Friday, August 19, 2011

Hip Girl in the Yellow House!

It seems I have been away from my blog for quite a long time. We've been busy in the yellow house getting ready for school, spending every possible moment with friends, settling into the coolness of high school and swimming at the quarry. For my part, I've been unloading and re-loading the dish washer, picking the family room pillows up off the floor and returning the favorite green throw to it's rightful place. *Sigh*

I always say my favorite day of the year is the last day of school. The nice weather, lack of schedule, relaxing on the porch instead of running and schlepping and checking homework. That said, every year I anticipate the first day of school. The weather is getting cooler, I crave a schedule and start to think about nesting and cuddling up indoors when the leaves begin to fall.

Imagine how excited I was to hear the hippest girl in homemaking is coming to the yellow house just in time for what I consider the peak of homemaking season. Kate Payne, the clever girl behind, The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining and the Gratifying Pleasure of Self-Sufficiency: on a Budget is going to share a DIY kitchen project and sign her beautiful book at a house party.

It's so wonderful to see homemaking become something cool. Canning, sewing, gardening, sustainability and crafting.

If you haven't yet, get this book. It's full of wonderfully simple things that will warm the cockles of your heart - and those of the ones you love.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ground Cherries. Almost Like M&M's

You know when there is a bowl of peanut M&M's on the table and you can't keep your hands out of it. Just one more. Okay, a red and a green and then I am done....maybe. Sometimes I put the holiday variety in a vintage looking jar with a lid to impede fluid movement from hand to mouth. It doesn't work.

What a lovely thing to have a big bowl of ground cherries on the counter! Related to the gooseberry family they are sweet and pineapple-y when they burst in your mouth. When you can find them at your local market you must buy a pint.

Though many savy cooks will make preserves I just eat them. Pulling off the husk, like shelling a peanut, is satisfying. Fluid hand to mouth movement. Less calories. No fat. Vitamins.

Almost like popping M&M's.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jim Gaffigan in the Kitchen

Have you ever heard Jim Gaffigan's bit about Hot Pockets? It's hilarious and of course, every time I utter the words, probably only while in conversation with Jake, I find myself reciting them in an off key warble.

Last summer Jake ate (not had - watch the video) his first Hot Pocket at a friend's house. To say the least, I was mortified - have you ever read the label? I told him then and there I could make a better Hot Pocket. A homemade Hot Pocket.

I've made them a few times in the past. Lately I've begun to feel nest-y and frugal since school is starting. Making a bunch of them for future lunches seemed a good thing to do.

I admit to using purchased pie dough. It was around for experimental reasons. (seriously) If I don't make it (usually just for work), I buy it at Trader Joe's. It's really pretty good and made with all butter.

You can roll them into rounds, cut them into squares or use a nifty hand pie mold from my favorite kitchen equipment store. I baked an inexpensive ham slice and cut it into pieces then tossed it with cheddar and Swiss cheeses. My original intention was to saute some green onions but - I forgot.

Run a damp finger around the edge of the bottom crust before draping the filling with the top crust.

This helps prevent gooey cheese leaks, too.

A neat little pocket, pie or pasty.

Press the edges with a fork.

Vent it so the top doesn't blow.

This is definitely a time to use the silpat for easy clean up.

It's probably not a good idea to put them in the oven straight away. I let them firm up in the fridge a bit first. I made a whole bunch of them and froze them thinking once school has started, I can bake them off and send them in lunch boxes.

They are Henry Approved.

A few things. No, I didn't make the crust, and yes, I forgot to add "aromatics" and I could have spent more time putting them together and added a nice glaze to ensure a super golden brown crust perfect for photography.

But really, they are just Hot Pockets.

At least they won't be cooked in a dirty microwave.

Watch the video.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Basil Chronicles - Part 3 - Infused Sea Salt

And the basil continues to grow...

A couple years ago I made an Rosemary-Orange Salt as part of a kitchen gifts class. It was a highlight and loved by all. It seemed like a natural direction to go in with the basil.

Start with a chiffonade of basil. What's that you may ask? Simply roll the stacked leaves tightly - like a teeny, tiny jelly roll made of basil.

Run your well-honed knife through and you have chiffonade of basil. Fancy.

For infused salts like this I prefer(red) to use the lovely coarse sea salt from Trader Joe's. Alas, they no longer carry it. I hate it when that happens but I am happy I have this one jar left. You can substitute any nice coarse sea salt for the one shown.

Chop the basil further with your knife perpendicular to your initial cuts and let it sit for about 30 minutes. While you wait - zest a lemon or two.

Toss everything into a food processor, blender or mini prep. I like to use the attachment for my immersion blender. It's the prefect size and easy to clean. Give it a few pulses...

...and you have Basil-Lemon Infused Sea Salt.  I chose to keep this one very simply flavored, for tomatoes or fish. Of course you can add anything you like in any quantity you prefer. Peppercorn? Seeds or cumin or fennel? A touch of freshly grated ginger? Basil of different flavors and colors, oregan, dill, sage. Need I go on?

Now is the time to grind up a bunch in all the flavors of the garden. I think a trio of 1/2 pint jars would make a thoughtful gift from your garden. Take a peak at this post for a bit of packaging inspiration from a real dork....I mean, pro.

The hardest part of this project will be giving them away.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A No Recipe Meal

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I don't read recipes very well. When baking I am on it. When fixing dinner, sometimes a recipe is merely inspiration and ingredients for a grocery list. Sometimes I start making the magazine inspired dish (often Everyday Food since it's perfect for fast family meals) and realize I am serving 6 not 4. That's a problem.

Just exactly this happened to me last week. A quick spin through the most recent EDF found me buying corn on the cob, lima beans and a rotisserie chicken (that's where I am right now). A summer succotash topped with bit of farmer's cheese and fresh avocado. YUM!

All was well until I realized this modest dish for 4 was more side dish appropriate size. What was I thinking?  Jake would surely starve.

So mid-way through my preparation, I began to add things. A few potatoes, an onion, a can of black beans maybe some herbs. Before too long I had a very large pan of dinner. What began as succotash wound up with elements of a hash. The kids called it Succo-Hash. We topped it with Doug's homemade salsa and served it with soft tortillas.

It was really good, really inexpensive and there were leftovers. Amazing what a few potatoes and a can of beans can accomplish.

I love the process of a recipe.

But some days I love fast and cheap even more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just Another Manic Sunday

I came home from work at Williams-Sonoma today after a torrential morning down pour and enjoyed sangria and really tasty cheese on the patio with some neighbors.

They left and then the rain started....again.

It was a nice summer rain. Cool and redolent of childhood summer days when there was rain but no lightening. Running in the gutters at Memorial Park.

The company and libations were better. There were no bugs.

We were getting soaked, even under the umbrella, so we moved to the porch.

The rain still came and poor June looked for playmates, even though she was soggy.

The afternoon of tremendous accomplishment continued. The rains stopped, again, and the chicken went onto the grill....

Hope your Sunday was as chill, albeit manic, as mine.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy (Basil-Shallot) Mustard Day!

It's Mustard Day and to celebrate this should-be illustrious holiday, I am adding another installment to my series, The Basil Chronicles.

I have made mustard before and it's so easy it makes me wonder why I ever buy it since it's so delicious. This recipe also fulfills the requirement of late - basil. Only 3 tablespoons. Desperate steps....every little bit?

Everything I needed to make this oh-so versatile condiment was in the pantry so it came together quickly.

The only time consuming, though totally hands-off, aspect was the soaking of the mustard seeds in apple juice, water and vinegar. I think I let them go a bit longer than needed - maybe 8 or so hours?

Next, a quick spin through the food processor. In hindsight, I should have used a mini prep. I made only a single batch and the quantities weren't really enough to let the processor do it's job crushing up the softened seeds.

Cooking about 25 minutes over a double boiler, allowed the mustard to thicken. 

Next time I'll increase the cooking time for greater thickening and use a more appropriately sized means for crushing the seeds.

No big deal. After a flavor blending resting, my turkey sandwich didn't care one bit and neither did I.

And, I'm down 3 more tablespoons of basil.


Basil-Shallot Mustard
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader

2/3 cup apple juice
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry mustard
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup light mustard seeds
3 T. fresh basil, chopped
2 T. shallots, minced
2 T. light brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/4 t. allspice

Combine the apple juice, vinegar, dry mustard, water, and mustard seeds in a glass or ceramic bowl and stir, mixing well.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Process the mixture in the bowl of a food processor until the mustard seeds are coarsely ground. (see notes above)

Cook the mixture in a double boiler over simmering water, adding the basil, shallots, sugar, salt, and allspice. cook for 20-25 minutes. The mustard will thicken as it cooks. (see notes above)

Pour into sterile jars. Cap and seal.

Allow the flavors to marry for 2-3 days before using. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 month unopened.

Yield: 5 pints

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chilled Summer Oatmeal

Breakfast is a problem for me. Truth be told, if a chocolate cake was permanently parked next to the espresso machine, I'd be okay. However there isn't and really for figure(?) conservation it's best that way. More often than not I find myself away from home at 1pm and realize I've eaten nothing at all.

I love oatmeal and it's convenience. A pot of steel cut oats on the stove ready to warm up on cold winter morning is cozy. But in the summer? Thank goodness for Chilled Summer Oatmeal. With a quick mix (and no cooking) of a few ingredients - which are most likely in your pantry - you can have a whole week of healthy breakfast. Interested?

Oats. They have to be old-fashioned. If you really love your family and aren't greedy with the beautiful locally-grown oats use those.

Nuts add a bit of crunch and extra nutrients not offered by a chocolate cake breakfast.

One of the other best parts is the ability to make this all about your summer faves. Fresh peaches, nectarines, blueberries are all at home in a cool bowl of this stuff.

I put all the ingredients in one of those nifty glass containers with the sturdy, plastic tops and stir it up.

Voila - it's breakfast!

This is one of those recipes you can modify however you like with whatever you have. Different yogurts, nuts, juices, spices and seasonal fruits. Think about enhancing it further with a sprinkle of flax seed? Ooohhhh - healthy. The possibilities are endless.

I think you could put flax seeds in chocolate cake, too.

Just sayin'.

Chilled Summer Oatmeal
This is the basic recipe but I've experimented with just about everything.

8oz. vanilla yogurt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (TJ's toasted are nice)
1/2 cup peach nectar
1/2 cup skim milk
1 large peach, grated
1/2 cup blueberries (I usually toss these in before I eat)
3 T. chopped almonds
Pinch of cinnamon and cardamom

Mix all together, cover and chill overnight.

In the morning spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon, if desired.

Save the cake for lunch.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Basil Chronicles

At risk of sounding like an ingrate, I am having a basil issue. I planted 6 plants as I usually do, but this year I have bumper crop. An exceptionally large, continually growing-by-the-hour bumper crop of basil.

Of course, I've covered the pesto angle. There are 4 1/2 pints in the freezer and I know I'll have to make more to avoid waste but what else is gardener/cook to do? I thought others may be experiencing this problem (whaa~whaa) so I hit the books hard searching for ways to save this precious - and expensive - herb.

One of the most interesting things I came across was carefully layering the leaves in salt. My trial effort involved a small plastic container that's been stored in a lower kitchen cabinet though I've read to refrigerate.

Pretty much it wilted and darkened a bit. The leaves are still tender and hold up to a knife. While the salt doesn't take on any basil flavor (sort of a bummer-I'll be addressing that soon) it can also be returned to the salt box and used for other cooking. Thrifty.....

and brilliant. My plan is to address this project on a large scale at the end of the season. I'll tap my inner pioneer and salt pack the basil.

Then I'll slaughter the hog.

Wouldn't that just freak out the neighbors?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Trials of Summer

I suppose if I wanted to be ornery, I could say this post was meant to be an addition to the "through the screen door" series -- BUT I COULDN'T GET TO THE SCREEN DOOR!

Care to guess how many people are in the yellow house right now?

Yeah, I don't know either.

A Not-So-Skinny Dip

I don't consider myself one of those people crazy for dips. I do, it seems, turn to them in the summer for a quick pre-dinner snack while the charcoals heat. Last year my favorite was a delicious Caesar Dip, (man that's good) but this year it's Lemony-Goat Cheese.

As dips tend to be, this on is easy, easy, easy and ready to serve in minutes.

I like to use my hand mixer to ensure a smooth dip.

I prefer a fine zest for dips so use a microplane if you have one.

I've discovered this tasty dunk is good on pretty much anything. Another of it's delicious benefits for last minute noshing.

This isn't a low-fat treat to dress your garden veggies. I feel I should impart words of encouragement regarding dipping everything within arms reach into this delicious dunk. Instead, I say - who cares?


Lemon-y Goat Cheese Dip

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz. fresh goat cheese,room temperature
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
zest and juice of one lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place mayo, sour cream and goat cheese into a medium-sized bowl. Though not necessary, I find it's easiest to use a hand mixer to incorporate the goat cheese smoothly. A good mixing with a wooden spoon would be effective, too.

Fold in lemon zest and juice and minced garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Dip crackers, chips and/or veggies forthwith.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Denver Dork

"Take me home.....
Country roads...

To the place....I belong...."

Told you. Total dork.