Chicken and Sweet Potato Hand Pies

September 9, 2010

My parents had a friend named Gary with whom they had many food adventures. Gary spent a lot of time at our house after the death of his partner and then he eventually moved to New Orleans where he opened a small cafe on Royal St. We visited him there twice and one of his house specials was Cornish pasties, which he filled with meat, vegetables, and small pieces of potato. They were delicious and I can still remember the tender, flaky outer dough, combined with the warm, moist filling. Stupendous. Gary passed away from HIV/AIDS many years ago, but I still think of him and his little cafe.

With that in mind, I was ready to try Chicken and Sweet Potato Hand Pies. You can find this one in Sept Everyday Food. This was an easy recipe.  But I didn’t like it ! Use one sheet of puff pastry and roll out to 12×12. Cut into 4 square. Mix 2 cups mashed sweet potato with 2 cups cooked chicken and add1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 tsp cumin and 1/4 tsp coriander. Fill the pockets and fold into triangles. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 30 minutes.

They looked nice, but I did not like them at all. I even added in some leftover broccoli to give some color. In general I am not a fan of potato surrounded by breading and this was just all potato. I don’t like potato knishes or potato pierogi, so I guess I should have known better. This would be good with another filling, so it is just my peculiar tastes that give this one a thumbs down. It turned out nicely and if you don’t mind lots of potato in puff pastry, you would like this.

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Great-Grandmother’s Hibiscus

September 8, 2010

This is the hibiscus that grows next to my deck. There’s quite a story behind it. When my great-grandmother, Rose Osborne, passed away, some seeds were found in an envelope in her bible. No one knew what they were or where they came from. So my great-uncle Bill planted them in his garden.Uncle Bill and Aunt Erma had a small city backyard, yet Uncle Bill kept it meticulously groomed. He grew tomatoes and roses and other plants and even had a putting cup in the center of the yard. The seeds grew into a beautiful hibiscus plant. Uncle Bill nurtured it for years and then dug a portion up and gave it to my father, who grew it on the side of his garage, where the plants grow to be six feet high each year. When we moved here and I tried in my lame way to do some landscaping, my father dug a portion up and gave it to me. Every year I think it’s done for and every year it comes back. It fools me because nothing much happens with it until late June or July when it finally begins coming up again. Every August, I have beautiful flowers, which remind me of Rose, the great-grandmother I never met.

I Got Crafty

September 7, 2010

When I started MarthaAndMe, I was doing Martha’s crafts. For the first year, I did quite a few crafts. Once the year was over though, I stopped doing as many. I’m not very crafty at all and I learned that forcing myself to be something I wasn’t just made me cranky. I may not be crafty, but I am creative, and every once in a while I have a fit of creativity. It usually isn’t neat and it often doesn’t turn out as I’d hoped, but it’s almost always fun when it’s something I really want to do.

I’ve had this one in my head for quite a while. Several years ago I caught some unknown show on HGTV and one thing they did was wallpaper a basement staircase with maps. Well, that got me thinking. I have a fascination with maps. It all started in my grandparents’ basement. Gai and Papa traveled to every continent except Antartica and tracked their journeys on a map in their basement, next to the pool table. They did these journeys before I was born, or at least before I can remember, although Gai often talked about them. She’s the one who gave me the travel bug.

I used to spend special time in that basement, playing pool with Papa and gazing at that map. When Gai passed away (several years after Papa) last year, one of the many things I inherited was that map. It now hangs on our basement staircase, and it inspired me to frame my own map, which Mr. MarthaAndMe and I put thumbtacks in to mark where we’ve gone on our trips.

I love that map, but I still am map crazy and I’ve never been able to get that HGTV episode out of my head. Some of the doors in our house have these huge combination locks in them. The previous owner was worried about his own son stealing things, so he installed them on three doors in the house. One of them is the basement door. Now these locks are quite old and operate with numbers you push. One day one of the kids was horsing around with the one on the basement door and got it locked shut (said child was fortunately not in the basement, but on the upstairs side of the door) and it became stuck with the deadbolt in the frame and the combination part just frozen. Mr. MarthaAndMe tried everything, but finally decided the best solution was just to get the lock out of the door. This left two round holes – one about a 3 inch diameter and the other a one inch.

I considered patching the holes, but we’ve never been able to adequately match the paint color on our interior doors, so that was a whole ball of wax I didn’t want to get into. Then it hit me – I could cover the door with maps!

I never let go of this idea and finally, this past weekend, I did it! Mr. MarthaAndMe shoved some wood in the holes to fill them pretty much. Then I went to work. I went to AAA and got free maps of all the places we’ve been. I also had some maps around here and I printed some small maps online. I attached the maps with Mod Podge. Now, it didn’t go perfectly. There are some lumps, creases and bumps, but early in the process I decided I just didn’t care. I layered and collaged the maps and covered one side of the door (I’ll do the other side after we’ve traveled some more!). Then I did another coat of Mod Podge on top. Once this is all completely dry, I’m going to put a coat of polyurethane over it all to completely seal it.

I’m actually pretty proud of this. It’s in an out of the way place in the house (in the laundry room and you can’t see it unless you stand right in front of it), so it’s not a huge glaring thing, but is instead kind of a quirky little surprise I think. I am really happy with how it turned out. It’s right by the door to the dog yard, so while we are standing there waiting for our slow poke dogs, we have something to look at. I’ll probably kick myself in 30 years when we try to sell the house, but for now I’m thrilled with it!

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Martha Mondays: 9/13

September 6, 2010

Thanks to Sara at Sassy Suppers for our next project – the steak marinades on page 76 and 78 of Sept Living. There are two to pick from – Mediterranean and Latin so you can choose which you’d like to try. And if you need the recipe, let me know (leave a comment or email me).

Martha Mondays: Panna Cotta

September 6, 2010

I’ve never made panna cotta before, so thanks Megan at Megan’s Cookin’ for picking this week’s choice!

This was surprisingly easy to make. Essentially you’re just heating up milk and cream and softening the gelatin, then mixing together. It really was amazingly easy. The sauce was simple too. The only tricky part was getting them to come out of the molds, which took a lot of dunking in hot water. But they all did eventually come out and they looked cute.

It tastes kind of like a pudding. I wasn’t a big fan, but I’m not big on plain vanilla things. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Teen Martha really liked this a lot. Dude Martha did not care for it – he doesn’t like gelatin-y things. I would call this a success. Simple, tasty and pretty. Very nice! I can’t wait to hear how others made out with this one.

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Mint Milanos – NOT

September 3, 2010

I love Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies. They are soft and sandy, with a lovely chocolate mint center. They are heaven if kept in the freezer. I had to try Martha’s version, which is called Mint-Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, in the Sept issue of Everyday Food.

I’m still heartbroken over this one. The trouble started with the dough (1 1/4 c flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 stick butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 egg). You’re supposed to use a pastry bag to get it on the sheets. I actually got mine out this time and loaded it (usually I am a pastry bag-phobe). It didn’t work. The dough was so crumbly and dense, that it just sat in there like cement. I tried a baggie (the alternate method) and this blew a hole out the side of the bag. I gave up and rolled this into balls and flattened it on the sheets. I knew then I was in trouble – there was no chance it would have the right texture. Chill the dough, check. Bake for 15 min. Not quite! Mine took much longer.

Then make the filling. Melt 4 oz semisweet chocolate in one bowl. In another mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp peppermint extract, and 4 tsp water. Cool the cookies and put one filling on one half and the other on the other half and stick it together. Mine proceeded to slide apart. So I let the two halves sit a while until the fillings firmed up, then stuck them together. It worked.

These, however, were horrible. Hockey puck tough. The mint was so minty and strong it gave me heartburn. Into the trash they went. Total, unmitigated disaster. And now I’ll have to buy a bag of Mint Milanos to console myself. Well, things could be worse I suppose:)

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The Final Trip Purchase

September 2, 2010

We bought this steel sculpture in a gallery in La Conner Washington on the trip and it just recently arrived via UPS. The photo here doesn’t do it justice. The peaks are actually a silvery white, there is deep navy blue water under the trees and the mountains themselves are a greenish brown.  It’s now hanging in our stairway, where we had a huge, blank wall that is nearly impossible to reach without a series of ladders and scaffolds. Mr. Martha and Me got creative with a stepladder and some 2x4s resting on the landing to get up there. I’d rather not remember it, if you don’t mind – I was sure he was going to crash to his death. But it’s up now and we love it because it reminds us of the beauty of the Northwest.

“Simple” Potato Gnocchi

September 1, 2010

Oh, Martha. I should know better. The word “simple” is rarely used appropriately in your magazines. I was sucked in at the idea of “simple” gnocchi. I made gnocchi once a few years ago, for a family party. It took forever, and I wasn’t happy with it. Why did I think this would be different?

It was a crummy day here in Marthaland to begin with. The rider mower was broken again, so Mr. MarthaAndMe was push mowing the lawn, something that makes him (and thus everyone else) cranky. I was coming down with a cold. Teen Martha was in that icky weekend before school starts place. There wasn’t a good vibe to be found in the house. That didn’t stop me though. Gnocchi, why everyone loves gnocchi, I thought. Someone has got to stop me in the future.

It started out simply enough – cook 2 1/2 lb potatoes then peel the skins off and put through a ricer. I don’t have a ricer, so I googled what to do and it just said to mash with a masher then whisk. The whisking part did not work (it all got stuck in the whisk). Cool, then add salt, 1 and 3/4 cup flour and 1 egg. Knead until smooth but not elastic. This actually worked pretty well. Then you’re supposed to cut into 8 pieces and roll each out to a 24 inch long rope. I did this. Then cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. This was harder since the dough was kind of sticky when cut. Then roll it down the back of a fork. Ha! This didn’t work. It would stick to the fork, become odd-shaped, or get no indent at all. Flouring the fork helped, but did not solve it. Drop in boiling water and cook until they float. I did that too.

Making all of them took quite a while and the next morning I had weird muscle soreness in the backs of my arms from this.

I made a sauce of bacon, drippings, salt, pepper, 6 scallions, some Italian herbs and lots of parmesan cheese.

There was just one problem. The gnocchi were really soft. Mushy really. I tried browning them a bit and that made no difference. I usually buy my gnocchi frozen and boil them and they are slightly chewy, which is a texture I really like. I couldn’t get past the mushiness of these. And they didn’t taste any better or different than the ones I buy frozen. So, I vow never to make my own again. It took all afternoon and just made me cranky.

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