Evolution of a blogger

I am responding to Virginia Views inquiring what is our evolution as bloggers.

Why did you start your blog?  

I started this blog after reaching age 50 years of age.  Reaching a half century of my life: childhood, school, college,  marriage, raising children, grad school, working, keeping a home; it’s all hard work: rewarding and exhausting. It’s a culmination and a relief. You exist. You made a life. You matter. You made a difference.

Is that still why you blog?

The passion comes and goes with this blog. I also have a food blog, writing and cooking my adventures in making recipes I’ve never attempted before. The material is a little easier to come by.

Has your site gone in a different direction than you’d planned?

Yes for both blogs. I try to complain less and reflect more in this blog. The writing waxes and wanes with inspriation.

The food blog is more an personal adventure than a group challenge . It is extremely difficult to get the cooking club members together due to family obligations, travel and schedules. But I keep plugging along.

Thanks Donna for your inspiration to write today.

We must remember to enjoy the ride. It’s all good.

Wyoming 7-16-11 #1

Eggs

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

Annie called out to Eddie.

Have your way.

Push the rest of us off.

Don’t be mean.

Easter is for everyone.

Not just for you!

015 1962

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Trifecta

This was written for the Trifecta weekend challenge, which was to write exactly 33 words including an idiom somewhere within.

Click on the tricycle to direct you to the Trifecta Blog website.

http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com

Liebster Blog Award

Virginia Views was so kind to nominate The Fearless Cooking Club for the Liebster Blog Award.

She requested that we answer the following questions for her chosen bloggers

1)    If you could go anywhere in the world and stay for a month, where would you choose to go?

Australia because our son just moved there. Second choice would be Europe because I have never been there.

2)    What is your hobby?

Baking.

3)    What was your childhood dream?

To be a singer and a nurse. The nurse won out.

4)    What was the best gift you ever received?

A Christmas ornament, a fishing reel and a marriage proposal as one gift December 1985.

5)    What is your favorite movie?

Something’s Gotta Give, Wizard of Oz and Pride and Prejudice. If these movies are on TV I stop everything to watch them.

6)    Who is the person who inspired you the most?

I have been inspired by strong women: my three aunts – my father’s sisters and my nursing instructors. My aunts were all different- one never married but was the matriarch of the family; one married, had a family had a strong faith and I am her spitting image; and one had a professional career when it was rare for women to have one, married late in life and is the wise sage of the family.

My nursing instructors showed me how to be a caring person, be a strong woman leader and to face your fears.

7)    What is your favorite dessert?

Pure dark chocolate with orange square.

8)    What is your favorite quote?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

This quote ends all my email messages at work. Work email is where messages can be promoted to help a project move forward, but also be misinterpreted and cause rifts in team building. I pride myself in speaking the truth and keeping communication lines open.

9)    What do you do for relaxation?

Take a bubble bath.

10) What is your favorite remembered scent/smell from childhood?

Snickerdoodles baking

11) If you could be a character in a book, who would you choose to be?

This is tough because I really enjoy biographies of real people. Probably Julia Child because her life was so interesting. She serve in WWII where she met her husband Paul, she traveled the world, she learned to cook when women didn’t become chefs, and she was a late bloomer.

Thanks again for the nomination in the month of giving thanks 🙂

 

Memories are complicated

 

I started blogging to find normalcy amid painful transitions. I had turned fifty, finished menopause, was unhappy at work, and had angry and anxious teenagers turning into young adults.

Three years later, life has shifted again. My son is taking a job in another country, my daughter is beginning her last year of college, I’m three years older, and work is showing improved vital signs.

The anger and anxiety from my children is still there, just not experienced on a daily basis. Now it comes in spurts. Our son still carries sibling-rivalry resentment toward his sister. He is nice to her for one day then cocky and insulting to her at a family gathering. She burst out crying at his insensitivity.

I returned from visiting my elderly parents, ages 86 yrs. and 90 yrs. It has been another rough year for my mother. She has extreme anxiety and expresses her displeasure with her physical changes with a lot of crying and anger. Her coping skills have taken a toll on me and caused distress in my relationship with my father and siblings.

And then, Neil Armstrong died on Saturday. I had a flashback to my living room in the summer of 1969.  My oldest brother, who is still fascinated with space, closed all the curtains of our living room to take pictures of the moon landing from the television set. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, what a good memory.

Then I remembered that in 1989, our son was a week shy of his first birthday, getting his first haircut. I was videotaping the event and on the TV in the background was a broadcast of the 20th anniversary of the moon landing.

I was cleaning out the shed yesterday, compiling things for my son to sort through before he leaves at the end of the week and I found this. I couldn’t believe it.

Man landing on the moon

I looked at the date: 9-7-1999. My son said he was in 5th grade when he did this project. He remarked that his good friends from grade school, have the actual newspaper headline, depicted above, framed in their home. It was a touching moment between my son and I, sharing a good memory. It lasted about one minute, before he got angry about something he thought I lost of his.

Thanks Neil Armstrong for your contribution to science, space and mankind. And thank you for bringing back fond memories, albeit brief, amid another one of life’s transitions.

 

The Fearless Cook makes…Chicken Parmesan

 
Chicken Parmesan
The third recipe in my Italian Chicken series challenge.
 
Chicken Parmesan is a popular American favorite of Italian dishes. Fried chicken with pasta? What’s not to like?
 
I’ve alway been scared of frying chicken. I used to look in amazement at my mother frying chicken. She was talented and had no fear. 
 
I’m also afraid of getting burned. I’ve had oatmeal dropped on my thighs at age 7 yrs. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had their arms burned from frying chicken at their home. It was a grease fire from the skillet onto the stove top. 
 
So when I approach frying I do so …..very….carefully.  Chicken Parmesan is all about the breaded chicken cutlets. The crispier the better.
 
There were seven steps: Prepping, dredging, dipping, breading, resting, frying and broiling.
 
Prepping.  The cutlets (boneless breasts or thighs) are pounded thin with a meat hammer. Then place tje cutlets in a sealed plastic bag with water and 1-2 tsp of salt, for at least 30 minutes. Then pat dry the cutlets with a paper towel.
 
Dredging. One cutlet at a time, dredge into flour, covering both sides. 
 
Dipping. Take the floured cutlet and dip into beaten eggs (two) with olive oil mixture, covering both sides.
 
Breading. The cutlet is now pressed into an Italian bread crumb mixture that has minced garlic and oregano. Pressing the moist cutlet carefully onto both sides until covered with crumbs.
 
Resting.  Place the cutlet on a wire rack and let it rest for 10 minutes setting the bread crumbs before frying. This was a pivotal step! I never knew how important this was to making a great finished product!
 
Frying.  Six tsp of olive oil into a non-stick skillet and heat oil is shimmering. Fry two cutlets at a time about 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.  Remove from skillet wtih tongs and set aside on a warm plate. Before frying the last two cutlets remove the skillet from the burner and clean out the oil with paper towel. Repeat the process again for frying the final two cutlets.
 
Broiling. Place 2-3 TBSP of mozzarella cheese and 1 TBSP of parmesan cheese atop each fried cutlet. Place all four cutlets in a broiler pan and place under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.
 
Serve atop spaghetti and a tomato-basil-garlic sauce.
 
So what did The Fearless Cook learn?
 
Lesson #1
The skillet got really hot with frying, so I had a lid ready to cover the popping oil when it freaked me out. I took it off the heat whenever I needed to turn the cutlets with a tongs.  AND I had to take the skillet away from the burner because the oil flew onto the burner and smoked it a few times.
 
Lesson #2
Frying is time consuming. The frying heated up the kitchen and the fear of frying heated me up. The entire process took about 90 minutes. Once the cutlets were done, the sauce and the pasta were ready to go and it went together quickly to serve.
 
This was such a fabulous meal I have made it twice already. The cutlets were oh so crispy. Better than Stouffers!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An alternative to Easter ham – Italian Chicken Piccata

It’s spring and the weather is sunny one day and stormy the next. This is the last time before summer hits that we will feel comfortable heating up the kitchen and making an Italian meal.

Being that it is Easter this weekend I will focus on Chicken Piccata – the second Italian Chicken out of four that I have challenged myself to make. I had never made this dish but the ingredients are  just what we imagine spring to be, light and sunny. So if you are sick of ham or lamb and are looking for something EASY to make, try this dish.

What makes chicken piccata is the sauce. Lemon and capers; the tart and the salty. After my inaugural try, I was amazed at how easy it was to pull the dish together. 

This recipe came from The New Best Recipe (2004), the cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen. I searched the internet to check out other versions of Chicken Piccata. Some chefs breaded the breast cutlets but I thought it looked too heavy for a light lemony sauce.

If you read my last entry on Chicken Marsala, you will see that this recipe starts out similarly.

Chicken Piccata

You start with 4 chicken breasts. I am now in love with boneless chicken thighs because they are cheap and remain moist even after cooking. You could substitute the chicken breasts for thighs and get smaller portions. 

4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.
Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 
Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

The ingredients for the sauce are: 1 lemon, 1 TBSP oil, 1 minced shallot, 2 TBSP capers, 1 Cup chicken broth, 4 TBSP butter and optional ingredient 2 slices of pancetta sliced into thin strips.

 

Now in the pictures you can see my chopper/mincer. I only use this for nuts,onions or in this case, shallots, when I need them uniform and finely chopped. This is a light sauce so no one wants a chunky onion to bite into.

The recipe advises to cut the lemon pole to pole (that was a first for me to see it described that way), into 6-8 slices which I did in the picture above. The lemon slices go into the sauce and the other half of the lemon is juiced to add later. Mince the shallots and add to hot skillet with 1 TBSP oil then add the pancetta. Next time I make this recipe I’m going to cook the pancetta first and get it a little crispier and then add the shallots. The shallots become translucent very quickly.

 

Add the lemon slices and chicken broth and bring to a simmer for 4 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then add the remainder of the lemon juice and the capers, again simmering until the liquid becomes reduced, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and add the 4 TBSP of butter and swirl to melt. Place the chicken cutlet on serving plate and spoon the sauce atop as below.

Voila! Chicken Piccata.

I might just bring this to an Easter Brunch this Sunday. I will probably serve it on a bed a spaghetti with asparagus on the side. The spaghetti could be tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or maybe a basil pesto before placing the chicken atop. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

The Fearless Cook takes on…..Four Italian Chickens – Chicken Marsala

There are two things I never order when I go out to eat. One is chicken and the other is Italian food. It’s not that I dislike either one of them, because I love them both. I just always cook them at home. But here is something I have never done, cook an Italian Chicken dish at home. So here in lies the challenge for The Fearless Cook. Make four Italian Chicken Dishes: Marsala, Parmesan, Piccata, and Cacciatore. The only one of the four I have ever eaten was Chicken Parmesan. It was probably a Stouffers frozen version I served the kids many years ago.
 
So to begin Chicken Marsala we start with wine.

Marsala wine

Marsala is a sweet Italian wine that gives the sauce a smooth finish. Chicken Marsala is an Italian restaurant menu staple. I can’t believe I never tried it even once!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.

Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 

Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

Marsala sauce: 3 slices of pancetta cut into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces, 8 oz sliced mushrooms, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tsp tomato paste, 1 1/2  C Marsala wine, 1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice, 4 TBSP butter, 2 TBSP minced parsley

Pancetta

     

Saute the sliced mushrooms for about 8 minutes on medium-high heat until the liquid released from the mushrooms evaporates. Add the garlic, paste, pancetta about one minute.  Remove the pan from heat then add the Marsala wine.

Return the pan to high heat and simmer vigorously until syrupy for about 5 minutes.

Off the heat add the lemon juice then whisk in the butter one pat at a time. Stir in parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve one of two ways below.

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala with polenta

I personally liked the polenta version better. The chicken breast alone with the sauce felt empty. The polenta gave body to the dish.

All of the Italian Chicken recipes all come from my stand-by, never fail, cookbook The New Best Recipe (2004). The cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen.

One Italian Chicken down, Three to go.

Why I failed the Postaweek2011 challenge

I haven’t blogged a word in two weeks. I’m sure many of you are aghast. How could I?

I signed up for the Postaweek 2011 challenge. The gauntlet thrown down by WordPress to keep the fires of blogging going. I was true to my word. I posted faithfully for two and one half months. At one time, I even had three blog writings going at once. I was editing daily and readying them for posting when each week rolled around.

Then the remodeling took over my life. We had contractors working on our basement since mid-January. They just finished. I tried my best to protect the furniture and cushions with blankets and plastic. But the film that flies from wallboard finishing is like glue dust. It lands and sticks and doesn’t let go.

I did some traveling this past month and got away from the house. I was free from responsibilities and the debacle. Yippee!! I returned to the house-mess five days ago. Me, the dog, and the dust. I moved furniture, cleaned, washed, dusted, arranged, pounded, folded, sorted, and dried. My head was sifting through ideas of decorating. There was little time for anything else.

I feel no guilt, no shame; only relief. The mind is a cluttered land of information. Multi-tasking is overrated. Newsweek’s front cover last month revealed that we as a society can’t make decisions because of too much information. Technology has allowed us to discover a world of information yet we can’t decide what kind of jeans to buy. 

I made a conscious decision. My life was overwhelming and I couldn’t eek out a blog. I went on vacation, I read an entire book, and I cleaned my house. I returned to work today, well rested, and ready to write again.

Thoreau and Oliver, poets and writers, went to the woods for inspiration. Do we now go to our Smartphones, laptops, and blogging websites for inspiration? I choose to re-boot away from it all.

How (not) to read a recipe

The Fearless Cook’s kitchen is getting a facelift. Where once was a doorway is now going to be a wall to add more kitchen space. So in the spirit of preserving my sanity I will write about the act of reading recipes, according to me.  

the kitchen doorway to become a wall

I’ll be the first to admit that I think I have adult attention deficit disorder. It has taken most of my life to figure out how I figure things out. To learn something new takes every bit of patience and focus I have to “get it.” For me, practice and practice and practice, does make perfect. Once I have mastered a task, I find shortcuts to get to the end product quickly.

For the average cook, the basics of cooking start with reading a recipe.  True chefs or chemists understand how ingredients and flavors coalesce. They can taste their way through cooking.

The first recipe I ever followed was Snickerdoodles. It is basically a soft sugar cookie that uses cream of tartar instead of baking soda and is rolled in cinnamon-sugar instead of granulated sugar.  I mastered the recipe mostly through observation. I saw all the ingredients going in, how to roll the dough into balls, pop then into the cinnamon-sugar blend, drop the dough onto the cookie sheet and into the oven. Easy, right?

I made a lot of cookies because it was so easy.  But I couldn’t eat cookies for the rest of my life, I had to cook something else, like dinner? I then discovered soups and chili. Another easy cooking format. Throw all the ingredients into a crock pot and turn it on for 8 hours and voila! dinner for eight.

Reading a recipe is like reading a short story. A writer gets better at her craft by reading, so, a cook should better her skills by reading a recipe, right? When I read one recipe at a time I get a glimpse at a culture and the melding of the ingredients like characters in a story. And just like when I read, if I don’t understand a part in the story, I read it over and over again. I’ve found that I  “get it” when I put my reading of the recipe into the actual act of cooking. Hands on and making mistakes as I go along.

A difficult recipe usually has many ingredients and steps to complete to get to the finished product. This takes a lot of focus on my part. I try to read the recipe from beginning to end. Even though I think I have a good idea of how to make it, I end up going back and forth from the cookbook to the stove, from the cookbook to the chopping board and so on. There isn’t much finesse and flow in my approach. Last year I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took an entire day for me to make the recipe the way Julia advised to make it. I patted dry each piece of beef before I braised it and I didn’t crowd the mushrooms!

One friend told me that she and her husband would read recipes to each other and discuss them. So, last week on Valentine’s Day, I had my husband read the recipe aloud to me. It actually was more fun to cook that way and we shared in the preparation. It was true team work and saved a lot of time.

I read a lot of recipes. I am drawn to them whether they appear in magazines, TV, newspapers, websites, or cookbooks. I scan the title, the picture, the ingredients, and preparation. If the ingredients are readily available in my kitchen, the flavors are appetizing, and the cooking methods are familiar to me, I will most likely make the dish. I have a short attention span. If I want to cook something for a everyday meal, I want it to be easy to follow and take less than an hour.

But, I am The Fearless Cook, so I will continue to read recipes and investigate different ingredients, one at a time, in the never-ending quest to be an accomplished cook. Even if it takes a lifetime.

Look at all the cookbooks I need to read!

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

Thanks to Lauren from theveryhungrybookworm for passing the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award to The Patty Beat!  This award is special because every post is written with love– love for the written word and for the readers!

So, here’s how it works:

  1. Link back to the person who gave you the award.
  2. Share 4 of your guiltiest pleasures.
  3. Pass the award on to 6 other irresistibly sweet blogs.

My guilty pleasures:

  1. I love the movie As Good as it Gets with Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson. I own the movie but whenever it is on TV (like tonight) I stop everything I am doing to watch it.
  2. Smarties, Sour gummies and pretzel M & Ms.
  3. I like to sew and knit but I don’t have time to do either.
  4.  I like to sit in bed and watch taped Jeopardy episodes.

Six irresistibly sweet blogs:

  1. theveryhungrybookworm
  2. CollectiveDisclosure
  3. Lagniappe
  4. jannatwrites
  5. Art is the Handmaid of Human good
  6. Short Attention Span Fiction Congrats to these blogs! Go ahead and follow the three steps listed above to spread the love– but you don’t have to return to the favor to me. Choose new blogs to spotlight so that you can share the love!