Archive | May, 2009

Crab Cakes!

26 May

I love making good, flavorful food; even if it takes a little bit of extra work.  Of course, this isn’t always possible, but this weekend I spoiled myself and my husband with a lot of good cooking.  On Monday I shared crab cakes from my own recipe with my family; even my mom the seafood-hater agreed that they were excellent.

I first developed these crab cakes a few years ago, when I bought a can of crab on sale.  I looked through a few recipe books but just couldn’t find anything that looked appealing.  Most of the crab cake recipes involved copious amounts of old bay seasoning and mayo and not much else.  You can make these crab cakes with canned crab, but they will have a better taste and texture if you spend the time and money to use actual crab legs for at least part of the recipe.  We’ve done a lot of experimenting over the last few years and we’ve determined that the breadcrumbs mixed into the crab do actually have a purpose aside from allowing you to make a few more cakes; they keep the crab meat itself very moist (we mixed up batches with and without breadcrumbs and the ones with just crab were far more dry).

Obviously, you can tweak the recipe however you like; for my dad’s birthday, we made six times as much of the mixture, and made mini cakes.  So we ended up with quite a lot.  But this basic recipe makes six medium-sized cakes (about the size of your standard muffin tin – you’ll see why that works out well later) and is easy to double.

Elisa’s Crab Cakes

  • 2 tsp onion, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp celery, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • dash worsteshire sauce
  • dash dill
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/4 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 cup lump crab meat (approx. 2 legs fresh king crab or 1 can lump crabmeat)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (or regular breadcrumbs or 10-12 crackers or 2-3 pieces dry toast, crumbled; yes, I recognize that this sounds like a lot but they really are a lot more tender with the addition of a good bit of “filler” to retain the moisture), plus more to coat cakes
  • 1 egg

These crab cakes come together in just a few steps; I did mine in separate bowls, but you can probably do yours in one big bowl if you plan it right.

  • In a small sautee pan, cook the onion, celery, and bell pepper together over medium-low heat until they soften.
Veggies, cut fine and cooking

Veggies, cut fine and cooking

  • Combine mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, worsteshire sauce, and herbs and spices in a bowl.
The mayonnaise mixture

The mayonnaise mixture

  • Add cooled vegetables, crab, egg, and panko breadcrumbs to the sauce.  Mix well.
For my extra-large recipe, I used two bowls; I mixed the crab and veggies in one and then poured the mayonnaise mixture from the other

For my extra-large recipe, I used two bowls; I mixed the crab and veggies in one and then poured the mayonnaise mixture from the other

The crab cake mixture before shaping

The crab cake mixture before shaping

  • Using your hands, shape each crab cake into a ball or a thick disc shape.  We used to shape them and drop them onto a plate of panko bread crumbs and roll them right then, but I read someplace that if you let them chill in muffin tins in the fridge, they hold their shape better.  Sure enough, we tried it with our crab cakes this time, and they stayed together much more easily.  You don’t need to grease the muffin tin; just flip it over onto parchment or wax paper on the counter when they’ve chilled for about a half hour and smack the bottom of the muffin tin.  While you’re letting the cakes chill, you can preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Crab cakes turned out of the muffin tin and ready to be rolled

Crab cakes turned out of the muffin tin and ready to be rolled

  • Roll your crab cakes in panko breadcrumbs and place them on a cookie sheet.  You could, I suppose,pan or deep fry them, and they would be fantastic.  But these are honestly excellent baked – and the panko gets nice and crisp in the oven (which is why we use it).
All rolled in panko, this cake's ready to bake!

All rolled in panko, this cake's ready to bake!

Crispy baked crab cakes!

Crispy baked crab cakes!

Now, of course, the question is how to serve these…

You could always go with a nice remoulade sauce; traditional but with good reason.  I have made several variations on remoulade recipes for these cakes, and they go very nicely.  But about a year ago, my husband (then-fiancee) was making these and decided to marinate some tomatoes in vinegar.  We’re not quite sure why, but this was the best combination we’d ever found with the crab cakes, and we make it every time we eat them now.  It’s super-easy, too!

Just marinate a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes (cut into quarters) in a mixture of pineapple and white wine vinegars with just a touch of olive oil, black pepper, and granulated garlic.  We typically use about 1 tbsp of the pineapple vinegar, 1 tsp of white wine vinegar, and 1 tsp of olive oil for two servings’ worth of tomatoes.  Let the tomatoes sit and “pickle” for 15 or 20 minutes; the longer they sit, the stronger they’ll be.  Drain most of the vinegar off before serving over the crab cakes.

Colorful and flavorful; crab cake with pickled tomatoes

Colorful and flavorful; crab cake with pickled tomatoes

Of course, we’ve made some pretty awesome variations on this recipe. 

For Hubby’s 30th birthday, I made a bunch of his favorites for a party I threw him; of course he wanted my crab cakes, but his best friend is a vegetarian.  So I made chickpea cakes, using the same basic recipe but subsituting drained, rinsed, and mashed chickpeas instead of crab and added several cloves of garlic to the vegetable mixture.  I cut out the worsteshire sauce and dill, and the chickpea cakes were a big hit. 

Then, some time about a year and a half ago, I had leftover shrimp lying around.  I used the food processor to get the shrimp into little pieces and used the same combination I’d used for the chickpea cakes (garlic, no worsteshire or dill) and added about a 1/4 teaspooon of cayenne pepper.  Excellent!

Mexican Quiche

25 May
Now, first of all, I have to preface this by saying that we don’t typically eat this richly; eggs and cheese are not usually this much a part of our daily diets.  That said, I’d been looking forward all week to using up the leftover sauteed veggies from Tuesday night’s Mexican dinner, and I had just the idea for them.  And for some reason this was the cooking weekend – we just couldn’t stop!
Sauteed bell and anaheim chile peppers, onions, garlic, tomatillos, and tomatoes

Sauteed bell and anaheim chile peppers, onions, garlic, tomatillos, and tomatoes

Mexican Quiche

Now, I started off with about a cup full of leftover sauteed veggies, drained, and added the last of the mushrooms I had left over from making the lasagna, and just sort of threw this together.  The idea is to use up what you already have.  So if you just happen to make extra veggies with your Mexican food…

  • Approx. 1 cup sauteed Mexican vegetables (drained; mine included onions, garlic, bell and anaheim chile peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes, and a little sauteed mushroom; I’d imagine that sliced olives would be killer in here, and I almost put in some canned black beans but decided against it at the last minute…  the idea is to use up whatever you have that sounds good to you)
  • A few tablespoons of fresh corn kernels (I’d bought a few ears and couldn’t resist throwing some of the kernels in – we love the unexpected crunch)
  • 3 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 6 medium eggs (probably 4-5 large eggs would do fine; medium was what we had in the house)
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half, cream, or milk (I used nonfat half-and-half because I love the texture)
  • 1 pastry crust, parbaked

Okay, now I have to make a confession: for all my bread- and cake- and pasta-making abilities, crustmaking is just not my forte.  In fact, every time I’ve made a homemade pie crust, it’s come out either salty, lumpy, sticky, or cardboardy.  I can’t seem to get the delicate texture or flavor down, no matter what recipe I use.  So I like to buy the pre-made pie crusts that come in a little tube.  All I have to do is roll them out and go.  So the first part of this recipe is to bake a pie crust (homemade or pre-made) for about 3/4 of the time in the recipe (or on the box).  Be sure to poke holes in the thing, or to put foil with beans in the bottom so it doesn’t get a giant air bubble in the middle.

Then, mix all the other ingredients together and pour them in the crust.  That’s it.

The filled quiche waiting for the oven

The filled quiche waiting for the oven

Then your quiche should take a quick (30-35 minute) trip in a 350 degree oven.  Like any quiche (or lasagna for that matter), let it set up for 5-10 minutes before eating it.  But like any quiche, you can refrigerate and reheat this baby for a week – and it’s really excellent, even after days of being in the fridge.

 

The whole enchilada - I mean, quiche

The whole enchilada - I mean, quiche

YUMMY!

YUMMY!

I do have to point out that the serving size on this is between 1/8 and 1/6 of the pie (we had 1/8 of the pie slices), so you’re really getting less than 1 egg and less than 1/2 oz of cheese per person – so it’s not nearly the decadent artery-killing breakfast that quiche has a reputation for being!  I didn’t actually eat quiche until last year, and now I love the stuff – and how versatile it is for leftover usage!

The Pasta Experiment

24 May

Part 1 – The Desired

I think I posted a couple of days ago about really wanting to make homemade pasta.  I also hadn’t made spaghetti sauce for a while, and I decided that yesterday was the day I was going to make a lasagna.

We went shopping for the ingredients (and the week).  This time, we got some meat and cheese and some other expensive items, so our grocery bill was around $90.  But we’ve got enough meat to last the week, and water and milk, and some other bits and pieces that will show up as leftovers, and I was in a make-it-fancy-from-scratch mood.  It’s not every weekend I decide to make a lasagna after all!

Of course, I underestimated the time it would take to make the thing – and played a board game when I really should have been mixing and rolling out.  But it’s no matter.  Even though we didn’t eat until 9 pm, we had an incredibly amazing dinner – and have leftovers for three days of meals – and we have enough of an extra bonus (more on that later) that we’ll have two more dinners out of this endeavor.

But first, the sauce.

Fresh veggies and herbs go into a fresh spaghetti sauce.

Fresh veggies and herbs go into a fresh spaghetti sauce.

It’s the first thing you’ll want to do if you’re making lasagna.  I know that there are plenty of sauces on the market that people like – but I grew up in an Italian momma’s household and making sauce from scratch (or almost from scratch) is in my blood.  That said, if you want to skip this step and use a bottled sauce, do yourself a favor and sautee up some onions and garlic and add them, and shred a bunch of basil in too.  Then at least you’ll taste some yummy freshness.

My sauce (which takes time, but is worth it) is a variation on my grandma’s/mom’s sauce.  Whereas they have always used a mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork, I discovered a few years ago that ground turkey works just as well – and that if I added mushrooms with the turkey, I couldn’t really tell the difference.  I remove some of the saturated fats and add some more vegetation.  YAY!

Elisa’s Spaghetti Sauce (makes enough sauce for two lasagnas, or for a lasagna and a spaghetti dinner in the future…  it freezes exceptionally well)

  • olive oil (I don’t really measure, but I’d eyeball about 3 tbsp; you need to make certain that there is enough so that the onion, celery, and carrot can cook without sticking)
  • 1 large onion (I only had medium ones, so I used 1 1/2), chopped
  • 2 large ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped (the celery and carrots should be about equal in amounts once they’re chopped; there should be half again as many onions)
  • 1 head garlic, smashed (you can use already-cut or already-peeled garlic; you should end up with about 2-3 tbsp smashed garlic)
  • 8-12 brown mushrooms, chopped coarsely (about 1 cup)
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped (maybe 1/2 cup)
  • approx. 1 1/2 tbsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine (optional, but it definitely helps round out the flavor!)
  • 1 can tomato paste (I said “almost from scratch” – this and the next two ingredients eliminate the need for a zillion fresh paste tomatoes and three days of cooking – and yes, my grandma used the canned paste-sauce method)
  • 4 cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cans tomatoes, drained (I had one stewed tomatoes and one diced tomatoes, but you can use literally whatever you have around, as long as they aren’t spiced with jalapenos or anything)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut up
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (or approx. 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil)
Mirepoix - onions, carrots, and celery

Mirepoix - onions, carrots, and celery

  •  Add your onions, celery, and carrots to a large saucepan with olive oil and “sweat” them  until softened (that is, turn on low to medium-low heat until the veggies become translucent – if you hear the “sautee”, you’ve got the heat on too high).
  • Add garlic and mushrooms and cook another 2-3 minutes or until garlic is softened.
  • Add ground turkey and cook, stirring, until cooked almost completely through.
  • Add wine, if you’re using wine, black pepper, and parsley, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  • Begin your tomato layering – add paste and stir until combined.
  • Add sauce and stir until combined.  You may need to add a 5th can of sauce.
  • Add canned and fresh tomatoes and stir until combined.
  • Simmer on low to medium-low heat (there should just barely be bubbles every once in a while cracking the surface of the pot) for 35-40 minutes (or longer – my mom cooks hers for hours and it only gets better the longer it cooks).
  • Add cut-up basil, stir to combine, and serve (or build your lasagna).
Homemade sauce - full of beautiful chunky vegetables and meat

Homemade sauce - full of beautiful chunky vegetables and meat

When the sauce was almost done, I mixed up the ricotta filling.  We had some beautiful fresh spinach and Hubby pulsed that up in the food processor into tiny pieces.  Then I added one small container (15 oz) of ricotta cheese and a few grinds of black pepper.  In my family, we make a filled pasta with spinach and cheese and nutmeg, and I think that the flavors of nutmeg and spinach are incredible together, so I also added about a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mixture.  Obviously, this is optional, but I highly reccommend it!

Then, it was pasta-making time.  This was only the second time since my grandmother passed away 16 years ago that I’ve done this, but I got a pasta maker for my bridal shower (thanks again, Sara!) and I really enjoy making it.  I feel a connection to my grandmother and to my roots.  Plus, homemade pasta is infinitely tastier and more flexible!  But it’s time-consuming and a little persnickety.

To make homemade pasta, you combine eggs and flour.  I only had “large” eggs (really almost more “medium” grade), so I used 6 eggs to about 4 cups of flour.  This will make enough pasta for 2 lasagnas – or, in my case, a lasagna and a bunch of filled pasta!  Basically, all you do is combine the flour (I used whole wheat) and the eggs.  I used a large bowl because I don’t have enough flat counter space, but at my parents’ house, we used their granite countertop.  You’ll need to mix and combine and finally knead the stuff until you come up with a uniform consistency – it’s almost like a less crumbly play-dough.

Set aside your dough with a tea towel covering it, and then set up your pasta maker.  If yours is like mine, you’ll have to anchor it to a table.  I have the old-school hand crank, just like my grandma’s, but I know there are attachments to mixers out there, and other electronic ones.  You’ll need to work with palm-sized balls of dough, just for ease of working the darn stuff (especially when you’re alone).  When a piece gets unmanageable (as you roll it, it gets longer), I just cut it in half. 

I rolled out pieces, with my husband’s help, to fit the lasagna pan.  I actually rolled as I filled – so I did enough for the bottom layer, and then added sauce and mozzarella, and then rolled enough for the next layer and added sauce and filling, and so on – you can roll everything out beforehand, but be forewarned that this stuff will stick to ANYTHING.  parchment paper, towels, itself…  There were even a couple of pieces that crinkled up a bit as they went into the pan, and they were irreparable.  They also didn’t cook completely, so try not to let the pasta fold in on itself!

Fantastically-vibrant spinach ricotta filling

Fantastically-vibrant spinach ricotta filling

Layer your lasagna so that the last layer of pasta is covered with sauce and then mozzarella cheese.  I used about 2 cups of mozzarella (one small bag of the shredded stuff) in total (about 1 cup on the top layer, so it got all cheesy).  Then, place it uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.  And for the love of God, put a baking sheet lined with tinfoil underneath the thing – lasagnas always splatters and leaks and I don’t want to be responsible for your having to take to your oven with a scraper!

Finished lasagna with mozzarella on top

Finished lasagna with mozzarella on top

Layers!

Layers!

Beautiful and bubbly finished lasagna!

Beautiful and bubbly finished lasagna!

YUM!!!

YUM!!!

Finished gorgeous piece of lasagna (it sort of fell over, but you can see all the layers that way!)

Finished gorgeous piece of lasagna (it sort of fell over, but you can see all the layers that way!)

PRETTY!

PRETTY!

Oozy but so good...

Oozy but so good...

Part 2 – The Unexpected

Once I finished rolling out the pasta for the lasagna, I realized I still had a bunch left over.  Having not made a whole lot of pasta by myself before, I’d just blindly followed a recipe I got on the internet, and it didn’t tell me anything I could actually relate to (makes one pound of pasta just doesn’t help when you don’t know what one pound looks like).  I figured I’d just roll it out and make fettucine or something.  I made an offhanded comment to Hubby about how if we’d had butternut squash I’d have filled it with that.  At our wedding rehearsal dinner, we had butternut squash ravioli (and spinach ravioli, much like the filling for my lasagna, for that matter), and I could eat the stuff all day long.

A little light bulb went off in my head and I asked Hubby to check the cupboard for pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, but just the pumpkin, no sugar or spices).  Sure enough, we had a can left over from a pumpkin pie-making spree I’d had last year (in which I decided that fresh pumpkin is infinitely better than canned pumpkin, but when in a pinch…).  Success!  After all, butternut squash is just one step away from pumpkin – and I can’t imagine an easier substitute.  I added just a little granulated garlic and some nutmeg to the puree and rolled out the pasta.

Rolled-out dough with little blobs of filling goodness

Rolled-out dough with little blobs of filling goodness

Unrolled pasta with rolled pasta in the background

Unrolled pasta with rolled pasta in the background

Now, I wish I’d taken photos of folding the tortelloni (large tortellini).  Of course, when you need both hands for an operation, taking a good photograph is just not really an option; plus, my hands were really messy.  But, here’s the trick to making what my grandmother used to call “little belly buttons”: fold a square of pasta in half lengthwise – so it’s a long rectangle, and not a tall rectangle – and secure the two pieces together.  The “top” is the part you squished together, opposite the filling.  Take the pasta in both hands – one hand on each “short” end of the rectangle, holding it so it still looks longer horizontally than vertically – and make a circle with the pasta, securing together only the bottom corners.  The top corners should be left unsecured.  Turn the pasta over and fold up the top corners.  I know it sounds complicated but it’s really not.  And if you get frustrated, there’s always the “smash two pieces of pasta together” method.

Pretty little packages

Pretty little packages

Now, of course, I haven’t tasted these.  So I can’t vouch for my hastily-thrown-together filling.  But they smell good and look good.  We plan to eat them with a sage browned butter, maybe on the side with pork or chicken.  You can, of course, fill yours with whatever you like (my lasagna filling is awesome in them). 

If you want to eat tortelloni right away, just pop these babies in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until they float to the top.  But be sure, as you’re making them, that you’re putting them on parchment paper or wax paper (dusted heavily with flour would probably be the way to go).  And don’t let them touch each other, or they’ll stick horribly. 

Since we’re already up to our eyeballs in pasta, we’re not planning to eat these yet.  At the moment, we’re drying them.  My grandmother used to dry her filled pasta on large sheets of floured wax paper on the dining room table; I, of course, forgot the flour when I put mine out (duh) and had a couple of mishaps.  But overall, these tortelloni are almost done drying and will be frozen for later use.  I plan to get 6 side-dish servings out of this (I didn’t count, but it looks to me to be about 30). 

I almost forgot how much fun it could be to embark on a giant cooking spree.  Of course, we’ve got plenty of dirty dishes, but we’ve also got 3/4 of a lasagna and at least another meal’s worth of sauce in addition to our pretty little packages of pumpkiny goodness, after only 4 hours worth of work.  We got to work together on the pasta and the filling.  It might not be the cheapest or fastest way to eat, but it’s sure fun!

Bad Dinner Planner… Good Leftover User!

22 May

So I know I posted a couple of days ago about our awesomeness in dinner planning…  Of course, practically the minute that I posted it, I deviated from it!  Two nights ago, we had Italian sausage, white bean, and spinach soup (which really did use the fresh spinach we’d bought, plus leftover frozen sausage and ground turkey, and the chicken broth I’d accidentally made…  EDITED TO ADD: the recipe and photos are at the bottom of this post!  What a gorgeous soup!) and last night…  I decided it was more important to use up leftovers than to go with the original dinner plan.

Instead of either Italian or crabcakes, we had chicken salad sandwiches.  I’d made a perfectly fluffy and beautiful loaf of white bread the night before to go with the soup and we still had half of that lying around, and I’d put the boiled chicken (the “oops, I boiled the chicken when I meant to poach it, but hey I came up with chicken broth” chicken) in the fridge.  We had plenty of celery too, since we bought it for the crabcakes.  And last weekend, Ryan had cut up a whole sweet potato to make my sweet potato un-fries.  So we had leftover sweet potato sticks too (which got turned into another batch of the yummy fries…  I cannot even say how satisfying and incredible these things are… they don’t need any sauce or condiment!).

I am happy to report that the chicken, though fairly stringy and tough, shredded extremely well.  And, when mixed with mayo, mustard, and lemon juice (not to mention the copious amounts of dry herbs and celery), the chicken was not nearly as dry as it was by itself.  So – yay – I have a use for accidentally-boiled chicken (although I would guess that it would go well into any application that involves a good saucing – enchiladas, pasta, etc.)!

I actually think I am going to make a homemade lasagna tonight or tomorrow – I have this bizairre desire to make homemade pasta (though in truth I’ve only ever done it once without my grandma) – and probably save the crab cakes for my dad’s birthday celebration on Monday (I promised my grandma that I’d bring them to the next family gathering, and they travel well), to which I’m also bringing a DOZEN – yes, count them – huge artichokes from my eight-by-eight foot bush(es – there are actually four).

Anyway, even though the plan deviated, it’s been nice to have a decent idea of what’s going on, and to have all the ingredients for it.  And, to tell you the truth, using up leftovers is another problem I’ve been having – so it all works hand-in-hand.  I’m loving this whole “being economical” thing…  Next week, maybe I’ll tackle the giant slab of ribs that I just had to get on sale a couple of months ago (that’s been sitting in my freezer, taking up space, ever since!), and all the fish Ryan got on special at Henry’s last month!

Italian Sausage, White Bean, and Spinach Soup

  • Approx. 6 cups chicken broth (I had to add more to leftovers, as the ingredients kept sucking it up, but if you’re serving 4-6 people immediately you’ll probably only need 6 cups)
  • 2 links Italian sausage, cut up (of course, I only had one link, so I used 1/4 pound of ground turkey and added 1 egg, some dried herbs, and a bit of panko because the egg made the mixture too wet… then I rolled it into meatballs; in the photographs, the darker pieces are the sausage and the lighter pieces are the meatballs)
  • 1 can white beans, drained
  • large handful of fresh spinach, cleaned, with stems removed (approx. 1 cup, packed)
  • 1/2 cup dry orzo pasta (or any other small pasta)
  • small handful fresh parsley
  • parmesan cheese
Sausage, white bean, and spinach soup!

Sausage, white bean, and spinach soup!

  • Heat chicken broth until simmering.
  • Add sausage and parsley and cook 1-2 minutes
  • Add pasta and cook until nearly done (mine said 6 minutes, so I waited 4)
  • Add beans and spinach and cook 2-4 more minutes or until spinach is wilted and sausage and pasta are cooked through.
  • Serve garnished with parmesan cheese.  (Serves 4-6)
YUM!

YUM!

UPDATE 05/27: I had frozen the last leftovers of this soup and took one container to work today.  The pasta and beans just completely exploded, so the soup was very cloudy and a bit mushy, but still tasted nice.  I do have to say, though, that while the bits of sausage were chewy and tough, the little meatballs I made on the fly were super-super tender.  So I’d say the meatballs are winners all the way!

Planning Dinners Has its Benefits

20 May

We went on a shopping trip to my new favorite market, North Park Produce, on Sunday.  I can’t believe I lived a little over a mile away from this place for three years before I realized that they were the pinnacle of ethnic food and cheap, fresh produce awesomeness.  For under $30, we got enough produce, plus rice, bread, carne asada, and pasta, to last us through the week (we had most of the meat already in the freezer).  While shopping, we decided to plan out our dinners (and, consequently, lunch leftovers) for the whole week, and so far we’ve really enjoyed knowing that we had all the ingedients to go in all the dishes we plan to make.  We haven’t officially assigned days to dishes – so our menu may shift – but even just the simple act of saying, “Okay, we’ll have Italian one day and Chinese another” was super-helpful.  We tend to buy whatever looks good and not think about a whole meal – and then we lack inspiration and don’t use up the food we’ve bought.  But we were super-excited to plan out our meals this way!  Our meal plan and purchases are listed below:

  • Monday: Poached Chicken with Soy-Ginger Glaze, served with jasmine rice ($1.29 a pound!), garlic-wilted bok choi, and snap peas with bell peppers and onions
  • Tuesday: Tequila-Lime Carne Asada burritos.  I made so many of the veggies that they didn’t fit in the pan with the meat – but that was okay, because there are leftovers for Saturday’s brunch!
  • Tonight: Italian sausage and white bean soup with homemade chicken broth (I unintentionally made chicken broth while poaching my chicken breasts on Monday night; there was a piece with skin and bones, two excellent components of a broth, and at one point the heat got too high and boiled…  When I removed the chicken from the pot, I realized that it was awfully chickeny, so I added some onion, carrot, and celery, and boiled it for another hour…  We had the sausage in the freezer and the white beans in the cupboard, so tonight’s meal is ready to go!).  I think I’m going to make homemade bread and salad on the side, since there aren’t many veggies in my version.  I’ll take pictures if I remember!
  • The other two choices:
    • Crab cakes with orzo and salad (I’ll try to post my crab cake recipe when I make them; we always buy crab when it’s on sale at the grocery store for under $10/pound and this is one of our favorite treats!)
    • Spaghetti with ground turkey sauce and salad
  • And then, of course, for Saturday brunch, last night’s leftovers will become either a Mexican omelette or a quiche.

It’s no huge feat, but for someone who likes to cook on a whim, it’s a pretty cool accomplishment.  And it’s actually a really nice feeling (I know, I know…  everyone’s been telling me for years!) to know that I’ve got dinner in the fridge and it’ll be a really fantastic, well-balanced meal.

We also got fruit – peaches, strawberries, and apples – to bring as accompaniments for our lunch-sized portions of leftovers.  I’ve been eating a peach-strawberry-blueberry salad topped with vanilla yogurt every day during lunch, and it’s just about the best thing since sliced bread.  Now to make plans for next week…

Triumph Over the Machine

20 May

I’ve got this tiny problem at home called too much data for my computer.  I thought I’d solved it about a year and a half ago when I found a SeaGate FreeAgent external hard drive on sale at Amazon.com – it was 500 GB (as opposed to my 80 GB hard drive that seemed so ginormous when I built my computer in 2003) and under $100.  So I bought it.

For a while, it worked fantastically.  I’d take it everywhere with me, and had all sorts of things – .mp3s, photos, video clips, all manner of written projects – stored on there.  Then, after a marathon session of wedding photo editing during which the hard drive was used heavily, it started acting strange.  It would stop connecting, start making grinding noises, act like it was working and then suddenly freak out (and often left the computer in such a state of confusion that it required a hard shut-down).  I tried it on my desktop at home, our laptop, even my desktop at work.  I discovered that it couldn’t stay connected for more than a few megabytes’ worth of copying/pasting/saving.

I was seriously pissed.

What’s a girl to do when she’s saved everything on an external hard drive that’s now refusing to play nice?

I went searching on the internet for a solution to my problem.  This was back in November or December and I found a blog where several dozen people had commented about their issues with this particular external hard drive (leave it to me to buy a piece of junk).  A few had come up with solutions – disconnecting the internal LED light for some reason seemed to help, and everyone agreed that the casing was not allowing the thing to cool down – but most of them involved breaking into the hard drive casing.  Which I was too chicken/busy to do.

Until this weekend.

On Sunday, I decided I had nothing better to do.  I pulled up the blog I’d found, with its instructions about dismantling the thing, and grabbed a screwdriver, a hammer, and the new casing I’d bought.  And took a deep breath.

Now, for reference, this is what I started with:

What a hunk of junk

What a hunk of junk

It looks perfectly nice, a sleek black casing with a friendly yellow LED.  All you have to do to make it work is plug it in to the wall and the computer.  It springs to life and connects without any special drivers or programs.  Easy peasy.  Except when it’s not.

The instructions on the blog (which I can find and post if you’re interested, but more than likely you weren’t as dumb as me and didn’t buy this junky hard drive, and if you did…  well, good luck) were to get some sort of wedge-like tool and “spudge” the plastic base apart.

This was easier said than done, since there were several plastic clips that kept getting in the way.  Eventually I wedged the screwdriver (not really the weapon of choice, according to the blog, since jamming a piece of metal into an electrical component can theoretically ruin the electrical component beyond repair, but it was what I had available) between the two pieces of plastic and the bottom came off and flew across the room.  Success!

Then it was no simple feat to disconnect the curiously-tight-fitting wires from their plugs on the hard drive’s computer chip and unscrew the metal plate from the bottom of the upright part of the casing.  Someone on the blog I was reading said to bash the chip into a million pieces for giving you so much trouble.  I didn’t.  But I was tempted to.

Of course, the task was only begun, since there was a whole other plastic case that needed popping off – screwdriver wedged between plastic clips and all.  The screwdriver needed wedging in between the plastic bits all the way around the case this time, and in the process I gave myself a nasty scrape on the finger.  The plastic finally gave way and broke apart, the troublesome LED tumbling out.

There was, of course, yet another layer of seemingly impenetrable casing, a metal cage around the hard drive itself.  I’d have never realized that this wasn’t just part of the component if it wasn’t for four little rubber “feet” sticking out from the sides.  I went to fit the hard drive into the new case and found that it wasn’t quite going in.  At first, I figured I’d just gotten the wrong size case, so I took a drive to Fry’s.  Luckily, the salesperson I talked to described how a hard drive should look, and I realized that I needed to remove the cage.

This was, of course, not easily done.  In fact, my husband was truly scared to see me poking at the thing with a screwdriver and trying to get underneath the tightly-closed metal flaps.  I had to wedge my screwdriver under a bit of metal and bend it back, like peeling a particularly stubborn orange.  I ended up with a mangled metal piece and one finally free hard drive, which I popped into the new casing with nary another issue.  I plugged it in and – voila! – it hummed to life, finally giving me access to the files I’d thought I might never see again.  I’m not sure whether this new casing is a whole lot better, even though it’s supposed to be, so I’m not sure how long it’ll last.  But it felt like such an accomplishment when, after two hours of poking, prying, unscrewing, wedging, and popping, I had a working hard drive!!!  YEAH!

And I also had an interesting pile of discarded pieces.  Rather like modern art.

Blog Photos - May 09 001

 

Blog Photos - May 09 002

 

Blog Photos - May 09 003

 

Super Easy and Juicy – Poached Chicken

19 May

I wanted to quickly share my favorite technique for cooking chicken.  It makes foolproof, juicy chicken every time without much fuss.  Granted, poaching lacks the carmelized flavor and color of roasting or pan-searing, but it also lacks the propensity for dry meat.  For sandwiches or sauced dishes, this is my go-to cooking method.  The best part is that it’s totally low-maintenance!

Plain poached chicken might not be winning any beauty contests, but it's easy and tender and oh so good.

Plain poached chicken might not be winning any beauty contests, but it's easy and tender and oh so good.

 

Poaching chicken takes, literally, two steps. 

1) Fill a sauce pan about 3/4 of the way with water (eyeball it; if you are cooking multiple chicken breasts, use a bigger pot).  Add any aromatics you might want to use (garlic, pepper, parsley, onions, thyme…  the possibilities are limited only by your imagination) and set on medium-low heat until the water is hot and begins to steam just a tiny bit.  If the water begins to bubble, turn the heat down!

2) Once your water is hot but not bubbling, throw in your chicken.  You can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or whatever you have lying around.  Keep the water low and walk away for 10-15 minutes.

Seriously, that’s it.  The nice thing is that you don’t have to watch it.  If you walk away for more time, you’ll be fine as long as your pan is low and the water is not bubbling.  Trust a girl on this one; if your pan bubbles, your chicken will be tough and stringy.  If you happen to see a bubble, turn the heat down – you’ll probably be fine.  But if your pan is boiling vigorously (as mine has done before), you’ll probably want to throw in some veggies and make your own chicken broth (which is yummy too, and easier than you’d think, but a totally different post), because the chicken meat itself will be toast. 

This morning, I poached three chicken breasts in a medium sauce pan for a potluck work luncheon (it was panini!day!).  They took about 15 minutes, during which time I went and took a shower.  Yes, this method is that low-maintenance.  They came out super-tender and juicy, and were easy to slice for sandwiches.  If you prefer, you can always toss pieces of poached chicken in salads or just in a nice flavorful sauce (I like to mix a 2:1 ratio of honey to dijon mustard and just warm it up and pour it on).

My favorite part about poaching, aside from the oh-so-tender meat, is that you can literally throw a frozen chicken breast in the water with no prep and have dinner on the table within a half hour (frozen chicken takes longer).  You just toss it in and ignore it.  You can also poach chicken in a microwave (in fact, that’s even easier, since the microwave generally won’t get hot enough to boil the water), in a bowl.  Which means, of course, that if you’re really strapped for time, you can make this dish at work for lunch.  Most fish can also be poached, since it’s a gentle cooking method that doesn’t dry out the meat.

Like I said, it’s not the prettiest stuff in the world, but poached chicken is a pretty fabulous addition to a busy girl’s lunch or dinner repertoire.  And since you don’t need to add any fat, this is a very lean preparation too.  I just couldn’t help but share!

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