Sunday, September 30, 2012

Slow Cooking It Thai Style

Since getting my slow cooker, I've wanted to try a curry in it.  I knew I wanted something vaguely Thai in a chicken masaman sort of way, but otherwise I winged it. I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

What You'll Need
Slow cooker                                                          Large cast iron skillet
Cutting board                                                        Small mixing bowl
Knife for chopping                                                Measuring cup
Measuring spoons                                                 Fork

2 small onions                                                        1/2 tsp ginger
2 potatoes                                                               1 tsp minced garlic
1 can coconut milk                                                 salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken broth                                                3-4 chicken breasts
1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder                                        Olive oil
2 Tbsp peanut butter                                              Green onions

Now Let's Make Thai Chicken Masaman
Start by prepping your vegetables. Cut the tips off your onions on one side and remove the peel. Slice the other end off. Slice the onion in half, and slice each half into thirds, keeping the pieces together. Turn the onion and slice across your previous cuts to finish chopping your onion, which should be fairly coarsely cut.

 These are onions...

Next, scrub your potatoes to remove any dirt (you can also peel them, if you'd prefer). Slice each potato in half lengthwise. Then, slice the potato into quarters, again lengthwise, keeping the slices together. Turn the potato and slice along your previous cuts to coarsely chop the potato.  

 Sorry for the blur; it's hard to photograph and chop at the same time. Ponder that.

Place both the onions and the potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Pour some olive oil in your cast iron skillet and heat to medium.  While your skillet heats, trim any excess fat from your chicken breasts.  Quickly brown the chicken in the pan on all sides. 

Place the breasts over the top of the potatoes and onions. I like to nestle them in the veggies a little rather than setting them on top as this allows them to steep in a bit more moisture while cooking.

Oddly, I find partially cooked chicken less than appetizing

Open your can of coconut milk and pour it into the small mixing bowl. Measure out 1 cup chicken broth and pour in with the coconut milk. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1/2 tsp ginger, and 1 tsp minced garlic to the bowl. Liberally dash with black pepper and add salt (I used a little less than 1 tsp). Using your fork, whisk the ingredients together until liquid is smooth. 

 Avoid a real whisk unless you want to gum it up with peanut butter...

Pour the coconut milk mixture evenly over the top of the chicken breasts.  Cover and set slow cooker to low for 5 hours.

Serve with jasmine rice (I like to toss my rice with some golden raisins), and garnish with green onions.  Enjoy!



Friday, September 28, 2012

Adopt Your Stray Vampire Today

Time to get back into the routine of my book posts. Sadly, it's been a while, not just since I did a book post, but since I picked a book that really grabbed me. I had a bit of a drought in August and September. But I finally got hooked by a book that's quite apropos for the coming month of October.

The Basics
Harper, Molly. The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires. New York: Pocket Books, 2012. Print.

Molly Harper originally made her living as a journalist for the Paducah Sun. Eventually she transitioned from reporting to fiction writing, and her Nice Girls series got published. The Nice Girls series, which you'll be hearing about in a week or two, follows an ex-children's librarian turned vampire through her unlife in Half-Moon Hollow, Kentuky. There she dodges interfering mothers, conspiring sisters, and a murderer or two.

The Book
Why dwell on the other series so much? Well, The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires is also set in Half-Moon Hollow and runs at a slight parallel to Harper's other series, involving many of the same characters.  Originally, I picked this book up for laughs as it passed through the library (you see why the other series appeals, yesh?). I saw the title and cover and read the back and, frankly, thought the book looked freaking ridiculous (I mean, really, look at that cover). Naturally I had to see what was inside. I'm so glad I did, not only did I discover a great little not-so-urban fantasy with a dash of romance, I also found an author whose writing, humor, and snark I love.

As I've said before, if I'm going to read a romance novel, I want there to be a whole lotta plot. In fact, if the I can have plot with a smidge of romance, that's what I'd prefer. As a result, I tend to be a little suspicious of books billed as supernatural romance (admittedly, Twilight might have a lot to do with my skittishness). The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires definitely fits the bill. The story focuses on Iris Scanlon, a young entrepreneur who owns a vampire concierge service, fulfilling the daytime needs and errands of Half-Moon Hollows undead population. Life is going swimmingly until she stumbles, literally, over Cal the vampire, an investigator who drags her into his mystery solving. I really enjoyed the overall plot, as Cal and Iris try to track down the source of poisoned synthetic blood.  The mystery kept me guessing for a good long while, and the reasoning behind it was delightfully unexpected and twisted.

So, what did I like about this book? What didn't I? Now, some might draw parallels to the Sookie Stackhouse series, and the similarities are definitely there: a coming out, synthetic blood, southern. But really, that's where the similarities end. Harper takes good advantage of vampire lore while tweaking it here and there to create her own version for her universe. Harper's books would be well suited to fans of the Harris series (especially since I think they might be a tad better. Le gasp!).

The main characters Harper crafts are highly believable. Iris, especially, is nicely multi-dimensional. Her history and motivations are well thought out and consistent. I like her background as a botanist, which is unique, and her dual roles as parent/guardian of her younger sister and woman in her early twenties creates an interesting character.  Gigi, the sister is a believable teen, smart and sassy but still capable of the profound lack of common sense that teens often struggle with.  Cal is less complex than the two sisters, but he makes up for it with mystery. I'm sure his character will grow as Harper expands the series; she's left herself plenty of room.

My favorite part of the novel was the humor. Harper is clearly one snarky, snarky lady.  This particular book had me not just laughing out loud, but howling and slapping the sofa in mirth. It was that good.  For example, Gigi accuses her sister of sending her away for something other than protection from their vampiric house guest, "Is this all a very convincing act put on to get me out of the house so you can spend the weekend humping like deranged howler monkeys?" (61). Hi-(wait for it)-larious.

So yeah, all around great read. I read it start to finish in less than a day, and after a month and a half of trying to push my way through one book (which shall remain nameless, wallowing in its own boredom), that was nicely refreshing. I highly recommend this book, so why are you still here and not at a bookstore already? 

But, before you go, here are a few links:


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Slow Cooker Surprise

Okay, okay, so it's beef stew, which is not all that surprising, really.  The main point is that I finally got a slow cooker, so you can expect lots of those recipes in the future. I want to try a chicken curry, next I think...  This recipe is definitely a whatever you've got on hand sort of recipe. I pretty much made it up as I went, but it sure turned out tasty!

What You'll Need
Slow Cooker (at least 4qt)                                                                  Large mixing bowl
Cutting board                                                                  Spoon
Knife for chopping                                                          Measuring cups
1/2 large white onion                                                      Marjoram
1 large potato                                                                  Rosemary
1 lb stew meat                                                                 Thyme
1/4 cup flour                                                                   1 can green beans
1/3 red bell pepper                                                          1 can diced tomatoes
Baby carrots                                                                    1 tsp minced garlic
Chili powder                                                                   2 cups beef broth
Bay leaves                                                                       Salt and pepper

Now Let's Make Beef Stew!
Start by prepping your vegetables. Roughly chop 1/2 white onion and the potato (which you've totally scrubbed, right?). Place the two vegetables in the bottom of your slow cooker.

This layer prevents your meat from cooking its fat.

Next, place your 1 lb stew meat in the large mixing bowl, breaking it up with your spoon. Measure out 1/4 cup flour and pour it into the bowl with the meat. Stir the meat, allowing the flour to thoroughly coat each piece of stew meat. Add the stew meat to the slow cooker on top of the potatoes and onions.

The flour will help the meat brown (since we're not searing) and will thicken the stew 

Dice the 1/3 red bell pepper and add it on top of the meat. Also add a couple handfuls of baby carrots.

I know, I'm getting crazy technical here.

I like to add my spices next so that they're midway through the layers and cook into everything. Liberally dash chili powder around the mixture in the slow cooker. Next add bay leaves, I did a couple dashes of crushed leaves, because that's what I had on hand. If you're using whole leaves 2 should do. Add about 1 tsp marjoram, 1 tsp rosemary, and 1/2 tsp thyme. (I was not that precise, so feel free to loosen up a bit and do some dashes and pinches instead).

Open and drain the can of green beans and add it to the pot. Add the diced tomatoes along with there juice (aka don't drain those).

Top it all off with 2 cups beef broth, 1 tsp minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.

Hmmm... broth appears to be camera shy...

Cover and cook on low for 10 hours. At 10 hours switch setting to keep warm (I got off late the night I cooked this, so it cooked for 2 extra hours, which is why there's not as much liquid in the photo; it was still delicious.) Serve with a hearty bread and enjoy.  If you can't make it the morning of, whip it up the night before, and store it in the fridge, then transfer to the slow cooker in the morning.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Super Easy Sunday: An Appealing Appetizer

Yeah, so I said I'd be doing a slow cooker recipe; about that.... it usually helps if you remember to throw it together in time before you leave for work. Oops.  Next Sunday? That gives me a whole week to get used to the slow cooker concept.

Anywho, our pinch hitter for the night is the Ranch Cheese Ball.  I've been saving this one especially for football season, and what better way to celebrate Alabama's latest win, yes? (Or Auburn's, you know, if you swing that way; no sides here). This is a great recipe for hosting those football gatherings: easy to whip up and hard to knock over as you scream and wildly gesticulate at the television (you know who you are...).

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                    Wooden mixing spoon
Cutting board                                                             Measuring cups
Knife for dicing
8 oz cream cheese                                                      1 small packet ranch mix
1/3 cup red bell pepper                                              8 oz shredded cheddar
1/2 cup onion                                                            Flour
1/2 cup pecans + some for rolling

Now Let's Make a Ranch Cheese Ball
Unwrap and place 8 oz of cream cheese in the large mixing bowl.  Reduced fat cream cheese works as well as regular, but I'd steer clear of fat free. Soften your cream cheese, if it isn't already. I usually leave mine out to let it soften, but a short stay in the microwave will do the trick.

Oh, cheese blob, just look at you, so blobby
Dice enough red bell pepper to make 1/3 cup. Add to bowl.  Next, dice enough onion to fill a 1/2 cup, and add it to the bowl.  Then measure out 1/2 cup of pecan chips and add them to the bowl. If you chop your own pecans, just make sure to get them very fine.  Lastly, add the small packet of dry ranch mix. Use your wooden spoon to whip the ingredients together. Make sure to mix them thoroughly as you don't want any large areas of a single ingredients. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally to prevent the ranch mix from escaping the mixing process. (Watch it, it's sneaky).

Note the red spoon, which swiftly transforms to wood
in the next photo. Magic!
Once you're all mixed, add 8 oz of shredded cheddar cheese.  I use pre-shredded for this instead of my usual hand shredded; it's easier and doesn't seem to have any effect. Use your favorite cheese or cheese blend, but note that sharper is better. Blend the cheese into the cream cheese mixture. Once mixed, microwave the cheese for about 20-30 seconds to melt the shredded cheese into the rest a bit and mix again.

Mmmm.... cheese
Form the cheese into a rough ball in the bottom of the bowl, using your spoon to shape it. Wipe down your cutting board and spread out some more pecan chips. I used about another 1/2 cup.  Spoon the cheese out of the bowl and onto the pecan chips, keeping in ball form as much as you can. Lightly flour your hands and shape to cheese into a more distinct ball shape, rolling it in the pecans to completely coat the outside of the ball.

Yes, I got pecans EVERYWHERE.

Place on serving plate and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with your choice of crackers. Enjoy!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Your Program Will Resume...

I've been a bit recalcitrant in my posting lately. I've had a lot going on of late: my boyfriend got a job after a nearly a year of unemployment, I've been doing a little freelance editing, and then there's the run-of-the-mill craziness.  I hope you've all stayed with me.

I thought I'd drop in to let everyone know that blog posts will be resuming this Sunday, featuring a slow cooker recipe.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homemade Hash Browns

I haven't done a side dish post in quite some time. This recipe is pretty basic and serves about four people. The Hash Browny result can be served either as a breakfast item or as a dinner side. I love them either way, but most recently I served them up alongside my Chicken Berlin. Nom.

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                             Large pan
Knife for dicing                                                         Spatula
2 large baking potatoes                                              Salt
2 tbsp butter                                                               Pepper

    Now Let's Make Homemade Hash Browns
Start by thoroughly scrubbing the outside of your potatoes.  You want to get as much dirt and yuck off as possible. I leave my peels on for the recipe, but if it really bugs you feel free to peel your potatoes. However, for Hash Brown purposes, peeling is mostly a waste of time.

Take one of your potatoes, and slice in half lengthways. Then slice that in half across the width.  Slice your potato along the length with about 1/2 inch between your cuts. Keep your slices together. Then turn the potato and cut across the width. Break those pieces up and cut them until you have a medium dice. Repeat until all your potatoes are diced.

Heat the large pan over medium heat. When the pan reaches temperature, add 2 Tbsp butter and allow it to melt. Twist and tip your pan to allow the butter to thoroughly coat the bottom.

Now, add your potatoes. You want to add salt and pepper to taste. I don't typically add more than 3/4 to 1 tsp of salt. I'm very liberal with the pepper, though.  Saute the potatoes, moving them around regularly with the spatula to ensure even cooking.

Keep cooking the potatoes until they are brown, tender and slightly translucent looking.  Test a few larger pieces to ensure that none of the potatoes are still crunchy. Plate and serve! You now have a tasty, easy side dish to accompany your meal.