I miss my peaceful mornings. Wake up when the sun rises, pet the cat at the top of the stairs, feed the cat, have a cup of coffee, read my email, put away the dishes, start the laundry. Quiet and peaceful!
I used to love my nice quiet mornings. Wake up at will, make coffee, feed the cat and then check email or write on my blog. Head out to my art studio to paint.
How would I know that getting a puppy would change my entire life? My serene home now has a kennel by the front door, a 17-foot fence to block off the living room, a crate in the laundry room and a jillion dog toys and bones and a bed floating throughout the rest of the downstairs spaces. The doors to any other rooms are closed and there is a gate to close off the upstairs. In the back yard is another kennel for potty training.
The guilt of leaving the dog in the crate makes me jump out of bed the minute I wake up. Goodbye, leisurely mornings.
The cat constantly teases the dog, so the dog is always chasing the cat. Keep in mind the cat weighs more than the dog. This is most likely the first time I have ever regretted that our cat was declawed.
Our puppy came from “Farmland” and she, as you can see, is adorable, but buying from a store has some additional challenges. She has Giardia which is not fun. She started getting diarrhea about day three, so we have been to the vet several times. I don’t think I need to describe in more detail, but we did move the in-house kennel from the nice light gray wood floors to the tile by the entry. The liquid medicine is not her favorite, so this morning, I am not sure if more went down her throat or all over the floor. I am wondering how you could mix it with peanut butter so she likes it. No, I think I will just let my husband have this joy (job) for the next few days.
I read that giving her rice and boiled chicken might help diarrhea, so I made up several batches. The first two batches went well, but the third was a little more stuck together. Well, it became a toy, and as she played with it, batting it throughout the dining room, kitchen and hall as it deteriorated in small clumps. It only took a half-hour to sweep and vacuum it all up, while both the cat and dog chased me trying to eat it.
So my quiet and serene morning began, by running the dog outside to pee, coming in, noticing more pee on the wood floor, that she must have snuck that in earlier when my husband let her out at 5 AM; feeding the cat, chasing the ball of rice-chicken around the house, cleaning up poop in the entry, cleaning the chicken/rice more and then I finally got to make a cup of coffee.
As I am making the coffee, the dog makes a run at the 17-foot fence, knocking it over and scaring itself. Uprighting a 17-foot fence is not the easiest thing to do, but I did and it is now held in position by two of my dining room chairs.
It’s an hour later and I finally get my first cup of coffee.
I turn seventy this week, and though I am generally high energy, I wonder if I have enough to deal with a cat and a new puppy at this age.
I have actually had a couple painting classes and done a little Urban Sketching, just no time to post.
It doesn’t have to be fancy to be a little more efficient.
Whether you learned to cook from your parents, taught yourself on YouTube, or graduated from a culinary program, we all have certain ways about moving about the space of a kitchen. Some of those are deeply ingrained, and you might not even realize that you’re doing them. Some of them might be thanks to the space that you’re working in, or the particular mechanics of the food you prepare at home. A culinary techniques program might help you to step back and reassess the way that you use your kitchen and make cooking easier.
Having proper equipment is important. A good sturdy bowl and cutting board will make your life easier. How you organize your space and move through it might be one of the first things to change in your kitchen. Here are a few good kitchen habits that will help.
Read the Recipe All the Way Through First
This might seem like really obvious advice to you, sort of like “measure twice, cut once.” But it’s easy to glance through the list of ingredients and the basic preparation without looking through the whole recipe, only to realize that it requires more time or different equipment than you have on hand. It’s equally easy to miss what turns out to be a crucial step when you’re working quickly and haven’t seen it before. Take time and read it, and get into the habit of always doing that before you even set off to the grocery store, and it will save you a lot of hassle.
Invest in Kitchen Towels
At the beginning of every class for my culinary program, I would set up my station, which meant cleaning and sanitizing my workspace, setting up my knives and tools, grabbing a giant cutting board from a rack, and folding a stack of side towels into quarters so I could easily grab them. I went through probably five towels a class, and we used them for everything. They act as potholders and as an easy way to stabilize a bowl you’re whipping cream or to put under your cutting board to keep it in place. At the end of class, we put them in a giant laundry bag.
At home, it’s easy to be precious about your kitchen towels, which are often printed with something decorative. If you don’t have kitchen towels that you don’t mind staining, grab some cheap ones at Home Goods or TJX Maxx. Keep a stack of them easily available to you while you work. Use a towel or two each time you’re doing serious cooking, and then throw it in the wash. It’ll cut down a lot on your paper towels, and you’ll always have something handy to insulate your hand from a hot pan or wipe up a small spatter.
Hone Your Knife Often
A dull knife is an enemy of even knife cuts, and of your fingers. But people tend to concentrate far more on sharpening their knives than honing them, and honing can maintain your knife’s sharpness a lot more easily. When you sharpen a knife, you’re actually taking a small amount of the material off the blade of the knife to return it to its edge. Unless you’re using your knife very heavily every day you probably don’t need to sharpen your knife more than once or twice a year. Instead, you can realign the blade using a honing rod, and help extend the sharpness of your knives. It helps to hone it fairly often when you’re cooking, whenever you feel the blade begin to drag a bit. And it’s much cheaper than buying a new knife.
Now I personally found this advice off, as I re-sharpen mine every time I use it.
Have a Trash Bowl
When you’re prepping vegetables or meat, designate a bowl nearby that you can put scraps from your cutting board into. That way you don’t have to interrupt your workflow by running to dump things into the trash every few minutes, and you can more clearly see what kind of scraps you’re working with and whether they’d be useful for something like a chicken stock later on.
In my kitchen the trash is right below where I cut and chop, so I finish I just scrap it into the trash, but I was lucky enough to design my own kitchen.
Keep Two Olive Oils on Hand
Olive oil is one of the things you tend to go through a lot of in the kitchen if you cook a lot, and though it would be nice use extremely nice olive oil for everything, it doesn’t make sense, or even for the flavors of lots of things. For that reason have one more affordable but still good olive oil on hand for everyday tasks like cooking eggs or vegetables, and one higher-end one in a smaller bottle for drizzling over salad or good bread, when the flavor is really pronounced. For every day, California Olive Ranch’s Every Day Extra Virgin Olive Oil makes a great oil that’s available and affordable, and for when I want something peppery and a little nicer, reaching Gaea’s DOP Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Use what tastes good to you and what you can afford. Just make sure that you’re storing it well and use it within a few months. Otherwise, no matter how nice your oil is, it’ll go rancid.
Keep Your Salt Easily Accessible and Use It Liberally
The single easiest thing you can do to make yourself a better cook is to put the salt you use for seasoning in a bowl, rather than keeping it in a shaker or a container with a pour spout. It’s a really good habit to get into because you can more easily add pinches or palmfuls of salt into what you’re making and get a feel for how much you need for it to taste right. It’s also easy to be afraid of adding salt for fear of making a dish too salty. When you’re seasoning a dish, using salt is what makes the ingredients taste more like themselves.
Weigh, Don’t Measure
This is another adage that you’ve probably heard, but it is shocking how much a kitchen scale can make a difference in your whole cooking and baking game. But the measuring spoons and cups are probably right there, and well, it’s easier to reach for them. Make it easy to reach for the scale and a bowl, and you’ll get in the habit of doing that for ingredients that really need to be precise, like flour or sugar when baking.
Prep Before You Start Cooking
No one has unlimited times in their lives. It’s a normal thing to want to start the dish and the cut up the carrots or celery or whatever to go into it. And it’s a strategy that can work, or it can leave you frantically hacking at the tomatoes while the onions go from brown to burned in the pan. If you have your ingredients measured and prepped before you start, it’s going to make the cooking process that much smoother. There’s often room in recipes for you to cut and prep things while something else is simmering, a thing you’ll discover when you read the recipe all the way through. But at least prepare the things you know you’re going to need immediately, or during a time-sensitive step in the process. Leave the garnish for later.
Pay Attention to Ingredient Temperature
Can you use the egg straight from the refrigerator or does it need to come to room temperature? In baking, you’ve probably run into butter that needs to be softened or melted and cooled before incorporating it into a batter. Other cooking is the same way, particularly when it comes to proteins. Letting your meat come to room temperature will help it cook more evenly, and having your water hot or cold before you add it can alter the outcome of what you’re making. Making a mental note to keep tabs on how warm things are while your working is a good habit to get into.
It was snowing like crazy here today so no going to the grocery store. I had thawed out some chicken and wanted to make something that felt like “comfort food”. My German mother-in-law used to make this when she would come to visit and I have always loved it. She cooked her chicken in tomato sauce and just added the spaetzle at the end, but I like cooking them separately. It always brings back very fond memories of her cooking in the kitchen when my three sons were little. They always baked together.
- 4 tablespoons butter, cubed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons paprika, divided
- 1 broiler/fryer chicken (2-1/2 to 3 pounds), cut up
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons capers with juice
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (you can also use whole wheat flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cup milk or water + more as needed (milk produces a richer Spaetzle) (add more flour if the dough is too runny, add more milk or water if it’s too stiff)
- 1. In a heavy skillet, saute chopped onions until tender. Set aside.
- 2. In a large plastic resealable bag, combine flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika; add chicken, a few pieces at a time and shake to coat.
- 3. Place chicken in skillet; brown on all sides. Add the salt, parsley, broth and remaining paprika. Cover and cook over low heat until juices run clear, about 45 minutes.
- 4. For spaetzle, in a large bowl, stir the flour, eggs, milk, salt and baking powder until smooth (dough will be sticky). In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Pour dough into a colander or spaetzle maker coated with cooking spray; place over boiling water.
- 5. With a wooden spoon, press dough until small pieces drop into boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes or until dumplings are tender and float. Remove with a slotted spoon; toss with butter.
- 6. Remove chicken from skillet; set aside. In the same skillet, stir in the sour cream, capers and juice and onions. Return chicken to the skillet and gently heat through. Place spaetzle on a platter and top with chicken. Serve with sauce.
I found out a week or so ago that the residents at our local Senior Center love sweets. Well, I love to cook, so am going to try to make weekly treats for them. This morning I dropped off Chocolate Chip Cookies with pecans and Peanut Butter Cookies. Here are the recipes I used:
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans or chopped toasted walnuts
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl.
Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds.
Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.
Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.
Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
Our perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe had to produce a cookie that would be moist and chewy on the inside and crisp at the edges, with deep notes of toffee and butterscotch to balance its sweetness. Melting the butter gave us the chewiness we were looking for. Cutting back on the flour and eliminating an egg white also improved texture and brought the brown sugar flavor to the fore.
To give our chocolate chip cookie recipe the crisp edges and toffee flavor we wanted, we let the sugar dissolve in the batter for 10 minutes, then baked the cookies at a high temperature so the edges darkened while the centers stayed so.
2/2 Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still so, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway.
Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
These cookies have a strong peanut flavor that comes from extra-crunchy peanut butter (in our taste test we preferred Jif) as well as from roasted salted peanuts that are ground in a food processor and worked into the dough. In our testing, we found that salted butter brings out the flavor of the nuts. If using unsalted butter, increase the salt to one teaspoon.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter, preferably Jif, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup roasted salted peanuts, ground in food processor to resemble bread crumbs, (about 14 pulses)
1. Adjust ovens rack to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes with electric mixer, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Beat in peanut butter until fully incorporated, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Gently stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture. Add ground peanuts; stir gently until just incorporated.
4. Working with generous 2 tablespoons each time, roll dough into 2-inch balls. Place balls on parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving 2 1/2inches between each ball. Press each dough ball twice with dinner fork dipped in cold water to make crisscross design.
5. Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking time (from top to bottom racks and back to front) until cookies are puffed and slightly brown along edges but not on top, 10 to 12 minutes. (Cookies will not look fully baked.) Cool cookies on cookie sheet until set, about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack with a wide spatula to cool completely.
Last year I challenged myself to read 75 books in the year and made it, finishing the last two in December. This year I am attempting, and I do say attempting a different type of challenge. I bought the book by Kevin McPhearson called “Reflection of a Pond”
For a little over a year, he painted the pond in his back yard. I thought it might be a great idea to work on my brushwork and color skills in my artwork. I live on a beach with a beautiful view. Depending on the day, I see the mountains, amazing sunrises, boats, people, the marina and love the view every day. I am going (to try) to paint my view at some angle every day this coming year.
The paintings will be small at 5″ x 7″ and I am not going to only focus on part of the view, because as I see it there are three sections to my view. To the right and mostly south, I see a park and a small falling apart dock. In the middle, I see the break-water and a few boats and off to the left is the marina where the ferries come in and out.
I started this six days ago on January 16th, and in all honesty am a little overwhelmed by the idea. I decided I was not going to set up my easel in my living room, but take photos and paint them from my Ipad in my studio. I am a messy painter and I think my house would be safer without the possibility of my cat wandering through the paint and spreading it throughout the interior.
Sunrise, where I live, is sensational. This time of year it is usually a little after seven, so I have gotten in the habit of waking up and checking to see if it is beautiful or if it is gray. If it is gray with no sun, then I know I have to wait till later or for a later day. Keep in mind that these are small and quick studies.
I am starting to relax a little with my second painting, knowing that most likely they will never sell, but they might make a fun show or a fun book, but I am savoring the differences in the colors of the morning.
Some days are peaceful and don’t seem to sing to me, but this morning on day three, the sky was amazing and constantly changing. The interesting thing about sunrises here is that they can be totally amazing one minute and literally gone the next. You have to try to capture the essence of what is happening quickly.
I am starting to experiment a little more with texture and using a palette knife a little more. I am hoping during the year to gain control of the palette knife using it for the dock and sometimes for everything. The boat to the right of the dock, looks more like a rock than a boat, but it is a learning experience.
On this morning it was misty and you could barely see the boats through the fog. I moved to the marina area to focus on the painting and love the almost eeriness of the painting. It could be a city or a marina or another country, but I had fun just playing with the color, which is the opposite of Day 6.
So often, as most of you know, we awaken to gray, grey and grayer, so I decided to attempt a tonal painting using only Payne’s Gray, Titanium White, and French Ultramarine Blue. I tried my new camera lens which is a 150 -800 mm to see what I could do with a close-up shot. I had fun with just the three colors and the closer view.
Going forward I will try to paint daily with different colors or different views and see what happens. I will post every few days with my newest painting.
I will continue to post food posts, as I love to cook. Today I made Peanut Butter cookies and Chocolate Chip cookies to take to our local Senior Center for their Bingo Game tomorrow. I know they love sweets and not too many of them cook.
Our first “assignment” was to bring in photos of our local ferry. Since I live right down from the Kingston Ferry, I just looked back to see what I had photographed in the last year. Here are my offerings. I would love to know which one you like best. This is more “Food for Thought” than food, although the Hot Dogs on the ferry are not bad!
I found this recipe in America’s Test Kitchen Mediterranean Cookbook and since I had all the ingredients, decided to give it a try. I added a little and left out a little. I made notes below the recipe.
- ½ pound cremini or white button mushrooms, very thinly sliced
- 4 celery stalks, from the heart of the celery, very thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced chives or tarragon
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice, or 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces shaved Parmesan
Toss together the mushrooms, celery, parsley, and chives, and season with salt and pepper. Mix together the lemon juice (or lemon juice and vinegar) and olive oil, and toss with the vegetables. Just before serving, toss again with the Parmesan.
I used a little dried tarragon, as my chives are way out in the garden and probably frozen. I did not use any vinegar as the recipe from the book did not call for any, but I did use EVOO (1/4 cup) and mixed it with the lemon juice, then added the very thinly (1/8 inch or less) mushrooms and thinly sliced celery to the mix and let it set for 10 minutes.
Since I had 2 ounces of grated regiano parmesano in the refrigerator I add that, then shaved the same for the top of the salad. My garden is a little short of parsley this time of year, so I added baby arugula.
This would be a lovely salad to serve for dinner with friends, as it is a bit different, but delicious. Hope you enjoy making it.
Made this the other day and forgot to take a photo of it, but it was SO easy and SO delicious I just wanted to share with a photo I stole online.
I think I am in love with gnocchi. I have some purple sweet potatoes in the refrigerator that I found at our local market, so am excited to see how gnocchi made with them will turn out!
So here is a simple recipe for Butternut Squash Gnocchi that I found in Bon Appetit.
1 1-pound butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Additional grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from squash into processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use).
Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).
Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.
Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled.
Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill.
Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1 minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.
Here is a useful Utube for making gnocchi using a gnocchi board. It makes it so fast and so simple. So worth the $5.99 and the space it takes in a drawer when not using.
I found this article online and thought I would share it with my pasta eating friends. This takes no additional time and makes perfect sense to me. I have always been told to immediately rinse my pasta, so it stops cooking. But if you just take it off a little more al dente, then this works perfectly.
There are few dishes as satisfying as a steaming plate of pasta, especially when it’s enjoyed at the end of a long day. But in addition to the strands of spaghetti or twists of tortellini, there’s another component vital to pasta night—and that’s the sauce.
A noodle is nothing without a sauce to cling to (when’s the last time you sat down to a plate of plain pasta?), which is why it’s important to leverage the pasta’s natural starchiness, so the pasta and the sauce can work together. You don’t need to agonize over the sauce itself, but rather how it’s going to adhere to the pasta.
Let’s start at the beginning. After dropping the dry noodles into a pot of boiling water, you may be tempted to add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking. But adding oil will only make the noodles slippery, and prevent them from mixing nicely with the sauce later on. Instead, when you drop the pasta in the water, use a set of tongs (or a spoon) to separate the noodles inside the pot—then stir the pasta occasionally to prevent it from clumping as it cooks.
When you’re ready to drain the pasta, reserve some of the cooking liquid to thicken a tomato sauce, loosen a pesto, or help ricotta adhere to the noodles. Add your sauce of choice immediately after draining, and never rinse the pasta with water. Running water over the noodles will strip them of their starches (which is what helps glue the sauce to the pasta), and will make your dish water-y and less flavorful.