Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's Tuesday Evening, I'm Taking a Breather and Reflecting on Life...

What a busy day today.  I did my volunteer stint at Northwest Harvest from 9 until 11am.  We boxed whole carrots and the boxes weighed an average of 18 lbs.  After we exhausted the carrots, we boxed whole eggplant.  That was a little more cumbersome as they didn't fit in the box very well.  Then went home, had breakfast and read the Seattle Times.  Made out a shopping list for a few things I was going to make for the blog.  Then drove to an appt, stopped at the grocery store, stopped at the pet store, stopped at Goodwill, then another grocery store (I can never seem to get everything at one store), then went home.  Sorted through the groceries, made a dish for the blog, which turned out extremely well, by the way, took some pictures of what I made, brought some of it over to a neighbor, cleaned up the kitchen, made myself a mango margarita and took a picture of the sunset below.  It's just about 7pm and I will be having what I made for dinner.  I have always viewed a good day as a productive day.  As I'm getting older, I am trying to view a good day as a day with more fun in it.  Rather hard to do when you're 57 and have pretty much been the same for the last 30 years.   I wish I had had more of a gift of networking friends and contacts in my younger days.  I had the perfect job for it, at the ticket counter for a major airline, but I was never quite the type to schmooze a fair amount.  I did what I needed to do for my passenger, had pleasant conversation, or not so pleasant if we had a broken plane, or there was a weather delay, and then let them go on their way.  I retired this past January, and with a sister in Chicago, a brother in Westport, Connecticut, no family here and no spouse, it is somewhat of a challenge to go forward.  You are also talking about a person who has no projects, no bucket list, and a few good friends who are also married with children, and have lives of their own.  I knew retiring would not be easy for me, but after 37 years at the same company, I decided to push myself out when we had a buyout.  I did my job well, I knew my job, but I no longer loved my job.  So now I volunteer, and try to get "out of my box", as I tell my friends, in an attempt to go out into the world and live my life.  I was married for 26 years, got divorced due to alcoholism and sadly, my ex-spouse took his life a year ago.    So, hence, the food blog was born about 2 weeks ago.  I really, really am enjoying this journey, and thank all of you who have viewed it, tried recipes, thought about commenting sometime...everything.  You are keeping a part of me alive, and for that, I am very grateful!

Things I Can't Do Without in My Kitchen, Part 1

My Kitchenaid mixer.  I bought this as a birthday present to myself when I turned 23, 34 years ago.  At the time, I shared an apartment with a co-worker of mine.  After I bought my Kitchenaid, I told Barbara she could use anything of mine that she wanted, except my mixer.  One day, I was going out with my late-husband, then boyfriend, and after we left the apartment and got to the car, we got to talking and I remembered I had left something in the apartment that I had needed.  Lo and behold, there was my roommate using my mixer.  And yes, I was hot.  She ended up moving out anyway, so it was just me and my Kitchenaid, which was fine by me.  I can't believe I have had my mixer for 34 years.  Whenever I have friends over for the first time, I point to the kitchen and say "this is where it all happens!"  After I get these looks, I then point to my Kitchenaid.  It's so old, it has a two prong cord.  I won't give it up until it gives up on me.  Until then, I maintain it like I would a fine, vintage car.  And I'm sure most of you would agree, if you own a Kitchenaid, you would gladly sacrifice something else in order to keep it.  I LOVE MY KITCHENAID!!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Little Friend, the Squirrel

One day I baked a cake for a dinner party later that evening.  It turned out perfectly..problem was, I wanted to cool it faster than leaving it on the kitchen counter.  When I moved into my home a year ago, I never saw any sign of chipmunks or squirrels.  So, I put the cake outside on the top of my little table on my front porch.  A while later, Cassie, my cat, was staring out the front door, talking.  I walked from the kitchen to where she was and asked her what was going on?  I looked outside, and there was my cake, almost half of it with most of the top gone, telltale crumbs on the porch and down the stairs, and I counted...I have 8 stairs with a landing in between.  I said, what the h---, and looked down the stairs.  There was squirrel, just sitting there as if to say "go back inside so I can finish the top of the cake!"  What I found amazing was that he could smell my cake all the way from the sidewalk.  Needless to say, it was too late in the day to bake another one, so I made the executive decision to cut the half away that was nibbled on, and frosted the other half of the cake.  When I served dessert, everyone was looking forward to my cake.  Thankfully, it was a very small group.  When I took the lid off the cake holder, imagine their surprise...and my laughter.  I then shared the story of my little friend, who got his just dessert!!!

It's a Doubly Good Monday...

As I just posted two recipes today.   Have a great day, and I hope a part of it is in the kitchen, trying one of mine!

Recipe #8: My Grandmother-In-Law's Rouladen

My husband's grandmother was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and on any given Sunday, would make this dish along with hot & sour red cabbage and spaetzle.  She even had an old wooden spaetzle board she would use to grate the dough into the boiling water.  When my husband's mother taught me how to make rouladen, I remember thinking what a tedious task it was, and the first few times, I felt it took hours, which it probably did.  These days, that time is cut in half because my grocery store  carries razor-thin slices of beef for fajitas, which works perfectly.  And, after making it so many times, I can now do it in my sleep, along with the red cabbage.  The spaetzle, not so much.  I was never a big fan, but do remember my husband's grandmother loading what looked to be a pound of it on his plate, along with a few pats of butter.  And so, I pass this wonderful recipe on to you.  It does take a little time, but I think you will enjoy the process and you won't be disappointed.

12-15 pieces of round steak, pounded paper thin       raw slices of bacon, cut into thirds
   into approximately 4"x7" pieces, or the above          dill pickle, cut in half lengthwise, and again 3
1 small onion, diced                                                        times to get 12 pieces out of each pickle
1 cup stone ground mustard                                         2 cans low sodium beef broth
1 cup dry white wine                                                       1 cup flour
1 tsp salt                                                                             1/4 tsp pepper
toothpicks                                                                         4-6 tbsp. bacon fat

Put your onion, pickle, bacon and mustard in separate small bowls.  This will make it much easier if you have this assembly line ready.  You also may have to cut more pickle and bacon, and get more mustard, depending on how many pieces of beef you are working with.  Mix your flour, salt and pepper in a larger bowl.   Lay 2 or 3 pieces of beef on your cutting board, whatever will fit comfortably vertically.  Use an offset spatula, if you have one, to spread your pieces of meat lightly with mustard.  At the bottom edge, lay a piece of bacon, put a piece of pickle on top of the bacon and sprinkle 1-2 tsp onion across the bacon and pickle.  Roll up each piece and skewer with a toothpick.    Continue until all meat is prepared.  At this point, you may have some pickle and/or onion left.  Dump whatever you have into one of the bowls, and with any leftover mustard, pour the wine in the mustard bowl, stir and then pour into the other bowl.  Heat two large fry pans on med/high heat with bacon fat.  Roll each piece of beef in the flour, shake off excess and put in hot fat.  Brown beef on all sides.  Remove to plate.  With a paper towel, blot any excess bacon fat out of pans..do not wipe out pans, because you want all the brown bits from frying.  Pour one can of beef broth in each pan, and scrape up brown bits.  Consolidate into the larger pan, and pour the bowl of leftover onion/pickle/mustard/white wine into the pan.  Whisk in 2 tbsp. of seasoned flour, then add the rouladen back into pan.  Simmer on low for 2-3 hours.  Rouladen will be extremely tender, and some may even start to break in half.  Serve with the gravy over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.  Bon appetit!



Recipe #7: The Ultimate Chocolate Frosting

I have a friend, Marilee, who doesn't like a lot of frosting on a cupcake or a piece of cake.  I am just the opposite, and make no apologies for it!  I love my cupcakes to be piled high with frosting, and like a cake to be generously spread with the same.  I will eat about a half inch off the bottom of my cupcakes, just so the ratio of cake to frosting will be less.  This recipe makes a generous, not over-the-top amount of frosting for an 8" cake.  Also, the addition of espresso powder (not instant coffee), adds a lovely depth.  This recipe will also frost a 9" cake, but remember...less frosting to cake!

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened                                         1 cup cocoa powder, such as Hershey's
1/2 cup milk (I have even used nonfat)                     2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp espresso powder                                                  1/2 tsp salt
1 box confectioners sugar

In a standing mixer, mix butter, cocoa, espresso powder, sugar and salt.  I used to sift the sugar and cocoa together, but no longer do that.  Start out slow as the cocoa powder tends to fly everywhere, but everything will start to incorporate.  After a few minutes, put the mixer on a medium speed (I use 4 on my Kitchenaid) and add the milk gradually.  You may need a little more, but be careful...rule of thumb is better to have a stiffer frosting than to add too much milk and have it start to slide down the sides of your cake.  Bon appetit!

P.S.  I made a frosting a little too thin the other day, and after you frost a cake, there's no saving it, except to bring the frosting back up the sides and immediately refrigerate.  The only problem is, I personally don't like cold cake, so if you don't either, err on the side of too little liquid.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Afternoon..Update on the Weather...

The first picture was taken at noon...you can't see it too well, but the container ship in the picture is huge and is on its way to Tacoma.  The fog is trying to lift.  The second picture was taken only an hour ago, at 3:30...you can see the fog has just about lifted totally, and its turned out to be a beautiful day...sunny and 60...

Good Morning, It's Sunday...

Fall is definitely here!  The maples are turning a crimson red, the mornings are crisp, the farmer's markets are winding down from the start of summer.  Where "does" the summer go?  I was at a store the other day, and Christmas trees were in full regale.  I said to myself, "Christmas?", yet, it's almost October, and I know some places have things out by August.  My late husband always used to comment that the holiday started earlier and earlier each year.  I used to have my own dried floral and craft business, and while he didn't, I understood the timeline.  I had to create my designs in June for Christmas, in November for Valentine's and in December for my spring line.  But fall is my favorite time of year.  My last home had a rather large porch, and it was adorned with pumpkins weighing no less than 35 lbs, dried corn stalks behind them as a stage drop and the entire scene was scattered with indian corn.  It was beautiful.  I will share with you closer to Halloween what I now do, which is a complete departure from past days.  Below is a picture of this morning...the fog is hanging in the air, and in the center, although it's hard to tell, the sun is peeking out on Vashon Island.  I may take another few shots throughout the day to show you just how things can change around here.  In the meantime, below the weather scene are some of the items I will sharing with you in the future...Bridge Creek Fresh Ginger Muffins and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  The gardenia enhancing the ensemble I cut from my garden this morning.  Have a great Sunday!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Watching the Sunset...

For some of you, it's already Saturday morning.  But, here in the northwest, it's Friday evening.  After many days of rain, we have had some clearing, and the sunset tonight was pretty spectacular.  I wanted to share with you a few pictures I took about 50 feet from my home.  You will probably be seeing more of this view in the future, although with different weather scenarios.  We also get quite a few container ships back and forth on the sound, and that's pretty interesting as well.  If it's Saturday for you, have a great day...if it's Friday night, have a good evening and sleep well!

Today is Friday...

and what's on your agenda today?  Since I am writing this from the northwest, many of you are already well into your day.  Friday for me is Northwest Harvest day, another volunteer day.  Northwest Harvest's mission is to provide nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, while fighting to eliminate hunger.  There is usually a core group of people who come on a regular basis.  The remainder of the group is usually made up of businesses...employees from Microsoft, Starbucks, Bank of America, etc.  And, what we're doing is always a surprise.  One day we will be bagging rice, oatmeal, or frozen peas and carrots...on another we will be boxing potatoes or corn-on-the-cob, putting labels on canned green beans that a company has donated due to the labeling was missed on that particular shipment, or working assembly-line fashion putting together weekend meals for children.  At the end of our day, though it's only a 3 hour shift, the lead of NH will let us know how many thousands of pounds of food we processed, or how many cans we labeled.  It's a feel good day.  Below are pictures of whole carrots, which were boxed, and kidney beans, which were cupped into 1 lb bags.  If you're looking for something to do, volunteering is satisfying in so many ways.  No, you may not directly see who you are helping, but to know that you "are" helping someone out there, is all you need to know to make your day!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recipe #6: Potatoes with Leeks and Gruyere

I have made this recipe many, many times, especially during the holidays.    It's great with a ham, rib roast, even baked chicken. This recipe was submitted to our local PBS station a few years ago, as it was pledge week, and they were creating a "potatoes" cookbook.  I was one of twelve people chosen to prepare their recipe live on the air.  Thankfully, it was a big hit, and I hope it will be with you as well.

2 tbsp. butter                                                1 lb leeks, white and pale green parts only,
1 8-oz package cream cheese at room               thinly sliced
       temp                                                      1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper                                     1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, preferably grated fresh
1 cup 2% or whole milk                               3 large eggs
2 lbs potatoes, shredded and liquid              3 cups grated gruyere cheese, about 12 oz
    squeezed out (I leave skins on)

Heat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x13 baking dish (I use an med/large oval dish for a prettier presentation).  Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add leeks; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Blend cream cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a food processor.  Add milk and eggs.  Process until blended.  Transfer to the bowl with leeks.  Add potatoes and gruyere.  Stir to blend (I use my hands...best tool in the house).  Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.  Bake potatoes until cooked through and top is brown, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.  You can prepare this dish a day ahead and rewarm, covered with foil, in a 300 oven for about a half hour.  Bon appetit!

Good Morning!

It's been raining here in the Seattle area for the past three days...nonstop! And the temperature hasn't gotten past 63.  I had a golf lesson yesterday, and it was pouring buckets.  Luckily the driving range was covered, but as I drove by the golf course, I thought, "Where are all the die-hard golfers?"  A friend of mine later pointed out that the ball doesn't go very far with of all the water it has to go through...good point!  If you have never lived in the Northwest, you would think that the weather is always like this...not so.  We are usually in a drought every summer, and can also count on September as being nice.  But alas, we are getting towards the end of the month so it could go either way. 

Today is Thursday and I volunteer at one of the local food banks.  If it has to do with food, I'm there, especially produce.  And, that's exactly what I deal with when I arrive.  I'm in charge of going through all the produce the local grocery stores have donated, and arrange everything such that the people who go through the food line today will find it as appealing as it can be.  Sometimes the people I volunteer with will ask me what you do with this or that, and I'm happy to oblige. 

I will leave you with a few pictures of my cats, Cassie and Bobo.  It looks to be a sleep day!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Recipe #5: Bowtie Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, Peas, Spinach & Port Wine

I had this absolutely wonderful pasta dish at a restaurant in Windsor, Connecticut, about 15 years ago. I always called it Connecticut pasta, as I simply wrote down the ingredients off the menu onto a napkin before I left.  Not only is it easy, but also vegan, and better the next day as all the flavors meld.  Just reading the recipe should entice you to prepare it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just Checking In....

And wanted to ask you, what's the craziest blunder you ever made while cooking or baking something?  I remember watching one of my favorite food shows many years ago, Cooking with Nathalie Dupree...she was one of my all-time favorites with her gentle demeanor and no pretense.  If you have not heard of her, or have never watched her show, there are plenty of her segments on u-tube.  You may want to take the time to watch just one, and you will see what I mean.  Anyway, on this particular segment, she was making a cake, and had the Kitchenaid mixer going at a faster speed than she realized.  She proceeded to add the flour, and it all went up in a cloud of dust.  What I loved about her was that she just laughed and told the viewer that things happen and went on with the segment, as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred.  Some of the creative things I have done...

1. I always use unsalted butter as it's butter in its purest form.  That said, if you make the choice to use unsalted butter, you must adjust the salt in a recipe accordingly.  I was making some biscuits one day and the recipe assumed salted butter, and there was no added salt in the recipe.  I used unsalted butter, and failed to compensate with some salt.  The biscuits turned out lovely as usual, but when I took a bite of one it was totally, and I mean totally, blah!  This is something you can't salt the top of either after it's baked as it won't stick.  I threw them all out.

2.  I was making a coconut cake and had just gotten the batter in both pans, and opening the door to put the cakes in the oven, when I realized, I had forgotten to grease and flour the pans.  Out of the oven they came, the cake batter put back into the bowl, the pans washed, and then greased and floured.  That was a close one...imagine trying to get those things out of the pans...not happening!

3.  I had just put a cake batter together, still had it in the bowl, and was just about to put it into the cake pan, when I turned to look at something on the counter, and low and behold, there was the cup of canola oil that was to go into the cake, meekly sitting on the counter.  I put the paddle attachment back on the mixer, added the oil, poured the batter in the pan and put it in the oven...that was close!

4.  Before being smart enough to crack each egg in a small bowl before adding to any batter, I had all of the ingredients for a fairly costly cake in the bowl, just to add the eggs.  I cracked the first egg in the mixing bowl, and by the smell, realized it was rotten.  You guessed it...start over!

5.  I had made a 10x15 sheet pan of bar cookies, where after taking the pan out of the oven, you sprinkle chocolate chips over the whole thing, put back in the turned-off oven for 5 minutes, take out and spread the melted chips over the entire cookie.  I had bought a brand of chocolate chips I had never used before, and because of the paraffin content in the chips, I went to spread the melted chocolate and it all came up on my offset spatula in one piece.  Lesson learned...never use a new product on something that really matters the first time around!

And with that, I will leave you with some pictures of my garden, and the invitation to share your adventures in the kitchen with me, and the rest of my readers...it's always nice knowing that one is in good company...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Me and Abs

Here is a picture of me and my niece, abby, aka abs, who was the inspiration behind my blog.  Actually, she was more than just the inspiration, she was pretty much the motivation and guidance.  This blog will only be as successful as how many of you read, cook and share comments with me, as in many ways, this endeavor is just as important to abs as it is to me.  I really have enjoyed it so far, and hope you will as well...