Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Years Eve!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my sweet blogging friends on the other side of the world! Happy New Years Eve to my sweeties over here. Alas, I will be mixing a little orange juice in my champagne in the hopes of getting rid of this miserable cold. At least this means that I can postpone my "exercise more" resolution without a pang of guilt.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Living in the South



If you live in the south, there are two words that come out of your mouth the second you sit down at a restaurant. No, not, "wine list?" or "coffee, please". The two words are "sweet tea." Winter, spring, summer or fall. Doesn't matter. It's tea and it's sweet. I realized how crazy this was the other night when my husband and I were eating at a small local restaurant that was seriusly lacking in the heat department. We were practically shivering, but that didn't stop us from gulping down a couple of glasses of sweet iced tea.



When I make it at home, Agave Nectar is my sweetner of choice. It doesn't flavor it like honey does, and for whatever reason, I feel it's healthier than just plain old bleached white sugar. It probably isn't, but please don't enlighten me, let me live my Agave dream.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Garden Tuesday - Supermarket Flowers - And Kitty Cat News!

flowers
When the weather outside is frightful, supermarket flowers are delightful.

I know that's bad. Obviously the supermarket flower people are not going to be hiring me to do any ad jingle creating for them anytime soon.

But, even though I can't market flowers, I am apparently a killer kitty cat marketer, because Smudge won! Yep, he won The Cutest Senior Cat on Facebook. He would like to thank all of you who voted for him. He promises to not forget the little people, though he has been mumbling about some sort of gourmet catnip that he his now entitled to.

Smudge
Cutest Senior Cat on Facebook!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce



How, and when, do you use your slow cooker? If you're like me, it is primarily used through the week. It's used to cook your dinner all day, while you are off at work. My problem is that I leave for work at 6:15am and we eat dinner at 6:00pm. So, whatever I cooked in the crockpot had to cook for about 12 hours. Not a lot of things (except for beans and some soups and stews) really benefited from 12 hours of cooking.

Then one Sunday, I made dinner in the slow cooker, because something had come up through the week and I didn't get around to making it on Thursday when I was supposed to. So, while I was doing my usual Sunday things, which always ends in an afternoon wine tasting, my dinner was cooking away. Suddenly a light bulb went off. This was perfect. While I was sitting there sipping my wine, my dinner was cooking!! I didn't have to worry about getting up to chop some onions, or slice some veggies, or anything. I could relax and enjoy my wine. Not only that, but now a whole slew of recipes suddenly opened up. Recipes that only required 5-6 hours of cooking were now doable. Things that I did not want to cook to death in a long 12 hour cooking spree were an option!



So, you are regularly going to be seeing some slow cooker recipes, because, just like a spatchcocked a chicken every Sunday in the summer, I will now probably slow cook something. I am an incredibly boring creature of habit. I may be boring but this Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann was anything but boring. I liked the flavorful touches in this recipe, like using the wine to scrape up the bits of onion and then using some more to get all of the browned bits from the meatballs. Things like that add lovely extra layers of flavor.

Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce
Sauces one pound of pasta
Serves 6

Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry red wine
one 28-oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
6 oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, or 3/4 teaspoon fresh minced basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or 3/4 teaspoon fresh minced oregano
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
dash of ground allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine

For the sauce: heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes scraping up the browned onion bits.

Add the onions and wine to the slow cooker with the rest of the sauce ingredients. Allow it to cook on high, while you prepare the meatballs.

For the meatballs: mix the ground beef with the rest of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Gently but thoroughly blend it (either with your hands or a large fork, but be careful not to compact the meat. Gently shape the mixture into about 12 meatballs, no bigger than a golfball.

Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to slow cooker. Pour off fat from the skillet and add the wine. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes, scraping up the browned bits. Pour over the meatballs. If the meatballs are not covered by sauce, gently spoon some over them. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cleaving by Julie Powell

Don't waste your time or money


I don't know about you, but when I visit a blogger who reads, I take note of what they are reading. And then mentally or physically adding it to my list of books to be read. Some of you may have noticed that I was listening to Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsessionby Julie Powell. Before you go adding it to your list, I want to make sure you know that I just stopped listening to it. At chapter 6. I don't know how many chapters the book has, I don't care. I couldn't take any more of it.

The premise of this book sounded interesting, Julie Powell wanted to learn how to butcher meat. Since I also lament the passing of the local neighborhood butcher, I was intrigued with how one becomes and/or learns the trade of butchery. What I was not intrigued with was Julie Powell.

Now, let me state for the record, I love steamy and trashy. Steamy and trashy make for a fun read. But what I learned from this book is that there is steamy and trashy and then there is icky and nauseating, unfortunately this book falls into the later category. She has a husband, a lover, plus she is trying something she's always wanted to try, and she still manages to do nothing but whine and complain.

The final straw was the scene where she describes going over to her lover's apartment. Oh, and she is enthralled with having a lover... it's freeing! It's exhilarating! It's a wonderful thing! So, she goes to his apartment and he meets her at the door naked. He then proceeds to basically slam her against the wall and do her right there in the foyer. Then he carries her off to his bedroom past the closed bedroom doors of his roommates! Not only is she doing her lover, in his foyer, she is doing it while his roommates are home. Nice. Very classy.

The whole time I'm reading this, I'm thinking...do you have parents? Do you have brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, or heaven forbid, grandparents? People who may read this. People who have to look you in the eye after reading this. Why? Why would you write this? Catharsis? Therapy? If that is the case, then I spent about 3 hours listening to this book so far, so that means you owe me about $300, because therapist don't come cheap, you know.

I give this one star out of five. Only because she can write. The sections that had to do with butchery were very nicely done. If only she would take her writing skill and use it for good, instead of feeling the need to spew out this garbage.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekend Cat Blogging #238

Smudge
Smduge hopes you found all kinds of goodies under your tree.



Patchouli
Like a Patchouli kitty cat!


Smudge and Patchouli under the tree are my entry for Weekend Cat Blogging hosted by Sir Tristan Tabby Cat Longtail. Scrappycat was not feeling particularly photogenic, she is still quite perturbed after her vet visit, so we'll just let her wish you a happy weekend cat blogging in thoughts, believe me, we're all safer that way!

And guess what my peeps! I'm hosting next weekend! So, all you kitty cats that have been lurking, it's time to show your stuff. Just post a comment under my post next weekend and I'll do a roundup on Sunday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti

Biscotti


This time of year. It is a time of miracles. One is occurring right now, that you may not have stopped to ponder.....I am posting a holiday recipe ahead of time! True it is a mere one day before the holiday, but still!! And since I posted a holiday/party recipe yesterday, I was technically two whole days before the holiday! So there. One of these years, I may actually get into the whole 12 days of cookies thing, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Now, technically there is nothing that absolutely screams holiday about Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti. Chocolate and mint are good anytime. Think, girl scout thin mints and York Peppermint Patties. See. Good anytime. But my very favorite Christmas candy is candy canes, so I love any reason to crush up some peppermint candy.

Biscotti


These are really good. They don't come out as hard as some biscotti, more like a dry cookie. They are completely scrumptious dunked into coffee. Be sure and follow that link above, there is a treasure trove of biscotti recipes!

Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti
Makes about 3 dozen

1-1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peppermint candy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet (or use parchment paper).

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, butter, extract, and eggs (I used a mixer). Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.

Divide dough into 2 equal portions.Shape each into a 10-inch by 2-inch log on the baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and place baking sheet in a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Transfer each log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices cut side down on the baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes, turning biscotti over once during time.

Cool on wire rack.

Melt remaining chocolate chips. Dip half of each biscotti into the chocolate and sprinkle with peppermint candy. Allow to cool on waxed paper.


Christmas
I took the branches that we had to cut off our tree and put them in a milk bottle and hung some vintage ornaments on them. My husband thinks it looks silly. I told him that's because he doesn't read decorating magazines.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sweet and Salty Sesame Glazed Almonds

Almonds


How do you read blogs? Do you use a reader? I do, Google Reader to be exact. I find it useful to have all my blogs right there where I can see them. It makes it much less time consuming and stressful to find all of my favorites. Except for this time of year, when I get really busy, and don't get to read as often, and I go out there today and find that I have 445 entries waiting to be read. What to do. What to do? Should I read the most recent and mark all the others as read? What if you posted some big dramatic post 3 days ago, and I blissfully go along unaware? Should I try and make a cursory glance at all of them?

In addition to this reading conundrum, there is the starred item conundrum. That is where I star all the items I want to make. Since I am multi-talented, the starred items not only consist of things I want to cook, but quilts I want to quilt, books I want to read, skirts I want to sew, crafts I want to craft, scarves I want to knit. It doesn't tell me how many items I have starred, so I just started scrolling through them. I finally stopped when it said "more than 360". Really. I could cook, sew, knit, craft, and read, at least one starred item a day, and still not finish in a year. I'm kind of depressed right now. I've set myself up for failure.

Almonds



Except, good news! Today I made something that I had starred!! When the lovely and also multi-talented Mari at Once Upon a Plate posted her favorite holiday sweets, I sat up and took notice, and marked another star. I was needing something quick and easy to take to a party and right there were Sweet and Salty Glazed Almonds. These were wonderful. They were quick and easy, not too sweet, really perfect to take to a party! Follow the link above to go to her gorgeous website, star it, and make them! One down, 360+ to go.

Ornaments
I hang my vintage ornaments from my chandelier to protect them from sillly kitty cats.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Garden Tuesday - Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus
It just wouldn't be Christmas


Christmas Cactus
Without the obligatory Christmas Cactus picture


Ornaments
Just because.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like....

Santa
Christmas


Ev'rywhere you go


Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again


With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.


Yes, five days before Christmas and we finally put up a little Christmas cheer!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Wine Reveiws #12

El Prado
El Prado Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, Valencia. $5.99. We say - Light. Black cherry flavors. Very good, not a heavy red. Buy again: definitely!!



Lindeman's Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa, 2007. $5.00. They say: Crisp mineral textures with vibrant ruby grapefruit, melon and stone fruit flavors. We say: Lindeman's!! We are so disappointed. We love a good Sauvignon Blanc all herbaceous and citrusy. Unfortunately this was not good. It was weak, flat, minerally. Buy again - no.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Weekend Cat Blogging #237

Christmas Cactus
I wanted to post some cute Christmas cat pictures for Weekend Cat Blogging. But this is from last year. It's Patchouli and the Christmas cactus. Why am I posting last years?

Patchouli
Because this is an adequate representation of this year's Christmas. This is Patchouli on top of the wreaths. Lovely isn't it.

This will be my entry for this week's Weekend Cat Blogging hosted by Samantha Black & Mr Tigger (who still hasn't come home!) at Life From a Cat’s Perspective. Also all you cat lovers, Weekend Cat Blogging is currently scheduling hosts for next year. I'm going to sign up to do a few weekends, follow the link above and check the schedule. If you have a kitty cat, this is such a fun thing to do!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shiitake Mushroom Pizza



If yesterday's Pizza Dough post didn't make you run right out and buy Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, well then, maybe this will. I'm back to show you again, just what you can do with this dough. Well, this dough, and a recipe for an excellent pizza from Martha.



In case you think that the author's are paying me to keep plugging them, don't be silly. The only thing I get paid to do is try and get a bunch of special 8th graders to pass all their subjects and move on to high school. Now, if you do click on that link above, yes, I will get a few coins from Amazon. Emphasis on coins, since for the month of December, I have earned a whopping $1.92 so far.



So, anyway, with my newfound readily accessible pizza dough, I am collecting pizza recipes. My latest is the Shiitake Mushroom Pizza from Martha. This was so good. The shiitake mushrooms added a more unusual mushroom flavor for the pizza, and the combination of the ricotta and mozzarella cheese was just right. I didn't have fresh mozzarella - just some shredded stuff and it was still good. I'm not going to post the recipe, I'll let you follow the link to Martha. She even has a video!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pizza Dough - Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Pizza
Just one example of what you can do with this dough!

I am about to share with you my new, most very favorite, recipe in the world. This recipe has turned my life around. What? Maybe the ability to have fabulous, homemade pizza any night of the week is not a life changing experience for you, but for me, it's at the top.

Dough
Just mixed.

I love pizza, I adore pizza. If left to my own devices, I could quite possibly eat pizza every night of the week. So, having a bucket of pizza dough in my fridge at all times, ready to turn into whatever pizza I want, is a dream come true. And since my other dreams of world peace and winning the lottery aren't happening anytime soon, this will do.

You will find this miracle in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Before you read on, you must promise me to go get the book right now. Seriously, you will not regret it. I have only made two things from it, the basic bread and the pizza. I can't help it, they are that good, I just keep making them over and over. But there is also: European Peasant Bread, Deli-Style Rye, Limpa, Pumpernickel, Light Whole Wheat, Bagels, Pretzels...and more and more and more.

Risen
A couple of hours later.

The concept is simple. You mix your dough in a big bucket or container. I just stir it up with a big wooden spoon. Then let it sit on your counter top for about 2 hours as it rises. Once it has risen and then deflated slightly, you store it in the fridge, loosely covered. When you are ready to bake, bring it out, cut off a lump, roll or shape, rise (if needed) and bake. That's it. It's genius, really.

Olive Oil Dough
From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
(makes about 4 pizzas)

2 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the water, yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil in a 5-quart, lidded container (or bowl).

Mix the flour in, without kneading. Use a wooden spoon, a stand mixer, or a food processor.

Cover, not airtight, and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough rises and then flattens on top.

Store in the fridge, keep it covered, but not air tight, and use within 12 days.

On the day you are going to make pizza, bring the dough out of the fridge. Dust the surface of the dough with some flour and pull off a one pound chunk (using a serrated knife or kitchen shears), this is about grapefruit size. Put the rest of the dough back in the fridge to be used another day. Using floured hands quickly shape into a ball and then roll out, just like you roll any other pizza dough. Using flour when needed to keep it from sticking. There is no need for it to rest, you can proceed directly with your pizza recipe!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Vote For Smudge - Shameless Plea!

Smudge

Smudge is making one final shameless plea for your vote. Tonight is the end of the Cutest Senior Cat on Facebook.

Smudge

Really, can you resist?

Smudge

Campaigning is exhausting!

Vote for Smudge

Pimping my Blackberry



Last week, I hurt my back. No, not picking up heavy boxes. No, not shoveling snow. I was sitting in my car in the driver's seat, and reached around to the back seat to get my purse, when I felt a twang. Seriously, it was a twang. I might have even heard it twang, but that could have been the blood rushing up to my brain to help it register the immediate pain.



This was after my trip to the grocery store, which means that I still had to get out of the car, get the groceries out of the back of the car and up the stairs to my kitchen. To add insult to injury, my next door neighbor had some construction, roofer type guys up on his roof, which is about 10 feet from our driveway. So, they were looking right down at me. Now, even though I'm old, I still don't mind being admired by some constructiony type guys, even if it is only for them to think, "she looks good...for her age."

So, I get out of the car and try to straighten up. To try and walk like someone who might draw an admiring (again...good for my age) glance. But instead I am walking like Ruth Buzzi did on Laugh-In when she did her old lady character.



So, what does this have to do with my Blackberry? Well, I spent the rest of the day on the couch, playing with my Blackberry (and no, that is not a euphemism). A few bucks later, I have a cute Christmas theme, and some nice apps to keep me organized. Isn't it cute??? I love the color scheme. I got this theme at Blackberry Boutique***. I know it seems silly to spend money to make my screens cute, but I figure I spend a whole lot of time looking at that Blackberry, might as well enjoy it.
***Edited to add that they have made big changes to this theme. It no longer looks like it does here. Be sure and check out all of the screen displays because it is very different.

This is it people, the last day of the Cutest Senior Cat contest on Facebook. Smudge would like to ask you to please be so kind and vote for him. It is a really tight race, and he needs a nice big showing here at the end! He promises to not let the fame change him.
Vote for Smudge

Smudge says thank you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Garden Tuesday - Snow Part Deux!



Yes, I know, last week I threatened pictures of snow until June. But I lied. These will be it, unless we get some more snow, and then I can make no promises.



Especially if we get a snow day, and then you'll see giddy, happy, snow day pictures.



What was great about this snow was that it was so wet and clumpy. It looked like more than it was because it just piled up so lovely. Just look at it resting on my purple coneflower seed heads. Which reminds me, I didn't dead head them. Which means, I will have purple coneflowers everywhere.

Smudge would like to ever-so-gently remind you that this is just one day left in the cutest Senior Cat Contest on Facebook. At this moment he is in first place, but it is very tight, so please be sure and vote. You can vote once every 24 hours.
Vote for Smudge

Smudge says thank you!