Thursday, May 23, 2019

No-rice stuffed peppers

This recipe kind of grew and grew, because I started intending to use up 6 peppers...then realized I had 5, and so bought another 6-pack to make sure there were enough for seconds, too. On the one hand, I think I should have had a side dish, because the guests devoured the lot... on the other, they didn't appear terribly hungry after a small appetizer of devilled eggs and dessert of pie, so maybe it was fine.
 
And no, no rice. Not even cauliflower rice, because I wanted meat & veg peppers.

No-rice stuffed peppers

11 bell peppers - I used 5 green and 6 red/yellow/orange (Some folks don't like the taste of green)
3 Tbsp Olive oil or other fat, divided in 3 parts

1 handful sage leaves, diced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 to 2 tsp mesquite-smoked salt
1 to 2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (or to taste)

2 pounds hamburger
1 pound hot pork country sausage

2 cans tomato sauce (24 oz cans)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf

1 cup parmesan, grated or green can

This is a time-intensive recipe. If you choose to make it with lots of pots, it can take less time, but I didn't want to leave a complete mess in the kitchen - so I had to batch things.

First, cut off the tops of the bell peppers, and take out the pith on the ribs. Chop the pepper parts off the tops before tossing the seeds & pith. Dice the saved pepper tops, and put in a pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil to saute until soft. (I actually used bacon grease, because I have it on hand.)

Rub the outside of the pepper bottoms with olive oil, and place upside down on a tray. Put in the oven and broil on low 5 minutes or until the tops are starting to blacken. (This way you don't have to blanch the peppers, and you can smush the pointier bottoms down to be stable when filling with meat. Also, nice flavour.) Be careful when pulling the tray out, because there may be juice now sloshing in the tray. Don't get burned! If you're filling right after, helps to take tongs and turn the peppers on their side or flip them over so the steam can escape and they cool off.

Preheat your oven to 375 F

Back to the chopping board - chop up the herbs (or remove from their stems, then chop up), and the onions. Dump the peppers into a mixing bowl, add more oil to the pan, and add the spices first so they can bloom. Then add the herbs, and the onions. Saute until soft.

Dump about 3/4 of the mixture into the mixing bowl, reserving a quarter of the onion mix in the pan. Add in the cayenne and bay leaf, then the tomato sauce & balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine, reduce heat to simmer. Keep an ear on the sauce - when it starts to bubble, make sure to stir it so it doesn't splatter. We're not trying to reduce it, just mingle the flavour.

Add meat to mixing bowl. If your onion mixture is still quite hot, you may want to put on a pair of food safe latex gloves or similar, so you don't get any burns when mixing everything together by hand. Or, you could own a kitchenaid with that nice fancy paddle... or just use a spatula and a whole lot more arm muscle. Whatever makes you happy!

Arrange your now-cooled peppers in a casserole dish or two. Probably two; 11 is a lot of peppers. Fill with meat mixture. Turn off your sauce, and ladle over the top of each pepper. If any extra, just pour it over so it runs down into the base of the casserole dish / roasting pan / whatever you pressed into service. Sprinkle cheese over tops of peppers.

Cover with aluminium foil, bake covered for 45 minutes. Then uncover, and bake for another 20. The first traps all the juices to create a water bath and prevent the peppers from burning while cooking the dish, and the second reduces the juices in pan to sauce, as well as browning the tops and the cheese for tastiness.

Let cool 5 minutes, and serve with sauce... Or let your guests at them straight away, with the warning that it will be quite hot.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The pet-erpillars.

Diane said: "pics or it didn't happen." So, here's a pic of 'em, inside and safe from a nasty squall line.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

When do they become pets?

Last year, I got a dill plant - and fairly well lost it to swallowtail caterpillars. Apparently, they like fennel and dill. So this year, I was going to get bronze fennel and dill, and transplant caterpillars from one to the other.

Then life intervened, and by the time I got to the greenhouse, all the fennel was long gone. So I got dill... and a packet of bronze fennel seeds were ordered.

It wasn't fast enough; the fennel is just putting out its first pair of true leaves, and the dill plant already has three caterpillars, hatched and hiding from the birds while munching down the herb. On the other hand, I'm not using a lot of dill, so I shrugged and ignored their existence.

Yesterday, there were only two left (probably bird), and I looked at the truly nasty weather incoming, thought for a minute, and then brought the pot inside, so they'd be safe. And then took pictures and showed them off to a friend. ((They're getting big. And are pretty!)

...at what point are the darned things pets?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Learned Responses

I'm going to take a test tomorrow. It's not going to affect my job, or my life; it's something I'm doing for additional learning and just because I want to. (A bet with myself may have been involved.) I know the material. I'm not worried about that at all.

So why, when I called the testing center, scheduled and paid for it, did my heart start racing, my lungs get all tight, my hands get clammy, and my adrenaline spike?

...Darn it, body, it's been over fifteen years since tests controlled your grades, and those controlled your student loans! Besides, the degree? It turned out to be less useful in getting half the jobs you've held than your pilot's license! You can stop going "Aaaaaaaaaaauuuuugh! TEST! Auuugh!" any minute now.

...aaaannnny minute....

*sigh*

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ouch!

The only standard thing about Chinese fortune cookies is that nobody ever takes them seriously. They're often hilariously wide of the mark, and just as often misinterpreted with gleeful maliciousness aforethought.

...and then there's this one, that I got on my way back from LTUE, a writing conference in Provo:


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Out Sick

Will be back later. Until then, have a cat doing what I intend to do shortly.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

At the Eye Doc

Peter: "Love, do you want some coffee?"
Me: "They have coffee?"
Peter: "Look. Over there."
Me: "Oh, hey! Coffee!"
Receptionist: "So, I'm guessing she's the patient?"

Monday, April 1, 2019

Deja what?

Last week, the shoulder finally felt well enough to go back to the gym. Being me, I picked a setback number by guess and by golly, and went for it on squats and press. Well, I got it... but I was exhausted afterwards. Might have been too ambitious.

Then I got home, looked at my hedges, and thought, "Self, those needed trimming last fall, and you're finally feeling well enough! Time to get some sun and tackle them!"

Yes, I had forgotten about the gym. Yes, I had to take breaks when my hands started cramping too hard to hold the clippers. Yes, I bloody well got it done anyway. Even if lifting the giant contractor black bag chock full of clippings into the garbage bin nearly killed me.

Yes, I was fairly useless the rest of the day and the next one.

A week later, I go to the gym, and say to myself, "Self! Now is a light squat day, so we can tackle deadlift again!"

...I backed off 5 pounds for "light." Because me. And perhaps I should have backed off the deadlift weight a bit, for the first try at a work set. I might have been too ambitious.

After the gym, when I got to my front walk, I looked at my bushes and thought "Not only are those two not quite square, but everything's shaggy! It's growing everywhere I trimmed, and doesn't look neat anymore! I need to trim the bushes!"
...and then I stopped, because I could hear the universe laughing at me.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a good day to trim the bushes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Pay No Attention To the Cat Behind The Curtain

What you don't see is Ashbutt, hiding behind the shower curtain and periodically leaping out in ambush on Kili's tail.

...Which she keeps hanging off the edge and swishing back and forth so it taps the curtain....

Cats!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Maybe spring?

Today, like yesterday, started with frost and climbed quickly with aspirations to hit almost 70. Roofing companies are out all over Tiny Town, taking advantage of nice weather to quickly fix shingles that departed roofs all over in the last bad blow. On the ground, contractors are fixing fencing with the brand new boards in sections looking amazingly bleached against greyed, weathered wood.On the highway, TXDOT crew are digging in the dirt in the median for some reason. In Itchy Paw Falls, electrical crews are digging like a pack of German Shepherds let loose to look for long-buried bones after the snow cover's gone.

So of course, I look at all this glorious earthmoving and decide it's a good day to start on the yard. I'd start on the garden, but Alma of Cat Rotator's Quarterly gave me the incredibly valuable rule of thumb for local weather: "If you start on your garden before the mesquite blooms... you'll be doing a lot of replanting."

Four bags of mulch replenishing the flowerbed later, and roughly 100sq ft. of hardpack red clay dirt broken up and mixed with compost, then a roll of mulch/stabilizer/fertilizer/grass seed laid down and cut to fit in all the patches it's being tested, and watered, and then more white rock moved, and potting soil and fertilizer added to all the herbs that overwintered, the overlooked branches broken up and tossed out...

I suddenly found myself too tired to make dinner. Yeah, maybe I ought to put off trying to build a square foot garden 'til next year; this yard stuff is work!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Can racks

Elsewhere, I was asked how I keep my cans organized, after I mentioned that we'd consolidated, grouped, and set the cans so we always keep 14, 8, or 5 or so on in stock. The first part of the answer is pretty simple, and it's cardboard organizers.

You can see 'em here: https://www.canorganizer.com/
But the principle is pretty basic; it's a cardboard box with an angled insert and a slightly-bigger-than-can opening at the back. So you pop the newest cans in the top of the front, and they roll down the length, drop to the bottom level, and roll to the front. This makes is very easy to do FIFO - First In, First Out, or "always use the oldest first."

(There are several inventory methods, but most practical setups default to FIFO or LIFO (last in, first out.) You don't want to do LIFO on anything that expires, because the oldest stuff gets shoved to the back. Copper plumbing parts don't care, but there's a reason the drink companies have set up racks that stock from the back and make it very hard to take any bottle but the oldest one in the front. And yes, when you google the terms, you're likely to get inventory cost accounting instead of inventory management, but that doesn't mean the beancounters own the terms.)

Now, which cans to keep in what quantities? Ah, that's the not-simple part! We started by taking what cans we had on hand, and stuffing them in cardboard organizers, and then at some point we filled those up with more of the same kind. Then we started getting the inevitable small pile of cans on the side - and some of those we looked at and went "Yeah, we get that a bunch" and filled another organizer; others are in the rack of one-offs.

(I very rarely make clam chowder. When I do, I need one can of clams. So I have one can in stock, but I certainly don't need 4 cans for something I make 2-3 times a year at most.)

Ideally, once a year we go through the cans - in reality, it's been closer to two and a half. But Peter took the time to go through the racks recently and pull everything that was expired or close to expired. The expired stuff got tossed - not because it instantly turns bad on the expiration date, but because it's stuff we got for a single purpose, and we haven't eaten enough of to turn over in years. The stuff close to expiration, and even the stuff far from expiration but that we realized we never used, got bundled up and given away. (With a few exceptions. The one-off can rack is a wire rack filled with "one of these, two of those..." for a reason)

The survivors? We had an interesting and thoughtful conversation about those. Most are "common ingredients in food" - like the rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilis. Very common.) Others are, despite being anything but keto, quick "I feel awful and want comfort food", like the chicken noodle soup. (Good intentions to keto are fine. When flu and strep stalks the household, the red and white can of instant comfort, just add boiling water, trumps good intentions.)  The third sort are common ingredients in easy, fast, good cooking that can be done even if we lose power... like canned beans.

Having lived in places where food supplies were unreliable, and electricity is usually unavailable right when fresh food shipments are, too... I am a very, very big fan of canned beans. They're delicious, filling staples that don't require clean water to soak, or the time and fuel to boil - the kind of thing that even if the flood water took the labels off the cans, sterilize the outside and you have good food waiting inside. Add some spice via rotel, and you have a tasty, hot, filling meal.

Like dry socks, a tasty hot meal makes the world a far, far better place. (And if you have both dry socks and a tasty hot meal? Things are gonna be okay.)

Please note: I am not recommending everyone copy the following list for their own. This is what I'm currently using and cooking with, as it suits my spice cupboard and cooking habits. Your own spice cupboard and cooking habits are likely very different from my own. But for the gentleman who asked, this is going to be a practical, real-world example of what can happen when you combine a love of cooking with a house with a large pantry. (And this is specifically my can racks, not my bottles or jars or bags)

7 pinto beans
7 chickpeas
36 tuna I like
36 tuna Peter likes
18 canned salmon (the small flat tins)
14 black beans
14 kidney beans
14 white (great northern) beans
12 chicken noodle soup
12 cream of mushroom soup
5 coconut milk
7 canned green beans
14 rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilis)
14 italian seasoned diced tomatoes
14 flame-roasted diced tomatoes
14 plain diced tomatoes
14 tomato paste
8 canned mushrooms
14 canned corn
5 mixed vegetables
14 diced rutabagas (great low-carb alternate to potatoes, no peeling!)
5 diced pineapple
5 sliced pears
8 canned boneless turkey* (27 oz. Grabill meats)
8 canned pork chunks* (27 oz. again.)
21 canned beef
21 canned chicken

*Grabill Meats. Rarely used because I have fresh and frozen on hand, but if I need to make something and either have no time to cook the meat, or have no power, these are really good canned meats.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Chicken Pot Pie

Yesterday, when eating the leftovers from the Superb Owl party, I was staring at the sad remnants of the veggie tray and had An Idea. So the ranch dressing was tossed, and the rest came home with me, to be made into Chicken Pot Pie, the easy version.

Note: this low carb variation calls for a specialty ingredient called "carbquick" - this is just a low-carb variant of bisquick. You can use any biscuit recipe, or just plain use whomp biscuits, if it makes you happy. I used this, because it's what I have on hand.

Leftovers Chicken Pot Pie (carbquick version)

Filling:
2 oz butter and/or tasty grease like bacon fat or duck fat
2 oz carbquick (or arrowroot powder for paleo, medium carb)
3-4 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1-2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 Tbsp onion flakes (unless you're dicing an onion in the veggies)
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp mesquite smoked salt (or regular, if you don't have any smoked)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Veggies. (I used the remnants of a veggie tray, cut to small chunks, and a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies, and a can of diced rutabagas, rinsed three times to get rid of the canned taste. So... whatever you have that needs using.)
1 can chicken breast, drained (or up to 2 cups of leftover chicken meat, rough chopped)

Topping: (something biscuit-like, dropped in spoonfuls)
1.5 cups carbquick
3/4 cup half & half
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400F
In a dutch oven, heat 2 oz butter until hot, add 2 oz carbquick/arrowroot. Stir constantly to prevent roux from from sticking to bottom and scorching, until at least the colour of peanut butter.
Add chicken stock, bay leaves, spices and salt, stir.
Add veggies & meat, stir, return to a boil & reduce to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a separate bowl, mix biscuit topping (or, if using whomp biscuits, just whomp it open on the counter edge.) When the veg has simmered for 10 minutes, turn off stove, and spoon biscuit topping on top of veg & gravy mix.
Put in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until biscuits are well browned.
Pull out, turn off oven, and let sit for at least 5 minutes so you don't sear the inside of your mouth.
Enjoy!

Serves 4 hungry people without any sides.

My husband tried a bowl, and hunted me down in my study. "This is great! You need to make this again!" Um... okay, but the leftover veg is never the same from day to day, so I can't promise the same results...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Learning curves

Cookbooks tell you a lot about the tastes of the cookbook author, and the standard go-tos in their kitchen that they build into every recipe. For example, the guy who runs cast iron keto is very fond of spicy. He likes to stick jalepenos in just about everything. He also likes cheesy foods, thing that are pretty dense and heavy on the stomach. Which makes great comfort food when it's cold outside, but I will definitely be cooking more of his recipes in the winter than in the summer.

For the summer, well, I'm working on learning to cook in the instant pot. It's a steep learning curve, and being at the bottom of the learning curve is frustrating when I'm used to being near the top. You're not going to be seeing "This awesome instant pot creation!" recipes here any time soon, unless I can figure out why my the recipe swears eggs cook in 4 minutes at high pressure, but after 14 minutes at high pressure, I finally just finished the eggs off in the microwave.

So far, the score when following directions is: 2 failures (how did that turn out both mush and charred?) and 2 mediocre meals. Fortunately, this is why G-d gave us a Mexican restaurant in town, and gave me a patient husband with a good sense of humour.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on tweaking things for improvement. When delving into "Why are the keto rolls slightly bitter, when the fathead dough pizza crust I make isn't?" The answer seems to be that the standard baking powder, when used in that quantity, is to blame, and I should switch to an aluminum-free baking powder.

So I headed to the pantry to very what baking powder I had, and that I could just mix up a stopgap batch from baking soda and cream of tartar. (I can.) But I also found a bag tucked away behind the baking soda, fresh from Bob's Red Mill, of double-acting aluminum-free baking powder. Peter strikes again! When reorganizing the pantry, he must have noted that I'm getting low, and gotten a replacement while ordering more (requested) almond flour. I love my husband, I do!

As for the way my spinach & artichoke-heart dip is rather... robust, it turns out I'm using frozen spinach, which I should have realized isn't a one-for-one replacement for fresh. So the dip as it's called for has a lot more water to make it gloopey, and I have a lot more veg to make it stand up.

Next variations to include in the experiment: close examination of the photo on site indicates that the recipe creator might have used red onion while merely calling for onion, and the local supermarket's awesome spinach dip also includes chopped water chestnut for crunch. Those might not stand up to the heat of cooking, but I bet a handful of pine nuts would...



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Scalloped turnips, iteration 1

This post is on an in-process dish, so I can find the notes the next time I'm making it. Usually, these are scribbled on a post-it stuck next to the recipe, and then once I've made a couple more iterations and firmed up the final recipe, written in the cookbook in pen. So, cook at your own risk. :-)

Scalloped Turnips

3 large turnips
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp butter for sauteeing
3 Tbsp butter, cut in 1/4 Tbsp blocks or smaller, as preferred
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mesquite smoked salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
8 oz (1 block) cream cheese

First, peel & thinly slice the turnips. (I used the thinnest setting on the mandoline.) You may have to trim a little bit off the edge of the turnips so they fit in the mandoline for slicing. Next time, try rinsing the turnips & draining after slicing, to cut down on the heavily aromatic turnip smell. This is a great dish as is, but with the smell of turnips filling the kitchen, there's no way to fool yourself into thinking this is a scalloped potato replacement. When done, preheat oven to 350 F.

Second, dice onion. Heat 10 inch cast iron skillet on stove, add a little butter/grease/oil, and saute the onions, thyme, salt, and black pepper. When the onions are translucent and starting to brown, add garlic, stir for 30 seconds, then remove from heat and transfer onions & garlic to bowl.

Third, in the microwave, soften cream cheese & heat cream, then whisk together with smoked salt and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

Fourth, in the now-cooling cast iron, place turnip slices in a layer, careful not to burn your fingertips. Sprinkle a bit of the onions, add a couple dots of butter, then repeat until you're out of turnip slices, onions, and butter. Pour the cream sauce over the whole thing, cover with aluminum foil, and slide into the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes covered, then carefully pull the foil cover off (avoid steam burns!) and bake another 40 minutes uncovered, until golden brown on top.