Monthly Archives: December 2014

I’ve been craving …. SOMETHING

I’ve been craving something spicy or tart.  Probably something with chicken, I thought.  Most definitely with a pasta or potato.  But no matter what I made, it just wasn’t right.

Until tonight.

I made The Pioneer Woman‘s Spicy Lemon Garlic Shrimp.  Let’s not even go to the place that acknowledges that shrimp are treyfah.  We’re ignoring that part.   I quartered the recipe since I was cooking for two.  I was thinking more about how hungry I was at the time than I was of the blog.  Consequently, this is the only picture I have of it.

20141227_235858Yeah, I get that that’s not very helpful.  It was YUMMY, though.  The butter/garlic/lemon that the shrimp cooked in made a wonderful sauce for linguine.

The poor husband, though.  He hates “working” for his dinner.  The shrimp was in the shell so he had to peel as he went.  I told him as I handed him his dinner, “Any complaints about having to peel the shrimp, I have Ree’s email address ready for you.”   I’m not sure if he has a crush on her or dinner was just that good.  He didn’t complain.  Much.

In other news, my tip of the day:

I have been very conscientious about using a vegetable peeler to peel off the lemon rind, minus the pith when I use lemons.  I put them in a bag in the freezer.  Yesterday I needed lemon zest but had no fresh lemons.  There was no way I was going to be able to chop the rinds up small enough to be considered “zest.”  I had a light bulb moment.  Since there wasn’t pith on the underside of the lemon rind slices, I just put a few in my spice grinder (ok, it’s a coffee grinder, but I use it exclusively for spices) and POOF!  Lemon zest.


Pressure Cooker Fun with Macaroni & Cheese

I’ve had a pressure cooker/canner for years and I’ve only used it for canning and even then it’s very rare that I do that.  My pressure cooker is one of the old style jiggle and make a racket type pressure cookers and the gasket was getting pretty old.  Sometimes it would take ages for it to come up to pressure and by the time it did the water would boil away.

Needless to say, I wasn’t much for actually cooking food in it.  The only things I ever used the PC for other than canning was making boiled peanuts and once I cooked beef spare ribs in it.   In my mind I could see the disaster that would result if I tried any recipe that needed more than just turn it on and wait.

A couple weeks ago, though, I finally got a new pressure cooker. Fagor Splendid 10-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner It’s the Fagor Splendid 10 Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner.  I guess because it’s a 10 quart size it gets the moniker “canner” too.  I hadn’t noticed when I put it on my wish list that it only has one pressure — 15 psi.  Consequently, it’s not the best for canning after all.  But I have canned three quarts of homemade chicken stock.  It’s doable but it’s certainly not all that flexible if you can lots of different things.  For me, it’s mainly stock and spaghetti sauce.

As a fan of America’s Test Kitchen, I find myself obsessively buying their cookbooks and subscribing to their magazines.  I’ve never made a recipe of theirs I haven’t liked.  A couple haven’t ended up being my favorite, but they were definitely tasty without being a homerun.  So, of course I bought their book Pressure Cooker Perfection.  In it is a recipe for Stove-top Mac and Cheese  in the pressure cooker, of course.  One pot to clean and “from scratch” mac & cheese in less than 20 minutes!


Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes

  • 8 ounces (2 cups) uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes, drained

Put the macaroni, water, 1 teaspoon of salt, the dry mustard and cayenne pepper in the pressure cooker.  Close and bring up to pressure.  Once pressure has been achieved, turn down the heat to low or medium low (as low as you can go and maintain pressure) and cook under pressure for 5 minutes.

At the end of 5 minutes, immediately release the pressure.  Add the evaporated milk and the tomatoes, and continue to simmer for about 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens.

Remove the pot from the heat and then stir in the cheeses, one handful at a time to help them melt without being clumpy.

What I did differently:

I used shells.  The instructions say not to use larger pasta, such as ziti, because it won’t cook in the time given.  I was a bit worried about the shells because the instructions did suggest not to use medium shells but small shells would be fine.  I’m not sure if mine were small or medium.   They were a bit underdone right after the pressure was released but with the additional simmering, they ended up being a nice al dente.

Also the tomatoes were part of the variations you can make to the recipe.  I wasn’t quite sure when to put in the diced tomatoes.  In retrospect, I think it meant to put them in at the beginning with the raw pasta, but it worked just fine to put them in after the pressure is removed.

I used all Mild Cheddar cheese.  The instructions warn against using all sharp cheddar cheese because it won’t be as creamy without the Monterey Jack cheese.  I didn’t notice a lack of creaminess but next time I will be sure to try it as written.

Finally, I didn’t have any evaporated milk so I used an equal amount of half and half and added a tablespoon of butter into the pot at the beginning of the cooking so I could get the buttery flavor that you get with evaporated milk.  As with the cheese, I will definitely give it a try with evaporated milk next time to see if that makes a difference.

What I liked about the recipe:

Honestly, just about everything.  I thought it had a good flavor.  I purposely was a bit heavy on the cayenne (about 1/4 tsp instead of a pinch) so it had a little bite, but nothing that would turn off kids.  I also really liked the addition of the diced tomatoes.  I imagine that stirring in fresh diced tomatoes at the end would be even better.  I’ll test that this coming summer.

I loved that I only dirtied one pot.  I loved that I didn’t have to drain the macaroni.  You can’t get much easier than that.

What I didn’t like about the recipe:

This isn’t really a fair question since I made a number of substitutions.  I would have liked a thicker sauce from the get go but I’m relatively sure that my using half and half instead of evaporated milk affected that.

I will definitely be making this again.

Felix’s Family Ristorante

My husband, Jody, and I have a date night almost every week.  It’s nothing crazy…. we’re usually home by 7 pm.  Yep, we’re nothing if not wild and crazy partiers.

I’m also a huge fan of Groupon.  By buying Groupons for local restaurants we’re able to extend our $$$ for nights out.  Where we would usually spend $60, we end up spending $30.  So we’ve been able to try a wide array of restaurants, some we will never return to, some we’d like to but without a Groupon they’re out of our every day price range, and some are just perfect for us.

About 3 months ago I bought a Groupon for a restaurant called Felix’s Family Ristorante  located at 214 Dickinson Street Springfield, MA 01108.  But then we saw that it wasn’t in the best part of town.  Not a HORRIBLE part of town, but the traffic is bad and it’s just not where we normally go.  So we procrastinated.  The Groupon was due to expire very soon so Monday we went.  We found the location wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, though it did appear to be a hole in the wall, and we could get there using a back way.  (Thanks, Julia — Julia GPS, that is).   But it was closed on Mondays.  *sigh*

We went back the next day.  We walked in the front door.  Hole in the wall was right.  There was a counter for take out pizza and the room the door opened into consisted of about 3 booths and 2 tables.  I thought, OMG what have I gotten us into?  But it turns out there is a whole other dining room.  It was like walking into an elegant restaurant setting.

The food… it was delicious.  I got the Veal Picatta special.  If you like lemon, it was to die for.  The dining room, on a Tuesday, mind you, was PACKED.  There were people waiting when we finished and left.  They don’t serve alcohol but they welcome you to bring in beer or wine.

This is a place that many people had obviously already discovered.  Thanks to Groupon we finally have, too.  Groupon or not, we’ll return.

DIY Dog Bed

Two nights ago as I was getting in bed, I noticed it was a bit wet.  That’s never a good sign, but it can be catastrophically bad when the bed in question is a waterbed.  Thankfully, it was a smallish leak and the mattress liner contained the leak until I had a chance to empty the mattress.

Then as luck would have it, while there’s a 20 year warranty on the mattress and I’d only had this new mattress for 61 days, I bought it at and I was 31 days past the return date.  Sure I could return it to the manufacturer, but I’m a bit cheap and didn’t want to pay the shipping to send it to them, wait up to 90 days (per the warranty) while they decided whether to repair it or send me a new one, and then pay for the return shipping to me.

So I called Amazon and was reminded why I like shopping there so much.  I explained the issue to Gil and he issued a return label for me, helped me order a new mattress and expedited the shipping to one day at no charge.  And then, he refunded the entire purchase price so I was in effect, just exchanging the mattress.

Now I’m here on the bed, on top of several layers of blankets and quilts while it warms up, ready to get a good night’s sleep after spending a couple nights on the couch with two dogs.

While I was out today playing “Let’s Find the Package” at two local post offices (each said the other had the package), Dinah decided she was going to play “Let’s Eat the Blistex” at home.  She’s a lot less innocent than she looks.  And yes, I crate here while I’m out but her dad came home  and let her out.  In her spare time, when she’s not busy eating Blistex, she enjoys tearing her toys apart, removing the stuffing from my pillows and shredding Kleenex.

Dinah in her bed.

Dinah in her bed.

Her bed is made from an old sweater I knit.  In fact it was the first pullover I ever knit for myself.  It’s an ingenious method for repurposing old sweaters or sweatshirts.    You can find instructions for this project on the internet.  Here’s where I found them.

Next time I’ll tell you about a new restaurant we discovered in Springfield (Massachusetts) thanks to Groupon.

I shortened the sleeves on my Carpintero Sweater

In December 2011, I finished knitting the Carpintero sweater, designed by Jane Ellison for the Mirasol Collection Book 7.   This is the picture from the pattern book.   Mine looks like that but I don’t really have a good picture of it.



I loved the colors in the modeled picture so I actually used those colors exactly with their Akapana yarn, which doesn’t seem to be available anymore.  It’s 65% Llama, 25% Merino, 7% Acrylic and 3% Rayon.  It’s sooooooooo soft and sorta tweedy looking.

But somehow, I made the sleeves about 6 inches too long.  I have no idea how I did that since I normally get bored knitting sleeves and it nearly kills me to knit them long enough.

So here it is December 2104 and I finally shortened the sleeves to a normal person length.   I don’t think three years should be considered procrastination, do you?

Cooking Happens Here

One of my new toys is a new pressure cooker. This is actually my third one but I’ve never really cooked with one before now. So now I finally have one of those fancy-schmancy ones that doesn’t jiggle and it’s really quiet. In the past two days that I’ve had it I’ve made roast beef, chicken stock, mashed potatoes, and then I canned chicken stock I made.

So I guess this would be a good time to let you know a little bit about my cooking life. I’m a good cook. But that’s what I am. I’m a cook. I’m not a chef. Give me a recipe and I can do it. Give me a bunch of ingredients and tell me to make something fantastic… Well let’s just say that will probably end up with calling out for pizza.

I love watching shows like Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, and other silly cooking show competitions. I can’t imagine being told, “For this round you will need to make a cake.” I’m not making a cake if you don’t give me a recipe.

I also tend to eat in binges. And I don’t mean eat a lot at one time, though I am pleasantly plump so obviously I do that,but I mean I will get in the mood for mashed potatoes. And I will eat mashed potatoes at every meal for the next three weeks. Then I will get in the mood for pasta. And we’ll have spaghetti carbonara one day, cajun pasta the next, macaroni and cheese the following day… You see where this is going. On top of all that,  I’m a carbaholic.

I am managing to get a lot more confident in the kitchen by taking cooking classes. I have found Craftsy. Well I say that like it’s a new discovery. It’s not I’ve been around since the beginning almost.  It’s a company based in Denver that publishes classes online, not real-time, that you can watch over and over again and they teach on all sorts of different craft subjects. One of the subjects that they teach a lot on is food and cooking. I’ve actually learned a lot by enrolling in the classes.  You will find that I will sing the praises of Craftsy a whole lot when it comes to my sewing.  But that’s another blog post.

In addition to my new found joy of pressure cooking, I’ve also recently discovered a product called the Wonderbag. It’s basically slow cooker that doesn’t require electricity. You start the food on the stove get it boiling or whatever and then you put your pot in the bag which is insulated well enough that the food continues to cook, and over the next 12 hours the food will stay warm.  It’s really neat.

That’s just a couple of my latest food crazes. One thing that’s usually pretty consistent for me is that I love a recipe called Chile Chicken.

I can remember exactly the first time I ever made this. I was raised with food that was… Well, there’s really no easy way to say this. The food my mother cooked was on the bland side.  That’s what she knew, that’s what she liked, and frankly, she had three children who were very picky eaters so that’s probably about the only way she could cook and have us eat it.Unfortunately, I married a man who likes spicy food. I would make a huge pot of soup and put in 1/8  teaspoon of red pepper flakes and think that it was burning hot. So it was in 1994 and we were living in San Antonio, Texas, when I found a group of recipes that included the following recipe. I made it and I panicked. I had never used cumin before and I wasn’t prepared for the olfactory stimulation that it would give me. I thought it was crazy spicy but I liked it. 20 years later I still make this recipe at least twice a month — though to be honest, it’s been a weekly thing now for about a year.  (See my comment above about binging)

Without further ado here’s the recipe I hope you like it.  Let me know what you think.


Chile Chicken

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili peppers or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. In a large non-stick skillet, heat oil, add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  2. Add peppers, onions and spices. Mix well and cook covered over medium heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sprinkle the chicken with the lemon juice.
  4. At the end of the 10 minutes, add the chicken. Mix well and cook covered over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally

Serves 4.

This recipe is easily adjusted down for 2 people.




It Just so Happened

It just so happened that about 10 years ago I started a knitting blog. I was pretty regular with it until my knitting started to slow down and I became more interested in spinning and then sewing. Consequently my blog just laid there like a bowl of overcooked noodles.

I did what any bored blogger would do.  I deleted it all. I deleted my  post about my first pair of socks, my hundreds of posts about mistakes I made in my knitting. One by one the people who used to come by and read my blog moved along.

So here I am near the end of 2014 and I’m considering starting another blog. Honestly, I don’t have a real good idea of what I want to do on the blog. But I do know that it probably won’t be anything of earth shattering importance. But hey, you never know.

If you’re sitting around one night and you don’t have a whole lot to do, feel free to check back here and see if I said anything worth reading. I’d love to hear from you unless you’re  a crazy ax murderer then I’m not so sure that I’d be interested in hearing from you. But otherwise…