Stone fruit sangria is the woo girl summer sipper of your dreams

It’s time for summer cocktails. This weekend I did a little experimenting with some of my favorite flavors and came up with what I think is a pretty delightful little summer cooler.

Here’s what you need to make a pitcher (serves 4):

8 peach tea bags
3 cups water
1 large handful of mint
4-5 ripe peaches or plums cut up into small pieces
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 shots Cointreau (or other citrus liqueur)
1 bottle (25 oz) sweet or semi-sweet wine
ice

Steep the tea bags in the water overnight in the fridge. You want the tea to be strong. In a small jar or cocktail shaker, put ice in with the lemon, mint, and Cointreau. Shake the mix to release the mint flavor and use the strainer to add the liquid to the tea. Add the fruit. Top off with the wine and stir.

Pour into glasses filled with ice, making sure to get some peaches into every cup, garnish with fresh mint.





Secrets to a really great red gravy (spaghetti sauce).

Think it’s too hard to make your own spaghetti sauce? It isn’t. You are just a few ingredients away from a great, flavorful, mellow meat sauce. I made this one with sausage eggplant and green beans.

Here are the basics:

2 cans plain tomato sauce
1 cup of water or broth
1/2 onion chopped or grated
3-5 garlic cloves
1 lb of ground meat (turkey, sausage, beef)
2 tbls butter
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or the hard end of a parmesan wedge
Salt and pepper (or red pepper) to taste

In a large pot brown the meat in the pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cook the onions (after a few minutes add the garlic). Add any vegetables. Here I’ve added eggplant. I cut the eggplant a little too big here. Luckily, eggplant gets nice and soft as it cooks, so I was able to mush it against the bottom and the sides of the pot.

Add in the tomato sauce and water and let it simmer over low heat. Add the grated parmesan or a parmesan end (Be sure to fish out the wedge, which will get a little mudgy in the heat.)

Did you catch the secrets? Let the onions cook for a long time so they get sweet and melty. Butter (lots of it) mellows the acidity of the tomato. Parmesan (fresh from a block) in the sauce adds a metric ton of flavor and it is a great way to get rid of those ends that are a bit too hard to grate over pasta.

Check out my new craft bench!

Here is the text my husband sent me this morning:

“You should write a blog about DIYing in the kitchen to get your husband to give you space in the garage.”

To be clear, I had no designs on garage space. But I didn’t say “no” when he offered to give me some of that man-cave real estate. I guess he got tired of me dripping paint everywhere in the kitchen, as well as having to moving everything to make dinner.

In any case, over this past long weekend, I got premium garage space courtesy of my saintly man who built ceiling storage, several shelving units and one perfectly sized work bench. He also made sure I had easy access to tools such as pliers and screwdrivers, goo gone, and all the spray paints.

Over the next few months I’ll be sharing my craft projects, including some How To videos. Here you can see some of the projects I’ve already started including some gorgeous coasters for a friends upcoming birthday, as well as mercury glass solar light jars for those summer nights on the patio.

So that is my awesome bench. Isn’t it great? All it needs is a slop sink…hint hint.

It is official. I have an addiction to Dollar Tree

I’m not proud. I started to go to Dollar Tree becuase I got into acrylic pouring and needed some paints. I knew they had low cost acrylics there. But then I saw that they had small canvases, too. THEN, in the pictures aisle, I found a ton of pressboard shadow boxes that were larger than the canvases. So I got a bunch of those (little did I know they wouldn’t have more). Then I found two (just 2) plain wooden die cut flower boards.

That’s when I started to realize just how special and insidious Dollar Tree is. They will have really cute things. For a dollar. Then, those things will be gone. Some of them are much higher quality than you would normally find for a dollar, and unlike the 99C Store, everything IS ACTUALLY ONE DOLLAR.

I’ve always gone there for stickers and note pads. Now I go there first for everything. And I watch Dollar Tree DIYs on YouTube… and then I shame watch Dollar Tree Hauls on YouTube. I’m literally fighting the urge right now to go watch one.

With almost everything available online these days, Dollar Tree full fills that hunter/gatherer, get-it-before-its-gone psychological need we have. The fact that some of it might be crap, but a lot of it is pretty cool (in the way that anything a suburban mom does is “cool.”)

So let’s talk about what is in the picture. Because despite my self-deprecation, I’m completely un-ironically enjoying this stuff. The top left: come on…its all about coffee! And it has teal green accents (my favorite color). The companion to that sign is the coffee scented candle seen in the middle, with a coffee lid on it. It really smells like a delicious coffee. I put these by our coffee machine.

Doubling down on the teal, I have two shadow boxes. The small one, “Lead with Love” is currently on my desk. The Mermaid one accompanies some large shells my husband is displaying on our garden window.

In front, to the left is that beautiful aqua container… I wish I’d gotten more, but I didn’t really have a use for it when I bought it. I just loved the color. Right now, it is holding those craft jewel ribbons, plus some other rolls of ribbon I had. I hope to do something more with that soon.

In the middle, you have that textured glass jar. This is a candle holder that I sprayed with mirror finish on the inside to give it a mercury glass effect. It fit a random solar light I had nearly perfectly, so that has become a little shelf light. On the front it says “Home Made.” I need to pick up another one before they are gone.

The plain glass mason jar and the note pad are self explanatory—although I am super pleased that this note pad has not one but two magnet strips on the back for extra security. And finally, the purple vase is one I made myself with acrylic pouring. The glass vase is a staple at Dollar Tree, so I don’t have to worry about them running out.

Are you a Dollar Tree addict too?

My three favorite kids book authors

These days it feels like all I read are kids books. And I can now say with a bit of authority that the vast majority of children’s books can get tedious—especially after you’ve read them about 15 times (in one night).

When you know a book is likely to be read and reread, you look for any light in the dark. I like books that are funny and are fun to read aloud. That means, they have varying sentence structure, surprising stories, and maybe a little bit of poetry.

This is not a comprehensive list. There are great books that come out every year, and I can’t claim to read them all…but I do have a few authors I look for and make sure I pick up when new titles come out. Here are some of my favorites.

Sandra Boynton

When it comes to board books, stories that make you laugh are pretty rare. Sandra Boynton books have actually made me laugh out loud.

The first one I picked up was “The Going to Bed Book,” but each one we’ve borrowed or bought has been equally charming. The animal characters are gentle and fun. Illustrations are simple and sweet. She deftly maneuvers through stories with gorgeous prose and a great absurdist sense of humor. Further, the subjects of the stories contain terrific lessons, from emotional management to counting, and ABCs.

Jan Thomas

Jan Thomas is a masterclass in minimal story-telling. The images are one dimensional, the backgrounds are nonexistent, and the text is usually limited to one sentence word bubbles.

And yet, the stories are a delight.

“I don’t want to give anything away, but in “A Birthday for Cow,” only one character really knows what Cow really wants for their birthday. But there is so much fun in the mistakes made along the way.

Jan Thomas books are great for beginning readers and for family evening story time.

Mo Willems

Mo Willems is a new one for us. We discovered him just this year as we were looking for great early reader books.

The Elephant & Piggie series features my favorite friends since the Frog and Toad books I loved as a child.

Each book is a gem, with interesting dialogue and fun asides. The stories solve humorous dilemmas through kindness and friendship, without ever turning didactic.

The “We Are In a Book” story breaks the fourth wall in such a heartwarming way, I want to read the story again and again.

There are so many other books we love, but these are the ones I continue to want to pore over. What are your favorites for your children? I would so love to know what delightful authors you’ve found.

Eat Moar Noodles!

Although I pride myself on being willing to try new things, the truth is I tend to circle the same recipes. I guess that is good and bad. It’s good because, in life, it is better to get really good at a few things rather than endlessly try new stuff and only churn out mediocre. I do have a few dishes that I’m very proud to have developed and honed to my taste.

That said, noodles are really popular in my house. I made pasta 3 times last week. So it can get a little monotonous. I decided to get some different kinds of noodles onto the menu.

Our local Island Pacific market is fantastic, so I took a little trip. Pancit is similar to Lo Mein. Pancit noodles are also called flour sticks or rice sticks, depending on the source of the noodle. I got the pancit canton, which are long, yellow, flour noodles packaged in a big nest. Pancit is a festive dish—the long noodles symbolizing long life. It is a celebration of bounty with a variety of vegetables, shellfish, and meats both fresh and preserved.

I did not come up with this recipe, but the final dish was born out of what was in my kitchen. Here are my ingredients:

1 pkg pancit canton
1 strip steak, purchased with the intention of a grill night that did not materialize.
1/2 head of Napa cabbage, chopped into 1/2 in. pieces
2 ribs of celery, bite sized
5-6 baby carrots (cut into long quarters)
1/2 medium onion
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 bunch of cilantro chopped
2 tbls of chicken bullion (I ran out of stock)
2 cups water
1 tbls of oyster sauce
2 tbls soy sauce (divided)
1/2 tbls Sambal Oelek
2 garlic cloves crushed

Assemble the marinade using half of the garlic, the Sambal Oelek, and 1 tbls soy sauce. Slice the beef very thin. The thinner the better, To get really thin slices, consider freezing your beef for 20 minutes (Only if it was not previously frozen!). Put it in the marinade and let sit while you chop the veggies. In addition, mix the chicken bullion with water, oyster sauce, and other tablespoon of soy sauce in a separate container and set aside.

Cook the beef in a large, very hot pan or wok with some oil. This should cook very fast. Remove to a plate. In the same pan cook the onions and garlic on medium until soft. Add the celery, carrots and cabbage to the sides and let them cook for a few minutes.

Then add the steak back in and nestle the noodles among the other ingredients. Add the cooking liquid (bullion, water, oyster sauce, and the rest of the soy sauce)

Cover the pot to let the noodles steam for about 5 minutes. Lift the lid, add the cilantro, and gently toss the noodles in with the veggies and meat.

Chicken kabob veggie bowls

A yogurt marinade makes for juicy delicious chicken, without the hassle of finding those kabob sticks you know you put somewhere…

NOTE: I had some gorgeous pictures of my kebab bowl, but they are lost to the tech gods due to an old phone that won’t update. Please enjoy images of these beautiful fruits and veggies from our local farmers market.

There’s a reason we usually do kabobs this on the grill. They spatter like crazy. But sometimes you can’t remember where those dang kabob sticks are. So you decide to improvise. I wanted mediterranean style kabobs and I went for the stove top. They still taste amazing because, although you miss the smoke flavor, this recipe is all about the marinade. Reserve 1/4 cup to drizzle over the bowl once it is assembled (warning, it has raw garlic, so vampires beware!)

Here is the recipe:

1 pkg boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut to bite sizes)
1 onion, cut large
1 pgk sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini sliced into half moons
Any other veggies you might have that are good in a stir fry. Broccoli, carrots, green beans, cabbage, etc.
Golden buttered rice, (cook 1 cup rice with 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup water, 1 tbl butter, and 1 tsp turmeric)

Chicken Marinade:
1 cup plain greek yogurt
5 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp paprika (I like smoked)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Let the chicken sit in the marinade for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large skillet on high with a tablespoon of oil or butter. When skillet is hot add onion and mushroom into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables cook on high, flipping mushrooms and onions occasionally, to golden brown (add any long-cooking veggies to this step, e.g., carrots) as well. Add other veggies and cook to desired doneness.

Remove vegetables from skillet and set aside.

Add another tablespoon to the skillet and gently lay chicken in one layer, in batches if necessary. Allow to brown over medium high heat, making sure chicken is cooked thoroughly (no longer pink). Serve with golden buttered rice and veggies in a bowl.

Lambic braised slow-cooker ribs with jus BBQ sauce

These 2-step slow cooker ribs use lambic beer as a braising liquid, and can be finished by using the jus to create your own BBQ sauce.

Ribs, before they are baked in the sauce.

Slow cooker ribs can be done so many ways. Here is the method I like to use. This is a two-cook method so it is important not to overcook the ribs in the slow cooker. You want them tender, but not fall-off-the-bone. They should hold up in the oven.

It s very unlike me to engage in a two-step cooking process, but for this recipe, it is worth the extra effort.

What you need

1 large onion quartered or sliced
1 package loin baby back or St Luis style ribs
6 oz of beer… I used Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic (see notes)

Spice rub:

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 bay
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3-5 whole cloves or allspice corns
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

For the BBQ sauce:
Braising liquid (strained and defatted, if desired)
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce or gochujang (spicy chili sauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

How you do:

Season the ribs with your spice mixture. Load onions into the bottom of the slow cooker and lay ribs on top. Alternatively, curl ribs around the sides of the slow cooker. Pour the Lambic into the bottom of the dish and cover. Get a big glass and enjoy some Lambic while you relax. Cook on low for 6 hours. Resist temptation to lift the lid.

When the ribs are done, line a sheet pan with foil, parchment, or other non-stick surface and heat oven to 375F. Move the ribs to the pan and section them, if desired.

Strain the liquid left in the cooker (you can save the onions for a stir-fry or as a garnish, if you like). Use a fat separator to remove the fat and move the jus to a medium sauce pan, reserving a few tablespoons to mix with the cornstarch (slurry). Add the sugar, chili sauce, and cornstarch slurry. Cook on high to reduce sauce to desired thickness…between 10-20 minutes.

Brush some sauce onto the ribs and put them in the oven for 45 minutes, glazing with the sauce every 10-15 minutes or so.

Notes:

Lambic is a sour, fruity beer that comes in various flavors. It is delightful and refreshing in the summer. Lindeman’s peach and raspberry are my favorites, but any will do for this recipe. What I like about this beer is that it adds acidity and sweetness to the mix. However, you can use any beer or cider you like. If you use the lambic, get the big bottle so you can have some while you cook and then serve it with dinner.

Young kids and finding the music in the maelstrom.

I got lucky today. My kids invaded the bathroom.

Photo by Ignacio Sanz, via Flickr.

I was in the shower this morning and I left the kids just one room away, in the playroom. This is a common set up. I don’t use the master bath when I’m alone with the kids because I can’t control the environment as well. So I shower upstairs, steps away from the kiddos.

In any case, I was in the shower. Alone. For 3 minutes. I mean, I got three entire minutes to myself before my son opened the bathroom door and both kids burst in.

My son stood on the toilet and began to ask, “Mommy, can you see this?” while holding various toys over the shower stall door. The little one complained loudly when the big one took her toys to show to me as well and started to unwrap the toilet paper roll.

He started singing a wordless, repetitive tune, and she took it upon herself to add “call and response” wordless phrases to the song. It was “Shave and a Haircut,” on steroids. It had its own kind of glorious hyperbolic harmony.

There are many days in which this intrusion would have irritated me and possibly ruined my morning. Days when I’d gotten less sleep the night before, or was worried about something, trying to work through a problem, or compose an article in my head.

I’m glad this wasn’t one of those days.

If it was, I would not have been able to appreciate my children cooperating and enjoying each other’s company (as well as mine). I know those days are fleeting.

I’m not trying to make this that “enjoy the time you have,” story I see on A LOT of mommy blogs. I kinda hate those, because they diminish an adult’s right to feel upset at children. We are completely justified in feeling like overtaxed caterers to our children’s needs and wants, and equally validated in asking for help from spouses, family, and friends to ease that burden.

Parents deserve privacy in the bathroom, whether they get it or not. But once in a while, it’s nice to not feel that righteous irritation.

Those days when you can lean your head back under the water and trust that the chaos you hear is the music…those are pretty great days.

How to make better chicken stock

Photo by Bil Harding, via Flickr

Here is the deep dark secret to developing the “chickeniest” chicken stock you’ve ever tasted. Plus, my genius (stolen) ideas for straining and cooling. With my apologies to the vegetarians.

The goal for this recipe is to achieve a deeply flavored bone stock that is fundamentally “chicken.” It takes on a jello consistency when chilled. It can be used to make soup or to flavor other dishes for any type of cuisine (ok, except vegetarian). Also, I’m sorry for the intro photo.

There are a ton of chicken stock recipes out there. Most of them call for an addition of aromatic vegetables, and flavorful spices or herbs.

But I’m here to tell you to knock it off.

Here is the recipe:

A large stock pot (tall, not wide), pressure cooker large enough to fit everything, or a crock pot .
A fine mesh strainer
A large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath
A variety of freezer-safe containers. I find 32 oz, 16 oz, and ice cube trays (with lids) the most useful.

1-3 chicken or turkey carcasses (with some meat still on), leftover wings, neck, skin, or any other tendon-rich pieces. I keep carcasses in my freezer and when I have a couple of them, I make stock.
Water
Optional: 1 tablespoon of salt or less

Put the carcasses in your stock pot and put just enough water to hit the top of the bones. Do not overfill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to simmer for 8 hours or overnight. If using an electric pressure cooker, follow the same directions, then check your manual for heat, time, and release instructions. With a crockpot, be sure everything fits (you will not be able to make as much at one time).

When the stock is ready, fit a fine mesh strainer over a large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath. A fine mesh strainer is usually good enough for my needs. However, sometimes, I prefer clearer stock. If you do also, run it through the fine mesh, then, in a secondary process, add a cheese cloth to the stainer and run it through again. (If you try to do the cheese cloth during the first run, it will get clogged really quickly.) The bowl sitting in the ice bath is a great method to start the cooling process quickly. The faster you can get it cooled and into the freezer, the less time there is for bacteria to set in.

Empty the strained stock into your smaller vessels often so you can get them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The fridge-first method is a good idea—it reduces steam condensation and deters freezer burn, and it allows you to gauge the success (does it look like jello) of your stock. Once the stock is cold you can move it to the freezer and keep it for 2-3 months. If you use ice trays, freeze them overnight then pop the cubes into a freezer safe bag for storage.

What is missing?

Do not add any onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chiles, parsley, cilantro, or any other fresh plants. Sure, adding these things are traditional and make you feel like you are “adding flavor” to make your stock.

But these other ingredients turns your stock into chicken/vegetable stock, and the result is usually not very good because vegetables release flavor much more quickly than bone and don’t improve with long cooking. Make a vegetable stock on its own in about 30 minutes and you’ll like the flavor better.

I’m not opposed to adding some spices, such as peppercorns, bay, and thyme. However, I have found they aren’t necessary, because you will likely use them in the secondary process. Others such as anise, cinnamon, can bring in either an Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Be cautious, however, because those distinctive flavors can clash with other cuisines. And again, you will likely add them to your final dish.

One note: It is better to under salt than over salt. I have two reasons: One, if you are using a leftover carcass, it is likely there is already salt on the bird, particularly if it was brined. Two, you are going to add salt to your final dish. This is a base ingredient and it does not need to be salty.

One more note: I do not talk about fat. There are ways to remove it. I’m not going to go into those methods, because I like the fat in my broth. Fat is flavor.

Make the Stock Even Better

There are additional ways to improve this stock. I’m approaching it from the idea of using what is leftover after a holiday or Sunday night dinner with family. If you really want to get exceptional stock, buy chicken feet from your butcher and use that alone or along with your carcass and pieces. Tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue are what make stock great. Chicken feet are nothing but tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue.

A pressure cooker is the best way to get a really “essential” stock flavor. The way pressure cookers force liquid into food at a high heat produces a caramelization that simply cannot be achieved with slow cook methods. The result is a deep and complex stock in a fraction of the time. It is great for cooking in the summer as well. My only problem with the pressure cooker is that mine has a 10-cup capacity, which includes the bones. It is a lot of work to make stock for such little output.

So there you have it. The best chicken stock recipe I’ve found is the one that emphasizes technique and contains no extra ingredients.