27 July 2013

Sock Bun Alternative for Fine, Silky, Layered Hair

Dear Lissy,

I love the soft waves created by the wildly popular Sock Bun. I also like the fact that the sock bun is appropriate for a quick run to the park or grocer's.  
But when I tried to roll my shoulder length silky-fine layered hair into a sock bun, it was an epic fail.  Bummer.
I discovered another method by accident and refined it:
Claw clips are easy to find, easy to use, and inexpensive.  Anything that holds the coiled chignon in place will work, though.
  1. Rub a dollop of volumizing mousse through freshly washed hair.
  2. Dry front/bangs as normal, but leave back and sides damp.
  3. Style bangs and short front pieces. Back should be just barely damp through at this point.  Use a spritz of water or a quick shot with a hair dryer if necessary.
  4. Pull sides and back into a  high ponytail just above the tops of your ears, but centered on the back of your head.  Do not use a band.
  5. Twist hair until it coils back on itself.  You're essentially making one giant pin curlMake sure the ends of the hair are coiled around into a curl.  (My grammy, a hair dresser back in the 1930's, taught me the trick of twisting hair into a pin curl instead of just rolling it.  You get a more natural curl that way, and the pins won't leave marks.)
  6. Place a claw clip snugly over the chignon you created.  You may have to smoosh the bun into more of an oblong shape for it to fit.
  7. Use bobby pins to position styled front pieces.  Be careful of making weird ridges in the damp part of your hair.
  8. Give the chignon a shot of hot air from your blowdryer, and then leave it in until it's completely dry.  
  9. Remove claw clip and bobby pins and finger comb hair.  A pomade will help define the curl and eliminate frizzies. Give the whole style a shot of hairspray.
  10. On rainy or hot, humid days I return my hair to the chignon and claw clip after it's all dried until I want it down and then just shake/finger comb it out.

25 July 2013

One Quick Tip: Keeping Meat Fresh

Dear Lissy,

I buy all of my meat for the week when I market on Monday.  It's a no-brainer to cook off the ground beef for Sunday's lasagna and toss it in the freezer, but what about those pork chops for Thursday night?  Or the 5 pound tray of chicken breasts I'll be using all through the week?  Enter Kosher salt.  I've been reading through Twenty preparing for the boys' cooking class this year.  Ruhlman offers an ingenious solution to avoid the dreaded slimy meat:

Sprinkle fresh meat with Kosher salt as soon as you get home from the market.  It will keep all week in the fridge without getting slimy.

I tend to cook off or pre-form ground meats and freeze them, but any cuts of meat work well with this technique.  Don't try this with table salt:  it will overseason the meat.  It is tempting just to toss the wrapped meat into the fridge or freezer, but a few seconds spent salting is worth the hassle.

It's a crisp, breezy, 52 degree morning, and I need to get the fall bean crop in the ground. 

Love ya bunches!

18 July 2013

A Poem For The Hard Days

Dear Lissy,

We are all people in need of change living with other people in need of change.   You are not stupid or naive for defending your man and helping others see the best in him. 


Never think she loves him wholly,
Never believe her love is blind,
All his faults are locked securely
In a closet of her mind;
All his indecisions folded
Like old flags that time has faded,
Limp and streaked with rain,
And his cautiousness like garments
Frayed and thin, with many a strain --
Let them be, oh let them be.

There is treasure to outweigh them,
His proud will that sharply stirred,
Climbs as surely as the tide.
Senses strained too taut to sleep,
Gentleness to beast and bird,
Humor flickering hushed and wide
As the moon on moving water,
And a tenderness too deep
To be gathered in a word. 

 ~Sarah Teasdale, as quoted by Elizabeth Eliot in Let Me Be A Woman

Love you forever, like you for always,

15 July 2013

Oven Fried Boneless Chicken Breast

Dear Lissy,

Hot, hot, hot today!  The car ate another starter coil over the weekend, so I'm *patiently* waiting for Daddy to get it fixed.  I can't grocery shop, but a little butcher shop and a tiny market are within walking distance, so I'm making due. I decided to do oven fried chicken tonight even though it trashes the kitchen.  I like to do this recipe in three stages, but it can be done all at once if you aren't home during the day.  I prepare and marinate the chicken right after breakfast clean up.  After lunch, I bread the chicken and pop the tray into the fridge until it's time to bake it off.  This leaves very little clean-up after dinner when I'm tired, and makes dinner prep time much shorter, too.

Prepare the chicken

 The chicken breasts I get from the butcher look like they came off birdzilla.  The whole two pounds of meat was only three breast portions.  Meat that thick will take foreva to cook and get tough in the process.

Cut 2# boneless skinless chicken breasts horizontally and pound them to 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick.

This may feel a little scary and weird at first.  Press the chicken breast firmly against the cutting board, and use a sharp knife to carefully slice it horizontally into two pieces of equal thickness. Use the smooth side of a meat mallet to pound all the pieces to uniform thickness.  I like to pop a piece of Saran wrap over the chicken while pounding to avoid splatters.

Secondly, cut the chicken into portions.  

If you have little kids, cut the chicken up into nuggets or strips.  For people who can wield a knife and fork, cut each portion into palm sized pieces.

Marinate the chicken in buttermilk for 2-3 hours.

Place all of the chicken into a ziploc bag and cover in buttermilk (1-2 cups).  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  This step is optional, but chicken breast can be tough on free range or larger birds.

Drain chicken and pat dry before breading.  If the chicken isn't very dry, the coating will not stay on through cooking.

 Prepare the breading

Station #1: Pie Plate

3/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp. granulated garlic
2 tsp. parsley
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Place each dry chicken portion into the flour, and press firmly to coat it with seasoned flour.  Flip and flour the other side.

Station #2:  Mixing Bowl

Whisk together:
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Pour in:
2 cups buttermilk
Mixture will become a thick, foamy texture. 

Dip chicken in egg foam making sure it's thoroughly coated.

Station #3: Pie plate

8 oz Italian Flavored Panko Bread Crumbs

Pour a layer of  Panko (1/2 cup)  in the center of the dish. Place the egg coated chicken portion onto the bed of crumbs, and sprinkle more panko over the top.  Press hard to create a firm coating.  Place breaded chicken on station 4, and shake plate to create another base of Panko for the next portion. You may have to add a bit more fresh Panko.   It's fine to have lumps of egg/panko mix -- they'll flatten out when you press the Panko into the chicken.

Station #4:  Cooling rack over a jelly roll pan 

Place the breaded portions onto the rack until they go into the oven. The chicken needs at least 30 minutes to set the coating.  The breading will adhere to the chicken better if the portions are breaded a couple of hours in advance. Cover with Saran and refrigerate until 30 minutes before cooking.  

Baking Off

  • Pull the chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before baking off.  
  •  Place an empty 1/2 sheet pan (or two rimmed jelly roll pans) into the cold oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
  • When oven is at temperature, remove the pan(s) and pour 1/4 cup bacon drippings or lard into pan. Carefully tilt to coat bottom of pan.  If you don't have a thick layer of drippings, add more.   Oil will work in a pinch, but the chicken won't be as crispy.  Return pans to oven for 1 - 2 minutes to bring up to temperature.
  • Carefully remove pans and place on heatproof surface. Quickly lay the chicken portions into the pan, leaving at least 1/2" between each portion of chicken.  Pat down any breading that lifts.
  • Return chicken to oven and bake 7-10 minutes or until bottom is dark golden brown and crispy. 
  • Remove pan from oven and place on heatproof surface.  Using a thin, flexible metal spatula, flip each piece of chicken.  The first few times I made this recipe I lost some of the coating.  The quick, confident scrape and flip motion is a lot like making pancakes.
  • Return pan to oven for another 5-7 minutes until chicken is dark golden brown and crispy on the other side and chicken no longer has any pink in the center.
  • Remove from oven and let rest up to 10 minutes tented in foil.  Serve warm with honey mustard or ranch.
  • Because this chicken is boneless and skinless, the coating will tend to lift off during cooking and flipping. To reduce the chances of a breading failure. . .
    • Make sure the chicken portions are patted completely dry before dredging in flour.
    • Let the chicken stand in the coating for a couple of hours before baking off.
    • The pans and oil need to be piping hot.  Work quickly getting the raw portions onto the pan, and get it back into a 400 degree oven as soon as possible.
    • Use a thin, metal spatula and a quick confident "scrape and flip" motion.  Only turn the portions once.
    • If chicken is going to sit after being cooked, transfer it to a wire rack so it doesn't get soggy.
 Love ya, my little chickie,

09 July 2013

Mama's Potato Salad

Dear Lissy,

Daddy's headed off to the mentor planning picnic for the robotics teams tonight.  A potluck cookout with good friends calls for a bowl of potato salad and chocolate chip cookies.  My 1950's era Betty Crocker cookbook states authoritatively that "a good potato salad is the mark of a good cook."  Whether or not that is true, this potato salad is fantastic.  The potato cubes are marinated in a little French dressing before being dressed with mayonnaise.

Mama's Potato Salad 

Adapted from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, first edition

Place in bowl. . .
3 cups cubed, cooked warm potatoes (see instructions below)
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion or shallot, optional

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Mix lightly with . . .
1/4 cup French Dressing

Chill for an hour or two.  Toss lightly with. . .
3/4 cup Hellman's mayonnaise.  Heavy duty mayo in the gallon tub has better flavor and texture.

Blend in carefully. . .
2 chopped hard-boiled eggs

Turn salad into the smallest serving bowl of a nested set and chill until serving. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh parsley or celery leaves.  To serve, place ice chips in largest bowl of a nested set, and push potato salad bowl into ice.  Invert the medium bowl or a plate over the top to keep flies off of food.

A few basic skills come in handy when making potato salad. 

To cook potatoes. . .
Peel and cube raw red potatoes into 1/2" chunks.  Place in single layer in steamer basket and steam until tender.  Test with the tip of a paring knife for doneness.  To make the recipe easier the next time you make it, record the time it takes in your steamer here:  _____________  min. Potatoes can also be steamed in the microwave if you don't own a steamer.

French dressing:
Combine in shaker or mason jar.  Shake well before using.
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or lemon juice
3/4 cup light olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

To Hard-cook eggs. . .
Place week old eggs in single layer in bottom of saucepan (You might as well make a few extra for snacks while you're making up the two for the salad.)
Cover with cold tap water.
Place on cold burner and turn to medium high.  Bring to a full boil.
Cover and remove from heat.  Let sit for exactly 15 minutes.  Drain.
Refill pan with cold tap water and let stand two minutes.  Drain.
Shake pan vigorously to crack shells.  Peel off shells under running water. 


06 July 2013

Sideboard Supper

Dear Lissy, 

Tomorrow promises to be about 134 degrees in church.  The windows in the sanctuary remain closed, so there's not a breath of air for relief.  We'll all have to do a little extra heart work before we leave tomorrow morning, or a complaining spirit will quickly overtake our worship.

By the time we get home we'll all be hot, hungry, and exhausted -- not exactly a pot roast kind of day.  Sideboard supper to the rescue.  Most European countries have some variation of this meal in their repertoire.  I'm sharing tomorrow's menu to give you an idea of what I prepare.  I usually line up everything on the counter (sideboard) and we go through buffet style.  You don't need much of any one thing -- the enjoyment is in the variety.  I'll have the three of you help me prep so we can eat almost as soon as we walk in the door.
  • Vegetable Tray:  Celery sticks, Carrot chips, Sun gold cherry tomatoes, Snap Peas
  • Relish Tray:  Sweet Baby Gherkin pickles, Dill chips, Black olives
  • Deviled eggs (quiche or baby quiches are a great choice here, too)
  • Meat and Cheese Tray
    • Cheese, one or two varieties
    • Cottage cheese
    • Spiral Ham slices.  Wal-mart sells a 1-2# vacuum pack of spiral ham ends and pieces that's very affordable.  5-10 slices of deli meat is a good substitute
    • Chicken chunks.  I cooked two boneless, skinless chicken breasts in balsamic vinegar, honey, cinnamon, thyme, and sea salt tonight while the oven was still hot from pizza.  I'll chill them overnight and cube them up in the morning.
  • Breadbasket:  Pretzel Breadsticks, Crackers, and Crisps
  • Fruit Tray:  Peach slices, Grapes, Melon chunks
  • Ranch dressing
  • Honey Mustard dip
  • Beverage:  Cran Grape mixed with Club Soda or Iced coffee
  • Dessert:  Ice Cream and Mini Strawberry Pies
I've never been brave enough to serve a cold sideboard supper to company, but it's a family favorite.  This unusual meal helps us avoid the expense of a restaurant, and is a bit more interesting than a sandwich or cereal.  There's usually enough left for lunch the next day, which is always a blessing on a hectic Monday morning.

Keep Cool,