There’s one recipe that is passed down through the generations in my family: oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

The baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, also called the German Slayers.

(See just the recipe here)

It’s such a simple recipe, and yet, it creates the most delicious cookies, but after years of baking them in a multitude of states, jobs, ovens and countries, I have found a few tips, tricks and tweaks to make them just a little bit better.

There is one caveat with my cookies. They’re not pretty or picture perfect. They are delicious.

I first started perfecting the recipe when I lived as an au pair in Dresden, Germany. While my German guest family had heard of cookies, nothing like the American confection existed.

The bakeries had dark breads, black breads, tart breads, thick breads, thicker breads and nut breads but no cookies. Nothing even came close.

These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which I lovingly refer to as German slayers, took them by storm.

In addition to being an au pair, I was also going to a language class every day with students from around the globe, including Europe, Asia and the middle east. To most of them, the cookies were a novel experience.

Baking these cookies in Germany was a lot harder than should be expected. Brown sugar didn’t exist so I had to substitute molasses, since there were no chocolate chips I had to cut them off of large blocks of baker’s chocolate and imitation vanilla came in tiny vials.

Rolled-out cookie before baking. Quarter for size comparison.

White flour, too, was complicated. Germans have plenty of flour but plain white flour is not one of them. Eventually, I shifted my flour use to whole wheat, which is the first change I’ve kept.

Whole wheat flour gives the cookies a little more texture and a slight nutty flavor. Sometimes it’s desirable and sometimes it’s not.

Next, I experimented with spices to match the cookies to the hot mulled wine served in winter called Glühwein. That included ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other spices. In this recipe, I’ve listed them as optional. After I came back stateside, I started to add shredded coconut.

Next on the big list of tips is to freeze the batter before baking it. This helps the cookies retain a rounder shape when baked. When taking them out of the oven, they may seem a little undercooked, but once they cook down, they will be nice and soft. I’m also a full convert to the use of parchment paper on baking pans. I don’t know what I would do without it.

Last, I stress that the flour and baking soda should be mixed together before being added to the rest of the batter. That makes mixing everything evenly that much easier.

Guten Apetit!

German-slaying oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
  • Half cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or more
  • 1½ cups whole-wheat flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups oatmeal or more as desired
  • 1 cup chocolate chips 

Optional ingredients

• Ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, other spices, to be mixed in with the flour and baking soda.

• Shredded coconut, to be added in with the oats.

 

Directions

  1. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the butter and sugars together until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix together.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the whole-wheat flour, baking soda and optional spices until well mixed. Add to the bowl of creamed sugars and mix well.
  4. Add the oats and, if using, shredded coconut to the bowl and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and stir in until combined. If not baking immediately, put the dough into the freezer for at least an hour, if not two. Before you’re ready to take it out, preheat the oven.
  5. Put parchment paper down on a baking sheet.
  6. Using a spoon, or hands, make roundish balls of dough, about the size of a half-dollar, and put them on the baking sheet, spaced about an inch and a half apart. Bake for eight to 10 minutes per cookie sheet.
  7. Allow to cool and set. Then, essen!

Cookies, before baking, laid out on baking sheet.

This year has been a banner one for my garden which has been bolstered by all the time I spend at home, by being the one outdoor space I have to use and by all the extra time I can devote to it that normally I would spend commuting every day.

One of the banner crops that really has pushed its way through the garden, going so far as to knock over a corn stalk, is the zucchini.

Plated zucchini fritters

Zucchini fritters are way, other than bread, to easily use up the abundant crop. Here they are served with zhug, a Yemeni cilantro-based hot sauce, and tzatziki, the yogurt-based sauce.

I have so, so many of them and, I have absolutely no doubt that you, or maybe your neighbor, or maybe just the person down the street, is just like me and drowning in a sea of zucchini.

That’s where fritters come in.

Fritter is a broad term for potatoes, zucchini, fruit, meat, dough, and probably many more things, that have been combined and are fried. In this case, the recipe is kind of like latkes (also called potato pancakes), but with zucchini instead.

The comparison is important because both potatoes and zucchini are jam packed with lots and lots of water that need to be removed before they are turned into fritters. It’s the same process that goes into preparing decent hash browns, although usually hand power gets them dry enough for the skillet.

In this recipe, salt will help drain the water out of the shredded zucchini, with the aid of a strainer. That only gets so much water out, so there is a second step. Either the shreds can be wrung by hand or, they can be balled up into a dish towel and wrung out as the towel is twisted. I find the dish towel applies enough force to get most of the water out.

The other reason I chose to write about fritters is they go great with two other recipes I’ve already shared in previous columns, mainly, tzatzikizhug and hummus. All three make great dips for fritters.

 

Dill piles up in a container of yogurt being used to mix the Tzatziki.

Dill plays a starring role in tzatziki and it goes great in the fritters as well.  Most herbs would do well as a seasoning but, since I like to pair them with tzatziki, I always reach for dill first. It does not hurt that the dill has also been having a banner year, since it has not, yet, been pushed over or smothered by the zucchini.

One thing that most fritters need is some kind of binder. Here, I use eggs and crumbled feta, as well as a little bit of flour.

When it comes to the frying, use a lot of oil if you really want to go for that deep-fried taste, or use a lot less if you’re using a non-stick pan. I personally use cast iron skillets so a little oil often goes a long way. Alternatively, the fritters could be baked in the oven.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 to 1 medium-sized onion or 4 scallions
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Oil as needed for pan frying

 

Directions:

  1. Shred the zucchini through the large holes of a grater. Transfer to a strainer on top of a bowl and toss with the salt and let sit for 10-30 minutes.
  2. Wring out the zucchini shreds, either by hand or by putting handfuls into the center of a clean dishtowel and twisting the towel. Try to get out as much water as possible.
  3. Finely mince the onion or shred it with the grater. Mince the fresh dill and the garlic.
  4. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
  5. Heat a large skillet on medium heat and add a little bit of oil.
  6. Mix in the zucchini, the feta cheese, the onions or scallions, the dill, the garlic and the pepper. Mix.
  7. Sprinkle and mix in the baking powder and flour until well combined.
  8. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, but do not crowd them together. Lightly press down on the fritters with the back of a spoon.
  9. Turn when golden brown, about three minutes. After the other side is golden brown, remove to a plate and serve with tzatziki and hummus.

Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Aug. 6, 2007.

 

Summertime, and the living is hot, which means cooking indoors is a pain. There is a solution. The grill.

I love grills for a multitudes of reasons. They can be quick, they are outdoors, they are tasty and easy and, in the summer, cooking inside is far too miserable.

That’s where a new take on grilled chicken comes in. Specifically, it is a Thai take on the humble hunk of chicken meat.

Gai yang, also called kai yang or ping gai, or simply Thai grilled chicken, brings together some of the most prominent flavors in the west: lime, cilantro, garlic and chiles.

Thai grilled chicken, or Gai Yang, with steamed rice and a grilled green chile.

The flavors mix, meld and create something worth adding to the regular stable of meat marinades.

I was lucky enough to, most recently, take a return trip to Thailand just on the cusp of the current pandemic. That meant tourism was down and the streets were not nearly as packed as I have seen them in travels past. Although there were fewer people, there were still plenty of street food vendors with small grills and bags of marinating meat.

Many of the grilled foods had two common ingredients: lime and chiles. There is a third ingredient, which smells awful, but really adds a savory, or unami taste: fish sauce. I swear by it in most marinades, where it adds a saltiness and depth of flavor not offered by soy sauce.

It’s an ingredient that is in lots of Thai cuisine but its influence melds into the background, becoming indistinguishable on the palate, except for a sparkle.

Really, gai yang is not that different from a regular citrus marinade, with the exception of fish sauce: cilantro, garlic, lemon and lime.

The original marinade recipe I used as a base calls for chopped lemongrass and cilantro roots. I know finding cilantro with the root still on his hit or miss, and lemongrass is hard to find, so I’ve substituted lemon rind.

Making the marinade requires a good processor or blender and the chicken should sit for at least three hours, if not overnight.

I serve this chicken with some green chiles roasted on the grill and rice.

 

Wheeler’s Thai grilled chicken

Serves 2 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1-4 pounds of chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks
  • 2+ green chiles
  • 1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 jalapeños, chopped
  • 1 table spoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2+ tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons white or red wine (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 15+ sprigs of cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 a medium lemon, deseeded and coarsely chopped

Sauce

  • 2 dried red chiles, soaked and then coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar

Directions

At least three hours prior to grilling the chicken, prepare and marinade the chicken.

  • In a blender or food processor, combine the marinade ingredients. Blend for 2-3 minutes, until everything is well combined. Everything should already be chopped.
  • Combine the chicken and the marinade in a container, bowl or ziplock bag and refrigerate for at least three hours. Overnight is preferable.
  • While the chicken is marinating, combine all of the sauce ingredients in the food processor or blender and mix until well combined. Remove to a separate container for serving and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Grill the chicken over medium to medium-high heat until done. Chicken thighs taken longer than breasts and bone in takes longer than boneless. If the chicken is bone-in, cook over medium heat. Add a little of the marinade to the chicken while it cooks.
  • While the chicken is grilling add the green chiles, cut lengthwise, to the grill and cook until the skin is well blistered.
  • Once the chicken is done, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and the sauce you previously made in the blender/food processor and the roasted chiles.
  • Garnish the plates with the chopped cilantro.

Barbecue chicken sauce recipe from Practical Thai Cooking by Puangkram Schmitz and Michael Worman

The following is the story of the decline and death (euthanasia) of my cat Tweaks, on April 30, 2018. During my grieving process, I found other people’s stories of their own pet’s deaths, declines, and poetry about animal deaths helped me to grieve the loss of my own beloved cat.

It is in that spirit that I have posted my own story. When another of my cats, Apricot, died in 2014, I recounted her death as well. I had previously hidden that post (after feeling ashamed, although I’m not sure why) but, after grieving, and realizing that sharing these stories can help others, I made it public again.

 

On April 30, 2018, (a Monday), I attempted to load my incredibly weak and sick cat, Tweaks, into his carrier.

Even though he could barely move, he still had enough left in him to parachute his legs to make it as hard as possible for me to get him into the carrier.

On April 28, a Saturday, I took Tweaks to the vet because he had stopped eating the night before. I couldn’t even interest him in tuna.

After some blood work, an x-ray and a physical exam, they decided that he likely had a “mass” on his liver. That’s why he wasn’t eating. (Over the past few years, he had been gradually losing weight and becoming a pickier and pickier eater).

Tweaks on Sunday (pictured here) was very weak and restless.

The prognosis was “poor,” but the vet still gave me some liver medications, a syringe and showed me how to force feed him and how to force him to take pills.

I was hopeful that I could get him to start eating again, that there was no mass.

On Saturday night, I managed to get 20 CCs of water mixed with wet cat food into him, and onto him, and onto my clothes and the floor. It was hard, but I did it. I also managed to give him his pill. That would be the last time.

Sunday (April 29), I tried multiple times to both “pill” him and to force feed him with the syringe. All the attempts went badly but more importantly, I could see he was quickly deteriorating. By the end of Sunday, he could barely jump, he could barely walk and he was incredibly restless. Never have I seen a cat get up and move so much.

He sat on my lap on the couch a few times, for a few minutes, and briefly joined me on his favorite spot: half on the arm of a recliner, half on my leg.

Each time, he couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes.

I kept a vigil with him. He moved between the inside of the closet to by bed, to the floor, to the doorway, and then back to the inside of the closet.

A few times, he jumped on the bed, moving from his heating pad, to the middle of the bed, to the bottom, and then a few times, coming up to my chest level, briefly lying down before moving again, the same spot, next to me, he used to sleep in when he was well.

At bed time, he finally decided to move to the older chair in the office and he spent the night there.

As he declined, Tweaks kept on moving on the floor, on the bed, from sun to shade.

When I woke in the morning (April 30), I could hear a sound here or there in the house, but I wasn’t sure it was him. I woke early, maybe 6 a.m., but I was afraid to check on him. I was afraid he had passed in the night. I was hopeful he had passed during the night so that his suffering would be over. I was scared he had passed in the night because that meant I would not be able to spend his last moments with him.

He was awake, swishing his tail. I picked him up and put him on the bed. He continued to be restless. I gave him one last cuddle on the bed.

In the living room, I laid out a partially folded flannel sheet for him.

After I left the house, I texted my girlfriend, Michelle. (She was at the house when I came back with Tweaks on Saturday, after taking him to the vet. I asked her to go home. I prefer to be alone when I grieve.) I told her, if she wanted to see him one last time, she should head to the house then because the appointment was for 11:15.

When I came home, after finishing a story at work, (Monday was the B-section deadline day) (I left at 10:50. I had previously called the vet and made a 11:15 appointment) he was on the flannel sheets.

As I tried to get him into the carrier, this incredibly weak being managed to parachute out his front and hind legs, managed to make it incredibly hard to get him in. I did. I still buckled his carrier into the front seat. I drove to the vet, the AC on medium, the music barely audible, taking each turn, dip and bump and gingerly as I could.

In the waiting room were two other people waiting to be seen. We waited. And waited. I opened the top of his carrier (it was soft shelled) and was able to rub his head and cheeks. Up until I put him in the carrier one last time, he would still head butt my hand.

The woman next to me had a silent chiuaha and the man had a 15-year-old small dog. They thought the older dog might have had a seizure.

Of course, they asked if my kitty was sick.

This set me off and, through sobs, I said I was here to euthanize him.

They asked what happened, and I explained, as best I could.

The man recounted the few cats he’s had, as well as his daughter’s cat. One cat he took with him everywhere and he was driving to Boise, Idaho, when he let her out of the car at a park so she could pee. (He was driving a convertible). Nearly 200 miles later, he realized he didn’t know where the cat was and he drove back to the park, but couldn’t find her. He put an ad in the local paper, offering a $200 reward. As he was driving around, looking for her, he saw an animal on the side of the road that had been run over.

He didn’t stop, because he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t bear to know she had been killed. He never saw her again.

The man said he cannot bear to get another animal after his 15-year-old (spunky!) dog dies. It’s too much heartbreak.

My dad said the same thing when my first cat, Angel, passed away (from complications of old age). He told me he did not want to have another animal because of the inevitable, or possible, pain losing such a beloved one causes.

I got her when I was in the first or second grade and she lived to 19 or 20, despite problems with cat anorexia and bulimia. (In later life, she had her teeth removed because of the bulimia).

I left her in Carson City with my dad when I went away for college at 18, although she was still bonded to me. She truly became my dad’s cat after I moved to Germany for over a year to be an au pair.

This is tweaks in 2016. His decline was incredibly fast, as it is with many cats.

Finally they took me into a room and the vet gave Tweaks a sedative. With the carrier open, I was able to pet him as he fell asleep (although his eyes remained partially open).

Finally the vet came back, pulled him out of the carrier and into a towel, shaved his leg, dabbed it with alcohol, stuck an IV line in him, hooked up the barbiturate to his IV and plunged it in. (“It’s the same thing the kids are killing themselves with out there,” she said, which wasn’t totally true because barbiturates and opioids are different types/families of drugs and as the cops and courts reporter, who reads all the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County, I can attest very few people overdose on barbiturates in our area).

“Take as much time as you need,” she said, before wrapping him in the towel.

Somehow, he was placed back in the carrier and, after a few minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, I went to pay. The vet waived the fee (likely because her fellow vet gave me a 30-day supply of liver pills when his life expectancy was closer to seven days, at a cost of $50) and I walked to my car, wailing.

Finally, able to drive home, I started digging his grave. The day before, I had gone to Lowe’s to buy a shovel so I would be prepared. Three-quarters of the way through digging the hole, the brand-new shovel broke, and I went back to the hardware store for a shovel that didn’t have a wood handle.

When I arrived home again, I finished digging the whole, went back inside, grabbed a polarfleece blanket and said my one last goodbye to my lifeless cat. His face was pointed away from me and I remember looking at his eyes one last time. The membrane had already begun to cloud over his beautiful eyes. I wrapped him in the towel, followed by the blanket.

I thought it was ironic that this one last time, I was able to make him into a kitty burrito, when he had so vehemently refused it before.

I carried him to the grave, placed him in, and then got a can of smoked sardines, a can of tuna, and one of the toy rats he so lovingly destroyed with his back paws before he started to lose his desire to play.

After cleaning myself up, I dressed and went back to work.

It wasn’t until the following Wednesday, May 2, that I was able to get closer to finishing his grave. I de-labeled 10 stubby beer bottles, cleaned them, and used them to mark the borders of his grave, to mark the 10 years of his life before I got him.

The plan is to plant some shade-friendly annual flowers on his grave, and mark the outer boundaries with a few more bottles to commemorate the years I got to spend with him and two blue flourishes for his eyes.

Now, each day when I open the front door, I expect him to come running. I walk to the bedroom to charge my phone and I expect him to be on the bed.

 

Early life

When I first got Tweaks, it was shortly after I lost Apricot. I went to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter which, if you’ve never been, is actually hard to get to, off of the frontage road of 599.

I was walking around the cat room and I saw him, and he was friendly enough. He was 10, a little old, but I figured that older cats need to be adopted too, need to be offered the good life later in life. Santa Fe is overrun with older cats whose owners abandoned them, moved away or, more frequently, died.

I learned from the staff that Tweaks was originally brought to the shelter, 10 years prior, as a stray. He was then neutered, chipped and adopted out.

For whatever reason, that same family (or person) brought him back 10 years later. He was still in the system, just, he was no longer a kitten.

At the shelter, they told me they thought he had arthritis, as evidenced by the way he peed in his litter box there. When I took him to the vet for his initial checkup, they said, don’t worry about it. He was never creaky, although he was cranky after longer naps.

Tweaks loved his heating pad. He was not a fan of being harassed during naps.

One of the first things I bought for tweaks was a bunch of polar fleece blankets. He was never that much of a fan. I also bought him a heating pad because of the arthritis.

If you have an older cat, I highly suggest you get him or her a heating pad.

This is the specific version I got (link to Amazon), the “K&H Pet Products Thermo-Kitty Mat – Heated Mat for Cats – 6 watts – MET Safety Listed”

I would put it away in the summers, when the house would get to hot, but otherwise, it would stay plugged in all the time, on the bed. He loved that thing.

I visited with him in the one-on-one play area and he immediately jumped in my lap. I took him home and initially gave him the run of the house. He quickly hid in the back of the closet of the house I was renting in La Puebla.

With Apricot, I had followed the normal instructions: keep the cat in one room (usually the bathroom) until its acclimated, and then let it explore. Apricot, unlike Tweaks, was incredibly head-strong, brave and rambunctious. She immediately wanted out, and also, she immediately wanted outside.

After a while, Tweaks warmed to the house and either that first night, or maybe a few nights after, he started sleeping on the bed.

I never called Tweaks my “little boy” or “baby” or “child.” I figured that I adopted a full-grown man. At 10, he was 56 in equivalent human years.

I always wondered, and still do, about Tweaks’ early life, and what he was like as a kitten.

Unlike Apricot, Tweaks did not really want to go outside. With Apricot, I tried to let her into the small fenced area in the back of the house but she immediately jumped the fence and went exploring. I would later compromise with her and leave a window open during the day and close it at night. In the early mornings (4-6 a.m.) she would bat me in the face with her paw, demanding to be let out then, after an hour of exploring, come back in.

Tweaks, on the other hand, he liked to sleep in. When I let him into the fenced area, he never tried to jump the fence. He would just sit in the sun and observe.

Later on, when I moved to Espanola, I did not let him outside at all because there was no fence. After a year, I put small fences on either side of the back of my house so he could be outside. He only got out twice. Once, he jumped over the 4-foot-high chicken wire and got into the front yard. The other time, he managed to climb the seven-foot coyote fence at night. I found him on the opposite side, unable to climb back up.

Well, here’s to you Tweaks. I might have only had four years with you, and I was convinced up until your vet appointment that I was going to have another four at least, but the heartbreak, tears, the hurt, was all worth it.

I miss you buddy.

 

Notes made during the decline

I watched Tweak’s decline and, as it happened, I decided to write down what was happening, to purge a little of the emotion between bouts of bawling. The following is those notes:

Watching Tweaks quickly fade, as he stumbles, refuses to eat, paws at the ground before not drinking water, is incredibly hard.

(Monday morning, he walked over to his water bowl and tried to so viciously paw the ground before a few laps of water, but there was no viciousness there. There was only his failing motor skills, exaggerated motions.)

Pilling him is incredibly hard and it makes me feel like my last moments with him (I am sure that whatever is going on with his liver will be fatal) are going to be bad, bad memories and he will die hating me, even though I am doing what little I can to save his life.

I’m upset that we could have gone the feeding tube route (internet research) but the vet never brought it up and seems to think that it will be fatal irregardless.

I’m upset at myself for, in the middle of crying, thinking about what I will do next, whether or not that’s a coping mechanism.

I know I’m going to lose him and it hurts so much.

On the afternoon of April 29, after one botched pilling/feeding attempt, Tweaks continued to move between the bed, the couch and one of the office chairs.

Then, I went to look for him and found him in the back of the closet.

Although I already suspected that he was not going to make it, that cemented it for me.

I continue to struggle, especially considering the 29th was a Sunday, whether I should try to seek a second opinion and a feeding tube or if I should just recognize that he has a mass on his liver.

One of the things that seems to help me grieving process is reading the personal stories of other people who have lost their pets (cats or dogs) to old age or sickness.

Reading poems about lost pets and the grieving process also seems to be helping. It triggers more emotions, but I feel better afterward. Assisted grieving. Triggered grieving.

 

Some memories

I wanted to share a few memories of Tweaks, especially before they fall victim to time.

Given a whole couch to sit on, Tweaks would seek out the newsprint.

One of Tweaks’ favorite things was to sit on paper.

It was weird. I never understood why.

I guess it’s good that I work as a newspaper reporter.

Tweaks really liked sitting on paper. Newspaper, sketching paper, glossy paper, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it was on a couch, a lap, a table, the floor. He wanted to sit on paper.

Tweaks had a cat tree and usually when I’d get home in the evening, he would be on the cat tree, staring at the window. As soon as he made eye contact, he would start meowing at me. I could see his jaw moving, even if I couldn’t hear him.

He was a people kitty.

When I had one of the interns from work over, before we went out to La Madera to canvas for a story, he immediately jumped on Jacob’s lap.

Later on, when my dad came to visit, he would stay in the bedroom. I never figured out why he liked Jacob so much.

Learning a pressure cooker, or in my case, an electric pressure cooker (brand Instant Pot) means trying out new recipes and seeing what it can do.

In the case of chicken noodle soup, the answer is a whole hell of a lot.

When I made it, I went online to see what the general suggestions, and recipe directions/ingredients are for chicken noodle soup.

The best suggestion, which I heeded, was to cook the noodles separately because of the difference in required cooking time.

Other included cubing the chicken before cooking it (for people using boneless chicken breasts or thighs) and suggestions on how much broth and water to include in the pot.

Finally, I was reminded that cooking bone-in chicken means leftovers will be a little gelatinous, from the natural binders in the chicken cartilage.

(See just the recipe here.)

Chicken noodle soup made (mostly) in an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot). Bone-in skin-on chicken legs were used, as well as green chiles (Anaheim peppers).

I didn’t see any particular instructions on what to do with chicken legs.

Chicken legs are probably the cheapest meat I can get and when I went to the store to get ingredients, they were only $1 a pound, by far the best deal in the store.

They also go on sale for $4 for a 10 lb frozen bag.

If you’re looking for a cheap chicken soup, this is it.

I put the metal steam rack in the bottom, put in two chicken legs, the cut veggies (squash, zucchini, carrots and green chiles), poured in six cups (32 ounces) of chicken broth, a little water, half a bullion cube, locked the lid and turned it to 15 minutes .

After it finished cooking, and I allowed it to “natural release” for 15 minutes, I vented the unit and extracted the first chicken leg with a gloved hand and started taking the meat off the bone and putting into a bowl. Once both chicken legs has been stripped of their meat, I threw them back in the pot and started stirring. Meanwhile, I already drained the pasta and, after realizing everything would be easier in a larger pot, I transferred everything to the pot the pasta had been in.

I added the noodles and realized it lacked salt, so, remembering a Cook’s Illustrated I read on the topic, I grabbed my trusty light soy sauce, my trustier fish sauce and seasoned the soup.

Voila!

Unfortunately, for leftovers, the pasta continued to soak up the broth. I was fine with it, but one could have added a little more.

What did I learn?

Chicken legs or (bone-in) thighs work just fine, so long as you’re willing to fish them out, strip the meat off the bones and put it back in the pot.

 

Pressure cooker chicken noodle soup

Makes 10 servings

Ingredients

2-3 chicken legs (bone in, skin

6 cups chicken stock (48 ounces)

2 cups water

1 bullion cube (optional)

1 lb carrots

1 medium onion (optional)

1 zucchini, Mexican squash, yellow squash or other squash

2-5 green chiles (Anaheim peppers) or other peppers of choice, such as bell peppers or Poblanos.

1/2 to 1 lb pound mushrooms (optional)

Other vegetables as desired, including celery and garlic

Soy sauce to taste

Fish sauce to taste

Pepper to taste

1 lb noodles

Directions

1. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

2. Place the steamer rack at the bottom of the (electric) pressure cooker, then place the chicken legs on top.

3. Put the vegetables in the pot, followed by the chicken stock, the bullion cube (if using) and the water.

4. (Electric) Set the pressure cooker for 15 minutes. Allow for 15 minutes of natural release, and then vent, if desired. If using a stove top pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes.

5. While the soup is cooking, in a medium pot, heat water to boiling. Salt the water, then add the noodles and cook as per directions.

6. Once the soup is vented, or the top can be opened, remove one chicken leg at a time and, being careful not to burn your fingers, with a fork, knife or both, remove the meat from the chicken bones. Cut the meat into the desired-sized pieces. Continue with the rest of the chicken legs. Add the meat back to the soup.

7. Drain the pasta and combine with the chicken soup. If desired, transfer the soup from the pressure cooker to the pasta-cooking pot.

8. Season with soy sauce and fish sauce, until soup reaches desired saltiness.

Although I may not be Catholic, that does not mean I’m oblivious to the dietary changes of those around me come February. (This year, it’s Feb. 14).

In that spirit, I thought it would be best to post a round-up of all the Lent-friendly recipes and columns.

 

Fish

Grilled swai

Fish tacos

Vegetarian

Hummus!

Zhug

Roasted cauliflower

Zucchini fritters

Ugly beans

Tabbouleh

Tzatziki

Mexican-style grilled corn

Roasted carrot coconut salad

Roasted spicy cumin carrots

 

Easy to make Lent friendly

Rice bowls. Substitute pork for fish or leave out meat entirely.

The finished green chili hummus, after everything has been blended.

I previously wrote about keeping track of records requests in a spreadsheet, something that I encourage every journalist to do. That post has links to sample spreadsheets and various ways of keeping track of requests.

Public records are not the only thing that you can easily keep track of with spreadsheets.

Really, the options are limitless.

For personal use, you can keep track of accounts and user names. You can record all your serial numbers and item descriptions in case your house if burglarized or your stuff is otherwise stolen.

Having serial numbers at the ready makes it much easier for police to recover your stolen property because of national databases.

But working as a journalist, and more specifically as a cops/courts reporter, there are a few specific instances where I use spreadsheets to make my life that much easier.

Tracking criminal cases

Rio Arriba County has a high crime rate, as illustrated by the cases I’m following.

When it comes to being a cops/courts reporter, I keep a bunch of spreadsheets to track everything going on in my beat and, often, to keep track of what went on.

I have one spreadsheet I use to track all the criminal cases I’m covering.

As you can see, Rio Arriba County has a lot of ongoing and serious criminal cases, although one or two of those may be northern Santa Fe County.

Although not shown in the picture to the left, this spreadsheet currently has three sheets: “open,” “closed” and “master.”

The cases pictured are only the open cases. Everything goes into the “master” case list, is then copied to open cases and, when a case hits final adjudication (either through sentencing or the appeals process) it gets moved from open to closed.

The spreadsheet currently has the following sorting columns:

  • Type
  • Defendant Name
  • District  case number (higher court)
  • Offense date
  • Status
  • Victim
  • Ancillary case number (such as the pre-trial detention case number, a civil lawsuit or restraining order)
  • Weapon
  • Magistrate case number (lower court)
  • Report (if I have police reports for the case)
  • Appeal case number
  • Date filed (district court)
  • Date filed (magistrate court)

As shown in the screen shot, type refers to what kind of crime was committed.

I include fields for the date of incident as well as the date filed because the date of incident is a field that moves with court filings as they wend their way through the judicial system. That makes it a necessary number when sorting through court records.

While this does take a small, to moderate, amount of time to set up and initially populate, it’s well worth the time savings later on, the brain-wracking when you can’t remember which case is supposed to go to trial in a few months and from potentially missing important hearings.

While I’ve still missed my fair share of court hearings, keeping a spreadsheet makes it easier for me to check on statuses of everything I’m still covering.

Tracking lawsuits

As the cops and courts reporter, I also cover lawsuits against all our public entities, including the various school districts, our college, the city (and its police department/officers), the county (and the Sheriff’s Office) and even State Police.

Keeping track of all those cases requires a little bit of data entry, but it prevents me from forgetting about cases entirely.

Moreover, spreadsheets can have formulas which means you can keep a running tally for how much a specific entity has paid out in settlement agreements and court decisions.

It also means you can make a new “sheet” or tab in your spreadsheet, dump in all the lawsuits that name a specific person (think of individual officers named in civil rights lawsuits, or all of the lawsuits arising under a specific chief or president’s tenure, or all the lawsuits that are whistleblower claims) and create a simple formula to add up all the amounts.

Keeping a spreadsheet of lawsuits (I break mine down into groups, such as “city,” “county,” “state” and “schools”) also serves the same purpose as my spreadsheet keeping track of criminal cases: it helps me not forget about cases.

Tracking death (overdoses, suicides, etc.)

Once a year, I go to the Office of the Medical Investigator to photograph all of the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County for the previous year.

It usually takes a few hours to take the pictures and then quite a few more to sort everything.

Each year’s overdose spreadsheet has lots and lots of sub-sheets. I didn’t even mention pivot tables, and the massive things you can do with them.

Once all the reports are sorted into their respective folders and sub-folders,  I start adding all the names to a spreadsheet, along with the day of death, the year of birth, age at the time of death, agency that handled the investigation, the place of death and a bunch more fields related to alcohol and prescription drugs.

I also have one column for all the drugs the person overdosed on. I also break these out into another sheet, with one drug per row.

That spreadsheet helps me with a couple of different aspects of reporting the story.

When I’m writing it, it’s pretty easy to crunch the numbers of how many deaths involved what drug or what drug combinations (as seen in my story on the number of deaths in 2014).  In 2016, for 2015’s deaths, I did the same thing:

Heroin continued its trend of being involved in a majority of overdoses. It was involved in 17 of the 24 deaths, or 70 percent. Three deaths were caused by heroin, alone.

Opiates garnered an even larger portion, being involved in 20 of the 23 deaths, or 87 percent. Heroin is an opiate.

The third most-involved drug was alcohol, contributing to 13 deaths, or 54 percent. Alcohol-only overdoses were not counted.

Prescription drugs, including the opiate methadone, were responsible for nine deaths, or 37 percent, while cocaine was involved in six, or 25 percent.

Having those spreadsheets handy also makes it easier for me to figure out what police reports I still need to request for which deaths.

I can also sort the sheet by age, by drug, by date of death or by location.

It makes reporting the story much easier.

Sorting salaries

Every October, we run the salaries for all the entities we cover.

That means going through whatever document has been provided and updating/adding to our salary list document from last year with new salaries, positions and deleting employees no longer there.

Doing this is easy when the salaries are provided as a spreadsheet.

Doing this is hard when the salaries are provided in a PDF. There are a few different solutions, depending on the layout of the document you were provided, but the point is to get them into a spreadsheet for future reference.

Even if your paper doesn’t run salary lists, it’s still a very good idea, once or twice a year, to request them.

There are a lot of things you can do with that data, including looking for pay discrepancies, but they are really important as reference documents.

Not sure how to spell that employee’s name? Salary list.

Someone got put on admin leave with pay? Salary list states how much he makes and you can then calculate how much he is being paid not to work, per week, per month, etc.

Someone got fired? Salary list states how much he made.

Tracking award entries

If you’re anything like me, your boss comes into the newsroom and says that you have a month to get him your contest entries for the state’s annual newspaper contest, and you then scramble to figure out what you’ve written in the last year that warrants entry.

My contest entry spreadsheet is tailored to New Mexico’s better newspaper contest and the way my paper keeps its archives. None of these entries won during the 2016-2017 contest period. I won second place for news writing.

There is a better way!

Instead of scrambling in June or July, and looking through old PDFs, paper copies and your pre-production text documents, you can keep track of everything you want to enter in a simple spreadsheet.

You only need a few columns to keep track of everything important:

  • Headline
  • Date (run)
  • Content (story vs series vs photo)
  • Continuing
  • Other dates
  • Location (in paper)
  • Collaborators
  • Contest category

The most important part of keeping track of contest entries is to put them into the spreadsheet shortly after the story runs so, at the end of the contest period, you can go back and cull what you think are the best entries to submit.

In the case of continuing coverage, it’s very important to update your entry with the new story dates because if you don’t, you’ll be scratching your head and asking your editor who has the better memory for all the stories that ran as a result of whichever broader story.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Only 4.0 license.

Cranberry sauce (or relish) is usually a dish reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other time you’re serving a turkey.

Whatever the occasion, cranberry sauce is one of the dishes you should make before before roasting the turkey, along with stuffing and most of the gravy.

Now, before you entirely discount this recipe, I can attest that it was one of the biggest hits from Thanksgiving 2017. The fact that spice is a part of what would normally be a sweet dish adds some to the allure.

It’s also very easy, although how cheap depends on if you can get cranberries on sale.

It’s mostly about the taste, but somewhat about the presentation.

It’s essentially your regular cranberry sauce recipe (which will gel in the refrigerator) with the addition of lemon and lime juice, a little ginger and some jalapeños.

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Whenever someone asks, “What’s a healthy recipe that’s easy and I can snack on?” I have a stock reply.

Hummus. (See just the recipe here).

It’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s delicious and it can go with vegetables, bread, with other sauces, or be served as a spread.

So, what is hummus and why should you make it at home?

Hummus is a mix of cooked and crushed chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, with tahini, also known as sesame seed paste.

There are some other ingredients: lemon juice and salt, as well as a host of optional ingredients including garlic, peppers, artichoke hearts and other seasonings.

Mainly though, it’s just cooked chickpeas and tahini, blended together.

Things can get a little bit more complicated if you’re willing to take the extra step (frugal and healthy) of cooking the chickpeas yourself.

Even then, hummus is a super simple recipe.

It’s also cheap.

Adding the chickpeas to the blender.

Normally, stores sell 8-16 ounces of hummus for $3 to $8.

You need eight ounces of tahini for this recipe which sells for $3. The pound of dried chickpeas is another dollar.

It makes a full 72-ounce blenderfull, which is a decent return on investment.

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Find the stand-alone recipe here.

Sometimes, great things come from the lowly grill at your local gas station.

That is the case with the corned beef hash burrito, originally hailing from the Triple S gas station in Española.

Uniquely New Mexican and a delicious fusion, there is nothing quite like it.

I was first introduced to this fusion by a co-worker who announced to the newsroom that he was going to get one at the gas station.

Soon, I went to discover this invention myself. I can vouch: it’s amazing.

Here in New Mexico, you will always be asked if you want red, green, or nothing. This refers to green chile and red chile. If you want both, it’s called Christmas.

This version leaves the chile choices up to you. I decided to chop up and lightly cook a green chile for the burrito. Normally I would have paired it with salsa and the secret sauce I use for grilled corn and fish tacos, but I was out of both.

There are quite a few moving parts to this recipe.

First, the corned beef hash. I used the canned kind because I haven’t made corned beef in a while. If I had, the hash is pretty easy to make. Finely dice everything (cabbage, potatoes, corned beef) and throw it in the skillet to fry up.

Either way, it fries in the skillet.

Next are the diced potatoes, which are optional.

Since I now have an InstantPot, the brand name for a type of electric pressure cooker, I cooked the potatoes the night before. First, I cooked them for five minutes, which left them a little too hard. I cooked them again for two minutes, which made them a little too soft. The next morning, I diced a few of them, then threw them in a skillet with some oil, salted liberally, and let them fry.

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