Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Not List for the New Year

Today I finally finished baby proofing the upstairs. There is nothing like crossing off something from the "Big List of All Things", eh? Of course my children are two and five, but if someone visits with a crawling baby, boy oh boy, that baby is safe upstairs.

I hope my family doesn't mind pureed foods, because I am now ready for the next thing on the list: canning homemade organic baby food.

Maybe I missed the boat on that one. Besides, the first child hated (still does) pureed foods, and the second went from rice cereal to gumming steak in mere months. I cooked a few yams, stewed some apples, so I think that counts.

I have multiple lists swirling in my brain at all times. I think most women do, but for some of us, it is almost an affliction. Besides the Big List of All Things, there is the immediate list. The immediate list is the one that makes me feel like an insane robot left alone on a planet for centuries (the anti-Wall-E, if you will).

I have this thing about wasting no steps. It's something that stuck from my waitress days: Never return to the kitchen empty handed. Bring hot food out, clear dirty dishes back. Only now, instead of dishes, it's all housework, and I don't get tipped. As I walk down the hall I fish out the puzzle piece from my pocket that I picked up earlier and, in a single motion, swing open the toy cupboard, shoot it like a basket ball into the puzzle shelf, and re-latch the cupboard as I go.

It sounds efficient and mom-like, right? But today I needed to pee. I went to the bathroom and found the toilet less than pleasing. I have a five year old boy, need I say more? So I cleaned it first. I keep a stack of what I call "pee rags" in the cupboard handy. Then I took the rag, along with the pile of clothes "someone" left on the bathroom floor, to the adjacent laundry room.

Here's the problem. A normal person would just go pee first. I on the other hand, upon finding myself in the laundry room, felt the urge to "swap out the laundry" i.e., put a load in the dryer, and start a new load in the washer, before I returned, clean towels in hand, to the bathroom. No wasted steps, see? By the time I'd loaded the washer though, I'd forgotten my original bodily need. The moment I heard the Whoosh of the washer, though, I remembered that I really had to go.

I made it, and as I had more than a few moments to reflect, I decided that this immediate list, and the Big List of All Things, both needed to chill.

My husband would laugh if he read that last sentence. He would say, "You can't do it," not in a mean way, but as a way to challenge me. This, from the man that says every New Year, "I resolve to not make any New Year's resolutions," and thinks it's funny. Every year. He and I have a difference of opinion of what a "day off" means, but the truth is, I need to learn how to do nothing. When you are travelling at light speed, you miss the rainbows.

So instead of New Year's Resolutions, I'm making a Not List.

#1 is an easy one: I am not going to feel pressured "as an author" to twitter or facebook. If I want to say something or respond to someone, I will, but I haven't found any of this glorious social media to have an impact on my supposed "platform" or to make many meaningful connections. A few, sure, but mostly it takes away time I need for writing, sleeping, or relaxing, all things that are better for my health and well being than tweeting about brisket.

#2  I am not going to nurse my daughter for much longer. That is a tough one for me, but it's disturbing my sleep too much. It hit me on the night of her second birthday this week (yeah, I'm one of those la leche mamas). While she was nursing, she paused, and with the boobie still in her mouth said, "Back kick." Assuming I heard wrong, I repeated, "Back kick?" She then nodded and proceeded to show me her back kick.

Apparently, while nursing, she was mulling over how to perfect her Tae Kwon Do. While I say 'Kudos to you, my martial arts baby', it does make it perfectly clear that nursing is no longer food, nor even comfort at this point: it's a coffee break, hold the coffee, stet the milk.

#3 I am not going to post on this blog more than once a week. Ooh. Another tough one. In part because I feel like I have so many things I want to post about, and also because "they" always say that you must post at least three times a week, if not five, to have a successful blog. I'm not sure how "success" is measured, but I do know that I have other projects I want to put energy into, and would rather make one good post each week and have fun with it.

#4 I can't say I am not going to make lists. I'd need years of therapy to throw out my legal pad, but I am going to mellow out on both the immediate list and the Big List of All Things. I probably should start by changing the name of the Big List.

I know, that last one wasn't a "Not". In fact I've sat here for 15 minutes and everything I tried to write was an "I am" instead of an "I'm not". The moment I say no to a few things, a world of possibilities opens. Think of what I can accomplish when I master doing nothing?

What do you say, are you with me? What's on your Not List this year?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Big Fat Ribeye

The first thing I tried from my big box of Charbroil goodies, was their "Basic Rub" on a big fat ribeye steak. Why a steak? Let me tell you, honey. The rain in the past week was torrential. I know you might think that Seattlelites are used to rainy days, right? But downpours with wind storms and flooded basements aren't our usual cup of rainwater. Usually it's more of a constant drizzle, or as I like to think, a refreshing mist that pairs well with coffee.

Not last week. Did you notice the lack of posts? That was because we were busy shopvac-ing hundreds of gallons of water out of our basement, pulling up carpet pad, and moving fans around the rooms.

There were a few breaks in the flood, and that's when I ran out to buy some steaks for the grill.

It was only fitting that we grilled them on the Charbroil infrared.

I went light on the rub, in part because the first ingredient was salt. I should have used more, but instead sprinkled a little afterwards.

The result? Delicious. The rosemary in the rub is finely chopped, so you don't get bits of herb in your teeth (I hate that). The rub wasn't too salty, nor was there any one flavor that stood out too much. It wasn't too spicy. It was, well, basic, and basic is all I want on a steak. I want to taste the meat cooked over a flame.

My only critique thus far is that the packaging is a little plain. We get a little wild in barbecueville with our names, puns, and graphics. The Charbroil line is understated. Nothing is named "Hot Mama's Tongues of Fire" or "Billy Bob's Big Butt Rub", but I'll forgive the plain Janeness.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas from Charbroil

I love mail. Especially boxes or thick bubble envelopes. Usually that means a book I've ordered has arrived. But the other day a big box arrived at my office. I picked it up and shook it a little.

"I wonder what it could be?" I said to my catering manager.

"Why don't you just open it?" He said, dryly, handing me a box cutter. Clearly I am easily thrilled. I don't get out much, unless it involves a bouncy house or monkey bars.

Out of the blue, the folks at Charbroil sent me a HUGE box of barbecue goodies - spice rubs, marinades, sauces, and even a bag o' brine. 

I've already tried out a few things. I'll post them over the next month. The very first thing I did was sprinkle a little of that "Taste of Sizzle" basic rub on a big juicy steak, then I threw it on the ol' infrared grill.

I'll show you those pics next. I'll also not open every single thing so we can have a little giveaway in a bit.

Thank you, Charbroil! I needed a surprise, truly. Merry BBQ Christmas to you to.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Soup Week Round-Up. Recipes from friends

The minute I posted about Soup Week on facebook, a cavalcade of responses came in. Seems like everyone was making soup. Italian Bread Soup, Butternut Squash Soup, Matzoh Ball Soup and so many others. I decided to post a few recipes from friends as my final post for Soup Week.

Both these women are from the old neighborhood. One rode trikes with me, the other was my neighbor. And both of these women know a thing or two about cooking. Neither take short cuts in their recipes here, and the extra time to make stock from scratch, as well as the noodles or matzohs, make them truly special.

Cheryl shares her homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with hand made noodles on her own blog. The hand made noodles look amazing and easy. I like her suggestion to try it with grilled chicken too!

Sara shares her homemade Matzoh Ball Soup recipe here. She made it during Hanukkah, but it reminds me to make this soup at other times. I love Matzoh balls! Her picture is above. Here is her recipe, adapted from “Grandma Florrie’s Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls”, from the New England Soup Factory Cookbook by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein.

Sara Webster – Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

Matzo Balls

7 eggs separated
1 tbsp kosher salt divided
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups matzo meal
2 ½ tbsp club soda (see notes)
2 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley


One whole chicken (6 lbs) -or- 3 lbs of chicken thighs*
1 beef bone (or veal bone)
2 onions – yellow or sweet – pealed and diced
4 ribs celery diced
10 carrots peeled and sliced
12 cups water plus additional as needed
1 large sweet potato peeled and diced
2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley

For Matzo Balls – fill an 8 quart pot three quarters of the way with salted water or chicken stock (I used water). Bring to boil.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In separate bowl mix together the egg yolks, salt, oil, matzo meal, club soda, onion powder and parsley. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Using your hands roll the batter into walnut-size pieces. Drop the matzo balls in the water and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 35 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. 12-15 matzo balls.
For Soup
In large stockpot combine boil the chicken, beef (or veal bone), onions, celery, and carrots. Add the water and salt. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Remove any foam that rises to the surface using slotted spoon or strainer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 2-4 hours. If the liquid becomes too concentrated, add more water during the cooking time. Add the sweet potatoes and parsley. Simmer for additional 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove chicken and beef soup bone (discard). Pull skin of chicken and remove chicken meat (as much as you can) – toss carcass and place chicken meat back into the soup. Serve soup with matzo balls floating on top.

Notes: Original Recipe called for 3 lbs of chicken thighs, I used a whole chicken. Thighs have more flavor, but I like working with whole chickens – so I’ve adopted that change. Original recipe cooked for nearly five hours – I was able to do in about 2.5 hours and still very good. I also skipped the club soda step the second time I made it and worked fine. Club soda will make the matzo balls very light and they float better but I didn’t notice this as problem by omitting the soda.

Thank you, friends. And if you readers still need "more soup for you", here are some of my past soup posts to try.

Smoked Turkey Soup

Chicken Soup with Rice (is nice)

If all else fails, throw it into a pot and stir. Happy soup making everyone!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quick Chili with Pulled Pork, Smoked Peppers & Black Beans

Quick Chili is practically an oxymoron, but I like to keep ingredients on hand to whip up a batch on demand if need be. True chili should be cooked slow, letting all the flavors of the spices infuse into the meat and beans.

Like barbecue, chili fires a passion in people that can beat the heat in the chili pot itself. Some swear no bean should enter the pot. Others declare beef to be the only meat allowed. Everyone has their own idea of what spices and flavors make the best batch.

This chili is an excellent cheater chili. It's not what you'll enter into the chili cook-off, but it's a great recipe for when you think, "Mmm. Chili sounds good," at 4pm, instead of 10am.

Of course, your larder may not contain the same things as mine. I almost always have the following ready to go:

Leftover smoked pulled pork, in freezer. Leftover brisket or other meats work well too.

Smoked peppers (or whole dried). We smoke a mix of habaneros, poblanos and jalepenos at Smokin' Pete's BBQ for our barbecue sauce. Smoking the peppers gives them another boost of flavor, while retaining their natural flavors. Good quality chilis are the most important part of creating the flavor base.

Canned beans. Black beans, kidney, or navy. Beans are the biggest time constraint with chili and the best way to cheat when time won't allow an all day affair.

Everything else is an accessory to the chili pot. As long as you have the power trio above, you can make this quick chili. Even though I'd have a hard time making chili without cumin and Mexican oregano, I'm of the opinion that chili can be made with just about any combination of spices.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 T ground cumin
2 T smoked or dried chilis, preferrably ground by hand, in mortar and pestil or coffee grinder
2 cloves garlic
2 T Mexican oregano
1 T kosher salt
1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
1 tsp tumeric (optional)
12 oz pulled pork
1-2 cans black beans (or kidney)
1 cup stock
1 small can of diced green chilis
1/4 cup tomato paste
Grated cheese (optional)

1. Sautee onion in olive oil. Add spices and stir until onion cooks nearly clear.
2. Add pulled pork, beans and green chilis. Stir until ingredients incorporated. Turn down to medium low.
3. Add stock and tomato paste and simmer for 30 minutes or more.
4. Serve with grated cheese or whatever else you like with your chili.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brisket Vegetable Soup

This simple soup can be made with meat of your choice. I happen to have left over brisket in the fridge, and love the full flavor a little beef can bring to a vegetable soup. I like to keep store bought chicken and/or vegetable stock in the coffers so that I can always make a quick soup.

With stock from scratch you can infuse more layers of flavor, but this soup tasted like it had simmered for hours after only 730 minutes.

3 cups chicken broth or stock
3 cups water
2-3 celery stocks, sliced fairly thin
1 cup sliced carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 cup other vegetables in the fridge, chopped. Broccoli stems are nice for soups. They have more flavor than the crowns, and often get left behind to wither in the "crisper".
3 cloves garlic
Herbs of your choice
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup chopped leftover brisket. This particular brisket had a little sauce on it, which added a flavor layer. Use a little more tomato paste if your meat is unsauced.
Tomato paste - about 4 tablespoons.

1. Chop vegetables. Pour water and stock or broth into pot and turn up to medium-high.
2. Add celery and carrots. Turn down so that the soup is just under boiling.
3. After 10 minutes or so, add other vegetables that may take less time, salt, herbs, and garlic. Let simmer.
4. Prep the brisket. Using leftover barbecue meats in soups is wonderful, but you need to trim off the visible fat when cold. For the brisket, I originally trimmed it cold, then made the chopped brisket with sauce. Once it cooled, I removed any visible fat. After I put the leftovers in the soup, I skimmed again for oil on the surface (made me feel like a BP worker).
5. Add brisket and tomato paste. Simmer until ready.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Colorful Winter Beet Soup

This soup was fun to make with the kids. They liked playing with the colorful juices and making beet prints on paper. I left the beets fairly large and chunky. You may prefer yours with a finer chop, or even pureed at the end and served with a dollop of sour cream.

Fine. More for me. I love beets. I'd never thought of using the beet greens, though, until I had our Russian neighbor's beet soup. The beet greens add so much flavor, I'll never chuck them in the compost bin again. Using the many colors of organic beets available this time of year, this soup is a visual, as well as tasty feast.


1 onion
6-8 beets, red, orange and yellow
2 T dried thyme
1 T ground ginger
Chopped tops (beet greens), thick stems removed
3 cups vegetable stock, 2 cups water
Fresh dill ( a few large stems that you won't eat, plus some finely chopped sprigs)
Salt and pepper as you go.

Sautee chopped onion in olive oil. Add sliced beets and stir in dried herbs. Add in vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil. After 5 minutes, turn down to low. Let simmer until beets are al dente. Add in fresh dill and finely chopped beet greens. Cook for another 30 minutes or so. Salt and pepper to taste along the way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Get ready for...Soup Week

I've decided to make this soup week. I could tell you it is because soup simmers one's soul in the winter, melting the blues from the inside out, (or that eating soup apparently makes you write syrupy prose), but the real reason I'm dedicating the week to hearty broths is because of last week: I was stuck in the house for three days straight with two sick kids.

Did you notice? No posts last week. I was going to do that cheat thing you can do with blogs and type in a different day for "publish" than when I actually did, but then I thought, why? This is my life. It's full of interruptions, and often, the interruptions are better than what I was supposed to be doing. 

I will say this, though, taking care of kids all day is way more work than going to work. At work, I can make my list, coffee in hand, and then proceed to get the work done. How I love to cross things off with a big thick Sharpie, or a fancy Pilot pen.

With kids the satisfaction has to come from the process. Nothing gets crossed off. In fact, you find yourself doing the same task over and over again. If I had a dollar for every pen without a cap I picked up off the floor...

After awhile, you start coming up with projects that take a lot of time. Like soup.
I was determined not to make sick fest a video fest. They still watched plenty of movies (I'm no saint), but we also made dozens of glittery Christmas ornaments, decorated the tree, read piles of books, did and undid stacks of puzzles, powered through our teetering cupboard of games, and my son even had me re-do the chore list so he could pick up toys for a sticker (I'm still flummoxed and tickled by that one).

If I've painted too lovely a picture, I also let the kids set "traps" all over the house, said "Sure!" when they wanted to chop up ice and chalk on the fireplace, and on the longest day, barricaded myself in the office armed with a glass of wine to check e-mail. But that was day three. You understand, right?

So I'll share a few soups this week. Easy soups. Soups you can make with a 1 and 5 year old. Immune system boosting soups to help barricade your body from the germs. And soups to remind you that giggles and togetherness and wonder are all far more satisfying than crossing off your To Do list.

What is simmering on your stove?