Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cranberry Chicken For A Chilly Evening

We finally have gotten a few days of sun, but it's still pretty chilly, so I decided to make a baked chicken dish last night. I found it in a Rachel Ray magazine and it is a keeper! The skinless chicken stays moist under a shingling of bacon, plus the presence of a mixture of chicken broth and red wine. In general I can't drink wine, but I have found that I can eat things where the wine has been cooked. Yay! All the alcohol gets cooked off, but something else must get mellowed, too.

The components, besides the chicken and bacon, are sweet from the dried cranberries, savory from the broth and wine and balsamic vinegar, mellow from the translucent cooked onion wedges, and hearty from the red potato chunks. Add in the flavors of garlic, thyme, pepper and bay leaf and you have a dish that smells wonderful and tastes even better. All you need with it is a small salad or steamed veggies and, perhaps, some bread to sop up the delicious juices.

Because I never make anything quite how it is written up, I did change the chicken to boneless thighs, I added a 1/4 teaspoon fresh orange zest (cranberries  and orange are a match made in heaven), and I reduced the dried cranberries by 1/4 cup...and will reduce them by another 1/4 cup next time. I also didn't have fresh thyme, so I used dried thyme...2 teaspoons in the broth mixture and none for garnish.

There are a number of good reasons to make this dish besides the fact that it is yummy. First of all, it is relatively inexpensive. Then there is the bonus of a short prep time and about 30 minutes cooking time. Add to that the easy clean-up, especially if you line the casserole with heavy duty foil like I did. Last, but not least in my world, there is no dairy in this dish...and you don't miss it either. With no added oil, butter, cheese, or cream, it is fairly healthy, too...well, except for the bacon, but that adds so much flavor and fragrance that it would be a shame to leave it out. Sweetie helped me out by eating half my bacon. Isn't he the best?

Roasted Cranberry Coq au Vin
Serves 4
from Rachael Ray Every Day, March, 2017

1 1/4 cups dried cranberries (I used 1 cup but 3/4 cup would be better)
1 cup red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais (I used Zinfandel)
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 large cloves garlic, chopped (don't worry, the garlic gets mellow in the oven)
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons onion salt
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, divided (I used 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 8 oz. each), skin removed (I used boneless skinless chicken thighs)
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut through core into 3/4-inch wedges
4 slices thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon, each cut into 4 pieces
8  1-inch thick slices French bread (didn't have any...didn't miss it)

Position oven rack to upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients and 2 tablespoons thyme (or all the dry thyme if using). Optional, but good: add 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest to the mixture.

In a large baking dish, arrange the chicken, potatoes and onion in a single layer. Shingle the bacon on the chicken. Add the cranberry mixture, pressing cranberries to submerge. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast in preheated 460 degree oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a chicken thigh registers 165 degrees F., about 30 minutes. If using fresh thyme, garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon.

Serve at once. If desired serve with bread to mop up the juices.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Intensely Lemon

This post has been sitting in my files, waiting until I'm feeling better (have had a nasty cold since about Feb. 10), but I think it is getting stale, while I'm still coughing, so posting it anyway! I would probably be completely back to normal but I have kept doing scholarship group work and have even gone out for a couple of meals, so not everything has been on hold. True, I've read a lot of books and spent time in bed...never a terrible thing, right? The lemon bread is long gone, but I will make it again...it was really good!

I've always loved the flavor of fresh lemon. Lemonade is still one of my favorite beverages and lemon sugar cookies were my favorite as a child, even more than chocolate chip. Our local dairy made a lemon custard ice cream to die for. There is something fresh and bold about lemon that wakes things up.

Recently a friend gave me some Meyer lemons from her home garden. It took me longer than I would have liked to get to this next recipe, but life has been super busy, so what can you do?

Although I've made lemon quick breads before, this time I tried a new recipe from Rosemary of An Italian In My Kitchen. I was intrigued that you cut soft butter into the dry ingredients as you do for pie crust, then add the egg-milk mixture. I really wanted to see how that turned out! It also meant that I could do everything by hand and in just two bowls...one for the egg-milk mixture one one for the batter. Of course I used soy milk and cut in soft non-dairy margarine, but I'll bet it would be even better with unsalted butter and whole milk. Keep an eye on it toward the end of baking time. There is enough sugar in the batter that it burns easily. Check it with a toothpick earlier than the suggested time, just to be sure.

This is a delicious, intensely lemon flavored loaf, with the texture of a pound cake. I doubled the amount of lemon zest called for and doubled the amount of syrup for brushing on after the loaf is finished, while still warm. I also poked some thin holes all over the top before adding the syrup, so that it could penetrate into the loaf. All of that added to the lemon effect and to making each bite moist and delicious. With a cup of hot tea it's pure heaven!

If you only have one lemon, I'm sure that you could follow the recipe and it would still be a yummy lemon loaf. This would make a wonderful gift, too, and it is dense enough that it would probably ship well. Extra lemons? Make one to give and one to keep!

Fresh Lemon Bread
adapted from Rosemary at An Italian In My Kitchen

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (zest from one lemon) (I used zest from 2 lemons)
4 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (22 ml) (I used about twice this amount, juice from two lemons)
2 1/4 cups flour (270 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (7 1/2 grams)
3/4 teaspoon salt (4 grams)
1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided (276 grams)(I added another tablespoon for the pan)
3/4 cup butter softened (170 grams) (I used non-dairy margarine)
3 eggs, large
3/4 cup milk (177 ml) (I used soy milk)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C), grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. (I sprinkled a tablespoon extra of sugar over the part I greased, but it would be fine without and might not burn so easily).

In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and 1 1/4 cups sugar, add the softened butter and, with a pastry blender, blend until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the lemon peel.

In a small bowl, put the eggs and beat lightly with a fork, add milk, and mix until combined, then pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until flour is moistened.

In the prepared loaf pan add the batter. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours (or until toothpick comes out clean). Cool, then move to a wire rack.

In a small pot add 4 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir to combine. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring to a boil until thickened. With a pastry brush, brush syrup over the top of the bread. (I poked holes with a wooden skewer while bread was warm and then brushed on the syrup over the warm bread until it was all absorbed. I let it sit in the pan until cool, then turned it out onto a serving board.)

Tightly wrap any leftovers and store in the refrigerator.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Catching Up

Lots happening last month and this month. I used to periodically do a post like this for my Mom, but now I have my dear sister in law in Virginia who reads this blog often and has asked for an update, (especially on the studio remodel - above photo) so here goes.

Very busy on the scholarship front. The deadline to send me the applications (this is for a State of California level scholarship) was February 1. I was amazed at how many women (because these scholarships are only for women going to college) waited until the last moment to mail the applications. The postal delivery woman had to bring the last batch in a carrier box because there were so many. Considering that applications can be sent as early as September, it was interesting to see that the almost all of them arrived during the last five days.

For me the process included opening over 80 envelopes, collating parts of the application as needed, lots of stapling, checking a whole bunch of things to make sure that the applications were valid and complete, preparing them for the committee members, logging them on the spreadsheet, making sure that there was a digital copy sent to the email address reserved for the Ethel O. Gardner Scholarship Committee's use, then mailing the prepared paper applications to the committee and filing mine for review and scoring. This doesn't even take into account all of the emails that flew in during the couple of weeks with questions. I actually was happy to see those because I had been wondering if we were going to have any applicants, but questions usually mean interest! We will meet for the selection process in a few weeks, so I have to get busy scoring them and logging the comments and scores.

On the project front, my studio remodel has been going really well the last few weeks. There have been lots of changes to the old place during the last four months or so. The French doors that were old when we got them second hand years ago were replaced with a window plus new exterior wall, and part of the wall closer to the parking area was opened up for a new outside door. The steps were moved over to the new exterior door and one half of the French doors became the new interior door between the storage area and the studio area. You can see the new window, old French door with multiple panes, and (through it) the new outer door in the photo below where Sweetie is using the nail gun on the ceiling with the help of Anne Marie (second photo down).

We insulated the ceiling with Kate's help and

put up shiplap ceiling boards, insulated the wall between the studio and storage and put up a plywood wall. Sweetie installed new LED lights and created and installed lots of new trim and I did lots of painting of walls and trim. Last weekend, since we finally had a couple of days without rain, we moved everything out and made a template for the flooring.

On Sunday our sweet neighbors Glenn and Anne Marie helped us move the flooring to the back deck, place the template, cut it, move it to the studio, and install it.

I painted the baseboards and Sweetie installed them and some threshold to hold the 'floating' Tarkett fiberfloor in place. It's a nice sandy color and looks like stone. Should be easy to mop up when the painting gets colorful.

Sweetie put together a great workbench with drawers and mounted the old shelves from the old kitchen pantry above it.

He made some narrow shelves by the door to the storage. I put an array of acrylic paints...48 colors!...on them so far. Still figuring out where things should go, so changes can happen.

I'm starting to move my art supplies back in and putting a few things on the corkboard, but that will likely change, too. The drafting table still has its covering that protected it during the construction, but it will be gone soon.

I now have the most magnificent place to draw, paint and do crafts. I have an idea for a three part piece for our daughter's new place, based on a photograph she took at Manhattan Beach which I'll paint in acrylics on three panels.

Oh, yes, I've been reading a lot, too. Rainy weather often gets me reading and it has been very rainy. My new favorite series is by Martin Walker and the series is about Bruno, Chief of Police in a small town in the Dordogne in France. Well crafted mysteries, great characters, and good cooking.

No recipe this time, but I know that some of my regular readers have been wanting to know how we have been spending our time.

Last, but not least, Sunday we pruned the walnut tree by the back deck. The branches were getting too close to the house and this is a good time of year to prune. The rain held off all morning so we got quite a bit done. Here is the pile of limbs and branches, ready to be put into a trailer to get recycled. As you can see, Pi keeps an eye on us and is never far away. Hope you have been pleasantly busy, too.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Meatballs For Pork Lovers

Meatballs can be such versatile little bites. You can serve them with a dipping sauce for appetizers, put them into a soup or use them to adorn a salad. A favorite way to serve them is with a sauce on pasta or rice. You can serve them on their own, perhaps with a sauce or dip on the side. And of course you can use them in a sandwich, too.

Recently our favorite neighbors thawed out too much ground pork from their home grown pig. What a problem to have, right? Anyway we were suddenly blessed with a good sized quantity of ground pork, so I immediately thought 'meatballs'! These are baked and are very simple and delicious. The recipe calls for cooking the onions and then mixing the cooked onions with the meat and other ingredients. I managed to overlook those instructions and added raw onions, but they cooked in the oven and I liked that they still kept their character and weren't wimpy caramelized onions, even though I do love onions that way. They also have chopped fresh rosemary, but you could also use another herb, dried or fresh. Imagine them with green onions, ginger and cilantro for an Asian take on meatballs. You can also use any mixture of meat. I mixed some ground turkey with the ground pork, but ground chicken or beef would also be good. Just keep the proportions the same.

By the way, I was just looking at the blog history and last October 22 I finished ten years of blogging...and I'm already 52 posts past that. Lately about 500 people a day are looking at my posts. I know that lots of people who read this blog don't leave comments, so it was really nice last week when we called to wish Sweetie's East Coast sister a hearty Happy Birthday that I found out she had made the Bean Ham and Cabbage Soup and liked it. It's very gratifying to know that someone makes these recipes and that they like them. If you missed that post you may want to check it out. The soup is one of my all time favorites and great for cold weather.

Are you ready for meatballs? Once these were baked, I cooked up a simple 'cream' sauce with non-dairy margarine, mushrooms, minced garlic, flour, thyme, salt and pepper and some soy creamer. I boiled some noodles al dente, stirred them into the sauce and put the meatballs on top. Steamed fresh spinach on the side filled out the plate. These meatballs would go well with a nice tomato sauce and pasta, too, or on top of rice with some steamed sugar snap peas and a little soy sauce and ginger...you get the idea. If you are worried about fat, you can put the balls on top of a rack which has been placed in the baking sheet instead of baking directly on the sheet as I did.

Easy Oven-Baked Meatballs
from Stupid Easy Paleo.com

2 pounds ground lean pork (or other ground meat)
(I used a combination of pork and turkey)
1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 tablesppons fresh rosemary, chopped (or 3 teaspoons dried rosemary)
1 tablespoons dried sage
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fat of choice (I used olive oil)

Preheat the oven to 400 Degrees F (204 C). Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper (or silpat mat as I did).

In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute the onion in a spoonful of your fat of choice until softened, about 5 minutes. Let cool. (this is the part that I skipped over!)

In a large bowl, combine the ground meat(s), onions and all the spices.

Form into 2-inch balls and arrange on the prepared sheet pan. (If you have a sturdy disher or scoop it helps to keep the size even. Otherwise use a heaping  tablespoon measure.)

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until cooked through.  Serve at once or store in fridge or freezer for quick protein in your favorite recipe.

Ideas: Chop and use in and egg and veggie scramble or omelet or frittata.
Chop and toss over a salad and toss with your favorite dressing.
Use in your favorite soup.
Mix with a tomato sauce flavored with Italian spices and put over steamed spaghetti or spaghetti squash.