Friday, April 30, 2010

Confession time

My hubbie isn't the only one with food dislikes.  As a foodie, I'm pained to admit that I don't like mushrooms (including truffles), olives, pears, bleu cheese, cheesecake, or beer.  The very things that make so many people swoon do absolutely nothing for me.  It's a darn shame, too, because I've been told many times that each of these items is quite delicious.

And yes, I do try them from time to time to see if my tastes have changed.  The answer is always that the items remain on my "nope" list.  I do kind of like telling people that I don't like cheesecake.  It must be similar to the reactions people get when they say they don't like chocolate:
That's a combination of pity and disbelief in case you've never received that particular look.

So why, then, did the recipe for Pasta with Tomato-Bleu Cheese sauce on The Pioneer Woman's website make me want to reach into the computer screen and snatch it away from her?  It's not because her pics are always mouth-watering (which they are).  When I read the recipe I could just taste the creamy sauce with the piquant backdrop of the bleu cheese and tangy tomatoes.

I had to make it.  You can see her recipe at the above link.  The differences between her recipe and mine were that I used a quart of home-canned tomatoes, homemade creme fraiche (and certainly not 3/4 cup!), beef broth, and whole wheat spaghetti.

I don't measure most things, especially for recipes like this one.  Here's what I did:
See the colander at the bottom right?  I drained my tomatoes for about an hour, mostly because I walked off and forgot them.

Every time I open a jar of home-canned anything I always marvel at the fact that I've already handled that food at least once.  [friendly voice] Hello again, little friends!  [evil voice] I've come to eat you.

Next time I make this I probably won't drain the tomatoes at all so that I can reduce the amount of cream even more without sacrificing moisture.

The Pioneer Woman (TPW) is a cheater for most of her ingredients, following the Rachel Ray method of cooking with lots of pre-packaged foods.  I didn't have pre-washed baby spinach.  I had regular spinach.  Gritty, adult spinach.  You've gotta float it in the sink for a bit to let the sand settle to the bottom.  It also perks up the greens a bit.

While the spinach floated, I chopped up the garlic.  TPW cooked her tomatoes first but I like the smell and taste of sauteed garlic, so I decided to do it my way.

Plus my computer is clear across the house from the kitchen and I hadn't printed the recipe.  Besides, don't you always start with the aromatics?

After the garlic had reached optimal aroma, I added my tomatoes.  If you compare my pics to TPW's, you'll see that my tomatoes are much drier.

While the tomatoes are cooking down, I made and documented the making of creme fraiche for your reading pleasure.  Watch for a how-to in the next couple of days.  I'm still recovering from how terribly difficult it was.

Next I added the cream.  TPW used 3/4 cup.  I used maybe 1/4 cup.  As much as I love cream, I just can't bring myself to use fat-laden dairy products in quite the same way she does.

Notice that you can see the bottom of the pan here.  I decided that the sauce was too thick.  Since I had some leftover beef broth in the fridge, I used that to thin out the sauce instead of using more cream (as suggested by TPW).  I probably added about a half to three-quarters of a cup of broth.
Sorry about the weird colors in some of these pics.  The lighting above my stove makes it really tough to get pics with anything near true colors, especially in the early evening.  I'm still learning how to get the best shots on that side of my kitchen.

And now, the ingredient I don't like.  Bleu cheese.  Full-disclosure: This is a 5-ounce package of non-local cheese, for which I apologize.  I didn't think it was very environmentally friendly to drive several miles way the heck out of my way to Metropolitan Market just for cheese.  I got a tub of this stuff at the Albertson's a mile from my house instead.

Dump it in, stir it around, and encourage gooey meltiness.

Season with red pepper flakes and pepper, then continue to cook until your pasta is done.

After the pasta had drained and was still steaming in the sink, I went to grab the spinach and toss it in with the sauce.  Problem: I forgot that this adult spinach came with tough, adult stems, which needed to get pulled off.  I was worried I'd scorch the sauce.  It was fine.

Watch as this...
...becomes this...

It only took about 30 seconds!

I dumped the drained pasta into the sauce and had fun taking pictures from the tripod on a timer setting until I realized that my action shots were all blurry from too much action.

I held still for a faux action shot, then played with hue and saturation until I was no longer sure if the picture looks better or worse than the original.  So I saved and used it anyway.

I plated the finished pasta up and took this picture in the natural light next to my sink (where 90% of my cooking pictures are taken).  Much, much prettier!

I have to say that this meal was divine.  As in ohmigawd-stop-me-I'm-eating-seconds divine.  I smacked my lips and moaned a lot.  It was exactly what I had imagined: tangy, sweet, creamy, spicy, peppery.  My husband agreed between his own grunts of pleasure.

The food, people.  He was eating the food.

Maybe, juuuust maybe I'll start using more bleu cheese in things.  This was so good, and so beyond my normal realm of ingredients, that I'm going to keep trying other things on my "dislike" list in the future.

Just don't expect to see beets on here anytime soon.  Bleh.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


It's not local.  It has nothing to do with food or sustainability or ethical living.

It's just cool and kinda fun.

It's called wordle.  I ran it on this blog just to see what happened.  I think I like it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Baby surprise jacket

Need a fast and easy knitting project for a young child?  Make a BSJ.  They're great for using up that variegated yarn you couldn't resist buying but now can't figure out how to use. 

In general I knit in the winter and garden in the summer.  I used to knit on my commute to work but it's really hard to knit on a bicycle.

I recently finished this sweater, a baby surprise jacket, for a friend's daughter.  The recipient is 22 months old and it fit her prefectly.  But the best part is that the stitches are so stretchy, and the sleeves are only supposed to be half-length, that it'll fit her well into the fall.  This is the third one I've made.  It took nearly 2 skeins of Cascade 220.

It's got the cutest buttons!

Here's the first BSJ I made.  It's a yummy hand-dyed merino wool from Vashon Island that I bought at the Madrona Fiber Fair nearly 2 years ago and then didn't know how to use because of the color variations of the yarn.  I mixed it with a Cascade 220 to get the yarn to go farther, and added a little mandarin collar (because I didn't like how I did the neckline, which I've since fixed).  It is also being worn by a little girl.

I haven't sewn the buttons onto BSJ #2, for a baby girl just born in March.  Must get that done!  I'll post that pic another time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cream of asparagus soup

G-man went to a sports bar on a man-date to watch an ultimate cage fight.  Yeah, um, that's not really my deal, so I get the house all to myself for an evening.

His absence left me the freedom to make something for dinner that did not take into consideration his many food dislikes: asparagus, anything in the pepper family, anything in the onion family, cauliflower, all bitter greens, peas, cooked carrots, garbanzo beans, parsnips, pretty much all squash. 

Sometimes I think it's a miracle that I can cook anything at all containing vegetables but then he'll surprise me and like something that contains only ingredients he dislikes.  He claims that I'm "the picky one" but that's just because whereas he can eat the same thing every night for a week, I get bored and need culinary challenge.

Anyway, back to my dinner.  I have this rule about canning: if I still have significant quantities of something I canned by the time that thing is in season again, I won't can it again.  Makes sense, right?  I made nearly 6 gallons of fermented dill pickles in 2008 and it has taken us the past 2 years to eat all of them.

Last June I canned something like 25 pounds of asparagus.  I've barely used it, mainly because G-man can't stand the stuff and I can't stand his bitching and moaning when I eat it.  Since he's gone, I got to use some of it to make a cream of asparagus soup.

Simple purees remind me so very, very much of the ones I ate in France as an exchange student.  A puree of bitter greens with a dollop of creme fraiche was our normal summer dinner.  Utterly delicious, simple, and fast.

Let's go, then!

Cream of asparagus soup

Ingredients: Canned asparagus, broth, onion, creme fraiche (or any dairy product to make your puree creamy), thyme, salt, pepper
This is not a recipe so much as a guide on how to use the ingredients.  It's a flexible and forgiving "recipe", so make it to your tastes and in the quantity you need/want.

Chop up the onion.  I was initially only going to use half, then changed my mind and did the whole damn thing.  Hey, it was my dinner, right?

Put the onions in a pan with some butter or canola oil and cook slowly until they're soft.  We got a really great All-Clad pan as a wedding gift, so I needed very little fat.

Drain the asparagus in a strainer or colander, then dump it into the softened onions.  I had about a quart of asparagus.

Add in the broth, thyme, salt, and pepper.  I used about a pint of home-canned chicken broth but could have used a bit more.  Use a vegetable broth if you want to go vegetarian or even vegan.  Pop on the lid and let this cook for about 15-20 minutes. 
I'd say, "doesn't this look pretty"... but I know the truth. 

Now we puree!  I had a small enough batch that it all fit into the blender (another wedding present!).  I would have used the immersion blender had I done this in a different pot but didn't want to risk scratching that pan, my sole non-stick pan in the kitchen.

Put the puree back into the pan.  Mine was a little chunkier than it should have been because a) I didn't let the onions cook down long enough and b) it could have used more broth.  Alors, c'est la vie.

How much cream you want is up to you.  I used 1/3 to 1/2 cup of creme fraiche (homemade!) and stirred it up until it was thoroughly blended.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.

The puree was delicious and I have enough for funking-smelling pee leftovers later.  I only wish I'd had some bread to go with it.  A nice ciabatta roll would have been awesome with this.  This is a company-worthy soup or you could sex it up with some bacon. 

Because, you know, everything is better with bacon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fresh eggs with herbs

This is Scooter, a white-crested black Polish.

She's named for this Scooter:
If you don't have The Muppets theme song in your head by now, here's the earworm link.

I bought Scooter because she was supposed to be a blue polish, like this:

The color of their feathers has nothing to do with their personalities or egg-laying capabilities.  I just wanted a blue one because they're unusual. 

The problem is that the genes for blue coloring (blue genes?) work out that 50% of the offspring will be blue, 25% black, and 25% "splash".  I have 2 "blue" Polish.  Three guesses what Beaker is, and the first two guesses don't count:
Yeah.  She's a "splash".  Damn genetics.

Polish are different from chickens without crests.  They're neurotic dingbats (instead of just dingbats).  They're friendly, yes, but because they can't see well, they definitely march to a different drummer.  Because they're also bantams (lightweight), they can get places that the bigger, heavier birds can't reach.  Like the NCZ (No Chicken Zone).

They are also the only members of the flock who lay white eggs.  One of them has been laying in a flower pot on the back porch, which is in the NCZ.  I even put a chicken wire cage around the pot to keep the dimwit out of it.  Alas, to no avail.  Either Beaker or Scooter has been bound and determined to lay her egg on my chives and thyme.  She, whichever one it is, has also been taking liberties with the backyard vegetable garden, digging, eating, and pooping in it.

The herbs in the flower pot are not doing well as a result of the prolonged hen-sitting spells.  Earlier this week I dropped the flower pot egg because my hands and pockets were full of eggs from the nesting box.  You know... where the eggs are supposed to be laid.  All the other hens got the memo. 

Yesterday I finally figured out which one is the culprit, and it's not who I thought it was.
I love that you can see Gwen peering up at me on the left.  "You gots da nummies?"

Damn bird.

If I eat scrambled eggs with chives, will it count as a one-pot meal?

Friday, April 23, 2010

How to make a brick

1. Make this recipe:

2. Double it.

3. Allow it to rise once.

4. Divide dough in half.  Continue with one half as you normally would (rising, baking, etc.). 

5. Enjoy first half.  It will look something like this:

6. Spray a large zipper bag with cooking spray.  Insert second half into bag and freeze.

7. A couple of weeks later, remove the frozen dough and thaw in the fridge overnight. 

8. Spray a loaf pan liberally, put dough in it, and try to make it rise.  Don't worry, it won't.

9. Bake for 40 minutes in a futile attempt to salvage it.

10. Give up.  Remove it from oven and allow it to cool overnight on the counter.  Voila: une brique!

11. Give to chickens to keep them busy for the day.

I have frozen dough very successfully in the past.  Where I screwed up this time was in allowing it to rise the first time.  Next time I'll throw it into the freezer ASAP after kneading, and possibly even add extra yeast into the dough during the kneading because this is a very dense dough.

Dough.  DOH!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spinach-feta pie with a potato crust

I saw a recipe the other day for a cauliflower pie thing with melted cheese.  It had a crust made of grated potatoes & onions instead of flour and butter.  Then I forgot where I'd seen it (just remembered it was on 

Turns out that the recipe has been around for years.  All that's old is really new again, eh? [shrug]

The problem was that I didn't have cauliflower.  I did, however, have a few eggs, some spinach, half an onion, feta cheese, creme fraiche, and some spring onions that needed to get used.

This potato had a bad toupee, which necessitated surgical removal.

Thus was born "Spinach-feta pie with a potato crust".  It was pretty darn tasty, too.

  • 2 cups grated raw potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Salt the potatoes & onions, then put them in a colander or strainer for about 10 minutes to drain.  After 10 minutes, squeeze them to work out some stress.

Combine the grated stuff with the beaten egg.

Spray a 9-10" pie pan liberally (there's a political joke in there somewhere).  Plop the mix into the pan and smoosh it out and up the sides so that it looks like, well, a crust.  Not much to this part.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until it's brown and crispy-looking.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup dairy of your choice: milk, yogurt, cream, creme fraiche (I had some because I'd tried making my own... more on that in a future post)
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a bag of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 4-5 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 package of feta cheese crumbles
Whisk together the eggs, dairy, and seasonings.  My red pepper flakes have lost their zip, so I added quite a lot (1/2 teaspoon).  Be conservative with the nutmeg - it's just enough to add a certain je ne sais quois.

Add in the spinach, green onions, and feta.


Turn down the oven to 375.  Pour the filling into the potato crust and bake for another 35-45 minutes or until the filling is puffy and golden on top.

I liked this but my primary complaint is that we didn't eat dinner until almost 7:30.  This is not a fast meal.

But it is a yummy one!