Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mmmmm, Monterey Chicken

If you've read my blog very much, you know I cook a lot of chicken.  Grilled, baked, fried, slow cooked -- if it's chicken, we'll eat it.  Yesterday, I browsed my Pinterest food board looking for something new to prepare for dinner.  And what do you suppose appealed to me?  Yep, chicken.  I came across a Monterey Chicken photo I had pinned a year ago and never tried.  I clicked through to the blog where it originally appeared, All Things Simple: Inspiration for a Simple Life, for the recipe.

Grilled and ready to pop in the oven to melt the cheese.  I used KC Masterpiece Original barbecue sauce.  I think next time I'd like to try a more smoky flavored sauce.
A hit!  It's marinated and grilled, then topped and baked.  It's easy to prepare and makes a nice presentation (once it's taken off the cookie sheet!).  Click here for the link to the original recipe on All Things Simple by Kim McCrary.  I followed her recipe pretty closely.  As Kim suggests, I marinated the chicken for about a half hour prior to grilling.  The only changes I made were:  She used Montreal Steak Seasoning in her marinade, which I replaced with Montreal Chicken Seasoning.  I also used a smaller can (10 oz.) of Rotel tomatoes and I had one additional chicken breast. Somehow, my chicken turned out just as tomato-y as hers appear in her photo.   I probably also upped the amount of cheese because, well, I just love cheese and it's hard to overdo yummy melted cheese.  I used sharp cheddar instead of colby with the monterey jack just because I didn't have any colby on hand.  The final change I made was to cook and crumble a nice smoky bacon rather than use bacon bits.  One piece of bacon per chicken breast seemed adequate.

After baking, the cheese is all melty goodness.  

We completed the meal with a mixed greens salad and some corn on the cob.  The final flourish was the white wine we got on our trip to Cedarburg, Settlement Gold.  It was delicious.  Sweet with a slight apple flavor.  A very good, inexpensive wine. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Now We're Cooking (with Gas)

Ever hear that expression, "cooking with gas"?  I've been cooking with gas in a literal sense all my adult life. Figuratively, of course, my "cooking with gas" (being efficient or enthusiastic) waxes and wanes.  Lately, more waning than waxing, I'm afraid.  Nevertheless, here in the Sweet Posy kitchen, we've been cooking with gas in a new stove the last week or so.

Shiny and new
One recent morning, I opened the oven to put in a sheet of biscuits, and the oven was stone cold.  Had I forgotten to turn it on?  Nope.  The burners still worked, but the oven ignitor or some such thing had gone out.  Since the stove was just a couple months shy of twenty years old, we decided it made more sense to get a new one than repair it.  We went online and found a Kenmore on sale that was well reviewed by Consumer Reports and that could be delivered in a mere four days.  So in no time at all, two nice men showed up with a new stove, brought it in, hooked it up, and hauled away our old GE Profile.  

Here's where things get tricky.  The new stove has a luxurious self-cleaning convection oven -- a first for me, both the self-cleaning and the convection.  I am excited to try both, but first, I have to figure out how to use the gosh-darned digital timer!  I have baked three things in the new stove so far, and I have only gotten the timer to work once.  Each time, I look carefully in the manual, then I somehow freak out and press Cook Time in addition to Timer. Or I hit Stop and turn off the whole oven when I only want to stop the timer. Or I think I know what I'm doing (famous last words) and I advance the timer past nine minutes and then it goes back to one instead of up to ten.  I have resorted to using my microwave timer, which is also digital, but despite that, somehow I can make it work.  I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually.

The tricky control panel:  How can it be so confusing?  I guess I'm just better with knobs.

What I like about the new stove is that, first of all, it's so clean!  That's always a plus.  Second, baked goods are turning out really well so far.  Today, for example, I made almond poppy seed bread (earlier post about that recipe is here) to take to a friend as a housewarming gift.  I have occasionally had trouble with the bottoms and sides of the almond breads/cakes turning out a bit overcooked.  But today's loaves turned out with gorgeous golden sides.  

Perfect! No overbrowning.

All in all, I'm pleased with the stove.  If I ever figure out that timer, I'll really be cooking with gas.

*UPDATE:  Whoo hoo! I just set the timer!  Writing this post and publicly shaming myself was obviously the trick!
*Further Update:  I think I might have turned off the whole oven when I set that timer.  Went back and my meatballs were still cold.  Hmmm.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Interurban Bridge
With the beginning of some warmer weather, it's nice to get out and about.  Last Saturday, we took a little day trip up to Cedarburg, Wisconsin.  We've passed through the area (about twenty miles north of Milwaukee) a number of times, but had never stopped in Cedarburg before.  What a charming little town!  It is filled with nineteenth century limestone and fieldstone buildings that now house shops and restaurants.  It is very pedestrian friendly.  There were lots of people milling about, many of them tourists like us, but also locals with their dogs who had walked into town for a cup of coffee or lunch.  We found a place to park out of the hubbub by the fire station on the non-shopping side of Cedar Creek.  We were able to cross the creek on the Interurban Bridge, a former train bridge, now open only to pedestrians and bikes.

Looking up Cedar Creek toward one of the dams.  Cedarburg Mill is on the left.
Cedarburg Mill
The creek is a natural centerpiece of the town, and it served as its economic engine in the 1800s.  At one time, five dams and five mills operated on the creek.  The largest of these, Cedarburg Mill, is five stories tall.  A plaque near the mill said it produced 120 barrels of flour during its heyday.  It currently serves as home to a feed and seed store, a design or architecture business, and a craft brewery. There was also at least one other grist mill and a woolen mill.  The woolen mill is part of what is called the Cedar Creek Settlement, now home to Cedar Creek Winery (where we bought a bottle of Settlement Gold, which we're told is a sweet wine with pineapple and golden apple flavors--haven't tried it yet) and lots of little shops and galleries.

Cedar Creek Settlement.  Amish-made plastic (!) furniture to the right, sold in one of the shops.  We wanted to eat at Anvil but couldn't find it before I dropped dead of starvation, so we ate at a very good place called Stilt House, where I had a Stiltburger which came on a pretzel roll with ale-braised onions.  Yummy!
After lunch and shopping (mostly looking), we nabbed some candy at one of the numerous chocolate shops -- dark chocolate almond bark for me. Then we headed just north of town to see the last remaining covered bridge in Wisconsin.  It was built in 1876 and was used until 1962.

One last scenic view before heading home.  The bridge trusses are held together with two-inch wooden pins, no nails or bolts.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tax Time Pick-Me-Up

A very good friend is an accountant.  When tax season rolls around, she and her partner and their staff are always swamped with work.  They barely can come up for air.  When I stopped by recently to turn in my signed e-forms, I also dropped off a little pick-me-up snack to keep them going through the afternoon.

Sausage cheese balls: tax free but not guilt free
Sausage cheese balls are a staple at parties and breakfasts in the South.  They are definitely not a health food, but -- yum!

Sausage cheese balls have been a favorite of mine for many years.  I don't make them very often because of health concerns, but they are popular at our house around the holidays or other times people want a treat.  Our son, for example, recently requested them as part of his birthday breakfast.  A dear friend of mine from my Tennessee teenage years also now lives in northern Illinois.  She always makes sausage cheese balls for parties.  I remember her mother-in-law once sniffing, "You Southern girls certainly like your sausage cheese balls."  Why, yes, Mrs. Irish Chicago, we certainly do!  And you better not get in between us and our sausage balls or we might knock you over!  While I don't actually advocate violence, I do advocate these savory snacks.

They are a little bit of work to make, but worth it.  The recipe I use comes from Tennessee Pride, which is the only kind of bulk sausage I buy, but you can use any brand.  Sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese is also a must.  The mixing takes time, especially depending how much biscuit mix you try to work in.  My daughter uses two cups when she makes these, but I think it is worth the trouble to mix in three full cups, but it does involve using your hands and pulling the meat and cheese mix apart to get more dry ingredients to adhere.  Here you can see the sausage/cheese combination before and after the biscuit mix is incorporated.

After baking, your sausage balls should be golden and crispy, round bite-sized balls like this:

But if they turn out like this,

flat or misshapen blobs, don't worry.  Eat them anyway, they'll taste just as good!

Sausage Cheese Balls

1 pound bulk (or roll) sausage, mild or hot
2 cups shredded sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese
2-3 cups biscuit mix (like Bisquick)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using fork or hands, combine sausage and cheese in large mixing bowl .  Blend in biscuit mix a little bit at a time, using hands, until well mixed.  Roll into 1-inch balls and place on lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  You can flip the balls over halfway through baking if desired.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes approximately 75.

Printable recipe

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

If It's April First, I Must Be Back

A year passes so quickly.  Here I am, back to blogging after a full year away.  I left on April 1 and thought a return on the same date would be appropriate.  The joke, however, may well be on me that no one will even notice my return after my very definite quitting announcement and being so long away.

Hello? Is anyone out there? Or am I shouting into an empty canyon?
Why am I blogging again?  Oddly enough, a number of people have encouraged me to come back (and I'm not even related to all of them!).  I miss the connection to fellow bloggers.  Being a blogger sometimes pushed me to try new things.  I like having a record of things I've done and places I've gone.

What will be different this time?  Very little on the surface.  The biggest difference will be in my own view of my blog. I'm going to try not to get caught back up in stats and trying to increase my readership, worrying about how often I post. Blogging is not a job, after all; it's for fun.  I'm going to keep it fun.

What have I been up to?  When I look back over the past year, I'm not sure I've done all that much.  I
crocheted three afghans, none of which I have pictures of -- a yo-yo design, a large single granny square, and a granny stripe which used up stash yarn.  I made a couple of hats using a Ravelry pattern, The Journey Hat by Reenie Hanlin.

I cooked a lot of food, including roasting a duck for the first time and some new recipes for brussels sprouts, asparagus, and some extremely lime-y cookies.

Ready for adventure with my Outback.
Cue "Born to be Wild" music.

I also watched the oldest obtain her master's degree, helped said kid move -- twice, took a few minor trips, bought a car and a digital camera, lost twenty pounds, made several glitter house decorations and an awesome glitter Merry Christmas banner (stole the idea from a Pottery Barn catalog).

A graduating kid and her new small town.  Off our payroll and practically off the map!

Kayaking in alligator and manatee infested waters.  Okay, we didn't see any alligators that day, but we did see a couple of manatees.  We also saw a tour boat on the wide part of the river, which was heading straight for us.  In our hasty paddling to get out of the way, my camera fell into the river.  The photos were salvageable, but the camera was not, hence the new camera mentioned above.
I lightened the exposure here so you can see my fabulous banner.  Made it with stencils on heavy card stock and lots of cheap silver glitter.  Hole punched the tops, added ribbon and voila!  Saved serious cash.  I really loved it.
I'm so happy to be back in the blogging world.  I hope you'll join me again from time to time.