Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spanish Chicken or Blackened Mess?

By accident the other day, I happened to catch a little of Nigella Lawson's TV show.  She was making a super easy oven-baked Spanish chicken.  I found the recipe online and tried it out last night.  Before baking it looked gorgeous.

After baking, not so much.

Before dinner, I told my husband I would have to blog about this chicken as a major FAIL.  He insisted that it was not a failure at all.  Turns out he likes onion and garlic blackened in olive oil.  Actually the chicken and potatoes were quite tasty, and even the chorizo was good if one could look past the heavily blackened exterior.

I'm pretty sure the finished dish is not supposed to look like this.  I'm not sure what went wrong.  I did trim some of the fat from the chicken thighs before cooking.  I also used Mexican chorizo rather than Spanish.  It was a soft chorizo with no casing.  Maybe that's why it charred.  The onions? I don't know.  I cut them in fair sized pieces.  Maybe next time -- and, yes, I think there will be a next time -- I'll lower the temperature a bit.  The only changes I made from Nigella's recipe were to reduce everything (I used four thighs rather than twelve), lightly salt the chicken, and I added a couple of grinds of black pepper over the whole thing and  three large cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered.  Click here to go to Nigella's recipe.  Don't judge her recipe by my blackened mess.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Still Working Through "200 Crochet Blocks"

Now that I finished my oversized crochet baby blanket, it's time for me to get serious about my other crochet project, the 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws and Afghans sampler throw that I am making for our daughter.  I've completed seven more blocks since my last update.

Top row: #55 Centered Square, #47 Queen Anne's Lace, #88 Edwardian Fancy, # 173 Big Round.
Bottom row: #161 Daisy Chain, # 86 Sunray, # 17 Alternate Bobbles, #28 Christmas Rose, # 38 Dahlia.

I had the most fun making the Alternate Bobbles.  I have never been able to knit bobbles for some reason, and I was pleased to find out how easy they are to make in crochet.  Love that!  I think there may be a crochet bobble scarf in my future.

On a separate, Blogger note: I am quickly running out of free space on Picasa.  In fact, I had to go in and delete some unused photos from my web album in order to upload these pictures.  Anyone have good advice about how you dealt with this?  Do I just have to suck it up and purchase additional space?  I am super cheap, so I hope not.

Aug. 29 post script:
I am trying out Photobucket as a replacement for Picasa, so I am adding in this photo of the Dahlia square to see how it goes.  The square reminds me of commercials I used to see for Outback Steak House's blooming onion.  Photobucket allows you to store photos and then upload them with the url.  So far, this seems like a free solution.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Put away that hoe! Grilled zucchini boats

"The first zucchini I ever saw, I killed it with a hoe."  -- columnist John Gould in Monstrous Depravity: A jeremiad and a lamentation [about things to eat], 1963
Zucchini can take over a garden, and maybe some gardeners feel like taking a hoe to them on occasion.  When I was growing up, if a zucchini hid under the leaves and got too big to suit my mother (and by too big I mean anything over five or six inches long), she would pull it off and chuck it aside to let it rot in the garden.  Let's face it, zucchini are so prolific that gardeners can get pretty cavalier with them.  

We don't have enough space or sun to grow zucchini at our house, so I cherish zukes when I get good ones.  Last week I showed you the zucchini I got at the farmer's market.  Today I'll show you what I did with them.  My sister-in-law sent me this great grilled zucchini boat recipe.  If you have a zucchini-filled garden, it'll have you saying "whoa" to the hoe!  

This was cooked directly on the grill for great grill marks.

This recipe could be changed up almost any way you like.  You could make it spicy, add garlic or olives.  I've even seen similar recipes with bacon or sausage.  We liked it just like this, as a side dish.  It makes a beautiful presentation.

Grilled Zucchini Boats

2 medium zucchini (6-7 inches long), ends trimmed
3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
2 plum or large cherry tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons bread Italian crumbs
1/2 teaspoon (or several grinds with pepper mill) black pepper
Olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat grill to medium-high heat.  Cut zucchini in half lengthwise.  Scoop out centers to for a 1/2-inch- thick shell.

For filling:  Chop the zucchini center flesh.  Combine with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, basil, onions, bread crumbs and black pepper. 

Brush cut side of zucchini lightly with olive oil.  You can salt them lightly if desired.  Place zucchini, cut side down, on grill either directly or in a grill basket.  Grill, covered, for 6-8 minutes until tender crisp.  Check occasionally to prevent burning.

Turn zucchini over and fill the wells evenly with the filling.  Sprinkle on remaining ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and parsley.  

Filled and ready to go back to the grill.

Return to grill and cook, covered, for additional 4-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and filling is heated through.   Remove from grill.  If not using a basket, remove carefully using a large spatula.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A blanket for my baby

Back in November, I mentioned an afghan I was crocheting from a baby blanket pattern. After a year of working on it on and off, I finally finished it!  I wanted to complete it in time for my "baby" to take it along to his new apartment.  He came home yesterday to steal a rug for his living room.  I was all "Your blanket's done!" and he was all "It looks great. Nice stripes.  I'm not taking it right now."  Did you hear the pop that was my balloon being burst? Or maybe it was just the hiss of a slow leak of the air being let out. Regardless of the letdown of not hearing, "I've been hoping you'd get it done! I can't wait to take it with me!" I am happy to have completed the afghan even if it is still here instead of warming up the college apartment.

It is quite a large afghan as you can see.  The "baby" is 6'3" and wanted the blanket to be big enough to stretch from toes to chin.  Not sure if it's quite that long, but it's a big one.  And heavy.  It weighs about six pounds.  It's nice to finish a big project, but the husband is a little envious of the blanket, so who knows?  Maybe I'll have to start another one and, if I'm industrious, get it finished before we are shipped off to the old folks home.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Bounty

It's the middle of August, and I finally made it to our local farmer's market.  Corn and zucchini from just down the road to go along with peaches our daughter picked up at another farmer's market.  And that prize tomato?  It's from my very own plant!  Looks like there's some fresh and healthy eating in my future.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cat Wars: It's On

"Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose." -- Garrison Keillor
Cats.  Let me preface this post by making one thing clear.  I don't hate cats.  Much.  No, no, I really don't hate cats, but sometimes I strongly dislike them.  The ones I dislike are the feral cats that populate my neighborhood.  

K.C. taken through my office window
We live in an older neighborhood where a number of the houses are rentals.  It's not that the neighborhood has recently fallen on hard times, it has been this way for more than 100 years.  We live near a university, and some of the homes in our neighborhood were built as student boarding houses or supper clubs.  Then others have been converted from single family to apartments over the years.  It's a higgledy-piggledy neighborhood where homeowners, students, renters, professional people, hippies, professors, and sometimes borderline crazy people all live cheek to jowl on tree-lined streets.

And maybe it's not the renters/students who are to blame, but we have a population of feral cats.  These are not strays.  They are wild, and will not let anyone get within five feet of them (and that's for the tamer ones).  One of the neighbors feeds them I believe.  I know they used to feed them and were trying in vain to tame some of them.  Some of the cats have lived here for years, and we know them well by sight.  There is one fluffy gray and white cat that we first saw as a kitten under my husband's car.  He tried to entice it out with food and milk, but no doing.  Still, we have a fondness for that cat and it seems to tolerate us as well.

I'm not wild about the cat poop in my lawn and flower beds, but there's something much worse than that.  Murder.  The cats that really get me are the killer cats.  I know it's a cat's nature to hunt, but there is one Killer Cat (K.C.) who sits under my office window and periodically leaps up and tries to snatch birds right off the feeder.  He has succeeded, too. It's horrible to be sitting at my desk and hear a sudden squawk and look out to see a bird being torn to shreds.  I seem to have solved that problem by laying rose canes and other thorny branches under the feeder.  The birds and squirrels don't mind them, but K.C. stays back a bit.

But now K.C. is stalking a bunny rabbit.  A sweet little bunny rabbit! We haven't had rabbits in our neighborhood for quite a few years.  (Gosh, I wonder why?)  But just this summer a little bunny has ventured back.  I've seen it twice. Yesterday evening I also saw it being stalked by K.C.  I ran outside and chased the cat away but, of course, he came right back.  So I looked online for ways to deter cats, and a beautiful solution appeared.

I dug one of the kids' old Super Soakers out of the garage and filled it up.  The next time I saw the cat, I grabbed my water gun and headed out, shooting streams of water at the fleeing feline.  Then I circled the house to see if there were other cats lurking in the bushes.  I felt like John Wayne in some war movie.  This morning K.C. was back, sitting near the feeder in what used to be a fern bed (until the drought).  I crept out and got within eight to ten feet and let fly a stream of water.  K.C. fled across the street to the safety of the neighbor's yard.

K.C. in the neighbor's yard taken with extreme magnification.  Look at him, trying to look so innocent.

I have no idea if this will really keep the cat out of our yard, but it's worth a try.  Doesn't hurt the cat and makes me feel a little like Rambo.  (If Rambo carried a yellow and green plastic water gun.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Orange Glow: Yummy Carrot Muffins

One summer day when our daughter was about three years old, we were at the city pool where we met a little girl the same age.  Her mother, Mary, was an editor, like me, and we became fast friends.  The girls played together and trick or treated together even though we lived across town from each other.  Mary introduced me to a natural foods buying group, and we traded recipes and brainstormed ways to get the kids to eat healthy.  Sadly, Mary and I eventually lost touch after my family moved away from that little town.  But I have never lost touch with her carrot muffin recipe.  These muffins have been a hit with my family these twenty years.  They always tasted great, but sometimes turned out a little sad and droopy looking, not the tall, gorgeous muffins that look pretty in addition to tasting great.  I've tweaked the recipe in various ways over the years to reduce the fat and so on, and recently, I finally got it right.  Yessireebob, the muffins still taste wonderful, but now turn out pretty, too.

Muffins, milk, and the newspaper equals one good breakfast, topped with walnuts or plain.  Either way is tasty!

Carrot Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour (1/2 cup of this can be whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 3/4 cup finely shredded carrots

In large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Mix in brown sugar.  Add eggs.  While mixing, slowly add oil.  Beat until smooth.  Mix in nuts and carrots.  If desired, reserve some nuts to sprinkle on top of muffins.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20-30 minutes.