Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keeping Warm

Well, winter has finally descended upon us and that means cold days and frigid nights.  Since we have barn animals that means even more to us since we have to give our livestock enough food to keep them warm.  Good old straw plays a huge role in this as well.

Kent goes out at night and finds that one chicken who was not smart enough to get back to the coop before dark (chickens can't see in the dark and so they don't move at all which makes them easy pickings for a coyote).  He scoops up said chicken, tucks her under his arm, and returns her to the coop, even going so far as to place her on the roost under the heat lamp.  Yes, our chickens have heat lamps; having their combs get frostbit is heart breaking.

Keeping ourselves warm means wearing layers.  We always have on a sweater or hoodie in the house.  And I always feel warmer when I knit, so I always have a queue of projects to work on.

I also believe that making hearty comfort food keeps you warm.  Soups definitely fit the bill as do thick rich pasta dishes.  But this week we had a set-back; my oven went out!  The stove top works but the igniter on the oven went out.  How to cook and keep warm???

Well, since the stove top works it is soups to the rescue....I am trying out a new one Saturday night. We have some friends coming over so they get to be Guinea pigs. And my husband is always on stand-by as the tester.  So, I am making Corn Chowder with Bacon and Sweet Potatoes.  I found the start of this recipe in this over sized cook book that I got I don't even know how far back;  I know it was before we moved (4 yrs. ago).  This is just one of a set.  They are heavy and huge and very hard to manipulate. That is a sixteen ounce cup in front of it in the picture, just to give you an idea of the size.

So I was looking through this book a couple of weeks ago and I found this soup! I did make one change in that I am leaving out the chicken, adding in bacon and a bit more cheese.  So this is my attempt at a new soup for a new year.
My Corn, Bacon and Sweet Potato Soup
The original recipe was a first place winner and she had a nifty trick to really make it wonderful.  

3 C. of whole milk
1 c yellow corn muffin mix (Jiffy)
2 T. butter
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. dried oregano
2 qts of chicken broth
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed in 1/2 inch pieces
1 c shredded cheese, plus a cup to be served with the soup
3 c of frozen corn
1/2 c flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 lb of thick cut bacon

Mix the milk and corn muffin mix up and set aside for now.
Melt the butter and cook the onion till tender, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic, cumin and oregano, saute for a 2 minutes.  Add chicken broth and the sweet potatoes, bring to a boil then turn heat down to low and let this simmer till the potatoes are fork tender, about 8 minutes.
Stir in the milk mixture and simmer another 10 minutes.  Add the corn and cheese and simmer till the cheese is melted.

While the soup is cooking, dice up the bacon and pan fry till crisp.  Drain and then just before the soup is ready to serve, toss the bacon on top.  Serve the soup with additional cheese to sprinkle on top, sour cream would also be good on this.

Variation- you could add a white potato to the soup as well.  For a twist on this, chop up a jalapeno and saute with the onions.  Add more heat with red pepper flakes.  And no, I cannot let a recipe alone....well not all the time.

Christmas Day...

'Tis the day...the day many wait for all year along.  I would be in that group.  I plan for this day starting way back in January.  I start thinking about what to serve, to buy and to do.  I want to create those memories that are reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell picture.  I fall short, a lot, but I figure that falling short is better that not aiming at all; and most of our Christmases have happy, warm memories.  We have had great ones and good ones; never a bad one.  I have tried to make them meaningful for our kids as well as for my husband and myself.  The number one aim has been family time.  That was far easier when our children were youngsters.  Now they are adult children still living at home and the rules are changing.  Finding the balance between independence and wanting to be at home gets a little tricky.  It helps that nothing is open on Christmas, for which I am thankful.

We have brought the intensity of Christmas down over the years.  We now do a secret Santa; we all draw names and buy something for that person only.  Secret Santa also adds an element of sneakiness, hush-hush, and subterfuge.  Kent always tries to guess who-has-who, as does Ethan.  I am just glad that I can pull it off and not spill it to someone, like where I had been shopping, or why was I at Backwoods?  We put a monetary limit on gifts, and hand out lists with at least three items.  All the items have to be reasonable, so no 2014 Mustangs allowed, even if it looks cute on the list.  We stress that the gift need to be well thought out; no gift cards.  Sometimes this can be a struggle.

This year I drew my 20 year old daughter, Emily, who had just bought a bunch of stuff from William Sonoma, where she got a 40% discount.  So I have a new candy apple red Kitchenaid mixer on my counter (looks so pretty and I am so jealous) and several other items.  To top it off, she had no idea of what she might want or like and so was no help.  I was way out of my league... My other daughter, Clare, and I were out shopping on Christmas Eve and I had very little time to make this happen and somehow I wasn't to let Clare in on it.  Obviously, that was not going to work.  So I did what any savvy smart mom would do - I spilled to Clare and asked for her help.  It worked.
We found Emily a gorgeous soft brown knit dress, and she liked it!  Score!!!!!

Now, that is how we roll at our house.  Kent had figured out that Clare had me, (also Clare and I were so tired and she still had her secret Santa to buy for, which was me so I picked out my gifts, she wrapped them and I over acted surprised, we had a blast).  So we unwrapped gifts, made Swedish pancakes, bacon and hot apple cider.  We watched a movie after breakfast (which was around 11:00) and then took naps, yea!  And then we knitted, watched more movies and just hung out.

Christmas dinner is in the oven, Brown sugar crusted ham, cheesy potatoes, and a spinach salad with mixed berries. 

It was a very good day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Stove...

I measure how clean my kitchen is by how clean is the stove top.  I can get all the counters clean, the sink scrubbed till shiny, dishwasher empty....then there is the stove.  It is covered in splattered, cooked on messes.  I find bits of hard macaroni from the kids making the blue box.  There are crumbs, splashes and muck on every piece.  So everything has to come off, burner grates (I have a gas stove), burner covers and there it is ready to be soaped, scrubbed and wiped clean.

Only it doesn't go that easy....there are pieces of junk that have become one with the stove, crumbs that move out of the way of the dish clothe, spots that my green scrubby sponge won't lift.  I spray cleaner on it and let it sit for 5 minutes while I work on the covers and grates.  I hate cleaning the grates by hand, I rather place them in the dishwasher, but I need to cook again soon.  I try to do it at night, but my brain is off so it doesn't  even register that I need to get them in the dishwasher before I run it.

So back to the stove top; someone has left the front door open and beautiful sun shine is now lighting up my stove, showing every layer of grease on the stove and on the knobs, under the knobs, next to the knobs and then I see it.  The entire front of the stove, the glass window to the oven, is covered in drips and chunks of who knows what.  It looks like I have not touched it in months, yet I know I did it last week!

So now the knobs, face plate and entire front of the stove get sprayed....and it needs to sit for a bit.  I hate trying to clean the knobs, there is no easy flat surface to scrub, so using the green scrubby sponge and a dishcloth I try to get them clean.  Of course I leave a burger knob turned on slightly, it smells like something died and starting rotting in fast action.  Whew, then I remember, O boy check the knobs make sure they are all off and stay off as I scrub them.  No luck the sun is still hitting them and they still look grimy.
Bring on the toothbrush.....hold the knob, scrub the knob with the tooth brush, work it behind the knob and clean, clean, and clean.  Finally the sun  moves on and my stove is clean....no more sun showing the grime and it looks good, especially since I can no longer see the stuck on stuff.

A clean stove means no cooking that night, I need at least one evening knowing that it is clean and will stay clean for just a bit of time.

Then tomorrow I will cook again, and try to wipe it down so that it will stay clean until my kids decide they need food.  The concept of cleaning has not arrived yet in their minds, it will come, it did for me!.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Season

We are only a couple of weeks from Christmas. I am sitting in front of my decorated tree, watching the Texas Tenors sing their adorable heads off.  Very Christmas spirit type of stuff...love this.

I wish I could put into words what listening to this type of music does to my insides...it is like my soul sings along with them. Heaven knows my voice can't.  But this type of music does resonate somewhere deep inside of me and gives me such depth of feeling but such peace all at the same time.  From the incrediable voices to the strings being played with such talent, the thrill of the sound brings tears to my eyes because of it's beauty.  I would be a puddle on the floor if I allowed myself.

I think this is one of the reasons I love this time of the year.  I love being able to enjoy the sense of goodwill that everyone is demonstrating.  I am full of the season.  My family not so much.  I am coming to the conslusion I may have to enjoy the season a bit on my own.  I can only create events that show the season.  They have to decide if they are going to embrace it.  On some level that makes me sad...I remember how excited they would get with Christmas around the corner.  Those of you who have young ones, please take the time to enjoy it with them.  It really is such a pocket of time that is here then gone forever.

There are so many things I would do differently...I was way too stressed about my kids bothering others, keeping the house clean, trying to keep messes from happening.  I really did not understand that my kids just wanted me!  Not the newest toy (that didn't hurt), not the next TV program.  They wanted their daddy and mommy; and that is why God gave us grandchildren.

But I can still make a hit with a meal.  And I did that the other night with homemade pasta and a chicken with Dijon mustard cream sauce that was dynamite.

I saw this pasta on America's Test Kitchen (click and view the video) and have been making it over and over.  We did this in our Middle school cooking class.  The kids loved it and some took balls of it home to roll out for dinner that night!
2 c of flour, 2 T. olive oil, 2 whole eggs, 6 egg yolks.  Mix is a food processor till it makes a sticky ball.  Remove the ball and using as little flour as possible
 roll it out into a log, about 6-8 inches log.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours (ours went about 6 and longer and it was fine).  Cut into 6 equal portions, cover the 5 not in use.  Pat into a 3 inch rectangle, then dusting your board with flour roll out.  Start in the middle and roll up, then the middle and roll down.  Flip and turn and do this over and over till the dough is very thin.  Lay on a towel, repeat with the rest.  Once they are all done, let the sheets dry for 15 minutes.
Fold the sheets of dough onto itself, making them about 2-3 inches deep.  Slice the dough into strips.  Unfold them, toss them with a little flour and you are ready to cook.  Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook your pasta for about three minutes.  Drain and enjoy.  It really is that easy.

I made my Winter Night Chicken with the home made pasta!

Winter Night Chicken-a nod to Kathleen Flinn and the amazing recipe I learned from her book, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School”.

2 lbs of bone in, skin on chicken thighs & olive oil plus butter; kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper; 8 oz of cremini mushrooms, sliced; 2 springs of fresh rosemary and several of fresh thyme (purchase the poultry bundle and you will have several different ones); 3 T. Dijon mustard; 1 1/2 c heavy cream; 
In a heavy oven proof skillet (cast iron) heat about 4 T. olive oil and 2 T.
butter.  Once it is hot, lay the thighs skin side down to brown.  Walk away...let them brown.  About 6 minutes later turn the meat over, add the mushrooms, lay the springs of herbs on top, 1/2 t each salt and pepper, place in a 400 degree oven for another 20 minutes.  This will finish the meat cooking. 
Bring the skillet back to the stove top, over medium heat, remove the dead springs of herbs.  Mix the cream with the Dijon mustard, pour over the meat and let it come to a bubble. 
Meanwhile bring a lb of fettuccini to boil, cook till al dente.
Serve the chicken and sauce over the pasta.  As usual good crusty bread goes well with this dish. 

This is my tree that my dear friend Jackie helped me do.  My family has been gone working, working and more working, so with her help I got a lot of decorating done.