Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Couldn’t Help Myself

Yesterday we spent the entire day with my MIL on a time-shifted Mother’s Day outing. On our way back through town around noon, we decided to take her to a downtown eatery - an eatery that required walking through my LYS on the way to the parking garage.

“Oh good!” she said. “I could use some more Sugar’n Cream.”

After I stopped laughing...(it took awhile) I broke the disappointing news that if something was stocked at WalMart, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s, or Michael’s, it would definitely *not* be sold at my LYS!

I hate to use my LYS as a shortcut without also being a customer, so I had announced that I would be making a purchase, and focused on patterns and roving. My MIL had never seen anything like the merchandise in the store, and wondered aloud at who on Earth would want to buy some of the multi-colored bats.

Frankly, that sounded like a dare. So here we are: 8 oz of Party Time from Potluck Roving:

Lest you, too, are wondering what on Earth I would do with such a thing, I have two answers:

1) when spun up, roving colors tend to mix and blend, and become something much more muddled than the original bat, and

2) watching the colors change as I practice spinning will add the equivalent interest level of making plain recipe socks with self striping yarn.

Oh, the stories she will tell when she returns to her “farckle” group at the retirement home!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Roasted Cactus Pad Salad

This recipe comes from the 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking.

I had never worked with - or to my knowledge eaten - cactus pads before, but they are readily available in the produce department at my local grocery store. And this fit the bill for a side dish for “traditional” chicken and cheese tamales I was also preparing to make.

No matter how you prepare them - boiled, roasted, etc. - cactus pads require quite a bit of work to make them safe to eat. They are cacti, after all, and come with spines and hairs that can be quite treacherous on the skin and innards.

To begin, I gouged out all the eyes where the spines and hairs grow. Then I trimmed off the sides, top and thicker base of the pads.

The next step was quite simple: cutting into 3/4" squares, tossing with olive oil and salt...

 then roasting in the oven for about 20 minutes.

I let the cactus pads cool, and prepared a salsa fresca (recipe also in Joy) with farm fresh tomatoes, red onion, Serrano pepper, cilantro, lime juice, etc.

The cactus pads are added. The mixture is then put in salad bowls that have been lined with romaine lettuce leaves, and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

For me, the cactus pads didn’t add enough to the salad to make the labor invested in preparing the pads worth it. Especially given that the Serrano peppers and cilantro overpowered the pads’ delicate flavor. But the salsa fresca was easy to make, and I’ll definitely make it again when tomatoes are in season.

As for the tamales, that’s a story for a later date...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Grilled Peruvian Chicken

With the kitchen on the path to organization, I decided to try out a few new recipes this week. First up, Grilled Peruvian Chicken from my much-beloved Gourmet Today cookbook. I amped up my culinary skills a few notches on this baby, and was it worth it!

The recipe is actually very quick and easy to put together, and would work well for a mid-week dinner for the family. It begins by making a marinade essentially of lime juice, cumin, soy sauce, garlic, and a few other spices. These are blended together, then put in a tight-sealing bag along with a quartered whole chicken.

Quartering a chicken was the first stumbling block for me. Sure, I’ve broken down a chicken into individual servings plenty of times. But “quartering”? Never.

For instructions I went to the magical interwebs where I ignored all the quartering instructions that resulted in 8 pieces. There was clearly a misunderstanding on the blog/video producer’s part about the fact that “quartering” means “4” and not “8”. Whatevs.

This video, by Chef Marc Bauer of the French Culinary Institute, proved to be exceedingly helpful, and it turned out to be a very easy process:

Definitely the first time I’ve pulled the wishbone out of a chicken!

The quartered chicken is then marinated for 8-24 hours. I started mine that morning, so it was on the 8 hour side. Doing it again, I’d do a full 24 hours so the flavors have a better opportunity to penetrate the skin.

The second skill/technique I learned was indirect heat grilling. For that I started the charcoal, then once the coals were nice and hot I scooted them to the outside of the grill. In the center, where there were not coals, I placed the chicken, and grilled them with the lid closed for over half an hour until the internal temps reached 165º minimum.

I served the breasts along with lime wedges on a bed of basmati rice. The result was beautiful and extraordinarily flavorful. My stomach hasn’t been this joyful in a longtime. And I think the flavor could only be enhanced through lengthening the marinade time.

This recipe is definitely in going in my “must repeat” pile, and would make an excellent choice for serving to company.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Skin Graft for Frederico

Poor Frederico!

Loved to death this toy is, by Piña, the youngest and newest addition to our cat clan. We found Frederico the Ferret on one of those merchandise strip hangers along the grocery store shelves, and bought it on a lark. It was such a hit that we went back to get a second - just in case. Glad we did. Frederico #1 had been loved to the point that the skin is missing from his belly, and nearly all the fur is missing from the pelt on the top of his head.

Why is this toy so hugely popular with the little one? It is lightweight and a diameter that is easy to pick up and carry. Its core plastic tube body contains beads that rattle when shaken. And it’s covered in rabbit fur, and essentially constructed to look like a prey animal.

One of the problems with this toy is where we found it. The merchandise strips are stocked by an outside vendor, so it’s not something that’s even in the grocery store’s inventory. We’ve looked at the original store, and several other stores in that chain, and the Frederico strips are gone. We have Frederico 1 and Frederico 2, but there will never be a Frederico 3 or 4.

With Frederico 2’s current state being 50% de-furred and missing its tail (Piña de-tailed it before we could even remove Frederico from its package), I decided it was time to put Frederico 1 in the hospital for a bit of home-spun skin grafting.

I’ve had hidden Frederico 1 on a high shelf in my craft room for several days, waiting for a day convenient day to do the repairs. But Piña seemed to have sniffed him out this morning, and her effort to reach him resulted in a basket of leather-working tools,  box of quilting safety pins, and a dozen small supplies raining down on her head  - along with a full cup of coffee. Don’t worry. She wasn’t physically harmed, but she was definitely emotionally traumatized. I ejected the cat, cleaned up most of the mess, and scheduled the Frederico surgery for that afternoon.

I used a white pelt I’d already purchased from Hobby Lobby, and some leftover Super Glue from Loctite, I first cut out the general shape of the pelt hole, and liberally applied glue to the pelt’s underside. Then I seated it as best I could.

 Frederico had also been balded out of love, so I fashioned a toupee and applied that the same way.

This glue out gasses and cures over a 24 hour period, so Frederico will remain in intensive care away from feline visitors until tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll be less smelly by then, and the emotional scars Piña suffered this morning will have faded away. She adores Frederico, so my hope is that she doesn’t permanently associate him with this morning’s tool shower.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From the More Better Files: the Kitchen Edition

Those who know me best know that I hate my current kitchen. Hate, hate, hate.

It came as a result of some previous real estate investor’s impulse to flip. While I am absolutely certain the original kitchen looked dated and was in need of an update, the “improvement” seems to have come about through the purchase and installation of damaged cabinetry, and sifting through the mix and match bargain bin of tiles.

Case in point:
That’s the tiled edge of the island. Note that the designs do not match.

In the long term, the kitchen is in need of a full remodel and re-arrangement of appliances and work stations. But until then, I needed a more workable storage area to gain me more of a very limited counter space.

Sure, I could have taken the time to straighten up a bit, but who’s kidding whom?
We’ve been postponing home improvement projects due to a string of scheduling conflicts - mostly for the benefit of other people. After spending an intensive month helping an elderly relative, I said “enough is enough,” and the planned kitchen shelving project was put on the front burner.

Stage 1 Completed:

This stage has already gained me a lot of work space on the island, and has begun to free up counter space at my main work station.

Stage 2 will involve adding floating shelves for my extensive spice collection. Hopefully that will make it easier to find the spices I need when I need them, and it will also clear off about three more feet of counter space. We would also like to add an outlet on that wall so that we can move our coffee maker and water kettle to that side. Doing that will ultimately reduce traffic congestion inside my work triangle, and free up additional counter space for cooking. Currently there’s no outlet at all, but there is a light switch, so I assume a qualified electrician could add the box with relative ease.