Category Archives: food

Brownies!

It was time to bake something sweet, so I settled on brownies. My usual recipe is one from Recchiuti made with melted unsweetened chocolate. But I uncovered some Callebaut cocoa that had been in the back of a cupboard for way too long, and decided to find something to use it in. Hence, Mexican Brownies, courtesy of Aaron Sanchez from the Food Network. They’re spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. I also added a teaspoon of espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor, used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and added a half-cup of bittersweet chocolate chunks because I could.

Mexican brownies

Mexican brownies

I was reluctant to bake with cocoa because I assumed the flavor would be weak. But these brownies are really good. Different flavor because of the spices, with the cayenne pepper adding just a touch of bite. I added the 1/4 tsp that the recipe stated, but if you like really spicy chocolate, you could add 1/2 tsp. Or as much as you wanted, because you have thumbs.

Pesto and stuff

Busy morning. Took Gaby to playcare. Then it was off to the dentist.

After that, farmers’ market at the place from which I’ll be getting my CSA veggies. It was a very small market–it would fill only a tiny corner of the Sauvie Island market. But they had small freezers of beef and pork, honey, popcorn kernels, eggs, spinach and salad greens. I stocked up on said spinach and greens, and added a small bag of popcorn, pork chops, Italian sausage, and uncured bacon. A dozen eggs.

Of course, I had bought a pound of arugula just the other day. It wasn’t going to make it through the week, so I jammed it into the food processor with 4 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, half a cup each of grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts and olive oil. Presto pesto.

Arugula pesto lacks the weighty flavor and aroma of basil pesto. I find it brighter–some folks complain that it’s “grassy”–and lighter. The pound of arugula rendered down to about 3 cups of pesto, which is a good amount for breaking down into single/double serving sizes in either tiny containers or ice cube trays. I went with tiny snap-top containers because I wanted to protect the stuff from freezer taste as much as possible.

It’s still cold–upper 30s today–but we’ve had some thawing and rain. Most of the snow is gone, and the sump pump has been working its little heart out. No sign of sprouting greenery yet, and most nights are still below freezing. But maybe, maybe, we’ve turned the corner.

Lunch was a toasted half a whole grain ciabatta roll with smears of homemade hummus and fresh pesto. It was really good. Garlicky, but really good.

Pear preserves

After some delays, on Monday I finally got around to my first attempt at pear preserves.

I love pears, but I’ve usually been disappointed in preserves and jams made from them. Price doesn’t matter. Supermarket or boutique, the pear flavor has been weak to nonexistent; even added flavoring like ginger has been flat. I wasn’t optimistic about these pears, either. The neighbors had left them on the tree for a while waiting for them to ripen, but it stayed cool for so long that they had to pick them while still unripe. I think the prolonged chill adversely affected the flavor–after I let them ripen in a paper bag for a couple of weeks, they were okay, but lacked the usual rich pop you get from a tree-ripened pear.

Anyway, went with this recipe from Emeril because it looked simple. Then, I made changes. Added 5 small apples leftover from my other neighbor’s donation because I wanted to add some pectin for thickening. Together with the pears, that resulted in 8 cups diced fruit. I read the recipe comments, and decided to cut back on the sugar because the pears were so sweet. So, 3 cups instead of 4. Added a couple of teaspoons of salt** because salt reduces the need for sugar and helps bring out the flavor of the fruit. 1/3 c chopped candied ginger instead of 1/4 c. Zest and juice of two limes because no lemons. And a tablespoon or so of fresh diced thyme because I thought the lemony taste would work well with the pears.

You’re supposed to boil this stuff until the mixture “sheets off a metal spoon.” I may have let it go too long because I wasn’t sure how sheety the sheeting needed to be. In any case, the stuff thickened until it entered the marmalade/borderline candy realm, with pears, apple, and ginger all turning translucent. I shoveled it into 4 Bonne Maman jars–yes, I reuse them–and stuck it all in the fridge to cool.

pear-ginger-thyme preserves

It’s good. Different than anything I have ever had before. I’ve eaten it smeared on bread with Brie, on toast with butter. On a turkey and cheddar sandwich. It has a combo flavor–not quite any single thing, but a mix of the ginger, thyme, and pear. It’s waaay thick, like commercial preserves. I would make it again. Might even reduce the sugar a little more.

**thinking back, not 100% sure whether I added 1 tsp, 1.5, or 2. I used a half-teaspoon measuring spoon, so I know I shoveled a couple of times. I’m afraid I cook like my mom–a little of this, a little of that, and how much of this did I add again? So, salt to taste. Not too salty.

Turkey Day prep

Stuffing made. Put it in roast pan, then buried the turkey breast within. Popped it all in the fridge to marinate until tomorrow afternoon.

It’s a savory bread pudding, heavy on the sage and onion. Also, celery. A handful of chopped parsley. Bay leaves. Herbes de Provence. One loaf of dense white bread and a box of TJ’s cornbread stuffing mix sans seasoning packet. To this amount of bread, I added a half-gallon of liquid–one quart chicken stock plus one quart 2% milk. A stick of butter. Four eggs. Salt and pepper.

Not a fan of dry stuffing, me.

The house smells good.

I wanted to fix the dessert today as well, but Gaby decided to make life interesting. She was outside–I was just getting started in the kitchen when I heard her barking in that loud, rapid-fire way that meant that either someone was in the driveway or something had invaded the backyard. Sure enough, I found her dashing around the ornamental crabapples in the middle of the yard while a squirrel darted back and forth from one treetop to the other. I tried to grab Gaby and failed just as the squirrel leapt to the ground and tried to make it to the oak on the far side of the yard. It didn’t make it–Gaby grabbed it, and a battle ensued. Squirrel would break away, only to be caught again. It finally ended squirrel lying on the ground and Gaby walking off, blood dripping from her mouth. I leashed her and pulled her into the house, then called the vet’s office. Yup, they were still open and yup, they could fit me in. Before we headed to the car, I went out to check the squirrel, and was relieved to see it move when I drew close. It headed toward the oak, favoring its rear leg. Last I saw, it was climbing slowly.

I know–they’re just rats with cute tails. Still, I’d prefer to not be the one who has to dispose of the remains.

Anyway. I was concerned that Gaby might need stitches, but by the time we got to the vet’s, she had stopped bleeding. No injuries were visible except for some claw marks on her nose. She ate a cookie that the vet gave her. I brought her home, and she ate dinner as though nothing happened. She kept wanting to go outside, though. I would check on her, and find her sniffing around the crabapples. My little killer.

I’ll make dessert tomorrow morning.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate! May you enjoy good food and good company. And a lack of squirrels.

Apples

Lots of apples.

Last week, one of my neighbors gave me a shopping bag full of apples from their tree. 17 pounds worth.

Yesterday, I dealt with them. A couple quarts of applesauce. Apple crisp. Today, apple nut bread.

I recommend the crisp recipe. I did substitute white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose when making the crumbs, and added a couple tablespoons of wheat germ as well. The crumbs may have turned out a little dry as a result, but they do have a nice, nutty flavor.

Lots of cooking over the last week. Autumn food, Jacques Pepin’s tuna w/ pasta (best tuna casserole ever, imo, and yes, I add the raisins), butternut squash soup and maple-brined pork loin roast (result: a very juicy roast that tasted a bit like ham).

House stuff took up a lot of my time. The basement guys came and fixed the window wells and filled All The Cracks. I cleared lava rock from a patch next to the deck, and planted some shrubs. Raked leaves. Set up appointments for more estimates.

Downloaded Gimp, which is freeware photo manipulation software. I’ve heard that it’s difficult to learn, but I would like to use it and try my hand at ebook covers for some short stories. I can understand paying to have a novel cover made, but it’s a little more difficult to justify the expense for a short story. I’ll see how well I do. If it proves a disaster, I’ll look into alternative coverage.

Raining now. Cool, dreary autumn. Trees that were still mostly green seem to have changed over the last two days–maples are either vermilion or a gorgeous deep gold, like butterscotch. Oaks aren’t as flashy, all tarnished brass.

Some folks have already put up their Christmas decorations. That just staggers me. Not ready for that at all.

There and back again

Spent a week in the Portland Oregon area. Visited good friends. Did some research. Experienced the joy of driving twisty, winding roads. Really twisty. And winding. After a drive, my right leg ached from tension and brake-hitting.

This time, I actually visited scenic vistas.

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park:

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

NB: Haystack Rock is that vaguely conical rock way in the back, on the far right of the photo. The other haystack-looking rocks are mere impostors.

The Columbia River Gorge (view from Crown Point Vista House):

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

Multnomah Falls:

A gorgeous day at the Falls

A gorgeous day at the Falls

Had lunch at Elephants Deli.

It was good to get away.

Came home yesterday–saw the Great Plains snowfall from the plane, and found 2.5 inches of wet stuff in the backyard rain gauge. Also found a very clean deck–the deck guy had powerwashed it on Monday. Tomorrow, he repairs what needs repairing. He thinks he’ll be able to coat/seal on Friday.

Also tomorrow, plumber installs new water heater. Meanwhile, I am planning the decluttering. It’s going to be All House All The Time for the foreseeable future.

Before I left, I picked the last of the tomatoes. Most were pretty green, so I bagged them and stuck them in the closet to ripen. Checked the bags yesterday and found about half were ready to go, so today I roasted them with garlic and balsamic vinegar. Had some for lunch with rigatoni, goat cheese and arugula. So. Good.

Busy days ahead.

Peach chutney

I walked over to my neighbor’s the other day to return the empty peach basket, and he said “Don’t you want some more?” So I filled said basket again–5.5 pounds of mixed white and yellow. I wanted to make another batch of something different, and found a relatively simple recipe for chutney. I eat a lot of chicken, and thought a new type of sandwich spread/relish might be something nice to have around.

As usual, I tweaked. Used dark brown sugar instead of light. About 1/4 tsp salt instead of a pinch. A shallot and a small wedge of sweet onion instead of red onion.

I like a little heat, but not too much. So, I used two dried peppers. The bag wasn’t labeled–it just read “Dried Chili Peppers.” They’re about the size of my pinky and dark red, so I think they’re cayennes.

After blanching/peeling/pitting, I figured I wound up with a little under 5 pounds of usable peach. Because of that, and also because I found the white peaches a little tart, I bumped up the brown sugar from 1 2/3 cup to 2 cups.

Mmmmmmmmm....

Mmmmmmmmm….

I wound up with 7 half-pints, although the 7th is about half juice. I tried a little of it, and I really liked it. Just enough heat. Sweet, but not too. Nice bite from the ginger, and that special something from the cardamom. I’m planning on roast chicken for Sunday, and will try it then.

In other news, I will be at UW-Waukesha tomorrow for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I have two programming items, a panel and a signing:

How a Book Gets Made (w/ Alex Bledsoe, John Klima, James Lowder, Steven H Silver)
Sat, 10:45 AM, N140

Signing Time: Sat 1:30 PM (according to the program pdf, signings are in the Commons Student Lounge)

Supposed to be a pretty nice day tomorrow, sunny and cool. Looking forward to the drive, and to seeing folks.

Mid-September

Don’t ask me where in hell the year has gone, because I don’t know.

Gaby is at playcare today, running with the pack (cue Bad Company). I was going to clean, but wound up doing laundry and baking instead. Neighbor-with-fruit-trees gave me a basket of white and yellow peaches, and while they tasted fine fresh, there were so many that I didn’t want to risk them going off, so I made a cobbler.

Sidebar to say that my absolute favorite Donna Noble line comes during her wedding, when her friend Nerys (sp?), who does give off a Bitch Vibe, complains that Donna made her wear peach. “But you are a peach,” Donna replies. “Fair of skin. Stone inside. Going off.”

Anyway. I had been planning to make the usual Bisquick cobbles, but I tripped over this recipe online and decided to give it a go. Blanched and peeled the peaches using the tomato method–which I guess is the peach method, too–by cutting an X on the bottom of each peach, then sticking them in boiling water for a minute or so, then shoveling them into a bowl of ice water. Let them cool for a few, then peel. Skin came off nice as you please:

skinned peaches

Peeled and sectioned the peaches:

Prepped peaches

Poured the melted butter and lightly mixed batter into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Added a few drops of Fiori di Sicilia to the batter because it really freshens the taste:

Butter batter

Brought the peaches to a boil with vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and a few teaspoons of Grand Marnier, just to see if it would make a diff:

cooked peaches

Baked for about 45 minutes at 375F:

We have achieved cobbler!

House smelled great while it baked. Haven’t tried it yet–fruit and spices taste better after sitting a few hours, for all the recipes tell you to eat fresh/warm from the oven. I’ll have some tonight, with coffee.

Saturday mash-up post

One of those mornings when you could just walk forever. After all the heat we muddled through, now we’ve got coolth. 60s today. Maybe 70F tomorrow. A nice change of pace, but strange. With the heavy cloud and stiff breeze angling off the lake, it feels more like early fall than midsummer.

Looong walk this morning through the state park with the Gabster, around a small lake and up to the shore of the big one. Lake Michigan was active thanks to the breeze, but not choppy–I could see a few sailboats in the distance. The fields and marshy areas were well and truly filled with wildflowers, grasses, shrubs. Saw many birds. Some geese on the small lake. A few deer.

Gaby loves morning walks. After we got home, she let fly with a bout of the Zooms, dashing around in circles and leaping off the deck.

Grocery shopping accomplished. Lunch consisted of sliced turkey on a whole-grain roll with white cheddar, roasted red pepper. Warmed it in the oven to melt the cheese, then topped it with sharp mustard and lettuce. Had it with some Trader Joe’s cheddar & horseradish potato chips, which had a nice, strong bite. Once again, was forced to admit that most of the time, I make a much better sandwich than anything I could get in a deli. It’s just basic assembling the bits, nothing special. But the ingredients are pretty much the same as those from a deli, and I can tweak whatever I want.

I’d like to think I’m getting cheap in my old age, but then a sharp pair of earrings pops up online, and so much for the money I saved making my own sandwiches.

First tomatoes harvested, a trio of the Juliet grape. I think I picked them too early–they were sweet, but a little firm and lacking depth. I think I’ll leave the rest of the red ones on the vine for a few more days.

In other news…well, I have to admit that I am behind in movie watching. Way behind. Waaaay behind. Just saw Skyfall a few weeks ago. Haven’t seen Iron Man 3, or the Avengers. So I pretty much read what everyone else posted online and figured that I’d get around to it eventually. Read all the fuss about Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Thought he looked cool in the costume. Saw the Comicon video that’s been making the rounds. Xfinity On Demand doesn’t have The Avengers yet, but it did have Thor, so I watched it last night.

Okay. I get the fuss over Loki. I totally get it.

Last week at the day job coming up. 2 and a half more days….

Saturday

It’s going too fast, but that’s life in general, isn’t it?

The house smells good. I had dug some round and flank steak out of the freezer and threw together some not-quite-beef-bourguignon. Sort of followed this recipe–I just lacked carrots, button mushrooms, or pearl onions, and I was supposed to use chuck, not round or flank. But I did have dried porcini mushrooms. So I soaked them in beef broth and added them.

Verdict? To a complete lack of surprise to some of you, I’m sure, the meat came out dry. There’s a reason one needs a stew-friendly, fatty cut of beef for this recipe. Lesson learned. At least I have plenty of sauce left–if I mince the meat and add barley, I’ll have a decent soup.

Had it with some leftover not-quite-colcannon, which consisted of halved Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes fried with lotsa onion and a little fresh thyme. That came out surprisingly well. Tasted good cold or warm, especially earlier this week when added to tuna, wilted spinach, and mustard-caper vinaigrette for a not-really-salad-nicoise.

Yes, I do often make it up as I go along. And sometimes, like today, I pay a price.

Sunny this morning, but chilly. High 30s. Long walk with Herself along the wooded trail. Signs of the week’s heavy rains abound. Mushy ground. Standing water. Grooves cut into the ground by fast-flowing water. Much of the water flowed east, toward the wetlands, which was a great place for it. Marsh life may do well this year as a result. I have seen cranes fly over. Heard them, too. Honk, honk.

There’s a different sort of goose hanging with the Canadas that congregate at the nearby park . Not a swan. Looked a little like these guys. Snow goose? Whatever it is, I hope that it finds some of its own. The Canadas seem to have accepted having it around, but come breeding time it may find life a little lonely.

On the way home, Gabster and I walked through the neighborhood. A couple of homes had deer figurines, large and tiny, in their front yards. Gaby would stiffen as soon as she saw one, and try to approach it until the stillness or lack of smell or something told her that they weren’t real deer. Such a huntress.

Looking forward to a long weekend in the city next week. I will drop by C2E2 for one day, my first comicon. A massage and tea at the Drake may also happen, though not at the same time. Got a little black dress for tea. Big girl shoes, which I will carry in my purse and put on in the lobby because they are about as stable as a toothpick bridge in a gale. They’re not even that high–kitten heels. 2 inches, maybe? It’s the style. Shoes made for sitting and sipping.