Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Broccoli Salad

Whenever people get together, the opportunity to eat and share is almost mandatory.  My writers group have several committee meetings at which we need to get together to complete a task.  As these often include a few hours work, we bring food to eat during our break.  In all the years I've been doing this, not once has someone shown up with a pizza.  It's more like we bring the dish we love to cook or that we do best.

This recipe for Broccoli Salad came from one of those meetings.  It was donated by my friend and fellow writer Marlo Berliner.  Here are all the ingredients.


Clean the broccoli well.  I used to pick my own vegetables and I found the enemies of broccoli bear the same green color.  I'm sure what you buy in the stores has been treated, but I always clean it anyway.

Use the food processor to grate the broccoli.  I love texture that comes from finely chopping the broccoli.  You can use a knife, but the food processor is faster and the texture is even.

Using my hands, I scrap every moral of broccoli from the sides of the food processor bowl. Remember Grandma's hands.  I discovered this song was written in 1971 by Bill Withers for his own grandmother.

If you're like me, you hate messiness and you hate cleaning.  As a result I tend to clean dishes and utensils as I go.  Resist.  Do not rinse or wash the food processing bowl.  You still have onions and cheese to grate.  And who doesn't like cheese with bits of broccoli in it, or the other way around?  The bits and pieces of broccoli left in the bowl (those you couldn't get it out with your hands) will be embedded in the other ingredients.  This is fine since they will all be mixed anyway.

 I like to buy cheddar cheese in huge blocks.  It's versatile for so many dishes, macaroni and cheese, other Italian dishes or as a healthy snack with fruit (and wine if you're inclined).  I cut my 2-pound block in half.

Never buy grated cheese again.  This is fresher and doesn't have the preservatives of the packaged cheeses.

Can you see the broccoli bits it picked up in the cheese?

Onions are next.  When it comes to onions and food processors, the phrase to remember is "quick, fast, and in a hurry.  I only need a small red onion and I've discovered that red onions are just as pungent as any other onion.  They will bring tears your eyes.

The food processor will turn them into mush or juice, so the trick is to do it fast, almost in an on-and-off method as fast as your hands will move.  You can always do it again if the pieces are too large.

I cut the onion in quarters and dump them in my unwashed processor.  I use the same unwashed blade I used to grate the broccoli.  Then turn it on and off quickly.  I think mine ran for 2 seconds.

This is a place when I don't use my hands.  I try to touch onions as little as possible.  The smell takes forever to go away, despite lemon juice, Listerin mouthwash, and coffee.  I use a rubber spatula to put them in a bowl. And still I haven't rinsed the food processor.

Bacon.  I do it in the food processor too.  What a time saving device.  And once I get it out of the cabinet and plug it in, I use it for as many jobs as possible.  It works best if the bacon is crisp and cool.  So straight out of the microwave and into the processor is not a good idea.

Now that all the ingredients are assembled, go ahead and wash he food processor.  You can even put it away.  You're done with it.

Mix all ingredients well.  Add mayonnaise a little at a time to prevent it from becoming soupy.  Green, being the dominate color, will pop out at you in glorious and delicious hues.  It reminds me of my rival high school whose colors green and gold. Only this you can eat.  The bits of red onion add a shadow of smile to the mixture.  It's a surprise when you come across the texture in your mouth.  The sweetness added from the sugar along with the hint of vinegar make for a tantalizing dish. 

Mix all the ingredients together

Mix well, but take it easy when combining all the ingredients.

Chill and serve.

This dish reminds a me of that candy we used to eat as children.  I can't remember the name of it, but it came in a small box.  You'd put a handful in your mouth and it would pop, bursting with different fruity favors.  The broccoli salad shares a surprise with every mouthful.  It's crunchy, sweet, coarse and all things delicious.

Here's the recipe for Broccoli Salad


2 to 3  Large bunches of Broccoli (finely copped in food processor)
1/3      Red Onion (or 1 very small red onion)
½ lb    Cheddar Cheese Shredded
1/2 lb  Bacon - fried crisp and chopped
½ to 3/4 cup    Mayonnaise (based on taste)
½ cup Sugar
2 tbls  Vinegar - white


Add all ingredients as shown above.  Refrigerate.  Makes a medium bowl.

If you're having a large crowd or a few people over, the broccoli salad lends itself to the make-ahead-of-time schedule.  You can make this a couple of days in advance and it will last a week in your refrigerator.  I love make-ahead-of-time dishes.  They remove some of the work needed to prepare everything when you're having guests.  And with this already made, you're not too tired to enjoy your own party.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Slower Cooker Pinto Beans

Continuing with the never waste anything, I saved the ham bone from our Christmas dinner and kept it frozen.  When the urge came for pinto beans, I had just the meat needed to season it.  I grabbed the slow cooker from the basement and brought it to a counter in the kitchen.

This is a new slow cooker and I love it.  I had one that was at least twenty years old.  When my son moved to an apartment, the only thing he asked for was the crock pot.  So I gave it to him and went searching for another one.  I found this one and what I like best about it is the clamp-down top.  It prevents little hands from opening it and getting burned.

My Pinto Beans has no recipe.  We put in it whatever we have for seasoning depending on your tastebuds.  For this version, I put the beans in water and soaked them overnight.

Pinto Beans Soaking

Add water to cover the beans.  It should be about an inch higher than the beans.  Allow them to soak overnight or for 12 hours.  They will swell slightly.  Any that float to the top of the bowl should be discarded.

Drain the beans and wash them to remove any residue.  I think this procedure started because the beans used to be picked directly from the field.  Since I haven't ever done that, but learned from my grandmother, I do as she did.

Transfer the beans to the crockpot.

The ham bone I saved after the Christmas holidays was pulled from the freezer and thawed.  There is so much flavor in this food that you need very little of the other seasonings.  Beans are a good protein source.  That's my excuse for putting the ham bone (fat and all) in the beans.

Add the meat to the beans and cover them with fresh water.

Add water and whatever seasonings you prefer.  I haven't cooked with a lot of salt in years.  For the beans I felt the ham was salty enough, so I did not add any.  A small amount of red pepper was all that was needed.

Cover and wait for the magic to happen. By dinnertime the savory smell of the beans was driving me to the point of wanting to eat them straight out of the crock.  But I resisted since the rest of the menu included corn bread, baked chicken, and broccoli salad.  I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Basement in Baby Steps

Our house came with a full, yet unfinished basement.  Often we begin storing things we no longer need or use down there: baby crib, bassinet, toys, etc.  Added to the once a year items like large kitchen pots and pans, holiday decorations, and old furniture are a myriad of other items too good to throw away.  Eventually, the place become a junkyard.

I'm not ready to tackle the basement yet.  I have too many projects above ground that need either finishing or tackling before I can begin down there.  But I put a dent into some of the clutter last week.  As I've just begun doing tablescapes and needed a place to store the dishes and glassware that's begun to accumulate, I thought I'd use shelving to get some of the stuff off the floor.

This was my first attempt.

During my college days, when we moved out of the dorms and into apartments we bought used furniture and called upon some of our old girl scout training -- improvise and use what you have.  Practically every apartment had a bookcase and desk made of cinder blocks or saw horses and boards.  I thought I could do this again.  After all it is an unfinished basement and I only want to control clutter.  I already had the boards in the form of thirteen doors.  These used to be the entrances into the rooms on the first and second levels of the house.  When I replaced them, I kept the old doors to use when I eventually get to that basement.

In the meantime, I thought I could use them as shelves.  They don't work well.  They aren't the right height and I was too afraid to stack cinder blocks.  So I sprang for new open metal shelving.  I bought three of these from Ace Hardware ($39.99 with free shipping to store).  Each shelf will hold 350 pounds.  I read that twice before ordering to make sure it said each shelf and not all the shelves.  I've also discovered that I don't have 350 pounds for these.  Maybe when I get to the books I own, but for storage of occasion use items 350 pounds is over the limit.  Still I'm glad to have it.  There's no telling what the future will bring.

I originally wanted the 5-shelf unit, but I'm glad I got the four because the section of the basement I was clearing has pipes along the ceiling and cut down on the height.  If I'd used the 5-shelves, I'd have lost space because I'd have to pull them out into the room to clear the pipes.  That creates a hazard for thing falling off as I reach for something on the shelf.  All-in-all the universe was working for me.  In other areas of the basement, I'll be able to use the taller units.  As an FYI, I also found the same shelves, the 5-unit ones, in Target for $49.99.

One great feature of these shelves -- NO TOOLS REQUIRED.  And I mean absolutely NONE.

I opened box one and pulled out the instructions.  Yep, I read everything because it usually saves time.  Then I checked to make sure all the required pieces were in the box, even counting any screws, nuts, bolts or connectors

In this case there were no screws, nuts, or bolts.  Only connectors which snapped together.


The instructions said to put it together on a soft surface like carpeting.  As I have hardwood floors, I pulled the afgan off the sofa and threw it on the floor.  However, I discovered that using the box the unit came in was better since it did not slip around and was the right size.

The poles have notches in them about an inch apart.  You can choose where to place the shelves.

I placed the first one on the bottom and worked my way up.  The instructions said you should have two people to help with stability, but I did it alone and had no problem.  The connectors snap around the pole and them you put the shelf over the top of all four poles and push it down to the connector.  The first one is a little wobbly because of trying to control four poles and a shelf, yet I did it on the first try.

After that, it went fast.  It took 20-30 minutes to put one together.  Definitely would take longer with screws.

Th shelves helped to store some items that resided on the floor.  The fragile holiday decorations were the easiest to reach and got the second shelving unit.

I was unsure what to choose next.  I tried to save the third shelf for the dishes that are currently residing on a perfectly good ping-pong table that had been used for ping-pong only a few times before it became a storage unit.

While there are still miles to go before I sleep, as least I can get to the shelves now.  There are still boxes on the floor that need a place, but I've arranged them into things I can sell on Craigslist, things to throw out (trash can was full) and things that still need shelving.

It looks so much lighter and brighter with only a tiny section of the basement cleared.  In my head I'm already designing the space.  But for right now, it's back to the living area of the house to finish my current work in progress.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's Time for Lunch

At our house Spring Forward and Fall Back take a little longer than a few minutes.  I collect clocks.  Everything from the grandfather clock in the hall to the miniature replicas of Mickey Mouse and Cogsworth from Disney's Beauty and the Beast share a shelf in one place or another.  So I thought I'd use the theme for my tablescape. 

Does anybody really know what time it is?  I'm reminded of the song by Chicago.  Time is something we call on everyday.  "Gee, I wish I had more time."  "I could really do this right if I  just had a little more time."  "I ran out of time."  There are entire courses on time management.  How to use the time we have more efficiently.  But for us time flows forward and there is never enough of it.


Album Cover

  I read about time. I suppose collecting clocks makes it a natural interest.  We all know or at least we've heard that time is relative.  According to prominent physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, time can be bent.  So what time it is depends on where you are.  There are all kinds of time.  There's prime meridian time, vacation time, time from the atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I can't remember when my fascination with time began.  I think it was when I first saw The Time Machine.  I remember being fascinated by the scene with all the clocks on the mantle.  When I began to travel, I'd gravitate toward places with clocks and not the usual spoons or ash trays although, I did buy thimbles.  The clock below I got in England near the Scottish border.  My son was six months old and we (or I) were touring Scotland.  I drove to the England-Scotland border and took a photo of the house that sits across the property line, half in England, half in Scotland.

In the small village near there I spotted this clock in the window of a shop.  Baby in tow, I went inside and could not live without that clock.  I brought it and they packed is well so it wouldn't be broken on my trip across the Atlantic.  To be sure of that, I got a huge box and shipped my clothes home.  I carried the clock.  I know where my priorities lay.

In school I loved both science and history.  Both had a lot of dates and I could remember numbers.  There was a jewelry store close to us that had a window full of clocks.  They were all set to 8:20.  I don't know if it was AM or PM, but that was the time.  Everytime I noticed a clock in a store, it was set to that time.  I wondered why and someone (can't remember who) told me that was the time that Abraham Lincoln was shot so all the clocked stopped at that time.

I was young and impressionable, so I believed it.  I don't know if it was true and today clocks are battery operated, so they are often running when you buy them.  Notice my clocks are set close to 12:15.  This is how I learned the date the Magna Carta was signed.  Lunchtime - 12:15. 

This table setting reminds me of the mad hatters tea party from Alice in Wonderland.  While putting it together the refrain of "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date" kept running through my head.  And I could see the white rabbit.  Well Easter is coming.

The plates have a Spring-type vine around the outside.  I paired it with a white plate that has a lattice pattern.  The white on white might make it hard to see (or my amateur photography - take your pick).

My guests loved all the clocks, especially when they reached the hour and the anniversary clocks played their music and gonged out the hour.  As the clocks are placed all over the house, I rarely think of them as a cohesive song, but they made for long conversations about where we were when I bought this or that clock.

And there are the clocks that aren't on the table.

Atomic Clock

The Atomic Clock is tied into Fort Collins, Colorado.  It automatically changes itself when the time changes.  I wanted to watch the numbers go back last fall.  I stayed up to 2:00 am.  Nothing happened.  By 2:30 still nothing had happened.  Suddenly, I realized it wasn't 2:00 am in Colorado and I went to bed.  When I got up, the clock had the right time.

-ish Clock

This is my -ish clock.  I've had it for years, so I can't remember where I bought it.  It's for those people who are never on time.  They will be there at three-ish.  This means that you could be waiting for them for up to half an hour (or longer).

The small clock next to the plate I got in England.  It remind me of Big Ben.  It usually sits on my desk, but I love it next to the place setting.

With all the time pieces you'd think there was no place to eat on this table.  Yet no one wanted to remove anything from the centerpiece.

I can't leave out a this clock.  I climbed up this huge hill in Greenwich so I could stand at the Prime Meridian.  Time begins here, the sign said.

 Below it is a shop with the sign of being the first in the world.

Longitude 00, Latitude 00

When next it's Time for Lunch, invite the crowd and have a remember where you were when...

12:15 - Time for Lunch