You need this video of huge butterflies

Just to make everyone’s day a little sweeter, I thought I’d share this short video of some gorgeous Swallowtail butterflies I shot earlier today. Each one was about as big as my palm and they were flying around together for about an hour. It was awesome.

Get well soon chicken soup

We’ve been ravaged by illness this week… some type of 24 hour bug that involves high fever and makes it hard to keep food down. When that happens, I make chicken soup.

Soup is the original one pan one process dish. It is really easy, although when you don’t feel good, it might seem like an insurmountable task. Trust me, the result is highly worth it. The science is with me on the benefits of chicken soup.

My recipe isn’t complex, but it does contain many powerhouse ingredients that can strengthen the immune system, including chicken, garlic, ginger, honey, cabbage, and spinach, plus a generous amount of fresh herbs.

First off, wipe off every door and toilet handle with a good cleanser. Wash your hands really well. Then get out your ingredients.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast
1/2 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
3 carrots
1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups of any other fresh, canned, or frozen veggies you happen have (celery, broccoli, spinach, peas, corn, water chestnuts, etc)
5-8 cups of water
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs honey
A handful of fresh or frozen herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, mint or cilantro tend to work best).
1 cup of small pasta or wild rice.
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion fine and grate the ginger and garlic. In a large dutch oven or similar pot, put chicken and onions with some salt, pepper, and paprika, together and let them cook over high heat. You are looking for a caramel color (deep but not quite burned) on the meat. Be patient. This is where a lot of flavor comes from since we are not using chicken broth.

Add the garlic and ginger, soy sauce, honey and water. Start with 5 cups of water and add as much as you desire for your soup. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes. Add any and all of pasta or rice and the veggies except delicate veggies (e.g., spinach, frozen peas) and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add any additional veggies and the herbs. Stir and season to taste.

Get Salty. Three Tips to Achieve Perfectly Seasoned Food

Who’s feeling salty today?

When cooking, you might find yourself adding far more salt that you think you should. Don’t worry. You will still not be adding as much sodium as what is found in prepackaged foods. But go slow when adding salt and season multiple times during cooking.

Tip 1. Know Your Salt

As Samin Nosrat notes in her phenomenal book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, the saltiness of salt can vary depending on the structure and the size of the crystals.

The key is to know your salt. If you use fine sea salt (very salty), go easy. If you use Diamond Crystal (the least salty salt) you can add quite a bit. Taste your salt and adjust your recipes accordingly.

Tip 2. Salt Strategically

Follow this basic plan of when to salt your food as you cook:

Salt 1- Initially season the meats and early veggies. I generally use a large crystal salt for this step. For example, I’ve found about 1 teaspoon of Morton’s kosher salt for 1 lb of meat or main protein source is about right. I might also use a salted spice blend, e.g., Trader Joe’s African smoke. If so, I will cut back on regular salt.

Salt 2- At some point in the middle of cooking you’ll add salt again. This is usually an alternative source of salt (aka, one with MSG). Soy sauce, a parmesan end, fish sauce, etc. This source will deepen the flavor and add additional notes.

Salt 3- The final tasting. Stir it all up and grab a spoon to taste it. Season your food, stir it and taste again. Here is where you might want to go with finer ground salt so it incorporates more quickly (See tip 3).

Salt 4 (optional)- The finishing salt. I tend to think of this as the “at the table salt” an individual person might apply. However, there are lots of finishing salts to apply after a dish is served if you are feeling fancy. These are rather crunchy because the texture is part of the experience.

Tip 3. Be Patient

Whenever you are seasoning be sure to stir the food and give the salt a few moments to distribute. Keep tasting after you season and add a little bit at a time. If you need to give your taste buds a break, drink some water and relax.

What to do if you over salt?

It has been a long time since I over salted. The method described above helps a lot. But it does happen. In fact, after I read Nosrat’s book, I started experimenting with my salt sources and ended up with some puckered dry-mouth meals (sorry, family).

Although I think it is better to leave something slightly under salted, if you do happen to go over board there are a few (limited) ways to rescue a dish:

  • Add potatoes. Yeah these babies can take a lot. They can soak up some salt and help redistribute the dish. This is an easy fix for soups or casseroles.
  • Add grated carrot. I use this to revive coleslaw, soups, and even tomato sauce that has gone too far into the dead sea.
  • Add sugar. Sugar balances salt like nothing else. Of course, it might not work for all applications. However, you would be surprised how sugar enhances savory dishes.

Happy salting you salty MFers!

Acrylic pouring! My first video

Hey, check out my newest fun thing to do. This time I set up the camera.

What do you think? Now that the piece is dry, I don’t love it… the colors are a bit too muddy. I guess I should have guessed that when using gray. I might do it again. I will not let this canvas defeat me!

Also, here is another small piece I did with teal, red, purple, and gold. You can see, I do know what I’m doing:

The Notorious MSG

MSG (alias monosodium glutamate; alias glutamate; alias glutamic acid) got a bad rap, see. It is innocent, I tell ya, innocent! It had a lousy lawyer, see. It was with its momma in Toledo.

Here are some the ways I use MSG in my kitchen:

Some natural sources of monosodium include tomato, seaweed, and shitake mushrooms. Fermented food sources include Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce. Here’s a list of more foods with natural MSG.

The reason these foods and condiments exist is because humans find the flavor irresistible. It is the essential component of savory and as we all know, the Japanese say it best with “Umami,” which, come on, it even sounds like “yummy.”

I use something in this picture in nearly ever dinner I make, sometimes several of them combined.

Probably the most intense of my MSG sources, is the Maggie Seasoning. If you’ve ever had Chinese soy sauce, this kinda what it tastes like. The Maggie, however, is VERY concentrated. Three dashes for your entire family’s meal is enough to boost flavor without overpowering the dish. It is not an everyday addition for us, but once in a while if I’m making something and I just can’t get the flavor deep enough, this is a lifesaver.

In case you are worried, there was bad science linking MSG to illness and racism that perpetuated those negative associations. If you’d like to do further reading, here is an article that debunks the myths of MSG. Most scientists have largely concluded that MSG is safe, although an allergic reaction is, of course, possible.

Put on your red shoes and craft the blues

Let’s dance. Description: 8 x 10 acrylic pour tray in teal, white, and blue flash—accented in rose gold. Decoupage honey bottle and a sea glass-colored mason jar with nautical rope. Inspirational Dollar Tree decor in the back and a dried sea star I had on hand.

How I made the tray

The tray is an 8 x 10 shelf decor from the dollar tree, prepped and turned upside down. I painted it white all over, using a matte white from Apple Barrel. I then did an acrylic pour using teal, white, and blue flash. Blue Flash from Folk Art is an iridescent that shifts purple. I mix the teal myself from white, blue, and yellow. All of the colors are mixed with Floetrol and water.

There is no purple in this. The Blue Flash adds iridescent purple.

Once that was completely dry I painted the edges in metallic rose gold, and added the shell stencil in bright gold and rose gold. The handles are made from the wooden handles of leftover foam brushes. I painted the handles white and wrapped them in painters tape to dip the tips in rose gold. They are attached with hot glue.

I still need to fix some cracked and overpainted edges and give this an overall spray with clear protectant.

How I made the mason jar

I Spray painted an extra Kerr mason jar using Sea Glass paint in Aqua From Krylon. Then I used nautical rope from Dollar Tree to wind around the top of the jar. I made the handle by looping more rope through the neck and securing it with gold floral wire and needle-nosed pliers. The rope is hot glued to the jar for added security.

How I made the honey bottle

The honey bottle is one I salvaged from a school project from years ago. I used matte white and teal to give it a chalk paint appearance and rubbed out the letters to distress the bottle. Then I decoupaged some butterfly images from a napkin using Mod Podge. I also drew on some flowers and designs using chalk paint pens I had on hand. I’m not sure I love this yet, but it fit for the picture.

Craft 101: How to prep a Dollar Tree plaque or decor box

Dollar Tree has a ton of adorable hardboard signs and decor boxes available year round. These are easy to pick up. If you like the shape of one, go ahead and get it. You can very simply turn them into something that suits your taste and decor.

For this demo, I used a board shaped like a mason jar. I wanted to play around with getting one of these plaques to look exactly like a vintage mason jar. Although my final result isn’t perfect, I really like how easy it was.

Here is what I did:

Step 1. Remove the 3D designs. These come off very easily just by pulling or with a flat screwdriver. Save these… they can be used in other projects.

Step 2. Peel away as much of the paper layers as possible. There are 3 layers of paper. One is the top printed layer, followed by 2 brown paper layers. Some of this you can peel off. For the rest, lay a damp rag across the board and let it soak in. Then you can scrape or peel off the rest until you are left with the clean chip board. If the board starts to bend a bit from moisture, don’t worry. It’ll dry flat. If you think you got it too wet, let it dry under a weight on a flat surface.

Step 3. Prime the board with whatever color you want as the under paint. Milk or chalk paint is very good for this. Spray paint is amazing. In this case, I used a matte white from Apple Barrel.

Step 4. Paint or decoupage the board to your style. For my mason jar I used white and a teal that I make myself with white, blue, and yellow. I also dry brushed Paynes Grey to add the screw top and deeper accents around the edges. This gave it a 3D jar look. For the lettering, I found a sample online and traced it. Then I did a pencil transfer.

If you are not familiar with pencil transfers, they could not be simpler. Print out or trace a shape or lettering onto a piece of paper. Color the back with a Number 2 pencil and then place it on your board. Trace with strong marks to transfer the pencil to the board. After that I traced over my pencil marks with a sharpie. You can also use stickers or stencils.

That’s it! From Dollar Tree sweet to homespun chic. I need to fix the lettering (the “M” is driving me crazy, and I will probably remove the straw sticking up. That is easy to fix with a craft knife. Otherwise, I love the subtle coloring, and the realistic effect. This is perfect to hang in my kitchen. I could also turn this into a clock with a clock kit or attach some hooks at the bottom to make a key hook.

I burned the garlic bread.

It was an event repeated so often in my childhood that it became a family joke. My mom would burn the garlic bread, fairly consistently. It was a light joke, something we could tease mom about and she would good-naturedly take the ribbing.

“I’ll just scrape the black parts off and you won’t even notice,” she’d say. ” I don’t know what happened.” But as a women who tried really hard, who worked really hard, and who took pride in her accomplishments, I’m sure it galled her.

I know, because last night I did the same. And I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how it happened ever since.

Here is how I make garlic bread.

Baguette or french loaf cut lengthwise.
room temperature butter
1 roasted garlic bulb, mashed
shaved parmesan

Roast the garlic. Tip: I tend to try to roast a 5-10 bulbs at a time. Roasted garlic keeps just fine in the freezer. Alternatively, you can submerge the bulb in good olive oil to keep it handy.

Mix the roasted garlic with the butter and spread it across the bread. Top with shaved parmesan and sprinkle with a little salt. Put your oven rack about 3 inches from your broiler on high for 1 minute (seriously, check it after 1 minute), and no more than 3 minutes.

This critical point of 1-3 minutes is where I went wrong. What I thought was no more than two minutes, was actually more like five. That’s because prior to putting the bread in the oven, I was feeding the baby. After that I was seasoning the pasta, getting plates and utensils out, figuring out if the dishwasher was clean or dirty, being asked for chocolate milk, running long division in my head, and trying to take over the world.

All those things are very distracting, even though they are part of the everyday. So set your timer to remind you to check the garlic bread. And if you burn it once in a while, don’t beat yourself up. Chances are you’ve got a lot going on.

End note: Recently, many people have been making fett-unta, a more traditional type of grilled bread, drenched in olive oil and rubbed in garlic. Here’s the one from Nancy Silverton. Maybe I should try that one next time.

Thirty-eight(ish) ingredients to cook (nearly) everything.

Ever feel like you go to the store and buy stuff only to come home and still have no idea what to make? Here are my basic pantry items that allow me to cook on the fly.

This won’t cover special meals and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be able to cook or bake every dish you might want. Instead it provides a way to make your way through nearly every recipe and make adjustments or substitutions during cooking. Further, you can scramble together a meal with nothing else in the house.

Full disclosure, I was trying to make a list of 20 items, but I kept adding. In truth, there are probably 50 things and I’m just forgetting a few.

With this list you can make pastas, stir fry, sheet pan dishes, soups, stews, casseroles, pizza, breads, quick breads, and biscuits.

Here is the list of products I keep on hand at all times:

Onions or green onions
Broccoli or zucchini (any seasonal vegetable too)
Bell peppers
Fresh fruit (whatever is in season)
Fresh herbs (I usually keep cilantro)
Cheddar cheese
Parmesan cheese wedge

Smoked paprika
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Fish sauce
Soy sauce

Juiced and zested lemon
Chicken stock
Frozen herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil)
Ground beef or turkey
Chicken breast
Grated ginger

Canned goods
Plain tomato sauce
Refried beans

Dry pasta
Self-rising flour
All-purpose flour
Corn starch
Instant yeast
Cooking oil
Brown sugar
Baker’s sugar

It’s too hot to cook. Arroz con pollo in a pressure cooker.

After a pretty mild summer, temps hit the hundreds for us late last week. So cooking anything must be weighed against how much harder the AC will have to work. Time to pull out the pressure cooker.

I like the pressure cooker a lot. It is the best tool to achieve perfect steamed artichokes (I might have already said this). But it is not always ideal. First, it takes up precious counter space, or alternatively, precious cabinet space. It is also a pain to clean, particularly the lid, which is made from multiple parts that must be disassembled. My husband had to convince me to get one because I thought everything could be done in a slow cooker.

He will be astounded to hear me say, I was wrong (don’t tell him).

Despite some hassles, the pressure cooker makes food more itself, if you know what I mean. Plus, you can brown and sauté food in the same pan, with very accurate and steady temperatures. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know I love dishes that only require a single pan, and I do my best to pay attention to temperatures.

Here is some truth: I was not prepared to make this dish. In fact, I really had no idea what I was going to make for dinner that night. So the chicken and the stock were still frozen. The pressure cooker doesn’t care. The pressure cooker laughs at your foolish frozen items. It will cook them anyway.

OK that’s enough of an intro… let’s cook:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs butter
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Cilantro to garnish

Defrost the chicken enough to get it out. Set the cooker to brown and add the chicken, generously seasoning with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken and then remove. You don’t have to worry about ensuring it cooks all the way through, because you are going to add it back in with the rice.

Switch the cook instructions to sauté. Put a pat of butter in the cooker and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the rice and sauté until the rice starts to get a little translucent around the edges, maybe 5 minutes.

Add the stock, tomato sauce, paprika, and cumin, stirring gently. Here is my trick for ensuring I have the right level of liquid to rice. I stick my pinky (very clean) into the pot and touch just the top of the rice. The water level should come just up to the first joint line on my pinky.

Place the chicken on top and close the lid. Set the pressure cooker on high pressure for 10 minutes. When the timer is up, use the quick release valve.

When the pressure is gone, remove the lid and give the rice a stir. It might look like there is too much liquid on the top at first, but after a few minutes, that liquid redistribute and the result with be a really nice velvety sauce. Add the frozen peas while you stir (don’t worry, the mixture is surface-of-the-sun hot and will defrost those peas immediately). Garnish with cilantro as you dish it out.

A few changes I would make: I did not have saffron. I would have used either yellow rice or saffron to get that rich color expected from arroz con pollo. Also, other recipes call for a small amount of tomato paste rather than a full can of tomato sauce. That would also yield a more traditional color.

Still, this was a win in my book. It was perfect for a last minute dinner plan on a sweltering day.