Friday, February 27, 2015

Cousin Cecile

Gerry and I made a quick trip over to Spokane (not quick enough that gas stations didn't feel the need to raise the price of gasoline $.30/gallon in a single day but that's another rant!) this week as my cousin (Cecile) was visiting town.  She is a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC and was in Spokane as the keynote speaker at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and their launch of a program focusing on American Indian Basketry. 

Since we don't get much of a chance to connect with her (other than annual Christmas cards) it was a great (albeit brief) opportunity to catch up with that side of the family!  Cecile had just returned from a trip to Trinidad, accompanied by her brother and sister, as they traced their father's ancestry.  It was an amazing journey for each of them and was wonderful to her to stories.

Naturally, it isn't officially a trip to Spokane unless Margo and I visit one (or usually several) different quilt shops!  This time we checked out A Heart Like Yours and Hattie's Quilt Shop (both in Spokane) and even dashed over to Coeur d'Alene (Gerry is a very patient chauffeur!) to visit Bear Paw Quilting (Gerry quickly made himself at home in the "Spouses' Corner").

~later, tw

Monday, February 23, 2015

Soups to Entertain

Friday night we had our friends over for dinner.  They are the absolute best friends which means I can fearlessly try new/untested recipes on them (because we all know and understand that the pizza place just ain't too far from where we live).  The fact that it is now Lent and Gerry and I abstain from meat on Friday (which our friends do not) just brought another level of challenge to the game.

Checking the veggie bin (always my first step), I knew I had two leeks and a head of cauliflower, a good beginning, so I started searching for a recipe to make the most of that.  Here's what I found:

by chefsquig on
Roasting the cauliflower first is what hits this soup out of the park!  I did read some of the reviews (highly recommended) and agreed with many who said that roasting at 275 degrees will not give a desired result so I bumped up the heat to 375.  The problem with that is you really have to watch the finely minced garlic or it will burn (not a good thing!)  Garlic which stuck to the cauliflower was golden, garlic which fell off onto the baking sheet was too golden (didn't get all the way to burnt but that's clearly where it was going).  I think next time I make this soup I would just roast a couple of whole cloves with the cauliflower and then toss the cloves into the soup since I used my "boat motor" (aka immersion blender) to finish it off.  I made my roux with flour which turned out to be perfect.  Some reviewers felt it was thick enough without adding flour.  I think that must depend on the size of your head of cauliflower.  Mine apparently was on the smaller side and it definitely needed that thickener.  Once I had the roux going, I used a splash of white wine to deglaze my pot and finished off with the balance of the directions.  For serving we offered crumbled bacon (for a non-meatless version) and/or shredded cheese along with a rosemary version of my "go to" bread.
Throwing together something company-worthy for dessert (without making a stop at the store) usually involves pre-planning but this time I decided to try:
This is a classic recipe from the Depression when some ingredients (eggs, butter and milk) were not available and/or hard to come by and she has listed quite a few variations on her site.  I opted for the basic Chocolate Crazy Cake and did just as told.  I mixed the dry ingredients (in the cake pan), made the three depressions for the vinegar, vanilla and oil and then added the water.  I'm not exactly sure why this couldn't have all been done in a bowl (except that I will say it was kind of fun to watch the vinegar react to the baking soda - something you don't really see in the bowl with this small quantities).  Although NOT getting another thing dirty (in this case a bowl) was a plus, it was tricky to get into the corners of my 8x8 pan to make sure the flour and cocoa had thoroughly combined. 
In any event, the cake was a success!  Easy-peasy, all ingredients were found in my house first try and it produced a pretty tasty little cake.
~later, tw
(PS - Congrats to JK Simmons (UM alum) on his Best Supporting Actor win last night!!!  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Asian Inspired Soups

Gerry and I love to visit the little Chinese restaurant not too far from our home.  It's a quiet little place with great food/prices conveniently situated next door to our primary grocery store.  The lunch special can't be beat (I always pretend I'll try something new but I always select Kung Pao Chicken) which includes a bowl of either Hot & Sour Soup or Egg Drop Soup.  Gerry always picks the former and I, with equal certainty, always select the latter.

So on my ever-continuing quest to seek out and try new soup recipes at home, I thought maybe it was time I try each of these.  My first opportunity came one day when Gerry was out to lunch with some of his buds and it was a bit chilly which required something hot for me.  I discovered this recipe:

from Ali at Gimme Some Oven
Easy Homemade Egg Drop Soup -- tastes just like the restaurant version, but it's super easy and affordable to make at home! | gimmesomeoven.comA quick check of the pantry "green lighted" this recipe in a hurry.  The only change I made to the recipe was the omission of the creamed corn (I can't even remember the last time we had a can of creamed corn on the shelf!).  The flavors of the ginger, garlic and sesame oil were subtle and delicious - way, WAY better than anything had that starts with a packet of Ramen Noodles and it's dried (too salty) flavor packet.
Here's something I learned about making Egg Drop Soup from The Pioneer Woman:  There are two textures that can be achieved when you add the eggs.  1) Probably the more standard variety is created by whisking the broth mixture, STOP STIRRING and then pour the eggs into the swirling mixture without addition stirring.  This gives those "threads" of eggs, almost like noodles.  2) For a more creamy version, just keep on whisking the soup while you add the eggs and it will all become a blended, creamy soup.  In true Chinese restaurant fashion, I chose some from column A and some from column B and wound up with a creamy soup with some strands of "egg noodles".  DELISH!
We like to have a soup going all the time (either fresh from the soup pot or rewarmed from the fridge) as it makes an easy, EASY meal (especially now that I've discovered I can make BREAD!) and we've really liked what eating a lighter meal in the evening does for both our waistlines! 
I really love vegetable soups (don't think I've actually found one I haven't enjoyed) and what with Lent beginning this week I'm always on the look out for another non-meat recipe to add to the repertoire.  This week's version is a real winner: A vegetable soup with a very different flavor profile!
from Joanne at Eats Well With Others

nine vegetable hot and sour soupIn order to make this soup, I did have to visit the grocery store (we don't usually have cabbage of any variety on hand).  Turns out when I got home I didn't have any bok choy either (which is actually more of a surprise than you might think - anytime it's available as a choice from my delivered veggie box I always pick it!) but this recipe is easily adapted to include whatever vegetables you might have on hand.  In this case, though the author doesn't groove on celery, I do.  And I think that celery (though definitely not as much fun as bok choy - I even love saying the word "bok choy"!), does resemble the non-leafy part of bok choy.  If you sub different vegetables though you might just want to change when they get added.  In my case, because I used celery I opted to throw it in with the onion in the first step.  Unfortunately (for this soup) I had used up the last of my "leafy greens" (which I think are pretty interchangeable) in the quiche the day before but I would have sliced up any chard, spinach and/or kale and added it at the end (in the bok choy step).  No tofu was harmed in the making of this soup (as I really do NOT like tofu at all!) and I don't think it detracted from the final product, which was INSANELY delicious. 
Since I had not experienced Hot & Sour Soup before I asked the resident family expert on this (the hubby) if I had come close.  He said this was so much better because there was so much more depth of flavor.  Another winner!
The Cake
Finally, a bit of motherly bragging:  Jenny, our daughter, recently made a birthday cake for her friend's daughter's 4th birthday party.  This little girl, like pretty much every little girl on the planet, wanted a "Frozen" cake.  Here's what Jenny created:
And coordinating cupcakes

~later, tw

Friday, February 13, 2015

Feeling a Bit Crabby

Last Saturday the Knights of Columbus of our church had their annual Crab Feed.  The KC do a terrific job - a huge salad bar and all the crab you can eat.  In fact, MORE than all the crab you can eat since they make available for a donation bags of crab for you to take home and enjoy again.

We brought home two such bags and Gerry spent the better part of Sunday afternoon cracking those little Dungeness crabs and harvesting the meat.  Then it was up to me to come up with something to do with that 2 1/2 lbs. of wonderful cracked crab meat.

First up:
Crab Cakes
Crisp Crab Cakes
I started with this recipe I found at (Crispy Crab Cakes by Ellie Krieger).  I liked this recipe because it calls for panko (Japanese bread crumbs).  If you've never tried these, I highly recommend them.  You can probably find them in most grocery stores these days (I'm guessing on the aisle with "international foods").  They do a fabulous job of giving that really crispy exterior you find on fried food - often without actually frying (not only healthier but really saves on the clean up in the kitchen!). 
I also liked that it uses Old Bay Seasoning because apparently I picked up a can of it for some recipe years ago and just haven't had another need for it.  (Always like to be using up things!)  The only changes I made to this recipe were: used both red & yellow bell peppers because a) I happened to have both on hand; and b) it's really pretty.  I also used chipotle tabasco instead of the regular kind.  Not horrible - a bit smoky (don't think they hubby noticed or mind) but I need to put the regular kind on my grocery list right now while I'm thinking of it.
Then we tried:
Terri's Crab Bisque
This I started with a recipe from (Shrimp and Crab Bisque by Katrina Berry).  I really do recommend reading through at least the first few recommendations from others here because you learn so much from their trials, errors and suggestions.  I really used her recipe as a springboard and the final result was really my own.  Though I usually hate recipes written in this manner I'll give a narrative of what I did:
  1. I melted 3 T butter and added 1 tsp. of minced garlic and sautéed this for about 30 seconds before adding 3 T flour.  To this I added one tube of  chicken broth, salt & pepper to taste, a pinch of onion powder, 1/2 tsp. of Old Bay Seasoning and 1 T. of parsley.
  2. Added 3/4 C. of Half & Half plus 1/4 C. of sherry (which does go better with the crab than white wine.  I would recommend purchasing a bottle of sherry - NOT COOKING SHERRY!!!  NEVER BUY COOKING SHERRY!!!  - a bottle of sherry (cooking sherry is just salty crap) won't set you back much and can be "splashed" in other wonderful foods as well.  If you don't want to do this then by all means use a lovely white wine that you intend to serve with this deliciousness (though I would probably use as much as 1/2 C of wine as opposed to 1/4 C sherry).
  3. Adjust seasonings: add more Old Bay, a dash of cayenne, a generous amount of paprika for color and taste (1-2 T.)
  4. Add crab and remaining Half & Half and bring to bubble to thicken.  Mine did get a bit thicker (more chowder-like) which I thought I would prefer but turns out next time I would make it a bit thinner and more bisque-like.

Finally, last night we enjoyed:
Terri's Crab Quiche
Crab Quiche I RecipeOnce again I started the process with a recipe I found on (Crab Quiche I by CHRISTYJ) and pulling together from various suggestions and recommendations from others I cobbled together this recipe (which I must say was probably the best crab experiment this week - though the crab cakes were a very close second!)
  1. Make your own crust!  Some reviewers suggested just pouring the filling into a pan for a crustless version but quiche just really needs the crust to send it over the top and a store bought crust will just not do it for me.
  2. Get some kitchen help!  There were a couple of steps to this project and everyone of them seemed to involve another pan and/or bowl and utensil.  It was great having the hubby keep up with my dishes (and then make a salad to go with while it was in the oven baking) so that there weren't dishes left to look forward to at the end of the meal.
  3. The steps:
    1. In a sauté pan (larger than you might think), I started with some olive oil and butter and then put the sliced green onions and finely diced red pepper.  To this I added a large bunch of thinly sliced lacinato kale (or any leafy green like spinach, chard, etc. would work) and sautéed until wilted.
    2. Shredded 1/2 lb. (about 1 1/2 - 2 cups) of Gruyere (Swiss) cheese.  I did look at the suggestions by some of other cheeses (cheddar, goat) but again, quiche in my mind requires Swiss and this is not a run-of-the-mill every night type of meal so I went with the Gruyere - it did not disappoint!
    3. Beat together 4 eggs plus 1 C. Half and Half.  I used my hand-held mixer (because I didn't want my dishwasher to quit on me by bringing out the blender) and it did the trick.  Just make sure to actually beat this combination together until frothy - a simple whisking will not give the desired results.
    4. Assemble the layers in order: 1) the crab meat; 2) the slightly cooled vegetable mixture; 3) the cheese (reserve a small handful for the top); 4) the egg mixture. 
    5. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Allow to set 10 minutes before cutting/serving.  (Can also be served at room temperature.)
Finally, our "Crab Week" came to an end but not without putting the remaining 3/4 lb. of cooked crab meat in the freezer for another time (Lent is soon upon us).
~later (no longer crabby!), tw

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I can make BREAD!

It's true!  I've learned how to make bread.  But first the main course...

This year I'm trying to focus on soups - all kinds of wonderful, delicious, comforting soups.  There really is just something about a bowl of soup.  It nourishes body and soul, stirring up memories long forgotten.  And the SMELL - from the first moment you start it, the whole house smells absolutely wonderful.

Okay.  So we are all in agreement now that soup is a fabulous thing (probably the 8th Wonder of the World).  One would only have to check out my Pinterest Board entitled Soups, Stews, Chilis and Chowders to see the extent of this love affair I've got going with soup.  I'm committed to trying each soup I've got pinned there (which is turning into something of an arduous task since I keep finding MORE recipes each day!)

Tonight's entry is:

Katerina Petrovska
Once again I immediately was drawn to this recipe because I actually had everything to make it right on hand in my kitchen (always a good start to any recipe!).  The recipe calls for Mexican (or fresh) Chorizo.  I buy this in a 3 lb. chub at Cash & Carry (a local restaurant supply store).  Often stores will carry Spanish Chorizo.  This version is actually a smoked meat which you can find in the deli section of the store (wherever they have other types of sausages).  You actually can use either (just diced up the sausage if using that type).
When I was describing the recipe to my sister (as a possible soup creation for her budding 2nd grade chefs at her school), I realized that it reminds me of the classic Weight Watcher Chili.  (Just substitute hamburger for the chorizo and green beans for the "any other type of bean.") 
But as I said I actually had the called for ingredients on hand and made it (this time) exactly according to the recipe.  Spicy, but delicious!
The thing is there is an unwritten rule that soup must have a "go with" item.  Soup & salad.  Soup & crackers (buttered - thanks mom for teaching me that lesson!).  Soup & bread.
Ah, yes.  Soup and a really good bread.
So clearly just working through my Soup Board will not be enough of a task this year.  I'm also going to work through my Breads Board.  This could be a real challenge because I've never been much of a bread baker.  I think it requires an amount of patience I apparently did not receive at birth.  But I'm up for a challenge (heck it's just barely February - I can't throw in the towel now!!!)
So to go with my very spicy soup I made an artisan bread.  Yes, you read that correctly - an artisan bread!!! 

That's MY LOAF of bread!!!  It was delicious!!
This was truly an amazing experience.  Trust me when I say - Yes, You Can!  You can make bread!!!  There are only four ingredients.  It only calls for 1/2 tsp. of yeast.  That means you can make FOUR loaves from a single packet of yeast (in case you don't want to commit to purchasing an entire jar of yeast.   But I recommend you buy the entire jar, keep it in your fridge and NEVER buy store-bought bread again!!!)
If you don't have a cast-iron pan I highly recommend the purchase of a Le Creuset dutch oven (I used my 3 1/2 qt. signature round which is pretty much my "go to" pot for everything).  It's perfect for making this bread.
I can't wait to try it again using some fresh rosemary...or maybe some grated asiago...or... I'm never buying bread again!!!
~later, tw

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

National Chocolate Month

Did you know that February is National Chocolate Month?  That seems to make sense what with Valentine's Day and all.  But February 5th (Thursday) also just happens to be World Nutella Day.

Nutella, that chocolately hazelnut spread.  I love seeing the ads with the moms stating how easy it is to give their kids a great start to the morning by spreading that "nutritious" spread on toast and sending their very wired kids out the door.  Teachers must love it.  My daughter says "we have a word for that spread - it's called FROSTING!!!

But the "Swedish contingency" (my other daughter and her family) loves the stuff (I think it's a European thing) and so as a good mother/grandmother I stock up on the stuff when I know they are coming.  And since it's one of those things that is way cheaper to buy at Costco, I have a bunch leftover when they leave.

And that's why I love, Love, LOVE Pinterest!  People are so creative and helpful when I need a recipe (or two...or three) to use up something rather than just pitch it.

So here's a recipe I served during our Super Bowl party and is just the thing for your World Nutella Day Celebration!

Three-Ingredient Brownies Recipe : Ree Drummond : Food Network - FoodNetwork.comThey are decadent, they are delicious, they are insanely easy (c'mon - THREE ingredients).  It's actually easier to make than any mix I've ever used!  I was thinking I was going to have to double up this recipe for our gathering (since it says it only makes 9 brownies) but then I read the entire recipe (always a good thing before actually making anything) and realized that it's a 9x13 pan.  That would make 9 REALLY BIG brownies - nobody needs that amount.  And once out of the oven, I could tell they were really, really rich and decadent so we cut them into 24 squares which was the perfect party size.  Enjoy!
~later, tw

Monday, February 2, 2015

Souper Bowl!

Now that the Super Bowl is over (and not with a particularly happy conclusion), it's time to get back to the real SOUPER BOWL.

Since Gerry is now home during the day I've been making lunch our more substantial meal, which still allows me to cook (something I enjoy doing) and still gives us the balance of the day to work off those calories.

Dinner is most often a bowl of soup and I've enjoyed exploring the Soup Boards of Pinterest for ideas.  Cooking for just the two of us can be difficult (unless one likes eating leftovers for the rest of the week) but leftover soup is an entirely different beast.  Soups often improve with a little time spent in the fridge and are better eaten leftover as the flavors have more chance to marry.

Here are some of the recipes we've tried this year:

Bloody Mary Chili Recipe : Ree Drummond : Food Network -
We enjoyed this during the game yesterday and it makes a lot.  I was certain there would be leftovers but NO!  It was enjoyed by all - even the 3-year-old (so not too spicy at all).  I did make it exactly as she did (even mixing up the "Bloody Mary" separately before adding - though I used a 4-cup measuring cup because it made it easier to pour into the pot) but here are some ideas for changes:

  1. I bought actual Bloody Mary mix (V8 brand) and had the hubby try it solo.  He said spicy V8 would have worked just fine.
  2. I'm trying to use up some liquor "leftovers" from bartending days so I had vodka on hand.  If you don't I would not suggest buying even a small bottle of vodka just for this recipe.  You could either buy one of those teeny tiny bottles (I call them a "nip") and they have them everywhere now and are pretty inexpensive.  One small bottle would be the 1/4 cup you'd need.  Or...just omit it.  I'm still trying to figure out the fascination with adding vodka - it's pretty much tasteless (especially when the alcohol is cooked out) but what the heck?  It uses up something I have on hand!

 from A New York Foodie

This was our vegetarian option yesterday (I also figured the 3-year-old might not like the spicier chili above - kids!  They keep you guessing!!!)  My vegetarian sister-in-law suggested I could add meat to the leftovers for Gerry & me, however, we frequently eat "meatless" meals these days so this soup will neither go to waste nor have meat added to it.

The only "change" I made to this recipe was to add the parsley (dried because that's all I had) plus fresh rosemary with the other ingredients (rather than waiting until the last 10 minutes).  I was making this ahead to reheat when everyone came over plus I felt there wasn't really any other seasoning in the soup and I thought I'd like to give the rosemary/parsley a bit of time to infuse the veggies with some flavor.

~later, tw

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Go HAWKS!!!!

Need I say more???
~later, tw