July 16, 2017:
Hola! Where does the time go, Geez Louise! Half summer is already gone, and I am first now updating this from last December, tsk tsk. Bad Jan! So, been busy puttering around the yard, as always, and paying more attention than I probably should be to politics. The kitchen "remodel" is on hold due to budgetary constraints, but I hope to have that remedied before the end of the year. And I have yet to paint the guest room - it's only been 3 years now since I moved in to this version of Maison Newton, I'm not lazy or anything, nope... LOL! Take care and have a great rest of the summer. Jan

Friday, November 29, 2013

Feather Boa Wreath

Hola Darlings!




I wrote yesterday, T-day November 28, 2013. Today I bussed to see my primary care physician early, 8:15 a.m. appointment.  I was out the door of doc's by 9:20 a.m. and then bussed it to 76th Street and visited my local Family Dollar, where I picked up a large bag-full of sundries, and then hiked 6 blocks or so to the Pick 'n Save to get a new supply if cheap boxed pink wine and other assorted goodies, like pre-made chocolate cookie dough and Brazil Nuts for the squirrels, LOL!

And then I hiked home.  Whew!  Got my three miles plus hiking in today, and braved cold and long waits for the bus, brrrrr!

At the Family Dollar I spent all of $20 and a few cents. LOVE THAT PLACE! Gift bags, Christmas themed tissue paper, and two very cute holiday-themed soap dispensers (one for my kitchen sink, one for the downstairs powder room), a floral spray, 24 apple-scented votive candles, and 4 gorgeous 12 inch tall gold-colored candles, and I'm sure I missing a few things, but that's the gist of it.

At home, I figured out what to do with arranging my furniture in the living room so that I can squeeze the tree in front of the front window. I have to move the Queen Anne console table out of the room temporarily, but I do have room to stash it behind the sofa in the family room for the time being.  It's crowded now in the front room, but for the holiday season all the seating is totally centered on the fireplace and Christmas Tree (once it is up, that is), and that is how it is supposed to be :)

In between shoving and lifting and heaving furniture, I put together a sexy feather boa wreath, thanks to my friend, Darlene, who gifted me with SIX feather boas (last year I told her I liked them), in appreciation for my having done up her family tree a few months back -- traced one of her paternal lines all the way back to 135, woo woo!  I have FOUR feather boas left with which to decorate my Christmas Tree, got plans for that tree I have, I have...

Here's the wreath as I conceived it (see also photo at beginning of post).  I got the idea from online, but took out the crow CRAW CRAW CRAW:



I used my skimpy home-made autumnal wreath, made from wild grape vines that grow out back. I wrapped two boas around my wreath, fluffed it a little bit and hung it up. These boas have silver and light purple tinsle strands interwoven with the feathers that add a lovely sparkle in the light.

I added four battery-operated votive candles, two not quite as bright, as you can see in the photo.  I didn't realize how great the difference was until I put them in close proximity to each other, stashed "flame" downward wherever I could get good purchase on the thin vine wreath behind or within the feathers! I will need to switch out and/or put in new batteries so all the votives burn equally brightly.

What I really like about this "made in minutes" wreath is that you can see parts of the vine wreath still sticking out here and there:







Now I need to unwrap the Christmas Tree from it's sheet and at least get the bottom part firmly planted on the floor!

Thanksgiving: Removing All Traces of Fall and Naked Front Room

To all who celebrate this American national holiday, Happy Thanksgiving, woo woo!

I HATE the gloom and the sub-freezing temperatures this time of year, and we've really gotten wolloped in SE Wisconsin. Early snow, windchills to zero and below zero, eeeuuuuuwwww!  What the Flying F? I've already pulled out my "light weight" (ahem) down walking coat.  In the old days, I think they were called "car coats."  They are constructed in such a way that if you get stuck overnight in a car you may lose your hands and feet to frostbite but you'll still be alive when the deputy sheriffs who patrol the roads here find you the next morning because your heart and lungs will still be pumping some blood to your brain. 

On the first day of my four-day Thanksgiving Weekend, I got up at my usual time (around 6 a.m.) and after doing a pile-up of dishes accumulated during the past week I pulled out the slow cooker and put together a beef burgundy for myself.  Target cooking time 6 hours.  I then set to clearing out the autumnal decor in the house.  Got everything packed away AND labeled, thanks to inspiration from Thrifty Decor Chick about getting organized and such.  Well, I'm sorta organized.  At least I should be able to remember that a cardboard box that reads FALL in black thick crayon writing means "Autumn" and not "Fall down the stairs, woman."  Check back with me next year.

Then I shoved around the furniture trying for a suitable arrangement since the recliner, which used to reside in the family room, is now in the front room.  It fits wells in here, it really does, and I love having it in here where I can catch a snooze across from the fireplace.

Naked Room:



But this is causing a problem now, because in addition to the recliner (which ain't going back into the family room, I worked my butt off dragging, tugging, hauling, shoving, pushing, grunting, sweating, etc. etc. to get it into the front room) I put the beautiful Queen Anne style console table I bought from my sister Yvonne next to the fireplace.

Something's got to give.  As you can see from this photo, the only logical place for the recliner is next to the fireplace.  But that means I have to remove the Queene Anne console.  Oh no!  LOVE that table. Shoot-a-boot!

BTW, tons of stuff piled up on the coffee table from the mantle/mantel, top of the curio cabinet and the Queen Anne console table.  I cannot believe I've go so much STUFF in this room.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Cardinal Christmas Tree!

Hola darlings!

My yard work fantasy for this weekend has been blown to smithereens (literally!) by a strong northwest wind bringing temperatures with wind chills of 10 above zero F to zero!  And tonight, down to 10 below zero, brrrrrrr!

My plans for the weekend being blown away, I decorated my Cardinal Christmas Tree instead. Prior post, with pictures.  Here is the finished tree:




I had intended to keep the tree as it was, with pre-wired white lights that are plugged into an outlet.  So, earlier this week, I decorated the tree with ALL of the cardinals (one dozen).  I loved how it looked!  But that cord.  Oh no no no.  I want to use the tree as a centerpiece on my dinette table.  Short of cutting a hole in my tablecloth and running the cord underneath it (with resulting bulge), and then taping a very long extension cord across, underneath the table, down the center support and across the floor to the nearest outlet - well, just wasn't working for moi. 

I briefly thought about putting the tree on the peninsula that separates my kitchen from dinette (there is a convenient outlet), but that's not what I wanted.

And so, Thursday lunch hour I ran to Walgreens downtown and hunted for battery-operated lights.  I did not want to order them on the internet - too expensive (I had done a lot of checking around).  Last year Walgreens had advertised three sets of 15-LED lights, battery-operated, for $10.  And sure enough, Walgreens had them again this year and I found them!  YAY!  I'm not a fan of the blue-ish/grey-ish light of LEDs, but for the price and convenience of being able to move my Cardinal Christmas Tree wherever I want to, I decided I would use them. For the price, it's worth it. And, if I get ambitious, I will pull out my watercolors and paint the outside of the lights with yellow/brown mixed to create a warmer glow of light.


Tree before being decorated, but with burlap wrap trimmed.
 
The mess I made - I tried to take the lights off the tree, but they were glued/
wired on, so in the end I snipped them off.  I saved the bulbs.  I did not want
the clutter of the existing lights in addition to the two sets I intended to add, not
on such a small tree, that's why I cut the original lights off.  As I worked,
tugging and snipping, one of the berry branches came loose and fell off.
Some of the "snow" also came off along with assorted greens that I wasn't
careful enough to poke out of the way of my scissors.
 
Battery-operated LED lights from Walgreens (I used 2 sets, but they were
3 for $10 so I bought 3) and small ornaments I picked up at the downtown
TJ Maxx on the way back to the office, just the right colors I wanted!

Lots of photos of the finished tree (I may tweak the ornaments a bit, you know how that goes):


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The battery packs for the two light-sets I put on the tree are taped underneath the overlap of the burlap wrap and hidden beneath the French wire ribbon I added.  I think next year, or even this year if I can find it, I will look for a suitably sized container (not an urn, they were too expensive!) in which to set the base and also tuck the battery packs, then I won't have to tape them to the burlap-wrapped base of the tree.

I'm very happy with how it turned out, but it really doesn't look much like my inspiration Cardinal Christmas Tree from Gump's (top image):

 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Stormy Weather - TONS of Stormy Weather!

Holy Hathor!  No sooner do I get home from my Sunday stroll from the Pick 'n Save than the tornado sirens go off -- all over the county just about simultaneously!  Freanking out scary - I barely got the grocery bags set down on the counter.  I was already wet from walking home in moderate rain; of course it wasn't raining at all when I set out about 40 minutes earlier!

Of course instead of dashing to the basement, I turned on the t.v. in one room and the radio in the kitchen and ran to the patio door to look for - get ready for it - my squirrels -- to make sure they were okay.  I'm steps away from the stairs to the basement and am ready to grab the computer and dash downstairs if necessary.

The storms are blowing up and blowing over quickly, between 55 and 60 miles per hour, and it's the classic tornado pattern, blowing in from the south/southwest toward the north/northeast and heading out across Lake Michigan.  The National Weather Service keeps extending the warning; when the sirens first went off the warning was in effect until 10:30 a.m.  Now it's been extended until 11:30 a.m.  And later today, when a cold front is expected through (starting around 4 p.m. according to latest forecasts) we're going to be under a strong wind advisory!  Great, just great. 

Okay, reports are coming in now of tornado touch-downs and damage to roofs, trees down, large blowing hail damage too.  There was no hail here, thank goodness, and there was more wind when I was walking home from the Pick 'n Save than there is now.  Onimously, there are areas of clear blue sky and the weather people are saying that is bad bad bad because it allows more heat into the clouds and increases the possibility of rotation and formation of tornados.

Now a new warning coming in, there is a second strong storm front coming in with a bullseye on Walworth County (to the southwest of Milwaukee County, where I am), and a report of a funnel cloud in Sturtevant, where my grandparents and aunts and uncles lived for many years.  I think I need to get to the basement now.  Later.

Update:
3:09 p.m.

The storms have finally blown over -- for now.  There is no damage around here, thank Goddess!  Everything is soggy but intact.  The sun came out for about 10 minutes and I ran to get photos of patches of blue sky before it disappeared again.  The temperature is beginning to drop.  This morning it was in the low 60's and the dew points were also in the 60's -- positively tropical for this time of year and a rare weather occurrence.  A large swatch of the Great Lakes region, however, was caught under the mega-umbrella of this storm system.

Looking to the southeast.  Cities to the southeast, including Cudahy, South
Milwaukee and Caledonia (in Racine County), got hammered badly by
this storm system.  I have leaves washed down in the curb that I'll have
to clean up -- once things dry out a little.  But maybe the winds that are
forecast to come along later (starting around 4 p.m. today) will blow them all away!
Looking to the south.
 
Looking to the north/northeast. 

I emerged from the basement after about 30 minutes of not having my ears pop and not having heard the "roaring train" sound that witnesses say accompany a tornado. I've never been in one and I don't ever want to be!  I have nightmares about them, horrible nightmares.  It is still thundering far to the east, out over Lake Michigan.

After I emerged from the basement it had stopped raining, so I quick dashed out to the garage, poured weed and feed into the spreader and headed to the front yard.  I only got in about 30 seconds worth of spread before it started raining - hard - again.  Drat!  But after 10 minutes it stopped raining long enough that I was able to complete doing my final weed and feed of the front lawn for the season.  Now if only I could get to my awfully messed up backyard.  Oh well.  The weather just is not cooperating.  It's difficult to rake wet leaves, let alone chop them up into smithereens with my mulching mower!  I can only hope that next weekend will be more conducive to yard clean-up.  It can be cold, it can be gloomy, but I must have it dry! 


Soggy backyard - lots of icky wet leaves to clean up.

In the time it has taken me to write this, put up the photos, and in-between times taking out a cheeseburger casserole from the oven and swap out two loads of laundry, it's clouded over and gotten dark once again.  Temperature continues to drop and the wind is picking up.  Drat!  It appears the forecast was spot on.  Holy Hathor!  Just hit with a BIG house-rattling windburst -- out of the northwest. Mother Nature has done a 180!  Great, just great.  Now I've got to worry about straight-line winds. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nigella's Tarragon Chicken

Hola darlings!

I had intended to finish cleaning up the backyard this weekend, but the weather is not cooperating.  While it is in the low 50's temperature wise today and tomorrow (before dipping back into the 30s  next week) and the walk to the Pick 'n Save extra-early this morning was pleasant (it wasn't yet raining hard), it is rainy and windy (will be increasing to consistent 30 mph later on today, and tomorrow), gloomy and grey.  Overall depressing and all I want to do is cook, drink gallons of cheap pink wine and snuggle up close to the fireplace whilst watching Property Brothers videos!

I looked for a recipe for tarragon chicken after I had a recollection that one of the chicken dishes my former roommate Connie and I made when we lived in that third-floor walk-up on Stowell Avenue was chicken tarragon.  I remembered the flavor, but not the name, even after all these years!  It was a memory that had to slowly percolate up through the layers of 34 or so years, and it took awhile, but it finally came into my conscious mind one day and said Voila! I am here!



Well then, I could not bring myself to ignore it :)

I stopped when I found Nigella Lawson's recipe - I think it is perfection, and how can one possibly improve it? [Ahem, see below..]

Until recently, I did not know who Nigella was.  But then I saw her on a television show on regular old commercial t.v. (I do not have cable) some months back with three other judges.  I don't remember the name of the show, but I fell in love with Nigella and how she cooks.  She was warm, friendly, empathetic, and totally down to earth.  I believe she is a big star in the United Kingdom.  When I saw that this recipe was hers and I read her description of it, there was no way I was NOT going to do my own attempt at it!

Here is Nigella's recipe

Ingredients

2 teaspoons garlic oil
2 fat scallions or 4 skinny ones, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon freeze-dried tarragon
2 chicken breast fillets, skinless and boneless
1/3 cup vermouth or white wine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh white pepper, to grind over
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus a pinch more for sprinkling (Note: if you cannot get fresh tarragon, double the amount of freeze-dried tarragon at the start of the recipe and add fresh chopped parsley at the end to taste.)

Directions

Heat the garlic oil in a frying pan or Dutch oven that has a lid and in which the chicken breasts will fit pretty snugly.  Add the scallions, stir, then sprinkle in the freeze-dried tarragon, stir again and gook them in the garlic oil for a minute, stirring some more as they cook.

Put the chicken fillets into the pan, curved side down, and cook for 5 minutes, watching the scallions don't burn.  If they look like they're beginning to, scrape them from the pan and let them sit on the chicken pieces.

Turn over the breasts, and add the vermouth (or white wine).  Let the vermouth bubble up, then add the salt.  Put the lid on, turn the heat down low and leave it to simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Check the chicken is cooked through by making a small cut into the thickest part and ensuring the juices run clear - if not, simmer for a few minutes longer and check again.

Remove the chicken breasts to warmed plates.  Bring the remaining liquid to a boil, add the cream and stir well, then sprinkle in the fresh tarragon, stir again and give a good grind of white pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts, and give a final scattering of tarragon to serve.

Trying to Improve Upon Perfection

Well, I wouldn't be me if I didn't add my own little bit to Nigella's excellent recipe.  I did not add extra-much -- only thinly sliced sauteed mushrooms.  They were on sale at the time I assembled the ingredients for my lemon chicken piccata, at $1.00 for an 8 ounce container of whole white button mushrooms.  In that recipe, I used about 1/2 the container of mushrooms, so I had 1/2 container left to use.  [Today when I checked the price, they were $2.00, YIKES!  For white button mushrooms.  What the hell is happening to this world, I ask you, when white button mushrooms cost $2.00 for 8 ounces.  Baby bellas whole were $1.99.  I opted to buy a container of baby bellas today, for better flavor and saved a penny in the process.  Unbelievable!]

I could not find white pepper at the Pick 'n Save, so I used my regular store-bought finely-ground black pepper, and I did not have garlic oil - can one actually buy garlic oil or is that something good cooks make for themselves???  I used olive oil with powdered garlic instead.

I hemmed and hawed about using vermouth or a sweet white wine.  In the end, I opted to buy a small bottle of sweet vermouth that will last me through several renditions of tarragon chicken!

Now here's some irony for you.  Not even thinking about looking for fresh tarragon at the Pick 'n Save, as I was going up and down the aisles looking for my ingredients when I got to the spices/baking/etc. aisle I bought a small plastic sprinkle jar of dried tarragon.  I have no idea what "freeze-dried" tarragon is, they sure don't sell it at my Pick 'n Save!  It was only as I was heading toward the check-out that the thought popped into my getting senile-brain to check the produce department and see if there was fresh tarragon available.  I looked and looked and then, in a corner really close to the fresh mushrooms where I had been earlier, there it was!  Ta da!  Fresh tarragon!  It was ridiculously expensive - $2.99 for a little plastic container thingy and it held way more than I was going to need, but I bought it anyway.  So now I have dried tarragon in my spice/miscellany cabinet and tonight I'm going to use up the rest of the now not-so-fresh tarragon that has been cooling its figurative heels in my fridge since I made this recipe the first time a few Saturdays ago.

I do not own a Dutch oven.  I knew my large frying pan would be too big to "fit the chicken fillets snugly" and my small frying pan would be too small for what I had in mind.  So, in a nod to the French origins of this wonderful dish, I pulled out one of my "French White" Corningware casserole dishes and used it to cook stove top.  It worked beautifully!

I have to tell you -- until I made this recipe and tried to follow it as faithfully as possible, I have NEVER COOKED WITH SCALLIONS!  Honest!  My Dad loved them -- he would eat them RAW, eeeuuuuwwwww!  Grandma Newton cooked with them all the time -- I remember watching her chop them up when I was a little girl.  But me, nope, wouldn't use them.  I think I had an ick aversion to the "hair" (roots) at the bulb ends, LOL! 

So, when it came to "thinly" slicing the scallions, I knew enough to cut off the hair, er, roots, but I wasn't sure how much of the long green part I could/should use!  I should have checked around online to learn how much of the green part of scallions to use before just diving into this recipe, but I didn't. I just thinly sliced until I'd used up about 2/3rd of the entire scallion, and discarded the rest of the greens.  Also, perhaps I did not slice the green part as thinly as I should have, because there seemed to be a lot of green in my dish.  But let me tell you, the dish tasted fabulously! 

And so now I am no longer afraid of cooking with scallions :)




Above are the chicken breasts I bought (all natural, Roundy's brand - today they were on sale for $1.99 a pound but they have a "must use" date of November 22, 2013 so that's why I'm making tarragon chicken tonight and freezing the rest of the chicken), my sliced button mushrooms (the remainder of an 8 ounce container, or about 4 ounces), my scalped scallions before I thinly sliced them, and my chopped up fresh tarragon. 

I used two of the three chicken breasts in the package, and they were big -- one chicken breast cut in half would have been enough for two meals for me!  So that's what I'm going to do tonight, butterfly one chicken breast and pound it a bit to even the halves out. 




Since I did not have garlic oil, I used some olive oil and tossed in garlic powder and stirred the dickens out of it so it didn't burn.  Then I tossed in the sliced scallions and some of the fresh tarragon and cooked for a few minutes before adding the sliced mushrooms.  My mistake was adding the mushrooms later in the cooking process.  I forgot how much water they add to a recipe!  Tonight when I make this dish I will saute the mushrooms separately in a small frying pan in a tiny bit of butter, set them aside and add them to the sauce after it is made, heating through.




Photo above is after "browning off" the two chicken breasts, adding the required ingredients (including vermouth) and then covering the casserole dish and reducing heat to low to poach the chicken for 10 minutes.  I checked the chicken after 10 minutes by using Nigella's method of slicing into the thickest part of the chicken breasts to see if the juices ran clear, and ended up cooking my "fat" chicken breasts another 2 or 3 minutes, slicing into them each time and watching the "juices" closely to see if they ran clear, until I was satisfied they were cooked through and at proper temperature inside (at least 165 F).  Maybe I need to buy myself a meat thermometer -- wouldn't that make the process a whole lot easier?  But I've never cooked like this in my life, I've never felt the need for a meat thermometer before.  OHMYGODDESS, what is happening to me?

See all that scrumptious brown fond building up on the bottom of the dish, oh YUM!

When the chicken had been fully cooked, I removed it and set aside:



Doesn't that look good, hm mm mmm!  Bits of fresh tarragon and scallion cling to it.

And then it was time to make the sauce!  All that was left to do was to add the heavy cream and a bit more of the fresh chopped tarragon:




I should have reduced more before adding the cream! When I make the dish tonight, I will reduce the liquid before adding the cream, sauteed mushrooms and chicken.



I simmered for some minutes until I judged the chicken was heated through again.

It was SOOOO fricking good, I can't even begin to describe it.  I made an absolute piggy of myself and gobbled down the smaller chicken breast with a tiny side salad of creamed cucumbers.  The larger chicken breast (on the right) was a leftover.  I got two meals out of it!  I sliced the chicken into about 1/4 inch "strips" and heated in the microwave in some of the sauce.  It was even better as a leftover because the tarragon flavor had penetrated into every single micron of mushrooms and chicken and sauce.

So, I'm looking forward to making this dish again tonight.  But I forgot to buy scallions!  But I have a medium-size sweet white onion that I picked up last night when I bought chili-fixings (I will make that on Sunday) and so I'll try the recipe using finely chopped sweet white onion rather than the scallions. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Want -- A Cardinal Christmas Tree

Hola!

I've been drooling over this Gump's cardinal-decorated artificial tree, used as a table-top centerpiece, for years:


But at $138, I just could not pull the trigger.  She's a beauty, though, and 31" tall in a nice faux-gilded pot, with battery-operated lights!

Last year, I started simmering on the idea of trying to create my own table-top cardinal holiday tree.  I looked around a bit, but - well, last year wasn't a very good year for moi.

But -- after recently looking through yet another Gump's catalog (this one was a holiday collection catalog) that Gump's strategically mails to me to make me wish I was rich and occasionally induces me to part with my hard-earned money, I could not get the cardinal tree out of my head.  I have a thing for cardinals, and I have been entertaining thoughts of doing a little bit of decorating in the back of the house (family room, dinette and kitchen, all open to each other), other simply than hanging ornaments from the light fixture above the dining table and from the pulls on the kitchen cabinet doors.  So, I decided it was time to go for it and make my own cardinal tree!

For more than a week I've been seriously looking around online for an artificial Christmas tree in an urn.  I found many, but none at a price I was willing to pay! Big Lots had a good deal in their flyer last weekend -- two 3-foot artificial pines in antiqued plastic urns for $30.  But Big Lots does not sell online and I have no way of getting to Big Lots since I do not drive.  A 3-foot tall tree was also taller than I wanted to go, as I'm planning on using the cardinal tree on my dining table for a centerpiece.

Soooo, I started looking for a 2 foot tall artificial tree in an urn or a tree and, separately, an urn I could put it in.  I found several cute artificial pine trees at good prices, but was not having much luck finding an urn that I was willing to pay the price for!  I also was keeping in mind whatever it might cost to buy some feathered cardinals to use as decorations, and a set or two of battery-operated lights.  Ach!

I was beginning to despair, but then I checked at Amazon.com to see if they had anything I might be able to use.

The short of the long of it is that I purchased an artificial 2-foot tall fluffy pine tree that has a burlap-wrapped base tied with twine  -- it is not in an urn or pot.  The vendor offered the same tree in a pot that looks a lot like the Gump's tree's pot for $8 more and I decided not to spend the extra money:




 I also purchased a set of 12 cardinal feathered ornaments that look remarkably like the cardinal ornaments that decorate the Gump's cardinal tree and are 5 1/2" in length from head to tail:




The lights on the tree I purchased are not battery-operated, so I'll have to run the cord across the table underneath a runner, add an extension cord clipped underneath the table and plug in to a nearby outlet.  Or I can bite the bullet and spend a little more money to buy a set or two of battery-operated white lights.  The cost thus far, with shipping and sales tax, for the tree and the cardinal ornaments was $60.  Shipping charges on the cardinals was outrageous!  The shipping charges on the Christmas tree were lower than what I paid in shipping for the cardinals.  Ach!  But it saves me time digging around locally for cardinals I may not like nearly as well, or that so resemble the cardinals used on the inspiration tree, so I won't complaint too loudly.

Depending on how the tree looks once decorated, I might also add additional red berry picks and possibly some faux boxwood picks or something similar. 

I love the snow-frosted look on the branches and the rustic look of the burlap-wrapped base!  I will place the tree on something in the center of the table to elevate it a few inches; the Gump's tree is 31" tall; I did want (and got) something shorter than that.  What I bought was not at the bargain-basement price I was hoping for, but I'm quite pleased and I think it's going to look great once I get it all together :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Trying My Hand at Making Lemon Chicken Piccata

Hola!

My cooking frenzy continues.  I tried my hand at lemon chicken.  I remember from ages ago, when Connie and I were roommates in that big old third-floor walk-up on Stowell Avenue on Milwaukee's fashionable east side doing entertaining. One of the dishes we made together was a chicken dish, my recollection is that it was baked and it had anise and lemon in it.  I thought it was lemon chicken but, I think I did not do the right kind of search.  I searched lemon chicken, and I think perhaps I should have searched for Greek (?) chicken instead.

Anyway, I found dozens of lemon chicken recipes and quickly selected one that sounded easy enough for me to create. I tried my hand at it, with some changes. 

I will definitely make this dish again!  Loved it! 

Here's the recipe I utilized as the base for my own take on Lemon Chicken Piccata

Ingredients

3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves 

I bought range-fed Perdue chicken (no hormones injected into the chickens).  The idea of no chemicals appealed to me greatly, and I was willing to pay up for it.  Two of the chicken breasts were nice sized and the third one was much smaller.  I forget the weight of the chicken breasts I bought, but since there were three, I figured I would have left overs (I did).  The price was $5.72 for the three chicken breasts.  Yeah, sticker shock.  Feeding just myself, with left overs, was okay. But feeding a family with chemical free chicken, tres expensive.  This makes me so angry!  Why does our food have to be so contaminated?

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed.  I used extra extra virgin olive oil.  It does, however, give a distinct flavor different than vegetable oil, so if you don't like olive oil, use vegetable oil.

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 clove garlic -- I don't use enough garlic to buy it fresh, so I used powdered dried garlic instead.  Probably anathema to devoted cooks!  I'm not much of a garlic fan so I probably did not use near enough to equal a clove of fresh sauteed garlic.

1 lemon, thinly sliced, zest it first and squeeze out all the  juice, set juice and zest aside.  Pick out whatever seeds get through your fingers when you squeeze the lemon halves

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
I used dried parsley instead, the regular old garden variety kind from the supermarket in the shake container

I added thinly sliced green pepper (I LUV green pepper), sauteed about 4 ounces of thinly sliced button mushrooms that I bought because they were on sale, and a small can of sliced black olives

I used a heavy aluminum skillet and cooked the dish on the stove top

Preparation

Cooking the Veggies and Chicken

Cut chicken breasts into 1/2 inch medallions.  I cut mine into about 1 inch cubes. Presentation wise, cutting the chicken breasts in medallions would have been prettier.  I'll do that next time :)

Cut green pepper and mushrooms into thin slices and begin sauteeing in olive oil (or vegetable oil) with lemon slices.  Add a scant dash of salt to the peppers and mushrooms while sauteeing and add half the lemon zest.

I also added a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of diced sweet onion to the pan and cooked everything for a few minutes before adding the cubed chicken.






Season chicken with pepper and garlic powder in separate prep dish, add a dash of salt (just a dash because I added salt when I added sliced black olives near the end of cooking everything) and then add to pan with half-sauteed veggies. 




Cook over medium to medium-low heat along with green peppers and mushrooms until chicken is browned on the outside and begins to shrink in size.  Turn off heat and remove chicken, green peppers, lemon slices and mushrooms from pan with a slotted spoon. 






Set aside.

Making the Sauce

Turn heat back on under frying pan and add chicken broth, remaining lemon zest and all of the lemon juice.  Reduce by at least 1/3rd (I like my sauce thicker, so I reduced it more).   If you're a cautious cook like I tend to be and use a lower level of fire, it will take longer.  If you're brave and use a higher level of fire, just watch carefully :)






Stir the mixture and scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to deglaze the fond.  Once desired reduction of chicken broth is achieved, add butter to pan and rapidly stir in with fork or use a whisk.  Don't let it get brown, reduce heat if necessary and stir stir stir. 




Turn heat off.

Remove cooked lemon slices from chicken and veggies.  Add cooked chicken and veggies back to pan along with whatever juice has collected at the bottom of the saving dish, turn heat back on and bring to boil for a minute or two to bring everything back to heat and coat with the sauce. 




I then turned the fire off and sprinkled the food with parsley, quickly turning it into the chicken, veggies and sauce.  Serve on the side or spooned over your favorite cooked and hot carbohydrate (these days I favor basmati rice). 

Or make a lazy woman's casserole and pour (or mix) the whole shebang over (or into) a couple cups of your favorite cooked rice, and serve (this is what I did with the leftovers).


The final result!  YUM!

The lemon scent and flavor were irresistable!  Chicken was moist and tender, veggies added color and flavor.  Butter - well, what can I say about butter?  It adds calories (but not trans-fat) and also adds great flavor, as well as being a traditional thickening agent.  I didn't try this, but if you don't want to add butter perhaps a sluice of water and cornstarch would work to thicken the sauce.

I had a lot of leftovers.  When I make this recipe again I will use only two chicken breasts and adjust the recipe.

Low sodium broth is a must-use if you add black olives, otherwise I think the dish would turn out too salty.  It was borderline salty for me as I made it, so when I used my leftovers, I cooked and added rice and turned it all into a casserole -- but -- I am on a low sodium diet for health reasons for many years now, so maybe I notice the presence of salt more.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stuffed Green Peppers - Success!

Lately, the weather has affected me. It's made me want to COOK!  This year, I seem to have caught some kind of cooking virus. In a short period of time I've turned out my apple crumb top pie, a Shepherd's pie and, on the night of November 2, I tried my hand at stuffed green peppers!

This is a LONG-WINDED (typical) Jan post, so if you want to cut to the hunt, scroll down to where I start the recipe.

I only ever attempted stuffed green peppers one time a few years ago, and they turned out yechy! I don't know what on earth I did to them, but they were NOT GOOD. I put them out in the back yard for the raccoons and event they didn't want them, that's how yechy they turned out.

So I do not know what possessed me last Thursday night that put the thought of stuffed green peppers into my head. But I just had to try it.  I looked around online for a new recipe (since the old one was a disaster).  Every single one seemed to be for SIX stuffed green peppers. Geez!

The next night, I got off the bus after a long, hard day at the office,  and hit that Pick 'n Save like a tornado. Green peppers were on sale for $1.25 a pound (outrageously high price, I know but better than the $1.99 a pound a few weeks ago) and I picked out two nice ones - not the largest but even green and firm, no soft spots.  I wanted to make two peppers. I had Basmati rice at home. I picked up a pound of ground beef, a small can of tomato paste and a small can of tomato sauce, and one smallish size sweet onion. My intention was to make two stuffed green peppers using 1/2 the ground beef and save the rest for burgers.

Well things didn't turn out exactly the way I planned. I had a recipe picked out to try but it was for SIX peppers. I did my best to cut the recipe down two-thirds (to two peppers) coming home on the bus that night, with buddy Thelma beside me to help with the "math."

Well, silly moi. As I read through the recipe, I realized that it called for cutting the peppers in half and using both the tops and the bottoms. That didn't seem right to me, but I was game. I cut one pepper in half and cleaned it up with little problem; the second pepper, though, I slashed through the top and gouged out a part of it, too large to try and "patch" by attempting to plug it up with the chunk of flesh that I'd accidentally cut out (sharp knives do have drawbacks sometimes). So, I ended up with three half-peppers. LOL!

Not to worry. The recipe that I was using called for finely diced green or red peppers to go into the beef and rice mixture used to stuff the peppers, so that's what I did with part of the ruined "half," and what I did not finely chop up for the meat/rice mixture I cut into chunks and tossed into the baking dish before putting it into the oven. Waste not, want not.

Here is the recipe for TWO stuffed green peppers (or four peppers cut into halves) (the original was for SIX, or three peppers cut into halves):

Prepping the Green Peppers

2 green bell peppers. 
Remove stem, cut each pepper in half across widest part, clean out seeds and base of stem (it was hard to clean out the stem base on the inside of the pepper with a knife.  I resorted to a spoon and scraped, but there was still some "hard stuff" left behind where the stem attached to the inner skin of the plant.  I just left it and after baking the peppers, made sure to remove that portion of the cooked "tops" when I ate them!)

Set a pot of water to boiling large enough to hold all 4 pepper halves.  When water is boiling, put in the cleaned green pepper halves and blanch for 2 to 3 minutes.  Watch for the peppers to turn a "bright" green and scoop them out with a slotted spoon or tongs, rest on a towel or paper towels "bottoms" up to drain excess water and set aside.  Peppers will be "al dente," not cooked all the way through.

Rice

I used my favorite rice, that I learned about from a blog!  Basmati rice.  I found a brand at the Pick 'n Save, Lundberg (California White), that I fell in love with the very first time I tried it, and now it's the only rice I use.  Before Lundberg's Basmati, I was a cheapo instant rice kind of gal.  Oh I know, the horror, the horror...

I made the "two servings" recipe (1/2 cup rice, 3/4 cup of water, dash salt, a bit of butter), bring water to a boil, add rice, salt and butter, stir to bring back to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, firmly cover, and leave it alone for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, still covered.  After 10 minutes, remove cover and "fluff" rice with a fork.  It has worked every time for me, and I used to regularly ruin rice I tried to cook from scratch.  But this rice, it's like a miracle!  And it's delicious, too.  I haven't measured it out but I believe this makes about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice.

Set rice aside.

Ground Beef Mixture

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil to add some richness of flavor) to brown everything in
1/2 pound ground beef
1/3rd cup finely chopped onion (sweet or yellow; I used more onion, about 2/3rds cup)
1/3rd cup finely chopped green pepper (for a sweeter mix, use red bell peppers)
1/3rd tablespoon minced garlic (I'm lazy, I used about 1/3 tablespoon of garlic powder)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.  I cheated.  I used dried parsley. 
1/4 teaspoon salt (I thought this was too little salt, and the mixture did not taste right when I tried it after the meat/onions/green peppers mixture was cooked, so I added about two or three teaspoons of Worchestershire sauce [did not measure exactly, I would put a dash in, stir, taste, add more, stir, taste, until I thought it tasted right].  You can add more salt, or use Worchestershire sauce, which gives a more complex flavor while adding salt.)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (less if you don't like black pepper)
1 small can tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce (when I make it again, I will use a regular size of tomato sauce, will explain why below)

 In skillet, heat oil, add chopped onions, chopped peppers and garlic (or garlic seasoning). Cook over medium high to medium heat until softened.  Reduce heat and add ground beef. Cook over medium heat until ground beef is browned, breaking up ground beef with wooden spoon (or your favorite utensil). 

DO NOT DRAIN cooked ground beef.

When ground beef is browned, add the cooked rice, salt, pepper, can of tomato paste and optional Worchester sauce and cook over low heat until well blended.  Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.  This mixture turns out thick, and you may want to add some of the tomato sauce to it to "juice" it up a little as well as add an extra dimension of tomato flavor.  Just add a little, if you do add extra.  The rest of the tomato sauce will be used - see below. I will add some extra tomato sauce to the beef/rice mixture the next time I make this recipe. I also rinsed out the tomato paste can with an ounce or two of water mixed with a spoon to get every last bit of goodness out of that can that I could.  Oh I know, frugal to the extreme!  But I learned this from my Grandma Newton.  She fed her family of six children and Grandpa Newton during the Great Depression.  Those lessons of how to make a little into more "stuck." 

Set meat/rice mixture aside.

Putting It All Together and Baking

Pour some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the peppers so they stand more or less upright.  If you want more "gravy" after the peppers are cooked, add more tomato sauce
Place cut pepper "halves" into a baking dish (I used a round casserole dish) and tomato sauce
Stuff each pepper "half" with the ground beef/rice mixture.  Since I only had three "half" peppers, mine had extra piled-up stuffing (and I had to adjust my baking time accordingly).  If you have four "half" peppers, you should have enough filling to fill them generously unless you used smallish green peppers, in which case you will need to adjust your baking time
After stuffing peppers, pour remainder of tomato sauce over tops of stuffed peppers

This is what my peppers looked like before I put them in the oven:




Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Bake peppers uncovered 25 to 30 minutes
Check to see if tomato sauce is bubbling on the sides.  If it is, turn oven off, remove baking dish and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve peppers hot and scoop "sauce" over tops if desired.

If there is no bubbling in the baking dish when you check after 25/30 minutes, increase heat to 400 degrees F and bake additionally in 10 minute increments until bubbling occurs, then turn heat off and remove baking dish from oven. Rest for 10 minutes.  Serve. 

This is what my peppers looked like after baking, just before I dug in (with a little bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the tops):




YUM!  I was absolutely delighted with how this recipe turned out.  When I make it again, I will add a little more Worchester sauce to the beef/rice mixture and more tomato sauce to the baking dish and over the tops of the stuffed peppers.  Otherwise, it was utterly delicious!  I scarfed these peppers down over 4 days (supper, lunch, supper) and each pepper "half" was so filled, it was a meal in and of itself.  I'm not Master Chef material, but I would serve these stuffed green peppers to anyone not a vegetarian!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grocery Shopping, Lamp Angst, Stuffed Green Peppers and Yearning for a Chain Saw

Hola everyone!  This is a long post, part rant, part news, part whatever.  Settle in with your beverage of choice and (I hope you will) enjoy. 

Just got back from the Pick 'n Save -- what a MOB scene, geez!  I left the house at 3 p.m. figuring it wouldn't be quite so crowded.  WRONG.  Seems no matter what time I go on Saturday it is crowded crowded crowded.  I wouldn't mind so much if people would not block the aisles so that those of us who know exactly what she needs and wants to get in and out of the blasted place with a minimum of hassle (like moi).  You know what I'm talking about -- they stand on one side of the aisle looking for something while their cart is parked on the other side of the aisle.  They ignore you (and countless others) as you approach and unless you shout EXCUSE ME they refuse to move. Sometimes they refuse to move anyway. Extremely irritating.  Screaming children, also extremely irritating.  They should be removed to the car, muzzled or left home with dad.  Infants are one thing; babies will cry and like many other females, when I hear an infant wailing my first instinct is to run toward the sound and find out what is wrong; toddlers and bratty ill-mannered seven year olds are a different thing entirely.  I appreciate that parents are able to block out (as in going totally deaf and blind) even the most horrible obnoxiousness on the part of their precious offspring, but the rest of us bratless are left to suffer.  The little monsters usually steer clear of me though, because I give them the EVIL QUEEN STARE.  In extreme cases, I rub my hands together and lick my lips like I'm going to EAT them as I "pop" my eyes out at them.  Mom doesn't notice, of course.  She's too busy blocking the aisle. 

While I was searching for lemon juice, I came across a little boy who was playing with the Ramin Noodles packages.  He was having a lovely time smashing them together - BANG BANG BANG - and them smashing them back on to the shelves, arranged in an order only he could appreciate.  I saw no evidence of a parent ANYWHERE.  As I stood there watching him for close to a minute, he seemed totally oblivious to me.  I was not only horrified by the boy's behavior, I was horrified at the thought that any pervert could have walked off with him in a matter of seconds and no one would ever know.  Parents, PLEASE leave your kids at home if you are not going to properly take care of them while out and about.

Okay, enough ranting about shopping with idiots.  No doubt I've made countless enemies out of moms who haul their kids to the supermarket and let them loose on an unsuspecting and weary world.  That's fine.  I don't like YOU (or your nasty offspring), either. 

I wrote recently about the "stacked elephants" lamp I recently bought from Kirkland's.  I had purchased the lamp specifically for my desk in the front room.  It arrived.  I unpacked it, put the shade on, popped in a light bulb, and put it on my desk.  First on the left side, but I did not like that because the elephants had their heads turned toward the wall rather than toward the center of the desk; then on the right side, where the elephants were now facing inward toward the desk, but the balance was incredible off!  Here's a picture:




I moved accessories around, and even thought about removing my Medieval map of England from the wall and putting something else up, but in the end I decided it was just easier to move the lamp somehwere else.  The scale of the lamp compared to the area just was not working.

So, after experimenting a bit, here is where the lamp found a new home:


Queen Anne console and stacked elephant lamp in the morning.

Yep, I moved the Queen Anne console from the dinette to my bedroom, and from my bedroom back downstairs to take her place on the right side of the fireplace.  I've probably broken a thousand decorating no-no's not only with my arrangement on the table top but with my arrangements of the furniture and accessories on that wall as well, but it works for me :)  I love my stacked elephants lamp!  I can feast my eyes upon it Sunday mornings when I sit in this room for hours reading nearly every bit of the Sunday newspaper whilst sipping my coffee, and in the evenings when she is lit, she casts an intimate glow through her burlap covered shade up and down the walls in the corner.  Here she is just a few minutes ago (it's 5:15 p.m. as I'm typing this):




This is my view across the room when I turn to the right in my desk chair.  Please ignore the tinfoil underneath the legs of the coffee table.  I gave the table a good cleaning and polishing earlier and put the tinfoil underneath the legs so I wouldn't have to worry about getting stuff on the rug underneath. Look at the glow cast by my elephants! 

Some of you may be familiar with this "I bought a new thing into the room and now the rest of the room needs to be totally redone" syndrome from which I am suffering right now.  Sigh.  I got my lovely stacked elephants lamp after months of thinking about her and now, lo and and behold, after shuffling around the other lamps in the room, I am not happy with them.  Alas, it seems that the lure of Kirkland's lovely lamps has cast a spell upon me...

I have spent an inordinate amount of time lately at Kirkland's online ogling their table lamps.  I have narrowed my choices to two -- both are on sale but won't be for much longer.  One is $19.99 and the other is $24.99 and I like them both.  Maybe I should just buy them both and put the two lamps I have in here now in storage until I can sell them (that is a whole 'nother story worthy of its own post).  I don't know why I'm so reluctant to pull the trigger on the purchase(s).  Perhaps it is the dichotomy of the lamps?  One is light, and one is dark.  I mean - come on!  Am I never to have any piece (pun pun - peace) from the black and white of the chessboard, where the never-ending clash of the alleged battle between evil and good (or good and evil, as you prefer) has raged since the dawn of mankind? 

On the side of the White Queen we have, appropriately enough, Kirkland's Old Cross Ivory Table Lamp:



She is 21-1/4 inches tall and has a hardback shade in white satin, with cross charm.  She is on sale right now for $19.99. The cross charm is shaped like a Crusader's cross (cross of the Knights Templar).  After the Knights Templar were outlawed by the greedy "saintly" King of France in about 1344, that shape of cross was appropriated by pirates who roamed the seven seas.  Some say it was the Templars themselves who roamed the seven seas with their cross anathema boldly flying for all to see.

The Dark Knight makes his appearance with appropriate flourishes:




This is the Isaac bronze lamp from Kirkland's, on sale for $24.99.  He is 22-1/2 inches tall with a hardback bell shade in tan linen.  This lamp also features a gold-toned charm decorating the shade, as well as raised gold-tone decorations on the faux-bronze finish of the lamp, and a fleur de lis finial. 

The shapes of both lamps are classic.  The Dark Knight lamp reminds me of Chinese design in its form and base.  Note how face on, the Dark Knight features a five-point design, five being a number of "masculine" power in ancient Chinese iconography, pre-dating the Han Dynasty (circa 220 BCE - 240 CE).  Around the entire lamp, however, there are probably 12 designs total around the body of the lamp base (4 around the top, 1 centered on each of the 4 sides, and 4 around the bottom).  The White Queen lamp uses an ancient open weave design that has been around since mankind first started making mats and baskets out of grasses, rushes and reeds.  Amazingly, remnants of offering maps woven from rushes have survived in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back about 5,000 years ago.  The ancient Persians were probably the first culture to elevate the art of "the weave" to hardscape tile designs, which were spread throughout much of the ancient Old World through trade in circa 630 to 720 CE. 

Hmmmm, looking at these lamps yet again but close together here, I'm pretty sure that if I buy any lamp,  it will be the Dark Knight. 

Lately, the weather has affected me.  It's made me want to COOK!  So much so, I've written a whole post just about the stuffed green peppers I made last night.  Tonight I'm going to try my hand at lemon chicken.  The idea came over me while I was manuveuring my way through the mobs of obnoxious shoppers earlier today at the Pick 'n Save, talk about INSANE!  I have NO idea how to make lemon chicken.  NONE.  But that didn't stop me.  Read the next posts if you want to dive into my insanity with me.



THIS is the sight that greeted me just before 7 a.m. Monday morning.  Sometime between 4 and 4:30 a.m., there was a big whoosh of wind, strong enough and loud enough to wake me up, and in my half-awake fog I heard a loud THUMP CLUNK.  At first I thought it was the raccoon jumping up on the table to look for hazlenuts (I put them up there for the squirrels, out of the reach of the chipmunks), but then I thought no sensible animal would be out in that storm and it was probably the chairs and/or table blowing over (not yet packed away off the deck for the winter).

I was wrong!  It was this big honking branch that came down and somehow, miraculously, did not take the electric, telephone, U-Verse or cable wires down with it!



So, what's a single woman who works outside the home 40 hours plus a week to do?  She leaves the mess until the weekend, of course!  The weather is NOT cooperating, though.  Today was crappy. Tomorrow is supposed to be dryer, so after our investment club meeting, I'll change into junk clothes and tackle said small tree with my hand-saw, loppers and clippers.  Sigh.  Several hours of work ahead of me.  Well, at least yard waste pick-up is this coming Tuesday so I can get rid of the carcass quickly.  I wish I were not so absolutely terrified of things like chain-saws.  I sure could use one to make short work of this small tree.  Last year I went through much the same thing, slowly hacking away at three large limbs that came down during a series of wind storms that followed one another, just like the past week.

I hate this climate.