Friday, September 11, 2015

What a summer it has been!

I wish I had a ton of delectable recipes to share with my readers. Unfortunately I do not. I am hoping that will change before the end of the year. I NEED this to change before the end of the year. I miss the freedom of tossing together random ingredients and creating something delicious. It is my therapy and I am not me without it.

It has been a very rough year. Moving states, incompetent contractors who don't understand the concept of using multiple nails to hold walls together, and my mother being diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer and her numerous radical surgeries, appointments, and procedures that have followed. Now I am in the position as an only child to do all I can to help her out.

In the midst of all that insanity, somebody threw out a cute little black lab-like puppy that my husband JUST HAD TO HAVE. Let me tell you. That PUPPY is not a puppy. It is a 1 year old, full grown dog with more energy than the Energizer Bunny. The vet said she is a boxer-lab mix. But somebody small and ridiculously hyper has sneaked its way into the mix. And let's not mention that the dog thinks my precious kitty cats are play toys for her.

In case that hasn't been enough of a whirlwind, I am currently 13 weeks pregnant with my first child.

I really hope that I can get back to regularly experimenting in the kitchen and posting all my delicious discoveries with you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Come Read with Me!

Have you ever had one of those nagging feelings that won't go away? One of those that make you feel extremely compelled to do something, even though rational thought tells you it is insane? I had one of those feelings back in September. In October it became even more of a nagging feeling. In November, I went along with it.

I put my house up for sale in December. I came to Ohio and purchased over 60 gorgeous acres that has three gorgeous ponds on it. In March I found a contractor and got an estimate for my dream home, it would be a stretch but it was doable. Two weeks later I sold my house in NC. Dream house had to be put on hold. I hired a contractor to build a garage apartment as my temporary home until I could build up my savings again for my dream home.

Then I fired my contractor. He cheated on the size of windows. Walls fell over & leaned. Now my father is spending his days off helping to teach me how to build my house. I am also looking for a new contractor for my dream house. But I wouldn't trade this for the world, even though it leaves me without a decent kitchen to cook in and internet too slow to use.

After being back in Ohio for almost 3 months, my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and we are currently awaiting test results to find out if she is strong enough for surgery to remove the cancer and infected organs. She is already having too many problems to risk trying chemo or radiation. While this is a horrible thing to be watching her go through, I am beyond thankful to get to spend a lot of time with her over the last several months.

While I have very limited internet and have been cooking out of necessity instead of desire, it means that this blog has been put on a back burner for a while. I promise though, once I have a kitchen I can move in again, I will be back with full force and numerous delicious recipes to share!

As for now, I leave you with my extensive summer reading list. (Descriptions taken from Amazon)

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris (read the first in the series)
There is no such thing as bad publicity, except in Midnight, Texas, where the residents like to keep to themselves. Even in a town full of secretive people, Olivia Charity is an enigma. She lives with the vampire Lemuel, but no one knows what she does; they only know that she’s beautiful and dangerous.

Psychic Manfred Bernardo finds out just how dangerous when he goes on a working weekend to Dallas and sees Olivia there with a couple who are both found dead the next day. To make matters worse, one of Manfred’s regular—and very wealthy—clients dies during a reading.

Manfred returns from Dallas embroiled in scandal and hounded by the press. He turns to Olivia for help; somehow he knows that the mysterious Olivia can get things back to normal. As normal as things get in Midnight…

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

At The Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. 
As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich (read the others in the series)
Murdered and mummified nearly a century ago, notorious bootlegger Collier “Peg Leg” Dazzle discovered and re-hid a famous pirate’s treasure somewhere along the coast of New England. A vast collection of gold and silver coins and precious gems, the bounty also contains the Stone of Avarice—the very item reluctant treasure seeker Lizzy Tucker and her partner, Diesel, have been enlisted to find. While Lizzy would just like to live a quiet, semi-normal life, Diesel is all about the hunt. And this hunt is going to require a genuine treasure map and a ship worthy of sailing the seven seas . . . or at least getting them from Salem Harbor to Maine.

Miss Hazel & the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a brilliant reimagining and republication of Jonathan Odell’s debut novel, The View from Delphi. Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, and inspired by his Mississippi childhood, Odell tells the story of two young mothers, Hazel and Vida – one wealthy and white and the other poor and black – who have only two things in common: the devastating loss of their children, and a deep and abiding loathing for one another. Embittered and distrusting, Vida is harassed by Delphi’s racist sheriff and haunted by the son she lost to the world. Hazel, too, has lost a son and can’t keep a grip on her fractured life. After drunkenly crashing her car into a manger scene while gunning for the baby Jesus, Hazel is sedated and bed-ridden. Hazel’s husband hires Vida to keep tabs on his unpredictable wife and to care for his sole surviving son. Forced to spend time together with no one else to rely on, the two women find they have more in common than they thought, and together they turn the town on its head. It is the story of a town, a people, and a culture on the verge of a great change that begins with small things, like unexpected friendship.

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over--and see everything anew. 

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
An historic literary event: the publication of a newly discovered novel, the earliest known work from Harper Lee, the beloved, bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.
Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

I hope you enjoy these books! I am looking forward to reading them myself. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Creole Catfish Court-Bouillon

This is a story of compromise. My fiance loves catfish. I have made catfish 20 different ways and have never liked it. I can tolerate it, but I'd not be sad if I never had to eat it again.

Being the awesome person that I am, I decided to make him catfish tonight. To try to find a recipe where it actually tastes good, I asked the wonderful people on Cast Iron Cooking for suggestions.

Catfish Court-Bouillon was mentioned several times, so I gave it and decided to make it tonight for dinner.

For a hater of catfish, this dish was actually really good. I think it would be better with the addition of other types of seafood as well, especially some shrimp. While I didn't include them in the recipe, tossing in a few cleaned shrimp would be a good addition to this recipe as well.

Creole Catfish Court-Bouillon
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tbsp. minced garlic
8 oz. tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine
5 cup fish stock or water
2 cup diced tomatoes (or 1 can)
1 tbsp. sguar
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 tsp. cajun seasoning
black pepper to taste
4 cat fish fillets, cleaned

In a large Dutch oven over medium, stir together butter and flour, cooking until browned and resembling melted milk chocolate.

Add in remaining ingredients, except catfish. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Add catfish. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until catfish is cooked.

Serve over rice.

Friday, January 9, 2015

TGIF! Let's Celebrate!

Already onto the second Friday of 2015! I am 9 days into my resolution of eating better quality food, as chemical free as possible with the American dietary standards. I am excited to be moving in the late spring/early summer to a beautiful spot, with few people and lots of land. I'm looking forward to gardening, canning, and freezing up a storm. I'm starting to research the best options for pressure canners for my late summer kitchen adventures!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce

Cauliflower is one of those poor vegetables that often gets neglected. You rarely see it on restaurant menus. There are limited recipes for this vegetable.

More than likely you grew up eating it steamed, smothered in Velveeta style cheese.

While I do love it just sliced thin and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper; this is a delicious new take on how to prepare a cauliflower. And it looks beautiful setting on your table.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce
modified from Joy the Baker

For the Cauliflower:
1 head cauliflower, cleaned
2 tbsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. smoked paprika

For the cheese sauce:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. spicy brown mustard
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Place cauliflower, salt, oil, lemon juice, butter, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, and bay leaf into a large pot or dutch oven. Fill with water until cauliflower is submerged. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. If you like a fairly firm texture, simmer until just beginning to soften. If you like your cauliflower fairly soft, simmer until easily pierced with a fork. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a 10 inch oven safe skillet, combine butter and flour for the sauce. Cook over medium-low heat until the roux is lightly browned. Stir in milk, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, cheese, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat. Place cauliflower in center of skillet, drizzle with olive oil or melted butter, sprinkle with smoked paprika and additional red pepper flakes if desired.

Place under low broiler for 3-5 minutes until cauliflower is beginning to brown.

Cut into wedges and serve!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Homemade Funnel Cakes

What is it about fair food that brings even the most nutrition conscience people to their knees?

Don't judge. I ate a funnel cake for breakfast. I put blueberries on it though. So it was good for me.

I started 2015 with 1 simple resolution, to make a move towards eating better food. While a funnel cake is far from a healthy choice, I made it with all organic, farm fresh ingredients. So it still keeps me on track for my resolution.

Funnel Cakes
Makes 4
modified from Paula Deen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
oil for frying

Heat oil either in a deep fryer or a cast iron skillet. Make sure that oil is at least 2 inches deep. Heat to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add wet ingredients. Stir, starting from the center working outwards until well combined.

(I highly recommend getting a squeeze bottle to use for this.) Pour batter into a funnel or into a squeeze bottle.

Squeeze into hot oil, starting in the center and spiraling outward. Once it begins to float, using tongs, to push it back down so that it is submerged in the oil. If you cannot submerge it, you'll have to flip it over.

It will only take 2-3 minutes to cook each funnel cake. Remove when nicely browned.

Serve with fruit compote, powdered sugar, or your choice of topping.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Healthy Eating: Tea, the Good, the Bad, the Disgusting

For my New Year's resolution, I vowed to cut out all highly processed and chemical-filled foods. I have done a lot of research and one of the first places I plan to start cutting out the chemicals in my food is with my tea.

Tea is a staple in my world. I drink anywhere from 2 to 5 cups a day. I never gave it a second thought until reading an article on 100 Days of Real Food. Which lead me to Food Babe. Which lead me to an article on The Atlantic. Which sent me off to do some real research.

Arguments can be made that 100 Days of Real Food and Food Babe simply read as promotional for certain types of tea. One thing lacking is real sources being sited for their articles. So I did a lot of research. Most of it through Google Scholar (links to REAL scientific studies).

Here is what it boils down to...

Teas are touted around the world as being good for you. You read countless articles about how tea is rich in anti-oxidants and may contain cancer-fighting properties. Tea can provide a magnitude of benefits....stress relief, a pick-me-up for an energy boost, calming to help you sleep. But what is really in your cup?

You can search online and find countless studies about what is really in the tea we drink. It is all fairly simple though.

The Tea Bag
I've found that most tea bags contain things I have no interest in putting in boiling water. (I am in no way saying that these are safe/unsafe, just that I personally will avoid using them.)

Many tea bags contain epichlorohydrin. The EPA states "Epichlorhydrin is used for making glycerine and as a monomer/building block for making plastics and other polymers, some of which are used as coagulant aids in water treatment. It is also used in the paper and drug industries as an insect fumigant." The CDC lists it as a "potential carcinogen" as well as "reproductive effects" and that it targets the "eyes, skin, respiratory system, kidneys, liver, reproductive system." Read more about the uses of epichlorohydrin.

Most brands use what I call a "traditional tea bag." These bags made from wood, that sounds safe enough, right? Unfortunately, it is highly processed and bleached, then chemically treated to neutralize the bleach. 

Another popular tea bag, marketed towards the health/eco conscience is listed as "corn-based" or "biodegradable." A better alternative to chemical laced, plastic, or bleached; however I am anti-GMO, so these bags are a no-go for me as well.  

The final type of tea bag that is common among popular US brands of tea is the mesh pyramid, that brags about the design being ideal for steeping the best cup of tea. I am not going to argue the shape of the tea bag being ideal. I am however going to argue that these "mesh teabags" are made of plastic material. 

Tea Leaves
Like most produce, tea is treated with a vast majority of pesticides to prevent bugs from ruining the crops. Unlike the produce you buy, you cannot wash your tea after purchasing it at the store.

Here is an article about Celestial Seasonings Tea. The study found that 91% VIOLATED US standards for pesticides. The FDA already allows a certain percentage of pesticides, insects/pests, and other less-than-desirable things to slip into our food supply. So not only are their teas full of legally allowed pesticides, they have gone and exceeded that limit. They've also had two prior warnings from the FDA. For me this brand is a definite to avoid.

CBC News in Canada has tested top brands of tea. Their study shows just how many chemicals are in the top brands, many of which we drink here in the USA.

Other Ingredients
Natural Flavors-sounds good right? WRONG. This is one of those tricky things that makes something sound better than it is. Natural Flavors imply anything in natural that can be broken down to taste like what you want. That means the flavor could come from a rock that has been chemically treated. If you have to add "natural flavoring" to something and can't come out and list what it is, you probably want to avoid it.
Artificial Flavors-artificial...enough said.
Soy Lecithin-soy based products. It mostly comes from soy bean oil that is chemically extracted. Again, not something I want in my tea.

What to Look For
Tea Bags: organic bag, non-GMO
Tea: organic, non-GMO

My personal recommendation is to buy a good quality stainless steel tea infuser and buy any brand of organic tea. If you buy tea already in a tea bag, just cut it open and pour the contents of the teabag into the tea ball and steep your tea that way. I prefer a mesh tea infuser just because it helps keep even the finest pieces of tea secure. Or if you're a Keurig lover, just use a mesh reusable filter.

Numi Teas-with prices varying from 27¢ to 89¢ per tea bag, it can become costly if you are an avid tea drinker. However Numi Teas are organic and have a non-GMO, organic tea bag.

Traditional Medicinals Tea- a more cost effiecent brand, averaging between 20¢ and 30¢ per tea bag. However there is a limited variety of flavors to choose from. I have found that Traditional Medicinals tends to brew a very flavorful, almost exceedingly strong cup of tea for my taste.

Rishi Tea - another quality brand, with greatly varying prices based on what type of tea you buy. However Rishi Tea is loose leaf tea, so a tea infuser is required. Or if you prefer, they also manufacture their own tea bags that you can fill yourself.