Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Change of Plans and Pesto Dip

Today's dinner for the guys started off with great plans: caprese salad appetizer, scotch eggs and salad, watermelon for dessert...

But after covering a shift yesterday instead of having the day off, I was trying to combine Monday's cleaning and Tuesday's cooking. And really? I didn't want to get out of pajama pants and ratty old super-comfy t-shirt that was good enough to clean the house, but not good enough for public... at least, not until I was ready for friends to come over for dinner. Thus was born the Mission: Don't Leave the House, but still make a tasty dinner.

So instead of scotch eggs (I need to get another dozen eggs to make those), I put the boneless leg of lamb in the crockpot, as per this recipe:

(I had already thawed it because I forgot I was working an extra shift yesterday, and had planned to make it for Monday's dinner.) Minor changes: subbed local mesquite honey from the gun shop for the maple syrup, doubled the mustard, doubled the garlic, and swapped dried rosemary for 3 fresh sprigs straight off the bush in the backyard. And used an entire sprig of my Growing-Very-Well-Thank-You mint, which I have yet again failed to kill. Call it doubling the number of leaves called for. Then again, I think the lamb was closer to 4 pounds than 2, so it all worked out.

...No, if you want to make it yourself, you don't have to get mesquite honey from the gun shop. It just feels wrong to pop into the gun shop and leave without something in hand, but I'm really not going through my .22WMR or 9mm fast enough to justify clearing more space to hold it. They had local honey from someone's hive on sale at the counter, so I walked out with a bottle of honey instead of yet more ammo. It's all consumables, right?

The salad fixings from last week's grocery run got tossed yesterday, so to heck with low carb, time for a filler starch. I have some Yukon gold potatoes left over from making stew, but not enough to make a big pot of smashed potatoes... so those got scrubbed, stabbed, and went into the microwave to become baked potatoes.

And I was going to do a caprese salad for appetizer, but my husband objected. Besides, I'd have to leave the house to get tomatoes. Well, the basil is still trying to bolt and run riot, so it needs harvesting anyway... clearly I needed to make something with pesto!

So I made a pesto dip:

3 cups basil leaves, stripped off their stems and packed in the food processor,
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup feta
1/3 cup parmesan pecorino mix (really any hard-grating Italian cheese. I had this in my fridge.)
 1/4 cup olive oil
1 pinch kosher salt
1 block cream cheese

Mix everything but the cream cheese in the food processor. Scrape into bowl. Mix with cream cheese. Stick in fridge until ready to serve.

And served it with celery sticks, green pepper slices, and three stray slices of sourdough bread I'd found in the deep freezer and thawed.

As for dessert... I was planning on watermelon. I actually had the watermelon. But then the urge for chocolate struck. So I made a 8x8 pan of brownies from scratch, and pulled it out of the oven right as the lamb was carved and starting to be served. They were still warm by the time we got to dessert.

Cooked 'em 35 minutes because I got distracted, did not frost, and they were awesome. Only change: subbed raw cane sugar for the refined stuff, and added a glug of pusser's rum for flavour along with the vanilla.

Mission: don't leave the house. Accomplished!

Only minor issues: forgot to make a steamer bag of veggies for the table. Not to worry, people cleaned out all the celery sticks and the pesto until there were no more celery sticks.

Also, when cooking for 6? This meal's only leftovers was the pesto dip that had no celery sticks left to scoop it up and eat it.They liked it... and I guess I have to go get the eggs tomorrow, so I can make scotch eggs to take to work!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Good Day

It's a good day. The sun is shining, the weather's warm (even if the grass out there is waiting to be cut), and I have a husband who loves me and two cats who have a temporary truce over the open window.

You all have a wonderful Memorial weekend, and celebrate the good things in life, the people you have with you, and the ones who died so we could enjoy this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Beef Leek Soup

My darling man wanted a soup with beef and leeks. (Specifically,we were grocery shopping and he went "Oh, those leeks would be lovely in soup!") However, come the day to make the soup, and he was not feeling up to standing at the stove for all the prep time.

So I abstracted a recipe from four different sources, and came up with something that he, and company, enjoyed.  Better yet, SpaceX was launching iridium satellites to orbit yesterday, so I got to watch a rocket rise and low earth orbit deployment shots in between cooking. Between a glass of wine or two for the cook, a fire in the sky, and happy company and husband with full stomachs, life was wonderful.

Beef Leek Soup

3 strips of bacon, diced.
2 pounds roast, diced into chunks
2 leeks, chopped, white and green parts, rinsed thoroughly before chopping
1 onion
1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced or sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp died)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or to taste, dried)
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp smoke paprika (sweet)

3 medium yukon gold potaoes (because this sort of soup needs a garnish of potatoes), diced large

First, dice the roast into bite-sized chunks. Put on a paper plate with paper towels, so it's dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper generously. In a large heavy pot, cook the diced bacon until it gives up its delicious fat. Remove cooked bacon, and brown the beef one batch at a time, so it gets nicely browned.

While the beef is browning, cop up the leeks. Get a big colander, put chopped leeks in, and rinse thoroughly to get the last of the find soil out of 'em. (There's always some.) Dice up onion, too - you can just throw it int the colander with the leeks to keep everything together. If you have time, chop up the parsley and strip the thyme off its stems, and heap that in a little bowl with the rosemary twig and bay leaves.

Once the last batch of beef is browned, remove it and dump the onion & leek & mushrooms into the pot. If necessary, add some extra fat - olive oil or butter is fine - to help it all saute. (Depends on how fatty the beef was). Rinse off and chop up the potatoes, leaving skins on. When the leeks and mushrooms are limp and the onion is transparent, add the garlic, and the tomato paste. Once the garlic is sauteed (about 30 seconds), add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Scrape to make sure all the tasty brown goodness comes up.

If you have an electric tea kettle, this is an excellent time to fill and start it. Add the herbs, bay leaves,  potatoes, paprika, and water to cover. Bring back to a boil (this is where the pre-boiled water makes it easier), and then set it to simmer. Cover with a lid, and check on it every fifteen minutes or so. Let simmer for at least 90 minutes. (I let it simmer for two hours, and the beef was utterly tender, but this is the kind of stew that could simmer all day in a pot and as long as the water doesn't evaporate off, it just gets tastier. You could do it in a slow cooker, but you'd likely need to add Worcestershire sauce in order to make up for the lack of browned bits when sauteing.)

Taste to see if you need to add any extra salt or pepper, and serve. (I just put salt and pepper on the table, so people could salt to preference.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Basil basalmic strawberries

In the interests of cutting down sugar, I made dessert with berries instead of ice cream. In the interest of harvesting some of the basil before it rises up in revolution (it's already growing riotously), I paired it with strawberries and white balsamic vinegar. You can use standard black balsamic vinegar, but it doesn't look quite as pretty. Tastes just as good, though!

Berry Balsamic Basil  Dessert

1/4 cup white basalmic vinegar
1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (I julienned it, but you don't have to)
2 Tbsp honey (I used Killerbees Sourwood honey, which is awesome in this recipe.)
2 lbs strawberries, tops removed and sliced into quarters

In a ziplock bag, mix vinegar, honey, pepper, and basil. Let stand about 5 minutes to make sure it's really well mixed.
Top and quarter strawberries, and add to the bag. When finished, seal the bag and turn until all the strawberries are coasted.
Stick bag in fridge for somewhere between 15 minutes and 1.5 hours. Serve chilled, alone or with whipped cream or (for the high carb among us) vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Low Carb Borscht

I know, borscht brings to mind just beets and potatoes, right? Except, I've had this before from a wonderful woman who was taking Russian 101 as her easy-A while struggling through an English class. She remarked that this was the borscht her grandmother dreamed of making... and here in America, where you could not only afford to buy beef, but it's also actually available, too! Hers still had one defiant potato, removed here in the interest of carbs.

Low Carb Borscht

8 strips bacon, or 2 Tbsp bacon grease
2 lbs hamburger, or diced chuck roast
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
1/2 large cabbage head (or a whole small one)
10 cups of water
3 large beets (or 5 medium)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey (you can omit, or sub in 1 large grated carrot)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
sour cream to taste (at least 1/4 cup per person)
salt (at least a tablespoon)
pepper (generous amounts. Maybe 2 teaspoons, maybe 4.)
pair of disposable rubber/latex gloves.

Serves 6

Fry up the bacon in a large pot - I like my enameled dutch oven.  When it's fried sufficient unto giving up all its grease, remove and set aside. (You can crumble it and add back in later.)

In hot bacon, brown the hamburger. Add the salt and pepper now, and you won't have to worry about it later.

Chop the celery fine and dice the onions, add them into the browning hamburger. If using carrots, dice 'em or grate 'em and add 'em in.
Chop the half a cabbage head in half for easier handling, and dice it, then add it in.

When it's looking good and sauteed, add water to cover. Works best if preheated in a tea kettle.  Bring to a boil.

While the water is heating (or earlier) Chop the beets so you still have 1 inch of stem left if the greens are on (if not, nevermind), scrub really well to get all the dirt off, and plop them in the water. Add more water if needed to cover.

Once it hot a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let it simmer for 1.5 hours.

After it's simmered for 90 minutes, uncover, and pull out beets. Let cool, don gloves and rinse them off. Then peel the beets, using gloves to prevent your hands from turning purple. Dice beets, return to pot. Return pot to boil.

Clean up all beet bits before removing gloves, or resign yourself to purple hands. Toss stained gloves.

Once pot boils again, add vinegar, lemon juice, and honey (if using), reduce to a simmer, and let simmer 10 more minutes. Add dill shortly before serving, have sour cream available on table for people to add their own. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cursum Perficio

I have finished writing the second book. Of course, when I finished, it was just shy of being a novel by a couple thousand words (the official cutoff is 40,000 words.)

So I sent it to some alpha readers who'd helped me with the technical stuff. Unsurprisingly, Old NFO had completely different points and notes on the ambush Peter helped me with, and Peter had rather a lot of notes about the buying arms going sour in a souk that LawDog had helped with... So it goes!

By the time I added all the changes from what the alpha readers came wanted me to fix and clarify, it's made the cutoff for a novel... by 56 words.

It's now at beta readers, and I'm hunting about for cover art. With Peter doing 3 releases in 3 months, this is not the highest priority to get out the door, but I'm hopeful that I'll get the ebook out in the next month and follow later with the print version.