purpose Dry Meat Rub

I love this stuff.  I make it in huge batches, and I put it on EVERYTHING – chicken, beef, and it is especially good on pork.  Depending on how intensely spicy you like your food, you can use this as a rub or just sprinkle a little onto your meat prior to cooking. 

Happy Box Week 1

And so it begins!  Yesterday I received my first weekly CSA “happy box” delivery from Fulton Farms.

Here is what my first box contained:
  • 1 big bag of spinach
  • 3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 head of lettuce
  • 1 head of red cabbage
  • 3 stalks of broccoli
  • 2 green peppers
  • 3 red apples
  • 3 green bananas
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 mango
  • 1 lb. of strawberries
Later in the season my deliveries will consist of 100% locally-grown organic produce, but right now in the Ohio Miami Valley, the only things growing are a few really hardy cold-season crops like spinach.  So my first few boxes will also contain organic produce from a trusted wholesaler.  (I would have been okay with an entire box full of spinach, but it’s cool.) 

My mission this year is to utilize every bit of produce that I receive in my CSA deliveries all season long.  I hate to admit that this was not the case last year, which was my first year with the program, but you live, you learn. 

So last night I made broccoli salad to serve with skillet pork cutlets and balsamic tomatoes...

  • I blanched the 3 stalks of broccoli, boiling them until they were bright green and still somewhat crispy.  Then I plunged them in cold water to stop the cooking and retain the beautiful color and texture.  Then I chopped the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and threw them in a bowl.
  • I added 3 slices of chopped, crispy bacon.  (Tip:  I use kitchen shears to snip bacon into small, evenly-sized pieces.)  I also added ½ cup of golden raisins and ¼ cup of roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds.
  • I mixed up a sauce using 1 cup of homemade mayo, 2 tablespoons of citrus vinegar and 1 tablespoon of agave nectar.  (You can also use honey.)  Then I just tossed it all together. 

It was delicious.  I hope I get more broccoli in my happy box next week.  

As for the rest of the meal, I simply rubbed thick slices of pork tenderloin with my favorite all-purpose dry meat rub and browned them in a skillet.  In another skillet, I sautéed a large onion until soft, then added a 10 ounce package of grape tomatoes and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and cooked on medium-high heat until the tomatoes burst and it all got a bit caramelized.  Yum!

I'd say things are off to a great start.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Baked Flank Steak - Super quick and easy!

I love recipes that are delicious but require very little effort.  This is one of those.  All it takes is some quick prep, then let the oven do the rest.  Don't be fooled by the simplicity; this recipe is a go-to for those times when you want to serve a nice meal, but you just have better things to do than hang around in the kitchen all day.  (That's right.  I said it.)  

So, here is what you need:
  • a good-sized flank steak.  Two if you’re feeding a larger group.
  • a large onion, sliced.  I like sweet onions like Vidalia.
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar.  I like using my homemade citrus vinegar, but red wine vinegar or Balsamic vinegar would work just fine.
  • a teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of dry mustard

Lightly score the flank steak on both sides with a sharp knife.

Place it in a glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt.  Top with the onion slices.  Combine the sugar, vinegar and mustard and pour it over the meat and onions.

Pour one cup of hot water over all.  Cover the baking dish with foil and place in a preheated 325 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake it uncovered another hour.

To serve this, slice it diagonally.  It’s good with a simple vegetable or green salad and some couscous -- just follow the box instructions for cooking the couscous, but substitute the hot beefy pan drippings and onions for an equivalent measure of water.

Easy.  Tasty.  Terrific.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

World's Best Cookies

I’m throwing it down:  These are the World's. Best. Cookies. They are firm and chewy, they are easy and inexpensive to make, and they taste like Heaven on a plate.  I always have some in my cookie jar for the grandmunchkins.  A friend of mine even told me these cookies are a great cure for a hangover.  (I’ll share my pictures of the intervention as soon as I get them developed...  Just kidding!  I use a digital camera.)

This is a very old family recipe, so it calls for ingredients like gluten-included flour and Crisco shortening and lots of sugar.  Generally I modify to avoid such things, but this is one recipe I don’t want to update because it is perfect the way it is.  In that case I opt to uphold the quality and exercise moderation in the quantity.  Ahem.

So here is what you need:

You need Crisco shortening.  There’s a cup of it in the recipe, but first you need some to grease some cookie sheets.  Oh, alright, you can line the sheets with parchment if you insist.

You need a preheated 375 degree oven.

You need some wire cooling racks and a good, sharp spatula.

You need to sift together your dry team:
·         2 cups of all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon of salt
·         1 teaspoon of baking powder
·         1 teaspoon of baking soda

I don’t own a sifter, so I just run it through a mesh strainer.

You need to beat together your wet team:
  • 1 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of Crisco shortening  (You know they sell this stuff in handy sticks now…)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract  (Granny would never use the imitation stuff.)

Combine your wet and dry ingredients.  (Do this slowly at first so you don't end up with a flour explosion.  You knew that, right?)  Then mix well for about 2 minutes.

You need goodies:

  • 3 cups of rolled oats (Not the instant kind.  The kind that says it cooks in 1 minute.)
  • 1/2 a bag of chocolate chips.  (The chips are optional, but who are we kidding?)

Fold the oats and the chocolate chips into the batter. 

At this point you could wrap your dough up in cellophane and freeze it.  I use a Sharpie to label everything I put in the freezer – once it’s been in there a while, it’s hard to tell the meat from the cake.  I have learned this lesson the hard way!  I also note the date it was frozen and thumbnail cooking instructions – who wants to look up the recipe every time you take something out of the freezer?

Drop rounded spoonfuls onto your greased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.  Flatten them just a little with the back of a spoon.  Bake them for 12 minutes, and remove them immediately to the wire racks to cool.

This recipe should make about 5 dozen cookies.  Those cookies should last about 5 minutes once your family has tried them.