Friday, December 18, 2009

Zesty Cheese Doodles

Here is the South, a tasty appetizer that is often served during the holidays is Cheese Straws. Well, I think that is true because 1) I've never actually tasted a cheese straw and 2) it's debatable if Texas is really part of the South. Anyway, I was looking at some recipe's in a holiday magazine and came across a cheese straw recipe. It's really quite simple; but, I decided to make it better. The original recipe included a bit of cayenne pepper. I decided to include some garlic powder. I also decided I would put a bit of blue cheese in the middle and roll them in sesame seeds

Warning: These are addictively good

Ingredients
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • blue cheese crumbles
Equipment
  • cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
Directions
  1. Mix all of the ingredients except for the sesame seeds and blue cheese. It would probably be easiest in a food processor; however, my son borrowed ours, so I just kneaded it by hand. It makes a pretty stiff dough and will give your hands a work out.
  2. Roll into 1-balls with a bit of blue cheese in the middle (maybe a 1/4 tsp or so, eyeball it).
  3. Roll balls in sesame seeds and place on cookie sheet
  4. Bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned on top - about 15 minutes (checking every minute or two after 10 minutes). Note that they will flatten and spread out, so be sure to leave room between them.
  5. Let set on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes after removing from the oven and then slide parchment paper onto a cooling rack
Other variations to try (I haven't actually tried any of these yet)
  • Substitute 1/2 tsp curry powder for the cayenne pepper and garlic powder
  • Roll in crush pecans instead of sesame seeds
  • Roll it around a slice of pickled jalapeño pepper instead of blue cheese
  • Roll it around a couples of slices of black olive instead of blue cheese
  • Roll it in panko bread crumbs instead of sesame seeds
Notes:
  • I was impatient and didn't feel like waiting for the butter to soften; so, I just grated it with the cheese grater and mixed it in with the flour and cheese
  • You could freeze the balls before baking and then have them to bake whenever company comes over or you just feel like a tasty snack. Either let them thaw before baking or increase baking time

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

One fall I had butternut squash soup at corner bakery that was absolutely delicious. So, I set out on a internet search quest to recreate this wonderful culinary delight. With a few of my own twists, I think I've done it.

Ingredients
  • 3 pounds fresh butternut squash
  • 4 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • freshly ground nutmeg
Equipment
  • Stock pot with steamer insert
  • Hand blender
Directions
  1. Remove any labels and wash squash under cold running water.
  2. Cut squash into quarters lengthwise. Scrape out seeds and stringy stuff and reserve. Place squash quarters into steamer insert skin side up.
  3. Dice shallot and red bell pepper into small pieces
  4. Melt butter on medium in bottom of stockpot and add diced shallot and red bell pepper, saute until shallot is translucent (about 2-3 minutes)
  5. Add reserved seeds and stringy stuff from squash. The idea is you want to lightly toast the seeds in the butter; but, first the liquid needs to be boiled out. This will take about 10-15 minutes stirring frequently.
  6. When squash seeds begin to take on a light brown color then add the 6 cups of water and bring to a boil
  7. Place steamer basket with squash into stock pot and cover. Steam the squash for about 30 minutes on medium high.
  8. When the squash is tender, turn off heat and lift steamer basket out of pot and let drain. Leave squash draining into liquid until both are cool enough to handle
  9. Strain steaming liquid and reserve, discard solids
  10. Scrape squash pulp into a clean pan and discard skin
  11. Using the hand blender, blend the squash pulp adding just enough of the reserved steaming liquid until smooth textured and of the desired consistency (you may or may not end up using all of the liquid)
  12. Stir in cream, brown sugar, and nutmeg and adjust seasoning
  13. Gently heat, being careful to stir often as it will scorch easily.
  14. Enjoy with some nice chewy french bread

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baklava

I had a hankering for baklava the other day; so, I bought some phyllo pastry sheets, did an internet search to get ideas, and came up with the following

Ingredients
  • 1-1/2 pounds of nuts (I used 8 oz blanched almond slivers, 6 oz raw pistachios, 4 oz pecans, and 6 oz walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound phyllo pastry sheets (18 sheets, 13" x 17")
Syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup orange blossom honey
  • Peeling from 2 clementine oranges with white pulp scraped off and discarded (i.e. orange zest slices)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 2" long
  • 3 whole cloves
Equipment
  • 9 x 13 pan
  • Food processor
  • Candy thermometer
Directions
  1. If phyllo pastry is frozen, thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator at least 1 hour ahead of time to let it come to room temperature
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  3. Cut phyllo pastry sheets in half cross wise so that you have a pile of 36 sheets 13" x 8.5"
  4. Finely chop nuts in food processor, mix in brown sugar ground cinnamon and cloves, set aside
  5. Brush bottom and sides of 13"x9" baking pan with melted butter
  6. Place a sheet of phylly pastry into pan and brush with butter. Repeat until there are 14 sheets.
  7. Spread 1/2 of the nut mixture on top of the pastry sheets
  8. Repeat placing phyllo pastry sheets brushed with butter for another 8 sheets
  9. Spread remaining 1/2 of nut mixture on top of pastry sheets
  10. Repeat placing phyllo pastry sheets brushed with butter for the remaining 14 sheets
  11. Using a sharp knife, carefully through the sheets into diamond shapes, about 5 or 7 diagonal cuts each direction
  12. Place in middle of oven and bake for 40 minutes, after about 20 minutes check and lightly cover with foil if it is starting to brown on top so as to not overcook the top. Remove from oven when done baking
  13. While the phyllo/nut assembly is baking, mixed all incredients for syrup, bring to a boil and cook until the temperature reaches 230 degrees (just under the soft ball stage)
  14. Remove orange peel, cinnamon stick, and whole cloves from syrup and gently pour syrup over the phyllo/nut assembly. Let stand several hours (or overnight) to let the syrup soak in and cool
  15. Using a sharp knife, gently re-cut the baklava and enjoy

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey Enchiladas

On Friday, November 20th, we left on a 1,500 mile trek to Southern California to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter and her family. However, we still wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with our local family and friends; so, on Sunday, November 15th, we had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. We had our two children and their families who live locally as well as a couple of friends over for a potluck style dinner. Oh my goodness! We had so much food. We had two turkeys: One cooked in an oil-less turkey fryer and the other was a pre-cooked smoked turkey (bought on sale) that we heated in the oven. We made cornbread-sausage-apple stuffing. There was also 4 different salads, green bean casserole (using fresh green beans), homemade rolls, and 6 different kinds of pie. This isn't including all of the appetizer stuff we filled up on before dinner.

Anyway, my son took home the two turkey carcasses to make soup with and we divided up the left over turkey with each of the families. We ended up with about a little over a pound of turkey meat. After eating turkey sandwiches Monday and Tuesday on the leftover dinner rolls, I decided to make Turkey Enchiladas with what was left of the turkey meat (just under a pound).

I wanted something that had a lot of other flavors to it - because, frankly, I don't like leftover turkey. I can't explain why, I just don't like the flavor. I like cooked turkey fresh out of the oven. I'm OK with turkey sandwiches. But, beyond that, I don't like turkey (don't even get me started on turkey soup - can't stand the stuff).

So, here is my recipe for Turkey Enchiladas that I threw together using mostly stuff we had on hand. The only thing I had to go to the store to buy was the tortilla's.

Ingredients
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced (using garlic press)
  • oil (a Tbl or so)
  • 1 pound leftover turkey meat, chopped up
  • 1 14oz can Mexican Style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 4oz can of chopped green chilies
  • 1 10oz can enchilada sauce
  • 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • corn tortilla's (14-16)
  • cheese (cheddar, or whatever you have on hand), grated

Directions
  1. Saute onions and garlic in oil until soft. Mix in stewed tomatoes, chopped green chilies, chipotle in adobo sauce and corn. Add turkey, mix and heat through
  2. Pour enchilada sauce in a flat bowl and heat in microwave for 1 minute
  3. Heat tortillas in microwave to soften
  4. Pour a little of the enchilida sauce in the pan, enough to coat the bottom
To assemble
  1. Dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce, add meat mixture (1-2 Tbl) and some cheese, roll up and place in pan seam side down
  2. Repeat until all of the meat mixture is used
  3. Top with cheese
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly toasted on top. Serve with sour cream and salsa.

Notes
  • I used Del Monte brand Mexican style stewed tomatoes which had surprisingly large chunks of tomato which had to be broken up into smaller pieces while cooking.
  • I used Old El Paso green enchilada sauce, simply because it was what we had on hand. Any good enchilada sauce should do fine.
  • I made two 8" square pans of enchilada's - we cooked one for dinner and put the other in the freezer. I suppose it would also fill an 8" x 13" pan.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Peanut Flour

The October 2009 issue of "Southern Living" magazine has an ad by the National Peanut Board that included some peanut recipes. One that looked particularly intriguing is "Peanut Oven-Fried Chicken with Citrus-Ginger Sauce". We have pretty much all of the ingredients on hand, except for one: Peanut flour. Seriously, we even have the aromatic roasted peanut oil; so, I thought, I guess we're gonna have to get us some peanut flour.

First we first tried Sunflower Shoppe in Colleyville, a large health food store. They had almond flour, hazelnut flour, pecan flour, coconut flour - but no peanut flour. Next we tried Central Market in Southlake, an upscale gourmet grocery store. They had a similar selection of different flours - but no, alas, peanut flour.

So, I went to the web site for the National Peanut Board, found the recipe on their web site, and added a comment asking where I might be able to find peanut flour in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Lo and behold, I received an email within 24 hours from a Communications Specialist for the National Peanut Board with the following message:
Thanks for reading the National Peanut Board blog and for your interest in trying some of our recipes. Unfortunately, peanut flour isn’t yet available in retail stores, but we would be happy to send you some peanut flour to work with and would welcome any feedback you have about using it.

If you send your address, we’ll get that out to you early next week.
I replied, thanking her for responding, and gave her my mailing address. This week, a package arrived by UPS containing a 1 pound package of peanut flour. So, next week we'll be having "Peanut Oven-Fried Chicken with Citrus-Ginger Sauce" for dinner some evening. There are also other recipes on the National Peanut Board web site that look yummy, such as

Peanut-Parmesan Spiced Chicken

Vietnamese Pork Banh Mi with Spicy Peanut Aioli
Peanut Butter Pancakes

I may even try to come up with some recipe's of my own using peanut flour, stay tuned . . .

btw, the National Peanut Board has an extensive selection of peanut recipes - check them out if you're looking for new things to try.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vegetable stock

Making a vegetable stock is a good use of excess vegetables in your fridge that may otherwise go to waste. I like to use fresh produce whenever possible. The problem is, so often we have to buy produce in a pre-measured package of some sort rather than just what we need. For example, the other day I was making a recipe that called for a leek (as in one leek). You can't buy just one leek - you have to buy 2 or 3 leeks. A week or so ago I needed a parsnip; but, you can't just buy one parsnip - they typically come in a cello package. Which I don't really understand because turnips, rutabagas, and even carrots (in upper end grocery stores) can be bought individually - but not parsnips, at least here in Texas.

Anyway, rather than letting the leftover vegetables go bad in the fridge (as typically happens), I decided to make a vegetable stock. I used a recipe for vegetable stock on the food network website - although not to the letter. I just used what I had.

My vegetable stock has
  • 2 parsnips
  • 4 carrots
  • 1/2 bunch of celery that was starting to wilt
  • 1/2 onion from the fridge plus a whole onion from the pantry
  • 1/2 head garlic separated into cloves and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 package of snow peas
  • Some string beans I bought the other day to have with dinner and forgot to cook
  • 3/4 bunch of arugula
  • a small red bell pepper from my garden
  • A dozen (or so) black pepper corns
  • A good sized handful of fresh herbs from the garden
    • bay leaves
    • thyme (2 types)
    • savory
    • marjoram
    • oregan0
    • rosemary
I washed everything under cold running water; but, I did not peel the carrots or parsnips - I just scrubbed them and cut them into quarters. Even the onion was chopped into quarters, skin and all, after washing.

Just dump everything into a big pot, bring it to a boil, then simmer for several hours. Turn off the heat, let it cool, strain and package into freezer containers and freeze.

I'll be using 1 cup and 2 cup containers. But, I'll have to figure out some way to distinguish them from the chicken stock containers we made a month or so ago. Hmmm, this makes me want to find a butcher to see if I can get some beef bones to make a good hearty beef stock. It's hard to find a real butcher these days since most grocery stores have gone to pre-packaged meat.

You may notice that there is no salt. The original food network recipe didn't call for salt either. Commercial stocks and broths are often loaded with salt - which is a good reason for making your own. We don't use a lot of salt in our home. I often put in 1/2 the amount of salt (or less) a recipe calls for, except for certain recipes, like baked goods, where the salt is essential to the chemical reaction.

A vegetable stock can be substituted in many recipes that call for chicken stock. I wouldn't substitute vegetable stock in something like chicken and dumplings; but, a acorn squash/pumpkin soup I made the other day called for chicken stock - and a vegetable stock would have worked just as well, perhaps even better (it wasn't as delicious as I wanted it to be - which is why the recipe isn't posted here).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shepherd's Pie (aka Daddy Jon's Pot Roast, part II)

Since it's just Linda and I, we usually always end up with leftovers after dinner as we just haven't gotten used to the idea of cooking for two. I usually end up eating the leftovers for lunch the next day or two. But, leftover pot roast was just too good to waste on lunch. So, I made shepherds pie.

The shepherd's pie we've made in the past had the leftover meat and vegetables on the bottom, leftover mashed potatoes on top, and baked until the stuff on the bottom was bubbly and the potatoes were lightly browned.

This recipe is different in that it puts the potatoes on the bottom (soaking up all of that good flavor from the gravy) and a biscuit crust on top.

Shepherd's Pie
  • Leftover pot roast, cut into small chunks
  • Leftover gravy, heated in microwave until liquefied
  • Extra potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender
  • Leftover vegetables from pot roast
  • Extra vegetables if necessary to make 2 to 3 cups (see note below)
  • Instant biscuit mix (I used a single-use package of Kroger brand buttermilk biscuits, so I don't know how much actual mix)
  • 3 Tbl butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Potato layer: Place the potatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish and lightly mash, leaving it a bit chunky

Meat layer: spread the meat over the potatoes and then lightly drizzle the gravy evenly over the meat.

Vegetable layer: Spread the vegetable mixture over the meat.

Biscuit layer: Mix up the biscuit mix according to instructions, adding just a bit more liquid to make it thinner than normal and spread it over the vegetables. Drizzle melted butter over the biscuits.

Place in oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until the biscuits are lightly browned.

A note on vegetables: I only had a few carrots and parsnips leftover from the previous dinner. So, I chopped up some fresh carrots and precooked them in the microwave for one minute (covered). I also cut up some fresh green beans into 1 inch pieces and precooked them in the microwave for 1 minute (covered). I then added some frozen corn niblets. I could have used a bag of frozen mixed vegetables - but personally I think they taste nasty. Fresh carrots and green beans (in season) are pretty cheap, and they taste so much better than their frozen counterparts.

Daddy Jon's Pot Roast

For me, recipe's are more like suggestions than actual rules. I usually start with a recipe, often looking up several recipes - and then I concoct my own recipe using ideas inspired by those I looked up as well as my own.

This recipe is no exception. It started out as Momma Neely's Pot Roast, but I added enough of my own ideas to it that it is now my own recipe; so, I call it Daddy Jon's Pot Roast.

Daddy Jon's Pot Roast
  • 1 (3-4 pound) pot roast (I prefer bone-in as the bones lend flavor)
  • Vegetable oil (I used bacon grease leftover from my breakfast)
  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed (don't be afraid to add even more garlic)
  • 1 cup red wine (see note below)
  • 2 cups stock (preferably beef, but whatever you happen to have on hand, I used chicken because that's what I happened to have left over from a previous dinner)
  • 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs (I suppose a teaspoon of dried would work)
  • a handful of raisins
  • 12 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 carrots peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces (1/2 inch if large in diameter)
  • 2 parnips peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces (1/2 inch if large in diameter)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil and sear the roast on all sides. Remove the roast and add the onions, garlic, and tomato paste; cook until slightly colored. Remove the Dutch oven from the burner, spread the onion mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan and lay the roast on top. Add the wine, stock, thyme, bay leaves, allspice, and peppercorns. Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven.

Roast for about 1-1/2 hours and then add the carrots and parsnips, pressing down into the liquid. Continue to cook for another hour or so.

Remove the roast and vegetables from the dutch oven to a serving dish. Strain the leftover liquid in the dutch oven through a colendar and then return to the dutch oven. Over medium heat, gently boil the cooking liquid to reduce and thicken. Remove gravy to a bowl

Optional: You could also add potatoes along with the carrots and parnips. Although, I put a couple of baking potatoes in the oven at the same time I added the carrots and parsnips to the pot. I left the potatoes in the oven while I reduced the cooking liquid.

A note on the wine: Personally, although I am a Mormon and don't drink, I don't have a problem using a bit of wine in a recipe. Particularly one like this where it cooks for a long while as all alcohol will be long gone by the time it is consumed. I usually keep a bottle of cooking wine in the pantry; although, I've recently discovered that, if you watch sales, you can pick up a bottle of cheap wine for $3-$4 dollars, which is cheaper than cooking wine. To a wine connoisseur, I'm sure it probably tastes nasty; however, my personal opinion is that the typical substitutes (water, juice, stock, etc.) change the flavor profile and that even a cheap wine will produce a result closer to what the author of the recipe intended. However, if you have a problem using wine in a recipe then feel free to substitute.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Painted Desert Soup

I first had this soup at Blue Mesa Grill - a Mexican restaurant that is more Southwestern in flavor -verses Tex-Mex that defines most of the Mexican restaurants around these parts. Not that there is anything wrong with Tex-Mex - but it's nice to have something different once in a while. Anyway, Blue Mesa Grill has the recipe for their Painted Desert Soup on their web site, as well as recipes for many of the other items on their menu (Their guacamole is to die for).

It is actually two different soup recipes that are then ladled together into the same bowl so that one side is Corn Chile Chowder and the other side is Black Bean (I didn't do a particularly good job of ladling in my picture, but you can get the idea). Each of these soups are very good and could be made individually; but, they aren't that hard to make - and for the full effect, you need to make both and serve them together. As the web site states, it is as colorful as the Southwest.

I've adapted the recipe on the Blue Mesa Grill web site to both cut it down (i.e. make less) and to use more readily available ingredients.

Corn Chile Chowder
  • 3 cups frozen cut corn
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 oz. Velveeta Cheese (a slab about 3/4" thick), cut up
  • 1 Tbl canned sliced jalapenos, finely minced (no juice)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • corn starch - as needed
  • cold water - as needed
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the frozen corn on a cookie sheet and roast until it starts to turn light brown, about 30 minutes

Take 70% of the corn and the chicken stock and puree in a blender. Pour the puree in to a double boiler and heat over a medium heat. Add the heavy cream and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Add the remaining whole corn, Velveeta Cheese, jalapenos and salt. Continue cooking until cheese has completely melted. Stir often.

Mix corn starch and cold water in a separate bowl and add to soup as needed to thicken. Cook on low heat about 8 minutes until it thickens.

Black Bean Soup
  • 2 slices of bacon (preferably hickory smoked) cut into small pieces
  • 2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped (or pressed, if you have a garlic press)
  • 2 14 oz cans of cooked black beans
  • water as needed
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ tsp. chipotle puree
  • 2 Tbl brown sugar
  • 2 Tbl cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • (optional) dash of liquid smoke
Saute bacon and onions in a large pot until they begin to caramelize. Add the garlic and then saute for another 30 seconds to a minute

Add canned beans with liquid to the pan. If necessary, add just enough water so that the beans are just barely covered. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.

Puree ¾ of the soup and add back with remaining bean soup.

To serve

Simultaneously ladle both soups on opposite sides of the bowl.

(optional) Drizzle with sour cream and a teaspoon of pico de gallo.

Notes:
  1. The chipolte in adobo sauce is the one ingredient people are less likely to have on hand. It's not expensive (a 4 oz can is a $1 or so); but, it may not be worth getting for just a ½ tsp. of the sauce. I don't recommend just leaving it out because the Black Bean soup needs some sort of spice; but, You could try substituting it with some sort of hot sauce. The chipolte in adobo sauce is pretty spice (hence only ½ tsp.); so, if using some other sort of hot sauce, you might want to increase it to a teaspoon or so.
  2. We tend to not use much salt in our cooking; so, you may need to add a bit more salt.
  3. For the picture, I poured the soups into two mugs and then simultaneously poured into the bowl - an option if you don't have two ladles.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New car

I've worked out of my home for the last several years. For this reason, we've only had one good car and an old clunker (a full sized conversion van leftover from when the kids were all living at home). This met our needs as it was completely paid for; and, we seldom needed to be in two different places at the same time.

After being laid off - we've known all along that we'll have to get a second car once I find a job. The van was OK for occasional short distance trips - but, frankly, I just didn't trust it for any distance and/or long term use.

The Cash for Clunkers deal was enticing (yes, even for this diehard republican). I don't really have a problem supporting stimulus packages like Cash for Clunkers and the tax credit for first time home buyers. Those sort of programs actually stimulate the economy IMOHO. Giving bucket loads of money to banks and car companies -that I have a problem with!

When I read in the newspaper Friday morning that the Cash for Clunkers deal was ending on Monday - I thought "oh crap, if we're going to do this then we need to do it NOW." On one hand, buying a new car when I'm unemployed seems decadent. On the other hand, a $4,500 credit cannot be ignored - especially when I have a clunker that might fetch, at best, a few hundred as a trade-in allowance.

So yesterday (Friday), I went into overdrive and started looking at cars. We wanted something cheap and fuel efficient. We've had good experience working with the local Chevy dealer; and, I had already looked at the Chevy Cobalt and Aveo. So, Friday I went to a couple of other local car dealerships to see what they had.

I had a bad experience at the Ford dealership. Even though I had explained that I wanted something cheap, the salesman insisted on showing me cars in the $25K-$30K range. When I specifically asked to see the Ford Focus - he pulled up with a fully loaded model for $20K. When I asked if I could just drive it around the lot a bit, I was told that I couldn't - that he'd have to drive it to the entrance and then we could take it for a test drive around town. At that point I was done.

Anyway, I went to the Nissan dealer as I wanted to look at the Versa. While there I decided to test drive the Cube - and I fell in love. I am a man who is large in stature - and sitting in these subcompact cars that I was looking at feels a bit claustrophobic. The Cube, while being butt ugly, feels very roomy in comparison.

So, I came back home to think about the cars I looked at - and to collect the stuff needed to qualify for the Cash for Clunkers deal. Unfortunately, we're not the most organized when it comes to paper work. So, we spent the afternoon
  • Searching through our filing cabinet to find the title.
  • Going to the county tax assessors office to get proof that it's been legally registered for the last 12 months.
  • Going to our insurance office for proof that we've had it insured for the last 12 months.
We talked about the cars I looked at - and at 5:30pm we decided to "do it". I cleaned out the van to keep anything I wanted and to throw away everything else and then drove it to the Nissan Dealership. I walked into the dealership, paperwork in hand. And, at around 8:00pm I drove home in a brand spanking new Nissan Cube.

Being unemployed I assumed that I wouldn't qualify for a loan - so we had already decided up front to pay cash. Although, I was surprised to find them still pushing me to finance even knowing I had no income. No wonder we have a credit problem in this country. I'm also surprised that since I was paying cash - it still took over 2 hours to complete the purchase.

It's kinda girlie - even a bit gay; and, I'm twice the age of the target demographic for this party car - but I'm curmudgeonly enough that I don't care. In my world - comfort trumps everything else.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yet another chili recipe

I made chili today and adapted my "Texas Smokin" Chili recipe. This one has a richer tomato flavor with just hint of smokiness. It also only makes 1/2 as much as my other recipe.

Ingredients
4 pounds ground meat, browned and drained
2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
2 Tbl tomato paste
2 Tbl hot smoked paprika
2 Tbl ancho chili powder
1 Tbl ground coriander
1 Tbl mexican oregano
1 Tbl thyme
½ Tbl ground cumin seed
½ Tbl salt
1 cup finely crushed tortilla chips (add during the last hour of cooking to thicken)
Directions

Throw everything into a large crockpot and cook for several hours. Top with grated cheese, sour cream, and, if desired, diced raw onion. For a real treat, put some frito's in the bowl first and pour the chili on top for Frito Pie. Tortilla chips can also be used.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Back in business

Wednesday evening a bad storm moved through the area leaving nearly 400,000 homes without power - including ours. It just came back on today (Friday). Nearly two whole days without electricity has made me realize for the little things that I take for granted, like
  • Air conditioning
  • hot water heaters (cold shower - not fun)
The biggest problem - was boredom. Especially after the sun went down. Playing family games by candlelight isn't as fun as it sounds.

But, we went to see Up (the movie) last night - and it was actually much better than I thought it would be. The last 3D movie we saw was Bolt - and I was expecting more of the same. Up has quite a good storyline.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sacrament meeting talk

I spoked in Sacrament meeting on 5/31/2009. Below is the text of my talk



Teaching the gospel

This past year I decided to grow a vegetable garden. As such, I’ve been doing a lot of research into organic gardening and how to best grow vegetables in our Texas climate. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of having good soil. Our clay soil here in Grapevine is heavy and essentially devoid of nutrients. I’ve learned that for a successful garden it is important to mix organic material into the soil to help loosen it and add nutrients for healthy root growth.

Working out in the garden gives me time alone to contemplate – as I was preparing for this talk, I began to consider that teaching the gospel is a lot like growing vegetables. First and foremost, we need to provide a fertile ground for the gospel to take root.

In a garden, healthy soil leads to healthy plants. Many problems encountered in the garden are directly attributable to poor soil conditions, be it lack of nutrients, moisture – or even too much and moisture or the wrong blend of nutrients. Healthy plants are able to better withstand disease, insects, and other garden problems.

Likewise, a healthy home leads to healthy families. Many of the problems we see in the world around us are directly attributable to problems in the home – be it lack of love and respect, or even too much attention and over bearing parents.

But, a healthy home may not be enough. That’s where we – the ward village – comes in.

We are fortunate to live in an area with good schools – but as good as our schools are, the teaching is essential devoid of any gospel nutrients. This becomes increasingly critical as our children grow older and more involved in school activities and other worldly endeavors.

So, we as the ward village, provide gospel instruction each Sunday through primary, Sunday School, young men, young women. As the children in our ward village get older, we further supplement this with wholesome activities on Wednesday evenings.

But, as they enter into their final 4 years of school, even that is not enough – and that is where brother Gurney and I come in. We provide gospel instruction each school day before the crack of dawn - to a room full of sleepy and bleary eyed teenagers, we teach them the gospel

After His resurrection Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples. In John chapter 21 we read


15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto
him, Feed my sheep.
Feed my lambs - Feed my sheep - Feed my sheep.

Is there any significance to His saying “Lambs” first? And who are the lambs? They are the children and young men and women in our ward village. First we must feed the lambs – and then we must feed the sheep – and then we continue feeding the sheep for the rest of their moral lives.

So, regardless which role we have – that of a parent teaching the gospel in our home or that of a teacher supplementing gospel instruction at church – we are all gospel teachers.

Something else I’ve learned in my gardening research is that plants are able to take in nutrients through their leaves as well as through their roots. So, I’ve been spraying my vegetables with garrett juice, a concoction developed by Howard Garret consisting of compost tea, liquid seaweed, molasses, vinegar, and other ingredients which helps to supplement the soil conditioning I did prior to planting.

Likewise, all of us called to positions of teaching, in our ward village, regardless of whether we are feeding lambs or sheep - we are the garrent juice for our ward garden - we supplement the gospel teaching that begins in the home.

In the October 2008 general conference, William D. Oswald, 2nd counselor in the Sunday School general presidency outlined 3 principals in teaching the gospel to others.


Principal 1: Show love to those you teach and call them by name

We need look no further than the savior to find examples of this. In the Gospel of John 10:3 we read the words of Jesus Christ saying

3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.

In the Gospel of Luke 10:20, when the Savior was instructing the Seventy, he said
20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
In the sacred grove, Joseph Smith wrote
One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Principal 2: Teach from the scriptures

In the gospel of John, the savior said in chapter 5:39
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
The apostle Paul wrote in his second epistle to Timothy 3:16

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Principal 3: Encourage the pondering of gospel truths

The apostle Paul also wrote to Timothy in his second epistle to Timothy 2:7
7 Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
When the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites, he said in 3 Nephi 17:3


3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.
In a revelation given through Joseph Smith to David Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and John Whitmer, the Lord said in D&C 30:3


3 Wherefore, you are left to inquire for yourself at my hand, and ponder upon the things which you have received.
As gospel teachers, let us remember these three simple principals

Now, I have to confess, I did not attend seminary while in high school. Truthfully, I never even heard of seminary until I was serving on my mission. I joined the church in college and was involved in the young adult program – and what the younger kids were doing was not even on my radar. Two years after my baptism I was called to serve a full time mission in Missouri.

While serving on my mission, I was able to interact with other elders – some of whom I developed a great deal of respect for. As I got to know these brethren, I began to notice patterns and trends in their upbringing. One thing I observed is that those elders who faithfully attended seminary were generally much better prepared as missionaries.

Tonight is seminary graduation. It is a time when we honor and celebrate those students who were faithful in their attendance and participation. It is quite an accomplishment and it’s important that we celebrate. But what about those who struggled a bit and fell short?

Back to my garden analogy – probably the most important factor in a successful garden is water. A plant may not thrive in poor soil without adequate nutrients; but, without water it will shrivel up and die.

Jesus referred to His gospel as “living water” when speaking to the woman at the well where we read in John 4:13-14


13 . . . Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
In John 7:38 we read

38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.

When it comes to watering plants there are two factors to consider

  1. Provide water regularly
  2. Help the plants retain the moisture in between watering
The same can be said for the Living water. We need to partake of the living water regularly and we need to help those we teach retain the living water.

In the garden, we can help the soil retain moisture with mulch; that is, a dressing of leaves, bark, or other organic material laid out on top of the soil. One of the things I’ve observed in my vegetable garden is just how big of a difference even just a little mulch can make. While more mulch is even better as it can also help curb weeds – even just a little mulch, barely enough to cover the soil, can make a world of difference in the moisture retention properties. I’ve witnessed areas of my garden that had received the same amount of water where the unmulched soil was bone dry while the soil right next to it with just a little much still had moisture.

For those lambs whose seminary attendance was a bit off. Faithful seminary attendance is the ideal – but even just a little seminary attendance can make a world of difference in the retention of the Living Water and help to withstand the pressures of the world.

There are many reasons where attending seminary each morning can be much more difficult for some than it is for others – and it is not for us to judge one another. But, for those who have struggled – I just want you to know that your efforts have not been in vain, and that you will be rewarded for whatever attendance you can muster.

In closing, I want to share part of one of my most favorite hymns - hymn number 85 “How Firm a Foundation”. I especially love the 3rd verse which reads
Fear not, I am with the; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
There is another verse which we seldom sing – the last verse of the hymn which reads
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!
May we all partake in the living water of the gospel - in the sacred name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guacasalsa

This is a slight variation of a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, part of his Grilled Fish Tacos with a Roasted Chile and Avocado Salsa recipe. What he calls Roasted Chile and Avocado Salsa" - I call Guacasalsa, a sort of combined guacamole/salsa. It is quite delicious and worthy to stand on its own.

Ingredients
* 1 Hass avocado, flesh removed from peel
* 2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
* 1 jalapeno, roasted, peeled and seeded
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
* 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
* 1 lime, juiced
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
* 3 Tbl water

Stick everything in a blender and puree until smooth

Monday, May 11, 2009

Garden update


I haven't been very active in my blogging lately; so, I thought I'd give an update on the garden. Above is a picture I took on Saturday. In the lower right corner is where I planted popcorn and am waiting for it to 'pop' up [pun intended]

In the left hand picture below, I have melons (left) and squash (right) growing. The picture on the right hand shows just a few of the 12 tomato plants growing. Can also see the pole beans growing along the fence.

I still have a fair amount of work needed to complete it. For one thing, I don't have the drip irrigation system functional yet. Fortunately we've been getting a lot of rain; so, watering hasn't been an issue. Unfortunately, we've been getting a lot of rain which is hampering my efforts because the ground is too soggy to dig to lay more sprinkler pipe.

The rain has also caused weird fungi to grow in the mulch I laid down around the raised garden beds.

We've been eating salads with the lettuce in the garden; although, the lettuce is starting to look like it might be finished soon. I also used some basil from the herb garden. The other herbs are big enough yet to start cutting from.

I'm taking advantage of my current unemployment situation and try to work out in the garden a couple of hours each day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A new chapter

Today was my last day of work at IBM. I was informed I was being laid off the day before Sarah's wedding - and my first day back home from Florida for Trent's wedding was also my last day of work. I had an exit interview at noon where I had to sign some papers. 45 minutes later I walked out of the building for the last time with my severance check in hand, which I deposited at the credit union on the way home. They took out more taxes than I expected; so, the severance check was a bit smaller than I had hoped for.

So, I'm feeling bitter-sweet right now. The last two of my children are married - and I'm unemployed for the first time in 28 years. I really have no idea what my future holds right now. I'd like to do a career change and do something different - but I have no idea what.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crystal ball - part trois

On Sunday, I took some engagement pictures for Ryan Elliott and Ashleigh Donner. I'll let him post them as he sees fit; however, I did want to post this one that I took using my crystal ball.

I would like to have taken more using the crystal ball - but it was really windy. I made a gizmo to prop it on top of a light stand (using parts from Home Depot); but, with the wind, I was afraid it would fall off and crash to the ground.

Sarah's wedding

Here are some pictures of Sarah's wedding on Saturday, March 28th.

3 down - 1 to go. We're leaving for Florida on April 18th for Trents wedding on April 21st.

The bride (Linda made the dress)

The bride an groom

Sarah and Ray cutting the cake (Grandma McKee made the cake)

Ray's family

Sarah's family

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Square Foot Gardening

Linda bought a book titled Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Overall, I don't particularly like how the book is written and organized - I find his writing style to be condescending. However, the concept intrigues me. He claims you can grow vegetables and flowers in only 20% of the space required by a conventional row garden - thereby saving water, work, and money. Basically, you
  1. Build a 4'x4' raised bed
  2. Fill it with a special potting mixture (called "Mel's Mix")
  3. Lay the garden out in a 4x4 grid of 1 square foot squares
Each square can have something different planted in it, such as 16 radishes, 4 heads of lettuce, 9 spinich, etc.

I had already built raised beds; so, I decided to section off a couple of 4 foot square sections to try out this square foot gardening thing.

Mels Mix is equal parts of peat moss, blended compost, and vermiculite. The vermiculite was, by far, the most expensive part. I think I paid $35 for a bag large enough for two 4 foot squares.

Blended compost is just that - a blend of, at least, 5 different types of compost. I used bags labeled
  • organic compost
  • mushroom compost
  • Texas native compost
  • Organic humus and manure.
That's only 4 bags - but I figured the last one counted as two :)

I added some additional wood to completely separate the square foot garden beds from the rest of the garden, removed all of the dirt, laid down weed cloth, and filled it with Mel's mix.

As can be seen in this picture, the two 4 square foot beds are near each other and I've laid out the squares using twine. I also laid down drip soaker tubing which I'll eventually connect into the drip system I am building into the rest of the garden. I'm going to add a vertical frame on the north side of the bed on the right (picture is facing east, so north is on the left).

As far as progress on the rest of the garden
  • The beds are all completed
  • I laid down mulch around the beds (with weed cloth underneith)
  • Most of the beds are filled with dirt and ready to plant. I have the dirt - with Sarah's wedding and all, I just haven't had time to get out and finish moving it into the beds.
What I have left
  • Bury PVC pipe to each of the beds for the drip irrigation system which will be controlled by a sprinkler timer
  • Finish planting
  • Reap the rewards for my hard work
Two of the beds are planted with
  • Onions
  • Lettuce (red, green, & bibb)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Beans (pole and bush)
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
Although, I think I'm going to till up the part with the spinach, beats, radishes, carrots, and turnips as they really aren't doing that well and plant those in the square foot beds. That way, I can use the space for plants which need a lot of room, such as squash, melons, etc.

Additional vegetables we are planning on planting this year are
  • Tomatoes
  • Popcorn
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash
  • Okra
  • Melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.)
  • Cucumbers
I also have a bed reserved (the one closest to the kitchen) as an herb garden. I'll be planting perennial herbs (sage, oregano, rosemary, etc.) in the middle and annual herbs (parsley, dill, basil, cilantro, etc.) around the edges.

Of the plants that are currently growing in the garden, the ones doing best are those that we planted as plants (onion, lettuce, broccoli). Those we planted from seed haven't done as well. Not exactly sure why - it could be its just been too cold since we have had a couple of cold fronts move through the area. It was 37 degrees this morning. Last time it was this cold on an April 7th was 38 years ago.

We did start some seeds indoors. Of those, the pole beans are doing the best and the bush beans are doing OK. I moved the watermelon plants to the garden - but I think the last cold snap killed them. We're still learning

Since the garden is in the front, we want to make it look nice, so we'll also be intersperscing flowers among the vegetables. For example, I planted marigolds in front of the pole beans - marigolds have an additional advanteage of discouraging certain garden pests and root nematodes.

Anyway, this is where our garden stands. I don't know if much more will be accomplished this month since we're leaving in a week and a half to go to Florida for Trent's wedding. But, I'll have plenty of time in May to work in the garden since my last day at IBM is April 27th.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Texas Style Barbecue Sauce

Along with the smoked brisket, I'll be making my homemade BBQ Sauce. This recipe originally came from "The Best Little Cookbook in Texas" p.278. However, I've made enough adaptations over the years (in parentheses) that I now consider this my own recipe.

2-1/2 sticks butter/margarine (I use real butter)
4 cups sugar
2 Tbl garlic salt (I substitute 4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed)
1 Tbl cayenne (I reduce to 1/2 Tbl of cayenne)
1 Tbl Tabasco sauce (I substitute Cholula and reduce to 1/2 Tbl)
2/3 cup vinegar (I use Cider Vinegar)
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 (14 ounce) bottles catsup (I use one 32 ounce bottle)
(I also add 1/4 cup liquid smoke)

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add all other ingredients and blend thoroughly. Stir while bringing mixture to a boil. Reduce head and continue to stir, cooking until thickened; cool. This sauce is best prepared a day or two ahead.
Yields 2 quarts (will keep a long time in the refrigerator, even longer in the freezer)

(Note, I bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and let it simmer for several hours stirring occasionally.)

(You'll note that I reduced the amount of cayenne pepper and Tabasco/Cholula sauce. Personally, if it were left up to me I would leave the original amounts (perhaps even increase theamount). Unfortunately, a lot of my family and friends are wusses; so, I have to be careful how spicy I make it.)

Texas Style Smoked Brisket

For Sarah's wedding reception, I'll be smoking brisket.

I wasn't born in Texas (born and raised in California); but, I've been a naturalized Texas citizen since 1984.  In the time I've lived here, I've developed a deep appreciation for Texas BBQ.  If there is a food of the gods then this is it. It just doesn't get any better.

Before I continue, I should warn anyone who might be reading this: If you are one of those health weenies (er, I mean health conscience) then it might be best if you moved onto another blog to read.

This is a recipe for Smoked Brisket that I've perfected over the years. Some of it based on ideas I've gleaned from other individuals, and some of my own making.  

Following is my normal recipe; although, for Sarah's wedding, I'm going to try something different.  Rather than starting it in the oven the night before an finishing it in the smoker, I'm going to start it in the smoker the day before and finish it in the oven.  This is for convenience since I can't be messing with the smoker on the big wedding day.

First of all, there is some equipment and utensils you'll need.
  • Smoker. Personally, I like the, so called, water smokers which consist of an upright cylinder with a fire pan at the bottom, a water tray about that, and racks above that. Although other types of smokers would work just as well.
  • Wood Chunks. I like to use a combination of: Hickory, Mesquite, Pecan, and Fruit (Apple, Cherry, etc.)
  • Charcoal. There is a brand I get at Bar-B-Que Galore that is chunks of wood charcoal, not the formed briquettes (ala Kingston and other brands). I think it burns hotter and doesn't get smothered in ashes as much.
  • Roasting Tray. The aluminum kind like you roast a big Turkey in. You might need two of these depending on how many briskets you are smoking.
Ingredients
  • Beef Brisket (get the untrimmed kind, usually weigh about 8-12 lbs each)
  • Fresh Jalapeño Peppers (about 5-6 per brisket)
  • Whole clove of garlic
  • Limes (about 2-3 per brisket)
  • Apple Juice (I use the frozen concentrate)
  • (Optional) Fresh Rosemary (I have a bush growing in my back yard, so I cut off a small branch)
Preparation

The Night Before
  1. Trim the fat off of the brisket leaving about a 1/4" layer across the top. There is also a big chunk of fat in the side of the brisket which should be removed as much as possible.
  2. Half the Jalapeño Peppers and remove the membrane and seeds, then cut into strips about 1/4" wide and 1" long. It works best if you make them triangular shaped so that they are pointed on one end.
  3. Separate the garlic into individual cloves and slice them up into small strips about 1/8" wide and 1" long (or the length of the clove).
  4. Take a paring knife and make a slit in the brisket about 1-1/2" deep and stick a slice of Jalapeño Pepper and a slice of garlic in the slit. Repeat this all over the brisket (top, bottom and sides) making the slits about 2" apart.
  5. Put the brisket in a roasting pan.
  6. Cut the limes in 1/2, squeeze the juice over the brisket and rub it in with your hands working it into the slits. Then put the lime halves on top of the brisket.
  7. Put the roasting pan in the oven and set the oven to 250 degrees F and leave it in the oven all night.
The next morning
  1. Put the chunks of wood into a bucket of water to soak.
  2. Get up early and prepare the smoker. Light a fire in the fire pan using starter fluid. Wait until the flames die down and the charcoal is covered with a light layer of ash.
  3. If using a water smoker, once the flames have died down, put the water tray in the smoker, add the apple juice and rosemary branch, then fill the water tray up to the top with water. Then insert the other trays in the smoker.
  4. Transfer the brisket to the smoker (carefully) and close the smoker. I like to have the meat in the smoker by 8:00am so that it smokes all day.
  5. Add some water soaked chunks of wood on top of the charcoal and close the smoker.
Throughout the day
  • Check the smoker every couple of hours,
    • add more charcoal as necessary
    • add more water soaked wood chunks as necessary
    • add more water to the water tray as necessary
  • Try to keep the temperature inside the smoker at around 200 - 300 degrees F
  • Around noon, it's time to start slicing off chunks of meat to taste (gotta make sure it's good)
Other things to smoke
As long as you have the smoker going, you can add other things to smoke along with the brisket.
Things I've tried smoking (and liked):
  • Sausage. (Kielbasa or similar), smoke these about 4 hours
  • Hot links, smoke these about 4 hours
  • Snow Crab legs, smoke these about 2 hours
Things I've tried smoking (and didn't like so much):
  • Cheese. Warped in foil poked with holes (turns into a gooey mess)
  • Shrimp. (shells stick to the meat and are difficult to remove)
  • Salmon. (I don't particularly like salmon, so I don't know why I thought I might like it smoked)
  • Chicken. (ended up tough and dry)
Serve this with my Texas Style Barbecue Sauce. Invite a bunch of family and friends over and prepare to feast.

Texas Smokin' Chili

Sarah is getting married on Saturday.  Wedding guests start arrviving tomorrow; so, I'm going to make my award winning(*) "Texas Smokin" chili

(*) awarded for being the best tasting chili at the 2008 Grapevine ward chili cookoff

Ingredients
8 pounds ground meat, browned and drained
3 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
1 onion, diced and sauteed until caramelized
2 cups water
1/2 cup masa harina (Or a cup of finely crushed tortilla chips, cut back on salt a bit)
4 Tbl smoked paprika
2 Tbl regular paprika
2 Tbl chili powder
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl ground cumin seed
1 Tbl garlic powder
1 Tbl dried crushed cilantro leaves
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
2 chipolte chili peppers (smoked jalapeños), crushed up

Directions


Throw everything into a large crockpot and cook for several hours until you're ready to eat it. Top with grated cheese, sour cream, and, if desired, diced raw onion. For a real treat, put some frito's in the bowl first and pour the chili on top for Frito Pie.


Notes
  1. The secret ingredients are the smoked paprika and chipolte (smoked jalapeños) which give the chili a slighty smoky flavor.
  2. I used whatever ground meat I could find in my freezer, which was mostly hamburger, but also included some chicken sausage. It's a great way to use up meat in the freezer.
  3. Regarding heat level, I thought it was mild, my wife thought it was spicy; so, we'll call it medium spicy
  4. You could probably add some beans in place of some of the meat; although, traditionally, when serving Texas chili, the beans are cooked separately and served along side.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crystal ball - part duex

I blogged earlier about how I was going to order a crystal ball from a web site that specializes in metaphyiscal paraphanalia (it's like an online Diagon alley). Well, my crystal ball arrived last night - literally, the UPS driver didn't deliver it until about 7:00pm.

It came in a cool red box. Below are some pictures I took today over lunch. The image in the crystal ball is inverted; so, I inverted the images so that the reflection would be right side up.

This is the street in front of my house, my back yard, and some iris blooming in the front yard.





















Friday, March 13, 2009

Pad Thai

Linda works one day per week (usually) on Thursday's.  As such, I am responsible for cooking dinner on Thursday.  Mind you, I do contribute on other days as well.

Yesterday, I decided to make Pad Thai.  As I often do, when I have a hankering for something, I lookup several recipe's on the internet and then combine them into my own recipe.  So, here is my recipe for Pad Thai

Ingredients
Sauce
  • 2 Tbl liquid tamarind
  • 2 Tbl fish sauce
  • 2 Tbl palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 Tbl rice wine vinegar

Marinated tofu
  • 6 oz extra-firm tofu, not silken
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp chinese five-spice powder

Pad Thai
  • 4 oz rice stick noodles, soaked in warm water (about 1 hour)
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl oil (peanut, canola, etc.), divided
  • 2/3 cup green onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 whole eggs, beaten
  • 2 oz mung bean sprouts
  • 3/8 cup chopped peanuts

Garnish
  • 1/3 cup green onion, sliced
  • 1/8 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 oz mung bean sprouts

Directions
  1. Marinade the tofu in the soy sauce mixture for, at least, 4 hours (up to 12 hours)
  2. Soak rice noodles in warm water (for about 1 hour), then strain
  3. Mix together sauce ingredients and set aside
  4. Dry shrimp and then lightly toss with 1 Tbl soy sauce
  5. Heat wok, when hot put 1 Tbl oil in wok 
  6. Put marinated tofu in wok and lightly brown, gently tossing so as to not break up too much, remove when done
  7. Add shrimp to wok and lightly toss until done then remove and add to cooked marinated tofu
  8. Add 1 Tbl oil to wok
  9. Add garlic and onion and lightly toss for about 15 seconds
  10. Add egg and scramble in wok
  11. Add soaked rice noodles and sauce and toss to get everything coated
  12. Add remaining Pad Thai ingredients and toss to get everything coated with sauce
  13. Add reserved tofu and shrimp and toss to incorporate into Pad Thai
  14. Remove Pad Thai to a platter
  15. Sprinkle with garnish ingredients
  16. Serve and savor its deliciousness

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Casting our pearls before swine

To be honest, I'm having a difficult time getting all worked up in righteous indignation over HBO Big Love's plan to depict the LDS temple ceremony. First of all, it's already out there for anybody who's really interested. Just google and a few clicks and you'll find pictures, and even the text of the entire endowment ceremony. And the reality is, it's been available to anyone who was interested for decades. When I first joined the church - way back in college (way way back in college) - I went to the public library looking for books on mormonism. Lo and behold, there was an anti-Mormon book in the library that included the entire temple ceremony.

Now, I do concur that there is a difference between having it available in some obscure media that few are even aware of verses blasting it out to the masses on a cable TV network. And, I think it shows a tremendous lack of respect on the part of HBO to make light of things we consider very sacred.

But, the temple ceremony is more than just funny underwear, odd clothing, words and a few hand gestures. It's being in a beautiful room with others all dressed in white. It's the quiet whispers. It's waiting in the chapel for the session to start in quiet contemplation. It's sitting in reflection in a beautiful celestial room at the conclusion. It's the whole experience. There is no way they'll be able to duplicate that experience on a TV show. What will be depicted on Big Love will be a pale imitation - distorted and out of context. True, a few of our pearls have been cast before the swine - but we still have the pearl necklace held tightly against our bosom.

What is interesting about all of this is the lack of outcry from non-Mormon's. Try depicting sacred parts of Islam and there would likely be a tremendous amount of righteous indignation with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth - and not just from muslims. The same would be true for the Eastern religions.

But Mormon's - in fact, Christians in general - are fair game. It's like white guys being the only ethnic group you can poke fun at without being accused of being bigoted. Christianity in general and Mormonism specifically are the only religions you can poke fun at without being accused of being disrespectful. We're the fall guys. We're the plunky side kicks who are constantly running into walls and having pies thrown in our faces. If you're a white Mormon guy - well then there is absolutely no hope - we might as well walk around with a jester hat and a sign on our back that says "kick me".

So, when we are kicked. we can allow ourselves to get all worked up about it - but in the end, it won't change anything. Or, we can just shrug our shoulders, say "whatever" and move on with our lives. I opt for the latter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Corning the beef

Saint Patrick's day is coming up next week on March 17th.  Traditionally, we have corned beef and cabbage on or around this day.  This year we decided to do something a bit different, we are making our own corned beef.

Linda was inspired by a recipe in the 2009 Spring Entertaining edition of Cooks Illustrated magazine.  I was inspired by an Alton Brown episode.  So, the question was:  Which recipe would we use?

Making corned beef is really pretty simple.  There are two basic methods:  
  1. A wet method where the meet is soaked in a brine with herbs and spices for a week to 10 days.  This is the method that Alton Brown used.
  2. A dry method where the meat is coated with a rub consisting of salt with herbs and spices for a week to 10 days.  This is the method that Cooks magazine used.
Other than wet vs dry, the biggest difference in the two recipes was the amount of herbs and spices.  Cooks magazine used 
  • salt
  • black peppercorns, cracked
  • dried thyme
  • ground allspice
  • paprika
  • bay leaves
Alton Brown included all of these, except the paprika, with the addition of
  • sugar
  • saltpeter
  • cinnamon
  • mustard seeds
  • whole cloves
  • juniper berries
  • ground ginger
According to the Cooks magazine, the taste testers liked the red color that the saltpeter imparts - but did not like the chemical aftertaste.

Both recipes called for a 4-6 pound piece of beef brisket.  Unfortuantely, this is not the time of year to buy brisket.  Memorial Day is when beef brisket tradionally goes on sale here in Texas - since it is the meat of choice for BBQ.  So, my choices were limited.  I couldn't find a single brisket that was in the 4-6 pound range - all of the briskets I found were either much larger or much smaller.  So, I opted for two smaller briskets - one about 2 pounds and the other about 3 pounds.

Having two briskets opened up a new possibility - I could try both recipes.  I started with the Cooks magazine recipe and mixed together
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 Tbl ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbl dried thyme
  • 2-1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1-1/2 tsp paprika (I used a smoked hot paprika)
  • 2 bay leaves
I started grinding my own pepper using the pepper mill; but, my hand was getting tired.  So, I used about half fresh ground and half pre-ground black pepper.  Also, I picked the bay leaves fresh off of our bay laural tree; so, I couldn't crumble them.  Instead, I chopped them up finely with a knife.

Using a digital kitchen scale, I measured how much the rub weighed and then reserved 40% of it in a separate bowl.  The other 60% I rubbed onto the 3 pound brisket, after poking a bunch of wholes in it with a meat fork.  I then put it in a 1 gallon zip lock bag and squeezed out as much air as I could.

To the reserved 40% rub, I added
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
I used the blender to grind the mustard seeds, cloves, and juiper berries and then added the other spices (including the reserved rub) to the blender to mix it all together.  I then rubbed this onto the 2 pound brisket, after poking it with holes, and put it in a 1 gallon ziplock bag.  This isn't quite like Alton Brown's recipe - since he used the wet brine method; but, I figured it should be very similar

Now my two briskets are sitting in our refrigerator - corning as we speak.  I will note that the additional spices in Alton Brown's recipe smelled more like what I think of with corned beef.  Not saying the Cooks magazine recipe won't be good - but I expect Alton Brown's version to taste more traditional.  Anyway, time will tell - I can't wait until this weekend when we can feast on our corned beef.

Cooking will be straight forward; although, I'm going to use the method in Cooks magazine.
  1. rinse the meat and pat dry 
  2. boil in water, covering the meat with about 1 inch of water (at least 8 quarts) for 2-3 hours
We've always cooked the cabbage and new potatoes along with the meat, adding them during the last 30 minutes of cooking.  But, the Cooks magazine testing noted that doing so makes it difficult to judge when the vegetables are done.  So, they recommend boiling the corned beef then removing it to a platter in a warm oven and cooking the vegetables in the reserved liquid.

Cooks magazine also seprates the vegetables into category 1 and category 2 - with the category 2 vegetables being added 10 minutes after the category 1 vegetables were started

Category 1 vegetables
  • carrots
  • rutabagas
  • turnips
  • new potatoes
Category 2 vegetables
  • boiling onions
  • green cabbage
  • parsnips
  • brussel sprouts
I'm not a big fan of rutabagas or parsnips; but, I do like a good turnip once in a while.  I like brussel sprouts - but it seems like overkill to have brussel sprouts with cabbage.  So, we'll probably just stick to our traditional cabbage, new potatoes, and carrots - with the possible addition of turnips (gee, I wonder if any in our garden will be ready by then?)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Compost bin

oI ordered a compost bin today from www.CompostBins.com

Dimensions:  30L x 30W x 34H inches
Material:  100% Recycled Plastic Resin
Cubic Feet:  14.7
Weight (lbs.):  19

Cost was $99.99 with free shipping.  But, I googled the company name to see if there were any promotions, and found a promotion code for $10 on orders over $75.  So, I got it for $89.99 (total, no sales tax or shipping fees)

According to their shipping estimate, it should arrive on Wednesday, March 11th. Interestingly, I could have paid extra for 2-day expidited shipping - which had an estimated shipping date of Thursday March 12th [huh???]

I'll be setting it up in the front next to the gate and near the vegetable garden with a metal trellis (which I already have) in front. I'll plant some sort of vine plant to grow on the trellis - I'm thinking of Jasmine or something similar.  I still have my composting area in the back yard which I use for overflow in the event this fills up.  It will primarly be filled with yard waste (leaves, weeds and plant trimmings), pond waste, and kitchen vegetable waste.  I use a mulching mower on the yard; but, I do put the bagger on the mower when mowing around the swimming pool - so there will be a few grass clippings.  Oh, and all of the rabbit poop from the bunny will go into the compost.

I may install a couple of drippers from my drip irrigation system to help keep the compost moist - but I'm going to wait and see if that's a problem.  If we're continually adding fresh vegetable waste, the moisture in the plant material may be enough to keep the compost moist.

I'm excited about my new compost bin.  I'll have a lot of yard waste when I start cleaning up the back yard in prepration for two weddings coming up this spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Politically incorrect

I'm probably going to get hammered for this; but, I thought it was pretty funny. 

IF WOMEN CONTROLLED THE WORLD








Monday, March 2, 2009

Headstart


Saturday Linda and I went to Marshall's Feed - a new store in town - and bought some plants for our garden: Tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. It's a bit too cold to plant them outside just yet; so, I have them under a florescent light along with some seeds we planted: Beans (pole and bush), squash, watermelon, okra, & peppers. I just wish I had planted the seeds a couple of weeks ago.

A cold front moved through the area this last weekend - got down into the upper 20's at night. I checked the garden this morning - and all of the plants seem to have fared OK. The red lettuce looks a little wilted - but not too much, and I'm sure it will bounce back once it gets a little warmer. Our average last frost date is mid-March; so, (according to the weather forecaster I was watching) this may be our last freeze of the season.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crystal ball

I want to take my photography in a more artistic direction; and, one thing I want to do is to buy a crystal ball.  The idea is that you shoot through the crystal ball to produce an sureal effect similar to this picture I found on flickr.

I've been discussing this with a member of my photography club - and he sent me a link to a place that seems to have the cheapest prices on crystal balls.

It's a metaphysical supply web site.  To find the crystal balls, I have to click on "ritual supplies".  They also have a feature, like Amazon, where they suggest other things you might be interested in, such as potions, and magic wands.  I feel like I"m shopping on Diagon Alley.  I've done some searching on my own - and they do seem to have the best prices.

The price of crystal balls goes up exponentially with size - so, I'm going for a 3 inch one.  Small enough to carry around, but not too small.  Now I'll need to figure out a way to support it on a tripod. I've got some ideas brewing in my little brain.

Organic pest control

Garden pests can be a big problem in a vegetable garden. In the rest of my yard, I have enough diversity that having a few chewed leaves here and there isn't really much of a problem. So, I've learned to live in peaceful co-existance with most bugs and other critters (snakes, lizards, etc.) - with fireants being the notable exception

But, a vegetable garden is different. For one thing, there is a concentration of plants in a relatively small area. Also, if the plants are edible for people - that means that bugs and birds like them too. I remember once, a number of years ago (before we moved into the home we currently live in), we had planted some squash plants. Some squash beatles found them and, almost overnight, chewed them down to the ground.

So, here is my plan for organic pest control

Citrus oil - according to Howard Garret (an organic texas gardener who has several books and a radio show), you soak orange, and other citrus, peels in water for a week, strain, then dilute this with water to spray on the follage to discourage garden pests. I've done this. I was concerned about the citrus oil solution molding; so, I've frozen it in 1/2 C quantities - which is the amount to dilute in 1 gallon of water.

Dead bug juice - another idea Howard suggested. If there is a particular insect you are having a problem with, collect some in a container and let them dry out. Then stick them in a blender with some water and strain - and use this as a spray (we have an old blender which will be pressed into service). I don't know how this works - but, evidently, dead bug juice discourages bugs. But, they have to be of the same variety. That is, use dead squash beatles to treat squash beatles, dead tomato worms to treat tomato worms, etc.

This is where our good ol Texas sunshine will become an asset. I figure, a plastic wide mouthed container, with holes punched in the top, used to collect bugs off of the plants - they should dry out in no time sitting out in the sun. And, if that particular bug starts to become a problem, I can use their dried brothers and sisters to make dead bug juice. So, now I'm saving plastic containers that look like they might be useful for my dead bug collection.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Organic fertilizing

A basic fact of life here in Texas is that our clay soil is heavy, dense, and essentially devoid of nutrients. So, in the vegetable garden beds I'm preparing, I'm trying to mix in a lot of organic matter, primarily kitchen waste as well as leaves and other yard waste.

But, it's going to take a while to enrich the soil; so, I felt I needed to boost the soil this year with additional nutrients. Wanting to stay organic, that meant a trip down to "Green Mama's" - the nearest organic nursery. We used to have an organic nursery much closer, called "Redenta's" - but, they closed a year or so ago. Jon was very sad.  Jon is still mourning the loss of Elliotts Hardware store (what's it been?  5 years?) - but that's a topic for another blog post.


Anyway, I talked to the good folks at Green Mama's, and settled on a 40# bag of a general purpose organic fertilizer. Based on some reading I've done, I also bought a bag of lava sand and green sand - which add additional minerals and other nutrients besides the basic N-P-K (Nitrogen-Potassium-Phophorus). From what I've been reading, I'll probably want to get a bag of lava sand and green sand each year to enrich the garden; but, a 40# bag is only $7 each which should be sufficient for my entire garden.

For now, I've been tossing kitchen waste directly into my raised beds and mixing it in with the native soil; but, I need to come up with a place to compost. I have a compost pile in my back yard; but, it's on the total opposite side of the yard as my vegetable garden - as inconvenient as it can possibly be. So, I want to move it to be closer to the vegetable garden since that is where most of it will be used.

But where? Since my vegetable garden is in the front, I don't really want a compost pile in the front yard - not very attractive. I've thought about putting on just inside the gate - but that's where the swimming pool is. Do I want a compost pile next to the swimming pool? Is there a way I could dress it up so that it isn't quite so ugly? 

Decorative composting - now there's an idea that needs pursuing . . .