Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday

"Yaaayyy! Today is my birthday. I am forty! Jennifer said I had to have my picture taken with my cake. I told her that was just for the kids."

"I was wrong. I'll make the best of it. This is my cake. German Chocolate from a box. It's my favorite. Isn't my wife awesome for making it for me? Too bad she'll eat most of it."

"Want some? You'd better hurry before she eats it all."

Happy 40th Doug and Many, Many More!!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Apple Project #3 - Extraction

I don't mean the juice from the fruit....

I mean the fruit from June's mouth.

Easier said than done.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Egg Cookery

Since early August, our little flock has been providing us with 4 eggs a day. Needless to say, we've been eating a lot of eggs. Henry has especially embraced the addition of this ~ impossible to get closer to the source ~protein to his diet.

He has begun fixing his own breakfast everyday. Of course, egg cookery has been his focus and usually there is ham involved. He takes it very seriously and concentration is high. I have many, many pictures of the egg dishes he has created. For some reason the children feel compelled to photograph everything they cook. Hmmmm.

They say the true testament of a great chef is the ability to cook eggs beautifully. There are so many methods and so many ways for the cooking of them to go horribly wrong.

I think these are beautiful.

But the service is the best.

Saturday, September 25, 2010



The perfect family meal.
Cost effective. Broadly appealing.
Minimal prep. One pot ideal. Easily doubled.
Slow cooker adaptability a plus. Keeps well.
Exceptional on a cold night. (think Halloween)
Great when spouse is working late,
Daughter needs to be picked up from a play date,
Quickly growing middle schooler is "hanging out" with friends,
Youngest is accompanying you to a cross country meet
you cleverly volunteered to work,
while cheering on dedicated runner.
(said runner will dilly-dally endlessly after meet)
Homework must be done.
The clock is ticking.

If you are expecting lots of pretty pictures and interesting ingredients you'll be disappointed.

Apparently, the less prep the messier I am. I could blame it on the time crunch? Easy pantry ingredients. Few things to wash.

Dump it all into a slow cooker and set to low. See to-do list above.

When most everyone is home, serve with cornbread and fried apples, if you have the time.

You can thank me later.

Old Fashioned "One Pot" Bean Dinner

1# lean ground beef (try grass fed)
1/2# sliced bacon, cut into 2" pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2) 28oz. cans pork and beans
1) 20oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 cups frozen lima beans
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 T. cider vinegar

In a medium sized saute pan, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat until browned. Drain off the fat and dump meat into a 4 quart pan or slow cooker. In the same skillet cook the bacon and onion over medium heat. Bacon should still be limp, about 6-8 minutes. Drain off the fat and add to the beef.

Dump in all beans, ketchup, brown sugar and cider vinegar. Stir well.

Cover and cook on extra low simmer on the stove top or in a a crock pot on low until hot and bubbly.

Serves 10

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Apple Project #2 - Apple Fruit Leather

Many years back, as an over achieving pre-school mom, I made fruit leather for Max's class when they were studying Indians. I mean Native Americans. Max has repeatedly asked me to make it again over the years. I made it once or twice - or maybe just once. It takes a lot of apples to make a little bit of leather and it's seemed cost prohibitive. Considering that when left to their own devices a $3 box of organic fruit leather is gone in, ohhhh, 5 minutes.

"Oh, but it's so much more healthy than fruit roll-ups." That's not comforting when you know the transaction hasn't cleared with the bank and the empty box sits on the counter. (why put it in the recycling?)

My recent apple windfall put me in a position to make apple fruit leather for Max. It's super easy, really tasty, comes together in no time and dries as you sleep.

To fill a half sheet pan, I peeled and chopped apples to equal about 8 cups. I cooked them over medium low heat with a bit of apple juice to prevent sticking. Remember the objective is to reduce the water content so don't add to much additional liquid. Once soft they got into the blender.

Blend into a nice smooth puree that looks like baby food.

For the first batch I added 1 T. sugar, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. For the second batch I have ready to go into the oven I tried agave nectar and The Spice House pumpkin pie spice.

You can simply line your sheet pan with saran wrap. Try not to have too much extra around the edges and avoid letting it touch the oven racks. I used my silpat mat but since I was concerned about it seeping underneath the mat, I lined the edges with plastic wrap. I found that's not necessary so if you have a silpat that's the way to go. It seems weird to cook on plastic so I might suggest trying parchment paper cut to fit the pan instead. Spread the puree into a smooth even layer.

Into the oven at 150 degrees, right before I hopped into bed. Let it cook overnight and in the morning...


A patient and happy boy!

I chose to jelly roll the leather with saran wrap (again parchment is perhaps a better choice) and cut it in to pieces as above.

Then I hid them so I could dole them out s-l-o-w-l-y.

I wanted to enjoy my efforts for longer than 5 minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Apple Project #1 - Apple Cider Vinegar

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In this case, life has given me apples and thus many cores, so I am making vinegar.

This is not the first time I've made cider vinegar. My hope is this time it will actually works. The first attempt involved The Little House on the Prairie Cookbook. (admitted living history geek) Perhaps it was the lack rain water or big barrel but it became a long forgotten science project in the furnace room. Oh well.

This experience was vastly different and required little in the way of ingredients - or equipment. It starts with only the peels and cores of two apples.

One quart filtered water, 1/4 cup raw sugar and a big glass jar.

Completely dissolve the sugar in the slightly warmed water and add the apple scraps. Top the jar with butter muslin to keep foreign objects out and allow wild yeast in.

And wait. In about 2-3 weeks it should begin to darken at which point the scraps are removed and the vinegar left to ferment further.

Time will tell - and I'll tell you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Good Bye Summer!

Today, the last day of Summer 2010, I want to document a few of the simple things we enjoyed.

Hanging out on the porch. It's the perfect place to relax, have lunch, produce a "talk show" and catch up with friends and neighbors. It's also the perfect place to drink beer.

Our new stamped patio was poured. This is the first step in a huge project. Eventually, we'll have a plumbed outdoor kitchen with fireplace, wood-fired oven, grill and smoker. Doug has done a great job designing it and we look forward to beginning the building. We also look forward to the pizzas we will make.

Henry had his first lesson in cement work.

The ice cream man has returned to Prairie Street. Gone are the days of a 50 cent ice cream but the thrill is still the same.

We gathered lots of eggs.

My first baby turned 14. Jake is a great kid and caring brother. He cracks me up everyday. I love that about it him. He's not going to get any older, right?

We hosted the 2nd Annual Wing Thing to raise funds for Make-A-Wish. Thanks to family and friends we were able to send off $1800 to grant wishes for some deserving kids.

Once again, Doug killed it with the wings. Check out the chef's perfect shirt.

Wing Man. Get it? Hysterical but not easy to get him to wear! Thank you for honey making me laugh. (some more)

While we stayed close to home, we had a busy summer and though we're sad to see it go,

we are anxious to see what autumn will bring.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Since I am way not hip enough for any other palooza I've decided to go with apples. This palooza is held in a kitchen and there is an IPOD playing loud and cool music. Really.

There is a woman down the street from me that has two apple trees in her yard that have produced an unbelievable crop this year. In passing one day, Max spoke with her and she told him to take what he wanted, she didn't use them. Did my ears hear that correctly? Didn't use them? Okay, I have no pride when it comes to food so I knocked on her door and sure enough, they were free for the taking.

Do you know anyone that has fruit trees or rhubarb or grapes that just go to waste? There are sights online set up for buying, selling and trading extras. Check out The Farmer's Garden or Veggie Trader and search by location. Unfortunately no one in my area has yet to hop on board but I'll keep checking. At any rate, if you have extra consider giving it a try. Even better, donate to your local food pantry what you know you won't use. Fresh food is often hard for those in a tough situation to come by. I like to think Karen's apples will be packed in many lunchboxes.

I delivered two huge boxes to the food pantry this morning. The bushel I picked for us will be transformed into many apple projects that I look forward to sharing.

I know it'll be tough to wait so in the meantime...

Slice a bunch, toss them into a saute pan with lots of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. Medium heat and let them go until they are tender and caramelized. Try them as a side or on oatmeal.

Top some premium vanilla ice cream while they're warm.

And I thought I wasn't hip.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


A big congratulations to Emily for winning the above book in our first giveaway! My hope is that you enjoy this book with your growing family and create wonderful memories and satisfied bellies along the way.

With Love,

The Yellow House

p.s. - Let me know the best way to get you this prize to you so you can begin jamming, pickling and curing asap!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Forays in Cheese Making

Something I've always wanted to spend more time studying is cheese making. I dream of taking a course or interning on an idyllic farm somewhere. Like that will happen...but it's on the list.

Through the years I've experimented with a few easy cheeses. Creme fraiche, quark and different types of ricotta. Seeing milk become cheese before my eyes never ceases to amaze me.

Ricotta is a simple process requiring no special starters and minimal equipment. Most important is the thermometer. Taylor makes a wonderful oil/candy thermometer that I really like to use for just this purpose. It's large, easy to read and clips firmly to the side of a pan. A heavy saucepan, colander and cheese cloth or butter muslin are the only other tools.

Once the milk has reached the proper temperature an acid is added. Through trial and error, I've discovered vinegar is preferred over citrus. When I've used citrus juice, I've had mixed results. Recently, and I don't remember where, I heard (or was it read?) the acidity level of citrus varies by season. Interesting, no? I now always use vinegar and have great results.

Add the acid to the milk with a gentle up and down motion to thoroughly incorporate it. Once carefully mixed there should be a clear separation of curds and whey as in the picture below.

Carefully ladle the curds into a cheesecloth or butter muslin lined colander and allow the whey drain. I prefer to use butter muslin. It's very finely woven and such good quality, I wash it with kitchen linens and reuse it.

The leftover whey is a favorite in the Yellow Hen House.

After a bit of draining, gather the cheesecloth and hang it to drain. and drain to your preferred texture.

There are many lessons to be learned in cheese making - even in simple ones made in the home kitchen. I look forward to sharing my many trials and (hopefully) few errors as I expand my knowledge. Using unpasteurized cow milk, goat milk and starters are but a few of my aspirations. All of this I hope to share here.

Back to what's important. How do you best enjoy this homemade cheese? The answers are many.

But in late summer, garden tomatoes, basil, garlic and a splash of grassy olive oil on a round of fresh crusty bread is heavenly.

What more is there to say but stay tuned!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On The Shelves

I haven't posted in awhile about books. A stalker of the shelves of my local library, my first stop is always new non-fiction for cookbooks. My last trip was rather lucrative including three of the above.

The River Cottage Preserves Book. I am still working my way through it but I am always a sucker for any preserving book. You may be familiar with the River Cottage Cookbook and River Cottage Family Cookbook, both include beautiful photography, recipes and info - even if you aren't going to slaughter a hog of your own.

Edible published the people of the Edible magazine available in virtually every city. I really love to pick up this seasonal publication, Edible Chicago, at my green market. A great cross section of people all over the country doing what I so admire. Isn't it always great to see local stuff you love highlighted in print?

Eating Local, a new book from Sur La Table. I don't frequent Sur La Table much. Duh, I am a W-S girl. Seriously, though geography keeps me away more than I'd like. The group of farms and farmer's they included were countrywide and inspirational. Great recipes and a super reason to just sit and dream.

Finally, though out of order, I have to include Cheese. No, not because it's a Williams-Sonoma publication but because it is a truly wonderful book. Nirvana for a cheese lover such as myself. The best part is the many ways to utilize those lovely cheeses beyond topping a salad or baguette and adorning a cheese platter.

Check them out, pour yourself a libation and read. Just don't drool on the pages.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Something Old Is New

One of the best parts of my job at Williams-Sonoma is getting to test new products as soon as they arrive at the store. One of the worst parts of my job at Williams-Sonoma is having to test new products as soon as they arrive at the store. I hate reading directions. If I have to read directions I don't want to do it. For work, Doug reads the directions and shows me how it works. Lucky, right?

Recently the I was able to experiment with the new Polyscience Professiona Sous Vide. You see them all over the television. A Top Chef/Iron Chef kitchen staple. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use. I read the book included by Thomas Keller and felt well prepared. It was fun but not really something I see myself using in my kitchen stadium.

The other part of sous vide is the sealing of the food. Here is where the trouble began. You see, my parents gave me a Food Saver years ago and I had never used it. It seemed too complicated to even have anyone explain it to me. If a basic Food Sealer throws me what are the chances a Caso Vacuum Food Sealer would be in my realm of possibility? Of course, the sous vide class necessitated my learning. Thanks to Doug, it was a breeze. What does this say about me I wonder? Not the sharpest knife in the block?

I felt so empowered after mastering the super cool model from W-S, that will seal liquid, I felt fully prepared to learn to use the lonely, untouched Food Saver in my make-shift pantry.

Peaches, tomatoes, rhubarb, corn, pre-soaked white beans and a loaf of polenta is all I can say.

What can I seal next?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Design Project and How To Paint a Floor

While my degree is in interior design it's something I long ago abandoned for the joys of the kitchen. I do love to decorate my own house but that's about the extent of my attention span. Never straying far from my kitchen I wanted to share this project of a decorating nature.

Doug and his mini me, Henry, started by opening up what was originally a closet and wiring it for appliances and lighting. The closet was built upon the floor joists of the family room. To allow for everything to be at the proper height, we found a carpenter to cut the joists and reinforce them in the basement. This enabled the pantry floor to be flush with the landing.

When we renovated our kitchen a few years back, I was really bummed I couldn't afford the real linseed linoleum I had hoped to use. The shipping alone was prohibitive. So, I went back to the drawing board and decided to paint the floor to mimic a checkered look. It was sort of a long and back breaking process but so gratifying.

Not much required for this project. A straight edge, mine is a four foot meal number. A small ruler, utility knife (for trimming tape) and delicate surface painter's tape. You want to use basement/garage paint for this project so it wears well.

In the kitchen I used inexpensive pine flooring, what was in the original kitchen decades ago. This pantry is located at the top of the basement stairs and at the entry of an exterior door so I used a more durable oak. Roll on primer then paint with two or three coats of the lightest color.

Then using the straight edge find the center of the space and measure out a 12x12 square - a cheap peel and place tile helps with this. With a pencil and straight edge lightly extend the lines in all directions to create a grid pattern.

Taping the squares requires patience. Most importantly remember to tape OUTSIDE the square to be painted with the darker color.

Since this was a small project, I chose to brush it but you can certainly roll the squares, too.

Finally, you may want to seal the floor with a coat of varnish. I suggest water based since the oil based will yellow. I didn't seal the kitchen floor immediately because I wanted it to look like it had been around for awhile - now it does. Now it really does.

Many weeks or more accurately months later....

A beautiful beverage refrigerator, an actual place for paper recycling and an extra shelf for the blender and pannini maker.

Cue the choral angels - a microwave! The extra counter space makes a great bar when entertaining.

And my favorite element - display for my vintage bowl collection.

One project down. 968 more to go.