Winter Blues and The Blue Apron

My last post may have mentioned that we’ve been getting hammered this winter with blizzard after blizzard after blizzard – each dropping at least a foot of snow on us, followed by freeze your eyeballs solid cold.  Although I was born and raised in New England and I don’t think that I could ever live where there aren’t 4 seasons, I think we’ve had enough of the particular ‘season’.  With storms hitting us every other day it’s been hard to get out because the back roads are narrowed down to one lane.  I guess the best way to tell you about our winter is with pictures:

The day before this stop sign was completely buried – apparently the town went around clearing stop signs.stop sign

Who needs curtains?photo-9

You should have heard the noise when my husband got up on the ladder to knock these icicles down!photo-10

At least the front of the house gets sun & a little bit of melt
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My husband’s daily exercise…
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I’m guessing when this bird gets back from Florida, she’ll be putting in an insurance claim for damages for her roof leaking…IMG_1763

There is one who loves the snow – the Bernese Mountain Dog bobsled …
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You would think that being housebound, my house would be sparkling clean – but frankly all I have is cabin fever and brain freeze.  I’ve taken advantage of an awesome Christmas gift from my daughter for a delivery from The Blue Apron.  The Blue Apron is a great service that delivers all of the ingredients - everything that you need to make a great meal.  They plan the meal, package all of the ingredients which are pre-measured, and deliver to your front door.  When I say they include all of the ingredients, it includes everything except the pans and a little olive oil or butter for cooking.

My three meal choices for this delivery were Orange Beef Lo Mein, Shrimp Po’ Boys, and Chicken & Sage Biscuit Pot Pie.  I started with the Lo Mein which is something that I never would have tried on my own since I would have no idea what half the ingredients were.  However, they include very detailed instructions – some would say foolproof but I proved them wrong. 

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The result was really good although I made the mistake of forgetting to add the spice blend while cooking the meat so it didn’t really absorb and made for a very strong flavor.  I think I did a pretty good job of recreating this dish to look like their example.
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Now, for the next meal we decided to try the Shrimp Po’ Boys which is where I really blew the instructions.  They gave us butter lettuce – some to put in the sandwich rolls and the rest for a salad with vinaigrette dressing.  There was a package for the remoulade sauce to top the shrimp in the Po’ Boys and a package for the vinaigrette dressing for the salad.  The instructions CLEARLY showed two bowls – one for the remoulade and another for the vinaigrette.  Back to that brain freeze I’ve had this winter…I dumped all of the ingredients together so we had a very um, tangy remoulade sauce.  Surprisingly it was still very good but I may have growled at my husband when he started laughing and said “huh, wonder what this was supposed to taste like”.

So tonight I’ll be making the Chicken and Sage Biscuit Pot Pie and I’m going to concentrate and really pay attention to the instructions – this one I’m going to get right.  But, if The Blue Apron is looking for anyone to test out their instructions they can give me a call to check for fool-proof-ness.

In My Kitchen – February 2015

How many of you remember that little jingle from elementary school that helped you  remember how many days in each month?

“30 days hath September, April, June and November,
All the rest have 31,
Except January and February in New England which have 61″

Ok, I’ve changed it up a little to reflect winter in New England and it may have something to do with the 2 feet of snow from last week’s blizzard and the 1 extra foot of snow predicted for tomorrow.  Unless you are an avid skier or snow mobile enthusiast, a lot of us do spend more time in the kitchen in the winter cooking warming, comfort food – like soups and stews.  That’s my plan except for one thing –

HELP – I don’t know beans about beans, so would all you bean friends tell me what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve got this really pretty bag of beans with a stew recipe which my daughter gave me for Christmas.
IMG_1722I think they’re pretty enough to just put in a dish for decorations but I really have plans to make the stew.  There’s a wonderful farmhouse stew recipe on the attached card but I’m stumped at Step 1 which says:  Rinse, drain, and pick over beans.

Help me out here bean gurus, what am I supposed to be looking for as I “pick over” these beans?  Is it like mussels where I’m supposed to discard the dead ones?  How do I know a dead bean by looking at it?  I’ve opened the bags and none appear to be jumping around or breathing so they all look pretty dead to me.  Maybe it’s a matter of taking out any that float belly up.  Any suggestions regarding bean ‘picking over’ are greatly appreciated.

Once I get the beans figured out and the farmhouse stew going, I plan to make these biscuits – another thoughtful gift from Niki (isn’t she great to try to streamline my cooking time?IMG_1723

I also have this adorable mini whisk from Tim, Niki’s fiancé.  I’ve put it beside my regular size whisk so you can get an idea of the size.  I’m not sure if I want to gunk it up with anything or make a cute decoration for next year’s Christmas tree.  Some of my favorite ornaments are related to my hobbies and I think this could be very cute with a bow.
IMG_1724Finally, finally, I’ve waited out my husband and after a year, got the counter chairs that I’ve been hoping for from Restoration Hardware.  I found these last year when they were on sale but my husband was against buying them without giving them an are test.  There aren’t any Restoration Hardware stores nearby where he could test drive them so I decided to wait him out.  It worked, I let him go looking all last year for counter chairs and he couldn’t come up with anything even close to the quality and sale price on these.  As soon as I saw the sale come up, I gave him one last chance and he caved in…and they’re very comfortable.
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Now I’ve mentioned our latest blizzard in Massachusetts.  I don’t think it was as bad as some (since we didn’t lose power & that’s the true test of a storm around here).  Although we’ve now got a generator in case of power failure, you can’t run the entire house on it and have to select the most important things to keep running – like HEAT, water,  and the refrigerator.  So if power goes out during one of these storms, my stove moves outdoors to this:

IMG_1702You just have to brush the snow off after you shovel a path … yes, that’s the grill under there.

What’s happening in your kitchen this month?  As always, thanks to Celia at Fig Jam and cordials  for hosting the IMK posts.  Swing by to say hi and check out other kitchens around the world.  In the meantime, make sure to smile and enjoy whatever life drops on you….

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Mango Chicken with Mascarpone Sauce

Sometimes I read someone’s blog and find a recipe that looks just too perfect to mess with, like this Creamy Kabocha Truffle Pasta that Bam recently posted.  Or how about Happiness Stan’s Shrimp-entouffee which looks fantastic as is but I can’t help but think…what if I added mussels to that… and then made up some of Celia’s Dakos to dunk in the sauce?  Then there are times when you’re not sure where you’re going with an idea and start scrolling through other blogs as I did one evening only to find Adam Holland online.  All I had for an idea was ‘something with sausages…and it should have a sauce’.  Since Adam was online at the time we went back and forth with ideas about adding a marinara sauce and caramalized onions – viola!  a great meal was born.

Some times it takes a team effort and someone to bounce ideas off of when you hit that road block of “what am I going to make tonight”.  This happened when my daughter called me from the market.  “I’ve got chicken and and a mango, but I really want a sauce – what do you think?”  Mango, mango…”Okay, what do you think of mascarpone cheese?”  Bingo!  A new and very easy recipe was born.  After giving it a try that night, Niki had to call me to tell me what a winner it was.  Now we both make this one on a regular basis.IMG_1593Easy?  You betcha:
– Thinly slice about 3-4 shallots.  Cook in a large saucepan with a half stick of butter
– After pounding chicken  breasts, sauté until almost done
– Add 8 oz. of mascarpone cheese, stirring with pan drippings and butter until creamy
– Add sliced mango for just a few minutes.  Mango should be ripe but not mushy to get the best flavor, over-ripe or overcooking the mango gives it sort of a bitter taste.
– Sprinkle a little cilantro on top for a nice fresh taste

And there you have it – a simple meal that takes less than a half hour to prepare and cook.  If you don’t count the butter (I never do), I’m pretty sure it’s even healthy.  As a matter of fact this is hitting the table tonight – thank you Niki.  And thanks to all of you, my blogging friends for inspiring me as well as holding my hand when I lack the confidence to try something on my own.  Does anyone else get inspired to try something different – a new ingredient, a new cooking technique from blogs you follow?

 

In My Kitchen – January 2015

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and that 2015 will be a happy and healthy new year for all.

Don’t you love getting ‘real’ mail?  Real mail being NOT bills, supermarket flyers, or 6 pre-approved credit card offers.  You can imagine my delight when I received a chubby envelope from Celia in Australia.  Many of you know Celia from her great blog and as the hostess of these monthly In My Kitchen features.  If you haven’t stopped by yet to see her, this would be a good time to check out what’s happening in her kitchen this month at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.  Inside the envelope were the seeds for making my first ever sourdough starter…so, the first thing happening this year in my kitchen is sourdough:
IMG_1673Celia very helpfully included very detailed instructions on getting the started perked up and ready to go.  She also suggested naming my starter, referencing where it came from, namely Priscilla.  I’ve named my starter Mamie, sister of Priscilla, in honor of my mother who was a world class baker.  I should warn you though, that at any time Mamie may decide to suddenly change her name as my mother did.  Yes, I have to tell you the story of the time I was visiting my mother when I answered the phone for her.  That conversation was a pretty typical conversation with my mother and went something like this:

Mamie:  Who was that?
Me:  I don’t know – wrong number, someone looking for Mary
Mamie:  Oh!  That’s for me, who was it?
Me:  I have no idea but it was someone looking for MARY, Ma. (My mother was a little hard of hearing).
Mamie:  No, that’s me.
Me:  (Who’s on first?)  What do you mean – are you Mary?
Mamie:  Yes of course I’m Mary!
Me:  When did this happen?
Mamie:  I’ve always been Mary
Me:  Then why did your parents call you Mamie?  And why did Dad call you Mamie…and your brothers and sisters?  Why is the mail addressed to Mamie?
Mamie:  They got it wrong and it was wrong on my birth certificate.  (End of discussion, next!)

So, just like that my mother decided her name was Mary and started using it on all of her documents so I guess it was legal.  One day I may take out my Mamie starter only to find that it’s now Mary, twin of Mamie, sister of Priscilla.

As Celia promised, my starter came to life and I got my first batch of sourdough bread ready to go, leaving it on the counter overnight until the next morning when it was ready to bust out of the bowl.  Alas, the dough was ready to go but I was upstairs with a rip roaring migraine.  Glenda – do you remember suggesting that my husband take up bread making during his retirement?  The idea of fresh bread was too overwhelming for him to not step up to the plate and finish off according to Celia’s great tutorial.  There were a few minor adjustments due to poor math skills with conversions (mine – and they would have happened even if I didn’t have a migraine).  End result – maybe not the prettiest but our opinion is that it tastes great!
IMG_1679Of course I got plenty of cool gadgets and gifts from my family and friends.  Now that I’ve got the first batch of sourdough under my belt, it’s time to try this butter making kit from my daughter.  It should be great on my next batch of sourdough:

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I also had some temporary things in my kitchen.  Sushi:
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Cute little guy isn’t he?  He was a Christmas gift for Tim, our future son-in-law and I was a wreck worrying about making sure he survived until I could get him to Tim.  Lucky for me, I turned around in time as Moe the Terrorist Cat was tap-tapping Sushi’s jar to see the how he handled gravity.  Oh, he’s also been renamed Henry (I think).

Now here’s what looks like a very fun gadget from Tim’s mother:
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I have to buy some more grapes or cherry tomatoes to give this little gizmo a try but what you do is load it up with round objects and slide the slicer to cut the round objects in half.  I imagine I can come up with other round objects to stuff in there and the beauty of it is that the blade is safely inside so I shouldn’t slice off any fingers this year (at least not with this).

And how about this Fadenschneider?  I think I like that name better than just “microplane”.    It’s always useful to have a zester and bottle opener handy but I’ve never had anything to make those clever curly garnishes that all of you fancy bloggers are doing.  I sort of mangled a lime so I guess I still need some practice with my Fadenschneider, but once I do, you are going to see curly things all over my food.
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And finally, moved from my kitchen to the back yard is this fun birdseed wreath from our great friends and neighbors, Tom and Sue.  It took the birds a while to figure out what that was hanging out there, but I think our recent sleet and snow storm convinced the birds to give it a try and we had dozens of birds out there yesterday fighting for treats.
IMG_1684Thank you all for sharing your stories with me this past year and especially for stopping by to read and comment on my posts.  I love hearing from you all and feel that I am a lucky person to have so many wonderful friends around the world.  Your stories brighten my days and I love learning about you through your love of good food and fun friendship.  May you all continue to share your joy of cooking and have a healthy, love filled New Year!

 

 

In My December Kitchen – 2014

When did December sneak up on us?  If it weren’t for Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, I don’t think I’d know what month it is.  Please stop by to say hi to Celia and take a look at what she and other bloggers have going on in their kitchens this month.  She really caught my eye with the awesome Cheese and Garlic Crack bread!

After finding a recipe for Spicy Lime Shrimp with Drunken Grapes (check out the recipe on  Simply Fresh Dinners – Robyn, guest writer on BamsKitchen blog) I tried this recipe as just an appetizer.  My husband and I decided that in the future it’s worthy of an entire meal.  Little appetizer bites were great, but you just don’t want to stop eating these.  I used a dried ginger powders for the shrimp since I didn’t have fresh and Pinot Grigio to get the grapes drunk.  As I say, the shrimp was so good but I may have gotten a little too excited about the drunken grapes. Therefore, in my December kitchen …

IMG_1608an extra mason jar of Drunken Grapes.  They’re sweet red seedless grapes with a Pinot Grigio poured over the top and soaked for 6 hours to no more than 2 days.  I can tell you that after 2 days those little grapes will blow your head off.  So what to do with the extra grapes?

Make some Goat Balls with Drunken Grapes…

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No need to put them on crackers.  I just did that to get my husband to try them.  When he’s watching football, you can put anything on top of a cracker and he’ll eat it.  I just ground up some pecans, made little balls with the goat cheese (I found that small balls are better than big since the cheese can overpower the other flavors),  rolled the cheese balls in the pecans and stuck them with a pick.  Of course you can just eat the drunken grapes.

This is what’s left of the Pinot Grigio.  It was a very nice wine but I’m including it really to show the background kitchen wall paint.  Yes, I really did get that room painted!

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ALMOST in my kitchen are some food rings.
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I’ve been coveting food rings every time I see Happiness Stan making something with his (like this cottage pie with seared filet in madeira sauce) and vow to get some for myself.  While my husband and I were out Christmas shopping I found these at Sur la Table – a really fun store with everything you can imagine for cooking.  Since I couldn’t find the food rings, my husband asked a clerk and we BOTH went over to the bins where I picked 4 rings and said “I’ll get these but you can wrap them and put them in my stocking for Christmas”.  So that’s why they’re not quite in my kitchen yet.  BUT…a few days later, my husband went back out Christmas shopping alone.  When he got home I was taking a picture of these and he did a double take and said “where’d you get those?”.  I reminded him that we bought them when we were out shopping, that I explained that he needed to wrap them, and they were to go in my stocking.  At which point, he went back down to his car and came up with these…

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Oh look…more food rings!  One of each size … from Sur La Table.  Since I wanted them to make pretty and equal portions of foods like mac and cheese or some sort of meat patty meal, I’m not sure what to do with one of each.  Maybe I could make a portion for papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear – any ideas or should they just go back?  Especially that tiny little one, I’m not quite sure what you’d put in that other than maybe – oh yes – a drunken grape sitting on a goat ball.

Well that’s all that I can show in my kitchen right now since the island is full of Christmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and I can’t very well share those pictures yet.  Thanks again to Celia, hostess for In My Kitchen.

 

In My Kitchen – November 2014…The best way to choose paint colors

In My kitchen this month is decision central…

In my last post I mentioned that we were getting ready to paint most of the rooms in the house, starting with the kitchen.  I mentioned that we must have just about every paint chip available from all of the major paint companies.  Did you thinking I was exaggerating?IMG_1607

I think the problem is having too many choices and of course there really isn’t a huge difference between say Mystic Cream and Artist’s Canvas.  As for the names of these paints…what are they smoking to come up with names like First Love, Meditation, Woodstock Tan, and Stone Harbor?  I like names that at least have something to do with color – tell me what color do you imagine when you think Meditation?  I also feel like I’m color blind when I talk to the paint experts at the hardware store:

Diane:  “I have a light beige and persimmon duvet cover that I’d like to coordinate with, what do you think of this linen color?”
Paint Expert:  “Well, I suppose you could go with that but aren’t you afraid of the green undertones in that?”
Diane (to herself):  Green undertones?  I see light beige…
Diane (to Paint Expert):  “Oh, of course, I see what you mean, how about Lonesome Dove”
Paint Expert:  “Weellll, I could see it but do you really want to bring the hint of gray in there?”

In any case, I’ve come up with a pretty good way to pick the color for the back hallway and the kitchen.  I wait for a rainy, muddy day and let the dog out.  Once Lola does the test color with her tail I go find the color card that’s the closest to our mud.  Now if you have dogs, you’ll need to do your own test since I’ve noticed that mud varies region by region so I won’t give you any particular recommendation but ours looks like this:

As always, thanks to Celia for hosting the In My Kitchen feature.  Please stop by to say hi to her and if you don’t already, think about joining in next month – there should be plenty going on in everyone’s kitchens during December.

 

Rosemary Braised Short Ribs and Retirement

It seems like a very long time ago I mentioned that I’d be posting my version of braised short ribs based on a meal my daughter and I had in New York City.  I’ve been tweaking the recipe a few times to get it pretty close to that great meal but we’ve had a few things going on here that just keep getting in the way of actually writing a post.

You might recall that my husband retired.  If you ask him how retirement’s going, he’s likely to say “great, getting used to it, but it’s great”.  Out of his hearing though, my friends ask me “So, how is it having John home all the time now?”.  My response is usually something like… “Well we haven’t killed each other yet although he almost got smacked upside the head with the cast iron skillet when he thought it was a good idea to rearrange the kitchen”.  Don’t get me wrong – retirement’s great…I’ve loved every minute of MY retirement and after 36 years of marriage we still love each other and it’s nice to finally be able to just go and do whatever we want, when we want to do it.  But, it’s an adjustment and just like recipes, you need to tweak things a little until you get them just right.

It’s not that we don’t have plenty of room in the house.  We’ve got more than enough room for just two people but the problem seems to be that even with all that room, we both end up being in exactly the same place at the same time – namely in front of the ONE computer.  Which is why I’ve had a hard time getting a blog posted since I write in spurts.  I’ll do a paragraph, get up to maybe get a load of laundry going, grab a cup of coffee, and sit back down at the computer – except there’s now someone else’s butt in the chair.  I may have posted a while ago what I think of the new Windows (##@#!!!##).  One of the  ‘features’ is that if someone else logs on, you have to go back through your logon security screen to get to where you were.  You might not think it’s that big a deal but if you end up doing that every 20 minutes or so, it does get annoying.  That problem should be resolved soon since I just bought a new Mac laptop.  Just hang in there though while I go through my learning curve of switching from a desktop to a laptop and Windows to Apple (I’m signed up for one of their classes November 10th).

Another interesting thing with having a retired husband home is that he suddenly realizes all of the things that need to be fixed or updated around the house.  You know, the things I’ve been staring at and ‘mentioning’ for 10 years.  My thinking is, that it’s perfect to have someone to help me repaint all of the rooms in the house.  What’s not going so well is color selection. As a result, I think I have the little paint cards for every Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, Glidden, and Valspar color ever created.  Every day I drive over to Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Ace Hardware to pick up some more color cards.  I think if I just tape all of the cards on the walls, I’ll have at least one room completely repainted.   Let’s just say that our tastes are so different that we’ll be lucky to get a color selected by next spring – but you can be sure that one of the guest bedrooms will NOT be electric mint green.

Since my husband has seen the error of his ways in rearranging the kitchen and he’s decided that I’ll still be head chef around here, this is my final version of the braised short rib recipe – although please feel free to play with the ingredients, especially the ketchup and mustard, depending on how sweet or tart you like things.

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs

Prep Beef short ribs:
Sprinkle 4-6 beef short ribs with salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Slow cook seasoned ribs in a crock pot with about 1 cup of red wine  for an afternoon until meat falls off the bone and can be shredded with a fork.  Save liquid from pot for meat sauce.

For the meat sauce:

– Dice 1 medium onion and 3 large cloves of garlic.  Sauté onion in olive oil in large, heavy skillet until  translucent then add minced garlic.
– Stir in about 4 tablespoons of ketchup and 2 tablespoons of mustard of your choice.  I love using the using the Maille brand Old Style whole grain Dijon mustard.
– Skim off the fat from the liquid in the crock pot and add beef/wine liquid to skillet with shredded rib meat.  Stir it all together and let it simmer to the consistency of a pasta sauce.
– Serve on top of your favorite pasta with a nice topping of fresh grated parmesan cheese.