Archive for February, 2012

Cooking Lesson #1: Stock, Witchy

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Phyllis Lily Jules 

Well, I was never much of a cook. I had one of those mothers who never thought to teach me. Shooed me out of the way if I tried to look over her shoulder. There were no grandmothers hovering over me, preparing me for that strange world out there. I had an aunt who taught me piano, but nothing more. I could fix myself a bowl of cereal, then play music for hours, at least able to do something. And then later I had a husband who hogged the kitchen, only wanting his hot chicken sandwiches, done just so. You could make the salad, he offered. Or not, it didn’t matter. Just keep out of the kitchen, he firmly requested. After a couple of decades he was gone. I had sole run of the kitchen and didn’t know how to cook anything. Until the witchy women showed up.

They had started out as three witches, looking like the horrid witch in The Wizard of Oz, absconding with Toto, the poor dear thing. That face of hers, times three, looking intently at me when I was just a little girl and caught in nightmares. But over the years, the witches mellowed out into just quirky old ladies, a bit cranky and somewhat imperious. The witchy women. They saw I needed to eat decently, so stepped up to the plate, teaching me how to make magical, nourishing soup.

For this first lesson, great stock is the key to it all. No store-bought allowed. So make the stock the day before, use a nice whole chicken for it. Get yourself a crockpot, none of that stirring at a stockpot for hours. Crisscross some carrots at the bottom of the crockpot, no need to peel, then add a few stalks of celery. You’re making a nice grid to rest that chicken on so it will plump up nicely. Put the chicken in, breast side up, and toss in three bay leaves and a handful of parsley and ten whole peppercorns. Tuck in some onion wedges. Pour in cold water to cover, almost to the top, and put on low for overnight or so. No lifting the lid for smelling. Sorry, I know it’s tempting.

Now the witchy women will add their two cents in if they’re in the mood. They’ll toss in whatever herbs catch their fancy. Fresh if possible. Rosemary usually, and lots of it. Thyme is lovely. Herbes de Provence is one of their favorite blends. They’ll add olive oil, and a splash of apple cider vinegar to pull out the minerals. They might add lemon wedges, tuck a few into the cavity, and maybe garlic. Sometimes they’ll insist on two strips of bacon lying across the chicken, or some pats of butter. But mostly they keep this part simple because the chicken is the thing. Don’t do salt here, it goes in the soup, not the stock. Good rich stock will be the soul of the soup, then you add other bits and pieces later.

When it’s done cooking, let it cool a bit, then ladle it out through a strainer, pressing the juices out of the veggies. Those spent veggies go to any hounds you have around, with any of the chicken discards you care to toss their way. No bones or onions, though. You know that, right? Keep the tender chicken aside for adding to the soup later, or for a nice chicken salad. It will be plump and silky. Poached chicken, in essence.

Store your stock in the fridge for half a day so that the fat rises to the top and solidifies. Take off most of the fat, but not all. You need some for that incredible flavor. Leave that nice gelatinous mass under the fat. That’s protein and is a nutritious wallop, what you’ve been trying to extract. Store the stock in the fridge for up to three days or so, until you’re ready for the soup or anything else that calls for delicious stock. You can even have a cup of it zapped in the microwave, add some crunchy sea salt, maybe with some shredded greens floating on top or a green onion sliced nicely. Lots of things will do. A scrumptious treat while you curl up with that nice book.

You can do the same for beef stock. The difference is that you want to get some nice bones, baste them with tomato paste, then roast them in the oven. Throw the bones in the crockpot along with maybe a few beefy ribs, something with a bit of meat hanging off it. Then follow the same rules.

Vegetable stock is a bit different. Here’s the routine: While cooking, take any parts of the vegetable you normally toss, and store them in a big container in the freezer. You know, ends of tomatoes, onions and celery, herb and mushroom stems, ribs from greens, that sort of thing. Even veggies almost past their prime but still good enough. You’ll be extracting their nutrients and flavor, so you don’t care if the leaf isn’t perfect. Just don’t save obvious icky stuff, we all know that. And not much strong stuff, like kale and cabbage. When you need stock, take those frozen frosty bits and pieces, cover them all with cold water, add some herbs, bring to a boil, then shut off and let stand, covered for half an hour or so. Even better, do it in a pressure cooker, bring up to pressure, then cool down after fifteen minutes. Strain, and there you have it, perfectly infused vegetable stock.

You now have homemade stock, the vital ingredient for good witchy meals. It won’t taste rich yet, but wait until you see how it changes your meals. I’ll drop by another time for lesson #2, glorious soup.

In the meantime, look for your inner cook. We all have them, but maybe haven’t noticed or welcomed them. A Julia Child maybe? Alice looking after her Brady Bunch? Donna Reed with her pearls and pot roast? A bossy teen who seems to know it all? A fancy chef who demands all the latest kitchen gadgets and an extensive herb garden? When your cooking seems to run along its own path, unthinking yet seems to know just where to go, then I think you might have found your inner cook. Give them room, use them wisely, trust the results. In fact, I don’t even taste their meal until everyone else does. Then I agree with them that it’s absolutely fabulous.

You can hear more about the witchy women and others like them in my book, ‘Turning Inside Out’. But be forewarned: They have far more serious jobs there than cooking soup.

http://www.amazon.com/Turning-Inside-Out-ebook/dp/B006SMD0OC/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1325550421&sr=1-2

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       by Lisa Scott

Writing is one of the easiest things to try; writing well is another story and an entirely different blog post.  But anyone who wants to write can sit down at a computer or grab a pen and pad and give it a go.  And if you have a natural talent for it, you might not realize how hard writing can be. I’ve always loved writing, and it’s always come easily to me. It’s hard for me to believe there are people who would rather visit the dentist sans Novocain than sit down to pen a story.

I wonder if this leads writers to be overconfident in trying other new endeavors.  If I can imagine it, I can do it!  I can create fantastic worlds with my pen, break hearts and put them back together again with my laptop. So of course I can learn how to weld metal sculptures for my garden.  That can’t be too hard.  (Haven’t tried it yet, but would love to.  How hard could it be?)  Let’s just say I totally understand why Stephanie Plum thought it would be so easy to be a bounty hunter in Janet Evanovich’s best-selling series.  Luckily, my endeavors have been less dangerous than chasing crafty killers and hot cops.

When I heard about people making money selling stock photos, I thought, “I snap a nice photo now and then.  Think of all the residual income I could make.”  (Stock photos are sold for small amounts, but are available to anyone in the world who can download them on a computer.)  Once I upload them for sale, I thought, the work is done and the money will roll in forever.  (Insert laughter here.)

So, I upgraded my camera and took hundreds of photos.  I had a few gems here and there.  However, I don’t know much on the technical side.  Artificats?

Saturation?  Only a few of my photos were accepted by the stock photo site I targeted.  Many were rejected for technical reasons I just didn’t understand or know how to correct.  (This lovely picture of my daughter is my best seller. It’s been downloaded 12 times in 3 years.  Not exactly flying off the shelf.)  So, this endeavor was quickly abandoned.  The learning curve for success was just too high, despite my initial confidence at snapping off a few photos and raking in the bucks.

This same overconfidence led to my certainty that I could build a water garden in my backyard.  By myself.  Easily.  Three months, a sprained wrist, two bouts of poison ivy and many tears later I did it, but it wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined.

First we dismantled an above ground pool that was always cold and dirty.  We never could get it that crystal clear blue.  I’d fallen in love with the koi ponds I’d seen during our honeymoon in Hawaii.  Why not make one of our own?  So I made several trips to the scrap metal yard with the old pool parts in my mini SUV.  Then there were plants to be moved, stones to be transferred and a giant hole to be dug.

Luckily, my brother told me I was a fool when he found me trying to dig a 20x20x2 foot hole and we rented a backhoe to dig it out.  But then there was dirt to be moved, concrete blocks to be laid down for the river and waterfalls.  Tons—literally tons of stones—to be laid out.  Yes, there were days I worked in the rain and nights I cried, wondering what I’d done by starting this project.

But now that it’s complete, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.  Perhaps overconfidence isn’t always a bad thing. The only cure for this will be if my writing becomes wildly successful some day and I smarten up and hire people to do all these things I assume I can easily do.

Now excuse me while I look for a local welding class.

 ***

Lisa Scott is a former TV news anchor who now works as a voice actor and writer.  She writes collections of sweet, funny romantic short stories called Flirts!

http://www.amazon.com/Flirts-Romantic-Stories-Collection-ebook/dp/B0056VBOCQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1329490390&sr=1-1  (Beach Flirts, Holiday Flirts! and Fairy Tale Flirts!  Look for Wedding Flirts! this spring.)  Her first romance novel, No Foolin’, will be published Fall 2012 by Bell Books. Find her at ReadLisaScott.com or her author page on Facebook, Read Lisa Scott.

Get Smart

Posted: February 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

by K.T. Hall

I’m slightly fortunate in the fact that I have very few “bad dates” under my belt. That said, unfortunately, there’s one poor sucker who will probably forever be known, at least in my mind, as my worst date: “The guy who kissed like a salamander.”

When I tell this story, people start asking questions. “What do you mean he kissed like a salamander? Do you kiss salamanders often?” Well, no. Have you ever seen a salamander, or any reptile? They stick their tongues out every so often, but they also use them when catching prey. When you put that in context, the entire “date” seems like an anomaly.

Due to time constraints, rather than the normal “dinner and a movie”, we opted for just a movie. We opted to go see “Get Smart”, and considering I enjoy Steve Carrell, I was actually looking forward to this movie. And rather than one of us picking up the other, we opted to simply meet at the movie theater.

I waited half an hour for him to arrive, sitting in my car, looking out for him. And when he finally arrived, he did not park his car and step out like one would expect; no, he was dropped off, by his mom. His mom dropped him off so that he could go out on a date. Of course at this point, he had already seen me waiting for him, so I couldn’t exactly back out unless I was prepared with an excuse, which unfortunately, I was not.

Once inside the movie theater, things progressed as normal. I found myself enjoying the movie while we sat in silence. Or at least, we sat in silence for a while, until he started poking me. It became somewhat of a game, actually, where I would poke him back. This continued for a lot of the movie. “Poke.” “Poke.” “Poke.” It seemed like a friendly game; I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of there being “other intentions”. I did not think he was brave enough to “go in for the kill”.

Boy, was I wrong.

The movie was probably about 3/4ths of the way through when he kissed me. Granted, I use the word “kiss” loosely here, because there was too much tongue for this to truly be classified as a “kiss”. This kiss, what eventually became an awkward make-out session, was like making out with a salamander, because his movements mimicked that of the reptile – in, out, in, out. To make matters worse, he was wearing the type of cologne you’d expect to find in your grandfather’s bathroom. Yet to this day, the most bothersome part of the entire experience was not the guy’s obvious lack of experience in the tango of the lips, but the fact that I completely missed the end of the movie.

To this day, more than three years after the fact, I still don’t know how the movie “Get Smart” ended.

The Tastiest Chicken in the East

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Rick Gualtieri

I love chicken almost as much as writing. Roast Chicken is like a mini-holiday…minus the annoying relatives. However, nobody wants to be served chicken that tastes like it’s been mummified in the Sahara. Not even gravy can save fleshy cardboard.

My recipe’s priority (besides not killing you from Salmonella) is a moist, delicious bird with minimal effort. It’ll provide an excellent chicken, gravy, and a side dish.

   Ingredients:

  • One chicken (duh!)
  • Vegetables
  • Spices
  • One can of store gravy

Tools:

  • A deep baking pan, larger than the chicken
  • A gravy pot
  • TurkeyBaster
  • Meat thermometer

Cooking time: 350 degrees, ~approx 3+1/2 hours

Prep time: About 1/2 hour.

Step 1: Rub it on, baby!

You’re going to make a dry rub. This will keep moisture trapped inside and awesomely season it.

Here’s what’s I use: Unless otherwise specified, ~2 tablespoons each:

  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cumin
  • Black Pepper
  • Mustard Powder (1 tablespoon)
  • Chili Powder
  • A large pinch of Salt (1/2 tablespoon, overly salty chicken is nasty)

Make enough to cover the chicken. Leftover rub can be used to season the gravy and vegetables.

Step 2: Veggie time

Fill the baking pan with vegetables of your choice, leaving enough room in the middle for your chicken.

Some suggestions:

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Asparagus
  • Potatoes

Lightly season them with the leftover rub from your chicken. These will serve as our ready made side-dish.

Step 3: Stickin that chicken

Let’s get “intimate” with our chicken…no not THAT way, you perv!  Jeez, some of you people are weird.

Unwrap your defrosted chicken.  Remove the neck and giblets from inside of it. Open these and put them into your gravy pot.

Now it’s time to rub your chicken.

You don’t need a thick coating, but it should be even and cover the whole bird. Pour rub on the chicken and spread it around with your hands.

You may notice in my picture that the legs are rub-free. That’s because my children are weird and refuse to eat anything “spicy”. As long as you don’t have oddball offspring, cover all parts of the chicken.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 4: Gravy and beyond…

Get a jar of store gravy. The cheap crap is fine. It doesn’t even need to be chicken gravy. Why? Because store gravies ALL taste the same…i.e. fairly nasty by themselves.

Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who will just heat up a can of gravy and serve it as is. What is wrong with you!? That’s it!  Begone!  Begone from my sight!

Now that we’ve gotten rid of them, we can continue. Store gravy by itself isn’t well…gravy. It is, however, an excellent base to make some badass gravy.

Pour half the jar inside the chicken. Yes, I said inside of it. See that big hole in your bird? Fill it with gravy. You’re cooking it inside of the chicken. This will keep the insides moist and will also absorb the flavor of your chicken.

Put the chicken into the oven to cook.

Take the rest of the gravy and pour it into your sauce pot.

   Step 5: Cooking, not cremating

Set a timer and let the chicken cook for an hour.

   After that, grab your turkey baster. Siphon up any liquid. Use it to baste the chicken and vegetables. After another            hour, repeat this step.

   By then your chicken should be turning a nice golden color and smelling heavenly.

Step 6: Stick a fork in it, literally.  It’s done!

After two and a half hours, check it every twenty minutes. Overcooked chicken will still be dry. This is a recipe, not a miracle!

Use your thermometer. Forget what you learned growing up, a temperature of 180 or higher will result in dry chicken. 165 is considered safe. 170 is your cutoff, don’t let the chicken go beyond. Trust me!  I’m not trying to poison you here.  I’ll save that for a future post (kidding!).

Your chicken and veggies are now finished. Don’t believe me? Grab a carrot from the pan (yes it will be hot). Eat it!  Damn good wasn’t it?

Add any excess liquid from your pan to the gravy pot.

Turn the stove to medium heat and bring your gravy to a boil. If you have rub left over, use that as seasoning. Boil it down to a…well…gravy-like consistency, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn.

You should wind up with gravy that’s flavorful and non-oily.

You now have a cooked chicken, a wonderful side dish, and awesome gravy to go with it. Why are you still reading this!? Go and eat!

Good luck to you!  May moist chicken bless your future endeavors.

*******************

Rick Gualtieri is the author of four books. The PopTart Manifesto is a humorous collection of short stories. Bill The Vampire and Scary Dead Things are horror comedies. His upcoming novel, Bigfoot Hunters is a horror adventure that will be released in February 2012.

You can visit Rick on the web at his blog: www.poptartmanifesto.com

or at Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Rick-Gualtieri/e/B00596NITU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1