Thursday, 30 June 2011

Standing At The Edge.....

Of a nervous breakdown?

I have just had one of those weeks.  You know, one of THOSE weeks.  The one that makes you want to turn off your phone and pull the covers over your head lest ANYTHING ELSE goes awry. 

I came fairly close to standing on my porch and screaming at the top of my lungs until some nice young gents in white coats came to take me away. 

Because I feel that crazy.

And then I came to work and there's MORE craziness.  Which is normal, because my cross-shift is a grape short of a fruit salad, but it seems even worse right now because of all the craziness at home.

Let me take you back to a lovely Wednesday evening.  My Mom and her puppy Zoe came to see me.  Zoe is staying with me while I'm on days off because my folks are on vacation and then she's going to Kay's for a week.

So, Mom and I met Kay and Ave at the Farmer's Market for a little visit.  Whilst sitting in the grass eating hot dogs and minding our own business, we hear an air horn.  I happened to be facing the correct direction, when what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Why two young men, flapping their gear.

Yes.  Streakers at the Farmers' Market.  And while I was simultaneously enjoying the view (young and fabulous and delicious - chubby & small endowed do not streak) and leaping towards my niece to shield her eyes, I was howling with laughter at the idiots.

After all was said and done at the Farmers' Market, Mom and I picked up dinner from 5 Guys Burgers & Fries in Sherwood Park to eat on the deck at the house - because it was a perfect evening.  It was DEEEEEEE-LICIOUS!!!!  Good grief.  I could have eaten TWO of the Little Cheeseburgers. 

You would think that this would herald the start of a perfectly wonderful set of days off. 

Then the trouble started.

I picked up the phone to make a reservation for dinner another night, only to find no dial tone on my phone.  With no dial tone, my only option was to get online with my service provider and figure out what could be done.  Right in the middle of an online chat with a service technician - the internet went out.  Then it came back and between myself and the service technician, we figured out a temporary solution so that I would at least have a phone as no-one could get to the house until JULY 7TH. 

Yes.  July 7th.  That would be 17 days from Wednesday night.  Apparently, someone needs to hire more staff.

Then, while getting ready for bedtime, Mom comes strolling down the hall to tell me there's no hot water!  Went into the utility room and felt up the hot water tank - sure enough.  It's cold.

And it's 1am.  No-one to call until the next morning.  Yay.

So - bright and chipper at 8am, the call went into yet ANOTHER service provider.  Now, sometimes these guys are hit and miss.  One time I called because I had no hot water before and it took them two days to get to me and then they couldn't even get it lit.  Anyway, the young lady I spoke with told me that someone would be at the house within the next 24 hours - possibly that same day.

I sort of hate that.  I mean, most service providers will give you a date and a "between time".  Like "today between 2 - 4 pm".  Which isn't terribly convenient, but at least you can sort of plan to be around at that time.  But when someone says "oh, sometime within the next 24 hours", you can't really do anything.  Like grocery shop or get gas or whatever.

Anyway - Mom stuck around until about 11 and then went on home, so it was just me and Zoe to fend for ourselves.  I mowed the lawn and then stepped out onto the deck to catch some sun and read my book.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized I had horrific tan lines and that if I ever wanted to wear a strapless dress or anything similar, I would look like a total idiot with my tan lines.  Then I decided that no-one ever SEES me on the deck and that if I wear a skimpy bra, no-one would NOTICE I was wearing a bra, just that maybe I was wearing a skimpy bikini.

So, there I was, on the deck in my "bikini".  To be honest, I felt exactly the same as when I went topless on the beach in Greece....  Weird and exposed.  But I've sat out on the deck in a "regular" bikini - why should this be any different.  But it SO WAS.

I heard some banging and a truck door closing, but I figured it was my neighbor going to work and prayed that he wouldn't come by for a quick visit before heading out. 

Then it happened.  Footsteps on the front porch and BOOM.  There was the guy who came to fix my water heater.  I tried to quickly get my tank top on - but he noticed me RIGHT AWAY.  Needless to say I was quite embarrassed.  And then got to spend 10 awkward minutes with him while he lit the water tank and then went on his way.

At least he'll have a good story to tell his wife when he gets home.

And then, later that evening I took Zoe outside to wander around in the yard - looked over at my car.  Flat tire. 


I have a little air compressor in the car (which has saved me many, many times - if you can find one - get it), so I put air in the tire and waited a couple of hours.  Then I did a little test drive to my corner store and home again.  The next morning - tire still looked good. 

So Friday morning, I got up and went to the grocery store.  When I came out of the grocery store - the tire looked definitely low.  Between home and the grocery store (a 7 minute drive), and my 45 minutes in the grocery store the tire had lost 10 pounds of pressure.  Not.  Good.

I called the local tire shop - again like 5 minutes from my house - and was able to get it in quite quickly to have the tire looked at.  While I was waiting for the tire to get looked at, I ran a couple of errands that were in walking distance and when I got back to the shop, the car was already back outside.  I took this as a very bad sign. 

Sure enough - when I walked in the door, the guy behind the desk smiled at me and said "Well, Heather" to which I replied "it's not good".  Nope, there was a hole in the sidewall of the tire that they would not be able to repair.  Yay.

When one tire needs to be replaced, it is recommended that you replace both tires on the same axle.  Know what I mean?  Need one new front tire?  Nope - you need TWO new front tires.  Anyway.  The price that they quoted me for two tires was absolutely ridiculous.  So I called my local "warehouse" grocery store that also sells tires and they quoted me only another $100 for FOUR new tires.  I decided to go that way.

Now, the "warehouse" place runs their tire center in a strange way.  They make appointments in the afternoons and I couldn't get an appointment soon enough - and who in the world wants to be stuck in the "warehouse" when it's beautiful outside?  But in the mornings it's first come, first served.  So I was there bright and shining about an hour and fifteen minutes before they opened, facing the entrance and watching it like a hawk.

The SECOND the doors opened at 10am, I practically RAN in to the tire center.  But I was the first one there and I was able to get things rolling really quickly - even though I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot.  And then I found out that they don't HAVE the tires they originally quoted me on and I'm going to have to pay an additional $200 on top of the original quote.  Grrrrrrr. 

But as I think about it - the tires were long overdue to be replaced.  The old ones were cracked and worn out and I've had other problems with the tires.  And I'm not sure if I actually saved a whole pile of money at the "warehouse", but it needed to be done.

So it's done.  And it only took them about an hour to finish - hooray for them.

Thankfully, the rest of Monday passed along without event and on Tuesday I had to take Zoe to Kay's, as I had to go back to work and Zoe needed to stay somewhere. 

And when I said it was time for me to go and Zoe was immediately at my feet waiting for me, my heart broke into a zillion pieces.

Maybe it was because I'd had a stressful week and Zoe was a source of comfort the whole time.  Maybe it was because (and I've realised this before) that when Zoe leaves, I really really realise just how lonely I truly am.  Maybe I was just tired and needed to let go of all the stress.  Plus I felt totally guilty for leaving her behind.

Whatever the reason - I bawled like a little girl in front of Kay and her family, and then bawled all the way home in the car.

And then I was air-sick on the plane.  Which I very rarely ever am.  But it woke me out of a dead sleep and had me clutching the seat handle the rest of the way, and trying to break the sweat that I broke out in.  But I didn't puke. 

And because of all this tire fabulousness, it leaves me a little more strapped for cash than I prefer.  So no golfing for me for a little while.  *sniff*

This leaves me to thinking - can't I get a break????  Haven't I had enough!?!?!? 

Fingers crossed for less stressful days ahead, this is the Cane Girl - signing off.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Axing the Pork

I've been putting a lot of thought into Pulled Pork.  A lot.  Probably more than the average person - or really more than ANY person puts into thinking about the other white meat.  I have a tendency to be very singularly minded, as I'm sure I've said before.

Anyway, I have quite a few recipes for Pulled Pork saved.  They are all kind of different, and use different spices and processes.  I had wanted to do a Best of The Best series with it - and then I got to thinking.

I have come to the conclusion that a large majority of people serve Pulled Pork with a very small amount of BBQ sauce on it.  This is where all the preparation and flavoring during the cook process is a necessity - because you are actually tasting the pork and the sauce is only used like one would use ketchup on a burger.

The way that I like to have Pulled Pork is with lots of BBQ sauce.  Not so much that it's soupy, but well-slathered - if you understand what I mean.  My other conclusion is that because of how I prefer my Pulled Pork served, there's not much sense in putting a whole lot of work into the preparation as the BBQ sauce would cover all the underlying flavours melded in the pork.  But I still want it to be tender, juicy and melt in your mouth delicious!

I also have a severe hatred of fat.  I hate eating steak, because just when I think I've trimmed all the excess fat from the steak, I take a bite and there I am chewing gristle.  YUCK.  Actually, just the thought makes my gag reflex dance around.  I know, I know.  Fat = flavour.  But I just can't.  CAN. NOT.  Remember when I made Lamb Stew?  I took about 45 minutes to trim the fat off each individual piece after it was cooked.  I know that if I use a shoulder roast or whatever, it would be much cheaper and possibly more flavourful than using a tenderloin, but the fat freaks me out.  A lot.

And I had such fantastic results using the tenderloin - why bother with anything else.

I thought I would try a different approach to prepping the tenderloin in the slow cooker.  Same kind of cooking instructions - but using beef broth, a little coffee, and a tiny bit of liquid smoke.  Then I would try out a couple of different kinds of BBQ sauce and see how it went in comparison to the Root Beer Pulled Pork that I recently made.  Since it's still pretty fresh in my mind.

It actually smelled pretty good while it was cooking.

A forewarning about liquid smoke.  It is STRONG stuff.  And it gets on EVERYTHING.  I should have used a paper towel to wash the tablespoon, and used a paper towel to wipe the drip off the counter.  Phew!

Because I had two tenderloins, I decided to do two different sauces.  I did Kraft Original and Sweet Baby Ray's.  I really like the Kraft Original, but had never tried Sweet Baby Ray's. 

The first time I made pulled pork I bought my sauce from Sobey's.  They had an INCREDIBLE selection of sauces.  And I saw a maple flavoured BBQ sauce that I desperately wanted to try, but I figured I'd try it next time.  But I was really disappointed when I saw Superstore's selection of sauces and they didn't have nearly as good of a selection.  I was actually really surprised. 

I guess I'll just see if I can find any next time at a different store. 

Now, you'll ask why I didn't just run to another store and get some?  You'll have to look at another post to find out what happened with my car (and everything else) and why I was totally terrified to drive around.


Once the meat fell apart easily (6 hours was plenty of time), I took both pieces of tenderloin out of the slow cooker and shredded them.  Mixed in the sauces and portioned on buns.

I like to use the D'Italiano Crustini buns.  They are big and soft and yummy and, in my opinion, they are perfect for pulled pork.

I did run into a situation after the pork was taken out of the slow cooker, shredded, and had the BBQ sauce added.  The pork had cooled off enough to actually be cold.  If I had been doing only one flavour of BBQ sauce, I would have just thrown the pork back into the slow cooker and warmed it back up in there.  But since I was doing two flavours of sauce, I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and threw the pork in for about 20 minutes until it was warmed back up.

And it was perfect.  Tender, moist, and juicy.  I really liked the Sweet Baby Ray's sauce.

So - I can't decide between the "root beer method" or the "beef broth method".  I guess it doesn't really matter.  Just as I'd thought, I couldn't tell what it'd been cooked in.

Either way - it's still delicious!

Here are the details from today's recipe.

Pulled Pork
2 lbs pork tenderloin
14 oz beef broth
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1 tbsp liquid smoke
Your favorite BBQ sauce

Combine all in slow cooker.  Cook on low setting for 6-7 hours or until meat shreds easily.  Shred with two forks and add favorite BBQ sauce.  Serve on buns.

And enjoy!

This is the Cane Girl - signing off.

Coconut Lime Cheesecake with Mango Coulis

I've only made one cheesecake before.  It was an uncooked cheesecake and it never quite firmed up and the maple topping didn't quite work out as I've never tempered eggs before and apparently it's an art and you have to be Da Vinci in the kitchen.  Which I am not.  Basically, I was completely disappointed.

Anyway.  This is a pre-test cheesecake in advance of a special "exotic" dinner that I'm planning with a friend.  Not that kind of friend.

So here we go.

First, mix 3 tablespoons melted butter with 3/4 cup gingersnap cookies and 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut until moistened and press into a lightly greased 9-inch springform pan.  I didn't use gingersnap cookies because I couldn't find any, so I used graham crumbs.

I made an oopsy.  Once I had everything mixed together, I couldn't remember if I'd put in 2 tablespoons or 3 tablespoons of butter.  Agh.  So, I added an extra tablespoon of butter and just decided it would have to work.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden.  Remove from oven and cool completely.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth.

Reduce mixer speed and slowly pour 1 can of condensed milk into the cream cheese until just mixed.  Scrape bowl as necessary.

At this point there were clumps in my mixture!  CLUMPS!  I decided to keep beating and the clumps kind of came out - I think.

Add eggs one at a time, blending each into the mixture.  Scrape bowl as necessary.

After the eggs are incorporated, pour half the mixture into a new bowl.

Into this new bowl, add 1 tablespoon of lime zest and 2 tablespoons of lime juice.  I used real limes for everything.  Oh, and I added green food coloring to this part, but I should have been a little more cautious with the amount I actually used.  Always start with a little and add more if you want to.  So - this layer is like neon green.  I poured this layer on the base, because - well - it's ugly.  And it's clumpy.

A tip from me to you.  When you're juicing anything citrus, put a fine mesh strainer over a measuring cup and juice away.  You'll dirty less dishes and any pulp that comes flying out won't go into your juice.

On to the second layer.  Oh yeah.  Add 1 tablespoon coconut extract to the remaining batter and pour on top of the lime layer.

I love coconut extract.  Yum yum yum.  I need to use this more often.

Put in 300 degree oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until top springs back when gently pressed.  This actually was the result I got after 45 minutes!

When this happens, turn the oven off, crack the door open and leave until the oven is completely cooled.

Then, stick it in the refrigerator and completely chilled.

Once ready to serve, put 2 cups mango and 1 teaspoon sugar (or more if it's not sweet enough) into food processor and puree.  If it's too thick, add water until it's the consistency you want.

And the results.

Lovely and perfect.  It was creamy and the crust was the perfect texture - I might even consider just upping it to 1 cup each graham crackers and coconut.  The lime had just the right zing, and - I guess I would call it warmth - of the coconut complemented the lime perfectly.  It's a thin cheescake and not too rich. 

And the best part?  NO LUMPS!!!!  Yay!!!

I was amazed that it was so perfect looking.  I've read that cheesecakes should absolutely be baked in a bain marie (water bath) in order to prevent cracking and falling.  But it was PERFECT.  I have to be honest - I was shocked.  I expected to pull it out and find a huge crack through the middle. 

At first I just tried it without the mango coulis and then tried it again with.

To be honest, I found the mango coulis really refreshing and delicious - but I thought it really over-powered the flavour of the cheesecake.  When I serve it to others, I would just do a little whipped cream topping and a little toasted coconut on top.

But I would definitely make it again and I was SOOOOOO happy that it turned out so perfectly!

Until next time, this is the Cane Girl - signing off.

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Week Well Spent

And was it ever.

I golfed (poorly) on Thursday morning and headed home to do yardwork and sit on my deck.  It was a wonderful day.  Even though the wind was blowing a little, I was nice and protected on the deck, so it was just a little breeze to cool things off. 

Friday was spent much the same as Thursday, minus the golfing.  I did laundry and ran a couple of errands and got ready to head to my brother's house in Cold Lake.  And finished the book I'd started the day before.  *sigh*  I love that.

Saturday morning I headed out to Cold Lake.  The drive was uneventful, which I sincerely appreciated - something always seems to happen when I drive to Cold Lake.  Almost crash, almost get hit by oncoming traffic, blow up a transmission (hole the size of a dinner plate, and I only wish I was making that up) - things like that.

We went to my brother's friend's daughter's 1st birthday party, and it was warm and wonderful.  The birthday girl got spoiled rotten and stuffed her face full of cake and passed out a little while later.  My baby niece had loads of fun running around and playing in the pool - even though she didn't get in...  She sort of half FELL in and got really wet.  But she seemed to enjoy herself anyway.

The following couple of days were spent simply playing with baby niece and getting love and hugs and cuddles and kisses.  I could tell that my blood pressure had gone way down and I felt so relaxed with her around. 

And after my lovely meeting with my boss the Wednesday before (which I won't even get into), I really needed baby time. 

My baby niece is almost two and she hardly speaks a word.  She occassionally says 'Mom', 'Dad', 'Hi', or 'Bye'.  She says 'blech' when you change her diaper, and does a funny little meow when prompted.  She used to say 'Dora', but she doesn't any more.  I suppose she'll do everything in her own time - just like every other baby before her.  She is quite cautious and doesn't run headlong into anything, so getting her riding two wheels on a bike, or going to school, or anything that's new and different will be quite the job.  But she is sweet and funny and has a terrific smile and lots of love.

And I even did some cooking! 

I love having people to cook for, even if it makes me really nervous.

Saturday Night:  Sesame Stirfry Shrimp
This turned out really, really well.  I would definitely make it again and might sub in some fresh ginger in place of the ground, just to see the difference.  Mostly because I love fresh ginger and like to use it whenever I can!  It had a nice little bit of heat from the cayenne pepper and the sauce was super tasty.  I did make an oopsy and bought the "shell still on" shrimp - but shrimp is shrimp I suppose.

And the RICE!!!  I have a rice cooker.  I LOVE it.  I cannot make rice in the microwave or rice on the stove top.  CAN NOT.  My sister-in-law does NOT have a rice cooker, which I didn't know.  And when I was leaving home, I momentarily considered taking my rice cooker.  Don't laugh.  So when I got to their house and I realised they DIDN'T have a rice cooker, I was super-nervous.  And I wished for my rice cooker.

I figured I'd wing it.  Threw some water in a pot, threw in the rice, and got things underway.  I sort of guessed at when the water started to boil and started timing from there.  I was completely convinced that it would be overdone, or underdone, or simply ruined altogether.  But when the time was up and I drained the water, the rice was perfect.  PERFECT.  I couldn't have been more pleased.

Sunday Night:  Pulled Pork
I have been looking forward to this recipe since I found it.  You throw pork tenderloin and root beer into a slow cooker and turn it to Low for 6-7 hours.  When it shreds easily, drain the root beer, shred the meat, add your favorite BBQ sauce and serve.  That's IT.  Three ingredients.  Done.  And the results?  Tender, juicy, and delicious. 

We also had coleslaw and corn on the cob.  Thanks to my sister-in-law, she was very helpful!

Now.  We tasted the pork without the BBQ sauce just to see if you could taste the root beer.  I want to say kinda, but I couldn't really taste it.  It just tasted like pork.  And the BBQ sauce simply covered up any flavour that the root beer would have added to the pork. 

But here's the question.  Did the root beer (I guess you could use any kind of dark-colored pop) help in breaking down the tenderloin and make it so tender and juicy?  Or was it the cut of meat?  2 pounds of tenderloin is pretty expensive - would I get the same result from a shoulder or a boston butt, which is a cheaper cut of meat and more commonly used for pulled pork????  Obviously, I need to investigate this further.

Which I'm okay with because I love pulled pork.

I had fully intended on freezing the leftovers for my brother and his wife to just pull out if they needed lunch or dinner.  But the three of us ate all the leftovers the next day.  Oops.  And the next day, the pork was just as yummy and delicious.

Monday Night:  Gina's Crab-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
I'm really on the fence about this one.  The sauce was pretty good, but I've made a sauce similar to this one that was easier and tastier.  The stuffing seemed to be too much Ritz crackers to crab ratio.  The stuffing was also almost too much for the four chicken breasts.  The added cheese at the end seemed like somewhat of an afterthought.  Overall, it seemed to be missing something.  Something important.  Maybe dill?  Or garlic?  Maybe a little bit more sauce?  I have no idea.

I'm going to shelf this recipe and I might be able to figure it out later.  We'll see.

After dinner was served and eaten, and the dishes were cleaned up, I headed back home.  I can't tell you why, I just felt like I needed to be at home.  It's hard to be away from home with my job. 

Tuesday was rainy and cold, so there was not much to be done outside.  And I simply got ready to go back to work.  Very reluctantly.

And the long-term weather forecast is not what you'd hope for during an Alberta Summer.  Rain, rain, rain.  Ugh.

Here's to hoping that next week is better than this one!

This is the Cane Girl - signing off.