Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mary Had a Little...

Mary had a little lamb.
A very nice man had a bigger one.
It is tasty.


Today I went out with my husband to butcher a lamb from a local free range farmer. It was my first experience cleaning anything not a chicken or deer, and my husbands first time doing butchering of any kind (other than computer butchering and assembly that is).


It was MUCH cheaper to do the dirty work ourselves than to have it sent out to the processor, though it did take a few hours to get it all done and packaged. One other thing that was nice is that I had the meat all packaged up in ways that we tend to use it instead of in forms that we leave in the freezer till it is the only thing left.  I will definately be doing the butchering again next year instead of paying twice as much for the professionals to do it for me. 

I also made a big pot of lamb stew and there is a giant pot of stock simmering in the crock pot now.  I need to remember next time to make room in the freezer before getting home with a cooler of meat.


No photos for you because it was cold enough that we were trying to get the darn lamb ready with frozen fingers. We alternated avoiding cutting our numb fingers with warming up by a fire then charging back into the work.  Now its time to go check the stock and go check the most recent batch of yoghurt.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One wat to save money easily: Home Haircuts

At about $15 a piece for a basic trim, the money can add up rapidly.  Given the $15 estimate (with no long hair extra fees), we just saved $45 and never had to leave the house!  If you have never thought about doing haircuts at home, give it a try, it is not difficult once you know the tricks.

Some tips for haircuts:
  • Wash and then cut hair when it is wet
  • Comb hair out from the scalp and cut to an even length
    • this makes hair lengths look more natural and any unevenness when cutting isn't visible
  • Use sharp scissors, and a fine toothed comb to get best results
  • Expect to touch up a few stray hairs after the initial cut.
  • For short cuts, buy a basic hair trimmer (around $20) and use the guides for ease
So far I have had better results from haircuts at home than I have had at basic hair stylists for one main reason: I know what I want to end up with after the cut.  I don't have to tip, don't feel pressured to buy "product", and overall spend less time on the cuts doing them myself.

Hmm... $45... that can buy a lot of chocolate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gluten-Free Fish and ...not chips

I recently went up to my parent's house and was given a free-for-all pass to their freezer... including the seafood!  Not just any seafood, but real, hand caught, wild Alaskan goodies--most of which were caught by my family.  Once I thought of it, I realized that most of this fish had been in the bottom of the deep freeze for over five years. It had been that long since any of us had been fishing or since we last begged our family up there to send us a care package of the fishy variety.

I didn't care. I wanted fish and I wanted a lot of it!

My Fishy Goodness! ... With Freezer-burn
I now have slightly fewer vaccuum packed bricks of salmon (smoked and raw) and halibut than I orginally stole from the parental units. The main reason: Fish and not-chips. It would have been fish and chips, but I was too focused on eating freshly fried halibut to worry about sides. I am proud to say that I did finally manage to add some microwaved peas to my plate full of fish, but that was really an afterthought.

This is a great recipe to use freezer-burned or older fish because frying makes the texture less of an issue. It also is a great way to fix fish for anyone who is not a fan of "fishy" fish, and a really economical way to fix other fish (cod or tillapia) if your child can't have gluten.  You can even take frozen individual fillets of thin fish, batter them, and refreeze them on a cookie sheet so that you can take them out and cook pieces like ready made fish sticks.  It is much tastier and healthier (higher fish to batter ratio) than the frozen boxed variety... and cheaper too! So here is an all purpose fish fry recipe, catering to halibut, but usable for any fryable fish.

If you need to defrost your fish, either let it thaw in the fridge, or defrost in the microwave. If some of it gets a little cooked in the process of microwaving, don't worry, as it won't really affect the end tastyness.  If you are using another type of fish that is thinner than 1/2" you can even batter and fry while they are still frozen! (All the easier!)

Now you can:


Turn These Frozen Lifeless Chunks

Into Noms. Quite Tasty Noms.
(see, I even have something healthy tossed in there for good measure)

Gluten-Free Deep Fried Halibut:

 Ingredients:

2 to 2 1/2 lbs Halibut Fillets, defrosted or fresh, skin removed
Oil for frying
Thermometer for oil (or just cheat and use a deep fryer machine like my little one)

Batter-dry mix:
1/2 c. cornstarch (aka corn flour)
1/2 c. gf flour of your choice (I used a blend from Arrowhead Mills)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1-2 Tbs. garlic powder
1 Tbs. salt

Batter-liquid:
3 large eggs, separated--whites in a large bowl, yolks in a small bowl
2 Tbs. lemon juice

Tartar Sauce :
3/4 c. Mayonnaise
1/4 c. Sweet Pickle Relish (yes, dig it out of the back of the fridge)
1/2 Tbs. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Cider Vinegar
1 tsp. Lemon Juice

Method:
  1. Prepare fish by cutting into large chunks (mine were about 2" by 1 1/2" strips depending on the fish shape).
  2. Mix dry ingredients for batter in a medium bowl.
  3. Beat egg whites in a large bowl till soft peaks form.
  4. Lightly beat egg yolks with lemon juice then combine with whites in the large bowl.
  5. Heat oil in pan or electric fryer (aim for 375 to 400 degrees ideally).
  6. Meanwhile prepare tartar sauce by mixing all ingredients and adjusting seasoning to taste.
  7. Batter the fish and put in heated oil--first coat in flour mixture, then in egg goop, then put in oil. (Don't crowd the pan, or the fish won't cook nicely)
  8. Cook the fish until golden brown and crispy all around then drain on a rack or paper towels before devouring with tartar sauce. (Thicker pieces will take longer to cook, my 2"x1"x1 1/2" pieces took about 5 minutes to cook through, and yes, if you find a piece not quite cooked all the way, you can add more batter and fry a bit more)
Golden Brown Goodness

You can use any firm fish with this recipe--cod, tillapia, swordfish, you name it.  My husband and I were spending so much time making happy munching noises in the kitchen that we never actually made it to sitting down to dinner. It was that good. Well, that and the fact that it has been over ten years since either of us had a good platter of fried halibut. We had no need for the chips with all that fish!

If you happen to have leftovers, like we did since there were only two of us and two pounds of fish, you can either heat up remaining fried fish in the oven on a rack and eat. Or, make a batch of fish chowder and break up the chunks into the soup, letting the breading add to the thickener in the soup.  I think our leftovers will be topping a pizza with garlic-olive-oil sauce and capers.  Lots of options.

So there you have it, deep-fat-fried gluten-free goodness. Much better than anything you can buy in your pre-breaded frozen food aisle--for much cheaper and healthier (if you can call anything fried healthy).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chai update

Alright, I think I have the recipe down for a tasty chai--even caffeine free now (since my husband can't do caffeiene)

Chai Concentrate (8-9 cups):
3 inches (or more) fresh ginger--sliced very thinly

1g cardamom seeds (may be known as cilantro seeds depending on where you are)
.6g cloves
.3g black peppercorns
3 sticks cinnamon
1 bay leaf
around a gallon of water (normally a little less)
OPTIONAL--about 1/3c. loose black tea if you like (darjeeling or other)

  1. Coarsely grind cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (or crush with a heavy object with spices in a plastic baggy).
  2. Combine ginger, cinnamon, bay leaf, and water in a large stockpot and turn to high heat.
  3. Place cracked spices either in a tea ball, herb strainer, or directly into the pot with the rest.
  4. Cook for about an hour at a steady boil or until the level reduces by about half. 
  5. Turn off heat
  6. If using tea, place in a tea ball/piece of cloth tied closed and steep in pot during last 5 minutes of cooking.
  7. Strain liquid through cheesecloth, a fine strainer, or a large strainer with a layer of papertowels (replace the towel when it gets too slow).
  8. Store in a jug in the fridge for up to a month, best if used in first two weeks.
Now that you have the chai mix:

Chai Tea: 
  1. Fill a microwaveable mug 1/2 to 2/3  full of the chai mix.
  2. Add milk or milk substitute to almost fill the mug (leave room for honey and cream).
  3. Add in a splash of cream to fill.
  4. Microwave for a few minutes to warm the chai.
  5. Add honey to taste and stir well
  6. Enjoy!
So there you have it, one recipe for chai in easy-to-make large quantity. I keep a supply in the fridge at all times now that it has gotten cool outside (and inside for that matter).  Yes, you can scale down the recipe and make it cup by cup, but it tastes so much better if it has time to sit and concentrate...and it is much easier to make a big batch.

If you are wondering where you can buy ginger, I suggest looking in your neighborhood grocery store's vegetable section, hidden amongst bulk items and herbs.  Failing that, you can go to Whole Paycheck or other natural food stores (which I lack here in the middle of nowhere) and ask there.

As far as using dried ground spices... you can technically make it work, but it is a pain in the arse and makes straining the liquid very difficult. The flavors also do not come out well, if at all, especially in the case of the cardamom and ginger.

And lastly, this is a chai recipe that is only a suggestion for you to start with and alter as you see fit. Many people add in fennel for a licorice flavor, or omit the bay leaf, or add in vanilla, or sweeten during cooking, or add milk during cooking. This is only a place to start and is the easiest form of tasty chai that I have found so far that fits both my tastes and those of my household... and my budget.

If these spices start to smell familiar to those who eat curry, they should. I take a small amount of the same spices and toast them in a dry pan before sauteeing my onions and garlic when making a vat'o'curry. Very tasty.

Hope you all have a nice safe and tasty Thanksgiving Day soon! I hope to post a few times on various GF desserts or sides that I am making for our local get-together, with pictures...but that depends on how much time, energy, and overall usefulness I have.  I intend to try out a new flour that I just bought: Modified Tapioca Starch. It is supposed to give GF foods a texture like gluten--minus all those nasty gastro-intestinal side effects of gluten.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tasty day

Just got done with a lot of cooking... but none of it was really that work intensive.

The list:
Chai Base (fresh ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black peppercorns, cloves, Darjeeling tea, water)
Yoghurt (whole milk, one yoplait cup of yoghurt as starter, mason jars)
Apple Sauce (Apples--peeled,cored,diced, ground cinnamon, and some lemon juice)
The chai turned out well and I have about 6 cups of mix in the fridge, just waiting for some cold person to heat it up with some milk (and cream) and honey. Once I come down off of a prednisone-induced manic episode I will type up a recipe--not like I really have one written down anyway. The stuff I make at home is a good rendition of the Yogi Tea Black Chai bags that I get at the store, but much cheaper. It will be even better if I can get my hands on some Assam tea instead of the darjeeling, but that involves a trip to the city.

The yoghurt recipe is taken lovingly from The Frugal Girl's Blog where it can be found. It is very basic and makes a little over a gallon of yoghurt (yogurt?). I found that it is nice and easy to make yoghurt cheese and Greek style yoghurt with this recipe, so that I no longer pay $0.83/oz or more and instead only pay $.030/oz if I make it myself--and that is when milk is not on sale and when store brand yoghurt is! Big difference, and I like the texture better on it too when I strain it to make it nice and thick. It is a good thing that we like yoghurt in this house though, since I now have a gallon of it in the fridge... I give it till Wednesday till it is gone.

Finally the applesauce is basic: peel, core, and dice apples. Add in 1-2 tsp of lemon juice per pound of apples to keep it nice and vibrant and also add tartness (less needed with granny smith apples or other tart apples). Cook on low, stirring occasionally, until the house smells of apples and the pieces are mushy. I cooked mine down with some ground cinnamon, but it is just as good made without too! I have used a potato masher to get chunky sauce, but this time I used my immersion blender to make a smooth batch--mostly because the masher went M.I.A sometime between yesterday and today.

So there you have it. My cooking day as it stands. I am sure that eventually I will come down from this high of usefulness and crash hard... but for now I am going to put it to use (and make sure that nothing I do needs much attention to detail or I will have to redo it once I am back to normal).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Winter just fell on Fall

The furnace is on, the sweaters are on, the fireplace is (almost) ready to go, and it is time for soups and hot drinks to keep everyone warm. Yup. It is officially winter. We had our first snowflakes outside the house today as I was making a nice hot cup of chai. Granted, the snow was more like a few flakes drifting down from the sky and not a blanket like Denver got last night, but snow is snow!

This year we actually got to have Summer, Fall, and then Winter, rather than going straight from Summer to Winter. It was really nice to actually get to see the leaves turn colors before getting completely frozen and blown off by the winds. I woke up this morning and expected another brisk day and left myself time to get to class and find parking... but not enough to scrape frost off of the windshield. Luckily my professor was a few minutes late as well, so that did not affect anything, but today was my first day to have to scrape frost, and the first day of snow.

My list o'stuff to do includes snagging a chai recipe from a friend of a friend and then making a giant batch of chai mix--just add milk and honey. I also would like to post a few recipes for ye olde stew and soup but that involves actually having a recipe... something that rarely happens for my dinner foods.

Till next time: stay warm, stay cozy, and stay full.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Betty Crocker GF Yellow Cake Mix

Well, it was inevitable. Our little micro-Wal-Mart finally got in some of the Betty Crocker Gluten Free Mixes. I was ready to try yet another yellow cake in the search for an acceptable mix. So far I have a wonderful recipe for a GF pound cake, but none of my baking efforts have yielded a tasty regular yellow cake with the light texture and not overly sweet taste. On to the review!



First off, the price: 5/10 At $3.79 per 10 serving box it is run of the mill on the gluten free side of things, but far more expensive than the $1.29 mixes that were right beside it. Not too bad though, considering that I just saw another GF cake mix that was $7.99 (but it would do two layers of an 8x8... so... it is a draw).

Next the ingredients: 10/10 Nothing that I would not regularly use in my own cakes (rice flour, potato/tapioca starches, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt). So that was a nice change from the ingredients lists as long as my arm on many GF products.

Onward to Cooking: 10/10 Once again, nothing really new here. Beat three eggs, some water and some vanilla together for two-three minutes till well combined. Pour into your mold of choice--for me it was a muffin tin filled with ungreased liners. (It has high altitude directions which boil down to cooking at 350F for all pans and to use slightly less batter in each cupcake tin.) I got 18 medium cupcakes out of the mix according to the directions and that included me licking the bowl and spatula clean of their gooey goodness.

Preliminary Taste Test (batter): 5/10 Because I am one of "those" people who like cake batter, I had to try it. Sure enough, it tastes like yellow cake batter... but a little more sweet and it had the familiar grittiness that white rice flour lends to everything it touches. Overall not unexpected, not like regular wheat flour, but not overly bad either.

Out of the Oven: 8/10 As soon as the timer went off for 18 minutes I tested the cupcakes and they were just done and ready to come out and greet the world. They rose nicely and gained about 1/4 to 1/3 of their height while in the oven. (Some of that rising did wear off as they cooled, but nothing substantial.) I used two different "pans" for baking the cupcakes: one regular dark muffin pan and several silicone muffin molds on a dark pan base. Both form types contained paper liners and both rose equally well and held their shapes. I popped them all out of the pans and onto a cooling rack.

And into my Mouth: 7/10 I let them cool slightly before attempting to burn my fingers on freshly baked cake. I tried one from the silicone mold approach and one from the regular pan--just for scientific data points mind you... I would never pig out on cakey goodness... never... much. The cupcake baked in the metal muffin tin did not want to separate from the paper and I lost some of the cake to the liner (which I then nibbled off later, but that is not the point). The one from the silicone mold separated easily from the liner and had a slightly better texture all around, more cakey and less grainy. I am assuming that the way the silicone cupped the wrapper and cake lended itself to better hydration of the rice flour, but I am not 100% sure on that. Both were very nice and I gladly had another cake. One thing I noticed (that I have been bothered by in other cake mixes) is that they tried to make up for a lack of flour flavor by adding too much sugar. It is okay and not overwhelming like past mixes that I have tried, but I think that they still could use less sugar and have it turn out better.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 Overall it is a good mix and I will probably buy it again if for no other reason than so I can mimic and tweak it to my homemade tastes. I prefer to make as much of my baked goods and food overall at home from scratch since it tends to be cheaper and (normally) healthier for me. It would be great for anyone who needs to bake a cake for a child, and the kid could even help make it without too many problems. I am pleased that it worked at the 4500ft altitude here and held its shape, as many of the mixes I have tried used too much leavening and it rose too much and collapsed. I do wish that the price was lower as the mix does only make a small amount, but it is standard for the GF market. I also am pleased that it is being carried by a national chain so that everyone can have access to a decent GF product--even if it is not the best that could possibly be made.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

frost

Of course, the day that I decide to plant the darn garlic, the other plants decide to freeze. Not hard, mind you, but definitely enough to kill off most of the leaves on the watermelon and some on the zucchini. Oh well, not like the watermelon had any melons on it after the darn squirrel took off with my last softball sized babymelon. The zucchini babies survived, so that made me happy, and it gave me the extra boost (a.k.a. kick in the pants) to put down a layer of compost to protect my freshly planted garlic.

Dang moody weather.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Garlicy Goodness

Now that the weather is consistently below 90 (and still slightly above freezing at night) I decided that it was time for the winter crop. After a quick batch of instant pickles that I whipped up with onions, bell pepper, and lots of garlic, I decided to use the remaining three heads of garlic to plant for summer harvest. For the record I planted them about 3 inches deep--about an inch deeper than some instructions say to better protect from freezing--and about 4-5 inches apart. The garlic cloves are sandwiched between the perennials (chard, rhubarb, and an artichoke) and some leftover baby beets. At least with it sandwiched, even if the beets do nothing I at least know where I planted the darn garlic. So there.

On that note, let me say that this is my first time attempting garlic in New Mexico. My sources for gardening are a mix of Arizona desert books (warmer and much lower altitude than here), and one minor source that is outdated but more suited to the altitude and NM weather. I hear that growing garlic works pretty well here assuming that the weather behaves, the water is right, and that the soil is right.

That is a lot of assuming. But it is worth a shot since I was able to find nice healthy heads of garlic for cheap. Whether or not they will grow? I have no idea. I don't care. It is an experiment that should work at least a little and it will be interesting to see how it turns out. Besides, I see no reason for my nice new garden bed to sit empty and alone over what winter we have.

As a note, the cloves should be a random Silverskin Garlic variety as that is what I could lay my hands on at the grocery store and looked healthy. Since they were still firm and looked nice I went with the basic bulk garlic in hopes that it was treated with less anti-sprouting chemicals. I like my food to have as few chemicals as possible thanks... though sometimes I do feel the urge to kill every last sticker bush in sight.

I am never really sure how well my garden is going to work, but I am always willing to shell out a few bucks to try a new plant. (Especially at less than a buck for the three heads)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mutant Weather Rambling

Last week was rather interesting. Bright sunny sky. Calm.

*BOOM**CRACKLE*
and an inch and a half of rain later in about an hour.

Bright sunny sky and calm. What the heck!!! Aah New Mexico. How I...ponder...thee.

I don't understand our mutant weather. But then again other people do not understand those of us who go to rainier parts of the country and dance around happy for the drizzle...and scowl at the sunshine that those residents thrive on. Strange weather creates strange residents. Or we were already strange to begin with!

I suppose that I should give some time to update the world with a public service announcement:
Fall is here.
End public service announcement.

This revelation began this morning. As I fed the dogs leftovers that I forgot to put away last night I began to covet the dog's nice warm fur coats. This is a large change from the summer where I feel sorry for them in their sweltering fuzz. I then went out the front door and found out that there was dew--DEW--on my car. Dew just does not happen often here in the desert...unless it gets cold. Now that there is water in the air, and some cool air to prevent it from evaporating as fast, I feel that fall is here.

Second public service announcement to explain relative temperatures:
Definition: cold--cool enough to need a jacket.
Definition: cod--cold enough that the l froze off and requires ice scraping, snow slugging, and overall surliness from most people.

So there you have it. Fall is here. And the weather has been ushering it in with mutant-like drippiness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Carne Adovada

So Here in New Mexico I was introduced to a wonderful dish known as Carne Adovada, which means literally Marinated Meat in Spanish. Normally it is a concoction of the cheapest cut of pork that can be found and gobs of red chile.

No. Not the chili with beans you get out of a can. Chile. With an "e" ending. This type of chile is what you can find in your Hispanic area of the supermarket, and--if you are lucky like me--everywhere in your supermarket. It is normally found either in whole pods as roasted dried chile in bags (Hatch is a common brand), or as pre-ground powder in the spice section. I prefer to use the ground stuff because it is easy for me to get a hold of, and eliminates the step of taking papery whole red chilies and turning them into tasty red sauce.

So here is my recipe for Carne Adovada as tweaked by me. And I really don't use the measurements listed as it is more of a dumping of ingredients until it satisfies my tastes, but this is a good place to start.

Also note that this recipe is good for either a crock pot or an oven. I have even made it on the stove but it requires more babysitting and that is just too much darn work.

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds Pork--trimmed (cheap Cuts Are Best)
  • ¾ pounds Red Chile Pods (or 1c. Red Chile Powder)
  • 1 whole Onion--yellow or white
  • 8 cloves Garlic
  • 4 cups Water Or Chicken Stock
  • 2 teaspoons Oregano, Dried
  • 2 teaspoons Cumin, Ground
  • 3 teaspoons Salt
  • ½ teaspoons Cinnamon, Ground
  • 2 Tablespoons Vinegar--Cider Or White
  • Cheese, Sour Cream, Tortillas, Eggs To Garnish
Destructions

(If using powdered red chile skip this step) Combine Chilies, water or stock, onion, garlic and spices in a large stockpot and simmer for 20 minutes covered.
While simmering stock, finish trimming and cube pork into 3/4″ to 1″ cubes.
Puree simmered stock and solids in a blender or food processor in small batches, straining the whole mess if it looks lumpy or if there are large pieces of chile left after pureeing. ***This is a basic red chile sauce that you can find all over New Mexico (when they ask you ,"Red or Green?" they mean red or green chile). It doesn't really take long to make and it lasts forever in the freezer and for at least a week in the fridge if not longer.***

Add cubed pork and vinegar to the red chile puree. If you have extra time, let the meat marinade for up to 36 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pork and chile mix into an oven safe container with a lid (or aluminum foil to cover tightly). Bake for at least an hour or until you can’t stand the tasty fumes coming from your oven.
****Crock Pot Option****
Place pork and chile mixture on high for about 3 hours or on low for 6-8 hours and cook until meat is tender (low is better)
Serve with shredded cheese, tortillas, sour cream, and (in the New Mexican tradition) over-medium or over-easy eggs on top.
This dish freezes well and reheats like a charm. It is great with rice and refried beans as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well huh.

My mother always told me to try everything at least three times in your life to make sure that you REALLY hate it.

I gave cilantro a good try. Several tries in fact. Honest to goodness fork to mouth tries...and I have to admit that I hate it with a passion. Not a fiery burning passion--that is reserved for eggplant--but with a passion none the less. And yet... I had a dish for supper that featured, no, highlighted that evil weed.

Let me go waaaaay back to my first few episodes with cilantro. Mostly this was the New Mexican tradition of making salsa with a few tomatoes and chilies and a few fist fulls of cilantro to "
add color". Bah. To me it literally tasted like soap. Spicy tomatoes and soap is not good eatin' in my book. So I swore off cilantro for a while and decided that later on I would try it again.

I moved out to a small town for college and was faced, yet again, with the greenery from hell in all my tasty Mexican and Thai foods. I love both of these cuisines and most recipes need something to put in the weed's place... but parsley and basil just never really did the trick. But I tried anyway.

Round three. CSA to the rescue.

Our local Community Supported Agriculture group sends my house a weekly box of goodness, but sometimes they foul it up a bit by adding in eggplant (which my housemates both like and I despise but can cook it well so it works) and cilantro (which two of us don't like and neither of us who cook can come up with anything for it but the compost pile). In this week's box was--you guessed it--a nice big heapin' helpin' of cilantro. Well huh. I figured that it would be another offering to the compost bin. But there was to be more to this innocent little bunch of green.

As my housemates left for the night I contemplated the demise of the foul weed in my fridge. I could bake it into dog biscuits to make them have fresh breath... or I could freeze it and give it to someone who really wants it... or I could give that third try a chance... ... Nah.

I sat down at my computer and was poking around the internet for inspiration for dinner and came upon a wonderful idea: Pesto! I have all the ingredients; garlic, cheese, oil, pine nuts, basi...

dangit.

My poor lonesome basil plants have not taken the neglect well and, though there was a sizeable amount of various types of basil, there was no where near enough for the piles needed for pesto. Foiled by my lack of full garden again. Or was I...

I have used extra parsley in place of basil for a twist on pesto before... what if I made Cilantro pesto... it just might be edible if hidden under tasty cheesy garlicy goodness. On the other hand it might be a waste of my time and ingredients. Meh. If not the man would eat leftovers. I set to it with a slight stop off to see what the internet had to say about cilantro pesto.

The only consensus other than cilantro, oil, garlic, salt and pepper was that it really needs a spicy kick to prevent the soapiness and it needed some vinegar. Well now, if they are going to go right out and make sure to avoid the very thing I despise about the upcoming dish, then I would have follow through with the tip. I had no jalapeƱos, and the new crop of chilies is not quite out yet, but I do keep around chile flakes and cayenne so that would just have to do.

Since I don't really like raw garlic (well... my stomach doesn't) I tossed a few tablespoons of minced garlic and some olive oil into a dish and then sprinkled in some chile flakes and salt and pepper on it. I microwaved it till it for 45 seconds and then dumped it into the blender with pine nuts, the entire (4-5cups) bunch of washed cilantro (stem ends cut off, but most of the stem still on), a few black olives and brine, and 1/2 cup of feta cheese.

I let my blender go at that for a bit and came back to something decidedly not soapy. But it was missing something... more cheese! I added a 1/4 c. shredded parmesian and a 1/4c. sour cream to get the texture a little creamier and blended it more. It tasted heavenly. WAIT. I just said that something with the main ingredient as cilantro was real food! What was this world coming to!

I was now desperate for food. While I heated up some leftover Tinkyada gluten free pasta (best of all those gf pastas ever), I used the handy dandy soup feature on my blender to heat up the pesto to perfect sauce temperature and then... I ... ate up all that my pasta could possibly hold (plus a bit that I faked). I ate cilantro and liked it.

I guess that the third time really is a charm. Now I need to see if I can get my cilantro-hating housemate to get near it... she hates cilantro even more than me. That could be interesting.

So in case I need this later when the CSA box arrives with that bunch of green:
Cilantro Pesto
4-5cups cilantro--washed and bottoms of stems removed
1/2 c. pine nuts
1 1/2 Tbs. Olive brine + a few olives (or just use vinegar or Italian dressing)
1/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. feta cheese
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. red chile flakes
1 tsp salt.
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Place garlic, chilie, pepper, salt and oil in a microwaveable bowl. Heat 45 seconds or until garlic is cooked a bit. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Heat, serve on pasta... bread... starch of your choice...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I love you Mr. Brown

For the record:
Sinus surgery... more accurately: sinusotomies... suck.

Also for the record:
Alton Brown... re: gluten free goodness really really wins

So to expound a bit, I had a complete rotorooter job of my sinuses last Tuesday. Whee. I would like to not have a resident sinus infection sitting there making my head unhappy. This means that right now my head is... well... rather unhappy, but in good time it will be much better than the alternative of not surgery.
Surgery also means that my sleep schedule has been shot to hell though I have been getting lots of sleep. I have been on a sort of 6 hours on, 6 hours off rotation of awake/sleep. Since I am no longer living pill to pill on the pain meds (yay happy meds!) I just sort of have been sleeping when my body orders or strongly suggests that I should rest. I have lots of experience at ignoring those suggestions. My body also has rather potent ways of making me sleep though... like shutting off my focal point vision till I sit down, shut up, and turn off my brain for a while (yay swelling. /pout)

In other news, this sleep cycle has a whole bunch of unexpected side effects. The first is that the dogs are really confused by me being awake--but on the same token it means that I have now seen them off the leads long enough that I trust them to behave themselves free in the yard now. Second on the list of goodies is that I have been cooking. Not intensive cooking, as that takes brainpower and non-medicated thought processes, but rather the instant gratification of FOOD! (and if I feel like eating it, it must be worth making because food in general has not been very appetizing of late) Along that same vein is that I have had time to just sit and surf the internets. For said food. Often.

Insert Alton Brown. Master of Good Eats and food geekery. I may not always agree with how he does his food, but I always appreciate why he does things the way he does. And he had a show recently on food allergies apparently where he made ***Insert fanfare***

Chocolate Chip Cookies!!!!
Not the store variety of cardboard or grainy wafers, no, these are the chewy yet crisp excuse to eat chocolate and milk and cookiedough straight from the spoon. Which I am doing right now as a matter of fact. I know that they will cook up well... but I am fighting myself to actually get them to the oven to become COOKies...
... rather than heavenly dough that I will devour at my not so slow leisure
So they are chilling in the fridge per instructions... waiting for their doom... either on a pan then my tummy... or I'll just skip the pan altogether.

If this post seems a bit fragmented, it probably is. I still have a micro dose of happy meds in me to keep my head from sploding. And I have cookie dough. The latter is probably more to blame for the fragmentedness.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yesterday we went around fixing fence to make it able to hold dogs in; it held, but the dirt underneath it is too soft. Today was very sad when my roomie woke up to find our little girlie Dax missing. She got a call about an hour later from animal control saying that they found her, shot by one of the chicken farmers. She was not a 500 feet from the house and was on public property. It made me really mad, but I realize that the farmer is just protecting his flock, but a simple look at her tags (which is how animal control found us) would have gotten her home safely.

That meant that we have been fixing fence, reinforcing it with long logs to keep the dirt and fencing down, and posting signs around the property letting people know to actually shut the gate and let us know BEFORE they come in the yard. I miss our old pup (she was nearly 10) and now she is buried out in the back yard under a new tree. My roomie is taking it much harder, since she has been with the dog since they both were little. It is very sad to lose Dax, but at least I know that she died quickly and now we know that we REALLY need to keep the boys locked in tight. They both managed to get out this morning, but they are both home bodies and did not roam. Now there is no easy way of escape, short of someone opening the gate.

I may have blisters from shoveling and fencing, but it is worth it to prevent what happened to our little Dax from happening to the other two. Now it is a game of waiting for Bear to find a new spot to dig, scold him, and shore up the area.

(And as a side note I also got a lot of the thistle and sticker plants killed while taking out my frustrations on vile plants instead of people... it served to add to the blister but helped me mentally. Now my hands are torn up, and I am tired, but in a good way after a rather stressful morning.)

I guess that I never will be able to get that new photo of Dax. I will find one somewhere. I will.
****EDIT****
And I did:
Dax, born 1998, Died June 26th, 2009

Pretty Edible Flowers!

Recently at work a coworker of mine brought in a gorgeously decorated cake. We had two birthdays that month so the requests that were made was for something with flowers and butterflies...but manly. A difficult request no doubt. However, what showed up for the two birthday people was a wonderful combination of both frilly and firm.

I give you: The Carnivorous Cake!


Those are not just any flowers on there, that is a combination of Venus Fly Traps and Pitcher Plants... along with incoming lunch in the form of edible butterfly decorations and glitter gnats.

To wrap it all up, the decorations are laid on a background of dirt...er...chocolate frosting and chocolate-chocolate chunk cake under that. While I cannot say that I tried the cake, the hand pulled sugar decorations were excellent when combined with the decadent frosting that went along with the cake. The whole thing was as tasty as it was beautiful! I can't wait to see her next creation... and eat it.


Cakes and Sugar Oh MY!!

Today I got a feeling of absolute NEED for chocolate cake and icing. This is a bit of a problem because I have to make baked goods in order for me to be able to eat them: I needed a gluten-free cake in a hurry. Luckily I have in my kitchen, at all times, a bag of Pamela's Chocolate Cake Mix from my local supermarket.

This is the only way that I have found (so far in two years of searching, testing, tossing, and tweaking) that will work consistently at high altitudes without using bean flour. It happens to be one of the few mixes that I use anymore since I have found ways of baking gluten-free breads, crusts, sauces and most cakes... but I still have no scratch recipe for chocolate cake that can out-do the Pamela's mix. Don't get me wrong, I still doctor the mix a bit to allow for my tastes, but the mix itself is my main staple for actual cake--not dense torte or gummy glue, but actual fluffy cake that is not overly sugary (like a lot of GF recipes).

All told I basically follow the directions for the "pound cake" or "ultra-rich" version on the side of the package (I was almost out of sour cream, so it was the pound cake version today which is a little fluffier, but also a little drier...especially when I overcook it by a few minutes by getting distracted outside). I also add about two tablespoons of mocha powder (the little tin of drink mix has many uses!) to the mix and make sure to line the bottom of the pan with circles of parchment. I have had too many cakes go to crumbs because one small spot stuck in my pan and the parchment prevents that from being a problem.

The frosting is a newly-developed creation that is basically a 1/2 cup of butter, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2c. sour cream, and about 3 cups of powdered sugar (and a teaspoon of vanilla or other extract would be nice, but I forgot). I really like the texture of replacing my normal water or milk with the sour cream, but it means that refrigeration is a good idea unless it is going to be immediately eaten.

So without further ado, Here is my grand half second photo session of the cake before I inhaled every bite on the plate with a large glass of milk.


Note that it is not perfectly arranged as I am about to dive headlong into every last calorie on that plate!
Yes, it is not perfect and there are bits missing from the piece... they were properly disposed of I assure you. It was a last minute thought to take photos of my creation. The strawberries were also a last minute idea since I had a box of organic strawberries from our local CSA that were going to go bad soon. It really turned out wonderfully!

So the next time that you are hankering for a nice slice of Gluten-Free chocolate cake, and stopping by your local supermarket, pick up Pamela's mix, you won't regret it. And no, I do not work for, get paid by, or otherwise get compensation from Pamela's other than that they give me the opportunity to have wonderful chocolaty calories out of a mix.

Fun with Moving dogs

Well, it is much later (earlier?) than I thought it was. I was up playing World of Warcraft for a while and lost track of time. Anyway.

Today was an adventure in getting the yard ready for our three four-footed friends. The fence line was walked and adjusted as needed to keep the wigglebutts inside the property, the garden was locked off, food and water was trucked over. And then the dogs.

Now we are only going across town on this adventure, but all three dogs are old, and none of them can climb into the jeep on their own. The two small ones are easy to lift as they are only about 35 lbs... Bear is rather larger so he got some rear end help once he took the initiative to put his front end into the vehicle. Teamwork is good for travel, especially when everyone involved has creaky joints. (Bear occasionally reminds me of Creak from creakyjoints.org) Once everyone was inside, the trip was pretty uneventful but the three dogs each have a very different way of reacting to car rides:

1. hide and cower in a small corner and wait for it all to be over soon.
(Dax--our smaller corgi-like female mutt)

I just realized that I am lacking a photo of Dax... I will remedy that later on.
2. try to look out of every window at once while stepping on the other two dogs
(Worf--the sibling male to Dax)

3. And finally, lay down and hold on for the ride while attempting to not lose his spot to Worf's wanderings...
(Bear, the rescued newf mix)



All told, I think that some of the fence is not going to hold if any of them really want to get out, as some does not effectively hit the ground. As long as the chicken farmer next door does a good job of keeping his chickens in their pens, (which he usually does, even though they are free range) the dogs should have no real reason to try to escape. There are not any loose cats around here so the chickens are the only real stimulus that they have. And the trains. But they just try to hide from the train noises.

Once we got the dogs all settled in with their familiar blankets, we got out the brushes and combs and went at the fur that has been neglected while we were moving. It seems that all three had been hiding extra dogs in their fur that were just waiting to formed out of all the sheddings that we found. There was fur EVERYWHERE! I guess that it will make the nesting birds happy, even though it is a little late for that here. I also am finding out that Newfoundland dogs never really stop shedding... in fact, they just sort of hold onto their sheddings until you brush them and they explode. Luckily Bear really likes to be brushed as long as I let him sit or lay down (standing is as hard on him as it is on me some days!). He is a good dog, as soon as I picked up the collar he shoved his head at me to put it on. Then he just settled down and found a nice patch of warm sand to lay in and snoozed. I have no idea how that dog found his way to the pound, but someone took some time to be around him and train him. (though he can have his obstinate times just like anyone). The other two are nice, it is just that I am still finding out about the quirks of Bear, and enjoying most of what I am finding.

Now time to end this so that I can make a short post on food before sleep!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fun with 4-wheeling

Well now I should actually start the photo blogging that I started this up for.

I think we start back in April with the trip up and over the Magdalena mountains that my man and a few friends went on. I do not have any editing software besides basic cropping and color adjustments, so these are all cropped/straight out of the camera.

This is a view from the valley we started in.


And one overlooking another valley.

And finally up and over the other side of the valley.

Yes I have tons of other photos... but I am just getting into the swing of things, so we will start slow. It was a great trip and I was happy to get out and take the Jeep out and toss it into low gear for a while. I didn't manage to get the Jeep stuck enough to need anything more than a few moved rocks to get unstuck... sad really.

Next up on the blog will be photo fun in Atlanta from when I went this past May for a conference and took a stop at the Aquarium and Coka-Cola museum.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to move a garden pt. 1

I went out to my garden today to water it after my absence. Daily watering is blessedly done by the other woman of the house, but the garden needs some deeper watering love to truly thrive. So while I was sitting outside scratching dog ears and making plants happy I stopped to take stock of the work that will be involved in transporting this garden across town and transplanting it in a new (and as of yet non-existent) garden.

The tomatoes are laden with the first crop of succulent juicy fruit--both the romas and the regular slicing varieties. Those will need a pot each--which I luckily have laying around from past years' annual plantings. The corn and smaller plants like the radishes and bunching onions will all fit nicely into a long windowsill planter, and the beans... well... they will manage there once I remove them from their wire supports. The lettuce and squash/melons will take some more ingenuity and patience since they tend to be picky about movement, but I should still be able to pot them and be fine.

The biggest problem by far is the lack of new garden at the new property to actually transplant the babies. I would love to just pluck them from the ground and immediately plant them the same day to prevent undue stress on the poor guys, but that just doesn't look like it is going to happen. On the other hand, if I get crackin' early and start building the new bed NOW... well tomorrow really... I will have time to still set up the new beds and only have to worry about transporting the plants instead of interim storage in pots. I have grand plans of making a much bigger bed--or beds--for the plants at the new place, but that involves much more dirt, compost, and building materials than I have on hand. To be exact, I have NO dirt and very little compost. Here in the high desert, there is no soil, only sand and rock. And caliche which might as well be concrete ( Caliche is made up of calcium and other mineral deposits that set up into an all-natural shovel-proof inpermeable layer). All the dirt has to come either expensively pre-bagged from the store, or in a more economical large truckload from 70 miles away. The same goes for manure and compost, but I may be able to use some of my own compost as well.

I love gardening, don't get me wrong, but actually building the plot for the plants is the easy part--buying and mixing the filling for the beds is the hard part here. I am expecting to lose some of my plants to the move, but I am avoiding the heartbreak of simply abandoning a garden when it is mid summer and flourishing. Thinning the seedlings is hearbreaking enough for me, I don't think that I could manage losing an entire crop. I am hopeless like that...or eternally hopeful perhaps is a better way of looking at it--hopeful for the healthiest and best mature garden that I can manage (really I hope for the happiest garden around since happy gardens make a happy me!).

On that note, it is time for me to go off and dream of building the new garden... or of whatever randomness that my brain manages to pop up for the night's entertainment.

Fun with Dad

This weekend was full of travel. First there was the trip from home to the city to go to church and then up to my parents' house. There my man dropped me off and left me to the devices of my family. It had been a long time since my dad and I had spent some relaxed time together so we decided to take a short fishing trip around the state. We tried several lakes (which is imprssive considering that we are in the middle of New Mexico--a state full of deserts) all with little success of the fishing variety, but lots of relaxing time. And driving.

Unfortunately I have found that the weather is out to spite me. Normally New Mexico has its rainy season (wishfully called the monsoon season) in mid August. This year it appears to have jumped to late May/early June--also known as the time that everyone had outdoor adventures planned. Every time my father and I would set up at a fishing spot it would: A--start to blow right into us (not good for fishing), B--drip/pour rain on our heads, or C--not have a single fish bite due to A and B mixed with high temperatures.

Even with all the weather spiting us, we managed to have a nice trip. We fished at 5 lakes all told (and saw 3 additional ones too) and drove over 600 miles round trip. What started as a simple jaunt up to a familiar lake turned into a road trip. It is a good thing that I like road trips! Unfortunately our trip was cut short due to work needs at my dad's office so we had to come back to town early, but it still was fun.

After that was the adventure with the family truck so that I could use it to help move Casita Gatita to its new house. This truck is... well loved... yes, that's it, well loved. It has well over 200 thousand miles on it, has had new transmission, engine, cooling system, shocks, various panels, and--thanks to today's adventure--new tires. I grew up driving this beast of a pickup, and hope that it lives a nice long life, but when I left the house this morning I filled up a tire because it was a little low. About 40 miles later when I stopped to get new windshield wipers for it, I noticed that once again it was low, but this time it was down by more than a little. Wipers cost $10. Tires... not so cheap, so I called my dad and asked him what he wanted to do. He tried to tell me earlier that the tires were perfectly fine, just a little worn that was all. Suuuuuure.

After taking it in to my friendly tire shop (which I trust) they sadly told me that there was nothing wrong with the tire... other than that the rubber was just disintegrating and not holding air in. I asked the question of whether it would get me home (60 more miles) or not. The lady there flat said that she did not think it would make it there with any air left in it, and thought that the other tires were not far behind. I checked all the tires again for air pressure... sure enough they had dropped between 2 and 5lbs in 4 hours and 40 miles. Damn.

I called dad back and explained, then put him on the line with the sales rep and had them explain exactly the same thing that I had told my dad, except with dollar signs attached to the solution. $600 later, the truck has new tires, I had a safe drive home at a reasonable speed instead of a turtle, and I have peace of mind that I would not get stranded due to tire failure any time soon. I love my dad, but when it comes to other people's vehicles he just loses his senses (he takes excellent care and maintenance of his own truck). That is okay, this is why I know to hand the phone to the "experts" and let them explain why the part is necessary rather than his eternal "little girl." Daddies are sweet, but sometimes need a little push in the right direction to listen to sense!

All told the trip was nice, the truck is fixed, I have a way to move that does not involve cars or SUV's, and I am well rested from a road trip and an excuse to have a fishing pole in my hands and enjoy the outdoors. And I managed to get sunburnt where I missed part of my back... oops. I have sunscreen for a reason, since I have a tendancy of burning to a crisp, but I missed two perfect stripes on my shoulder blades where a halter top doesn't cover anything... and where nice soft un-sunned skin had a chance to get crispified by the high desert sun.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Adventures in Camping

I just got home after an interesting jaunt out 4-wheeling to pick up the 4 guys I dropped in the mountains a week ago. I took an alternate route that led me up and down over creek beds (and flowing water) up mountains. After gaining the needed 3000 foot increase in elevation and the 60 miles one way, I found the guys camped at the top of the overlook waiting for me... and the approaching storm.

Here in New Mexico we get some STRANGE weather. You name it. We get it. Except for maybe ... well... anything to do with oceans. We got a full month of summer with the temps up in the high 90's and low 100's and then this: a week of rain, cool weather, and humidity over 10%! This also happened to be the entire week where they were out hiking at 10,000ft in said rain. So when I pulled up in the Jeep they jumped for joy and scampered in the car to beat the incoming rain. All told they were happy to get home to showers and hot food that did not come from lousy water.

As for me I spent the week while they were gone fixing up/packing the house, weeding the garden, and hanging out with the dogs. We are moving Casita Gatita to a new house across town this month, and have a garage sale planned for next weekend. In July I am getting married to a wonderful man that I have had now for over 5 years, and in August I start up at college again for my last year (much awaited for... let's see here now... this makes 8 years I have been in college... yeesh). What a busy summer!

For the new house I need to build a new garden, since my current plants need to be transplanted. Here in the high desert you would think that not much wants to grow happily, but so far this year, I have an abundance of tomatoes, happy corn plants, radishes coming out of my ears, beans getting started, basil for pesto, melons and squash of various types, and lots of onions. To go along with that, I have lettuce, beets, chard, and lots of herbs as well as lots of things that I am sure that I am forgetting. All need homes. All need homes by the end of June. I will make that home happen.

With lots of help from my peoples, all will go well. And I need to get my camera up and running to post pictures of everything as well.
Welcome to Casita Gatita, the blog for stories from a household in the middle of New Mexico! Here you will find (eventually) posts of gardening, gluten-free and regular cooking, house maintenance, life's intricacies, outdoor fun, tricks and tips for living with rheumatoid arthritis, and random trips into whatever strikes my fancy at the time. I am just getting up and running with my new photo phone, so I should have more pictures as time goes on.

Feel free to leave comments and questions and I will get back to you as soon as possible. I really would like to hear from people!