Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To brine, or not to brine?

Incidentally, this is actually a chicken I recently brined before roasting. But you get the idea.

Turkey day grows closer by the second (hooray!) and if you're like me, you're busy dreaming about how delicious the day's feast will be.  Since heading home to the newly-minted Peachtree Corners (go, Mom!) for the day is a bit of a hike (Mr Turvy has to work on Friday- ugh!), we'll be sticking around Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  They're cooking for a crowd and I've volunteered to bring mashed potatoes (surprise, surprise) and my grandma's butterhorn rolls (recipes to follow). Has anyone had butterhorns before?  They're a bit of a hassle to make but are buttery and sweet and delicious and well worth the effort. 

Several years ago, I cottoned on to the idea of brining a turkey. If you've never had the pleasure of brining a turkey before- DO. IT. THIS. YEAR. (I'm giving you a few days head start to assemble everything you'll need). Seriously, you won't regret it.  When I first brined a turkey for my family's Thanksgiving a few years ago, it blew our minds. I'm not exaggerating, either.  For the first time in the history of Thanksgiving turkeys, this one was melt-in-your-mouth juicy and we couldn't get enough. That go-round, I used this recipe for Herb-Roasted Turkey from my favorite of favorite cooking websites, Epicurious. I used the herb butter and basted with chicken stock and pan juices instead of apple cider and didn't end up making the apple cider grazy.

A few tips for cooking your bird:
-The brining process can take up to 48 hours, so get started asap! You need at least 15-18 hours to brine the turkey and at least twelve hours afterwards for it to sit on a rack in your fridge, uncovered
-When you brine, it helps to put the brine mixture and the turkey in a small (like the ones for a bathroom sized garbage can) garbage bag tied at the top so no liquid can escape and do all of this inside a stockpot
-Remove the little white temperature thing that pops out (which I neglected to do on the above chicken). It isn't always so helpful at giving an accurate temperature reading.
-A word to the wise, cooking stuffing inside of a brined turkey can make things awfully salty, so make an extra batch of stuffing to cook independently of the bird (and mix the two together). And if you're cooking stuffing inside of the bird, inserting it en masse into a cheesecloth (tied at the top) will make it infinitely easier to scoop out of the cavity once the turkey is done.
-If the turkey breast/tips of wings and feet start looking too brown, pop on some aluminum foil to nip the browning in the bud.
-If your turkey doesn't come with one of those metal things to hold its feet together, find some string and tie them yourself. And if you're really feeling fabulous, give your turkey fancy booties that look like chef hats
Tres chic. Your fancy friends will be impressed.

Any questions?

Since I still have beaucoup de time on my hands, in addition to a crockpot curried chicken for dinner (recipe to be posted later- provided it turns out), I've gotten a jump on Thursday's mashed potatoes. It's hard to keep up the potato fluffiness by fixing them two days in advance, but you can roast the garlic ahead of time with no adverse effects. (A head of roasted garlic can be refrigerated for a week in an airtight container). Roasting garlic takes about 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven and is easy-peasy if you follow these steps.

Roasting garlic in 5 easy steps
1. Set your oven to 400 degrees
2. Peel some of the excess layers of skin off the head of garlic, so it looks like this
and lop off the tip of your head of garlic to make it easier to rescue the cloves once it's roasted, comme ca:
Look Ma, no tops!

3. Place the garlic in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil (about 1 T) and sprinkle with salt and pepper
4. Pinch the aluminum foil closed around the top of the head of garlic and pop in the oven for 45 minutes (I like to rest the garlic atop a square of aluminum foil just in case any oil leaks out)

5. Remove from the oven and enjoy. If you're using it immediately, remove individual cloves from the head using a fork. If you're using it within the week, store, cut-cloves down in olive oil in an airtight container. 

Now that you've got the garlic roasting part down pat, here's the recipe for the potatoes I'll make on Thursday. These aren't exactly figure- friendly but will definitely impress your guests on special occasions.

Roasted garlic mashed potatoes with crème fraîche
Serves 8-10
4 pounds russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled, rinsed and diced into 1/2" cubes
8 T butter, unsalted (I like to use unsalted butter to moderate the amount of salt when I'm cooking)
5 T crème fraîche
8 c water
1 head of garlic (or 12 cloves), roasted (see directions above)
1/2 c milk (use whichever milk you buy- you can use light or heavy cream if you have either handy)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Boil 8 cups of water on high heat.  Add potatoes and cook until they hold their shape but are easy to smush (not in a Jersey Shore way) or bite (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes (don't rinse), add garlic and mash using a mixer, old-fashioned masher, ricer (whatever gives them the texture your pretty little heart desires). Add butter, crème fraîche, milk, and salt and pepper to taste and continue to mash/stir until everything is well-blended. If you're making these ahead of time, pouring 1/4 cup milk or cream on top of the potatoes before you cover them will keep them fluffy when you need to reheat before the big feast. Hope you love these potatoes as much as I do!!

A note on the creme fraiche- un produit de France, it's relatively similar in taste and consistency to American sour cream (not quite as delicious but will work as a substitute in a pinch) and can be found in the dairy or deli section of your local grocery. You may have trouble finding it at grocery stores like Ingles, Stop & Shop and Shaws but I've had luck finding it at specialty markets, gourmet grocers and Trader Joes. I've also only ever found one brand that sells it, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and it looks like this.
Happy Turkey Day, y'all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chickpea salads are for lovers

Many of you know that I've been spending lots of time chez nous these days.  Not exactly my most favorite thing in the world, but to keep myself from going stir crazy, I've been doing lots of cooking.  And since I'm not in the office at the moment, I'm also trying to keep the budget down so Mr Turvy doesn't pitch a fit when he comes home to find me romping around our tiny kitchen in new frocks and feather earrings. (Hence the influx of inexpensive potato dishes of late- plenty more where those came from). I have a handful of favorite lunches that won't break the bank (or induce a nap immediately afterwards).  One recent fave is a chickpea and tomato salad.  Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans (by my mother and Goya brand canned products and virtually no one else) are extra high in protein and are a staple in Middle Eastern, Indian and African cooking.  (They use them lots of other places, too!) Have you tried Clover Food Lab's chickpea fritter sandwich yet?  Yum, yum!

In any event, I've created a tasty chickpea salad that requires minimal cooking and is easy to throw together in 5 minutes using things I almost always have on hand in the kitchen, like these guys:

 You may not have all of these in your pantry, but the beauty of this recipe is that it lends itself well to substitutions.  When I made this last, I used a sprinkle of ground coriander and a pinch of sumac (which I'd bought with fatoush salad in mind. But then I couldn't find a good recipe. Does anyone have one?) If you don't have either, don't fret- you can do without or add a favorite seasoning in their stead.  And a word of advice when buying dried herbs and spices- look for them at specialty ethnic markets (Asian, Indian, etc) and in the "international" aisle of your local grocery store. I've found that Badia (usually in the Hispanic foods section) carries the same spices as McCormick and for a fraction of the price.
Here's a little something to look forward to...

5 Minute chickpea and tomato salad
Serves 2 (or one really hungry person who loves chickpeas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium tomato, cored and diced
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 T fresh parsley (I prefer flat leaf to curly), rinsed and chopped
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1 t cumin
1/2 t ground pepper (5 turns of a pepper grinder)
1/2 t red pepper flakes
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
In a bowl, combine the last eight ingredients.  Add the chickpeas, tomato and red onion. Stir, add additional salt/pepper/spices to taste.  Enjoy! 

A few notes on the recipe: 
I'm not always wild about the idea of eating onions mid-day, especially when you work in close proximity to others. Keep that in mind if you're planning on eating this dish at work. If you're particular to one kind of onion- yellow, Vidalia, red, scallion- feel free to use your fave. 

Make sure to drain and rinse the chickpeas thoroughly before adding them to the dish.  You can tell when the chickpeas are rinsed when the water runs clear, like this:

Get rid of those bubbles
There you go

Hope you like this cheap and easy lunch.  Do you have any go-to, yummy lunches that require minimal cooktime and effort? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The funny thing about being a kid

...is, well, pretty much everything, really. Sometimes, when I think about paying bills and doing boring adult stuff like running errands and getting the car serviced and reading a newspaper that doesn't have comics and being responsible more often than not, it reminds me how sweet we had it when we were kids.

(Plus, I'm way overdue for a new blog post. My youngest brother, aka The Backwards Boy, and I have agreed to update our respective blogs at least once a week and I've thus far done a terrible job holding up my end of the bargain. And those of you who aren't into cooking/reading about how bad I am at DIY projects might enjoy something new for a change).

Ok, back to kid stuff. (I'll see if I can't add some old pictures to this post later, but no promises). Just to get this out of the way, in pretty much the absolute nerdiest way possible, I loved school. Couldn't get enough of it. I loved reading, I loved learning new things and I loved spelling tests (probably because they were a guaranteed A). And to secure my nerd status in middle school, I was in the county spelling bee. Will have to remind myself to tell our future children of what not to do in middle school: namely pursuing activities that shore up nerd status or debuting risky new haircuts like the female bowl cut- though that's a post for another day). Back at the spelling bee, things were going gangbusters for me until I encountered the word "orthographies" and was knocked out. I'd never heard the word before and as a last ditch effort, tried to get all Spellbound on them by asking for things like language of origin and definition-clearly hadn't bothered to learn either so this wasn't exactly very helpful. Now try to imagine how hard the crowd might laugh and how your face might fall when the prompter tells you that the word you're about to misspell means "to spell correctly". Boy, did the crowd eat that up. And I know it's almost 10 years old, but if you didn't see it, do yourself a favor and rent/Netflix Spellbound immediately. One thing I didn't like about elementary school, however, was that I never seemed to be able to get my act together for homework assignments. At around 8 o'clock the night before a book report was due, for example, I'd panic; I hadn't read the book yet and I DEFINITELY hadn't started the project. Cut to me, speed-reading A Wrinkle in Time or Misty of Chincoteague and my mom helping me to sleepily scribble a poster for it at 1:00 am. Hardly ideal.

Another vivid childhood memory-riding to tennis lessons every weekend with my pal Cara. Her parents had a van that, if memory serves, was basically this exact one, called, as I discovered via that link, a Nissan Vanette. The best thing about their van was the fact that at least one of the sliding side doors was broken and would periodically fly open while you were driving, usually at high speeds. So when her parents (or, if you were really lucky, her super cool older high school brothers) picked you up, you immediately threw all of your tennis gear in the back-so it wouldn't fly out if/when the door opened en route and sat poised to use all of your nine year old might to shut the door because, let's be honest, it opened every time. It probably should have been harrowing, but I loved it when the door next to me opened and I sprang into action and held that door closed for dear life the rest of the way there. For much of our time in Ohio, I played at the same tennis facility, Olympic, which put a bubble over its courts to winterize them, something that vexed me to no end. What was the bubble made of? Where did it go in the summer? What was possibly big enough to blow it up? Maybe some things are meant to stay a mystery. There were several coaches there, but two I remember best: Winn (as a kid, it never occurred to me that this might be a nickname, I just assumed his name was Winn because he was a 'winn'er and won lots of matches), who had us hit with nerf balls before we graduated to real ones and used to hold us upside-down over the garbage cans at the net, and Steve, who made us scream "LOW TO HIGH" as we practiced our strokes and gave us posters (Andre Agassi and Jennifer Capriati were particularly sought after) for hitting the most serves in or squeezing the most balls onto our racquets during pick up. I liked Steve, he was funny and brash and encouraging, but he constantly flirted with the girls in my drill groups (I was young but played with older girls and thought this was something that older girls did. If only I'd paid attention enough to learn some sweet moves. Just going to leave the whole creepiness factor alone).

Outside of tennis (and the one million other activities I was involved in), I spent much of elementary school lobbying to get my ears pierced so that I could wear the dangliest, most glorious earrings imaginable! From the minute I realized that the Pierced Ear Club was something most of my girl classmates-and even some of the boys had already joined (and this happened sometime in kindergarten), I knew I had to get in on it. I cried. I pleaded. I appealed to my parents' sense of not wanting their favorite (and only) daughter to be a social pariah. For the record, this last approach seemed to have no effect. Apparently they didn't care that the only girls who didn't have their ears pierced were the ones who wore long skirts and turtlenecks and spent recess reading books about horses. For hours, I tallied the girls in school who had pierced ears vs. the ones who didn't and reported back to my mom; "Mo-oomm, come on! It's pretty much just me and the weird horse girls!!" (Fortunately, my elementary school was tiny or this really would have cut into my time reading biographies-phew!) Vigilantly, I kept tabs on who had recently gotten her ears pierced and who was "definitely going to in like a week because her parents are really nice and they really want her to get them pierced, she didn't even have to ask them!" Clearly, this didn't work either. One year, sick of my nagging, my mom told me that if I didn't ask about it for a year, she'd relent. (She denies the promise to this day, but she wasn't the one who had so sweetly and patiently x'd off 365 calendar days only to hear, "Well, I know you haven't asked about it in awhile, but I definitely never said that". Beyond infuriating!)

Finally, in fourth grade on my 10th birthday, she let my college-aged babysitter, Mary Kae, take me to Claire's. I picked out "diamond" studs, spent 30 days twisting them while slathering my earlobes with antiseptic and thought my heart would explode with happiness. It was only as an adult I learned that she'd only relented because I'd found a chink in her armor. Though I typically only resorted to lying 'for emergencies only', clearly this was social survival mode; I told the absolutely teensiest white lie that Cara's parents (who shared my parents' views on most things, including ear piercing) had said that she could get her ears pierced. This worked like a charm. Not so much of a charm that my mother actually agreed to take me, but well enough that Mary Kae was allowed to accompany me (since you needed someone over 18 to give permission). It bears mentioning that Mary Kae, who I practically idolized for her permed hair (another on-going battle which I ultimately lost) and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, had a boyfriend named Donnie at the height of NKOTB popularity. And I thought that earrings like these (in nearly every store at the time) would be the perfect gift for her. Things really came full circle when, nearly 15 years later, I took my mom to Claire's for her very first ear piercing, thus ending her long run of unclipping one earring to talk on the phone and forgetting where she'd left it. Even now, like some sort of raccoon or kitten, I'm continually drawn to the dangliest, most glorious earrings imaginable. Feathers? Hoops? Shiny ones? Oui, oui.

Among other things I wanted like burning as a kid: to learn double dutch, a Skip It (remember those?) and cable tv. What was on your kid wish list and how hard did you have to work your parents to get it?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome to fall, now let's start making (potato leek) soup

I could without a doubt live off of potatoes and nothing else. Mr Turvy shares my love for all things spud, as I discovered when he recently showed me his 6th grade yearbook.  He went to a small school and each class had their own page dedicated to the students in it.  His class's page began with the headline "Can you imagine...?" and was followed by lots of funny middle school class inside jokes- things like, "...Catherine M. wearing clothes that clashed", "...Danny P. being on time" "Megan R. not gossiping" annnnnnd drumroll please- "Mr Turvy not liking potatoes".  Apparently he liked them so much that his whole class knew about it. So maybe it was fate? Perhaps.

In any event, I can- and will, keep the potato recipes coming. Let's say that you didn't have any russet potatoes on hand to make pommes frites last week but you do have yukon golds (or even those basic, all purpose potatoes).  A great way to use some up is in a potato-leek soup- one of the most delicious, belly warming meals around. There are a number of ways to make this soup using a variety of different ingredients (so feel free to poke around online for modifications).  To make my potato-leek soup, I adapted this pretty basic recipe from Epicurious, my go-to recipe/meal idea website since college. The leftovers will grow more flavorful overnight but this will make you an absolutely ENORMOUS batch of soup. However, if you aren't cooking for a tiny army (or even a grown-up sized one), you might want to halve the recipe.

Potato Leek Soup
Serves 12

2 leeks, washed and sliced
3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. light cream
2 sprigs thyme
2 slices of bacon (save the bacon after you fry it because you'll use it for garnish)
6 c. chicken broth
3 c. water
1 T salt (more to taste)
2 t pepper (I use white pepper in white dishes)
4 scallions, diced (optional, for garnish)
sour cream (light, regular, fat-free- whichever you prefer) or creme fraiche (optional, for garnish)

Step one, cut a hole in the box...  Oops, sorry. Just kidding. Actual step one, peel and chop the garlic and potatoes. Then wash and chop the leeks.  Leeks can Over the years, I've learned to get all ingredients ready to go before you start cooking.  This way, you won't be panicking as things are burning on the stove and you're still trying to get everything chopped and in the pan. Not that this has EVER happened to me of course.

 Look at what a good little worker bee I am.  A word about the leeks: most of the time, they collect unseen dirt in the outer layers.  More than once have made the mistake of trying to slice them whole.  Total fail.  Turns out that it's nearly impossible to get the dirt out from tiny little rings of leek. (You won't use the top, dark green part of the leek, but the dirt usually manages to find its way further down the stalk). To combat that, after washing the leeks, I slice them in half and then peel back the outer layers just a hair and wash them again:    
This should solve the problem

Now that everything's chopped, fry the bacon in the same pot you'll be using for the soup.  The pots at our house range in size from small-ish to lobster pot and I figured everything wouldn't fit in the little guys, hence:
Certainly not winning any prizes for bacon photography
Once the bacon is browned to your desired level of crispness, (I like mine almost burnt but not quite), remove the bacon but leave the grease in the pot.  Add the sliced leeks and garlic and cook on medium/med-low for about 7 minutes (until leeks are floppy).  Then add the chopped potatoes, thyme, chicken broth, water, thyme, and cream. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to medium low and cook for about an hour (until the potatoes are tender- think mushy potato salad-consistency). If you find the soup getting too thick, add water or chicken broth in half cup increments to thin it out a bit. 

Total dream
Here's the soup cooking (at left). In real life, it wasn't nearly this yellow.  Poor kitchen lighting and an iPhone camera flash contributed to this exotic color.  Once the potatoes are tender, remove the sprigs of thyme (no worries if a few stray leaves have detached themselves). You now have two options.  If you have an immersion blender (one of my favorite shower gifts from my pal LuckyClairo- and her darling mother Christmas Cele), now's your time to shine.  I had been pining away for one of these for years and it has already revolutionized my soup making. Basically, it's a hand-held blender. And it will change your life. It's too bad I didn't capture a pic of myself smiling up a storm while using it.  Ah well.  Your second option is to use a regular blender.  But fait attention, it's easy to get carried away and try to cram too much hot stuff into a blender at once. The steam rises up and the hot liquid will escape through the top if you aren't careful.  To avoid this fate, only put 2-3 cups of liquid in the blender at a time (you'll blend several cups at a time and then return them to the pot, and blend another few cups and so on until everything is blended to your liking- some like it chunky, some like it smooth).  Also, while blending, always put pressure on the lid with a dish towel (just to make sure the lid doesn't leak or pop off and you aren't caught off guard trying to put it back on with your bare hands).  Add salt and pepper (add more to taste. I used low sodium chicken broth and added a lot of salt back in to give the soup more flavor).  Incidentally, did you know that peppercorns grow on trees and  look like this in nature?   Saw that on Alton Brown recently and it was totally news to me. At my parents' house, we always used Tony Chachere's creole seasoning in our potato soup and it was delicious- so if you have that handy, give it a go. (Also, we pronounced it "Chaach-erees", which I'm pretty sure is incorrect).

Serve with whichever toppings you prefer.  I used chopped scallions, chopped bacon (remember that from the beginning), a dollop of sour cream (gives it a great tanginess), and a little hot sauce. Grated cheddar is also fantastic on top. As are chives. Basically anything you'd want on a baked potato. Enjoy :)    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When life gives you potatoes....

make pommes frites!  Duh. That's Freedom Fries to you, silly americains.  Remember that whole situation?  When the House cafeteria replaced "freedom" for "French" on their fries and toast.  I was living in France at the time and one of the downsides (aside from living with a host mother who, in addition to being crazy, fed me frozen fish and imitation crab meat while my friends sampled homemade baeckeoffe and choucroute and flammekeuche and all sorts of Alsatian delicacies with their host families) was actually having multiple serious conversations with the French on the freedom vs. french debacle.  (And if you're looking to try any Alsatian delicacies in Boston, check out Sandrine's, an Alsatian restaurant in Harvard Square). On top of that, being American made me seemingly irresistible to people wanting to discuss Monsieur Booosh and his politics, often in bars.  (#1 on my list of intense dislikes: talking politics when drinking. I know it's tempting, but just. don't). When I got back to the States (yes, you can call it that when you've been abroad or are talking to someone who's also been abroad and yes sometimes I know it sounds pretentious but sorry I can't help it) I got a huge kick out of how my fellow Americans handled the situation, chanting U-S-A at every possible opportunity.   

Anyways, where were we? Right, french fries. (One more thing- do you realize that it was three years before the House cafeteria served french fries again? Ouch, America).

That aside, it's a pretty well-known fact that french fries, which were actually invented in Belgium, are one of the most delicious snacks in all of snackdom. However, short of buying a deep fryer, it can be tricky to recreate delicious fries at home.  Especially healthy ones.  Tipsy Turvy to the rescue!   

Homemade Baked French Fries
(serves 4)
5 large russet potatoes (russet potatoes have the perfect consistency for fries), well scrubbed
2T olive oil
1 1/2t sea salt (I prefer the taste of this to standard table salt)
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Note: this is a basic recipe for fries.  If you're feeling extra fancy, additional flavor options include:
  • 1t chopped rosemary
  • 1t Tony Chachere's cajun seasoning 
  • or top with finely grated Parmesan cheese.
Your first step is to cut the potatoes into 1/2" strips.  (If you like them thicker or thinner, cut to your preference).  Do you notice the thick, slippery coating left on your cutting board?  That's starch. Next, you'll put the uncooked fries in a bowl and cover them in cold water. This process helps eliminate starch, sugar, and helps your fries achieve that crispy on the outside, soft on the inside perfection 
Cut fries taking a bath
Put the bowl of potatoes/water in the fridge and let sit for at least an hour (and up to 8, though I never plan far enough in advance to need that much time). Take fries out of the fridge, drain the water, rinse and pat dry. (If you're short on time, here's a quick version of this step: boil a pot of water and add the fries. Cook for 10 minutes, drain, rinse and pat dry, then continue to the next step). In a bowl, toss the taters with the olive oil, salt and pepper and put on a baking sheet in a single layer, like so:

Almost there
You've already preheated the oven to 400, so pop the fries in for 25 minutes.  Cooking time will vary based on your oven- ours is kind of all over the place. At 25 minutes, take the fries out and turn them over with a spatula to get them crispy on both sides.  Put fries back in the oven and cook for 10 extra minutes (until crispy but not burnt). Et voila!

Excuse the poor lighting- our kitchen is beyond dark!
Serve and enjoy, preferably with a homemade burger. Yum!

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to satisfy a craving for Chinese food without calling for take-out

(Now with pictures!!)

As the daughter of two parents born and raised in the Midwest, ethnic cuisine at our house usually translated to exotic dishes like bratwurst, German potato salad, spaghetti and any dish involving noodles. (As a disclaimer, I love my mom's cooking. She is-and always has been a fabulous cook and an incredibly gracious entertainer, even as she's still working on dinner when the guests show up).

Nowadays when I visit my parents in Georgia, my mom always asks me what meals I'd like while I'm home. And invariably, I always request her stir fry. I'm not sure where she got the initially got the recipe for this dish but I do know that it's been a comfort food for me since elementary school. (Yes, I ate lots of veggies in elementary school. That sweet mother o' mine pioneered the chef salad as a lunch long before salads, chef or otherwise were en vogue. You can probably imagine how confused my classmates were in 1988 when I pulled out Tupperware containers of salad and dressing. Embarrassing for sure, but at least it was less embarrassing than a stinky but delicious egg salad sandwich wrapped in wax paper).

What follows here is my take on my mom's stir fry recipe, a healthy chicken and veggie version of a dish ubiquitous to many a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I've made this recipe for friends and family since college and it's evolved a bit over the years from the original recipe (which isn't so much an actual recipe as it is an experiment in adding ingredients, seasoning and tasting until it's just right). Keep in mind that I'm not making any claims of authenticity (by any means), but you can easily modify this recipe to fit your take-out cravings.

Mr Turvy, for instance, loves his stir fry with pineapple. If you're a fan of this sweet/savory combo too, try adding 3/4 c chopped pineapple (fresh or canned and drained). When I made this stir fry last week, I used what I had on hand in our fridge and pantry. When I plan ahead a little better, I love to include 1.5c bean sprouts, baby corn (1 can, drained) and sliced water chestnuts (1 small can, drained). Obviously this is a lot of ingredients to cram into one pot, wok, etc, so you'll probably want to pick and choose your favorite ingredients.

First things first, you'll need to round up your ingredients. When I make this, the bulk of my time is spent chopping vegetables-so if you're short on time after work, do your chopping a day ahead while you're watching the Kardashians or something.  Don't lie- everyone watches the Kardashians. It's hard to avoid them, really, since E! runs re-runs about six times a day.

Something tasty to look forward to!

Chicken and vegetable stir fry
Serves 4-6

2 boneless chicken breasts, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 of a green or red pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 head (or crown) of broccoli, chopped (I use crowns because I'm not crazy about broccoli stems and yes I know it's weird and I need to get over it- maybe someday)
1/4 lb (two handfuls-regular sized handfuls, not super sized, Caroline-esque handfuls) of sugar snap peas, trimmed at ends
2T soy sauce
1/2t red pepper flakes (in lieu of red pepper you can use Sriracha or a spice mixture called sambal oelek to add heat-or if you don't want heat, leave it out entirely)
1T sweet chili sauce (I found mine at Trader Joes but if you don't have any on hand you can substitute it for teriyaki sauce or a hoisin sauce for a taste that's sweeter and smokier)
2T olive oil
2T sesame (or peanut) oil
1/4c chicken broth
3 chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
Rice (brown or white) or rice noodles, cooked according to directions on the package

1/2c chicken broth

1T cornstarch
2T water

Chop the peppers, onions, and garlic and set aside. Trim the ends of the sugar snap peas and set aside. (As the chicken cooks, you'll have time to chop the vegetables but I like to get the chopping out of the way en avance just in case I get distracted while I'm cooking- not entirely uncommon, unfortunately!) Chop the chicken and season it with salt and pepper (I usually aim for 1", bite sized pieces since I don't think you should have to use a knife when you eat stir fry).

In a saucepan or wok, heat 2T oil (I use a mixture of 1T olive oil and 1T sesame oil) until it shimmers.
I tried to take a picture of the shimmering pan, but alas, no dice.

Add the seasoned chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side (until browned)on med-high heat. Be careful of the oil spattering as you put the chicken into the hot pan. Boneless chicken tends to give off water as it cooks, so don't be alarmed-you aren't doing anything wrong.
Watery chicken? Hakuna matata

Push the browned chicken to the outside edges of the pan, add 1T olive oil and add the chopped yellow onion, pepper and garlic.  Just scootch everything over a bit...
Yup, just like that
 Stir occasionally until onions are translucent (shiny and clear-ish)- about 4 or 5 minutes. If you're serving this dish over rice and your rice takes 20 minutes to cook, start it now so that the stir fry and rice will be ready to serve at the same time.

Move the peppers and onions to the sides of the pan to make room for the broccoli and sugar snap peas. Turn heat down to medium and add peas and broccoli.
As an aside, this pot is way too crowded.  Using a wok will really help you cut down on cooking time since everything has more room to spread out

Cook for 2-3 mins until both are bright green. Add the soy sauce, red pepper flakes and 1/4c chicken broth and scrape the pan. Make sure that you're using a wooden or heavy plastic spoon to scrape the pan as metal and stainless steel will damage the finish. 

Add the sweet chili sauce and stir.
Thank you, Trader Joes, for providing me with inexpensive goodies to use in my cooking
Add 1/2c chicken broth to the stir fry and reduce heat to medium low. In a small cup or bowl, stir together 2T water and 1T cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved (this helps to thicken your sauce). Add the mixture to the stir fry and simmer for 5-6 minutes until sauce thickens. Season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve over cooked rice or rice noodles and garnish with chopped scallions. Then pat yourself on the back because you've just fixed yourself a delicious Chinese feast and you won't feel gross afterwards.

I typically make enough of this for leftovers. Y'all have probably noticed that when you reheat cooked chicken in the microwave, it gets sort of creepily rubbery and hard at the same time.  Gross, right? You can avoid this fate by reheating it in an oven-safe bowl or baker at 350 for about 10 minutes.

If you attempt this, let me know how it turns out. What do you like in your stir fry?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pick a peck of peaches

Yup, a whole peck.  Or was it a half peck?  A bushel? God knows. In any event, I picked an enormous amount of peaches last week.  I was up at our summer place in northern MI last week with my sweet darling cousin Helena and equally darling mother (and father- hi Dad!) and the three of us girls took a little field trip to King Orchards to pick some end-of-season Red Haven peaches.  (Think this variety may be native to northern Michigan as we'd never heard of them before and were initially skeptical.  Needn't have been.  They were AMAZING.  Yes, the ALL CAPS kind of delicious).  King Orchards is a pretty sweet spread in Central Lake and, in addition to peaches, grows a variety of equally mouth-watering looking summer treats. 

Before I left for the lake, I tucked the latest issue (November, maybe?) of Cooks Illustrated (an absolute must-read for anyone serious about cooking) into my bag.  I brought it because I figured I'd have plein de free time up at the lake, and because it features a positively dreamy looking recipe for a peach cake. (I know the magazine has restrictions on the content you can see online if you aren't a subscriber, but I'll post the recipe as soon as I can get it typed out).  Enter, the peck/half-peck/bushel/whatever it's called of peaches:
Don't these look tasty!??
Turns out that we weren't so hot at sussing out and picking the ripest peaches- since it was the last day of the season and most of the trees had been pretty picked over (or because we knew next to nothing about peach picking- either way).  Fortunately, a run-in with a few migrant workers helped point us in the right direction.  (See Helena picking below- the girl knows her peaches! And look how cute she looks in that tree! What a natural!)
Going for the gold
    And me, looking awkward after Anne insisted on a photo shoot:
That, unfortunately, was hands down the best of the bunch.  Several other photos were action shots where the camera was moving but I was not and others featured little slivers (ok, big slivers) of fingers in the corners.  

Lucky for us, all was not lost.  We made an over the top delicious, lick your plate and ask for seconds- peach cake. Oh hey there, peachy:


 The cake was just fabulous.  It enveloped 2.5 lbs of peaches (pounds!) and was melt-in-your-mouth peachy goodness. And it was even better a la mode! 

We had sooo many peaches and a girl can only make so many peach cakes (I made two in two days, but easily could have eaten them for weeks on end).  Thanks to the helpful migrant workers, the peaches were all extremely ripe the second we pulled them off the branch- so we had to think of clever ways to use up all of those peaches, pronto!  Um, hello- peach daiquiris.  Bien sûr! I didn't have a chance to take any pictures since we basically chugged them but wanted to pass along the recipe to all of you while fresh peaches are still to be had.

Torch Lake Peach Daiquiris
3 ripe peaches, pitted and cut into wedges
6 oz (half a can)  limeade 
6 oz rum
3 oz Triple Sec
Ice (about 2 cups)
Put the first four ingredients in the blender and then fill the rest of the blender with ice.  Make sure you have plenty of fixins' on hand because you'll definitely want more than one! Note- if tequila's more your speed, you can easily substitute for the rum and make peach margaritas.  Yum yum!  

On that note, I'm off to the store to pick up some peaches.. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right JB?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Oh you want some more, eh?

(Disclaimer: I promise I'll finish these soon so this blog isn't all flops and long-winded diatribes about how crap I am at DIY projects! Maybe I'll even post pictures of the curtains I made since those turned out ok- kind of great if I do say so myself, even).

In any event, that cute little "Corner Cat" sander- with its pointy little nose for getting into tight corners until all of the sandpaper on the pointy part gets worn off since these nightstands are ALL crevices and tight corners and maybe-they-should-find-a-way-to-reinforce-that-part-of-the-sandpaper-pad-since-it-gets-used-the-fastest, has been a fabulous help in getting rid of stubborn paint that wasn't budging for me before.  Additionally, according to their website, these sanders are great for the "DIY enthusiast".  (New business cards, anyone?)  Maybe too much of a stretch. 

When I bought this sander, as with most things, I had two requirements 1-cuteness and 2-price. Check (adorable name and cute little nose for poking into corners) and check (maybe set me back around $25 or $30). As an aside though, this "cheapie" project is quickly adding up since thus far, I've essentially tried three different means of achieving the same goal.  (Not exactly Mrs. Efficiency here).  But here's how the to-do list is shaking out:
  • Buy a whole bunch of supplies from Home Depot, including a too-big plastic dropcloth that is SO hard to cut with scissors
  • Get high off of paint stripper fumes in backyard as neighbor looks on
  • Buy a cute, cost-effective sander (presumably to use on future projects until I give up on this entirely)
  • Remove paint from all drawers
  • Prep drawers with mineral spirits (have absolutely NO idea what this is supposed to do but they looked nice after I put it on)
  • Stain drawers dark walnut
  • Figure out whether the panels of the stands are actually different colors or just look like that (and if so, how I need to stain them in order to make that work)
  • Finish scraping the paint out of the grooves (getting there)
  • Decide whether to try to remove paint from the drawer pulls or scrap them altogether and get new ones
  • Buy polyurethane to coat everything post staining
  • Actually coat everything post-stain 
 Whew.  Exhausting, right?  How do you think I feel?  But this is encouraging:

And so is this:

  At least I feel like I'm making a tiiiiiiny shred of headway.  (These had better be the greatest nightstands OF ALL TIME!) 

Progress? (Alternately: What it looks like when you don't know what you're doing)

Between the earthquake and hurricane, you may have heard about the absolute hot mess that has been Boston weather of late.  Needless to say, this hasn't given me much of a chance to work on the nightstands without making an equally hot mess out of our apartment.  However, there has been some progress.  Not much, but I'll take what I can get.

First, you may remember that I'd purchased some extra-strength, getcha-high-in-a-hot-minute paint stripper.  This little guy-
If I had to imagine what it's like to huff, say, glue or pesticide or meth in the privacy of your own backyard, it wouldn't be too dissimilar from cracking open a bottle of Strip-X and taking a whiff (minus a pesky family having you tailed by a film crew all the while reassuring you that you aren't on Intervention- "BUT YOU SAID THIS WASN'T INTERVENTION! YOU PROMISED! I AIN'T GOING BACK TO REHAB!")  At Home Depot,  the Klean Strip shares an aisle with a number of gas mask-looking contraptions ranging from "I don't want to catch SARS at the airport" to "I'm going to stash this in my bunker with all the canned goods for when it's nuclear war and it's just me and Will Smith vs the aliens".  And at the time, I thought to myself, well, those seem a bit like overkill... we're just painting here. In retrospect, however, a mask probably wouldn't have been the worst idea I've ever had.  

To make this stuff even scarier, it's nearly impossible to open.  (This from a gal who nearly broke a wrist after spending hours squeezing caulking from a hard plastic tube.  The kind you're supposed to use a gun with). On the top of the can is printed a warning, cautioning you not to open it too quickly, lest it explode and cover your entire body in chemical burns.  I wore elbow length latex gloves and struggled with the lid for 20 minutes.  I didn't want to take off the gloves (see 'burning your arms to pieces', above) but I certainly couldn't grip anything with them on.  Finally, insanely sweaty and two fierce blisters later, I caved and asked a worker (who was installing tile in the apartment above ours) to open it for me.  He tried turning the lid three times before grabbing a wrench.  Duh. Then, I got back to business at my little set-up in the backyard.  Honestly I thought this was a totally sweet set-up until I took a look at this picture:

Beyond bootleg.  Notice that I haven't attempted to weigh down my 'drop cloth' with anything. Oops. Perhaps you also notice the sewer and artificial turf in our backyard.  It should come as no surprise that our neighbors have a steady stream of visitors who sit in our driveway waiting to pick things up.  And no, I'm not talking about pizza.  In any event, I settled in for an afternoon of work with the extra strength stripper, which looked like this when I first applied it: 
See all of the crackle-y bits? A good sign- right?

The good and bad thing about this stuff is that it works- quickly.  No five hours of sitting and waiting while it's covered in plastic wrap.  Definitely good, no question about it.  The bad part, however, is that I was trying to work on both at once (my first among many mistakes).  I'd paint it on one, paint it on the other and then try to scrape paint off the first one.  Already dried.  So I painted on another coat. And then another, because coat #2 wasn't thick enough. Ugh- terrible.  And what was I to do about the gloopy stuff on the legs:
Gloop, gloop and more gloop
These dreamy little legs are what originally drew me to these nightstands.  The design is traditional but not too dull, but getting paint out of all of the crevices and ridges was/is a nightmare.  The above is the before picture. And here's an after (as in, where I'm at now, which is hopefully not the same as where it will be in a day or two):

Not all the way better, of course, but nous arrivons.  Even the grooves on the sides have seen a vast improvement:

(Not sure why I can't get these side-by-side).  The key thus far, equally as useful as the industrial strength paint stripper-if not more so, has been this little dreamboat- a Ryobi Corner Cat Sander.  
So tiny and cute!
It turns out that sanding the shit out of furniture (and running around looking like a little dust bunny afterward until your husband comes home from work and corrals you into the shower) works wonders for paint removal.  Don't know why I didn't think of that to begin with!   

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Old vs. new

Have you noticed anything amiss with furniture lately?  I have. When I attempt to shop for study, substantial pieces that will last longer than a year or two and cost less than say, $500 or so- I strike out.  All of the sweet stuff is WAY out of our price range.  And the rest... well, it usually involves anything made from MDF/particle board/veneer.  No thanks.

I've been jonesing for something mirrored lately (a la this little gem from West Elm) but I can't seem to work it into the current aesthetic in our living room, currently a hodge-podge of styles, sauf moderne.  Also, we don't exactly need a mirrored end table at the moment.

What we do need, however, are nightstands.  We've bought a real bed (our first together and the first real bed either of us has had since college), and I think it's high time to relegate the Ikea nightstand (that I so lovingly assembled a few years back) to the guest bedroom.  So I've been scouring Craigslist for something perfect.  And what I've found, though probably more imperfect than anything else, might just be the next best thing.  I picked up two end tables, painted a peeling puce green on top of a dull yellow on top of what I hope is a good, old-fashioned mahogany, and have braced myself for the task of refinishing them.  

As to my plans for them, I'm up in the air.  Initially, I thought I thought I wanted to gild them in aluminum leaf (cheaper than silver but still gives off the mirrored look I'm going for).  ...with an end result akin to this dresser, that I found on BetterAfter

But now I'm worried that mirrored furniture might not suit us down the road.  Maybe a dark stain is better suited to us?  Once I get the paint off both nightstands, I'll re-strategize.

So far, refinishing has been slow going.  Apparently in order to strip furniture of its paint, you need strong chemicals.  And adequate ventilation.  I, of course, had neither.  I went to the hardware store and returned with an eco-friendly paint stripper, which I applied to one dresser before covering it in saran wrap and leaving it to sit for five hours.  The directions on the paint stripper informed me that 30 minutes to an hour would be sufficient, but to leave it longer if the paint wasn't easy to remove.  When you've never done this before, the whole process is downright funny.  All of that careful work painting on the stripper.  And then the whole business with the Saran Wrap.  Initially, I'd purchased a plastic scraper (after reading someone online that metal paint scrapers often damage the wood)- but, as with the also-diluted eco-friendly paint stripper, the plastic one didn't quite do the job.  Five hours later, the top layer of green paint was largely gone, but the yellow paint wasn't budging (I'll post a picture that hot mess later).

It was back to the hardware store, this time, for something with a lot more oomph (and fumes that necessitate working outdoors).  We've had bad weather in Boston lately and I haven't had the chance to attempt round two of paint removal.  Here's hoping it goes better than the first. +