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.

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?

 

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.

 

 

Gluten Free Chicken Piccata

Time to catch up… We had a great time hosting the engagement party.  We were certainly glad to have rented the canopy because it was cold and rainy although lucky for us, the rain held off until the food was served.  The amazing thing is that we actually were able to stand under the canopy – if it had been up to my husband we would have been standing on top of it.  If you ever need anything assembled, my husband is not the first guy you’d call for help.  After the rental company dropped it off along with 50 tables and chairs, my husband went out to set it up with Tim.  Not that he gives up easily, but seriously…14 minutes after being out there he was back inside fuming, telling me to call the company to send someone out to set it up.  I had to tell him that they don’t do that and sent him back out with the warning that he’d better not come back inside in under an hour.  As it was getting dark I started to worry until I heard our neighbor out there and figured we finally had a fighting chance on getting the canopy up.  Our neighbor is not only a super nice and handy guy but he’d already dealt with the same canopy for a party he’d had a few weeks earlier.  So thank you Jim for getting that canopy up and helping John save face by explaining that the equipment was all rusted and bent.

We had plenty of food some made ahead, some provided by Tim’s mother, and delicious appetizers friends brought.  The only thing that I had to do at the last minute was to make the chicken piccata – why I made so much I’m not sure but by the time I sliced and pounded the chicken breasts, I ended up with about 50 cutlets.  At least I had great help from Tim’s mother and we sort of got a rhythm going with me dusting the cutlets and Kath sautéing like crazy.   I had a number of guests who have severe gluten intolerance and decided to make this a gluten free dish that everyone could enjoy although I was a little leery of how the almond flour would work out.  Frankly, it turned out great and I’d definitely make it again because the almond flour actually seemed to make it a little lighter yet the flavor was marvelous.  I especially liked this recipe because it made plenty of extra gravy and who doesn’t like a little extra gravy on top?

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GLUTEN FREE CHICKEN PICCATA (for less than 50)

4-6           Chicken breasts, pounded to thin slices
1/2 Cup   Almond flour
5 TBL     Olive oil, or enough to coat bottom of pan
1/4 Cup  Lemon juice
1 Cup     Chicken stock – I found gluten free chicken broth made by Swanson
Capers for topping

–  Coat chicken breasts in almond flour then sauté in hot olive oil until lightly browned
–  Remove chicken and keep warm while making sauce:
– Add lemon juice and chicken stock to pan, loosening chicken bits, reducing sauce
– When sauce has thickened, add chicken and capers

And that’s all there is to it…unless you’re doing 50 of them in which case bring a stool over to the stove.

 

 

Chicken Marsala – for “one of those days”

Ah, nothing like sitting down in the morning with a cup of French Roast Peet’s coffee, ready to catch up on what your blogging friends are doing when you’re suddenly hit with the smell of burning plastic and smoke billowing out of your laundry room.  Yes, you know you’re going to have a day.  Maybe not the day you’d planned or hoped for, but certainly a day.

I should have known that something wasn’t right when I shifted the water lever on the wall over to turn the water on and it moved a little too easily.  Hmm, it normally gives a little resistance but who am I to complain when it slides over without any effort?  So, load up the washer with a batch of towels and push the start button.  I did wonder if the lever might not have turned the water on so I waited until I heard water going into the washer and went back to my coffee… until the smell hit me, and then the smoke, and a grinding kind of noise… time for action:

#1 – shut the water lever to the off position (notice the panel on the washer shows a code of ‘nF’ (huh?)
#2 – hit the off button on the washer (oh, so you don’t want to shut down?  Fine!)
#3 – pull the plug
#4 – open the window & doors
#5 – consider calling husband to say I just burnt up the washing machine
#6 – reconsider and using bad language, get the owner’s manual out

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to find out what the “secret code” is for this washer.  The display is 2 characters but I didn’t know that the first time I got a code of “DO”.  I stood there waiting for the rest of the secret code to scroll across the screen assuming that it was going to tell me exactly what to “DO”.  As it turned out, I was supposed to realize that it meant Door Open…okay, got it, the door wasn’t fully closed but it took me a while to figure that out.  So although I kind of remember long ago looking in the manual for what the codes meant, and discovering that in the 46 pages (ok only 13 pages in English), I still went back to it to see if the secret codes had magically appeared.

No, they had not.  However, I did find all sorts of extremely useful tips like:

– Install the washer on a floor that can support the weight – I guess you find that out when your new washer lands in the basement.
– Do not allow children to play around or IN (YES IN) the appliance  – kids don’t do well on the spin cycle
– Of course – Do NOT sit on the washer
– Here’s a good one for all of you cooks out there – Do not wash or dry items that are soiled with vegetable or cooking oil.  These items may contain some oil after laundering.  Due to the remaining oil, the fabric may smoke or catch fire by itself.  Don’t say I haven’t warned you if you spontaneously combust!
– My favorite though:  Do not add gasoline or explosive substances to the wash water.  I’d like a show of hands please…how many of you out there have added gasoline to your laundry?  If yes, please tell me why.

So forget about that secret code of “nF” – maybe non-functioning although the capital F makes me think of something else.  I ended up telling my husband what he had to come home to and of course got the standard “I’ll take a look at it when I get home” response.  That’s ok, I’m used to it.  He’ll take a look at it and decide that we need to call a plumber.  This is the situation as of now…

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That’s not a pretty picture and I think this one makes me feel much better:

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When your day starts with almost burning the house down, it’s definitely a day that needs a quick and easy dinner.  There is nothing faster, easier, or more tasty than this Chicken Marsala recipe and a huge benefit is that you get to take the mallet and pound that chicken into giving you the ‘secret code’.  (My chicken however decided not to give it up).

CHICKEN MARSALA

4          Chicken boneless chicken breast, thin sliced or pounded
¼         Cup flour
½         teas Salt, pepper to salt
½         teas Oregano
4          Tbsp Oil
4          Tbsp Butter
½         Cup Marsala wine
Optional:  mushrooms and/or capers

Pound chicken breasts between sheets of Saran Wrap

  • On plate, combine flour, salt, pepper & oregano
  • Dredge chicken in flour, shake off excess
  • Heat oil & butter in large frying pan over medium heat
  • Saute chicken on medium high heat until lightly brown (just a few minutes each side)
  • Add mushrooms/capers around chicken & cook a few more minutes
  • Pour wine over chicken & cover, simmering for about 10 minutes or until chicken is not longer pink.
  • If more sauce is needed, additional sherry can be added or canned chicken broth.  Just before serving, baby spinach leaves may be added
  • Serve over buttered noodles

 

Bacon Mac & Cheese and Diane’s New Parts

I know you wouldn’t think bacon mac & cheese has anything to do with new parts but I’m finally going in tomorrow for a total hip replacement and needed some comfort food. What better comfort food than Mac & Cheese and of course when you add bacon, well everything is just better with bacon.

I’ve been a little scattered with my blog posts because it’s been hard to sit for long…or walk…or drive. Although it’s been a long process, I’m looking forward to getting rid of these broken down old bones and getting a factory authorized (no used or after market parts for me thank you) titanium hip. I’m thinking I may very well do a food blog on the hospital food – what do you think? I know the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston is world renown for it’s surgeons and technology. I’m not so sure how their cafeteria is although I’ve upgraded to a special wing with a private room which offers high tea and catered meals any time of day. In any case I will be bringing my IPad along and look forward to keeping up with your posts. Just keep in mind that if I comment, please be understanding since I’m sure I’ll be on the Koo-Koo juice 🙂

Oh, and I’ve checked with my surgeon.  He guarantees that I will be able to do this after a brief recovery and some physical therapy.

(I have no idea why links aren’t enabled right now on my account, and you’ll probably get a message that you can’t view this except on youtube, so just click that second link to see what I’ll be working on.)

To calm my nerves and leave my husband with a good batch of leftovers I made up my version of Mac & Cheese that is extra gooey on the cheese and of course enhanced by bacon.

 BACON MAC & CHEESE

1/2 to 1 lb.   Cooked Bacon (I bake mine for about 20 minutes in the oven at 400°)
1 1/2 Cups  Shredded Parmesan cheese
8 oz.            Fresh Mozzarella, shredded (yes, it makes a terrible mess)
2                 Eggs
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 pkg          Mini pasta shells

Drain the cooked pasta shells then dump into a large bowl.
Mix in eggs, bacon, and cheeses, then sprinkle with pepper & salt to taste.

Put everything into a baking dish and cooking at 350° for about 1/2 hour until all the cheeses just ooze together into a delish concoction.

Another variation of this that I didn’t make this time (because frankly, I just forgot) is to sauté slices carrots in some white wine until just a little tender and add to the mixture.

Sausage & Cheese Calzones

I called the groomer Wednesday to make an appointment for Lola.  As the day wore on and I didn’t receive a callback, I thought to myself…”I wonder if I left that message with the groomer”.  The thing is, the message wasn’t like a business greeting – just “you have reached 508-xxx-xxxx” (beeeeep).  I thought that was a little strange, being a business and all but still, I left my name and number with the message to please call me back about ‘doing’ Lola, the Bernese Mountain Dog.  So, yesterday I called back and sure enough got a professional message “hello, you’ve reached FurrEssentials.  If we’re not answering, it’s because we’re with the dogs, please leave your name and number and we’ll get back to you”.

Oh boy…I’m sitting here wondering who has my name and number and is waiting for a crazy lady to show up on their doorstep with a Bernese Mountain dog.  In any case I guess they’re not interested since I haven’t heard back from them.  But I wonder, am I becoming that befuddled elderly lady who calls me at 7:30am asking for Helen?  And, every time that I tell her that she has the wrong number, she calls back and asked for Helen again.  Sometimes we go through that routine a few times with me asking her what Helen’s number is and explaining that she misdialed the area code until I guess she either gets through to Helen or forgets what it was she wanted to talk to Helen about in the first place.

I’m usually pretty good with the home phone and have gotten used to the violence of calling someone by  “punching” of numbers vs. the more genteel “dialing” although sometimes after punching in a bunch of numbers and sitting waiting for my call to go through I realize that I haven’t “hit” send.

How many of you remember rotary phones?  Now here’s where some of you will give your age away – how many of you remember party lines?  I think if I were to tell a young person that our first phone was a party line that they’d think my family was a fun but weird family.  It’s just recently that I’ve felt comfortable being able to have a long conversation with my daughter without having to worry about toll charges per minute or Mrs. Smith from next door click, clicking to let me know that she wanted to make a phone call herself.  And these long string of numbers to remember, except that you don’t have to remember them anymore because you can store them.  We did store them in the ‘olden days’ but it was in a little address/telephone book kept by the phone.  If you wanted to call someone in your town, you only needed to dial the last 4 digits; out of town you had to add the exchange.  So I guess it’s a good thing to be able to store phone numbers on your cell phone.  Except that you have to make sure that you’re communicating with the right person.

There are plenty of hilarious stories out there about auto correct which can be frustrating when you just have a simple question.  I was out shopping and saw the cutest baby socks.  I wanted to buy them for a couple about to have their first and texted my daughter asking her if it was a boy or girl…
Me:  “Nik, do you know what Matt & Colleen are having- boy or girl
Niki:  Boy
Me:  Ok, saw the cutest things & they’re Izods
Autocorrect:  Uzis
Me:  NO!  Izods
Autocorrect:  IPods
Me:  Damnit!  i-z-o-d-s!
Niki:  LOL.  it’s ok Mom I figured it out
Me:  Just didn’t want u to think I was buying weapons

And then there’s this problem with sending texts to the wrong people.  Usually I text my daughter and I guess I just assume that when I go into the list that hers will be the first one up or default.

Me to Niki:  What time are you coming by to pick up the air conditioner?
My friend Nancy:  ? Diane – thanks but I have central air

Me to Niki:  Are you at Wegman’s? If u r could you buy me those almond croissants? And what is the brand name of the mattress we bought you
Niki’s friend:   No response from her, but a text from her to my daughter:  why does your mom want to know if I’m at Wegmans & why is she asking about my mattress?  (This girl is such a sweetheart though that I’m sure if I really wanted those croissants that she’d go get some for me)

But my best was when my husband and I were out shopping and went separate ways in Macy’s…
Me:  Meet me in the sheets
My friend Richie:  ?Huh?

Now here’s a visual before I give you the recipe for these amazing calzones.  This is a normal brain:

This is my brain:

I need to explain all of that because if you read my last post, you may recall (I think I do) that I took a camera class.  In the class the instructor said to not delete photo’s individually from your camera – either delete all after downloading them from your computer or after downloading, reformatting  the memory stick.  If you delete individual photos, you end up with a badly fragmented memory stick. So thinking of all the practice photos in my class of fellow classmates, I reformatted my camera’s stick forgetting that I had a whole bunch of great shots of these calzones in various stages – beautifully colored mixture, dough rolled and lined up, heaped with filling, and even a shot of a freshly cut calzone which actually showed the steam drifting out.  They’re all gone and alas, but I had to show you something and all I can show you is this half calzone straight from the freezer and hard as a rock.  Trust me though, these calzones have a tasty meat mixture and ooze with melted cheese.

CALZONES WITH CHEESE, SAUSAGE, AND BELL PEPPER

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For the dough:
1 1/2 Cups warm water
1 Package dry yeast
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Teaspoon salt
4 Cups all purpose flour

– Sprinkle yeast over the warm water in a large bowl & let sit for a few minutes. Stir to blend.
– Add olive oil & salt
– Add flour in 1/2 cups, blending after each addition up about 3 1/2 cups. Knead on floured surface adding last 1/2 cup only until dough isn’t sticky
– Smack ball of dough into an oiled bowl, turn & smack it to the other side to coat. Let dough rise until about doubled in size.

For the Mixture:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Small red bell pepper
1 Large sweet onion
4 Large sausage with casing removed – sweet or spicy to your liking
12 Oz About 3 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
12 Oz 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
4 Teaspoons oregano

– Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and bell pepper until softened, set aside
– Cook sausage meat, adding a little oil if necessary, breaking meat up with a fork until cooked
– Mix mozzarella & ricotta cheeses in bowl with oregano

Preheat oven to 400 °.  Punch down dough, cut into 8 equal portions for a generously sized calzone.  Roll each out into a circle and drop equal amounts of meat filling, then cheese mixture into the center of each.  Fold each in half and pinch the edges firmly.  Sprinkle corn meal on 2 cookie sheets and divide calzones onto.  Pierce the tops with either a fork or knife to let steam escape.

Position 1 oven rack on top level and 1 rack on bottom.  Place one cookie sheet on each level for 15 minutes.  Reverse cookie sheets and cookie for another 15 minutes. until golden brown.