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Random Thought Roundup

by Monday, May 14, 2018
I don't want to admit how dirty I let my makeup brushes get this time before cleaning them. Like...not even as a cautionary tale.

This year will be a big purge for me. The fact I feel anxiety about even writing that down shows how unhealthy my attachment is right now. Must meditate on this. Must remedy this attitude.

Chardonnay and Nut-Thins are NOT dinner, but they taste surprisingly good together.

I miss going to the zoo regularly. I updated my zoo membership and plan to go more often.

I am so grateful for awesome friends who go to the zoo with me/let me tag along to the zoo with them. This includes trusting me to be an auntie to their kids, or sitting on a log in the shade chatting about life. I am on a happy high today thanks to a lovely mother's day walkabout.

I am so giddy to be back in the garden this year. It has been 2+ years of not planting much, and longer since the last food harvest planting. Chris and I clearly love it so much, why did we let it get away from us so long?

In related news, beans are already sprouting tiny beanlets. Lettuces are gently lettucing more each day. Sage and basil are herbing beautifully. Yes, these are nouns and verbs.

I need to get back on my bike. Like, yesterday. I have only taken three rides in 2018. THREE. All under 10 miles. In 4+ months. This is dumb considering how much I THINK about wanting to bike. Less thinking; more doing.

Puppies are cool. So are husbands who think they are as cool as you do. So are mothers who understand your love of them entirely and Facetimes with you, on mother's day, about how cool dogs are.

Getting back to board gaming regularly is harder than I thought. Just not as much time, plus hubby's back bothering him. I am champing at the bit!

Studio ownership is no joke.

I am however enjoying the realization that, much like teaching, owning a studio has a "doula-like" aspect to it. You help foster other people's goals and dreams, massaging their ideas to fruition. I am loving this aspect of it.

By contrast, though...scrubbing toilets is not much like being a doula. Not the "good bits" anyway...

A Board Game Gal's Review of Grimm's Forest

by Thursday, May 10, 2018
Jenna pulled this out at Geek Girls Game Night last night. I am trying to get back into logging plays and reviewing games this spring/summer after an insane 2017, so here's my review pasted over from BGG.

Grimm Forest
This play was only the second game since the box was cracked. Jenna had played it as a two player and wanted to try four. Agree with her that four is really needed to get the most out of the game. Some details of card usage weren't clear from the rules as we understood them, but we worked it out. Would like to take more time reading the rules for myself before I play again to refresh details. Apparently...we own this one, too, according to Chris. I didn't know he had backed it!

Ameri(trash? I hate this term, there's gotta be another term!) can be hit and miss for me, with their hard stop endings. I prefer Euros with multiple paths to victory and being able to accumulate points in different ways. This game tries to introduce more complexity through Fable cards and Friend cards, which can give different powers and consequences, but it's still a race to built three houses and once that's done...it's over. Turn order alone can make or break a winning run with a hard stop ending like that.

I also struggle with games where you have to track other people's tableaus/progress, in particular trying to read text upside down or having to ask constantly for reminders as to what everyone has/is doing. This wasn't a big deal with the houses, which are easily seen, but becomes a problem with the Friends aspect of the game. We spent a lot of time asking for clarification or re-reading everyone's Friends in order to make decisions about how to proceed, which slows the game. We were on a small table and even then there is simply no way to know what they have without asking, or having played a LOT and already knowing the powers of each potential companion.

Final thoughts: the theme is strong and thoughtful. Having various beloved  storybook characters as your companions or enemies, with really witty powers associated with their universe/storylines, was fun to discover. The insert was detailed and unique. The minis were a bit cheaply made and were often warped, but the sculpts were really cool. Artwork was beautiful, cardboard thick, card stock and finish felt good in the hand, fonts generally easy to read. I will withhold judgement on the rules as written until I read them for myself, but it felt like there was some lack of clarity in places, or could just be organization left something to be desired. We worked it out in the end and fun was had by all. Wendy won!

Mexican Pork Carnitas - Slow and Fast Cooking

by Thursday, May 03, 2018
I have cooked pork carnitas many different ways, including trying to do it "traditionally" in lard. Can I say "Hell to the no am I doing that mess again"? I can get moist, delicious results without all the greasy, messy lard business. My main inspiration for my carnitas comes from none other than Kenji at Serious Eats. I still make this full recipe from time to time, but I carve off some time by using jar salsa instead, and season various ways depending on my taste on a given day.

I make 4-5lbs whenever possible and eat the leftovers for a week. I will pluck some cold from the fridge for a snack; brown some in a pan, add avocado, and crack an egg over it for breakfast; throw some on nachos,;and of course traditional tortillas and fixin's.

I also feel I need to say that every portion here is approximate. I don't really measure stuff any more as my recipe evolved. If I make the dry rub/seasoning and it doesn't seem like enough, I toss in more. Need more liquid? Add more. It isn't a science for me, is what I'm saying, but it always comes out SO DAMN GOOD. I just got done stuffing my face with cold leftovers from making this last night. Nom nom nom.

INGREDIENTS
3-5 lbs boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, quartered
3-5 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp cumin
4 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp sea salt
fresh cracked pepper as desired
optional: a hot pepper of choice, seeded and sliced in half
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup orange juice or juice from one large orange
1 16oz jar salsa verde in heat level of choice*

FIXINGS
warmed tortillas
sour cream
avocado/guacamole
cilantro
some of the green salsa*
hot sauce
queso fresco
fresh limes
side of beans and/or rice

*Spoon out some of the green salsa if you want some with your meal. If lots of people are having this, just get a second jar. 


SLOW COOK METHOD - Stove / Oven
  1. Pre-heat oven to 275.
  2. Smash and cut garlic into small chunks.
  3. Cut pork into 3-4 inch cubes. Combine dry ingredients (cumin, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper) and sprinkle/pat/rub all over meat. Slice little holes in the meat and poke garlic inside.
  4. Heat a high smoke point oil (like safflower or canola oil) in open Dutch/French oven over medium-high heat (or similar pot that can later go in the oven with a lid). Using tongs, brown sides of pork chunks and then set aside.
  5. Deglaze pan with chicken stock or water. Toss in onions and break apart, add more smashed garlic if you like (I like) and any sliced peppers you are using. Tuck meat into pot--you're looking for a tight fit in a single layer as is possible, with the garlic and onion smashed between the meat chunks.
  6. Pour the jar of salsa over the top of the meat. Pour orange juice or water into jar to swish out the last bits of salsa and pour that into the pan as well, filling the pot so the liquid level is covering halfway up the meat.
  7. Put lid on pot (or tightly wrapped foil in a pinch) and cook for 2.5-3 hrs
  8. Line a baking sheet with a layer of foil or two. Remove cooked meat to sheet (it should be fairly falling to pieces). Shred with two forks. Move baking rack higher up in the oven and set to broil. Crisp meat in 3-5 minute intervals, using tongs to turn meat in between to get more crispy bits. This step is optional, but for me it's not. The crispy bits are where it is AT!**
  9. Alternately, you can just take the portion you are eating immediately and crisp it in a pan on the stove, storing the rest of the meat in its own foil wrapped tightly in the fridge.
  10. While the shredded meat is browning, put tortillas into foil and close loosely, placing on the bottom rack of the oven to steam/warm. Then I prep the fixings I like best: sour cream, avocado, shredded cheese (we like to buy Tillamook Mexican cheese blend for simplicity), some of the green salsa, and fresh cilantro and lime wedges. My husband goes simpler with just the sour cream and cheese, sometimes a hot sauce of choice over the top.


"FAST" COOK METHOD - Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot
This cuts prep time down and halves the cooking time, so while it is still 90 minutes in the pot, it's a lot less time from fridge to the table.
  1. Cut pork into quarters. Season all over with dry ingredients (cumin, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper). Cut small cavities in meat and stuff chunks of garlic inside.
  2. Set IP to sautee, heat oil, and brown all sides of the meat (if yours has no sautee function, do this in a pan on the stove before transferring to the pressure cooker).
  3. Add liquids (stock/water/OJ), onions, peppers (if using), and additional garlic if you like (yes, yes I do). Pour salsa over the top.
  4. Cover and set to high for 75-90 minutes (depending on size of shoulder you got). You can quick release or natural release, depending on how eager you are to get it outta there. Use this time to prep your toppings/fixings, including setting the tortillas in foil sleeve in a warm oven for at least 5 minutes before you eat.
  5. If you're in a hurry, you can shred this right in the IP and eat now. I still always brown my meat under a broiler, so if you want to do that, jump to Step 8 in the Slow Cook method above to continue. Alternately, some people will pour the cooking liquid out of the pot and brown it in there to make this more of a "one pot meal". Just add some oil and brown in batches.**
**If you over-dry your carnitas, you can always just spoon some of the cooking liquid back into the shredded meat to juice it back up again. I haven't needed to do this, but it's good to have in your back pocket just in case it gets too dry for your taste.

FROM FROZEN
One of the best things about an IP is the ability to cook from frozen cuts. I recommend no larger than a 3lb boneless cut for this method, because it probably won't fit in your liner if it's larger and can't be cut down due to it being a cold brick!

You can't sear or stuff this meat, obviously, so the flavor won't be as good, but it's good in a pinch, and you can season it up on the back end, and make sure to include delicious additional ingredients like queso fresco, sliced jalapenos, radishes, etc.

  1. Season frozen shoulder/butt with salt and pepper and put in pot.
  2. Add all ingredients to the pot, pouring stock/water/juice in, adding onions and garlic, and all dry ingredients. Pour salsa over the top last. Close lid, set to high pressure and cook 30 minutes per pound. NATURAL RELEASE is important on this one. It gives it a little more cook time, but also allows the meat to reabsorb some of the moisture it released during cooking.
  3. At least 5-10 minutes before you're ready to open the lid and shred the meat, warm your tortillas and prep your toppings.
  4. Jump to Step 8 in the Slow Cook method, or just shred in pot and serve without crisping if you're in a hurry. Add more salt/pepper/seasoning as you like to the shredded meat to taste.


Cheese-stuffed Meatloaf

by Wednesday, April 25, 2018
I have string cheese around pretty much all the time. Because instant-cheese satisfaction makes sense to me. I wondered if mozzarella stuffed meatloaf was a thing, and of course it was. I had the ingredients and I made it. It was fairly heavy for a warm day meal, but it was delicious, so I'm writing it down.

Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 pkg (12oz/4ea) Isernios Hot Italian Sausages, removed from casings
  • 1 stalk celery, fine chop
  • 1 large carrot, fine chop
  • 1/2 cup Italian panko breadcrumbs
  • extra rosemary as desired
  • 1 egg
  • sat & pepper
  • 4 sticks string cheese, um...out of the packaging. :)
  • 3 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp dijon mustard


INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. Line a loaf pan with foil, leaving edges up like a sling
  3. Mix all ingredients, save for the string cheese, with your hands, combining ingredients well.
  4. Take about 3/4 of the meat mixture and form a sort of "tray" in the bottom of the loaf pan about 1-1.5" thick with slightly raised sides.
  5. Lay mozzarella sticks out in this trough, tuck the rest of the meat mixture on top of and around the mozzarella sticks.
  6. Bake uncovered in oven for 1-1 1/2 hours
  7. Mix together ketchup and dijon to make a simple glaze (alternately, try a splash of some leftover favorite spaghetti sauce)
  8. Brush top of meatloaf with this sauce and broil until starting to bubble and brown
  9. Remove from oven, lift meatloaf out with sling and place on cutting board to rest for 3-5 minutes
  10. Slice and carefully transfer to plates.


I feel like the "rubberiness", for lack of a better term, is wha makes the string cheese a good candidate for filling. It doesn't all spill out when you cut it. Resting it helps as well, letting it cool down a smidge so it regains some structure.

In the future I could see adding some veggies to this middle zone, maybe some red peppers, spinach, etc. I didn't have them for this go-round.

Browned Butter Rice Krispie Cheesecake with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

by Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Browned Butter Rice Krispie Cheesecake with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

INGREDIENTS
Browned Butter Rice Krispies
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 a stick
8 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
16 oz mini marshmallows

No-bake Cheesecake Filling
16 oz cream cheese 2 packages
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1⁄2 cup Heavy cream
1 Tbsp bourbon

DIRECTIONS
Make Browned Butter Rice Krispies "Crust"

  1. Heat a large nonstick sautee pan over medium heat until hot. Add cereal and stir occasionally until lightly toasted and fragrant (5-7 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. 
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. It will begin to foam, and soon after will brown, emitting a nutty aroma. Turn off the heat and add the salt and vanilla.
  3. Add half marshmallows at a time to browned butter, stirring regularly until marshmallows are melted. If you need to, return to low heat to aid the melting process. 
  4. Add rice cereal to marshmallow mixture and mix until cereal is evenly coated with marshmallow mixture. 
  5. Transfer 2/3 to a glass pie pan/dish or springform pan, and the rest to a separate baking dish. Using the bottom of a flat bottomed glass, press rice mixture in pie pan into a "crust" about 1/2'-3/4" thick. Press the other portion of rice mixture to a similar thickness--we will cut this up to use as a garnish later, so it doesn't need to reach the edges of the pan. Set aside to cool while you make the cream cheese filling and sauce.


Make the Cheesecake

  1. Beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth using electric mixer or Kitchenaid mixer. 
  2. Blend in the condensed milk a bit at a time, scraping down sides periodically. Add in lemon juice and vanilla. 
  3. Pour filling into Rice Krispies crust, smoothing the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 2 1/2-3 hours until firm. Meanwhile, make the sauce.


Make the Sauce

  1. Simmer sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium heat, swirling pan rather than stirring for 15 minutes until a deep amber color. Keep a close eye so it doesn't burn.
  2. Turn off the burner. Remove pan from the heat, and slowly add cream while stirring.
  3. Add bourbon and optionally a pinch of salt, then put back on burner with residual warmth and stir all together. 
  4. Transfer to a heat-safe dish or bottle to let cool (canning jars are great for this). Sauce can be covered and stored in the refrigerator. When ready to use, bring to room temp, heat in a warm water bath, or microwave opened jar for 30 seconds in the microwave.



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