Friday, November 18, 2011 Preparing For The Next Storm

We've had quite a problem with power outages in Connecticut these past few months. First Irene and then that blasted Nor'easter; some people had had to live without power for 3 or more weeks! I consider myself lucky, we only lost power for a day because of Irene. The freak winter storm had no effect on us, thank goodness. But even still, that one day without power provided us with a challenge; and while I could have done another day or two, we were happy to stop eating grilled hot dogs.

So here are a few tips and ideas to get you through the next power outage - it can't be far away with the REAL winter weather still to come. Plan ahead, bundle up and tell CL&P to go screw when they want a rate hike.

There are plenty of things we can eat without refrigeration or cooking. Fresh fruits, breads, cereal (dry cereal won't kill you), cookies, crackers, candy, nuts, dried fruits - you get my point. Why not have a few boxes of extra cereal in the cupboard? Buy things on sale and then stash them away.

Own a grill! We have a little grill that uses disposable propane tanks. That thing was a dream to own that day we didn't have power. My husband boiled water for my tea on it, we grilled hot dogs and mini-potatoes. We felt pretty civilized for two people without power. Definitely a great investment. Don't use it indoors!

As soon as the power goes out (or before if you somehow know it's going to happen) take all the perishables you can out of the fridge and put them in the freezer. Hot dogs? In the freezer. Milk? In the freezer. Yogurt? In the freezer. Things like butter and hard cheeses can stay in the fridge for a while. Number one the fridge isn't going to INSTANTLY heat up and spoil everything. Number two those things are best eaten at room temp anyway. Use your judgement as best you can. Remember the temperature danger zone is 40-140. Don't open the fridge every 10 minutes like you usually do :)

Maybe this idea is hitting me because it's almost Thanksgiving, but why not have a frozen turkey on stand-by? Or a frozen ham or a chicken? Take it out of the freezer and pop it in the fridge - it frees up room for your hot dogs, milk and yogurt and while it's thawing it will keep the temp of your fridge down.

Keep some thermometers handy - you never want to prepare food for your family that has spent a good amount of time in the temperature danger zone (40-140), but with a little planning and smart thinking you can have a few days of real meals during a power outage. And what else are you gonna do? You can't watch television!

Fill every possible container with water. Buy ice. Make sure you have working flashlights and safe places for candles. Make sure your pets are safe. Call your local fire department if you have medication that needs refrigeration! They will help you! You really, really must plan ahead. We've seen enough disasters on television at this point in our history, you need to take the proper steps to see that you are taken care of. Be proactive. Many Connecticut residents were trapped for WEEKS in their homes without power because of downed trees. You need to be prepared if you want to survive.

And, by the way, if it's actually winter when there's a winter storm you might be able to keep your food outside (away from critters, but cold).

And while you're waiting for that to happen...try using less power. F CL&P. In the future I hope they're more proactive about tree removal and trimming. I hope they pay the shirts less and the linemen more. I hope they hire more linemen and less shirts. And I hope the next guy who runs the company is actually from Connecticut and actually gives a crap about us.

Don't depend on the government or the power company to take care of you - because they will fail, and you deserve better.


BTW - after a few days without power THROW IT ALL OUT!!! Even the ketchup and salad dressing. I mean it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 My First Saugatuck Craft Butchery Experience

Look at that little bundle of joy. Go ahead, just look at it. I won't judge you.

OMG. Yesterday I had my first Saugatuck Craft Butchery experience. I was looking forward to it since I'd first read the article on CTBites. As most of my Facebook fans know, I'm not one to get excited about restaurant openings. But butcher openings? Give me a place to get some kick-ass ingredients and I'm a happy headbanging camper.

Well let me tell you, they did not disappoint.

As I walked up to the joint there was a nice young woman setting up shop for the day, placing doormats with pink pigs in their proper places. Of course I had to comment and we started talking (the doormats were at Bed, Bath & Beyond) and the conversation organically shifted to the organic meats (get it? Ba-dum-bum). She was super nice in assisting me, it's a good thing I was the only customer there because I had no idea what I wanted. I knew I wanted to use the fancy dutch oven my neighbor gave me, that was about it. I hemmed and hawed over lamb for a bit, I've only really liked it once. I know I need to learn to like it, and the uber-patient young woman helping me explained that pasture raised lamb has a different taste than supermarket lamb, but I was still unsure about it. Thankfully the Owner/Head Butcher who had been busy breaking down a steer with a bunch of other manly-men in burlap hats chimed in with a beef roast and I was sold. A pound-and-a-half, just enough for me and my husband. It was $15.08 - I know that sounds like a lot of money to some people. But just think about it, I supported a local business, a local farmer; I can live with the fact that the animal I ate only had one bad day in his life (straight from the butcher's mouth) and my husband and I had an awesome dinner. That was money well spent!

Check it out! They have tons of stuff, local yogurt, maple syrup, all sorts of dried meats, burgers, chicken wings, local cheeses. They use up every bit of the animal and even have cuts of meat you've never heard of. They visit all the farms as well as the slaughterhouses. It's a top notch operation, people; just go already! I can't come up with any more words to describe the awesomeness. Two Tits-Up for Saugatuck Craft Butchery!

And now, the recipe portion of this programming...

So I get this beautiful, tied-up piece of meat home. I give it a good covering of garlic salt, onion powder, rosemary powder and pepper and let it sit for a while. Just before General Hospital started I put the enameled dutch oven directly on the stove top (Which I wasn't sure I could do. Thank you James and Jane) and I browned the meat in olive oil all around. Then I threw in some of my husbands white wine and some bay leaf, threw on the lid, tossed it into the preheated 300 degree oven and left it for two hours.

When I opened the lid I was horrified. Everything looked scorched, my piece of meat had been replaced with a much smaller piece of meat that looked horribly overdone. I almost cried. I've never used a dutch oven before and I was convinced I'd ruined that beautiful piece of steer. My husband consoled me, assuring me it would be great. He grabbed some stock-cubes from the freezer as I doused it with more wine and tossed in some onion and carrots.

An hour later I took it out of the oven. I took the meat out to rest and put the carrots back on the burner. I tasted it, adjusted the salt, added pepper, rosemary, a shot of maple syrup to take out the bitter; a corn starch slurry thickened it up as it simmered on the stove. I threw some green beans and pine nuts under the broiler for a few minutes. I like them that way, nice and crispy - some people might say they were raw but that just means they've eaten overcooked green beans their whole sad for them.

The meat rested for about 20 minutes before my husband sliced it. There was no slicing. It was so tender...just look at the picture.

The carrots were covered in a rich brown onion sauce and cooked perfectly, giving way easily to my fork and still bright orange in the middle. The meat was incredible, light as air, almost indescribable. Have you had the Hershey chocolates with the air bubbles? This is the meat equivalent to that. Smooth like ice cream, tender. We dogged it. Wasn't one bite left.

I will be using both the butcher and the dutch oven more often. Rock on! \m/


Saugatuck Craft Butchery is located at 575 Riverside Ave in Westport, CT - Right of I-95 exit 17

Sunday, November 13, 2011 #OnlyOnCoveRoad Update

Anyone remember the last edition of #onlyoncoveroad. It seems someone in Stamford's city government is a follower of the Headbanging Hostess and they made sure the crosswalk was fixed! Not likely ;) But it was fixed none-the-less.


First of all, what you see there is not brick. It is stamped into the blacktop and then painted to look like brick. I can't wait to see what happens in February when the plow trucks go by. Should be interesting. Please, blacktop-stamp-people, prove me wrong.

I can't lie, it looks odd to me. Not sure if I like it. It looks out of place in my neighborhood.

PLUS, as you can see here. We've got parking issues. People like to park on what should be the sidewalk. My side of the street has sidewalk down the entire length, the other side it comes and goes. Down the street they just put in a brand new length of sidewalk, right in front of three businesses that have effectively lost their parking. Way to go city! In the meantime the sidewalk on my side of the street, the complete stretch all the way to the beach, is falling apart, cracked, uneven and quite frankly too narrow for the main pedestrian thoroughfare to the beach. But we have these fancy new corners, I guess I shouldn't complain. Unless I get hit by a car parking in the crosswalk.



Saturday, November 12, 2011 Pickled Peppers Rock - Who Knew?

Yesterday, when I woke up at 4AM for no good reason I came out to find this note on my computer. Apparently after I'd gone to bed at 9PM my husband tried the pickled peppers I'd made him the week before. Looks like he liked them.

When he came home from the supermarket a week ago with two huge peppers telling me I was going to pickle them like we'd talked about I really had no idea what he was referring to. We talked about pickled peppers? I had zero recollection of the conversation but I said I'd make them for him. I, of course, turned to the Google to find a recipe. This was the tricky part because I'm not really canning them, I don't have the equipment to do that, so I needed a recipe that didn't rely on that ancient method of food preservation.

It took a while but I found one. I didn't have all of the proper ingredients (ground spices instead of whole) and I also didn't measure a darn thing. But what's new? Here's an approximation of what I did...

Two large green peppers, cored and cut into finger width slices.

Put them into plastic containers, stuffed to the top.

In a sauce pan mix equal parts red wine vinegar and water, enough to cover the peppers in their containers.

Add to that a palm full (palmful?) of salt, a palmful (palm full?) of sugar, 3 chopped garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, and whole spices (if you have them, I used ground) of peppercorn, cumin and coriander.

Bring all that to a boil and then cover the peppers in their containers, all the way to the top. Put on the lids, push out that last bit of air if you can and put them away in the fridge for a week.

Now, I've gotta say, I had not planned on eating these. They were for my husband and I was happy to make them, but the idea of pickled peppers did nothing for me. Well, let me tell you. I was wrong! He made me try one yesterday. First he made me eat a piece of salami with some sharp provolone. Then he handed me the pickled pepper - begrudgingly I bit into it...WOW! Crunchy, spicy, sour, sweet - it was the best darned pickled thing I've ever eaten! Incredibly tasty, I was won over by these little slices of pickle perfection. I have to insist you try them. Every tray of pepperoni, cheese and crackers that you make from this day forward should be accompanied by these little vinegar dreams.

They'll last a few weeks in the fridge, if we don't eat them all, but we might. I see Italian subs in our future...Mmm...


Friday, November 11, 2011 Gardener's Pie

I wore myself out yesterday slaving over this Gardener's Pie. I walked down to the supermarket for ingredients (after doing my usual 3 miles for exercise) and walked back switching the overfilled bag from hand to hand asking my elbows to please stay attached.

I bought everything I needed, but I forgot to put some of them in the pie. This is why I'm up at 4AM - I just realized I left out the frozen veggie mix that cost me $3.50! (I was forced to buy fancy organic, the supermarket mixed veggies included Lima beans! Ick! Lima beans!) I also forgot to add the barley I'd planned to add for texture and fiber...whatever. It was damn tasty.

Here's a link to the picture set on Facebook.

I like to think it's self-explanatory, but here's a description just in case.

First off I started caramelizing one thinly sliced onion in a pan with a spot of butter and olive oil. Then I ground up 3/4ths of a bag of chips in a food processor with a splash of olive oil. I used reduced fat chips because I was trying to be healthy (ha!) and skipped the melted butter I usually use in this application. I wanted to save the butter for the potatoes.

Lookin' healthy so far, right? ;)

Push the potato chip crumbs into a pie pan forming a crust and bake for 5 minutes or so at 350.

While that's going on and the onions have started to color add a 10 ounce package of chopped up mushrooms to the pan. Stir that up and let it go for a while. If there's not enough moisture in the pan you can go ahead and add a little stock. All told I added about 1 1/2 cups of stock but it all cooked down so much there was just enough left for a good covering of gravy - not too much because you don't want it soupy. Maintaining the crunch of the crust isn't entirely possible, but you don't want to ruin your chances by adding too much liquid - then you're guaranteed mush.

Once that's started you can boil the potatoes - I used two of each and had a little left over. While they were cooking I added some cooked asparagus to the mushroom and onion filling and thickened the gravy with 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch mixed in a spot of water. That's the spot where I forgot the barley, I'll have to try that again some day. I do use barley in my bean chili and it gives a nice texture that somewhat makes up for the fact there's no meat.

I suppose that's also where I missed the veggie mix - but I had plenty of filling for the size pie plate I was using. I carefully spooned most of the mixture into the pie, careful not to disturb the crust, and then used a rubber spatula to spread the rest of the gravy covered goodness evenly in the center of the pie.

Then I mashed the potatoes, keeping some of the water in each. What I should do is boil down the water and keep it for stock, there's still flavor in there, but I'm not that hardcore, yet. A spot of butter in each, a little salt - I loaded a piping bag with the white mash and made stripes at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock and then added another stripe in between, ending up with 8 stripes. Then I went in with the sweet potato mash and did zig-zags in between ending with a nice dollop in the center. Sprinkle with chips, bake for a bit. Make a little extra gravy in the same pan in you want... Outstanding. Even if I forgot a few ingredients. My husband said it was really good for something that didn't have any meat in it. So there. The caramelized onions and mushrooms are just killer and anything you want to add or forget to add to them is going to make your Gardener's Pie uniquely yours - and it'll taste awesome! No lie!


Monday, November 7, 2011 Mushroom Gravy and Roasted Roots

Yesterday I had a grand vision of a healthy roasted veggie dinner with mushroom gravy. I had homemade stock, I had cauliflower and I had carrots. I skipped my usual 3 mile walk and instead opted for walking to the supermarket, not exactly 3 miles but there's a big hill on the way back that I've convinced myself is good exercise. Down at the market I picked up a couple sweet potatoes, mushrooms and an onion. The mushrooms were baby portobellos - $3.99 for 10 ounces. They had assorted exotic mushrooms, that was leaning towards buying until I saw the price - $4.50 for 4 ounces! 18 bucks a pound! Remind me to get into the mushroom business! I settled on the portobellos and walked up the hill to go home.

Of course, when the dinner prep began I realized the cauliflower was past its prime, as were the carrots I've had in my fridge for a little too long. So out they went. I found a potato that was still good enough to eat and a turnip I'd bought at the Farmers Market - they'd have to do.

First I started on the gravy, caramelizing the sliced onion in butter and olive oil. It takes time caramelizing onions, but they're so worth it. Caramelized onions make everything better, it's just a fact. Once they were in good shape I added the mushrooms I'd sliced, stems and all, and let that get happy for a while. Once the mushrooms started to get their cook on I added 2 cups of my homemade stock. Once that came to a simmer I turned down the heat and let it go...for like an hour. (More than an hour, actually. My husband was down the street watching the Titan game so I was waiting for him to get back.) As the stock reduced the flavors concentrated in the most beautiful way - sweet onion, earthy mushrooms, complex stock. I'm talking 5 star dining here. I added a little more stock here and there as it kept simmering away, desperately waiting for the game to be over. God bless - I can predict to the minute when he'll be staggering home (and I can say, I'm sorry your team lost...again).

The veggie prep was pretty straight forward. I left the skin on the white potato but peeled the sweet potato and turnip. They all got chopped into chunks and were tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Into the oven at 350 for 45 minutes (or until the Titans lost) and ta-da. Finish the gravy with a little cornstarch slurry to thicken it up, portion out the veg, slather it with mushroom gravy and we had ourselves an awesome roasted dinner - without the meat! And we didn't even miss it!


Thursday, November 3, 2011 Farmers Market Wrapping Up

Sad but true, the last few weeks of the Farmers Market are here. Sometimes, if the weather cooperates, you can get a couple of weeks in December, too. But given our October Nor'easter I'm not holding out hope.

I had to put my foot down in order to hang onto this beautiful purple cauliflower yesterday. I was wandering around to all the booths, surveying the land as I always do and I came upon the purple treasure at my favorite farmer lady's stand (I don't know her name, how awful am I?). I thanked her for having it and told her I only ate it because it was purple. Another customer at the stand started asking how I prepared it and a whole conversation began between the three of us ladies about cauliflower prep.

Anyway, I had the last purple one, the rest were orange or white. And she tried and tried but I wasn't going to give her the purple one. "The orange ones are good, too!" I exclaimed. "They have different vitamins!"

She still wanted the purple one, but it was obvious I wasn't going to budge. So she gave up and picked up an orange head of cauliflower; something she wasn't going to do before I had arrived and sparked the cauliflower conversation.

There's a lesson in there for me...

And for you - my purple cauliflower prep, along with chicken and white sweet potatoes.

One whole organic 5 pound chicken bought on sale

One handful of Herbs de Dionysus (oregano and rosemary)

One large white sweet potato

One head of purple cauliflower

Penzy's Northwoods Seasoning

Remove chicken innards from still-frozen chicken cavity without freezing your hand. Stuff with herbs and cover chicken with Northwoods Seasoning (washing your hands every 15 seconds so you don't get salmonella on everything). Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. Then add chopped, skinless sweet potato lightly tossed in salt, pepper and olive oil. About 30 minutes later add cauliflower florets also tossed in salt, pepper and olive oil. Stir potatoes while the oven is open. Stir it all again in about 20 minutes to make sure it's all covered in chicken-fat-goodness and continue to cook until the bird is done. About 1 hour 45 minutes to two hours for a bird of that size.

We ate almost all of it, but the leftovers will find themselves in something grand. I'm preparing to teach a Dinner for Two class for Trumbull Adult Ed in February! Start saving your pennies, folks! More info soon, stay tuned!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011 Unoccupy The Mall This Holiday Season

I've gotta be honest, I've never been a fan of the commercial side of the Holiday Season. Christmas, Hanukkah, it doesn't matter, I hate them all equally. I'm not a fan of shopping, crowds, shopping in get the picture. Compounding this is my hatred of trends, fashion, must-haves, marketing, people being sheep...

That's the big one right there. And if ever there were a year to separate yourself from the herd this is it. With all that's going on in the world; the occupy movement, class warfare, evil corporations, however you want to put it - do you want to fund that? Stop and really think about where your money is going. Do you want them to have it? Do they really need that multi-million dollar bonus?

Heck, keep thinking. Was it made in America? Is the company in America? Do they take care of their employees? Do the employees have health insurance or are they scheduled for 34 hours a week so they're not full-time?

Oh yeah, baby, I'm asking you to be uber-socially-aware this Holiday Season. I'm asking you to give up the commercialism and instead take up some homemade activism. Make shit. Make cookies, cakes, ornaments, greeting cards, wrapping paper, gifts. Buy only homemade, handmade, homegrown gifts. Make Etsy your friggin' homepage if you have to. You got me?

Here are a couple of links -

Handmade natural soap by Olive & Oud
Awesome jewlery from The Bitchy Waiter

And you can always visit the band page and buy some local music \m/

Rock on! I'll keep bugging you about this. I promise :)