Tag Archives: how to

DIY Project: Repurpose old fence for photography prop

I am obsessively reflective.  I could suggest this is an excellent trait that has only good effect on all outcomes, and it can much of the time, but it often leaves me with many new ideas instead of one completed task.  It’s annoying.

I begin to think about those new ideas, jot notes on stickies which seem to multiply in the night, gather materials, then begin work.  It would be logical to choose one idea, plan a bit, then work on it until it’s complete, but I am incapable of that, so start all of them.  I can walk into most areas of my home and see evidence of something in progress on most days.  It’s beyond annoying.

Let me begin with my kitchen as an example right now:  There are four enormous artichokes sitting on the counter waiting to be roasted (which, since beginning this post, have been successfully roasted).  I still have quite a few grapefruits and oranges my brother shared from his trees over a week ago, and yesterday, my sister-in-law gave me more oranges and some avocados.  The preserved lemons I cured seven weeks ago are ready and waiting to be used — hopefully this weekend with the lamb shoulder chops I have in the freezer.  We still have banana bread and banana caramel nut froyo to finish, but I’ll count that as two tasks completed since I was able to use all of the ripe bananas I had on the counter, in the fridge, and the freezer.

I have drapes begun for my office, but no curtain rod hung in readiness.  My dining room drapes have needed hemming since I hung them long ago — in fact, so long ago that I’m considering different window treatments now.  My son’s room is in decent shape since he’s away at school, but there are a couple of shelves in need of fixing.  One is hanging precariously, and the other is leaning beneath it, still waiting to be hung.  His bathroom is in a functional but bare bones state, ready for gutting so that it can be remodeled — and yes, I’m considering doing much of the work myself.  Some day.

Our own bathroom is in need of remodeling, but hasn’t been started, our closet was prepared for a reorganization, and isn’t close to being finished, but happily, the patio behind our house is optimistically in progress.

You’re wondering what all of this is about considering this is a food blog. You stopped by for a recipe you might be interested in trying instead of reading about my unfinished projects. Yes, Sass & Veracity is a place where I’ve shared recipes with you for four years — but think about it.  Fat-free opinions on a food centric life could encompass quite a bit more.  And it should because as much as I can relate most things to food, there is certainly much more to life worth sharing, isn’t there? Absolutely.

I live in a beautiful place with temperate weather most of the year and love to cook and garden, so wouldn’t it make sense to have a pleasant place to eat outside?  Not just when a special occasion is planned — any time.  The French doors in my family room are open to the patio on most days, so it makes sense to have a place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, a good book, or eat a meal with my sweetie.  I have to drag him out there, mind you, so part of the plan is to make the patio more attractive and welcoming.  Perhaps he’ll wander out there by himself someday.

Therein lies Project #1 — Patio Renovation — which provides a beginning for an expansion of Sass & Veracity.  Keep an eye on the tabs at the top of the page.  I’ll feature seasonal recipes from the archives, projects I’m working on, and soon, field trips out and about in San Diego — something long overdue.

I’m not quite ready to share the progress on the patio, so instead I’ll let you know what I did with part of the old fence we tore down when the project began.  If you’ve got a food blog and have wondered about props to shoot your food on — something weathered and old, then you might be interested.

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An Artichoke “How To” and a Pilaf

It’s a challenge to avoid the huge artichokes in the markets right now.  Maybe not at your market, but mine has them planted right in front of the entrance, so you can’t miss them.  It’s sort of an in-your-face-buy-me display that changes depending on any number of factors that I won’t go on about right now.  I  can usually maneuver past them because they’re so expensive, and as much as I love them, I balk at $4 for one — especially when I can pick up a can of hearts to do something with much more easily.  And in the long run, it’s more safe when you think about tackling those chokes, isn’t it?

Artichokes have a dual personality in my opinion.  There’s the real McCoy — the one you steam in a pot, then enjoy with myriad detours to a bowl of warm lemon butter (never mayonnaise if you’re in this house) that each piece is dipped into, then scraped along your lower teeth.  I grew up eating artichokes like this and it was quite an occasion when my mother brought one home.  Then there are the little hearts, all taken care of, canned, bottled or frozen and ready for any number of delicious dishes.  Thank goodness these choices are available, because waiting until artichoke season to enjoy them would be a problem for me at this point.  I love artichokes.

As I recall the image of our family of five seated around the kitchen table with one huge artichoke and a bowl of lemon butter, I have to wonder.  I always looked forward to it, but do the math.  Not many bites for each of us even when taking into consideration my sister probably didn’t like them.  This occasion for artichokes was never a precursor to dinner.  It was all about that artichoke — savored petal by delicious petal.  Bear in mind the petals were never trimmed, so dealing with the spikes on those tough outer petals involved a lot of caution after the first thumb prick, or a silent sucking it up for each subsequent prick.

It occurs to me we never ate the heart — or at least I don’t remember that we did.  Maybe my stepfather sneaked away with it after we’d lost interest because the lemon butter was gone.  I can see him now, perhaps standing at the kitchen counter enjoying the fact that the hard work had been done by us, and all he had to do was take a spoon, scrape away the fuzzy choke, then savor that amazing heart without having to share.  Denying us awareness of something wonderful.  Scarring us for life.

I could ask my mother about what happened to all those years of artichoke hearts, but she’d say she doesn’t remember.  There would be a few seconds of silence before she’d add she probably threw them away.  Can you imagine?  I can, because I threw them away, too, until I discovered marinated artichoke hearts sometime in my early 20s and put two and two together.  I had no clue they could be eaten.

If they weren’t such a challenge and expense, I’d enjoy them fresh more often in dishes like this lovely pilaf made with rice, orzo, pine nuts, and saffron.

Are you an artichoke lover?  If so, how do you prepare them?

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Demi-glace: A Mother of a Sauce

At some point when you've got as much time as I do on your hands, you get around to cooking something that caught your eye years ago when time was quite the precious commodity.  But years have gone by since then and time does a good job of layering all the possibilities life tosses in our path, so the urge was buried until I saw the December issue of Saveur last year showcasing traditional meat sauces such as charcutiere and bordelaise — sauces I've made before, but with purchased demi-glace.

There was no reason not to try the demi-glace recipe since time seemed to be the biggest requirement, and it wasn't even focused time.  Thankfully.  How hard could it be to roast a few pounds of bones and then simmer them for a few hours?

Twenty hours, to be exact, and that's just the simmering time.

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It's not often that I see meat bones in the case at the grocery store, so when I saw a couple of packages, I tossed them in the cart wondering just how many I'd need to make my own demi-glace.  A second glance at the article after I got home informed me I'd need about ten, so I put the bones in the freezer knowing it may be a while before I saw more.

You're thinking I should have gone to the butcher, right?  Yes, I believe I know where one is thanks to a very good friend who purchases lovely cuts of meat there for special occasions.  I still haven't been there myself, however, so the idea of actually picking up the telephone to call and inquire about whether they'd have some bones for me at some point in the foreseeable future appeared far more organized than my serendipitous self seems to be these days.

It's a very sad state of affairs.

But I did happen on a few more packages of beef bones in the next few weeks, so decided that I'd give the recipe a go.

Although there seems to be a bit of variation on how one goes about making demi-glace, essentially, it's made from roasting bones with a small amount of vegetable and tomato, then slowly simmering the bones in a good quantity of water for hours before straining, then reducing.  Some versions require a Sauce Espagnole to be made first, which requires a thickener such as flour, and then that sauce blended with beef stock before reducing.

In consulting Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, there is no simple recipe for demi-glace.  Instead, here is what can be found:

"The classical French brown sauce starts out with a long-simmered brown meat stock that goes into the making of an equally long-simmered, lightly thickened sauce base called an espagnole.  The espagnole is simmered and skimmed for several hours more with additional stock and flavorings until it finally develops into the traditional mother of the brown sauces, demi-glace. But as we are concerned with less formal cooking, we shall discuss it no further." (pg. 66, Vol. I)

Evidently, to some, however,the addition of the thickener is sacriledge and far be it from me to sway from a purist perspective on this.  Besides, making an espagnole first would require additional ingredients and steps — not something I was interested in. No, I'll save that one for another time.

To make the Saveur recipe, I'd need:

  • a very large roasting pan;
  • a very large stock pot;
  • a chinois; and/or
  • a fine meshed strainer.

And I'd need to not mind the scent of roasting beef permeating my house for two days.

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Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine

Beef Short Rib Recipe

I grew up eating braised meat.  I don’t think it mattered what time of year it was, but at some point during each month, and usually on the weekend, my mom would make what she called a roast.  Although we don’t have them as frequently, it is something we enjoy.

Essentially, braising involves cooking in liquid — but there’s more to it than just putting a piece of meat in a pot and covering it with water.  Well, if you want it to taste satisfying, that is.  There are some basic steps to take when braising:  1)  Choose the right cut of meat; 2)  Brown seasoned meat on all sides in a bit of fat; 3) Brown the aromatics;  and 4) Add the liquid and cook low and slow.

At the expense of sounding like Alton Brown without the scowl, all four of the steps I mentioned are very important, and if one of them is left out, then you’ll end up with a grey chunk o’ meat — not very appetizing.

The nice thing about braising is that the best cuts of meat to use are those which are tough —    which translates to less expensive.  Easy on the wallet.  Cheap.  They’re all the parts of the animal that get the most exercise.  Chuck was my mother’s cut of choice, but a rump or brisket are also great.  Short ribs are another perfect choice for braising.  They’re squarish cuts of beef that include a portion of bone (ribs, right?) and usually come three to four in a pack depending on their size.

When I think of short ribs, I think of gravy and wide, flat noodles.  Completely delicious!

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Turkey: Tips on Brining

Over the years, I’ve made and eaten turkey prepared in a variety of ways:  butter and herbs rubbed on the skin or under the skin, roasted in a bag, and yes, even roasted with a brown paper bag that was buttered and pressed against the skin.  Luckily with all the experimentation, I haven’t had any disasters — and that has paid off, because although we still haven’t deep fried a turkey, we have found that brining is what we now prefer.  We may alter the ingredients of the brine, but the basic idea is that our turkey sits in a bath of very salty liquid for at least 24 hours before it’s roasted.

As Thanksgiving nears, many stores carry pre-made brining mixes, and we’ve tried those too.  Whether you choose to purchase or make your own mix, I know you’ll find that when you brine a turkey, it will be the most moist you’ve ever had.

Basically, the steps for brining are similar regardless of the recipe you choose:

1)  Mix herbs and spices and other ingredients
2)  Measure a large quantity of salt
3)  Add to water and heat to dissolve the salt
4)  Pour over turkey and keep cold for at least overnight

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