The Signs are There

I need caffeine at work. There’s quite a bit of stuff jumping around in my brain at any given time.

Coffee I cannot do a lot of. It moves me, if you catch my drift. So I’ve upped my intake of my all-time favorite drink. The limit is three per day. Usually I only drink two.

Here’s what my wastebin looked like at the end of my first week.

diet coke | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

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FOOD omnomnom

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate how much I’m loving the food situation here in our new place. Where we lived for eight years we had ONE RESTAURANT that was open for dinner. Every single night out, holiday, anniversary, etc happened at the same place.

For.

Eight.

Years.

We haven’t eaten at home much in the month we’ve been here in a big city.

FOOD omnomnom | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
Shrimp and Grits
FOOD omnomnom | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
Spam Moco
FOOD omnomnom | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
Jirashe
FOOD omnomnom | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
Gyro and Souvlaki and Spanakopita and Keftedes

New Lights, Big City

We have successfully made the move from the middle of nowhere to the “big city” of El Paso, Texas.  

 

There’s a trail into the foothills (of the mountain range that splits the city) RIGHT around the corner from our house. The dogs and I have been out walking almost every day. We meet the sun in the morning or watch it set at night. Some desert lizards have had a bad time of it but otherwise it’s kind of like hiking near the edge of heaven. 

  
We have HUNDREDS of restaurants within 15 minutes. Eating dinner at home is a real challenge! After living years with Applebee’s as our ONLY choice for dinner, we are overcome with food-happiness. 

  
Our house is one of those things I’m scared to love too hard. It’s that good. Above is a picture of an outlet IN THE BATHROOM. First, we have three bathrooms. Second, they all have outlets. I can dry my hair right there! LAP. OF. LUXURY. 

In all seriousness this house is nicer than we expected. This is the kind of house we expected to be in as we approached our 50s. It’s surreal every time I drive up and realize the house is ours. 

 
New job is just so good. I’m the creative one, the square peg, the “outside the box” person, which delights me to no end. And I get to do that in an industry that I LOVE, that makes so much sense to me, and that I appreciate on an intellectual level. It’s outstanding. I’m only three days in and I am sure of the fact that it’s outstanding. 

Overall, things are awesomely excellent at the moment. Just wanted to share. 

—–

*Posted from my phone. 

Easter Eggs – A Cooking Adventure

We generally don’t celebrate much for Easter – no family nearby and it’s one holiday where families with kids tend to rule. It’s kind of like kids’ birthday parties – unless you HAVE kids you may not get an invite to the festivities. Some years we spend Easter watching a hunt at someone’s house and some years it’s a nice quiet day curled up watching movies.

This year Hubs suggested a Cooking Adventure. We haven’t had one in a while and he had some good ideas. He wanted to give Bangers and Mash a good try with a twist (sweet potatoes instead of white) and he suggested I give Scotched Eggs another go.

I did try them once before but the combined culinary challenges of a perfect softboiled egg AND a thoroughly cooked meaty casing were too much for me. They came out either overcooked or raw near the egg. And then they were very… substantial. They needed something to lighten them up a bit.

This time around, victory. Recipes are at the bottom but before you leave, some things I did this time that made a difference.

Candy thermometer in the oil keeping things right around 325F. Thankfully, we have a gas range, so temp adjustments are painless. This also meant that the meat mixture sat to room temp before frying so it didn’t bring the temp down too much. ALSO meant waiting a bit between each “egg” fry. When they came out of the oil they rested on a rack for a while.

VERY attentive to time-in-oil. It was one “egg” at a time, and they were in for six minutes – no more or less. This time was totally arbitrary, apparently… I can’t find evidence of it anywhere in the recipes I saved. Maybe I just had “six minutes” on the brain because of the time it took to boil the REAL eggs (see below).

Soft boiled eggs went in boiling water, simmered for exactly 6 minutes, then went straight into an ice bath for at least 15 minutes. According the Internet this is THE WAY to do soft boiled eggs that are cooked well AND will also peel without dying a terrible, crater-filled egg death.

BAKED the fried “eggs” for an additional 10 minutes at 350F which solved the issue with the whole “raw inside” thing. After they were all fried and drained I popped them on a baking sheet and into the oven for a bit to cook through.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE! Holy smokes, it was so delicious. Made it kind of extra lemon-y and added Dijon mustard (which is technically a Moutarde sauce, but whatever). This was the perfect addition. Lightened up the heavy richness of the sausage and egg yolk and added a little perk to it all. (I also need to add that this was probably too much to add onto the “try try again” culinary project but it turned out good so NO LESSON LEARNED!)

These things were goooood you guys. And they were nap-inducing, too. They were so yummy and filling that we waited a day or so to do Bangers and Mash (which was also delicious).

Best Easter eggs ever. No lie.

Scotch Eggs | SundriedTomatoe.Wordpress.com

Links I used to formulate my strategy:
Perfect Soft Boiled Eggs
Scotch Eggs with Mustard Sauce
Scotch Eggs with Sauce Moutarde
Hollandaise Sauce

BAGELS om nom nom

Tried making bagels a few weeks ago, right before Christmas. They tasted okay but there were several issues. First, they had a hard crust. HARD. Not the best for toasting. Destroys the soft palette.

Also, they were rough. The bagels I know from my homeland are smooth and golden.

So I did some research, investigated some recipes, read up on how gluten works, and tried again. The recipe listed at the bottom of the post is the result. And guys… it’s GOOD.

A few notes:

  • The resting times matter. Letting dough rest allows gluten to “relax” – improving the chewiness and overall texture of your delicious bagels.
  • I added a bit of salt to the boiling water. This isn’t part of the recipe because it’s not necessary but I felt like it needed to be done, flavor-wise.
  • A stand mixer makes a HUGE difference in texture. First batch was hand-kneaded, second batch I used a stand mixer. Just makes everything much smoother.
  • When using active dry yeast the water temperature is important. Use a thermometer to get it right. That window is relatively small.

The recipe card was built to print at a 4.25 x 5.5 size but it can print on a full sheet of paper, too.

Here is a PDF of the recipe card. (JPG is below.)

delicious nyc bagel recipe from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com - jpg recipe card
JPG recipe card (printable)

Let me know if you try this out! I will be making many more of these – for all the time involved they’re relatively easy to make and MAN do they taste good.

More Moving: Cash Motivation

My last post involved some info on a scary scale number. I’m not new to physical activity, we just had a pretty serious falling out a few years ago. My current goal is to start up moving again and get some sweat pouring and some pounds dropping off.

Please.

I function best with walking/running. I do poorly with groups or regular time commitments. No way to change that so I just avoid classes or gym stuff. The whole “someone waiting for you is a great motivator…”?

No it’s not. It’s pressure. It makes me never want to exercise again – that way I’ll never disappoint anyone. I’m an oldest child – I take the “D” word very seriously.

But I also have an issue staying motivated over a long term. Once I get out the door I’m okay but actually overcoming the incredible lizard-brain screaming “NO” at me is terribly difficult. So this time around I have (at the suggestion of my amazing life partner) established an elaborate system of external motivators.

The tricky bit was coming up with things that are motivators that I wouldn’t just go out and get for myself. MUCH of the stuff I saw online in terms of motivation was geared toward moms with multiple kids – rewards and motivators were often things like “an afternoon to yourself” or “a night out with the girls” or some relatively low-cost splurge that would be a stretch for a one-income household (with multiple kids).

Those posts started me down the right track but had little by way of actually usable motivators for me because BOOYAA I get afternoons to myself all the time and I can go out with the girls whenever I want and we’re not on a tight budget. So I had to think pretty hard about motivators that would work to get ME out the door.

I share it with you, to be used as you like.

CASH PRIZE: This is a forever-growing pot of money that I will ONLY get when I have hit my final goal. The money that goes in will be “mad money” for a new wardrobe. I have enough clothes to see me to my goal so I don’t need to “treat myself” to clothes until I’m THERE.

This effort is not just about losing weight, it’s more about getting healthy. I’m overweight and the best, most direct way to address that is to me mindful about what I’m putting in my mouth and moving more. So I’m putting away dollars both for movement, for good food tracking, and then for pounds lost.

I have two amounts. A small amount and a little-more-than-that amount. Keep in mind I expect this effort to go on for quite some time and the point is not to make a ton of money or go broke over it – just to have coins filling up a bucket as a visual (and $$$) motivation.

Small amount:

  • for every day I move (purposefully) for 30 or more minutes
  • for every day I stick to my (healthy, non-starvy) caloric intake

Little-More-Than-Small amount:

  • for every pound lost

It all goes in a Mason jar. Until there’s too much and the Mason jar cannot hold the awesomeness of my ongoing effort.

I’m trying to motivate AND reward myself two ways here. First, I expect to be at this for many, many, many days before I hit anything meaningful in terms of weight loss. I want my movement and mouth-filling gains to be meaningful and rewarding in monetary terms because a  jar stuffed with cash is an easier (and more motivating) thing for me to focus on than my questionable waistline.

Also, I don’t have a lot of free time and I am jealous of it. So paying myself back for it, even a small amount, somehow appeases my sense of injustice that exercise takes any time out of my day.

The thing I like about the cash bit, especially the $/day deal, is that there’s at least one thing that motivates that is not contingent on LOSS – it’s all about EFFORT.

I’m really smart. I’m good at tricking myself into doing things.


What do you think? Have you ever done something like this before and did it work?!

Next post: Prizes!! Winning things!!

motivation for more moving part 1 - cash | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

 

How to Season Cast Iron

I’m ashamed.

When I was in Jersey in January my sister Prose caught me washing her cast iron pot with soap and water. She ripped me a new one.

Apparently that’s NOT how you care for cast iron. It’s a special material that needs a lot of fatty goodness on it all the time. You’re not even supposed to wash it, just wipe it off when you’re done with it. (You can periodically cook it in the oven if you’re worried about germs or whatever. I’m not. Building up an amazing immune system, here.)

When I returned to Texas I took out my trusty cast iron pan and was appalled. I have failed my cooking tools miserably. So I spent some time “researching” and now share my newly-acquired cast-iron-seasoning knowledge with you.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Look at that terrible thing. Those rust spots and the orange hue are symptomatic of cast iron without any real protective fatty coating. Prose was right. I am a terrible cast iron owner.

WAS.

WAS a terrible cast iron owner. NO MORE!

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

First move – rinse off the rust. NO SOAP – just rinse.

If you feel you MUST use soap, be advised that this is the last time EVER. You will never use soap on your cast iron again.

Like I said earlier, if you’re concerned about germs just cook the pan. Heat kills germs. It probably kills germs better than soap… Don’t quote me on that but the internet says so. It must be true.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Then dry it all the way off with a fabric towel. Disposable towels, even the high dollar ones, leave little lint pieces. And use a kitchen towel that can get dirty – cast iron leaves a grey residue.

Don’t use grandma’s vintage kitchen set, is what I’m saying.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Here’s my sad pan slightly less sad. Notice the reduction of orange-hued rust spots everywhere. It’s still a naked pan but now it’s not growing funk all over it.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Next step is applying oil. (For this, feel free to use disposable towels.) Get an even coat all over the pan – inside, outside, and handle (if necessary). Wipe away any residue – you want shine but no pools of oil.

I used good ol’ cheap ol’ vegetable oil. It was on hand in the pantry and it’s safe to eat. Plus it has a higher smoking point than olive oil. I worry about smoking points in my kitchen because there’s no exhaust vent in there.

There’s some debate about the best kinds of fats with which to season cast iron. You could go the flavor route, in which case bacon grease is the obvious (and delicious) choice or you could go the nerd route and use kitchen-grade flaxseed oil (because it polymerizes into a hard sheen).

Or you could do what I did and go with “what oil currently exists in my pantry”.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Blurry, but shiny. That’s what we’re going for.

Check out the cast iron residue on that paper towel.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

The last step is adding heat. Bake that pan (upside down) in a 350 degree oven for an hour and let it cool – I left it in there for another hour – before removing.

You can add foil to the bottom rack to catch any drippings. This was actually unnecessary for me because I so expertly applied the thin layer of oil that no drips occurred. However, that sheet of foil made for a prettier picture than a clear view of the bottom of my nasty oven would have.

End result was a cast iron pan without any orange-hued sad spots. Every re-seasoning session will improve its resistance to the rust-creep.

Maintenance includes two important steps:

  1. Never use soap on the pan. Best practice is simply to wipe down when you’re done cooking. If you MUST wash, just use warm water and a mild abrasive.
  2. Re-season on the reg. Bake in some fatty goodness on a regular basis to build up a delicious and natural (ie: non-teflon) non-stick coat.

how to season cast iron | a post from sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Next tutorial – how to clean the crap out of a terribly dirty gas oven.