Monday, November 28, 2011

Today is National French Toast Day

french toast

I kind of wish I didn’t know that. On the other hand, some of these French toast recipes look pretty fabulous.

Curious about other national food holidays? Who wouldn’t be!? Especially because it appears there is pretty much one every day.

Every.

Single.

Day.

See what I mean?

December 11 has me a little worried, though. I don’t even know what a noodle ring is. How am I supposed to celebrate properly?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Southwestern Turkey Stew

chicken stew

It’s the time of year when soups and stews take over from burgers and salads, and the day after Thanksgiving you need something good to do with those turkey leftovers.

The cold weather often means higher calorie intake and less outdoor activity. In fact, I read that on average, our bodies crave 200 more calories per day when temperature plummet. Old school protection against the hardships of winter, but hardly necessary for most of us. Never mind that many of us totally pigged out yesterday.

So it’s nice that this stew is pretty light. Plus, it can go in the slow cooker, which is nice after all that holiday kitchen frenzy. I adapted it from a recipe Marie Valenzuela of Westminster, Colorado (right down the road from me!) had published in the Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook in 2000.

I leave out a few of her ingredients, adjust some others to our taste, eliminate anything labeled “lite” or “diet”, then throw the whole shebang into a slow cooker to simmer all day while I do other things (like write). It’s a good way to use leftovers from a roasted chicken, too (the original recipe was for chicken, actually, but I love it with turkey).

Southwestern Turkey Stew

Shred 4 cups or so of leftover cooked turkey. Place in slow cooker and add:

  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
  • 1 large red bell pepper (chopped)
  • 3-4 roasted poblano or ancho chilies (chopped – or you can use a large can of chopped green chilies if you can’t find the others or don’t want the stew to be spicy)
  • 3 medium whole tomatoes (skins removed) OR one 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 cup corn (frozen or cut from the cob)
  • 1 cup either chicken stock OR prepared salsa
  • Salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin (or buy whole cumin seeds, toast them and grind in mortar & pestle or coffee grinder – yum!)
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes (leave out if you don’t like heat)
  • 1 handful of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (or frozen – see how to freeze fresh cilantro here).

Give it all a good stir, set to low, and walk away for 6-8 hours. Or longer.

Don’t have a crock pot? Mix everything together in a big, oven-safe pot (like a Dutch oven) and put into the oven at 300 degrees for 5-7 hours.

Serve this stew with a dollop of crème fraiche, sour cream, or plain yogurt and more cilantro if you like.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Go Plaid!

plaid friday

In case you haven’t heard, Plaid Friday is an alternative to the infamous Black Friday, as the day after Thanksgiving has become known. Since it’s one of the biggest shopping days of the year, it could very well take a business out of the red and into the black.

I’m not advocating putting any business “into the plaid,” but money spent at local and independent shops rather than the big box stores keeps the funds in your community and supports your friends and neighbors. That’s the whole idea behind Plaid Friday.

Check out the official Plaid Friday site to find out more, find participating businesses, and, if you’re a business owner, you can download a Plaid Friday placard for your window.

But a business doesn’t have to have a placard in order for us to support it!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and good shopping!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

Tomatoes were iffy this year, the asparagus a bust, and the raspberry cane didn’t even bloom. But lordy, do I have more butternut squash than I know what to do with.

So I made up a quick recipe for soup that turned out quite delicioso, and thought I’d share. Note that I used a pressure cooker, mostly because I was gone all day and came home hungry, but you could use a slow cooker, or boil it up on the stovetop like any vegetable soup.

Butternut Squash Soup

First, peel a medium to large butternut squash. If you’ve never done this before, it can be tricky, even a little dangerous. Those squash are tough, and you don’t want to battle one with a sharp knife unless you know what you’re doing.

So, first slice off the top. Then slice off the bottom so it sits square on the cutting board. Then slowwwwwly force a large knife down through the middle to split it. A long, sturdy knife works best, so you can take a dishtowel and push down on the blade on both sides of the squash.

butternut squash

Then scoop out the seeds, peel it with a vegetable peeler and cut into chunks. Set aside. Oh, wait. Smell it first. Butternut squash smell amazing. ‘Course, that might just be me.

Slice 4-6 slices of bacon into lardons (like, quarter-inch strips, crosswise). Toss in the bottom of the pressure cooker/stew pot and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon and brown (don’t burn!) one chopped onion in the bacon fat. When it’s soft and there are a few crusty bits on the pan, add the cubes of butternut squash, the cooked bits of bacon and about a teaspoon of dried sage, then barely cover with chicken stock.

On the stovetop simmer until the squash is very tender. In a pressure cooker, cook for five minutes at high pressure, then allow to lose pressure of its own accord (as opposed to fast-release by running cold water over it). Six hours ought to do it in a slow cooker on low, but I think it would be hard to overcook it.

It you’re one for pureeing soups, go for it. I took a potato masher to mine until I liked the consistency, then added a bit of heavy cream – you could use sour cream or yogurt, too – to smooth the consistency a little. Salt and pepper to taste and you’re good to go!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Got a Kindle? Get Wined and Died for $1.99

Wined and Died_1 (2)

Hey all. I knew my publisher, Midnight Ink, submitted Wined and Died for one of the Amazon specials, but I just happened across this today.

SO: I don’t know if it’s for one day only (Amazon usually sends me all the daily deals in email, but I didn’t get this one) or if it’s for the week or month.

But right now, Wined and Died is $1.99 for Kindle!

That Time of Year Again

And I’m stepping up on my soapbox on two familiar fronts.

catalog_choice-logo The first is battling the influx of catalogs hitting our mailboxes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t shop from catalogs. I try to shop locally, but I’m not religious about it. But if I do order from a company, I shop their online catalog and order from there.

So once again, it’s time to visit CatalogChoice.org and re-opt out from any companies that have since ignored your request not to send more catalogs.

You did that last year, right? No? Well, you can start from scratch, then.

And the other soap box – wait – did soap really used to come in boxes strong enough to stand on? Hang on …

From Wikipedia:

“Throughout the 19th Century and into the 20th, prior to the invention of corrugated fiberboarsoapbox-1d, manufacturers used wooden crates for the shipment of wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. Discarded containers of every size, surprisingly well-constructed and sturdy, were readily available in most town. These “soapboxes” made free and easily portable temporary platforms for street corner speakers attempting to be seen and heard at improvised “outdoor meetings,” to which passersby would gather to hear often provocative speeches on religious or political themes.”

Well, whadaya know? I hear they’re good for making derby cars, too.

ANYWAY.

goat Soapbox #2 is a plug for Heiffer International. Now, I’m leery of recommending charities, because often you don’t know the real story about them. But I like these guys. I like that you can buy as much as a whole farmload of animals for a family or as few as two chickens to provide eggs for hungry kids. I like that they now have options for buying medicine, warm clothes, food education and clean water for people all over the world who need them. And I like that they have Heiffer Ranch, where participants are at least introduced to the realities of living in some third world countries.

Donating to this – or ANY charity of your choice – in a friend or family member’s name is a great Christmas gift idea.

I’m just sayin’.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Weather or Not

A couple weeks ago I dug up the last of the carrots, plucked a few sturdy green tomatoes, pulled any onions I’d missed, snapped the last tiny cabbage off its stem and chopped down what was left of the chard.

last harvest

The next morning we awoke to this.

first snow

And then exactly a week later, we got it again.

Lots of talk about the weather lately, what with all the storms and power outages around the country. Northern Colorado was hit with the storm that then moved northeast and caused so many problems in that corner of the country. A foot of snow fell in 24 hours, and we lost power for three days, but luckily the big freezer was so packed with garden produce and a side of pork that nothing thawed. We weren’t so lucky with the food in the fridge and side-by freezer.

Ah, well. We were safe and warm enough, with hot water, a gas stove top, plenty of canned goods, and a place to recharge laptop batteries after whacking away at the keyboard each day.

I’ve seen tornados (a bit too close for comfort), been in flood waters up to my neck, rationed water in droughts, watched wind storms take down hundred foot tall Douglas firs (crash!), and rock-and-rolled through the epicenter of a 5.2 earthquake. Dust storms, snow storms, ice storms that cover everything with a coat of glitter – weather thrills me. That’s not to say I hope for bad weather, because I most certainly do not.

However, weather is powerful. I don’t appreciate the destruction it can cause to people and property, but I have to acknowledge that it’s one of the few things man doesn’t control. Sure, I’m on board that most of the crazy weather of the last few years is caused by human-induced climate change, but other than the practice of seeding clouds to get more snow on the ski slopes, man can do little other than prepare and hope and, well, weather out the weather. We can work to reduce gas carbon emissions, and should, but if a system is heading your way, riding your bike to work is just a little too late.

We’ve finally cleaned up all the downed branches, made the necessary trips to the dump, and are waiting patiently for the snow to finish melting so we can pick up the rest of the fall leaves. It’s always something.

And that’s okay.