Friday, March 31, 2006

something out of nothing

... so I heads down to get me some brekkie, reaches for me bowl, me spoon, me cereal, me ... what?? No milk??

Two cups of dry cereal later, I know I'm going to be in a world o' hurtin' for lunch, when the time comes. I'm wanting to eat something good and good for me, but the larder is mighty bare. There's ice cream ... but nuh-uh. Can't do that. Brownies baked for the Huz. Nope.

Gotta think about this.

Four hours later, I'm back to rummaging. And then I see it. In the very back of the top shelf of the fridge. In a mason jar 5 times too large for its contents. A jar with some olive oil with sun dried tomatoes and fresh thyme. Put together, you guessed it, at the end of last summer, trying a Martha Stewart recipe that she assured me would be just wonderful, tossed on some warm pasta. But it looks so doggone weird, I haven't been moved to try it.

Haven't been desperate enough to try it.

Till now.

20 minutes later ...

My whole wheat pasta's been tossed with this olive oil, which I've nuked to get into liquid form. A small, trepidatious portion has gone into a bowl. Taste. Sprinkle with de kosher. Taste. Mmmmm! How about a sprinkle of parmesan? MMMMM!

Peoples, no more world o' hurtin'. This stuff is mighty darn good, especially when you stop to think of its vintage. Summer '05. The leathery, powerful flavor of the tomatoes has permeated the oil, but the thyme is surprisingly able to stand up to it. The salt adds a hint of indefinable warmth to it all, and adding cheese made it just right in my book.

I could never have imagined it would be so yummy.

So, here's the recipe (although that seems a little grandiose a word for what follows) as near as I can reconstruct it. And reconstruct it I shall. I still have more of those sun-dried tomatoes from last summer! Which reminds me ... is it cheating to call them sun-dried when you dried them in your dehydrator?
Cover the bottom of your container with a layer of sundried tomato slices and a bit of fresh thyme. Gently cover them with olive oil, enough so they are completely covered and a tiny bit more. Repeat. Cover tightly, store in the refrigerator.

When ready to use, cook up some pasta (I used whole wheat, delicious!), scoop out an appropriate amount of olive oil mixture, thaw it a bit in the microwave or on the counter if you've thought ahead, and toss the two. Add a sprinkling of kosher salt and, if you like, some shredded parmesan.
And would you believe, having just had this experience, I discover that Lindy over at Toast is hosting a one-time Something Out of Nothing event. It's all good. Go check her out Monday, when she will do a roundup of the ingenious, low-cost, delicious dishes we've all put together by scrounging the bottoms of our veggie bins and the frosted corners of our freezers. You never know when you, too, will be desperate, and in need of inspiration.

murder and simba, a harmonious blend

We're in the runup to the murder mystery dinner, which will be next Saturday, the 8th. Which means we're heading into Hell Week: 3-hour rehearsals every night starting tomorrow. I'm surprised and delighted to find that my spirits are still pretty good! Despite constant rehearsals, negotiations, suggestions for improvements in performances, changes this way, changes back, all my co-thespians apparently still like each other! or at least, I still like them ... and my stress levels aren't doing too badly.

The latter situation has been greatly aided by being able to complete a few projects and get them off the list; and also by having a fabulous co-laborer in the banquet arena. She's so calm, so competent, and so experienced, that I just feel as if I have nothing to worry about, nothing that comes up will faze her, the show will go on!

So far we have a little over 70 folks signed up for the banquet, and there is usually a last-minute rush of signups, so hurray! We should have a full house for the benefit. Any my acting debut. Ahem.

Anyway, all this lightening of the load (and consequently of my spirits) left me feeling as if I had time to enjoy watching Simba as he wandered up our hill this morning. The sun was peeking over the hill behind him, and he is a wonder to behold with sunlight coming through that red-blond fur. I got lots of fun shots for him, which I will edit and post later, but for now I just had to share this beauty with you!

And this will be my entry for Sweetnick's Weekend Dog Blogging. For a riotously funny, touchingly poignant, loving look at canine friends, check it out this Sunday night.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

the abdul rahman case

I previously posted a link on this subject that I discovered, to my chagrin, went to an article that was basically a rant against other bloggers. Not my intention! I meant to post an interview with Rahman himself, where he explained his courageous stand. This is the posting I had intended to link to.

Now, you know I don't normally do posts on political issues. But this whole story is so incredibly fascinating to me, for so many reasons. Foremost among them, of course, is concern for this man's life.

It strikes me as so odd that people think they can force belief on others. Surely they must understand that they cannot. At most, you can force another to pretend he believes. But if that is the case, then what are they hoping to accomplish with a law that says you must die for leaving "the faith?" They want to force an appearance of faithfulness; in effect, they are forcing hypocrisy, the very thing that Jesus chastised the Pharisees for. I have heard Muslims claim to have a reverence for the teaching of Jesus. But perhaps those are different Muslims from the ones who enforce Shariya law, because those people clearly have no problem with hypocrisy.

And now they're saying he will be excused from punishment because he's mentally incompetent. That requires "forgiveness," not punishment. You have to wonder if that's just a desperate excuse to get them out of the very negative limelight they now occupy. In fact, an editorial at the Washington Times suggests just such a thing. The editorial also muses on the inherent conflict between a constitution that protects religious freedom while enshrining Shariya law as the law of the land. You can't have both, and it was only a matter of time before this issue came to a head.

Another thread of my reaction, though, says, What's so special about this one man, when literally thousands of Christians are persecuted or martyred annually? In India, Indonesia, Sudan, and many other countries all around the world, saying you're a Christian draws a big bulls-eye target on you. You risk your life just by being Christian in such countries and more. It's an act of courage to tell the truth. And if you dare to talk about Jesus to others, the ante goes up dramatically.

You may be aware that most Christians believe if they don't tell others about Jesus and his offer of salvation through belief in him, they are withholding from them the key to eternal life; in fact, to be blunt, they are withholding from them the information that will save them from eternal agony. Imagine the dilemma, to look at your neighbor and friend and ask yourself, "Do I love her enough to tell her about Jesus, knowing it could get me killed? Knowing she might not choose to believe in him anyway, and perhaps I will be killed without even having helped save her?"

It's a choice nobody should have to make. And it points out the importance of freedom of religion. Sso we're back to Ahmed Rahman. I'm glad he's had a stay of execution. But I wish the world would pay attention to all the other Ahmeds out there.

so i'm a drama queen ...

Yep, we're approaching what theater insiders call "Hell Week," but as far as I can tell they might as well call it "Hell Half-Month." There are only two nights without rehearsals this week. Next week, it's every night.

But if I weren't also involved getting the food on the tables(and thus fulfilling one of my 5 cooking challenges for 2006!), I suppose I wouldn't be finding this such an incredibly busy time.

So, you know what this means, we've been here before ... probably very little posting between now and next Sunday (4/9). Please take a few deep breaths for me, send prayers or happy thoughts my way, and I'll see you when I surface, hopefully with some fun shots of the play to share!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

and we have a winner!

Ok, my friends, this is Simba speaking. The moment of truth has arrived. She Who Feeds Me needed to pick a winner for her caption contest, and what a dither she was in. The truth is, she couldn't do it. You should have seen her, pacing the floor and muttering to herself, "Every one of these captions is so much better than anything I would have added! How can I pick one? It's impossible!

"Lynne with her clever homage to Simba's love of rodents, MLL with early inspiration (he does look like he's praying!) and then a later hilarious burst of inspiration about flies on our food."

I sure hope She Who Feeds Me didn't tell her how scared I am of big buzzy flies!

"Elizabeth playing beautifully off my involvement in a play, Mike harkening back to the old Tootsie Roll Pop commercials, Eva tying in my cooking classes. Stew with his "where's the love" evokes a laugh every time I read it. Mary H coming up with four entries all at once, each one funnier than the last! Rick going all canine Hamlet on us ... yikes! How can I choose? These guys all deserve prizes!"

She was fretting, and fussing. Fussing and fretting. Wearing my persian carpet thin with the pacing.

I had to step in.

So, what's the soft warm fuzzy handsome dog of a computer geek to do? "I know, I know, I'll write a program!" But I came to my senses. Not that I couldn't master programming if I tried, mind you, but there's the thing with those little keys. My paws are too big, and my nose leaves wet marks on them. She Who Feeds Me hates it when I do that.

But, see, being the dog of a computer geek, I knew there had to be lots of websites that will generate a random number or two for you. So, I googled "simple random number generator" (Ok, so a few keys got a little damp) and found this site. I assigned each entry a number, ran the number generator, and came up with number 6: Eva Alice! Congratulations, Eva! She Who Feeds Me will be delighted to contact you (after all, that's the EASY part!) to see which book you'd like for your prize.

And now she can get back to the most blood-pressure-lowering activity of all, stroking my belly fur. Ahhhhhh. I've earned it.

P.S. Now that I've got things under control, I've also decided that this should be "our" entry in Weekend Dog Blogging. She Who Feeds Me needs a break from decision-making for a while.

wanted: leg o' lamb recipes

A dear friend who just became dearer gave me a 5-lb organic leg of lamb! The Huz & I love lamb, it's been a tradition at his family's Easter table for years, and Easter is at my house this year! I would love to hear from you if you have a good, basic roast leg of lamb recipe, or if you can point me to one that you think sounds divine! I trust and turn for help to my fellow bloggers and blog-readers ... here's hopin' you can help me out!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

brilliant green chinese broccoli

The Huz and I love broccoli. I've always tended to steam it, but one day when my friend Jun decided to make me lunch, I learned this simple, delicious technique. This is a really simple dish. Almost too simple to blog, but for the fact that I'd never made it this way before and it tastes so good. I figure if I'd never learned it, maybe there's someone else out there who hasn't, either.

Jun is native-born Chinese, but has traveled in Europe and the U.S. and is a wonderful cook. No recipes for her, no sirree. Chop, cook, eat, and she let me watch her from start to finish. Everything she made was yum, but the two dishes I've replicated at home are scrambled eggs made with tomatoes, and this broccoli dish. It makes broccoli that's brilliant green, firm without being crunchy, and with a smooth, almost nutty broccoli flavor. Try it and see for yourself!

Cut the broccoli with short stems, and slice through the center of the broccoli at least once, more if it's a wide florette. You're shooting for a size that will cook through relatively quickly without being so thin it will break apart from stirring.

Heat your frying pan over medium-high heat. While it's heating, get a cup or so of water ready, right next to the stove. When you need it, you won't have time to go get it.

When the pan is hot, add your oil, more than you would think ... for this two-serving batch I added a little less than ¼ cup (see picture 1). Hey, did you read "low fat" anywhere in the title? At least I used EVOO*!

The oil should get hot fairly quickly. When you see it ripple, toss in the broccoli pieces. Quickly stir them with a wooden spoon or large chopsticks, trying to get each surface rapidly hot. The heat will cause the broccs to turn a brilliant green (see picture 2). That's when you toss in some water, maybe 1/4 or 1/3 cup. Steam! (see picture 3)

Continue cooking over medium-high heat while the water evaporates. Stick a fork in the broccoli just before the water's all gone to see if it's the doneness you like. If not, throw in a bit more water and keep cooking.

Add salt to taste. I used kosher salt, and lots of it. --- Hey! did you see "low salt" anywhere in the title? Eat immediately, on rice or in a bowl by itself or with chopsticks straight from the pan standing over the sink. Anything goes, when you make brilliant green chinese broccoli.

*Rachel Ray-speak for extra-virgin olive oil
*This is my entry for ARF/5-a-day over at Sweetnick's. Check it out Tuesday, when she will post a roundup of an immense variety of anti-oxidant rich foods for us all to try. It's a public health service. And fun, besides!

Monday, March 20, 2006

weekend fun and drama

Yesterday I did the last entertaining that I will do until Easter weekend. GASP! Did you hear me say that? My heart flutters at the thought. But it's true. I have a really good reason, but even the reason makes me gasp: I'm going to be in a play. A fact I alluded to in a previous post, casually, as if it were something that occurs on a routine basis, blasé little thespian am I.

Not! I haven't been in a play since grade school ... and I didn't have the lead role in that one. No, I was Mrs. Smith. I had one line. "Really, Jimmy!" pronounced very huffily after having sat in a chair to find little Jimmy suddenly there. Yep, I remember it vividly for a couple of reasons. One: in every rehearsal, I very casually sat in that chair without once looking back to make sure my fellow actor had gotten scooted into the chair behind me. Because, of course, I needed to be surprised. But for the play? You guessed it. Nerves. I looked. Kind of blew the surprise bit.

The other reason is that after the play, my big sister (a/k/a "Seester") helped me take my makeup off. You might have noticed from my photo that I have a rather prominent mole on my right cheek. My sister kept scrubbing and scrubbing at it, and I thought she was having trouble getting the makeup off it. Come to find out, my sister had seen that mole so much she forgot it was there, and she was trying to scrub it off! LOL!

Anyway, this play is a short one, only about twenty minutes total. But! I have a lead role. And! I have to play a man! A **British** man! So in addition to learning lots of lines, and where to move when, and what sort of reaction to have while others are talking, I have to learn a British accent, and I have to refrain from letting my hips swing or my wrists flop or my eyelashes flutter (which I evidently do more than I realized, because people keep having to remind me!) I have a feeling the audience will be expecting that part of the mystery is that my character is, in fact, a woman. But, no, it's just that we couldn't find a guy who would commit to doing the part, and I'm the tallest woman. Really. It's the only thing I've got going for me.

Can you spell S-T-R-E-T-C-H?

So, every spare minute between now and then will be spent practicing this play, which I suspect I will be calling "this wretched play" before it's all over. I'll post some pics of me in drag when I have some. Should be good for a laugh. Hopefully not a snicker. :o)

Editor's note: See the wrapup on the murder mystery.

Anyway, yesterday we had some old friends, Jim and Debbie, over for brunch after church. I didn't have time to get creative, so I served a brunch menu that I blogged before because, with some prep the day before, it is so amazingly easy to pull together the day of the brunch. We had a lovely time, sitting over coffee long after the food was all eaten, nibbling on extra fruit and scones when the spirit (I'll let you guess which one) moved us. It was great to touch bases with these guys. Way too much time had gone under the bridge or over the dam or wherever time goes when you're busy.

So, I guess the social me will have to draw nourishment from fellow cast members, or memories of yesterday's lovely brunch, to tide me over till this play thing is done. And then watch out! Much pent-up entertaining energy will be released. You might want to stay clear of the area for a while.

Friday, March 17, 2006

caption contest

As I considered this picture and how I wanted to caption it, I came up with so many silly captions that I just couldn't pick one. And I'm not even particularly creative, but I know some of you are!

So, let's have a caption contest! I'll offer a prize for the best caption: your choice of Dr Phil's The Ultimate Weight Solution or Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (sequel to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy").

Leave your suggestions in the comments for us all to enjoy. Judging to be done by yours truly, my decision final, my entries not eligible, etc, etc. I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

P.S. This post was inspired by Lynne, who requested more Simba photos. <3

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

hope springs eternal, winter edition

Where did he go? Where did he go?

I t'ought I smelled a rodent!

Dang! Got away!

Ah, well. Tomorrow's another day.

Sunday night, we can expect to see lots more canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Monday, March 13, 2006

caramelized onion and bacon tart

Dispensing Happiness is hosting a blog party. How fun is that? Does anyone else love word play as much as I do, I wonder? And how is it that this is the eighth party already, and I'm only just finding out about it? Echoes of high school ... seems like there was always something fun going on that I got wind of way later than everyone else. But that's a story for another day.

The theme for this blog party is brunch. Now, mind you, we're not talking about your average everyday brunch. Nosiree. This is brunch that you serve with cocktails, and finger food, and probably has more in common with happy hour than the after-church affair you might be thinking of. Brunch as appetizers. Genius! After all, who wants to get up early to cook brunch? Not night owl me! I love brunch, but I don't like getting up at the crack of dawn. So over the years I have sought and found many recipes that allow me to do most of the work the night before, and then assemble & pop in the oven an hour before it's needed. But even that is a story for another day!

I served this caramelized onion and bacon tart in precisely this fashion just a few weeks ago, when I had hordes of ravenous twenty-somethings --- terrifying, the appetite one has at that age --- OK, not hordes, but 12 or 14 --- coming over to dinner. I had made my menu plan, but then had second thoughts about whether there would be enough food. So, the day before the dinner, I set out to make this tart. (You don't need to do it the day before, but it was helpful to me to get some of it ready so as to not be totally slaving over the stove the day of the visit.)

Cut into small pieces, and with napkins alongside, it made perfect finger food. Every bit of it was snapped up (as was every bit of the rest of the meal, so I guess it's good I made it). The caramelized onions are so sweet that people asked whether the recipe had apples in it. Try it yourself, and see!

But first, some hints: Half the trick to this scrumptious recipe is a light hand with the pastry. Handle it very, very gently. The second half of the trick is to roll out the crust on a piece of floured parchment or waxed paper, then invert your baking dish over the crust and turn it all upside down to transfer this light crust without breaking it. If you do break it ... no problem! Pinch it together and, if it shows, everyone will know that you didn't get it out of a box. You can't lose, either way.

The third half of the trick is patience with the onions. Cook them slowly on a low heat to let their natural sugars emerge.

I got this recipe from Yankee Magazine, and tweaked it a bit (more eggs, less sage) to get a recipe that seemed just right to me. By the way, I've gotten lots of great recipes from Yankee Magazine. Not a place most of us would think of turning to for recipes, but there you have it.

Makes 12-16 appetizers.

1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 T shortening
6 T unsalted butter, cold
2-3 T ice water
  • In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine the flour and salt.
  • Add shortening and butter and pulse until batter just starts to come together, as little as possible. It's OK if there are small lumps of unblended butter.
  • Open lid. Sprinkle in 2 T cold water. Pulse to combine, as little as possible. Add more if needed.
  • Press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for about 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • On a floured surface, roll out dough so that it's 2 inches longer and wider than your tart pan. Transfer to pan and tuck and trim edges.
  • Line pastry with foil and fill with dried beans to keep crust from shrinking.
  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Remove foil and weights and continue baking until crust is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  • Cool to room temperature.

½ lb (about 9 strips) bacon
2 large vidalia or white onions, sliced thin
1 tsp butter
3 sage leaves, thinly sliced
3-4 large eggs
1/2 c half-and-half
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
fresh sage leaves for garnish

Slice the bacon crosswise into ¼-inch strips. In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook bacon until done but not crisp. Remove bacon, reserving grease, and drain on paper towels.

I like to use thick-sliced bacon, and usually I'll choose Garfield's because I know their quality is good. The picture to the right shows about the right level of doneness. I noticed when I cooked it that the fat foamed just before it was done the way I wanted it. But I haven't repeated the experiment to see if that would reliably tell you when to stop the cooking, so try it yourself, and please let me if it works out that way for you, too. Sometimes these things have more to do with the phase of the moon or the humidity level or something than anything related to what/how you're cooking!

Reduce the heat under your pan to low. Add onions and butter to the pan with the reserved grease. Yep, butter with the reserved grease. Not to worry. We'll get rid of most of it later.

Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they turn a caramel brown color, about 30 minutes.

Turn off heat. Drain the excess fat (I use a paper towel to soak up as much of it as I can). Add the sage and the chopped bacon. Cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs and half-and-half together. I would think you could get away with using Egg Beaters and/or fat-free half and half here, but again, I haven't tried it so can't vouch for it. Whisk in the salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350. Spoon cooled onion and bacon mixture into pastry shell. Pour egg mixture over it. Bake until the tart is set, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Cool at least 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with sage leaves.


Up to 3 days ahead

Cook bacon, onions, cool, mix well, store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Day before

Make crust, cool completely, wrap tightly and store at room temperature.
Combine eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.
Chop sage, store in refrigerator.

One to two hours before serving

Combine bacon mixture and sage; spread in bottom of crust.
Shake or stir egg mixture, pour over.
Bake as directed.

Note: To use a 9" tart or pie pan:
Use the same amount of bacon and onions, 3-4 large eggs, 3/4 c half-and-half, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Standing sentinel

Simba takes his rodent patrol duties very seriously, even when he's not outside. Patience and diligence have yet to yield a successful hunt, but if you're patient and diligent, you don't let that deter you. Is there anything as hopeful as a dog?

See a previous picture of Simba

To see this pic and lots of other canine cuties, head on over to Sweetnicks for the Weekend Dog Blogging event. Or submit your own! The pictures are usually posted late Sunday evening.

Friday, March 10, 2006

mondo gumbo meatloaf

... In which our heroine proves that one can indeed add fat to fatty meat and survive to tell the tale ..
I keep promising to blog my gumbo recipe, and someday I will. The delay comes because when I make gumbo, I'm usually cooking for company. It's too good not to share. When I'm cooking for company, I generally have no time for stopping and taking pictures. So my gumbo recipe, to date, goes unblogged. I do want the world to have it ... I call it spreading the gumbo gospel ... and have even taught a couple of classes on it at our local cooperative food store. So, trust me, I will blog it. Someday.

The last time I made it, it occured to me (as I stirred the brown roux for longer than you might think one would) that the first few steps create a very tasty roux-and-veggie concoction that might be a nice addition to other dishes. As I cast about for ideas, I hooked a good'n: meat loaf. I don't usually think of putting a roux in a meatloaf, but this is no normal roux. This is a roux full of flavor (she said rouxfully). And I do like a meatloaf with big chunks of onions in it. So, sez I to meself, let's give this'n a try. Next time hamburg goes on sale. Which happened this week. $1.59 a pound in family-size packages. The latter detail, of course, accounts for the "mondo" portion of my meatloaf title!

So here's a blogger's tale of makin' meatloaf with a distinctly southern accent, y'all.

Quantities are approximate, as I didn't exactly measure ... I'll tell you how to tell when you've got it right where appropriate.

The roux:

~½ c olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped (I always use frozen)
1 stalk celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
~1 c stock (chicken, veggie, beef)

The loaf:

2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 Tbl tomato paste
1 Tbl worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
3 lb ground beef
¾ c fine white bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Over medium-high heat, preheat any pan that's not nonstick. You can use a large skillet or a pan. In the pictures, I use an anodized aluminum dutch oven. A real southern cook would use a cast arn pan (that's "iron" to us yankees), but with a ceramic cooktop, I don't dare. Those babies are really, really expensive to replace once you crack 'em, and I'm prone to dropping things!

Add your oil, allow it to heat for just a couple of seconds, then whisk in enough flour to get yours to look about like this. It's more flour than you think. Start with ½ cup and then add more till it's not quite dry-looking.

Whisk, stir, whisk some more. Your pan will no doubt start smoking. Not to worry. Whisk, stir, whisk. You're aiming for a brownness close to peanut butter. From time to time, if it seems to be going a bit too slowly for your patience level, you can stop stirring and let the roux sit in the center of the pan for a short time. Keep an eye on it, though. When you start stirring again, you'll see that the bottom has browned. Good! Now whisk to get all that brownness mixed in. Repeat. I'm sorry I didn't pay any attention to how long this took. Perhaps ten minutes?

You'll end up with roux that will look like this. It looks a bit wetter than it did when raw, and that dark, rich color means dark, rich flavor, y'all. If you let it burn, you'll see dark specks in your roux. It's ruined then, and you'll want to throw it out and start over. Trust me on this, people. You do not want to use burnt roux, tiny though those black spots may appear. It's nasty bitter stuff.

Ok, now you have this smokin' hot pan with roux that's still cooking in it. Dramatically dump your chopped onion in, and listen to the sizzle! Stir vigorously until the onion is totally coated with the roux. You have now stopped the roux from cooking. The color you've got is the color you've got, and all that heat is now cooking your onions rather than your roux.

Keeping the heat at medium high unless it makes you too nervous, let the onions cook down a bit (precision is not required here) and then throw in the celery and green peppers. You can lower the heat in the pan if you want to slow things down, but it will take quite a bit longer if you do.

At this point, you get to decide how long you cook the veggies. If you like them to show up as chunks in your meatloaf, you'll cook them a shorter period than if you want to disguise them to fool your kids into thinking they're not eating veggies. In my case, I just cooked them till they were done, but not all the way down to mush.

You can see that there's browned roux stuck in the edges of my pan. Excellent! Don't be too obsessive about getting that scraped up and mixed in. It's all good.

Next, add a little stock to deglaze the pan, stirring constantly. I love the sizzle and steam from this. It's surprising how much stock this little bit of roux can absorb without getting watery. Look at the picture below to see the approximate gooeyness I was going for.

You can probably turn the heat down at this point. While adding the stock, run your spoon or whatever you're stirring with around where the brown bits are to get them incorporated. You'll end up with about 2 cups of roux, a little less if you cooked the veggies down further.

Here's what my mixture looked like just before adding it to the meat mixture. It's kind of gooey and wonderfully rich. This is the point at which I looked at it the other day and asked myself what else I could put it in. Love this stuff!

Ok, when you're done cooing over your lovely roux, take a swig of your cold beer (people, this is not a wine kind of a night) and set it aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the meatloaf. Of course, if you're like me, you've been preparing the rest of it all along, and swigging your beer all along, and you really don't need to me to orchestrate all that, now do you?

Ok, whisk your eggs in a bowl large enough to contain all the ingredients and let you get your hands in there and mix it all up. (I had to put in a large picture of my bowl here; isn't it pretty?) Add to it the other ingredients except bread crumbs and meat. Whisk well, then dump in the meat, bread crumbs and the roux and wash your hands so you can just get in there and squoosh stuff around. Latex gloves?!? Oh, all right, but make sure they're food grade. Mix, mix, mix. Tra la la la la. Done.

Now wash those greasy hands (or strip off your gloves, if you must) and line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. I have baked this directly on a baking sheet in the past and will never do that again. Entirely too challenging to clean off.

Dump the meat mixture onto the foil, and shape it into a long loaf. Spread ketchup over the top. Put some hot water in a brownie pan or some such thing and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven to keep the loaf from splitting. Put the loaf in the top shelf. Bake for one hour, or until you can cut into the middle of the loaf and see the doneness you're after. We like ours with no pink, and this recipe still was tender and moist.

The bottom line, or did the experiment pan out, y'all?

Was it worth the extra trouble to brown the roux? I'm not sure. I can't say the browned roux flavor was particularly prominent in the meat loaf. I think next time I would just saute the veggies and go from there. But it was worth a try, and we are definitely enjoying our tender, moist, mondo gumbo meatloaf! The Huz is a major cheese lover, so he happily dumped a LOT of shredded monterey jack on top of his. Mine was more demurely enjoyed with some extra ketchup. Haute cuisine it ain't, but there's something to be said for comfort foods too. Right?

Postscript: Sweetnicks just tipped me off about the MeatLoaf Madness event over at Eating For One. Is that serendipitous or what? Another venue to share to wealth. Thanks, Sweetnicks! Oh, and besides being generous with her tips, she's being generous enough to allow a meatloaf entry to qualify for ARF (antioxidant rich foods) Tuesday! Even though this meatloaf has LOADS of veggies in it, that's still a stretch. Sweetnicks, I owe you one for sure!!

Monday, March 06, 2006

gingered carrot soup: no dill!

It seems as if every recipe for carrot soup has to use dill. It's true, sweet carrots and tart dill do make a wonderful combination. But I love my own recipe, which has an unusual component: crushed rosemary! Who'dathunkit? But it makes a lovely difference in this favorite recipe.

The bonus about this soup (and many cream soups) is that it can be made in advance all the way up to the point of adding the cream, then chilled and kept in the fridge for as much as three or four days before reheating and adding the cream. It makes for a wonderful, fresh-tasting soup that nobody will believe hasn't been made just minutes before.

Even after the cream has been added, it reheats nicely. The Huz loves to take this to work for lunch, with some bread or blue corn tortilla chips and (always) something for dessert. He says it holds him nicely till dinner. If you saw how much he eats, you'd say it would hold you nicely, too! (I'm not saying that behind his back, he would say it himself. Tall, skinny, and voracious. I seriously covet his genes and metabolism.)
1 c chopped onion
¼ c. butter or margarine
4-½ c carrots, sliced
1 large potato
2 cans chicken broth (total 29 oz)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 T honey (more if carrots are not sweet)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

2 c whipping cream
  • In a 5-qt Dutch oven, saute onion in butter until tender.
  • Add carrots, potato, broth and ginger.
  • Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  • Cool 15 minutes.
  • Puree in small batches in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  • Add remaining ingredients except cream
  • You can make the soup up to this point and refrigerate it or hold it on a warm burner.
  • Just before serving, add cream and heat through.
This is my entry for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge AND Sweetnick's ARF (Antioxidant Rich Foods)/5 A Day Tuesday.

Friday, March 03, 2006

FWIW: tiles, grout, paint, colors, whatever makes you happy!

Felicia over at The WebSorceress Cooks posted this interesting article about her new kitchen and her desire to add some color to it. The article has a series of pics of her house when it was empty, and it looks to have some very nice space! I don't consider myself a design professional by any stretch of the imagination, but my interest was piqued when I noticed that the tiles on her backsplash look a lot like the colors of the tiles in one of my bathrooms.

Our house was built by a builder for himself and his wife. It has a lot of lovely features, with lots of wood and ceramic tile and big windows and a big brick fireplace in the living room that rises all the way up to the 2-story cathedral ceiling. All these natural product provide lots of textural contrast, so we've decorated with pretty quiet colors, for the most part. An architect who visited once to help us think about expanding our living room commented that the colors created a very peaceful feeling. I didn't consciously set out to do that, and didn't realize that's what we had achieved, but I looked around the room with new eyes when she said that. What a nice compliment! The rooms have a very comfortable feel about them, and I still love our little house after 14 years of living here.

Which is not to say that there aren't some things I get a little itchy to change everyone once in a while, and the ceramic tile in the upstairs bathroom (left) is one of them.

The house was built in the early 80's, but the tile colors reminded me a lot of the "earth tone" trend from the 70's. Tan tile kitchen counter and floors, with dark brown grout. Light tan tile and grout in this bathroom. Not really my cup of tea. Dark brown patterned tile in the downstairs bathroom. Really not my cup of tea!

About 8 years ago when the Huz was out of town for a little over a week, I surprised him by remodeling the downstairs bathroom completely. The tiles there were the most egregious. They darkened our tiny bathroom beyond belief. I was So. Incredibly. Tired. ... of looking at their dreariness, that I replaced them with WHITE! White walls, white countertop, white floors. Yup, white floors. I knew at the time I would regret that, and I did, but I thirsted for white and the thirst had to be slaked. I added some cobalt accent tiles and a school bus orange color on the walls, and this is now a doggone bright place to do a little reading, I must say.

The next tiles that need to be replaced are in our kitchen. The tiles aren't awful, but the thick dark brown grout, besides being kind of unsightly in my opinion, is impossible to keep clean and is starting to crumble, besides. I haven't settled on the color and style of countertop that I want in there, though, so it will have to wait. We want something that is as impervious to heat as ceramic tiles; we've really enjoyed being able to set down a hot pan anywhere in my kitchen. And it needs to be easy to clean, but not show every loose crumb. Nothing shiny. [I'm considering acid-etched concrete. Does anyone have any experience with that? I've seen some pictures that look like you can achieve a few nice colors with the acid.] Anyway, over time I've learned that I need to let these things just percolate around in my subsconscious for a while. One day, voila! The answer will be there. I just need to be patient. Isn't it cool how that works?

The least objectionable tiles are in the upstairs bathroom. I'd still like to replace them because brown just isn't my thang, but they're livable. At least, they are now. For the longest time, I tried to get other colors to work with them. I am a lover of all things yellow, so I added some yellow paint in there that, shall we say, co-existed with the tan peacably. They didn't really talk to each other, but they didn't fight, either. I added some light sage green as a mediator, and it worked out OK. But nobody was really happy, including me.

I also tried white. White paint, white towels, white bathmat. Sort of trying to overcome the tan with blindingness. It was ... OK. Just OK.

Finally, I gave in to the essential brownness of it all. I decided if I painted the walls a medium tan, and did all black accents, it might actually feel pulled together. And what do you know ... it does! As it turned out, I had lots of accent thingies for the counter, and a fabulous print for the wall, just waiting to go in there. With black towels, and happy little black squares mimicking accent tiles sort of crawling along the wall above the wall tiles, I do believe I've hit upon the scheme I'll stick with. Third time's the charm.

Until I get someone in there with a sledgehammer. :o)

So, Felicia, I don't know if any of this little walk down memory lane is of any use to you at all as you consider your options, but thanks for asking for input. It's been fun to share this little corner of my house with you, and with everyone else. And I wish you the best of luck and much happiness in the choice you finally settle on!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A blog to visit

Please check out Kokblog. It's a food blog, illustrated with the most enchanting little line drawings rather than photos. If you love the drawings, be sure to click through to her JohannaK blog, which is nothing but drawings, some food-related, most not. She calls it her sketching blog, but I can't denigrate these wonderful, witty line drawings to call them sketches. I'm an instant fan!! Adding her to my links list immediately.