A Smokin’ Sunday

sliceA couple of years ago I whined about my husband buying a smoker and how I didn’t think we’d get much use out of it. Well he’s been smokin’ and flamin’ and cookin’ and we’ve been eatin’ some great food ever since. I am happy to say I was wrong.

I am just amazed how basically easy it is, well once you have a smoker. This weekend he decided to do a brisket. Granted, it’s a big piece of meat but once it is done we freeze the remaining meat and have some great read-to-eat meals throughout the winter.

Here’s how it is done with lots of pictures.

Get the fire going. Essential. You’ll need a bunch of wood, now and later, and some hot coals to put under said wood. So put your coals in a starter and once they are ready, so are you. Hot coals first then wood on top.

Wood - Coals - Layered

Wood – Coals – Layered

Fire hot? Okay. Salt and pepper your brisket on both sides. Put it on the grill. Close the top and you are smoking!

 

Salt - Pepper - On the grill

Salt – Pepper – On the grill

smokerNow, pretty much you wait. Add more wood as it burns down, peek at the meat once in a while, have a taste to see how it’s doing.

Add more wood - Looks good - Tastes good

Add more wood – Looks good – Tastes good

About six-seven hours later (although longer would be better), stick in your meat thermometer and see if you’ve reached 180 degrees.  Once you’ve hit 180˚ the meat is done but not necessarily tender.  Holding it at 180˚ for a few hours will fix that.  The easy way to do that is remove the meat from the smoker, put it in a shallow pan, cover tightly with foil and put into a low (225˚ – 250˚) oven for several hours.

Now comes the best part, bring that finished brisket in, let it rest for about 15 minutes then slice it up and put it on a bun. Add BBQ sauce of your choice ( homemade or bottled, I’m a fan of Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet and Spicy, but Curt likes Famous Dave’s Texas Pit Sauce ), add some slaw or beans on the side and you are good to go.

Sliced thin

Sliced thin

A nice cold beer would accompany this just fine.

beans and slaw

Summer Soup

 

soup bannerI love soup.
I love making soup.
Soups make a quick and easy meal.  A few vegetables, maybe some left-over meat, maybe some noodles or left-over rice if you want to add some bulk, an herb or two; and in very little time you can make a delicious and healthy soup.  I like soup so much that I sometimes even make soup for breakfast (I’m not a fan of sweet bakery type breakfast foods).  With a kitchen full of vegetables from the garden and the Farmer’s Market, I recently created a tasty and beautiful soup for our lunch last week. Here it is in all it’s glory.

soup

Summer Lunch Vegetable Soup

 

Summer Vegetable Soup

1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 small carrots (or 1 large) carrot, copped
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 small (like baby) yellow summer squash, halved length-wise
2 small (also like baby) patty pan squash, scalloped edges only, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 C. fresh mushrooms, chopped (chicken-of-the-woods, shiitake, lobster or other firm mushroom)
1/1 C. dry white wine
1 C. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. summer savory
8-10 small cherry tomatoes, whole
1/2 C. shelled peas (frozen are fine)
3 radishes, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the onion, celery and carrots in the olive oil for 10 minutes – do not allow to brown.

Add the squashes and mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes.

Add the wine, broth and herbs and simmer 15 minutes.

Add the peas and radishes and simmer just until the peas are tender.

Divide the soup between two shallow bowls.  Place a roasted tomato (see below) in the center of each bowl.  Drizzle with the olive oil and any accumulated juices from the tomatoes.  Serve with crusty bread.  Serves 2

Roast Tomatoes

2 baseball sized fresh tomatoes
4 small garlic cloves, peeled
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400˚ F.  Remove the stem core from the tomatoes.  Poke a small garlic clove into the center of each of the tomatoes.  Place the tomatoes in an oven-proof dish, lightly drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and place additional garlic in the pan.  Lightly sprinkle with coarse salt.  Roast for 15 minutes, until the the skin is blistered and the tomatoes are tender.

Another Turn of the Page: July’s Hot Reads

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies.
But they are all good stories.” ― Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

bookcase3Yikes! Almost everyone was back from vacation. We had a big crowd for the second week in July and it turned out to be a great mixture of fiction and non-fiction. One of our books, Stolen Village, falls into both categories. For me fiction is the only way to go, especially in the summer, but I’ll keep my non-fiction prejudices to myself. Author of the month was James Herriot, veterinarian author of titles like, “All Creatures Great and Small.” Most of us started reminiscing about the BBC television series which began in the 70’s before I dragged them back to the book discussion. Hmm, wonder if I can get those old shows on Netflix?

Siegfried, James, Tristan and Tricky-woo

Siegfried, James, Tristan and Tricky-woo

So get out your notebooks, some of these you will definitely want to put on your  “to read” list. After all there is still a lot of summer left.

JULYThe Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King ( 2013) 432 pages. King is known for her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. This book, set in Paris during the Jazz Age, is the second in a new series featuring private investigator Harris Stuyvesant.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) 370 pages. Henrietta was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. HeLa cells have led to many important advances in medicine like polio vaccine, gene-mapping and in vitro fertilization.

Ask Bob by Peter Gethers (2013) 320 pages. What looks like a fluffy romance is really a funny, touching character study of Bob Heller, a pet doctor. The novel is divided into two parts, before and after a life changing event.

Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors and High Explosives by John Elder Robison (2013) 384 pages. The author, a man with Asperger’s, talks about raising his son who also has Asperger’s.

King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny and the Inspring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels, Eleanor Herman (2012) 334 pages.The real-life tale of a secretary (in the Ghanan embassy in Washington) who discovers she has been chosen king of an impoverished African fishing village.

The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin (2008) 488 pages. In 1631 pirates attacked the small village of Baltimore in Ireland, capturing over 100 men, women, and children. Very few of them were ever heard from again. They disappeared into the slave market in Algiers. From reviews I could not get a handle on whether this was written as historical fiction or a nonfiction account but either way it is quite an interesting true story.

It’s a Wild Life by Bud DeYoung (2014) 256 pages.  DeYoung’s story of how he came to build a huge private zoo around his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Want to visit? Info at DeYoung Family Zoo.

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan (2013) 448 pages. A novel about a man found frozen in the Arctic ice for more than a century, who wakes up in the present day.

The Painter by Peter Heller (2014) 364 pages. From the first line, “I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.”, this book sucked me in. Jim Stegner is a painter, an avid fly fisherman and a murderer and this is his emotional, haunted story. The author’s first book, Dog Stars, is also a great read.

And finally the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich  (1994 -2014 so far) Our reviewer Pete loves Evanovich and is working through all of her books. He recommends all of them and is having a great summer.

 

 

Let’s just have something simple

That’s what I said when Curt asked what I wanted for dinner tonight.

“How about a salad?” I said.

“Oh, I have something planned already. And it’s simple.” He said.

Here’s what he calls simple.

Roasted Tomatoes au Gratin

tomatoes But these are simple!  Preheat an oven to 400˚ F.  Cut a good sized ripe whole tomato in half (around the equator).  In a bowl, mix 2 Tbs breadcrumbs (I use panko style), 1 small clove garlic, finely minced, 1 Tbs minced fresh basil, 1 Tbs minced parsley, 1 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a light grind of black pepper.  Moisten the mixture with about 1 Tbs or so of good olive oil so the mixture holds its shape.  Put the tomato halves on a lightly oiled oven-proof dish and pack half the mixture on each half of the tomato.  Nestle a grape-sized chunk of some nice melting cheese into the breadcrumb mixture (I used Taleggio but most any soft or semi-soft cheese would work – try brie, camembert, colby, fontina, Gouda, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, or Muenster).  Bake for 15 minutes or until the tomato is soft and the the breadcrumb mixture is lightly browned.

Chicken Thighs w/ Herb Honey Sauce

chickenAgain, this couldn’t be simpler.  This is based on a duck preparation I had at the Auberge de la Reine Blanche  (The Inn of the White Queen).  I boned one skin-on thigh per diner but you cold use boneless, skinless thighs or bone-in thighs just as well – the bone-in thighs will take longer to cook.  Season the meat with salt, pepper and a light sprinkle of thyme, basil, oregano or some commercial herb mix (I used Penzeys’ Fox Point Seasoning mix which contains salt, shallots, chives, garlic onion and green peppercorns).  If using a commercial mix take care to account for any salt already in the mix when adding any extra salt to the meat).  Let rest for 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. or simply leave the oven on if you just finished making the Roasted Tomatoes au Gratin.

Heat a medium/large oven-proof skillet that’s large enough to hold the thighs in one, uncrowded layer.  Lightly oil the skillet and put the thighs in the pan, skin side down.  Saute the thighs until the skin is nicely browned and starting to crisp (about 8 minutes).  Turn the thighs and put the the pan into the hot oven.  Roast for 10 minutes or until the chicken is just done. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven – TAKE CARE – the handle will be blisteringly hot.  Put the chicken on a platter to rest, covered with a sheet of aluminum foil.  Add a knob (about 1 Tbs) of butter to the hot skillet to melt.  Add 1/2 Tbs honey and 1/2 Tbs malt or cider vinegar to the pan.  Whisk the butter/honey/vinegar sauce to blend, add leaves of two springs of tarragon and one sprig of rosemary (you can substitute dried herbs or other herbs or seasonings like oregano, a little minced chili pepper, lemon zest or minced tart apple.  Heat for a minute or two to reduce slightly.  Pour the sauce over the chicken thighs and serve.

Celery and Mushroom Salad

saladIf you have time to make any salad, you have time to make this one. 

Thickly slice 4 large button mushrooms into 1/4″ slices.  Chop about half as much tender celery (the blanched inner ribs and leaves are best to use) and one small zucchini into similar sized pieces.  Thinly slice 2 cherry tomatoes and a small onion.  In a medium bowl, toss the vegetables and dress with 2 Tbs Extra-virgin Olive Oil, 2 tsp white wine vinegar, a pinch of coarse sea salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.  Toss and serve.

Simple could be tacos or a grilled cheese sandwich and salad.  They are, but not any simpler than what I made.  Our dinner didn’t involve any special cooking techniques or exotic ingredients (or at least there are easy substitutions available if you don’t have everything that I used).

Simple doesn’t mean using fewer or plain ingredients.  It means using standard techniques to cook ingredients to their best advantage and using what you have at hand in interesting combinations.

Well there you have it. Curt’s simple dinner. My idea of simple is a salad, grilled cheese sandwiches or tacos. Was it good?  Yes very good and frankly pretty simple for me, I just had to set the table.

Simple dinner - Curt style.

Simple dinner – Curt style.

The New Monday Morning View Out My Window

Everything got finished up on Saturday. The workmen are gone. I could sleep in without someone banging on my walls at 7AM.  Ah heaven. And now the view I have been sharing with you, lo these many weeks, has changed. Well the view technically is the same its the glass and the frame around the picture that’s different. Remember the first view I showed you? bedrm windIt was a pretty gray day, made more gray because the seal on this window was gone and pockets of moisture inside made everything a bit fuzzier. Well we ditched the casement window in favor of an awning style ( better ventilation) and now…ta da! This is the new view.

New window

New window

Yes there is that bar across the lower part but in normal light it is a warm brown and looks great. The view is clear. Really clear. I love it. And of course the lush greens of summer don’t hurt either. So thanks for taking this little journey with me, I’m going to go look out my window.

Dinner at Auberge de la Reine Blanche

With men running about my house, removing the siding, ripping out old windows, hammering and sawing and putting in new windows and….making me get up at the ungodly hour of 7AM (I am NOT a morning person), well, I just haven’t been blogging up to my usual standards. Where is the food you say? Frankly I just haven’t had the energy to follow Curt around the kitchen while he cooks. And my kitchen and the rest of the house is a mess anyway. So today I thought it would be a perfect time to return to those beautiful days in Paris.

reine blanche

Customers waiting for their table

I have talked about the wonderful lunch at Port au Salut and the market dinner we had in the apartment but you haven’t heard about the fine evening at Auberge de la Reine Blanche  (The Inn of the White Queen). This restaurant was recommended to our friends from two of their friends who have traveled to Paris numerous times. So around 4PM one day, Michael walked over and made reservations for the early hour of 7PM. Most restaurants in Paris don’t even open till 7:30PM so we were probably going to be the first people through the door. Once there, wine was ordered and the menu perused. The format was what we had come to expect, an entrée (appetizer), a plat (main dish) and dessert or a combination thereof, for one price. The menu was printed in French but on the back was English. Yay!

The Auberge de la Reine Blanche menu

The Auberge de la Reine Blanche menu

Now, so this post doesn’t go on into the evening as our dinner did (the French take their time), I will just hit the highlights. Our chosen entrees ranged from Artichoke Salad w/ fresh mint to Escargot. Pat and Dick had Ravioles du Royan with herbs and mushrooms. Royan is a cheese that was melted on top of the mushroom filled ravioli.

Plats chosen were Coq au Vin (Barbara and me), Boeuf Bourguignon (Richard), Salmon Filet w/ olive oil and lemon (Patricia and Michael) and Curt went with the Magret de canard, sauce au miel et aux epices (tender slices of duck with honey sauce and spices).

Tender slices of duck w/ honey & seasonings

Tender slices of duck w/ honey & seasonings

But the Pièce de Résistance was the dessert. We were very full but how can you leave a French restaurant without dessert?

Barbara and Michael went with chocolate in the form of the Gateau moelleux au chocolat, creme anglaise et caramel. Rich and creamy. Pure decadence.

Melting chocolate cake w/ custard & caramel

Melting chocolate cake w/ custard & caramel

Patricia and Richard went with a classic, Crème brûlée w/ its orange blossom flavours. Seriously, that was how it was described on the menu.

creme brulet

Creme brulee

And for us, Curt ordered the Croquant de fraises au caramel balsamique, mainly because of the translation which was crunchy fresh strawberries. We never expected this.

Crunchy fresh strawberries w/ balsamic caramel.

Crunchy fresh strawberries w/ balsamic caramel.

The outside was a tuile, a beautiful crunchy cone-shaped confection out of which tumbled strawberries onto a balsamic drizzle. Just amazing. The strawberries were not crunchy.

So there you have it, dinner at the White Queen’s Inn. Our leisurely walk home was filled with smiles.

Strolling on the Rue Saint-Louis en I'lle

Michael, Richard, Barbara and Curt strolling down the Rue Saint-Louis en I’lle

Monday Morning View is Through a Hole

Okay, Okay, last week you did have the last view out of my old window. This is the interim view out of a big hole in the wall. Window gone. It currently is in a pile waiting to be carted off to the old window graveyard.

old windIn its place, briefly, is a really clear view to the outside. Surrounding the view are drop cloths, shims, siding, tools and two guys getting ready to put in my new view. They are camera shy so you’ll just have to use your imagination. My imagination runs to David Beckham in tight jeans and a tool belt. Reality? – not even close. But these guys probably can put my new window in better than Beckham.

hole

Another Turn of the Page: Let the Summer Reading Begin

“Sections in the Bookstore

- Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
– Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
– Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
– Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
– Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
– Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
– Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
– Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
– Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them”
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

bookstoreIn June our book group had fewer people than usual but that is pretty normal for this time of the year. Everyone is out and about enjoying the warm weather, traveling or working in their yard. After all, this is Wisconsin and we have to make the most of our six weeks of nice weather before the snow starts falling again. Because I only had eight books to report on I couldn’t resist using a long quote at the head of the post. I think I have looked at books in every one of those sections. I don’t quite understand section #4 and I am definitely reading a lot from section #6.

Now here’s what the group read in June.

JuneLongbourn by Jo Baker (2013) 352 pages. If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this novel about what went on downstairs with the servants of Longbourn will certainly be interesting. Just like in Downton Abbey, there is as much romance, intrigue and mystery below stairs as above.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (2010) 487 pages. This was our June featured author. This is the story of thirty-nine year old Alice Love. She is a single mother of three and is going through a messy divorce. After a bad fall she wakes up thinking it’s the year 1998 and she’s 29 years old, she’s madly in love with her husband Nick and they’re about to have their first child! Summer read for sure.

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang (2008) 274 pages. An eloquent first hand account of the Hmong people’s journey from war torn Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand to finally arriving in America.

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism by Ron Suskind (2014) 368 pages. The true story of the author’s autistic son who learned how to cope and communicate with the real world through the pictures and words of Disney’s animated characters.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (2011) 272 pages. After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny (who probably has undiagnosed Asberger’s) seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. However, every time she cooks a handwritten recipe by someone, she temporarily brings back their ghost.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl (2014) 400 pages. A light, fun, fictional book that should appeal to foodies. And why not? It is written by the former food editor of Gourmet magazine. If you are a true foodie you will probably enjoy Reichl’s nonfiction more. Put it on your beach read list.

Divergent by Veronica Roth (2012) 487 pages. Another dystopian young adult novel, and first of a trilogy. Our reviewer didn’t like it much but she wasn’t a fan of The Hunger Games either. I personally like it but overall this book falls into the love/hate category for most readers. Those who like this genre have to decide for themselves. PS: I liked the movie.

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris (2006) 422 pages. As the new term gets underway at St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, a number of incidents befall faculty and students alike. They start out small but escalate in number and degree of harm. You know the perpetrator at the beginning of the novel but you definitely don’t know enough. An unusual mystery.

 

 

Last Monday Morning View Out My Window before the New Window Arrives

No, it won’t be the last, last view out my window but the last one from this particular wood and glass structure that creates a portal to the outside world from my inside world. Long story short, next week we are having all of the windows in our house replaced. This is an event I am hating and loving. I wish I could just leave before any workmen show up. Hide out where there is no communication and then come back in a week to miraculously new views. All dust, dirt gone. All curtains, blinds, shades back in their original positions. But no, I will have to be here…probably getting up at 7am, and getting dressed, because there will probably be men pounding on my house or looking in my windows. So for now enjoy the last full view, this window is going to b e transformed. Here’s hoping I live through the transformation.window10

Eating the Babies

Spring came late to Northeast Wisconsin which means the crops are just getting started. This is a good thing because what you get when you go to the Farmer’s Market are the babies: the baby carrots, the baby beets, little fresh peas, tiny zucchini, spring onions and mushrooms.

Farmer's Market bounty

Farmer’s Market bounty

Mix those sweet little veggies with cherry tomatoes and tiny peppers and little celery sticks and you have the essential ingredients for a Vegetables a la Grecque.

Vegetables a la Grecque

Vegetables a la Grecque

Marinade:

4 cups water
1 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbls salt
2 cloves garlic, whole, bruised
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
grindings of black pepper
One thick slice of onion

Put all the above together in a shallow pan and simmer for fifteen minutes. With a slotted spoon scoop out all of the solid stuff. Poach the vegetables in the remaining liquid till they are tender but firm. Do them individually since different vegetables cook at different rates. The zucchini and mushrooms should go last since they really soak up the marinade. And If you use beets do them last otherwise your poaching liquid and all the other vegetables will be pink.

Arrange the poached vegetables in a serving dish, pour some marinade over the top and let cool.

Add a nice grilled piece of chicken, some crusty bread and you’ve got a great summer dinner.

Note: Cherry tomatoes don’t poach well, serve them on the side.

Note 2: Later in the summer, add green beans.