The birds and the bees.

The hummingbird feeders are getting quite a lot of traffic these days.  Between the bees, the hummers and the finches, they’ll empty one of these in a day.   I had just refilled this feeder and by the time I got back into the house, these two had already stopped for a drink.

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Hummingbird Nectar
1 part sugar : 4 parts H2O
Bring to a boil for several minutes.
Let cool completely.   You can refrigerate any extra for a week or so.
Probably shouldn’t leave in the feeder for more than a day or two.

Bird thingie.

The backyard is getting quite crowded with bird-thingies.  The latest one is a bark butter feeder that I hung up a couple of weeks ago.   Bark butter is a spreadable kind of bird food that you can mush onto the bark of a tree,  or onto a hanging feeder.   You can buy both bark butter and bark butter feeders.   But, I decided to try my hand at making both myself.  Long story short, the birdies like it!  This is a Bewick’s wren snacking on it.  I have also seen black crested titmice and woodpeckers try it out.

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To make the feeder, I  grabbed a couple of pieces of cedar scrap from the shop, drilled shallow holes in each side with a forstner bit.  I staggered the holes on each side so they were not directly opposite each other, so that I wouldn’t accidentally drill all the way through the board.  Then I glued and nailed a piece of wood on top as an awning.   I didn’t measure, but I’d say that my board is about 16″ long and 6″ wide.

There are recipes on the web for bark butter that contain lard and corn meal and peanut butter and bird seed.  I simply got some all-natural peanut butter and mixed it with my current bird seed mix (mine is a mix of peanuts and whole sunflower seeds and millet) until it was spreadable.  Then I stirred in some cayenne pepper to dissuade the squirrels.   I spread some into each of the holes on the feeder and hung it up.  Within a week I saw some birds feeding off of it; which made me smile.

 

 

Year of the Rooster.

In honor of the 2017 Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rooster, I whipped up a little chicken stir fry.  Delicious.

Chicken Stir-fry (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1lb), sliced thinly
  • 1 T corn starch
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1/2 c chicken broth
  • 2 T grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can water chestnuts
  • 1 head of cut broccoli florets
  • 4-6 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2-3 T oil with high smoke-point (e.g., peanut or sesame)
  • 3-4 cups cooked rice

Combine corn starch, soy sauce and chicken broth in large bowl, and stir until smooth.  Add ginger, garlic and pepper flakes to liquid and stir.  Marinate sliced chicken in this mixture for at least 30 mins.  Stir occassionally.

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Place wok or saucepan over medium heat.  Add 1 T oil and saute onions, mushrooms, broccoli and water chestnuts, stirring, until tender (5-7 minutes).  Empty these cooked veggies into a clean bowl and set aside.

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Add 1 T oil to wok/saucepan and add chicken slices, reserving liquid marinade until a bit later.  Brown chicken 2-3 minutes per side.

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Add remaining liquid marinade and veggies back to wok/saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occassionally, to allow sauce to thicken.

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Serve over cooked rice.

Add more/different veggies, cashews, or other favorite ingredients, to taste.

 

 

Cookies, baked & decorated.

I had a marathon baking session yesterday.   🙂

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I used a recipe from Southern Living‘s “Christmas at Home” 2009 special issue that I’ve had for years.

Sparkling Sugar Cookies  (made 4-5 dozen medium sized cookies when I made them)

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Coarse sparkling sugar sprinkles of your choice

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla, beating well.

Combine flour and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating until blended. Divide dough in half. Cover; chill 1 hour.

Roll each portion of dough to 1⁄8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with desired cookie cutters.  Place on parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake at 350° for 12-14 minutes ( 14 worked perfect in my oven)  or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool 1 minute on baking sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Add glaze (recipe below) and sprinkles (while glaze is still wet).  Leave flat until completely dry (this took quite a while for me).

Enjoy!

Simple Glaze  (makes about 1 cup)

1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
4-6 tablespoons hot water
Liquid food coloring (optional)

Stir together powdered sugar and hot water until smooth. If desired, divide mixture, and tint with food coloring.  Spread on cookies with spatula or dip, whatever works best for you.

 

 

Garbage-pail pasta before & after.

Garbage-pail pasta is a quick dinner dish that I throw together using whatever is in the fridge.   Last night’s version featured:

  • leftover chicken breast meat from the day before – diced (8-10 ounces)
  • 1 onion – diced
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp each of kosher salt & ground black pepper
  • 2 cups of mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces of dry bowtie pasta, cooked before it is added to sauce
  • 1 cup of half & half
  • 2 cups of baby spinach – coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces of grated parmesan cheese

Pre-cook pasta in salted water.   Save the pasta water to use it to thin the cream sauce later, if needed.

I use a 4-5 quart saute pan/pot to make the sauce, so that it is big enough to hold both the sauce and the cooked pasta when it is added later.

Saute onion, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat, until soft.   Add in the pre-cooked chicken, salt & pepper, and stir for another few minutes til chicken is warm.  Add flour and stir, to coat meat and veggies (this will help thicken the cream sauce later).

Add half & half and stir until sauce begins to thicken.   Add small amounts of pasta water if sauce gets too thick.  Stir in parmesan and spinach, for a minute or two.  Then turn off heat under sauce.  Add drained, cooked pasta to the sauce and stir.

Before:

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And after:

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Not bad.  This dish would easily serve 4.  Next time, I’d add more mushrooms.

Lemony goodness.

During our visit to Seattle, my niece made ice cream sandwiches for dessert.   They were delicious, so I had to try making them when we returned home.

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If you like lemon, and you like ice cream, you must try these.

Lemon Ice Cream Sandwiches (makes 4)

4 or 5 scoops of vanilla ice cream – we used Bluebell Homemade Vanilla, of course
1 Tbsp Dickinson’s lemon curd – or more, to taste
8 belgian butter cookies

Put all ice cream scoops together in a single bowl.  Add lemon curd and stir well.  I used a stiff spatula to blend.  Do this relatively quickly, before ice cream gets too soft.  Place 4 cookies on flat baking sheet.  Spread a scoop of the blended ice cream onto each cookie.   Lightly place another cookie on top of each.  Place in freezer for several hours.

 

 

 

And another.

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Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

  • Mix 4 parts water with 1 part granulated sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches a light boil for a minute or two.  Let cool before filling feeders.

 

How’s it hanging?

I’ve crossed off another project from my growing wanna-do list in my head this weekend.  As you may have come to know through this blog, we like to make homemade pasta.  A lot.  Spaghetti, fettucine, ravioli, waddevah.  It’s the food of the gods.  Over the holidays, I ran across a fresh pasta hanger on Amazon and it looked so simple and easy to make, that I refused to put it in my cart.  We have a gynormous wood shop out back.  So I did a little recon and found what I needed already in the shop and… voila!   Ye olde pasta hanger.  I made it without glue, so I can take it apart to store easily in the cabinet.

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Tonight I tried it out.  So, here’s how it went down:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour

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  • 3 eggs

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  • stir / mix with a fork, blending the egg & flour crater from the inside out.  You may not need all the flour.   When the dough stands on its own, knead by hand for 10 minutes.  Till it looks a like more or less like this:

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  • Wrap dough ball in saran wrap and let sit at room temp for 30 mins or so.
  • Afterwards,  I cut the dough ball into 3 equal-ish sided pieces, ready to put through the pasta roller.

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I used our Kitchen-Aid roller, starting on setting 1 – ending on setting 5.  Rolling and dusting the dough with flour several times on each setting.  After rolling each of the three balls into a sheet at setting number 5, I cut each in half.  I found that each of my six pasta sheets ended up making about 2 ounces of pasta – a serving.  So 3 eggs + 2 1/4 cups of pasta yields approximately 6 servings.

Next, I put the fettucine pasta cutter on the Kitchen-aid

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I hung each section on my new, handy-dandy pasta hanger.  (Awesome!)

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Then I threw the pasta into a pot of boiling water.  I sauteed the other bits in a skillet with some olive oil and I let the flavor develop.

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Yummm!

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Currying f(l)avor.

We roasted a whole chicken the other day and I took both cooked breast pieces and transformed them into a magnificent, mouthwatering curried chicken salad.

Simply delicious.

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Here’s more or less what went in.  It made 2-3 cups of chicken salad.

Curried chicken salad

  • 2 cooked/skinned/boneless chicken breasts, diced
  • 1/2 c mayonaise (I like Duke’s light olive oil mayo, tastes just like regular)
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 5-7 tsp curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 scallions sliced finely
  • 1 apple (I used a sweet, crunchy gala), peeled and diced
  • 1/8 c sliced almonds
  • juice of half a lime

Mix well so everything is coated with yellowy goodness.  Then put it in the fridge – for several hours before serving, to make the flavor pop.  Be patient, it’ll be worth the wait.

By the way, the baguette came from Baguette House over on North Lamar.  They make the best baguettes I’ve ever tasted.  Hands down.  Go get you some.

Say cheese!

I have a running list, mostly in my head, of things I want to try.   Homemade mozzarella cheese has been on the list for quite some time.   We go through enough of it, so I wanted to give it a shot and see how it turned out.   So here we go…

The recipe I used is here.  And it is a good one.  My additional notes with pics below.

I ordered some citric acid powder and Fromase rennet tablets (vegetable-based) from my trusty Amazon account. 

1 1/2 tsp citric acid powder dissolved in 1 cup of cold water.  I used bottled spring water, since chlorinated water is a no-no.  Set aside.

1/4 tablet Fromase rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup bottled spring water. Set aside.

1 gallon whole milk.   Homogenized but NOT Ultra High Pasteurized (UHP) – another no-no.  I used HEB-brand whole milk, and I will again.

1 tsp kosher (not iodized) salt

Pour milk and diluted citric acid unit a 5-quart or larger stainless steel or ceramic NON-REACTIVE pot.  Stir well.  Aluminum or iron are bad… from a cheese-making perspective.   I have a Le Crueset enamel-over-cast iron dutch oven that was a good size, and the enamel ensures it won’t interfere with the citric acid / milk reaction.

Raise heat, slowly, to 90 degrees Farenheit.  Remove from heat.  Add diluted rennet solution and stir, most lightly, for 30 seconds.  Cover and don’t disturb for 5 minutes as the curd sets and starts to separate from the whey liquid.   The consistency of curds you’re going for is soft tofu-ish.   After 5 minutes, mine wasn’t very solidified, so I covered again and let sit for another 3 minutes.

Uncover and make 1″ x 1″ cuts from top to bottom.  I used a stainless steel cake frosting spreader.

Return to low heat, stirring lightly, until temperature is 105 degrees farenheit.   Remove from heat and continue stirring for another minute or two.   The curds start separating from the liquid whey and will want to begin to clump together. Separate curds from whey.  I used a stainless steel colander on top of a large plastic bowl, and a stainless steel scoop.  The picture below shows the remaining whey at the top, and the glass bowl of almost-mozzarella curds in a microwavable bowl at the bottom – ready for the next step.
  Heat in microwave in small bursts, measuring temperature, and stirring in between bursts, until mixture reaches 135 degrees farenheit.   My microwave is pretty strong, so I used 20 second intervals of heating, and then stirring, until it reached 135 degrees. Strain off remaining whey.  Begin kneading (like dough) and stretching, alternating, until mixture becomes cohesive and stringy.

I forgot to add the kosher salt until after the cheese got to the ball stage.   So, this attempt yielded stringier portions than I had imagined.  But it held together alright.  Next time, I will use less salt than called for in the recipe (I’ll try 1/2 tsp next time).    I formed my first batch into 3 loaf-ish shapes.

And then I put in a container with part whey liquid / part water and covered in the fridge.

  First taste… caprese salad…. delicious!
I’m going to get another gallon of milk proto!  I’m hooked.

Sugar bombs.

I was introduced to cake pops recently, when a friend brought a dozen to a party.  They are an excellent sweet treat.   This weekend I took a stab at making a batch myself.    Here’s how they turned out:

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I did a little research beforehand, googling a few recipes and how-tos.   This is the one I picked to guide me, and pretty much followed it exactly.   I made one modification – I detest frosting-in-a-can, as its main ingredient is partially hydrogenated fat.   I bought a powder mix instead – which was basically powdered sugar, really.   I just had to add butter and a bit of milk.  And it worked great for the frosting.  I mixed up half a box (i.e., about as much frosting to cover half a cake), on the advice of the how-to that I was following.   And it worked fine.

I bought pure white Wilton candy chips, and added food coloring.  I have to say that the “dipping” phase is still a mystery to me.  No matter what I tried, the candy coating was always the consistency of frosting.  I tried both the microwave method, as well as the double boiler method.   It was still very thick.    So I couldn’t really “dip” the pops.  I spun them through the coating and had to smooth with a knife most of the time.   No matter, though, they turned out fine.

Some people recommend buying floral arrangement foam to use as a stand to hold your cake pops.  I asked Monte to make me a few stands with wood scrap he had laying around in the shop.  They worked great.

Good for what ails you. 

I brought a head cold back with me from Seattle.   For dinner tonight Monte suggested chicken soup, and it was just the ticket!   We already had 1 1/2 quarts of homemade chicken broth in the fridge.  And a grilled chicken breast leftover from last night.  I just had to add a cup each of chopped onion, celery & carrots; a sprinkle of salt & pepper.   At the end I threw in a few ounces of pasta.  And voila!

Delicious!  I feel better already.  

  

Bringing back the bread machine. 

We received an awesome Breadman Ultimate breadmaker for a wedding gift way back when.  And I used it for several years but stopped for some reason.   I was probably traveling a lot at the time.

A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out the pantry, and rediscovered it.  I have since stocked up on wheat flour, gluten and other ingredients and am back in the bread making groove.  The 1.5 lb loaves are perfect for the two of us for several days.

The light whole wheat bread loaf is delicious.

This one’s hot out of the machine:

And this is a link to 100+ page PDF for the bread machine with many recipes.