Sunday, August 12, 2012

Status update: Busy

Teaser photo


Hi again everyone. Here's another update for you all. At some point during the month of August, Seattle decided that we would have a summer. It's been really nice and the weather forecast has more coming later this week. It had been so long since we had prolonged hot weather that I forgot what it meant for our plants. I didn't water them for a little while and killed our marjoram. I also put the rest of the potted herbs through a lot of suffering.

The current weather is very agreeable to our tomatoes, but not before they got some blight. July was wetter than normal and our tomatoes got a fungal infection. The cure - cut off the blighted parts and throw them away. Here are some pictures of the damage:



Seeing the blighted fruit really broke our hearts. We get little enough as it is and don't want to waste any. We can't do anything about though. All we can do is deal. Since then, the plants have recovered well and new, healthy fruit has been forming.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for - the recipe. This pasta dish was taken from the Pioneer Woman's website: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/08/buttery-lemon-parsley-noodles/. It was the perfect thing to make for a warm summer evening and really hit the spot. Here's the pasta recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Pasta (fettuccine, Linguine, Angel Hair)
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/4 cup Finely Minced Parsley
  • 1 whole Lemon
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste

Preparation Instructions

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. (If using angel hair, stop just short of the al dente stage.) Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Throw in the cooked pasta and cook it around in the butter for a couple of minutes so that a few of the noodles get a little bit of a panfried texture to them, whatever that means.

Zest the lemon. Squeeze in the juice, then add the zest of half the lemon.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss around and serve.

*Note: as per the Pioneer Woman's suggestion, we used basil instead of parsley because we had a bunch leftover from making bruschetta earlier in the week. To us, basil is a more summery herb anyway and fits the season nicely.

The rest of the stuff:

The chicken and veggies are very easy to make. Marinate the chicken breast in olive oil, salt, and pepper for a day. This is a great way to increase the flavor without too much guilt.

Then, pound the breast so that it is uniform in thickness. This makes it really easy to cook the breast evenly.

Finally, through the breast onto a grill and cook until you get some nice browning over the breast. This adds two elements of flavor. The grilling adds some smokiness and the browning some sweetness. Browning happens when fat (olive oil) caramelizes into sugar. Be careful though. The next step after that is charring and burning. If the fire is hot, like on a grill, you can more from brown to black in a hurry.

The veggies are my easy stir fry veggies that I talk about in a previous post: http://oursuburbanprairie.blogspot.com/2012/05/easy-stir-fry-vegetables.html

So that's all for now. I hope you all stay cool out there!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charlie Brown Pear Tree Update



I thought that I would update everyone on our Charlie Brown tree we tried to save last year. It is still alive and seemingly doing well! It has a bushy look to it, but it's full of leaves. The trunk is thicker than any of the other trees we planted. Unfortunately, some rust appeared on the leaves, but with how wet the spring and early summer have been, I'm not surprised. Rust is not fatal, so Chrissie and I are OK with just letting it run its course.

I have to say, that I'm very pleased with Charlie Brown tree's rehab. All winter it looked stumpy and sad. My dad came over one day and commented that we totally pruned it incorrectly. "Yes, dad, I know," was my reply and I proceeded to tell him what had happened. Under normal circumstances, he would be correct, but here we were pruning for survival and I think that we did alright.

From this point, we'll try pruning to make it look like a more normal tree. This process will probably take a couple of years, which makes me sad because it might mean extra time before it starts bearing fruit. I shouldn't complain too much though. We did save a tree from certain death had we left it unattended.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gardener Helo

I'm sure I've mentioned once or twice that Helo has his own concept of gardening & landscaping. Typically it involves digging a large hole, at the bottom of which is some thick root that he thinks would make an excellent play stick if only it would leave the ground. His antics don't usually align very well with our conception of the yard. Until yesterday.

He's been working at one particular spot in front of our back fence for quite a while now. First he unburied a giant tarp that we eventually worked free. (Most of it at least). Then we filled it all back in and figured we were done. To no avail, Helo re-dug the hole and kept going, this time finding one of his root-type friends. We tried throwing a bunch of rocks in the hole, but it didn't deter him. He was determined to expose the root.

Thinking that it was tied to one of the large trees along our back fence, I wasn't fond of the idea of letting him continue this escapade, so we decided we were going to try filling it back in again and planting some things there. Big things. Things he'd be less likely to want to dig up.

The back was a little overgrown though, so some weeding needed to be done first. Aaron started taking a stab at a pesky bush type thing that refuses to die. He pulled and dug and dug and pulled... until he realized that the offender was, in fact, connected to Helo's root! Since that was nicely unburied, he was able to cut the root and with any luck, we're finally done with whatever menace of a plant it was. (No, we didn't bother to look it up. Maybe we should have. But we didn't want it, so it seemed kind of pointless.)

Helo's garden-sense has gone up a few notches in my esteem. Maybe we can make a suburban farmer of him yet. :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Changburgers



Summer has finally arrived in Seattle. Traditionally, it begins the day after July 4 and this year decided to be traditional. Chrissie and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather while it was here by doing some grilling. Here's a recipe for my favorite grill item: changburgers (fancy hamburgers). The recipe is adapted from Julia Child's ground beef recipe. Instead of thinking of burger patties as only 95% meat and 5% fat, I think of it as more like a well seasoned meatball now.

1 lb ground meat ***
1/4 lbs finely minced yellow onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp thyme
1 Tbsp Parsley
1/4 Cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Feel free to season to taste. I rarely use exact measurements anymore and just eyeball it. Also, feel free to experiment with different ingredients. I try different herbs often. This is the most consistent combination I go to. Not surprisingly, all of these ingredients go really well with meat in general, so you might take a cue from what pairs well with beef in other dishes.

Optional: 1 egg. Adding the egg with help the patties maintain their shape after they've been formed.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.



When you are ready to form your patties, you can do it by hand or use a mold. Doing it by hand will keep the patties "fluffier" and lighter. I really like these because the meat just falls apart when you bite into it. The difficulty with forming the patties by hand is that they are prone to falling apart before they get into your mouth. I would recommend adding the egg if you decide you're going to form them this way.

Admittedly, I use the mold more often. The patties stay together without help from the egg and that's important when things are going on the grill. I hate it when things fall through the grate.

Secret Ingredient: butter

Julia has taught me well
I stick the butter in the middle and cover it up with more meat

I stick a little bit of butter in the middle of all of my burgers. Here's a secret - fat equals juicy. I like juicy burgers. The butter here melts while the meat is cooking and spreads throughout the patty. It's delicious. You can probably use any kind of fat that is solid at cool/room temperature and melts when exposed to heat; I use butter because it's tasty and readily available.

After your patties have formed, they are ready to go on the grill. Cook to taste.

Cooking! Summer!

Bon App├ętit!
Happy Summer everyone!


*** A note about the beef - the most important ingredient after all! Quality is important. A good rule of thumb is the closer to fresh you can get, the better tasting your burger is going to be. This is just as important for taste as it is for texture. Frozen meat will never be as good as fresh ground meat. Your chew count will reflect that. The three kinds of ground meat I've eaten have been burger patties from the frozen food section, ground beef from the grocery store meat section, and meat that I've ground myself the day of. The best one by far was the meat I ground myself. It's something I want to eat again and again. If you have a good butcher or grocery store, the stuff you get there will probably be pretty good, but in my experience it's too dry. The meat was probably ground a day or two ago and all the juices have seeped out. I will never eat patties from the frozen section ever again. If you don't believe me, there's a standing invitation to our table for changburgers. I promise you an awesome burger.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Patio Building

This summer, Chrissie and I decided to add more patio to our yard. We have a small concrete landing already, but that isn't a lot of room to do stuff, particularly grilling. It has enough room to fit the grill and myself, but not anything else. Makes it kind of hard to get up and down the stairs. I don't want to do grilling up on the deck because I don't want any stray sparks or coals to land on the wood so I do it in the yard.

Making a patio is pretty easy. It takes time (what doesn't) and each yard has its own particular challenges. For us, it was the fact that our ground was hard to dig (stupid hard packed dirt and ROCKS - so many rocks!) and we ran into a huge slab of concrete about eight inches below the surface. It was really big and right next to the house so we couldn't unearth it. First, we tried working around it, but it was just too big, so we had to reduce it in size somehow. Instead of heading to the hardware store and buying a mallet and chisel, I decided to improvise and use a large rock to whittle away at the thing. It took repeated bashing for half-an-hour, but I eventually whittled it down. I would have made a good caveman.

After we dug the hole, we put down about 6 inches of gravel, then 2 inches of sand over that, and then place pavers on the very top. Both are to help the drainage of the area. I believe you use sand over the gravel to ensure that the pavers can easily get level.

We went on the thinner end for all of the layers, but so far, we haven't had any drainage problems. I don't anticipate that we will have any in the future either, because we've been having a really wet summer - like "Junuary" weather (January in June, get it? Ha ha, our weather forecaster coined the term last summer - the worst one in recent memory).

Anyway, here are some pictures of the process and product. Things are gradually coming together.

One side of our hole

The other side.
Aaron hitting concrete rock. You'll notice sand laid down. That's how far we got before finding out the rock was just a little too proud.

Caveman Aaron.
Colton is modeling the new patio. Work it!

For more detailed instructions, you can look here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Popcorn Love

Normally I'm pretty appalled by the egregious use of corn in the USA. Thanks to corn syrup and other bi-products, it's in everything. I mean, a nicely grilled ear of corn on the cob is one thing. Maybe I can get used to it in various starchy products like cereal and tortillas. But corn in my cookies? And ketchup? And even orange juice? Seriously people? There is really only one ingredient that should be involved in orange juice. I'll give you a hint: it starts with "O" and ends in "RANGE".

Nonetheless, when it comes to corn, popcorn is my Achilles heel (much to the chagrin of my dad who likens eating popcorn to stuffing your face with styrofoam). I love it served traditionally with just a little butter and salt. I adore freshly made kettle corn. There's just no going wrong with popcorn.

So I propose an exchange: here I will post our most reliable popcorn making technique and you all should leave a comment with your favorite variety of popcorn for us to try. I know there are a ton out there - I've seen them on pinterest! But, I want opinions from real people. What's the best? If you can't decide (I relate, I'm a libra), then just list all the ones you love! Feel free to leave the comments on facebook if that's easier for you. For now, I'll uphold my end of the bargain.


Perfect Traditional Popcorn

Ingredients:
3 tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2-3 tbsp butter, clarified*
sea salt to taste

Instructions:
In a large pot that has a lid (I use a non-stick light weight dutch oven) heat the oil. Put about 3 kernels of popcorn in while it heats. Make sure the lid is on. (I like my dutch oven because it has a clear lid and I don't have to guess based on sounds).

Once the three kernels have popped, move the pot off the  heat (though not too far away) and add the rest of the kernels. Let them sit in the hot oil for about 30 seconds.

Move the pot back over the heat. Try to situate the lid so that there is room for air to escape, but not popcorn kernels.

Once the popcorn starts popping again, gently shake the pot back and forth over the heat to avoid any kernels getting burnt. I prefer to wear oven mitts while doing this because the steam gets really hot!

The popping will start to slow down. When you can just about count to 3 between pops take the pot off the heat and immediately transfer the popcorn to a bowl.  (Beware, a few kernels may try to keep popping on you!)

Top the popcorn with your clarified butter and sea salt. Serve immediately! (Tastes best while watching a movie with loved ones and/or friends)

*If you don't know how to clarify butter, that's okay. Just melt the same amount and it'll be fine. Clarifying it just takes it to the next level.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vichyssoise



Here's a quick hit on a tasty soup. It's out of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Leeks and potatoes are a couple of things we do pretty well up here in cloudy western Washington and I look forward to making this soup every spring. Interesting tidbit, Vichyssoise was actually invented in the US. It was adapted from the French Potato and Leek soup.

Recipe:
3 cups of peeled and sliced potato
3 cups of sliced white leek
1.5 quarts of chicken stock or broth
Salt to taste


Some prep pictures


Simmer all of these things together, partially covered, for 40-50 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
OR use a pressure cooker; cook under 15 pounds of pressure for 5 minutes, release pressure, and simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.

Apply heat

Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or pass the soup through a food mill.

0.5 to 1 cups of whipping cream
Salt and Pepper

Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses savor in a cold dish.
Chill the soup.

2 to 3 Tb of minced chives or chive flowers

Serve soup in chilled soup cups and decorate with chives.