blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
We're getting closer...

Working on this little cookbook has been a blast. As I've said before, I don't know if anyone really wants it, but I really wanted to do it. This is my way of nurturing myself and y'all.  This isn't a huge cookbook--we're looking at about fifty recipes, and some random chitchat all told--but I hopeful it'll be helpful.

Now I'd love to include you in the process!

I'm on the hunt for recipe testers. You do not have to be a professional cook. You don't even need to be a good cook. I just need someone willing to follow the recipe, and give me honest feedback that includes if and how well the recipe instilled confidence in the cook, and if it produced the desired results. Testers are welcome—nay, begged to—offer any other comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Every recipe tester will be acknowledged in the cookbook (unless anonymity is preferred), and receive the completed cookbook in ebook format. There might be a few tester-comments that'll make their way into the book, toom with appropriate permission.

Below is the list of recipes I'm looking to test, and am looking to have feedback in by December 23. All you need to do is go down the list, choose what sounds good (or ask clarifying questions first), and let me know in the comments what you'd like to test in your own home. I'll email or direct-message the recipe to you within twenty-four hours.

A couple of general notes:

--A couple of the recipes are crockpot-only, but most include instructions for more than one cooking method.
--If you're looking for recipes that'll match certain dietary guidelines, let me know and I'll point out the ones that'll match.
--Most of the meat-containing recipes also include notes on being flexible with meat options.
--Some recipes are far less expensive or more expensive to test than others. If this is a concern but you still want to test, please drop me a private note and we'll make something work.
--If you've cooked one of my publicly-posted recipes before and have feedback—and it doesn't matter if that recipe is included below!—do feel free to pass it along.

Here are your current recipe choices!

Bacon BBQ Chicken
Balsamic Pork
Beef and Cabbage
Broth from the Carcass
Chicken Broccoli Cheese
Cilantro Lime Chicken
Coconut Curry Chicken
Ham and Asparagus Alfredo
Lentils and Rice
Lentil Soup
Peanut Chicken
Potato Nutmeg Soup
Roasted Turkey/Chicken
Sausage Dressing Bake
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
Spinach Bacon Mac and Cheese
Tortilla Soup

Recipes coming soon:
Soup (Yes, all kinds of soup, in one recipe. Trust me.)
Beef Stew
Chicken Salad Three Ways
Pork Carnitas
Spiced Meatballs
Brussels Sprouts with Bleu Cheese Balsamic
Squash, Summer and Winter
Fried Apples
Sweet Corn Cake
Sloppy Joes

Anything sound interesting to y'all?
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I began the month with great hope of making marvelous progress on the novella I'm serializing at Patreon as well as the third book of Desert Rising. That... became a struggle. Oh, I've made some progress, but not at all what I wanted.

Instead, I've made marvelous progress on the cookbook.

I have no idea if anyone, anywhere, will have any interest in this thing, but wow have I been motivated to work on it.

Y'see, I can't feed y'all from here, so putting together and sharing recipes is the next best thing. A nurturing thing. An attempt-to-give-comfort thing.

Someone asked me the cookbook's "theme."

That would be, "Stuff I Like To Cook and Eat That Doesn't Cost A Fortune Or Take Forever To Make." Yeah, there are a couple more complicated and/or expensive ones, but they're the great minority.

I mentioned on Twitter that I'll be looking for recipe testers pretty soon, and I'll make sure to announce it here in case there are interested folks. And if you've already tried one of the recipes I've posted here in the past and have comments, concerns, problems with it, and so forth, please let me know!

And now I continue, this time with Lentil Soup.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I was not as enthusiastic about MileHiCon this year for a couple admittedly ego-centric reasons, and because I was tired and had had such a wonderful and unique Sirens experience. But I'd made commitments, and so I went.

Thank. Goodness.

At the SFWA meeting, I in-person connected with Nathan Lowell--a wonderful indie writer I'd communicated with online, and waved to once at another local con. We chatted until needing to run off to respective panels, then met up again for whiskey in the afternoon. Eventually we were joined by three other writers--indie writers!--from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and I much enjoyed the three-ish hours we all spent together sharing experiences and encouraging more connections. There were dog stories, too, which makes everything more wonderful.

So now I'm looking at connecting with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, joining their indie publishing group, and picking brains about audio books and the like. And I'm looking at enjoying it.

(That last bit is important, you see, because I've determined life is too short to deal much and long with assholes. Yes, this limits my opportunities. Yes, I'm fine with that.)

Next year, I won't be at MileHiCon, though. It's the same weekend as Sirens. So I did spend some time convincing the folks I met they'd like to check out Sirens. :-)

As for NaNo... I've mentioned elsewhere I'm not doing the "real" NaNoWriMo. Truly, signing up on yet another website, proving my wordcount, and so on does not appeal to me. Besides, I'm starting with a pile of already-written material that will be shuffled in with newly written material, and methinks that's not in the NaNo rules. But for the first time ever, the month of November is one during which I can give writing more time and focus because I do not have children at home, holidays with family do not require extensive travel, and my son's early December birthday doesn't require much planning. Thus I'm doing the nose-grindstone thing for thirty days.

So this is what the next Desert Rising book looks like this morning:

IMG_20161031_100742_615

Most of that will end up trashed or set aside for another novel, since it was first written years ago. Today's task is to shuffle through those piles and pull out all the pieces I might want to use going forward, to integrate those pieces with the existing multiple-viewpoint outline, and translate those pieces onto the Magic Index Cards that will permit me to write the novel.

In other news, I'll be making three frittatas and homemade caramel for apple-dipping so we can have a Halloween family dinner + trick-or-treat this evening.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Darlings, I know it's way past Thanksgiving, but folks are still cooking turkey (heck, I've another one in my freezer just waiting for January!). And someone asked me what to do with giblets and carcass, so... Here it is!

If you don't mind the extra work and mess, you've some awesomeness awaiting you with all that leftover turkey (or a whole chicken, for that matter). Sure, you can do the usual leftover stuff—turkey and dumplings, turkey soup, turkey salad, turkey tacos, turkey curry, so on and so forth. But you can make the most amazing broth with all those parts most folks toss out as unusable.

First, know you'll need two rather large cooking pots—one to cook the stock, one to strain the stock into once it's done cooking. DON'T think you can drain it into a glass/pottery pot, please. The sudden introduction of boiling-hot liquid can cause it to crack, and them you'll lose your pot and your broth!

Now: go over that turkey carcass for all the little bits of meat you can find. You won't get all of it—not-yet—so don't spend half a day on it. Just get everything you can with a small knife and fingers. Put all those little pieces in the fridge for later.

Put the rest of the carcass in a pot large enough to hold it and the bunch of other stuff included below. You'll notice my measurements are... not exact. That's because I tend to dump herbs and spices until I think it's about right, based on what I've done before. So use the amounts as a general recommendation, and adjust to your own tastes. In my experience, it takes at least five tries to get a recipe close to matching your own particular tastes, so feel free to play!

The other stuff that goes in the pot includes:

  • The giblets that were packed inside your turkey. Don't cut these up. Just dump them in. On the other hand, if you have loving pets who deserve holiday treats—and mine always do!—you just put the neck in the pot for broth and distribute all else as treats.

  • Two large onions, quartered

  • Four to six celery stalks, leaves and all, cut only enough to fit in the pot

  • Four or five carrots, tops and all, cut only enough to fit in the pot

  • (Why not chop them smaller? Because you want to be able to strain them out, and that's a pain when pieces are little!)

  • Tablespoon, maybe a little more, of salt. Sea salt is most awesome. If you want an exact measurement of salt... Umm, about a Tbsp per gallon of water used?

  • Cloves of garlic. I use four or five. If you're using pre-minced garlic, maybe dump in a heaping tablespoon. You know your garlic needs better than I do.

  • Tablespoon-ish of sage (or 3 Tbsp fresh)

  • 1/2 tablespoon-ish of marjoram (2 Tbsp fresh)

  • 1/2 tablespoon-ish of rosemary (2 Tbsp fresh)

  • (The above three measurements are total approximations, especially with the fresh herbs. You have wiggle-room, though, so unless you're totally against a certain flavor, don't worry about being exact.)

  • 3 whole bay leaves

  • Some black pepper. (I'm not a pepper fan, so I skimp here, It's up to you.)


Once you have all that in the pot, add enough water to cover the carcass. Kinda. I had a such a huge turkey this year, I couldn't cover the carcass without nearly overflowing the pot. So I waited until the broth had been cooking for an hour—enough to soften the carcass—then was able to break it apart enough to fit under the water.

Put that huge and heavy pot on the stove and turn up the heat. As soon as it just barely starts to boil, turn the heat way down to a simmer. You do not want a rolling boil, folks.* Cover it up and leave it alone. Leave it along for a long, long time. Like, at least three hours. It will smell amazing.

Okay! End of three hours!

Now you need another really big pot and a big colander. Put the latter inside the former. Pour all the yummy-smelling stuff through the colander. Breathe deeply. Set the colander aside to cool for a bit. Don't throw anything away yet!

You could call the broth done at this point. I don't. I put it back on the stove, uncovered, at a simmer for another hour or so. The additional cooking deepens the flavor, in my opinion.
Now your broth is done. Yes, some folks like to strain it until it's a clear broth. Me, I don't see a reason for that. Some folks put it in the fridge overnight, then skim all the fat off the top. Nah, that takes out a ton of flavor, and some nutrition as well!* All I do is freeze it in containers of a size that'll fit my recipes. I freeze most of it in large containers because I love making soup and gravy, but freezing a couple ice cube trays of broth gives you small amounts to use for cooking vegetables, rice, or mashed potatoes.

Once the stuff in the colander is cool enough to touch, begin Round Two of carcass-picking. Most times you'll be amazed at how much little bits of meat you'll find. Lots of folks skip this step—it's a hassle, and it's messy—but when I was dirt poor, that last picking meant another whole meal.

Or, if your loving pets did not receive treats earlier, or if they deserve more treats—and mine always do!—distribute those little bits of yummy meat accordingly.

No bones for loving pets, though, right? I know you know that. Consider it a legally required PSA.

Once you've done, or chosen not to do, the last pick-over, toss out everything from the colander. Yes, everything. You've cooked the hell out of it. Let it go.
And please tell me how it turns out!

Final note: This is one of the ways I was able to keep my growing adolescent son filled with nutritious food when my food budget was around $35 a week (plus veggies I'd grown or canned/frozen). I could get three to four meals worth of protein for us out of one big $7-$8 chicken, and had enough broth left over to up the nutrition of bean or vegetable soup for another meal. Besides, from my turkey this year, I came away with 1 1/2 gallons of homemade broth. Were I to purchase poultry/chicken broth from the store, that would cost me around ten to twelve dollars, I think.


* Many recipes recommend skimming the broth while it's cooking to get rid of what they call "scum." That stuff that gets a little frothy on top of broth is not scum. It is protein from the bones. And honestly, once I stopped getting my broth up to a hard boil and let it simmer instead, very little even showed up. Sure, the protein is still there in the broth, but the teensy particles remain diffused. Of course, if you want a crystal clear broth, all of that stuff—along with the fats, the herbs, and everything else must be strained out. That's "professional" broth. I like the homemade stuff instead. :)





blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Roasting a turkey can be danged intimidating, considering the size of the thing you're putting in the oven. Me, I learned how to make turkey-roasting, and chicken-roasting, work really well when I was dead broke. A whole bird costs way less than the already-prepped parts, and can provide better meals and nutrition on a tight, tight budget.

But roasting a whole turkey is much easier than cooking shows and sitcoms make it out to be. Here's my foolproof -- yes, foolproof! -- way to make your chicken or turkey come out tasty and not-at-all-dry. I'm going to include basic steps, too, because not everyone is accustomed to cooking whole birds.

The bird must be defrosted. Google the instructions if you're not sure how to make this happen safely.

Find out the proper temperature and cooking time for the size of bird you're cooking. Google can be your friend. I tend to use the chart in my grandmother's Better Homes cookbook.

Remove the innards that are included with the whole bird. Usually these are in a bag stuffed inside the turkey/chicken. If you want to know what to do with them other than "Throw out those gross looking things!" let me know and I'll do another post. :)

Quarter onions and cut celery lengths to fit inside the bird. How much? Well, enough to stuff the inside. But wait! Before you put the onion and celery inside the bird, sprinkle them with sage, marjoram, and garlic. I like lots of all three, so I suggest using a lot. It's up to you.

Once the celery and onions are coated, stuff them in the bird. I put about three tablespoons of butter -- rather, three one-tablespoon hunks of butter -- in there, too. After, my mother likes to use little metal pins to close up the open cavity. Me, I just stuff in more celery and don't worry about it.

The stuffed bird goes breast-up on a roasting rack, and the rack goes in a deep-sided roasting pan. The rack keeps the bird off the bottom of the pan so it cooks more evenly; the pan catches all the drippings because OMG GRAVY MADE FROM DRIPPINGS IS MARVELOUS.

But wait! There's more!

Melt a ton of butter. Okay, maybe not a ton. Maybe half a cup or more will do. You can always melt more later. You don't want it to be burning hot. Just enough to be mixable and malleable.

Put a bunch of sage and marjoram and garlic in the melted butter.* No, I can't be much more specific, but I can tell you I've NEVER used too much sage or marjoram. Garlic is up to you. :)

Rub and pour that herb-and-butter stuff all over the bird. All. Over. Topside and underside and between the wings and everywhere. If the bird is cold, the butter will start to solidify on the skin, and that's just fine. Use every last bit. Don't skimp.

If you have some herb-and-butter left over, you did it wrong. Keep rubbing and pouring.

Sprinkle salt all over the bird. Pepper, too, if you want. I never do.

Wash your hands. Really, they're probably pretty gross right now.

Use a bunch of foil to cover the bird. Tent it so it touches the bird as little as possible.

Put the foil-tented bird in the oven at the temperature your earlier Google/research found, and set the time for ONE HOUR LESS than the recommended cooking time.

When that one-hour-less time comes up, pull out the bird and remove the foil. If needed, use a baster to pour the drippings over the top of the turkey. (If you're not sure if it's needed, just do it. To my knowledge, no turkey has ever been ruined from too much basting.)

Use some of the foil to wrap the bones of the legs and the tips of the wings. Think of it as adding foil socks and mittens that keep those parts from burning.

Put the bird back in the oven. If your bird has one of those little pop-out temperature indicator things, wait for it to pop out. If it doesn't, use your thermometer to find out when the thigh is at about 180 degrees.

(Look: I know I'm supposed to be very, very concerned with that temperature. I've actually never tested it. I've also never died or been sickened by poultry. I do , however, feel obligated to provide "official" numbers. YMMV.)

If the bird looks about as brown as you ever want it to be, but none of your temperature measurements indicate it's sufficiently cooked, just put the foil back on!

When your chosen method of temperature measurement says, "You're good!" set the bird aside to cool for about half an hour before carving.

I can't give you excellent carving advice. I just cut the thing apart.

No matter how many people you're serving, you'll have leftovers—even if it's just the body carcass. If you want to know what to do next, let me know and I'll do a "So You Have A Poultry Carcass" post.

Any questions?

*You can use tarragon instead of sage and marjoram. It's a unique, somewhat sweeter, taste. Or you can sprinkle smoked paprika on everything along with the salt. It's adds a bit of a barbeque flavor.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Have I mentioned I love my crockpot? :)

Truly, the crockpot is a beautiful thing for someone like me: a single working mom who'd rather spend the hours away from outside-the-home work homeschooling her kid and writing her books.

It's also a beautiful thing for the person I'll be one the kid has finished school: a single working woman who likes good food, but would rather not cook a "special" meal for one (or maybe two) every night.

This week's crockpot happiness was a concoction of chicken, broccoli, potatoes and cheese. Mmmmm....

Ingredients:

2, 3, or 4 chicken breasts, depending on how much chicken you want in the final product. I chopped the chicken into big chunks because I like that better than shredded chicken in most dishes. If you like shredded chicken, just put the whole breasts in and shred them before serving.
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 cups of broccoli, chopped. You can use fresh or frozen. Fresh will give you firmer broccoli in the end.
2 to 3 cups of potatoes, peeled and chopped. If you're looking to reduce carbs, just leave these out. Add another cup or so of cauliflower and/or broccoli instead.
1 can cream of something soup. Celery, broccoli, mushroom, chicken, potato, whatever.
1/2 to 1 tsp paprika, if you like that flavor
OR
1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg, if you like that flavor
1 to 2 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 - 8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded

(I usually dump in some thyme or parsley or marjoram in uncertain quantities.)

Dump the chicken, onion, broccoli, and potatoes in the crockpot. In a bowl, mix everything else EXCEPT THE CHEESE with the cream of something soup. Add maybe half a cup of chicken broth (or water in a pinch) to make it smooth and pourable. Pour it over all the stuff in the crockpot. Cook on low for about 6 to 7 hours. Add the cheese about 20 minutes before serving.

Usually I'd put this over spaetzle, but I was out so we had it over rice. That was all right, but I prefer the noodles.

But I will say it's wonderfully warm and hearty on these cold nights...
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Time is valuable. So is energy. Here are a few things that might give you a little more of both precious and limited resources.

First: 40 Meals in 4 Hours. The page has links to a ton of recipes you assemble ahead of time and pop in the freezer. The night before, you defrost whichever meal you'd like in the fridge, then dump it in the crockpot in the morn. I've never managed all 40 meals, but have put together a half dozen or so. Best of all, the meals make enough for four, so every recipe I complete gives me TWO whole meals. On top of the time savings, it saves cash.

Second: Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars. Don't skip this link because you assume homemade = huge investment of time. Sure, making things at home can take time, but weigh that time against the cost saved. And this is so, so easy. It costs me less than half as much to make it at home, and not much time.

Third: Make soup. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. One of the household favorites is "Refrigerator Soup," which consists of all the little leftovers and almost-too-old veggies in the fridge. Our most recent one included some meatloaf, a cup of tomato sauce, some broccoli, a few getting-squishy grape tomatoes, and half a cup of diced onion that hadn't made it into the last recipe. I tossed it in a pot with chicken broth and some lentils (a good go-to for added protein and fiber), and served it with a sprinkling of cheese on top. Best of all, there was enough to freeze for another meal.

Fourth: Know the value of your time and make decisions accordingly. In this instance, I use my average hourly income. Let's say it's $20 an hour. If I decide to buy a fast-food meal for my son and I, the low-end cost of the food would be around $12, the cost of my fuel to get it around $1, and the cost of my time to drive to and from the place around $5. Thus the meal costs me $18, or nearly an hour of my life. If a homemade meal costs me $5, and takes 30 minutes to prepare, that's $15. If I made that choice 10 times per month, I have saved an hour and half of my precious time. Best of all, Dev often cooks with me, so I not only get to spend time with him, he learns a valuable life skill.

If I make $10 an hour, it costs me almost 108 minutes of my life to pay for the fast-food meal, and a mere 90 minutes to cover the at-home meal. Ten choices a month means and "extra" three hours a month, and a savings of at least $30 cash in hand. And if $30 doesn't sound like much, you've never been on a tight budget. $30 is a week's worth of low-budget groceries, almost enough for cellphone service payment, a month's worth of cheap pet food, the difference between having internet service, car insurance, adequate heat, of shoes without holes in them.

Seriously, I know what I'm talking about. I once had to feed my son, myself, and our dog on about $150 a month. No one went hungry.

For us writers, these offer a way to stop beating ourselves up for time "taken" from family and friends. A meal needing ten minutes of preparation is no less valuable to family time and offspring than a meal that requires 60 minutes. Use that other fifty minutes--guilt free--to finish a chapter, revise an outline, read an article, or socialize with fellow writers.

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