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.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Canning


Chrissie and I finally took the plunge and attended a canning class. We had been skirting around the edges of canning for the past year or so. For one reason or another, we just never got around to it, but then Chrissie found a groupon for a canning class and signed us up. No more excuses. Really, it's one of the first things I should have picked up on because I love pickled everything so much. If you give me anything that's been brined or pickled, you win me over.

Canning pickled things is super easy. All you need are vinegar, salt, water, spices, and the food you want to pickle. You need some equipment, the bare essentials being jars, a stock pot, canning lids, and a device to remove the cans from the boiling water, like tongs.

From there, you grab a recipe and make your pickles. There is a great resource from the University of Georgia in conjunction with the Dept. of Agriculture (or maybe is the USDA) that has detailed information about every step of the process. Here's the link. The best part, it's all free. It's like, for the betterment of mankind or something. ;)

I think part of the reason I never picked up canning was because we never grew anything in a large enough quantity to justify it, and I couldn't bring myself to buy produce just to stick it in a jar. Going to the class helped turn me around though. When fruits and vegetables are out of season, the quality goes down and the price goes up. Buying produce in season and preserving them is a nice way to work around that. What's more, I found out that some local farm operations sell "canning boxes," which is produce that can't be sold on the shelf (because of bruising or whatever) but are perfect for going into a can. These canning boxes get sold a big discount. Not everyone does though, so do the rounds at your local farmer's market.

So, without further adieu, here are some pictures of our first canning adventure: pickled asparagus.

I cut off the woodier stalks and then halved the shoots to fit in a can.


Our stock pot. Note: water boils faster if the lid is on!

The asparagus was accompanied by 3 cloves of garlic and 1/4 of a jalapeno.
The finished product cooling down.
Here's the recipe:

1 pound of raw asparagus
4(ish) quart size jars
Vinegar - 5% acidity
"Seasoning" per jar
 - 1/2 teaspoon salt of pickling salt (kosher salt is an acceptable substitute, but double the amount)
 - 3 cloves of garlic
 - 1/4 of a jalapeno


Steps:
1. Wash the asparagus. The cut it and fill the jars with as many as will fit. Leave 1 inch of space at the top of the jar for air.
2. Add the seasoning.
3. Fill the jar halfway up with vinegar and the rest of the way with water. Remember to leave 1 inch of air at the top.
4. Put on your lid and tighten it moderately - not too loose or too tight.
5. Fill a stock pot with cool water and load it with jars. Bring it to a hard boil. Boil jars for 15 minutes. This time will differ depending on your altitude. Non-Sea-Level people, you know who you are.
6. Remove jars from pot and let them cool at room temperature for 12-18 hours. Let them cool on a surface that will not be affected by intense heat. Naked countertops not recommended!
7. Once everything is cooled, make sure you take off the rings and just leave the lid in place. This will prevent the rings and lids from rusting around the edges.
8. Let the cans sit for at least a week and then enjoy. Store them in a cool, dark place. These will keep for a long time. My rule of thumb is to use them within 1-2 years.

I hope this helps you all and happy canning!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh the places we go!


Look at that! Our little baby blog is one year old already!

It's great fun to look back at the year and see all of the fun things we've attempted. And the ones that we've accomplished, too. We continue the quest for great food and are still chasing that darn carrot. Aaron's sniper plants continue to pop up all over the yard, including the potatoes that wouldn't fit in the garbage can. He also still likes to reminisce about the irony of his life. We don't choose to buy such big bags of flour anymore because we'd rather try to eat a little more locally. We're still making our house a home with help from our every expanding victory garden. Though the backyard still needs a fair amount of help, especially the soil.

I can't wait to make some strawberry fools from the new plants we added this year. And our little Charlie Brown Pear tree is doing remarkably well. Though his peach friend had a rough winter.

The 4th of July will be sneaking up on everyone soon, so don't forget to eat your red, white, and blue.

Operation stair climb came to an end when I moved to a different building that has significantly less stairs. But I did gain a live in mascot. Win!

The grass has begun to grow and some days I long for the time just to watch it all happen.

Aaron's Land Lover's Gumbo has been our most popular post to date, in large part thanks to the wonders of Pinterest.

How far we've come in that one short year. So, even though you can't go home again, you can definitely move forward. With a cupcake in hand, of course.

Here's to another year of fun!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Maple Frosted Cupcakes

Okay, so I'm not known for how pretty I make my cupcakes. But this was super tasty.
So remember that coconut cake I made for my dad recently? I couldn't get the flavor and texture of the base cake recipe out of my head. It was so light and wonderful. Just the right amount of moisture and buttery-goodness.

Combine that with a sudden and intense need for all things maple and you get the above result.

I used the same cake recipe from the coconut cake, but decided to see how it would hold up as cupcakes. I cut the baking time down to 25 minutes and the recipe made about 24 cupcakes. They came out a little flatter than I might have liked, but the flavor and texture was still spot-on.

For the maple frosting, I augmented a basic buttercream. All these ingredients are approximations:

14-16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 regular bag of powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons maple extract

I started by creaming the butter and adding about 1/4 of the powdered sugar. I gradually added more sugar until I was about halfway through, then added the milk. Once the frosting was the right texture, I added in the maple extract and was happy as a clam.

I wanted to just eat all the frosting right out of the bowl. But then the exercise in making cupcakes would have seemed silly.

In the end, I was happy to exercise some restraint. The maple frosting with this cake was divine. Maple bars are a thing of my past. HELLOOO maple cupcakes!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easy Stir Fry Vegetables

One thing I get complimented a lot on is my preparation of vegetables. Vegetables are good and I like them a lot. Veggies are good and Chrissie didn't used to like them much at all, until she had my stir fry veggies. I'm not going to get into how vegetables are good for you, blah, blah, blah. You can read that lots of other places. I will tell you how to make them quickly and tasty.

The cooking & prep time is about 15 minutes. Ingredients are vegetable(s) of choice, vegetable oil, salt, and maybe water. All you need for equipment is a fry pan with a lid. You don't need a wok. The whole deal with woks are that they conduct heat well and require less fuel/energy to get hot. Woks are popular because they are pretty darn good at what they do. Woks are Asian totally by happenstance. Coincidentally, so am I.

You can stir fry any vegetable. Pick you favorites and throw them in the pan. Some of my favorites are green beans, snap peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage. If you mix and match, take a little time to game plan. Come up with a cooking order for the veggies. For instance, leafy greens don't take as much cooking time as beans or roots, and if you cook them all for the same amount of time they will get wilted. Put them in the pan after the thicker things have had some time to cook. Also, if you have items of different sizes, cut them up so they are close to the same size. This way, they all cook at the same rate and will finish at the same time.

Steps:
1. Prep and wash vegetables.
2. Heat pan on medium-high heat.
3. After the pan gets hot, put in vegetable oil. Let it heat up.
4. When the oil is hot (you can tell because the pan will be "smoking") put in your vegetables.
5. Mix the veggies in the pan. Try and coat the oil over all the vegetables.
6. Add salt to taste.
7. Keep mixing. Do this so that you avoid burning.
8. If necessary, add some water and cover with lid. This will steam the vegetables.
9. Remove veggies and serve.

Times are a little variable. It depends on how many vegetables you have in the pot and how raw you like your veggies. Normally, it takes 5-8 minutes for Steps 5-7 and 1-2 minutes for Step 8. A good indication that you are done is when your veggies start to get char marks on them.

Step 8 is totally optional and to taste. In my experience, it really helps to "finish" the veggies. What steam does is it quickly cooks areas that are still raw and evens everything out. For instance, when I cook broccoli, the outsides are cooked but the centers still taste raw, but if I use Step 8, the steam penetrates the crown and cooks the center. For leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, I don't take time to remove leaf from stem, so I am faced with an issue with cooking time. Stems take longer than leaves. What I do then is after the leaves are mostly cooked, I finish with steam and the timing works out great. Be really careful with Step 8. It only takes seconds to go from perfectly cooked to over cooked. I am told that stir fry masters can achieve even cooking without the use of steam. I imagine that they take the time to do the little things like make every chunk in your stir fry evenly sized, but for my quick, easy (and inexact) way, I go with steam.

Lastly, practice makes perfect. Every step requires proper execution. Unfortunately, if something goes wrong, you're going to taste it. For me, the difference between properly executed and kind-of-properly-executed is pretty big. Fortunately though, the recipe is so fast, you can really pay attention to what you are doing so even if you screw up, you can keep track of what happened and do better next time.

What I'm looking for in my stir fry veggies are crunchy texture. The color should be bright and shiny. I should taste the actual taste of the veggie, salt, and a little bit of sweet, but I don't like getting any raw veggie taste. If I get droopy or wilty stuff, then it's been cooked too long. If you don't get sweet, then the oil wasn't hot enough when you put the veggies in the pan. Same thing if you don't get a bright and shiny color.

There's really nothing to show in the steps, so here's a look at the finished product:

French cut green beans and sugar snap peas

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coconut Cake: The real deal



It was my dad's birthday recently, so I asked him what he'd like us to make. Admittedly, I expected one of our numerous savory concoctions would be the first thing to come to mind, so I was a little surprised when he asked if we'd be up for making a coconut cake. Not one to back away from a challenge, I decided to go for it and drag Aaron along with me.

After perusing pinterest and the general interwebs for a while, I found this recipe from Saveur. I'd never made anything from there before, but I liked that it called for fresh coconut. We stopped by Whole Foods on the way home and bought all the coconuts they had (since we weren't certain how many it would take to get enough of everything the recipe called for). Later that week we bought the same Whole Foods (which happens to be just a few blocks from our house) out of okra. They're either going to come to love us or hate us.

For what it's worth, the entire coconut stock of Whole Food was 3 coconuts. Which made them slightly difficult to find and I was getting a tad irritated. In the end, we used most all of what we got from 2 of them. The third is still sitting in our fruit basket waiting for us to find a use for it.

The recipe as Saveur states it is as follows:

SERVES 10–12

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CAKE:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for pans, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
5 eggs

FOR THE FROSTING:
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh coconut water
3 cups freshly grated coconut

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans, and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high, and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth top with a rubber spatula; drop pans lightly on a counter to expel large air bubbles. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans; invert onto wire racks, and let cool. Using a serrated knife, halve each cake horizontally, producing four layers; set aside.

2. Make the frosting: Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form; turn mixer off. Bring sugar, syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup tap water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, and cook, without stirring, until thermometer reads 250°, 4–5 minutes. Turn mixer to medium speed, and very slowly drizzle hot syrup into beating egg whites. Add vanilla, and increase speed to high; beat until meringue forms stiff peaks and is slightly warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

3. To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated coconut; top with another cake, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Place another cake over frosting, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 12 cup coconut; top with remaining cake and drizzle with remaining coconut water. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting, and cover outside of cake with remaining coconut, pressing it lightly to adhere; chill cake to firm frosting. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Some notes from actually making it:
Fresh coconut is a beast to work with. Aaron was tasked with the job of cracking the things and getting the flesh out for grating. It took him the same amount of time to do that with 2 coconuts as it took me to do ALL of the other steps in the process.


The cake layers didn't rise as much as some do, so when you cut it into four layers it becomes slightly thin. Not horribly so, but more than I was expecting. The cake itself though is SUPER tasty and a great texture. It will now be one of my go-to cake options.


The cream of tartar in the frosting may well be a very important ingredient. I forgot it and my frosting came out VERY sticky. I'm not sure if that has more to do with the omission of the ingredient or the fact that I don't have a candy thermometer and had to guess at when my syrup hit 250°. Regardless, it was a complete mess to try to spread over the cake. By the third layer I had almost figured it out. Sort of. Good thing the shredded coconut covered everything up. (One plus to the stickyness: the shredded coconut had no problems staying in place.)


All in all, this cake is a good one. The fresh coconut had a lighter flavor which made a coconut hater such as myself not mind it as much as I normally would.  The cake itself is flavored with the coconut water which is also a very nice and delicate touch.  So, if you have a sledgehammer handy and a store that will sell you some coconuts, this recipe is definitely worth a try!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cajun Prairie

Last week, we made gumbo and I would like to share it with you. Gumbo's one of those great dishes were everyone seems to have their own recipe. I got mine from James Beard's "American Cookery" and then I promptly changed it. This ones for all you land-lovers out there.

Serves 10. I think this is an understatement. I've had this gumbo for lunch and/or dinner for the last week and am nowhere near finishing it (Chrissie has also contributed to finishing it too).

2.5 pounds of chicken - fryer cut
Flour
4 Tbs butter
4 Tbs oil
Salt & Pepper
2 pounds of okra, cut to 1/4 inch chunks
2 medium onions - sliced
8 more Tbs butter
1/4 pound diced ham
2 cups canned tomatoes
2 quarts stock - chicken or beef
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 pound Andouille sausage
1 Tbs Tabasco sauce
Gumbo file
Boiled rice

First, flour the chicken and sprinkle salt and pepper on it. Then saute the chicken in the 4 Tbs butter and 4 Tbs oil at the top of the recipe. Let it get nicely brown.

In a separate pan, saute the okra in 4 Tbs of butter.

And in yet another pan, saute onions in the last 4 Tbs of butter until brown.

Combine the chicken, sausage, okra, onions, ham, tomatoes, stock, and herbs in a large pot. Cover and simmer for 1.5-2 hours. At the end of the cook time, correct seasoning, sprinkle in the gumbo file. Shred the chicken into the soup and remove the bones. Serve over the boiled rice.




 There, super easy!

A couple notes to help your dish:

 - Gumbo file is the ground leaves from a sassafras tree. It is used to add flavor to a dish and also acts as a thicken for liquid. It is sometimes called "cajun seasoning." Go to a specialty store to find it - we found ours at Whole Foods. Add to taste in your dish.

 - Fresh okra is lots better than canned, but if that's all you can find, the gumbo will still be good.

 - Gumbo is traditionally made with seafood, namely shellfish I believe. "American Cookery" has a couple other recipes for gumbo and they have shrimp, crab meat, and oysters as other types of protein you can stick in. Feel free to mix and match meats into your gumbo. If you use any of the seafood I mentioned above, they do not need to be cooked for the entire 1.5-2 hours. In fact, just add them into the gumbo for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Happy eating!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where the Grass Grows

This is where we *hope* the grass will grow

Last weekend was finally nice enough to get out in the yard again. We decided to jump on the opportunity to attempt to help our poor little space deal with the wetness that is the Pacific Northwest *slightly* better. We aerated a couple weeks ago and this time laid some new top soil over the worst spots. In the process, we also tried to create a more gradual slope in the section of the yard that gets the most soggy to encourage the water to run off the same direction as everything else.

Then we laid some grass seed down! I know that grass isn't the ultimate thing for anyone who tries to claim the role of "suburban farmer." In some circles I fear it might be blasphemy. But grass is really handy when you have 2 dogs. Creating an edible landscape for them to do their business in seems a little counter-intuitive to me.

And Colton loves to lay in the grass and roll around in the summer time. Who can say no to this face?

With any luck, our yard will be on its way to recovery soon and we can focus on newer projects like our new raised bed (complete with strawberry border!) and the mini shed we keep talking about building.

Until next time!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

My Grandpa retired this month. He was a chicken farmer. He came to the US in the 70's after a long and I'm told, successful stint of chicken farming in Taiwan. My Grandpa is in his early 80's and his retirement and the resultant closing of the chicken farm has left me pensive.

I grew up on my Grandpa's chicken farm. In fact, all of my siblings and cousins did. My Grandma would watch us while our parents were at work. When school started, we'd catch the bus at home and then take a different bus to the chicken farm when school ended. Every weekend, the entire family (my Grandparents, their children, spouses, and grandchildren) would get together and have dinner together. My world revolved around that place for a long time.

We played up and down the chicken farm. It was a pretty huge place. There were fields surrounding it, usually fallow, that we wandered. There were huge piles of sawdust the we climbed and rolled down. There were pallet jacks and we rode up and down the hallways. You had to be a little careful there too. There was a bunch of machinery to process the eggs, rat poison to deal with rodents, which I ingested as a child thinking it was candy (my mom had a minor freak out), and I'm told that coyotes prowled the fields after dark (again because of the rodents). You get the idea though, lots of memories.

These days, my good memories consisted of getting free eggs. They were not the best eggs, but they were pretty good, and they were free. The part of me that exists in the here and now laments that we don't get free eggs anymore. The part of me that exists in those memories laments that the farm is gone.

The good comes with the bad too. I think it's important to tell things how they are sometimes. My Grandpa's chicken farm was not the picturesque image of a farm. It would be what you could call an industrial-modeled farm. The chickens were housed in two giant chicken coups that stretched for a quarter-mile (ish). The chickens were kept in cages and probably never saw the light of day. When you opened the door to a coup, you were blasted by a wave of hot, smelly air that literally stopped you in your tracks. If you made it inside, you were greeted by the sound of thousands of chickens clucking in simultaneous cacophony. Several times, animal rights activists came and freed the chickens. I think they were eaten by coyotes after they got out.

The chickens produced so much manure, that neighbors worried about it contaminating the ground-water supply. We tried selling the manure off as plant fertilizer, but it never could match the amount of raw waste the chickens would make. Eventually, we erected huge roofs to go over the piles of manure so that when it rained, the water would not travel through the manure and on to the local groundwater. I imagine that thousands of years from now, after the ice caps melt and the sea level has risen, those piles of manure will be some of the last free holds of land and they'll be like the Galapagos Islands of Washington state.

Despite all of the short comings of the farm, I have only fond memories of it. I will definitely miss the old place. I spoke to my dad and he has a different feeling, mostly that of relief. He and his siblings were the ones that actually had to "deal with" the chicken farm with my Grandpa. Admittedly, if I had to be the one to sort out some of that crazy stuff, I would be relieved for it to be all over too. Like the title of the post says, you can't go home again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!


Just stoppin' in real quick to say Happy Easter, everyone! Gotta get back to cooking our Easter-brunch-for-dinner!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Neapolitan Cake



Aaron's birthday was a couple weeks ago, so I've been pretty busy making sure he was appropriately celebrated. Game days, baking, and shopping kept me on my toes and away from the blogosphere. Happily though, all our endeavors should lead to some fun posts to entertain the interwebs.

Like Aaron's Neapolitan birthday cake.

Aaron has a story he loves to reminisce about in which he and several of his friends would regularly stop by a little doughnut shop on their way home from youth orchestra rehearsals. They would eat doughnuts, drink milk, and be generally merry. Apparently, the shop sold three kinds of milk: regular, chocolate, and strawberry. So one night a few of them got it into their heads that Neapolitan milk was a positively brilliant idea and started taking swigs of all three kinds in succession.

He's adoreable, but that husband of mine can be pretty strange sometimes.

Nonetheless, remembering this story gave me the idea that the food for Aaron's birthday should have a Neapolitan theme. So, my first mission was to create the perfect Neapolitan cake. As per my usual, the idea in my head tends to be a little bit more advanced than my skills actually allow for. (Sadly, things always seem quite straightforward in my head too. Realism hasn't made it to my imagination yet.) I decided I would make a layer of vanilla cake, a layer of chocolate cake, and put a filling of strawberry mousse in the middle. Then I would frost it with vanilla frosting, cover it with chocolate ganache, and put some nice fresh strawberries on the top. No problem!

Everything was going swimmingly until I tried to put a nice thick layer of mousse in the middle. My mousse recipe hadn't stiffened up as much as I thought it would and when I placed the vanilla layer on top of it, a bunch came spilling out the sides. I thought I had it cleaned up enough to frost it, but during the process, more kept oozing out and the frosting became a messy, gooey hybrid with the mousse and just pooled up around the bottom of the cake. At this point I quite seriously considered throwing the whole thing out the window.

But instead I finished a thin layer of the strawberry mousse, scraped all of the gooey mess off and threw the whole thing in the freezer while I made a new batch of frosting. Had I been thinking on my feet, doing this in the first place could have avoided the giant mess I made, but c'est la vie.

This was before all the filling started falling out. Had it actually survived this way, the image in my head was potentially going to happen.


Once I had the cake constructed I'd run out of patience to make it particularly pretty, so I whipped up a batch of ganache and just dumped it over the top. On the day of Aaron's birthday, (I made the cake a few days in advance and froze it) I cut a couple of decent looking strawberries in half, placed them on top and called it a miracle.

At least it was a tasty miracle.

Excuse the color balance. I'm still getting used to my new camera.


The recipes I used are as follows:

Vanilla Cake
Chocolate Cake
Strawberry Mousse
Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Ganache

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Pattie's Day

Hello again. Big day for us today. First off, it's St. Patrick's Day. Second, it's the first home match for our MLS club, Sounders FC. Chrissie and I are season ticket holders and enthusiastic Sounders fans. If you'll forgive my brief aside, I would highly encourage everyone to go to a soccer game in person. Watching it on television really doesn't do it justice. Going to a game in person really is a lot of fun.

Anyway, in honor of St. Pattie's Day, we made an Irish Stew from a friend's blog. You can find the recipe here. Now, I've never had much luck with Crock Pots, but a lot of people swear by them, so I keep trying to find recipes that work for me. I did not successfully execute this recipe. Instead of cooking the stew on the low setting, I cooked it on the high setting (for the entire time). Now, I did this intentionally. I've cooked Crock Pot recipes in the past where I was told to cook something on the low setting only to come back to find that my dish did not cook at all. So, I've come to interpret "cook on low" to "cook on high." Not the case here. The author really means cook on low.

Not all was lost though. The dish was very forgiving and instead of a stew, we ended up with something more like a hash and it was still tasty. Here's a picture of the final results:


Not too bad looking either.

Chrissie and I are looking forward to entertaining you all with stories of our outside adventures soon. We just have to wait for the weather to let up. It's been precipitating in one form or another every day for the past two weeks, so as soon as things dry out, we'll be out there digging in the dirt again. Until next time!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Willow


I've loved willow trees since I was young. The giant weeping willows in the park were just so grandiose. They're the kind of presence that makes even a little kid sit up and recognize that maybe the world is a little bigger and a little older than they are.

Our yard is far too small for a giant lake-side weeping willow, but when it dawned on me that there was any potential for me to finally have a willow of my own (as a part of our backyard rehabilitation project) I became a girl on a mission. So, naturally, I turned to google.

My first search was for dwarf willow trees. They are lovely, but I was semi-shocked that any willow tree existed that would reach a maximum height of 1 - 6 centimeters. A 1 centimeter tree? Really? Helo would destroy that before it even hit the ground.

Then I did some reading that suggested that some willows can be maintained as relatively small trees with diligent pruning. That sounded more like it.

I found a picture of a beautiful golden curls willow and headed to the nursery.

As luck would have it, they didn't have my type of willow tree. For a while, it appeared the only willow they had was a pussy willow. Not quite was I was looking for. Happily, the staff came to the rescue and guided Aaron and I to a cousin of my beloved golden willow - the scarlet curls willow tree. The difference? In the winter, we'll have gorgeous red branches. Double win!

So, as you can see above, I am now the happy owner of a newly planted scarlet curls willow. Anyone want to suggest names for my new friend?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chili, REAL Chili

I made some chili this week for the first time. It was an amalgamation of recipes and stuff I had picked up. Not much else to say except that it was pretty tasty, and now, I share it with you.

Recipe:
2 Tbsp butter
2 medium onions, sliced (if you want them smaller, dice them)
1 lb ground beef
A 20 ounce can of tomatoes
2 ounces of tomato paste
1/3 cup of beer or ale
1 tsp of salt
A dash of tobasco
1-2 Tbsp of chili powder

Mix & Match ingredients below to your taste. I used them all in these ratios.
1 fresh or dried chili, seeded, stemmed, and minced
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground oregeno
A dash of cinnamon

Here's a picture of the motley crew:



Things you'll note - no beans. I am told that real chili doesn't have beans in it. I decided to try it this way for my first time. I've had chili both ways and have enjoyed them both. If you want beans, use them. Not being a purist, I won't look down on you. I believe 2 cups of beans equivalates to 1 pound of meat. You'll have to figure the rest out on your own though. In the spirit of full disclosure though, I like the all-meat version better.

The rice cooker in the background is cooking long grain rice. I served the chili over it. For those of you who don't know, rice cookers can cook any type of rice. Each rice cooker is a little different. They all require slightly different amounts of water to get the rice just right. You'll have to experiment with yours to find out how much to put in exactly. My rice cooker is made by Zojirushi and my experience with it, and other Asian brands, has been to use slightly less water than what the rice maker calls for. Oh, another helpful tip - rinse the rice before cooking. That eliminates all the dust in there with it. You can't see it until you add water, then you'll see the water get cloudy. I rinse my rice twice before cooking. It doesn't eliminate all of the dust, but I don't think you ever will. Your rice will taste much better.

Process:

Melt butter in a large pan or pot over medium heat. After it gets hot, saute the onion until it is tender, but not brown. Then add the meat. Break up the meat with a fork. After the meat has browned, add in everything else. Turn the heat to low, cover your pot, and cook at a simmer for an hour. Here's another picture!


After that, it's ready to serve. Easy-peasy! Here's a picture of the final product.



I hope you all enjoy this. If you know of other chili recipes out there, I would love to hear about them and incorporate them into my recipe. Anyway, happy eating!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

For the love of Pinterest

I tried to stay away from Pinterest. Really, I did. I knew it would just be another site that would encourage me to spend countless hours staring at a screen. But it's just so darn full of interesting ideas. And pretty clothes. And tasty food.

Yeah, I've been sucked in.

One of the earliest ideas I found there were these coasters. Aaron and I have been searching for coasters for quite a while (in the meantime, we haven't used any. How uncivilized!) and I knew instantly that these were right up our alley. But, like many of the projects we get excited by, we threw it on the to-do list and promptly forgot about it.

Until today. The nice thing about Pinterest is that it makes it harder for me to forget all the exciting ideas that I find, since I log in pretty much every day and they're sitting there staring me in the face. (Sadly, it also reminds me of all the clothes I can't buy. C'est la vie.) We had some free time this morning, so we headed off to the store and picked up a cheap copy of Scrabble.

Then came the tricky part. It's actually semi-difficult to come up with 4-5 nicely themed coasters using all four letter words and only the tiles in one scrabble set. We cheated and a couple of the coasters have three letter words followed by a blank tile.

Once we were content with our chosen vocabulary, we broke out the wood glue and had at it. So far, we haven't backed ours with cork like the ones on the site. We're still considering whether we want/need to do that. Which meant that we had to glue ours together by connecting the tiles themselves.

I have to say, Scrabble tiles may have a quality control problem. It's easy enough to ignore that they're slightly differently sized and not quite square when playing with them on a gameboard. It's entirely different when you're trying to form an even 4x4 tile object out of 16 of them. Looking back at the original site, I guess I can see why they chose to place them on cork instead, and we may still do something similar to make sure they don't break. We'll see. For now, they just have little gaps in them. It gives them character. (Right? Imperfection is always character building.) And they're a little quirky. Just like us.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fast & Loose Beef Bourguignon

I made my beef stew again this weekend. It's definitely one of my staple dishes and has a lot of the things that I like about food: slow cooked, one-pot-meal, homey. I'd like to share it with you all today. The original can be found in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" under Boeuf Bourguignon. No, nothing is so sacred that it can't be modified. My version of the recipe - Fast & Loose Beef Bourguignon.

Cook Time: 3-4 hours. Feeds 6 (although Chrissie and I have stretched that out longer)

Tools:
1 Dutch Oven
1 Pair of Tongs
1 Spatula
Maybe one extra pot for boiling water

Ingredients:
1 6 ounce chunk of bacon - try to find a chunk that has not been sliced.
Olive Oil
3 pounds of stewing beef - It's best to find a Rump Roast or a Chuck Roast to cut up. Sirloin Tip, Top Round, or Bottom Round will do also. For the sake of everything good in the world, make sure you find a moist piece of beef. There's nothing more sad than eating a dry piece of beef in a stew.
4+ carrots - depending on how wabbity you're feeling
1 onion
1 3+ pound bag of baby potatoes - whatever you want
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tb flour
1 bottle of full-bodied, young red wine
2-3 cups of beef stock
1 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
1 crumpled bay leaf
Parsley sprigs for garnishment

Putting It All Together:

Cup up the beef into pieces about 1 inch long on each side. Dry the pieces.

Slice 1 carrot. Cut the rest into chunks.

Slice the onion.

Cut up the bacon chunk into slices about 1.5 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Remove the rind from the bacon. If you got salty bacon, simmer it (rind and all) for 10 minutes in water using that extra pot you got out. When that's done, set the bacon chunks and rind apart from each other.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Your oven probably does something a little different than what you actually tell it to do. Mine likes to cook about 10 degrees cooler than what I tell it to do. Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat your Dutch oven over medium heat on your stove. Put 1 Tb olive oil in and saute the bacon chunks in there for 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Brown all the sides of your beef in the bacon fat. Were your pieces totally dry? I hope so, this is where it really counts. Browning is best executed when your pieces are dry. I use tongs here, but anything that will keep you from burning your hand will work. I also tend to run out of cooking fat at this stage, so I add in more olive oil (another Tb) whenever I do. Set aside all of your browned pieces.

Once that's done, add in your sliced carrot and onion. Get them brown.

Put the beef and bacon chunks back in. Add the salt, pepper, and flour. Toss the mixture to coat all the beef lightly with flour. Take your Dutch oven and place it in the oven (uncovered). After 4 minutes, toss the mixture, and cook for another 4 minutes. This browns the flour and covers the meat in a light crust.

Remove the Dutch oven and set your oven for 325 degrees F. Reset the rack to the lower third of your oven.

Pour the bottle of wine into the Dutch oven. Then add your beef stock until the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on the stove, then cover it and stick it in the oven. Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for 2.5-3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While you're waiting for the beef, peel your potatoes. Cut up large sized ones. After your meat has been cooking for an hour add your potatoes and mix up the stew. After another half-an-hour, add your carrot chunks.

Optional: When your stew is done, separate the solid bits from the broth and skim off any fat. Then simmer the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. Test your broth with a spoon - it should be thick enough to coat it lightly. If it's too thin, boil it down rapidly. If it's too thick, mix in a few Tb's of stock.

I've finished the stew without the last step before and it's tasted great.

Check seasoning, garnish with parsley and serve with noddles, rice, or bread.

Voila!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Backyard Rehabilitation

Our backyard has been in pretty sad shape since we moved in. The soil is primarily clay and when we do manage to dig through sections, we discover all kinds of fun left to us from the previous owner of this property. (Our house is a new development of several houses on a patch of land that used to be just one home with a giant yard). I'm pretty sure that our yard must have been home to some sort of garage or shop where somebody worked on machines and cars. We've found random screws and nails, rusted out hinges, random scraps of cloth, and even an oil filter buried back there. There's still a tarp that's fairly deep stuck in the ground near the back. Helo's having a grand time attempting to uncover it.

Little by little, we're trying to reclaim the space and make it both usable and healthy again. Grass has been a struggle for us in a few areas of the yard both because of a lack of sunshine and a dig-happy puppy, so we're contemplating some new approaches this year. Our hope is that by late summer we'll be well on our way.

This is what we're starting from:

This is the side of our house. The large hole is courtesy of Helo.

Side of the back. Our currently dormant veggie garden, some Helo landscaping, and lots of branches thanks to recent stormy days. Our herbs are also hanging out back here until it gets warmer and we can move them to the front where there's more sun.

The middle of the back. A little more of Helo's handiwork, and some struggling grass.

The other side of the back. There used to be a Peony in the back corner, but it wasn't super happy and I guess Helo didn't want it to suffer.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. The first project we have in mind is building a small storage space under our deck (not pictured) for our gardening supplies, reminiscent of this one. After that, we're considering creating a small patio space in the area that Helo most loves to dig, since it's super difficult to get grass to grow there anyway. Beyond that, we're not entirely sure yet, but ideas are flowing and we'd love to hear yours!