Author Archives: gretchen329

Hand Pies/Empanadas… because my kids will eat anything wrapped in dough

Call them what you will, I guess the dough is a basic Empanada dough but I like to do a more French Canadian Tourtiere filling. So call them Hand Pies, or Empanadas and fill them with whatever you have on hand and I guarantee you that everyone will be happy and no one will care what the hell you call them as long as you make them again. I made three fillings last night because I’m stupid like that and I had odds and ends hanging around that I could use. I did a roasted cauliflower, onion and cheddar, a ground beef and cheddar (for the small people) and a tourtiere (ground pork, onion, potatoes, cinnamon) in honor of my proximity to Montreal and my youth selling Meat Pies at Deslauriers Bakery in Woonsocket, RI. You could also do a roasted chicken and pea filling, a pulled pork filling, a cilantro and pork filling… really anything you can think of or find in your fridge.

Empanada Dough: makes 24 (enough for 6 people or dinner for 4 and lunch for them the next day)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup lard, bacon drippings or shortening (or combo of all)
  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 1/2 -3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (omit if using bacon drippings)

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  1. Put milk in a microwavable container and microwave until warm, add shortening/lard and butter. Or put milk in a pan and heat until warm then add shortening/lard and butter and stir until melted.
  2. When milk and melted lard mixture is between 105-115 degrees add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
  3. Measure out dry ingredients (starting with 2 1/2 cups flour and adding more if needed) in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.
  4. Add wet into dry and mix well until mixture forms a ball. Transfer to counter and knead until smooth and pliable.
  5. Return dough to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 425.
  7. Punch dough down and roll it into a long log. Cut into 24 sections and roll the pieces into balls. One at a time, roll each ball into a circle around 4″.
  8. Spoon filling on 1/2 of dough and fold dough over sealing edges with fingers, move to lined cookie sheet and use a fork to crimp.
  9. When cookie sheet is full brush pillows of loveliness with an egg wash, prick top with the fork and bake for 15 minutes

empanada sheet cooked

and there you have it, add a salad or even better, throw some cut up carrots and cucumbers on the table and don’t even bother with silverware! I like mine with a side of sweet chili sauce, my husband likes a mango hot sauce and I’m sure some kids might like ketchup but mine eat them too fast to stop for any dipping… because they’re animals.

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Spaghetti Sauce… because a pantry staple doesn’t need to be full of crap you can’t pronounce

Years ago my husband got me an awesome gift for Christmas, a 3 hour personal cooking lesson with a chef who owned a local high end authentic Italian restaurant… it was a REALLY good present for me, and him come to think of it. I arrived at his restaurant in the afternoon not really knowing what to expect and really nervous about cooking in front of a “chef” but he quickly put me at ease and we spent the afternoon cooking things I liked off his menu and talking about the reasons why you add this before that and Italy and all things holy and beautiful. When we were done we sat at his bar with our dishes, he poured us some wine and we ate and drank and chatted some more and I left that day with more knowledge about cooking then I would have thought possible in a couple hours. To this day I still have to stop myself from putting those few extra ingredients in dishes that really would be fine without them. The biggest thing I learned that day was:

Always salt your boiling water for pasta… duh, of course!.. but I mean REALLy salt it, like a huge dump, a handful of salt and you can tell in the final product that every part of your pasta dish is well seasoned.

I also learned that

  • fresh red sauce can be made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil and taste amazing
  • that the difference between good spaghetti sauce and mediocre is the way you cook your onions down
  • that browning all the bits of things in a braising sauce with some tomato paste makes a sauce you never want to stop eating
  • garlic is better in most dishes crushed and whole and not chopped (his story for this was that if a Italian man and woman were having dinner and eating a garlicky dish and the woman removed her garlic cloves and didn’t eat them than the man would do the same out of respect.. of course he totally could have made this up but it made me love Italy even more!)
  • all food is better with wine

So anyway, I got distracted… Spaghetti sauce, everyone uses it, it’s something you should always have on hand for the evenings you’ve got no time and dinner still has to happen. I also keep frozen meatballs on hand and heat them up with the sauce so it’s a more filling meal than just pasta or you can saute some mushrooms and sausage and add a can of sauce or you can add some zucchini and fresh tomato or you can make pizza or you can add some red pepper flakes and cream or you can just rock it out with a plain basil marinara over pasta. The point being you will go through it, so like most things if you’re going to make it you might as well make a fair amount because it lasts, and making a couple jars is not much harder than making one. Plus Costco has these boss cans of Italian plum tomatoes for cheap, like $4 and with 2 of those I can get 5 quarts of sauce.

ingredients

Basic Basil Marinara (you can scale this anyway you need, nothing needs to be exact)

  • 2 6lb. cans Italian whole tomatoes
  • 3 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, smashed
  • 1 tube tomato paste concentrate
  • 1 tbs. salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • handfuls of fresh basil torn
  1. In a large stock pot on medium add your olive oil, chopped onions and salt.
  2. Stir occasionally and cook for 20 minutes, not letting the mixture brown but allowing the onions to cook down into a nice soft pulp.
  3. Add crushed garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir frequently until the tomato paste starts to darken and smell wonderful.
  4. Add the whole tomatoes by grabbing them out of the can and squeezing them in your fist, letting them drop into the pot and reserving out any hard stem ends.
  5. When you’ve worked your way through the tomatoes pour in any remaining liquid from the can.
  6. Cook on low heat, uncovered and stirring occasionally for 2 hours
  7. Add the torn basil, let cool and pour into containers
  8. Can the ball jars or put into freezer safe containers and freeze
  9. Amen

sauce

Fried Chicken… because it’s pure awesomeness

chicken coolingI have always loved fried chicken but when it came to making it at home it seemed like too big a hassle, too messy, too hard, always undercooked or underseasoned or burnt to a crisp to cook it through. Since I’m not a fan of following rules or recipes I would just bumble my way through and nearly always end up with a plate of disappointing chicken and a kitchen that looked (and smelled) like a war zone. But as usual my craving for fried chicken was outweighing my loosey goosey cooking style. So I tried following some recipes and picked the things I liked from some and added some of my own ways and I think I’ve come up with a relatively easy, don’t ruin your kitchen, take 2 days brining and end up with a plate of dark brown raw chicken to serve to your family…. not that I’ve ever done that.

I find that cooking up one whole chicken for my family of four is enough for dinner but everyone wants leftovers for lunches and after school snacking. So last time I did a chicken and a cornish game hen, let’s just say everything was gone in 24 hours. This recipe will be enough for 2 chickens.

Fried Chicken

  • 1-2 whole chickens, cut into legs, thighs, wings and 2 boneless breasts cut into 4 pieces (sometimes I pull the tenders off before cutting) and save your carcass in the freezer for broth later. If you don’t feel comfortable butchering a whole chicken buy one cut at the market and then cut the breast portions in half.
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • enough oil for frying preferably peanut oil (at least 1 quart, usually more depending on the size of your pan) last time I used a combo of peanut, canola and bacon drippings, because why not?
  • flour for dredging (approx. 1 cup)
  • salt and pepper

Fried Chicken coating:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbls. salt
  • 2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

Take your chicken out of the fridge a couple hours before starting, it won’t kill you…. but starting with warmer chicken means less chance of ending with raw chicken. Cut your bird if you got whole chickens and lay the pieces out on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel. Pat the tops of the chicken dry. Salt and pepper the pieces.chicken rawGet out your heaviest bottomed pot, I use an All Clad soup pot. Pour in enough oil to give you 3″- 4″ at the bottom and turn heat to medium high.

While waiting for your oil to come to temp sprinkle a cup of flour over your chicken pieces.

Get out two large bowls. Fill one with the buttermilk and one with the fried chicken coating ingredients and stir them to combine.

Get out another cookie sheet or platters and working in batches of 3-4 pieces roll your chicken through the flour you’ve sprinkled over them (this saves you another bowl cleaning if you keep it on the cookie sheet) then into the buttermilk and then smash the pieces one at a time through the coating mix, really work in on the pieces because the more coating you get on there the crunchier it will be, rap pieces on the side of the bowl to get off excess flour and place chicken pieces on clean cookie sheet.

chicken dredgedCheck the temp of your oil, you want it to be at 375 to start and for your temp to hold at 350. Lower temps will result in greasy chicken.

When your oil is up to temp place enough chicken in the bottom to fill the pot but not crowd it… and here’s the part that I think is really weird but has so far kept me from serving raw chicken… you cover the pot. You might think, like me… cover the pot on hot oil, what if all that moisture off the pot lid falls in the oil and splashes and explodes oil all over my kitchen? Well it doesn’t for some odd reason but what it does do is keep your oil around the 350 degree mark which is what you want. Set your timer for 6 minutes, uncover carefully lifting the lid up and away from the pot. Turn your chicken with tongs and cook for another 6 minutes uncovered.

chicken fryingRemove your chicken and drain on paper then place on a rack while you fry up the next batch. 2 chickens take me three batches of frying. I usually make it through the second of the batch of frying before the family starts circling like vultures and I have to slap them away, so I end up serving the chicken while I fry up the last batch for all the leftovers. Some get eaten later that night as people roam into the kitchen, some are snatched for breakfast the next day and some end up being taken for lunch but there is never any left by the 24 hour mark.

chicken plated

Pierogies… because mashed potato and cheese in a wrapper

pierogie cooked 2

I come from some good sturdy Polish stock and my grandmother, who a was notoriously terrible cook, would make pierogies when we came to visit. It was one of two dishes she made that was edible so I always requested them when we visited and she would always make extra and freeze them so we could take them home, even though it was a 14 hour drive. All of us get sentimental about the dishes of our childhood and the turn of season, the dark mornings and the grey skies were making a little pit in my belly that only a starch filled dumpling could fill.

When I was cooking the pierogies last night my daughter walked past and swiped one off the counter on her way to set the table.

“How are they?” I asked.

“Good.” she replied. “I mean they’re not bad good like the frozen ones. They’re good.”

“Bad good?”

“You know like you know the frozen ones are not really made with real ingredients but they still taste good.”…

So Mrs.T’s might still be an option if you’re craving bad good pierogies but I’m gonna stick with the good good ones because I’m also a sucker for the “traditional” pierogies of my childhood, filled with farmers cheese or sauerkraut and pork. I made the potato and cheese to feed the finicky small people.

To make the dough:

Combine on your counter:

  • 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, combine wet ingredients and pour mixture into well.

peirogi dough start

Work the ingredients together to form a ball and knead until combined. If the dough is sticking to your hands add more flour, if it is to dry add more sour cream.

pierogie dough

Place dough on counter and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes or up to an hour. You can make the fillings while it rests.

For fillings I made:

pierogie filling

Mashed Potato and Cheddar

Make a stiff version of mashed potatoes and add some grated cheddar to taste… I prefer Yukon Gold potatoes for this recipe.

Farmers Cheese and Scallion

These are my childhood favorites, slightly sweeter than ricotta filling with just the right squish when you bite into them. Combine package of Farmers Cheese with two chopped scallions, salt and pepper and 1 egg.

Sauerkraut and Salt Pork

Another fav that my kids wouldn’t even try… and they think I’m boring! In a pan heat up diced salt pork or diced bacon until brown, add sauerkraut and pepper.

Now for the fun… Put a medium pot of water on to boil and then lets get to it…

If you have a pasta machine cut the dough in 4 sections, roll the first until it’s on the last setting. If rolling by hand cut dough into 4 sections and roll out on a lightly floured surface until dough is as thin as you can make it without it sticking. Lay out the first section of dough on your counter and using a round cookie/biscuit cutter cut circles out.

pierogie filled

Take a spoonful of filling and place in the center, fold dough over and pinch together. you can use a fork to uber seal it if you want. If dough is not sealing use a little water to seal the edges.

pierogie filled finish

Working in batches (I usually fill all the pierogies I’ve cut then boil them and then I start on the next batch). Drop the pierogies into the boiling water and boil for 4 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon and place boiled pierogies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Repeat process until all dough is used.

You can store the boiled pierogies in the fridge for a couple days. To serve for dinner heat up a saute pan on medium heat, add butter and a little oil. Pan fry pierogies in batches heating until browned on both sides. Serve with sour cream. If you want to get fancy you can caramelize some onions in the pan before you reheat the pierogies and serve them with some fancy side like chutney. If you want to freeze some for later (my family of four took down the whole lot of them last night) skip the boiling step and freeze pierogies on a cookie sheet until stiff and transfer to a freezer bag. To reheat frozen pierogies, boil in water for 6 minutes and then pan fry.

Now picture yourself in a one story ranch house outside of Detroit decorated in the 50’s, sitting around a formica table with the radio playing “hits of the golden age” and your grandfather telling racist jokes and you’re right there with me. Enjoy!

pierogie cooked

 

 

Lice… the only time I let my kids say “hate”

Fig._1._Male_of_head_louse

It’s that time of year! The notices start rolling in, lice in your kids classroom… panic and swearing ensues. Years ago when my first daughter was in Elementary school, I read the notices and judged the parents whose kids had lice… I mean wasn’t that a bug that only dirty kids got? Ummm, I learned my stupid preconceived totally classist shitty thinking was totally wrong as I saw my nightly bathed 3rd grader scratching at her head uncontrollably. She was sitting on our front step when I noticed, I sat down and casually parted her hair. I can’t remember what I did yesterday but I will never forget what I saw that afternoon. Her head was CRAWLING with lice, they scattered like roaches from my fingers… I nearly puked on her head. Then like any other rational human being I freaked the fuck out. I read everything I could, I cleaned everything in the house, I was convinced we all had it, I threw whatever chemicals on her head no matter the side effects or costs. I was like a uber clean whirling dervish. When all was said and done and I’d tortured my poor kid to death and her scalp was nearly falling off from the trauma. At one point she said “Mom I know we’re not supposed to say it but I hate lice.” I said “I think that’s totally reasonable, I hate them too. You are now allowed to say “hate” when you refer to lice.”… it was almost like a bonus to her (now at 15 she talks like a sailor and refers to her father affectionally as asshat… but you know I tried harder then).

It took me a couple years and many infestations later to treat lice like I would picking up dog poop… I’m not fond of doing it but I can still hold a conversation while it’s happening.

Through the years I’ve developed a chemical free way of dealing with lice that really depends on the nit picking part, because that’s where people get lazy and why the re-infestation really happens. I no longer even bother cleaning rooms and bagging stuffed animals and pillows. I even pick nits off other peoples children because I find it easy and it no longer phases me.

Below is my treatment method, share it with newly shattered parents and tell them to calm down, stop scratching their heads, have a drink, let your kid watch a shitty show on TV and get down to the picking…it’ll be OK.

Lice Treatment

painted floors… because it’s only paint

My go to phrase when discussing interior make overs and color consults is “It’s only paint”. What I mean by that is if you don’t like the color or style, paint it again… it’s not that time consuming to paint a room (or a floor) and yes quality paint is $50 a gallon but it’s not like you just bought a new couch you can’t return. My house is old, and small for todays standards and although we put new pine floors in the kitchen when we bought the house 20 years ago the floor was looking bad and was starting to splinter. Our kitchen is a high traffic area (beside the fact that I cook so I actually use the kitchen daily) the kitchen has 2 doors to my dining room, a door to the bathroom, a door to my laundry and mud rooms and a door to our living room. So it gets a lot of foot traffic! It was driving me crazy because it always looked dirty….

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like a little dirt path leading you through the forrest! Can you tell where I stand most of the time? To the right of the stove, I spend around 60 hours a month in that spot, most of the time more. Replacing the floor was out of the question, too many doorways to match, bad old floor under the newer wood floor, never mind the fact that we can’t afford it anyway. So my trusty friend paint was my answer. When I first told my husband I was going to paint the floor he was not so sure, mostly because I’m known around these parts for working fast and cutting corners, like say not sanding the old floor before painting it… but in my mind it was sanded by all our feet for 20 years! So I said “It’s only paint!” and started on the project. At first I wanted to do some kind of stencil that repeated but not in an obvious tile style pattern. I found this great floor stencil company Royal Design Studios and fell in love with their stencils, but again, I’m cheap and didn’t want to pay for a stencil when I know I can design one myself so I started sketching designs I thought we could put into Adobe Illustrator and make our own stencil with my vinyl cutter.

I was kinda stuck on the octopus design so I drew up these:

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But it was taking too long, we were trying to make it octopus without being too literal and I wanted to get the damn floor painted before winter… did I mention I’m impatient and stubborn? So I said screw the stencil I’m just going to free hand it and hope for the best and if we don’t like it I’ll just paint over it. So I started with a good quality floor paint and washed the floor really well, if you want to do it the “right” way I guess you could do a rough sand paper over the top but you know whatever works for you.  Just the act of painting the floor made a dramatic difference in my kitchen, it was the best $50 4 hour make over ever! I used only 1/2 a gallon of paint to put on 2 layers of the base coat.

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The main problem for us was the high traffic/we need to use our kitchen part of this project so I painted the first coat early in the morning so it was somewhat dry for dinner time, waited 2 days for it to dry really well and then put on the second coat, waited 2 days before painting on the octopus legs. I did the octo legs in sections so I would paint in front of the stove one day, in front of the fridge the next (always being able to lean over wet paint to grab what you needed… like your purse which I painted in one day and had to climb on counter tops to get to) so the paint could cure and really I’m old and my back and knees couldn’t take more than a couple hours anyway. I started by sketching out the general shape I wanted with light chalk and then filling in with the darker paint.

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If I let my lines get too close or screwed up I would just repaint with the other grey to correct my mistakes. It took me 4 sessions to finish the legs. I then topped the floor with a semi gloss water based Polyurethane. The best thing about the top coat is it dries up quick and hard so no waiting between coats or need to sit a couple days, I painted in the morning and we were walking on it at night. The only problem was that the gloss hid the pattern a bit when the light hit it, it  did deepen the color and make it really lush but the glare was kind of a bummer so I went back to the paint store and topped it off with a flat Polyurethane to finish… and now I can stand at my island cooking and feel pretty psyched that I have a truly unique kitchen floor that doesn’t look like shit.

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friends… or the people who can call you on your bullshit

lisa

Years ago a very good friend of mine committed suicide, it came as such a blow to those who loved her and had no clue she was suffering so bad. The evening after I heard the news I took a dance class and when entering the room my teacher took a look at me and came up and said “Are you ok?” I told her what had happened and she said “I’m so sorry.” I quickly replied “It’s ok.” She looked me square in the eye and said “No, it isn’t OK.”… at which point I fully broke down because it SO wasn’t ok, it’s not ok to hide your sorrow from your family and friends and admit you’re weak and struggling and for my part it wasn’t right to try to be the strong one and put on the face of someone who was ok either, because I wasn’t ok.

So often I find that we put on the face and march along like good little soldiers, we help those who ask, we help our children, we take care of our parents. The hope is that someone might look you square in the eye, like my teacher, and call bullshit. Bullshit that you are holding it all together. Someone who can see you and that (more importantly) you let see you and then letting that person bear some of the weight that you are carrying around.

Let me assure you, I am fine… no really, this isn’t a call for help. Not that things are ok… I struggle with lots of shit on a daily basis, hell I have a fourteen year old dramatic actress living under my roof who never stops practicing for her own daily soap opera… but on this grey May morning I was reminded of people who really “see” you and how important that is.

So my task, should you choose to accept it is that you find someone you love, look past their words of “ok” and call them on their bullshit, and then take them out for a cupcake.