Saturday, October 21, 2017

Light vs. Dark... Meat on the chicken!

Today was going to be a pot roast day, according to my meal plan. But as I tossed and turned the night before, my knees let me know our cold spell had been interrupted for a hot, humid day with impending thunderstorms. (The impending delivered; there are some truly impressive flashes of light going on outside my window. All potted herbs are on the ground so they don't have far to fall if the wind knocks 'em over.)

Pot roast goes better with cold and crisp fall days, not muggy thunderstorms. And besides, when I was at the grocery store, they had fresh chicken drumsticks on sale for $0.89/lb! So I brought them home with plans for a Cajun chicken alfredo. (Not that it's really Cajun, but it uses Cajun seasoning.)

I'd forgotten how much my darling man despises drumsticks, along with a ...strong preference... for boneless skinless breast over any and all other parts of the bird.  Possibly because we've been working our way through a flat or two of boneless skinless breasts that were on a good sale from Sam's club that I'd broken down into smaller packages and vacuum sealed.

My darling man had forgotten how much I adore bone-in, skin-on dark meat, roasted until crispy in the oven. Outside of long, slow cooking recipes that pretty much turn anything into pulled chicken, it's hard for breast meat to match that juicy flavour.

"By the time you cut off all the skin, gristle, tendon, and bone, there's hardly any meat for all the chicken you paid for!"

"You're supposed to eat the crispy skin! And it tastes so much better, that it works out far better in flavour per dollar! Why eat dry white breast you have to simmer in juice or smother in gravy when you can have a couple juicy thighs?"

Yeah, I don't think he's ever going to come to the dark side of the bone. At least this means we're not competing when we split a rotisserie chicken!

Cajun Chicken Alfredo (The easy way, in 3 parts:)

The chicken:
drumsticks or thighs (Or breasts, if you must!)
olive oil to grease the pan
1/4 Tbsp pat of unsalted butter per piece of chicken (probably more if you do skinless)
Cajun/Creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's "more spice" version.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F
2. Lightly oil a pan big enough to hold all the pieces of chicken (it's fine if they're snugged up against each other)
3. Put the chicken in the pan, and cover lightly with seasoning. (If you really want a lot of seasoning, flip the pieces and coat both sides.
4. Put a pat of butter on top of each piece to keep it juicy and moist while cooking.
5. Bake for 25-45 minutes, until done. (I cooked about 2 pounds, and it took 45 minutes)

The noodles:
1/2 spaghetti squash per person spaghetti squash

1. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Unless you got one big enough that'd take an axe, in which case just stab a couple holes in it for steam to escape. (Like a potato. A very tough potato. Be careful!)

2. If you were able to halve it, scoop the seeds out of the halves, the wrap them in plastic wrap. If not, skip this step.

3. Place halves face down in the microwave, and microwave for 10 minutes. If you weren't able to split it open, just stick it in the microwave for 8-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash.
4. IMPORTANT! After the microwave is finished, LET THE SQUASH COOL OFF SEVERAL MINUTES BEFORE HANDLING! Steam burns are no fun.
5. If you didn't scoop the seeds out before, cut the squash in half and do so now. Oven mitts help in handling hot, steam-laden squash.
6. Take a fork, and scrape out the spaghetti squash flesh. It comes out like noodles. Pile ontop plates, or into serving bowl.

The alfredo sauce:

1 jar alfredo sauce (I told you this was the easy version.)
1/2 pack (4 oz) mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 shot of bourbon for the sauce (optional: another shot for the cook to sip)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk

1. Slice mushrooms and onion thinly.
2. Heat oil and butter in saucepan on med to med-high, then add onions and salt. Stir until onions are coated, and steaming away.  (They're going to be too crownded to saute, but will turn transparent.)
3. Add mushrooms, stir to coat with oil & mix with onions, then stir occasionally to keep from sticking. The pan will be too crowded to truly saute, and that's fine. When everything's limp, and the onions are starting to caramelize, deglaze the pot with bourbon.
4. Dump in alfredo sauce, stir to mix. Do not toss sauce jar! Reduce heat to simmer/low.
5. Add milk to sauce jar, put lid back on, shake to thin all the sauce clinging to the walls. Open jar, add to the pot. Stir.
6. Stir occasionally, but this sauce'll keep while you're dealing with the spaghetti squash - so when your chicken is done, and your squash in a serving pot (or if only feeding two, just, ah, pre-plated), dinner is ready to put together and serve.

I served with a salad, and it was all good. Except for the look on my husband's face as he tried to salvage boneless skinless chunks from a drumstick or three... Sorry, dear!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gardening recap

It's mid-October. I just moved all the herbs from underneath the mulberry tree to up against the house, in the hopes that more direct sunlight and some extra warmth will keep them going a little longer. Something Alaskan in my brain still hurts at that statement, but it's true.

I would bring them inside, but... two cats. That does not end well, or cleanly. In fact, it's dirt and roots and leaves everywhere...

As things go, I know now not to try to grow cherry tomatoes in a planter, because when the gigantic tangle of tomato vines gets higher than 6 feet tall, the sheer wind resistance will start pulling the planter out and knocking the whole thing ever in every bad blow. I currently have it braced with dowels. Next year, I think I'll try planting tomatoes in the actual ground, by the fence, where the tomato cages will be more anchored.

I'll also try a different varietal. This one didn't say it'd turn into a 6 foot tall tangle reminiscent of briar hedges, either, but... the search shall continue. (And my brain is now imagining a riff on the fairy tale cottage overtaken by roses, only this one with cherry tomatoes... actually, this particular varietal would do that in a heartbeat, if it lived long enough!)

Also, next year, no more thai chili peppers. Too hot to eat regularly, and this plant is putting them out by the handful. No, more than that... the stems are starting to bow under the weight of peppers. Apparently I must have some ideal growing conditions, but I don't like them that much!

Maybe some sweet peppers next year?

The rosemary, because I didn't use it enough, has crowded the oregano out of the pot. Next year, I'll have to start a new pot with just oregano - and the same for parsley, as the thyme has decided it is small but mighty, and taking over the world!

On the bright and shiny, I kept everything but the dill and the cilantro alive this year, which is a vast improvement over my first year of gardening in Texas. Next year will be better yet!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A perfect storm of fluttering wings

Last weekend, I found myself inadvertently in the middle of one of Nature's near-inexplicable little miracles. Namely, I was on the high plains in Colorado, standing outside a farmhouse looking at a line of storms, when the air was suddenly filled with butterflies.

Now, I'd noticed a higher-than-normal number of butterflies around for October, but FarmMom said it's been a very wet year, and I wondered if they'd just survived the summer. But when every direction I looked, including up, the air was filled with hundreds of butterflies - I had found, by sheer accident, a butterfly migration path. Monarchs, painted ladies, sulphurs, and one or two cabbage whites, all swirled, danced, and tumbled on the wind in a generally southward cloud.

It was like being inside a swirling windstorm that shook all the leaves off the trees - except there weren't any trees shedding leaves nearby, and these were all flying, flapping, tumbling around each other, alighting on cars and grass and barn and people, even on the rifles. (One poor sulphur was most disappointed to find a taillight, while red, is not a hummingbird feeder full of sugar.)

I've gotten up at 4am and napped while my husband drove to a remote Tennessee corn field to see ultralights leading whooping cranes on their first migration, but I'd never put two and two together and realized I even had a chance to see the butterfly migration.

That was amazing!