Saturday, June 30, 2012

Meal No. 534: Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus Risotto

Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

"Rich and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing," from Cook's Illustrated. Published May 1, 1999.

"Asparagus Risotto," from More Than Gourmet, online.

Weekend Basketball Goal Update

All outdoor work has been suspended this weekend, because trying to do stuff in this heat would just be stupid. The Accu-Weather forecast from this morning:

Glad I got outside and did the watering at about 5:30 a.m. today.

And while I know it is not an accurate measure of the temperature, my truck sure thought it was hot yesterday afternoon around 3 o'clock:

Being inside, though, gave me a good excuse to do preliminary assembly on the basketball goal. I attached the handle and the spring mechanism, that can be used to raise and lower it. Then I started working on the backboard and rim and discovered much to my dismay that a critical part was missing. You know, the kind of part where they say something like this in the assembly instructions: "WARNING: The glass backboard will break if the Rim Impact Spacer [L] is not installed as shown in this step, resulting in injury or property damage."

I could find no Rim Impact Spacer in the wild array of parts. A quick call to the company with 20 minutes left in their customer service hours (thank goodness for Mountain Time) on a Friday afternoon put things in motion for the missing piece to arrive by the middle of next week.

So the dinner and goal-raising planned for tomorrow night will just be dinner for my erstwhile conscripts/volunteers.

In the meantime, I'm pretty pleased with how the base is setting up, and as of tomorrow we'll have reached the five-day "curing" period that was recommended. The hole is all filled in now, although I'll need to add a bit more dirt on top to get it more even, as it settles.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Meal No. 533: Arroz con Pollo

Tonight I repeated a recipe from back in March 2011, but this time the arroz con pollo came out exactly right. I actually do not have much of a memory of making this before, so I can't use this evening's successful run as a means to diagnose how it went slightly awry before. Nonetheless, this colorful Mexican dish was pretty amazing and ought to be showing up again on a future RoHo menu.

Recipe from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger & Julie Kaufmann, The Harvard Common Press (2002), p. 123-124.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Meal No. 532: Sirloin Pork Roast

Mostly because I'd never cooked one before, the sirloin pork roast in the fresh meat section at the Harris Teeter caught my eye and I thought I'd give it a try. It's not very expensive but it will feed four. Tonight I managed to take my maiden voyage with this meat with the good fortune of a darned good recipe for it.

It started with a smashed garlic rub, supplemented with dried rosemary, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper. Browning of all sides in the skillet upped the flavor and gave the vegetables something to sauté in. I deviated from the recipe in my vegetable selection, since I do not like celery and since I had other things on hand. I used baby carrots, wedges of onion, garlic, purple sweet potato, cremini mushrooms, and regular sweet potato, all browned and softened and finished in red wine. Then the pork goes back on top and the whole thing goes in the oven, roasting for two hours at 250°F. (The sirloin roast is pretty lean and can be tough or chewy if you're not careful.)

When it's done, you pull out some of those vegetables, bring 'em to a soft boil in more red wine, and then puree it to make a sauce to put on the slices of pork.

I love having a rice cooker and sometimes forget that it's also a great vegetable steamer. I added broccoli florets to the meal using that steamer feature. The best item on the menu, though, were the cat head biscuits, that came out as perfect as I've ever made biscuits.

"Sirloin Pork Roast," by Kevin Weeks. From Seriously Good Food That Demands Attention.

"Cat Head Biscuits," by Cali Rich. In Cook's Country, April/May 2010, p. 12-13.

A Hawk Photo Album

I love my birds and they'll probably bankrupt me given how much I spend on birdseed. The natural order of things, though, commands that the birds who come here for free grub can't escape the fact that they are prey. Regular readers of the RoHo blog know of my fascination especially with hawk sightings, and it thrills me every time I get to see one nearby. [See "Squawk about the Hawk" or "Hawk's Dinner," for instance.]

Even better is when I can snag a photo, like this hasty one through the window when a hawk lighted very briefly on the fence outside the kitchen eating nook/bay, at the end of April.

Yesterday, while I was working through some email by the fireside, I heard a slight commotion coming from somewhere but chalked it up to falling ice cubes in the ice maker. The longer I sat, though, the more noisy the bird chatter outside became but I just assumed there were crows or ravens in the area again. (The noise they make is murder!)

Shortly thereafter, I threw open the back door at the parking area with cardboard in hand and headed for the recycling cart. But my emergence from the house caught my wonderful neighborhood hawk red-handed, sitting right outside the door and munching down on a recently-caught mourning dove (fine with me, since I hate mourning doves). Here's a shot of his first meal spot, with feathers and some fresh blood:

Apparently, he was not dining alone, because he was also being badgered mercilessly by a couple of mockingbirds; he was also being stalked by the crows. He made a run for it and found an eating perch on a telephone pole just across the street from the house. I made a run for my camera and started snapping away, first with my standard lens, and then with my telephoto.

I went crazy taking shots. I'm putting here a few of the better ones; the rest are posted to an online album, should this sampling be insufficient to whet your hawk appetite. He was in place long enough for me to take pictures first from the downstairs porch, then with the tripod from the upstairs porch, and finally with the tripod out on the roof of the porch. I was trying to get as many classic shots as I could.

And here's a particular close-up for you; click on it for the large version:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meal No. 531: 2 x 2 Soup

A hearty thanks to my cousin Betsy Pierce, who lives over in Greensboro, for passing this recipe on to me. It made for a delicious and easy-to-manage meal tonight while a Being Human (US version) watching party was going on.

Previous occurrences of this fine soup since the new kitchen was added (and blogging began!):

Meal No. 15
Meal No. 37
Meal No. 152
Meal No. 405

"2 x 2 Soup," from various sources.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Basketball Goal Saga: Hole and Base

As noted a couple of days ago in a blog post, when I decided I was going to make installation of the new basketball goal a do-it-yourself project, I didn't anticipate running into huge slabs of buried granite. The one that was most in my way was a stubborn challenge, but yesterday the words my father loved to use kept running through my head: "When you don't have education, you have to use your common sense."

Or maybe I didn't use my common sense. But I did use some rope, some boards, and my Toyota Tundra. So removing that huge piece of granite ended up being a solo job after all.

Couldn't leave it in the driveway, though, so I set up some 2 x 4 boards as skids and, with pickaxe in hand, pulled it bit by bit back up against the rear retaining wall.

With that out of the way, I could now dig the hole for the concrete base down to the recommended depth. (I went a little further, almost 40 inches deep.)

Then it was off to Lowe's to get 20 bags of Quikrete:

Starting mid-afternoon and working straight through until almost dark, I mixed (by hand, in my wheelbarrow) eighteen 80-lb bags of concrete, one by painstaking one, in order to fill the hole and set the base.

When the job was finished, it was dark enough I had to use the flash to capture the base plate set in the mortar.

Update: Here's the next-day shot with the concrete well on its way to drying. The base needs to cure for about five days, and so by Sunday or Monday I hope to assemble the goal and then mount it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meal No. 530: Oregano Chicken Stir-Fry

Tonight's dinner just always hits me right (and by always, I mean the other two times I made it). I should reach for it more often, because it's pretty simple to prepare. And it brings together great flavors for a filling meal without taxing my mind or hands too much.

This is Oregano Chicken Stir-Fry, which I pulled from Pillsbury Classic Cookbooks. Fortunately for you, it's a recipe you can also find online.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Taking the Goal for Granite

For a short few months back in 2008, the great paved parking area that is one of the bonuses of this house (off-street parking on a quarter-acre downtown lot is a premium!) doubled as a basketball court. I had gotten a roll-away basketball goal and quite a few of us enjoyed it for a few months...until it suddenly disappeared.

Another feature of downtown living, perhaps!

Stored in the south parlour for just over a year is my new, much-improved higher-quality in-ground basketball pole and goal. It's a pretty nice one that I managed to snag on a terrific nearly-half-price sale. I had intended to make its installation part of the tasks for a new general contractor, what with all the stuff that still remains to be done and that I can't do myself. Because it would involve setting the base in concrete, which I've never really worked with, I figured it was just smarter and wiser to let a professional add it to his to-do list around the house.

My plan is to put it at the back of the parking lot, up against the back wall, roughly between these two trees:

But I'm tired of waiting. It's time. I broke open the basketball goal box, watched some YouTube videos on installing an in-ground system, and busted out my shovels and pickaxe and wheelbarrow. I knew that the gravel layer was going to be a monster, right at the edge of the parking lot, but elsewhere in the yard I'd found that it was manageable once I dug down to the clay.

What I did not anticipate is that just below the ground surface is a debris field from demolishing the house's original driveway. Whereas I have a spacious large parking area on the smaller of the two lots that make up my plot of land, the driveway originally was a narrow lane that cut straight uphill just to the left of the house. I mean, right next to the house.  I have precious few pictures of the house before the former owners started working on it, but here's one where you can see the driveway down in the lower left corner of this shot:

I had not dug down far (and it was hard-going!) when I hit something mighty solid, mighty hard, and mighty large. I've now got it mostly uncovered, but not yet extracted:

So I guess we can tell what they did with at least two of the granite wall capper/toppers that sat atop the retaining wall along the old driveway. And while I don't think this picture captures it nearly well enough, let me add that so far I've come across precious little clay, and a heck of a lot of packed gravel. This is quite the nightmare scenario, but I shall not be defeated.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Meal No. 529: Pork Medallions in Ginger-Shiitake-Soy Sauce

The blog sometimes seduces me into rankly boring trivia about the blog. For instance, I discovered with a quick search that it was exactly 100 meals ago that I last made this wonderful Roediger House favorite: pan-seared pork tenderloin medallions in a ginger-shiitake-soy-garlic cream sauce. The always wonderful company mashed potatoes were a spot-on repository for some of that cream sauce, and tasty garden peas gave me the green I needed on the plate. I also made a French herbed bread in the bread machine.

The dinner was an occasion to celebrate: the new young friends of the Roediger House who are in the Master Teacher Fellows program at Wake Forest are just about to finish up their degrees, and I wanted to have a chance to note this milestone. It was one of those really nice evenings where we lingered at the dinner table for several hours. Three of the four pictured here are staying in Winston, which is great news: they've each taken jobs at schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school district.

"Pan-Seared Tuna with Ginger-Shiitake Cream Sauce," from The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild, 2006, p. 398-399.

"Company Mashed Potatoes," a Jones family favorite.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Meal No. 528: Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

Lazy Friday night and I just really didn't want to go out to the grocery store in the storms and in the middle of Friday suppertime shoppers. So it was a stay-in and cook-with-staples kind of night. And I kind of overate and was lousy miserable for quite a while.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Watering in 90°F at 9 O'Clock at Night

After spending the last three days working up in Virginia, I got back in at a reasonable time this evening but was too worn out to make any supper.

So Pancho Villa came through for me and it hit the spot.

Even after the sun had gone down and evening's shade had settled over the Roediger House, it was still steamy outside. But a new obligation for me, thanks to all this landscape stuff I've been doing, is to break out the hose and get some water to my poor parched new plants and flowers.

It's definitely officially summer: watering plants at 9 o'clock at night in 90°F temps, and breaking a sweat while doing it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Landscaping Update: Southside Yard

If you pull up into the driveway and park, you are on the south side of the house. Most people emerge from their cars and take the steps up onto the wrap-around porch and head for the front door. With the addition and its back door that leads to a short hallway and into the kitchen, I am much more likely these days to enter the house that way. (I do not like not personally using the front door more, though.)

The landscaping project has now brought me to this small portion of yard, that straddles the walkway to the porch and extends over to that new back (well, side, really) door.  Here are two photos taken prior to any yardwork:

Until I get around to bringing in a drainage expert, I'm going to continue to have that ugly black corrugated pipe carrying the gutter output across the yard and to the pavement.

Not quite two weeks ago, I talked about this area and what I was trying to do with it, in a blog post regarding "The Hard Stuff" about landscaping thus far. It is my long-term goal to till this entire patch between the two sidewalks, remove that rocky-packed-clay-crabgrass-wiregrass mess entirely, and refill it with good dirt. My first stage for that got me this far:

Not a small chore. This also gave me the chance to plant the oakleaf hydrangea that was recommended to me by Donna Whitley-Smith, and also three berry dazzle dwarf crepe myrtles. I filled in the rest of this area with a variety of spring bulbs (but since I'm on the road now I don't have my notes to tell me which bulbs I planted there).  I may or may not see anything come of them this summer; I think my planting occurred rather late for them to produce much.

Last week I decided to get busy tilling up another portion of this plot. It was hard going yet again, kicking my hiney, and it also kicked the tiller around a bit when I kept hitting some of this buried treasure (as pictured below).

A couple of days ago, before hitting the road for my work this week in Virginia, I carted off all the tilled yucky soil and brought in a portion of topsoil to replace it. I also finally mulched around these new shrubs. Last week I also bulked up with retaining wall brick the small new planting bed to the right of the porch sidewalk.