Sweet tea

I blame Ellie for this.

I saw a picture of sweet tea on her blog and oh my heavens… I don’t usually make sweet tea in the winter, so that picture was a clear sign to me that summer is here, and with it my favorite drink!

I’m the only sweet tea drinker in the house, so I make it in smaller portions. In a quart size Mason jar I put 1/2 cup sugar and one pitcher size tea bag, and fill it with cold water. Then the magic: set it in the sunshine!

I let it sit out there all day till the sugar is dissolved and the tea is nice and dark. I like it strong! Once the sun is down and it’s done, put it in the fridge to chill.

If you’re in more of a hurry, just add boiling water to the mix and let the tea steep for 15 minutes.

For something a little different steep with a tea bag and a cinnamon stick.

Serve over lots of ice and add a slice of lemon if you like. Or lime! Or orange (great tip, Jerri — I forgot that one!). Nothing beats this on a hot summer day!

Crack-a-roni: pioneer macaroni and cheese

Crack-a-roni. This is how The Yankee refers to this dish. My sister, too. And her husband. The Kiddo? He refers to it as he does to any foods that are not yogurt, bread, or Cheerios: “No tank you, mama.” Sigh.

Anyway! The dish! This is from my 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. Best $20 I’ve ever spent. I stray very little from this, so here goes:

You will need:

  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 6 Tbsp. flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 oz. uncooked macaroni
  • 1/2 pound Velveeta* or 2 cups cheese(s) of your choice

*Even with my general aversion to foods whose ingredients I cannot pronounce, I use Velveeta here. It just totally works in this dish.

Now, just like for the chicken pot pie, we’ll make a white sauce:

  1. Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan
  2. Quickly whisk in flour, nutmeg, paprika, salt, and pepper, whisking until mixture is smooth & bubbly
  3. Remove from heat; whisk in milk — for a minute it may look like it’s turning into a giant lump, but keep whisking and pouring the milk
  4. Bring to a slow boil and boil for one minute, whisking constantly
  5. Reduce heat to low and cook until thickened — at least ten minutes for best flavor

Easy assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. While the white sauce is cooking, boil pasta for two minutes less than the shortest time on the box; e.g. if your pasta says to cook for 10-12 minutes, then cook for eight minutes
  3. In a greased baking dish, layer half the pasta, half the white sauce and half the cheese; repeat so you have two layers of each component
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until bubbly. At this point it’s super yummy to stop and stir it together. You can then either serve as-is for super creamy mac and cheese, or put it back in to brown up a bit. Serve hot from baking dish
  5. Join a gym

How does your garden grow?

Wanna know how much The Yankee rocks? A LOT.

He built this:

And, because that line in Rocky Top about the dirt being too rocky by far is all true, we filled the raised bed with this:

Saturday morning we headed out to Home Depot with The Kiddo. We checked out all our options, lumber-wise: we didn’t want pressure treated lumber because we didn’t want the chemicals from it to make its way into our garden. Then cedar was suggested as an option: the Home Depot guy said, “Oh you could use cedar! It would do great. I mean, you’d have to build a new one every season, though.”

After a few seconds of blinking and telepathic communication, we did not pass go, but went directly to the Trex. This was more our style! More sturdy than anything else in the store, and safe to use around food.

“Oh yeah,” says Home Depot guy, “You could eat off it.”

Uh, okay.

All told, it cost $93 for the supplies to build this garden (not including the fill dirt), which is eight feet by four feet. Expensive? Sure, a little. But we have to do it only once. And we used screws to assemble it, so we could theoretically take it apart and reassemble it every year. But smart money is on me leaving it there. ;)

So far The Kiddo and I have planted four tomato plants (because, really, what’s the point of a garden without the prospect of tomato sandwiches?), two pepper plants, some cilantro, some basil and some strawberries. I’d love to add onions and carrots and green beans.  This nifty online planner shows how many of what you can plant in a square foot (thus my semi-obsessive square foot markers… made from The Kiddo’s yarn), then gives instructions for each plant you picked. How great is that?

So tell me! Do you garden? Do you have any advice, this being my first raised-bed garden? Any thoughts on how to keep away bunnies and other unwanted guests at the salad bar? Lay ‘em on me!

Let’s talk leftovers

Not just reheat-and-eat night, but let’s talk getting creative with leftovers. What have you come up with? Anything great? This is my new favorite: Italian steak pasta!

Sunday night was steak night. Monday night was spaghetti. So Tuesday night I sliced up the remaining steak, mixed it in with pasta and some Italian dressing (Ken’s, specifically, because I love it) , and topped it all with parmesan cheese. This was SO good!

Your turn! What have you come up with?

Deviled eggs

I kind of feel like summoning Sam I Am, just to tell him I do like deviled eggs. If you had asked me a week ago I would have said absolutely not, no way, no how do I like deviled eggs. Not in a boat, not on a train… you get the picture.

The eggs The Kiddo dyed watched The Yankee and me dye for Easter were super-yummy farm fresh eggs given to us by a friend of The Yankee. And it sure seemed a waste to just chuck them, especially since I’d tried a new boiling method for them while under tornado warning — setting timers and hiding in coat closets at the same time. Multi-tasking, no? So I figured I just HAD to try them. And whaddaya know? Pretty stinking good!

I read somewhere (naturally, I can’t find it now) that this was Julia Child’s method for hard-boiling eggs. Who am I to question Julia Child? Nobody, that’s who. It goes like so:

  1. Put your eggs in a pan and add enough water to come one inch over the eggs
  2. Set the pan on high heat and bring just to a boil
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let it sit covered for exactly 17 minutes
  4. After 17 minutes, transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water with plenty of ice cubes in it.
  5. Put the pan back on the burner on high heat and return to a boil while the eggs chill for two minutes (apparently this shrinks the body of the egg away from the shell)
  6. Put the eggs back in the boiling water, bring to a boil once again if need be, and let the eggs boil for ten seconds (this expands the shell away from the egg)
  7. Remove eggs and place them back into the ice water; leave them there for at least 20 minutes

After eggs are properly chilled, let your two year old thwack the eggs into a basket with absolutely no regard for gentleness or fragility. Repeat three times for most thorough cracking of eggs.

Now make deviled eggs! I based mine on Joelen‘s yummy method.

You will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Yellow mustard
  • Mayonnaise (the real stuff here, people)
  • Lemon juice
  • Croutons
  • Salt and pepper
  • Paprika
  1. I started by slicing the eggs in half, and admired the straight edges my toddler managed to impart onto an egg. But see how nice the color is? No dark line. That Julia Child should write a book
  2. In a food processor, pulverize some croutons – I used homemade from no-knead bread- down to crumbs
  3. Scoop out all the yolk and toss it in the food processor along with a healthy squirt of mustard and just enough mayo to hold the mix together — I wanted more egg than mayo flavor
  4. Squirt in about a tsp or so of lemon juice and season the whole mix with salt and pepper
  5. Process till mostly smooth, but the crumbs in the croutons will keep it from being absolutely smooth, of course, and that’s fine
  6. Pipe or scoop the filling back into the egg yolks and season it all with paprika

Pretty yummy, right? The farm eggs had a fantastic yellow color that made these just gorgeous. And SO GOOD to eat! Who knew?

For the record, I still reserve the right to run screaming from any deviled eggs (or anything else) that have been anywhere near a pickle.  ::shudder::

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

This. Is. Heavenly. This is without a doubt the softest, best-tasting bread that has ever come out of my oven. And part of it is whole wheat! I was a little intimidated by the recipe, never having attempted such a thing, but it came out great. I’ve been having this with my coffee every morning, and I can’t WAIT to make french toast with it! This is adapted just a bit from the King Arthur flour recipe.

You will need for the bread:

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 7-9 ounces lukewarm water (use more or less depending on humidity where you are)
  • 4 ounces KAF white whole wheat flour
  • 8 3/4 ounces KAF all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 ounces sugar
  • 3 ounces butter at room temperature
  • 5/8 ounce dry milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces instant mashed potato flakes

You will need for the filing:

  • 1 3/4 ounces sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons AP flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Now put it all together:

  1. If you’re using anything other than instant yeast, dissolve the yeast with a pinch of sugar in 2 Tbsp. of your lukewarm water; I use instant yeast, so I skip this step
  2. Mix instant yeast (or dissolved yeast) with the rest of the bread ingredients. Knead everything together until dough is smooth. I plop it all in the bread machine set to the dough cycle. Easy! If you knead with a stand mixer, knead for about seven minutes on the second speed; it’s okay if it sticks at the bottom of the bowl a bit. We don’t want dry bread!
  3. If you’re using a bread machine, let the dough cycle run all the way through the first rise. If you’re hand- or mixer-kneading, put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Let the dough rise at room temperature till it’s almost doubled in bulk — about an hour, but may take longer if you hand-kneaded
  4. While the dough is rising, use a fork to mix together the sugar, cinnamon and flour for the filling mix
  5. After it’s risen till it’s nice and puffy, move the dough to a lightly greased work surface or a silicone mat and pat the dough into a 6″ x 20″ rectangle
  6. Beat together the egg and water, and brush it onto the rectangle
  7. Sprinkle the cinnamon/flour/sugar mix evenly over the dough
  8. Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a log, and pinch to seal at the ends and along the seam
  9. Put the bread, seam-down, into a greased loaf pan and cover with greased plastic wrap
  10. Let it rise till it’s just above the rim of the pan while you’re preheating your oven to 350F
  11. Bake the bread for 15 minutes, then tent lightly with aluminum foil
  12. Bake for an additional 30 minutes or so, until inside of loaf reads 190 degrees
  13. Loosen sides of pan with a knife if needed, and turn bread onto a rack. Brush the top of the loaf with butter and let that soak in while the bread cools. Then slice and enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie

This is one of my top three comfort food meals — the other two being chicken and dumplings and macaroni and cheese. Mmmmm…. Anyway, this cooks up beautifully, travels well, freezes well and reheats well. What more could you ask?

There are three main parts to this dish: the chicken, the pie crust, and the sauce.

Let’s start with the chicken.

You will need:

  • Three boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • A few stalks of celery if they’re just lying around
  • Salt, pepper, onion or onion powder

I do this part in a slow cooker the night before; you can also just boil the chicken the same day if you’re in more of a hurry.

  1. The night before you’re going to to eat half a chicken pot pie serve this for supper, put the chicken breasts in the crock pot with a few stalks of celery, some salt and pepper, an onion if you have it (or onion powder on the chicken) and fill it up with water.  Let it cook on low overnight
  2. The next morning, put the chicken on a plate and let it cool, then refrigerate
  3. Strain the chicken broth that’s now filling your crockpot and save one cup of it for this recipe. Refrigerate or freeze the rest

Now the pie crust (modified from Alton Brown’s recipe). You will need:

  • 6 Tbsp. butter, chilled
  • 2 Tbsp. shortening or lard, chilled
  • 1 cup AP flour + more for dusting
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1-2 Tbsp. vodka (yes, really; here‘s why)

In a perfect world, you’ll also have this nifty pie crust bag, which makes everything a little easier. Now:

  1. Chop butter and shortening or lard into little pieces, and put them in two separate bowls in the freezer for 15 minutes
  2. Measure out 1 cup (or 6 oz.) flour and put it in the freezer too
  3. When everything is chilled, put the flour and 1/2 tsp table salt into the food processor and pulse three or four times to combine
  4. Add butter and pulse till texture looks mealy; this took me about 6 or 7 pulses
  5. Add lard and pulse another 4 or 5 times
  6. Slowly drizzle in one tablespoon of water, dispersing as much as possible, and pulse 5 times
  7. Slowly drizzle in one tablespoon of vodka and pulse again
  8. Check it at this point. If you squeeze the  mixture together does it hold? If not, add more vodka. If so, it’s ready. It will not immediately look like pie crust, even when it’s ready; it will look like this:

Now put it in your nifty pie crust bag or a zip-top bag, squeeze it all together in a ball, then press into a rounded disk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While that’s chilling, we’ll work on the white sauce. You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 6 Tbsp flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth (which you ever so prudently reserved from your earlier chicken cooking)

To make sauce:

  1. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat
  2. Whisk in flour and keep whisking until your sauce is smooth and bubbling
  3. Remove the pan from heat and slowly pour in the chicken broth and milk, a little at a time, whisking like a crazy person to keep it smooth
  4. Return the pan to the burner and bring to a simmer
  5. Cook, stirring insanely often, until it thickens up. Add salt and pepper to taste (plenty of it for this, I think)
  6. Once it’s nice and thick, set it back off the burner

Now assemble your pie!

  1. In a food processor or by hand, shred or chop your cold chicken breasts into pretty small pieces
  2. In a large bowl, stir together your white sauce, your chopped chicken and one bag of frozen mixed vegetables (still frozen — easy!)
  3. Remove pie dough from refrigerator and roll out two crusts (see Alton’s recipe for lots of technique info, but we’re not blind baking ours)
  4. Put one crust in an ungreased pie plate and spread in your sauce/chicken/veggie mixture. See how pretty it is?
  5. Put on your top crust. I actually don’t put it all the way to the edges because I like it to have lots of steaming room. Also cut vents in the top of your crust, like so:
  6. Just in case, put your pie plate on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Foil is easier to clean than the bottom of your oven
  7. Bake at 375 until top is browned — remember everything in it is cooked, so you’re just heating. Let sit for a good 15 minutes to cool before you cut into it. Then go nuts!

Your total ingredient list for this pie:

  • Three boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Celery, onion (optional)
  • Salt, pepper, onion powder
  • 6 Tbsp. + 3 Tbsp. butter, chilled
  • 2 Tbsp. shortening or lard, chilled
  • 1 cup AP flour + 6 Tbsp + more for dusting
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1-2 Tbsp. vodka
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bag frozen, mixed veggies

Ways to shortcut this recipe:

  • Buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred the meat from there
  • Use rolled, refrigerated pie crust
  • Use two cans of cream of chicken soup instead of the white sauce