Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Radio silence

Sorry things are a little quiet on the blog lately. Hubbie was out of town 2 weekends in a row & my family is preparing to move my 93-year-old grandmother into assisted living. 

I have, however, written several posts in my head!

Here are some of the topics I've been noodling:
  1. How to adapt a recipe
  2. Homemade gnocchi
  3. Plan now for your spring chicks
  4. Beef tagine with butternut squash
  5. Results of my duck proscuitto project
  6. Weather forecasting the old-fashioned way
  7. Fruit trees
  8. My current knitting obsession
  9. New Year's resolution update
  10. Pancetta (February Charcutepalooza topic)
  11. How to cook with what you've got
  12. Winter canning projects: citrus fruits
Any of these speak to you?  I have to go look at my pics to see what else might be in my camera.

Here's a terrible cell phone pic of my progress on my "Orchid Thief Shawlette".  Since this only my second lace project ever it's been a true challenge.  Surprisingly, though, I haven't thrown it across the room.  I guess being an anal, perfectionist Virgo has its benefits.

I've learned a lot doing this project.  It's taken a lot of concentration and the willingness to rip out rows upon rows but I'm just stubborn enough to do it.  Last night I ripped back 12 rows because of a single mistake I couldn't live with and my husband about keeled over, knowing that it represented maybe 2 hours of work. 

Oh well.

Let me know what's on your mind!  I look forward to hearing from you and promise to get some new content up soon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Having been an avid canner and fervent locavore for several years, I've slowly been sourcing more of our meats from local sources.  We only recently got a stand alone freezer, making large purchase impossible up to this point.  As a home food preservation junkie, the next logical step seemed to try my hand at preserving meats by making "charcuterie", the blanket term in French for any preserved or processed meats.  I guess we call them deli meats in English but it covers a lot more territory in French.

When I heard about Charcutepalooza I had to join.  I was searching for a reason to hit the $25 free shipping on anyway, making the timing perfect.

My copy of "Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing" by Michael Ruhlman arrived about a week later (along with a bubble lawn mower for a friend's little boy... talk about a weird combination of items). 

January's charcuterie item is duck proscuitto.  Duck is expensive and I waffled over buying it.  I finally found 2 small breasts for $8 and went for it.

The process is simple: you submerge the breasts in salt for 24 hours, rinse the salt off, pepper well, wrap in cheesecloth, and hang in a cool place for a week.

Eep.  That last part is freaking me out.

For anyone accustomed to keeping meat in the fridge to prevent spoilage - so pretty much everyone in modern times - unceremoniously hanging meat in what is essentially a closet is, well, scary.  That's why I approached the duck purchase with such trepidation.  What if I spent $20 and it rotted instead of cured?  It's a waste of money and some duck would have died for no reason.

For the sake of Chacutepalooza we're supposed to have our meats cured, consumed, and blogged about by 1/15.  Since I only just hung my meat on Monday, and today's Wednesday, that's not going to happen.  My duck should be ready by this coming weekend because the pieces were relatively small.  I'll write about eating it another time.

Can I laugh now about having said "hung" and "meat" in ths same sentence?  Tee hee hee.  I'm going to do a lot of snickering about sausages, salami, and meat.

I've had one prior experience with homemade charcuterie, having made bacon last fall.  I guess I never got around to blogging about it.  I didn't care for the smoke I had used so the resulting bacon wasn't as good as I would have liked.  I have a feeling this Charcutepalooza challenge will advance my techniques at some point in 2011.  Who knows, maybe I'll actually invest in a real smoker?  The thought of smoked salmon makes my mouth water.

Do any of you have experience making charcuterie?  What did you make?  What would you like to see made during Charcutepalooza?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Braided scarf

We've had very cold temps here in WA lately.  We even awoke the other morning to light snow.

It was all gone by 9:00 a.m. but my 8:00 a.m. drive to work was slicker than snot. 

This is my lilac tree in the back yard.  There was a crescent moon that was too pretty not to photograph.

About a year ago a girlfriend thrust into my arms a large plastic bag from a fancy yarn store in Seattle called Tricoter ("To knit" in French).  I've never been there but would like to go sometime.  It looks fabulous from the website.

You have to know Nancy to know that she's got a Midas touch.  She shops at Goodwill and buys gorgeous vintage clothing that looks awesome on her.  She picks things up for a song in thrift stores and with her amazing flair puts them together in a way that makes it look like it's been staged for a magazine cover.  She collects paper and crafts little artistic things like paper bird houses, one-of-a-kind personalized namestags for gifts, and cards.

And then there's her garden - beautiful any time of year.  My yard looks like crap right now.

But Nancy has an Achilles heel.  The bag that she pushed into my arms contained a failed knitting project.  The scarf she had started was shaped like a V.  She had been trying to knit 3 strands together and it was too bulky.  It had dropped stitches and was a mess.  Disgusted and fed up, she gave me the entire project to do with what I wanted.

Hey, she can't be good at everything.

On Christmas day I started to frog (pull out knitting) it.  It took me the better part of a day because the strands were twisted together.  Frankly, the person who helped her start this project has no place "helping" a beginning knitter.  Nancy selected yarns that are difficult to work work due to the color and texture - you can't see what you're doing at all.  These were not cheap yarns either.  The price tags showed that each of the 6 skeins cost between $10-11.

I knitted three long panels and braided them together.  Each end is knitted together.  The braid is sewn together lightly to give it stability but to allow the strands some movement.

I don't have a before picture but you can probably imagine an ugly, bulky, dark scarf and that would suffice.

I am really pleased with how it turned out.

And so was Nancy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Berry pancakes

Don't you love it when your significant other makes breakfast?

So do I!

G-man wanted pancakes and there was some buttermilk in the fridge that needed to get used. 

Here's the recipe he used.  If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might have seen it before.  It's our favorite pancake recipe. 

While he prepped the batter I defrosted some blueberries.  When I was a kid I didn't even know that pancakes could come without blueberries!  Even now, at 36, I think pancakes are naked without blueberries.

Nothing sexier than a man weilding a spatula.
Sorry the picture is fuzzy.  I had left the camera in the car overnight and it steamed up upon coming into the warm house. 

Or maybe I steamed up the camera watching Hubbie cook?

We topped off the pancakes with the boysenberry syrup I made last fall.

Add a cup of coffee and life is good.  Does Starbucks count as local if their HQ is just 30 miles from my house?  Yeah... I didn't think so.

Ingredient breadk-down
LOCAL: all dairy products, berries, syrup, egg
NOT LOCAL: flour, sugar, baking powder & soda, oil, coffee

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Julia Child's Ratatouille

Last summer I bought a butt load of eggplants.  I chopped them up with my bumper crop of yellow squash and froze 3 bags like this one.  Notice that it says "pg 503" ?

This is page 503:

From this famous book:

I was fortunate enough to live in France for 10 months, 8 of that spent with a French family who adopted me.  The matriarch of the family, Marie-Claude, is a warm, generous, and kind person who is still a close friend.  M-C taught me many of the things I know about cooking, including how to make ratatouille.  Much of what I cook, both in technique and ingredients, comes from her influence.

Ratatouille is made from tomatoes, squash, eggplant, and bell peppers, all late summer harvest items.  It's from the south of France, which is the warm region where these things grow well.  When I bagged up the yellow squash from my yard and the farmers market eggplant last summer, it was an experiment to see if I could recapture that late summer flavor of savory vegetables in the bleak winter months of roots and hard squash.

You can download a copy of the Julia Child recipe here.

I started by cooking the eggplant in oil:

Next I cooked the onions with 3 of my fire-roasted red pepper cubes because fresh local bell peppers do not exist in Washington in January.

Once that was all cooked, I added the garlic.

From there, I added a jar of tomatoes I had canned last summer, returned the eggplant to the pan, and seasoned it.  I could tell that Julia's ratatouille wasn't going to be as good as Marie-Claude's (sorry, Julia).  I added some herbes de Provence and red pepper flakes as well as extra salt and pepper.

I let it simmer, covered by a splatter guard, for about 20 minutes.

My last act was to top the ratatouille with 4 eggs and let them poach in the sauce, covered, for about 5 minutes.

Ratatouille with eggs is the only way I ever had this dish in France, and it's how I prefer it.  The slightly runny yolks add a creaminess to the ratatouille's flavor, as well as contribute protein.

Of course, I had to have some red wine with dinner!

So did I recreate a summer dish in the winter?  The answer is yes and no.  The eggplant was brown and unappealing, I think due to having been frozen and my not having drained it fully.  The yellow squash, however, was still very flavorful and I found myself digging in my bowl for just the squash.  The chickens got the eggplant and gladly ate it.  They don't get much in the way of veggies during the winter.

I still have 2 bags of the ratatouille mix in the freezer.  I'm going to try a recipe from my French Cooking cookbook, which I recently pulled from my library for the mousse au chocolat basque.  I'll let you know when I do.
Ingredient break-down:
LOCAL: All veggies and herbs, eggs, wine
NOT LOCAL: Oil, salt, pepper

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Open Letter to Ree Drummond

UPDATED 12/18/11 - I've disabled further comments on this post because I'm tired of the attacks on me and on other readers from both sides of the debate.

My original intent in writing this post was not to be mean-spirited or to express jealousy that I'm not a millionaire fending off cookbook contracts and endorsements.  I was feeling disillusioned by what I felt was an unrealistic presentation of la vie en rose showcased by Ms. Drummond's public persona.  I stated my decision to move on to other blogs that had more relevance to my life.  I did not resort to a single name-calling incident or slander, and allowed all comments to be posted, regardless of their point of view or tone.  I even permitted posts that were nasty to me personally... and that was hard.

This post has run its course and is nearly a year old.  Read on if you wish but no further comments will be allowed on this post, nor will any comments - positive or negative - about The Pioneer Woman be permitted on my blog. 

My blog, my rules.


If you're a Pioneer Woman (aka Ree Drummond) fan, stop reading now. 

Dear Ree,

Someone told me about you perhaps 2 years ago.  I visited your blog, liked it, and signed up for the RSS feed.  I looked forward to your posts, as many as 4 or 5 each day.  Heck, though I'm childless, I even read the ones about homeschooling out of curiousity.

Last spring, you came to Washington State.  I talked a friend into making the hour-plus drive to a bookstore over 50 miles away, where I bought your book sight-unseen, and waited for the chance to meet you and have you sign it.  That tattered copy of "The Egg and I"... that was from me.  I wanted you to have it because 1) you were in WA and 2) I'd heard that you wanted to raise chickens.  I included a note but didn't tell you who I was because I didn't want to come across as an attention-grubbing blogger seeking a mention on your site.  I handed the book to your bored mother-in-law because I never got within 30 feet of you.  Nancy and I finally gave up after 3 hours when we realized that my ticket letter to queue up was G and you were only on the D tickets.  At least I can say my copy of the book was in the same room as you at some point.

During our fruitless, long-ass wait Nancy wondered aloud how you managed to do a book tour, home-school 4 kids, clean not 1 but 2 houses, take all kinds of photos and photoshop them, write a cookbook, develop and photograph recipes, blog 4-5 times per day, stay slender on said recipes, take care of a house full of animals, garden, host dinner parties, and still sleep.

I had recently started blogging around that time.  I was working half-time, gardening my wee city lot, raising chickens, and cooking from scratch as you purported to do.  Each of my blog posts was taking me about an hour to write, edit, and illustrate with photos.  How the heck did you do it?!?

When I got home that night, I read your cookbook cover to cover.  Every single recipe - I repeat "Every Single Recipe" - was from your blog.  There was no new content, and all the content was available for free online.  The format was annoying.  I'd spent 5 hours and $40 on the book + gas for naught.  You made me feel like a chump, Ree.  That hurt my feelings.

That evening was when the shine started to come off the "P-Dub" apple for me.  My friend's comments got me thinking about how effortless you made it all seem, and how inadequate it made me seem in comparison.  What the hell was I doing wrong that I can't do half of what you do?  You don't make me feel very good about myself and that's not good for a relationship.

Last summer  you posted a "recipe" for an utter abomination.  You call it "The Bread" and speak of it as if it came from Christ Himself.  I felt betrayed.  Your recipes up to that point had been interesting, though extravagantly rich in calories.  This one was not even worthy of cooking class for 12-year-old boy scouts.  How is "broil a shitload of butter on bread" a recipe?

But I stayed with you.  Your blog has been like bad porn: I can't look and not get tingly at the thought of eating things with cream, buying $120 earrings because I can't find a matching pair, playing Oprah by giving away dozens of KitchenAids, enjoying lavish 5-star hotel stays.  I was a voyeuse into another life, another waistline, another tax class, and I liked it.

I had drank the Pioneer Woman KoolAid.

I've made plenty of your recipes, some even on this blog.  I adapted your scone and pasta recipes to something that might induce heart murmurs but not a full-blown coronary incident.  I've entered your contests, I endured your mind-numbing hotel room tour with the "aw shucks, look at me in the bathroom mirror!" comments, the photos of the $30 candles, and closet-cleaning where you off-loaded expensive designer clothing you bought but couldn't be bothered to wear. 

Yeah, I googled what you probably paid for those garments.  Hell, I only entered the contests in the hopes of getting one that I could hawk on ebay.  "Buy this flowy shirt once owned and pitted out by the one and only Pioneer Woman!"  I could have gotten good bucks for that.

I should have known then that I was becoming jaded.

But this... this is inexcusable:
The pistachio cake "recipe" you posted this week is not worthy of my affection.  You have jumped the shark, Ree, and we can no longer be together.  You're just a non-alcoholic version of Sandra Lee to me, a hollowed-out version of your former self.

I'd like to wish you all the best but the reality is that you already have it.  I'll cop to being envious of your charmed life but that's not why I broke up with you: I need to see other people.  People who get me, like David Lebowitz, Clay and Zach, Toby, Sean & Paul, Deb, and Bridget, to name just a few.

Good luck, Ree.  Please don't call me.


Sassy Saag Giveaway

Did you know that I have a facebook page for the blog?  There you'll find links to other blogs I follow, recipes that I'm trying, as well as updates on local foods and trends.  Check if out if you haven't already!

Veena's Market is run by a friend of mine.  Veena is as lovely in personality as she is in her photo on the website.  Last year when she was starting her business she tested a few recipes on me and they were so yummy.  I've been meaning to try her dosa but haven't gotten around to it yet.

For Christmas I bought several packets of Veena's Sassy Saag, pictured below, and put them into my family members' stockings.  Hubbie got one, which I made for him last night with chicken and yogurt. 

I never make Indian food because I'm just not familiar with the spices and techniques used.  This saag was simple to make, healthy, and provided enough for leftovers at work the next day.  Just be careful not to burn the cumin seeds in the first step.  G-man and I both loved it and I want to share it with you.

Having made this just last night I can attest to the brilliant green in the above pic from her website.  It really is that bright emerald color!  I added yogurt to ours to stretch the sauce a bit and mine served 4, not the 2 listed on the package.  I served it on a bed of rice and it was a good and fast Tuesday night meal.

Leave a comment on this post by 7:00 p.m. PST on Saturday, January 8.  I'll randomly select a comment and send out the package of spices and instructions to a lucky winner.  One entry per person.

If you don't win, be sure to get yourself a packet (or 5) of these super spices.  Shipping is free and at $2.99 you really can't go wrong.

DISCLAIMER: Veena is a friend of mine but does not know that I'm running this contest, that I am writing anything about her, or that I ate the saag last night.  All she knows is that I bought a handful of the packets last month and that my check cleared.

The randomizer at selected "2" as the winner, so RSM, that's you!  Congratulations.  Everyone else, go get some of this Sassy Saag.  It's worthy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mousse au chocolat basque

Last week my cousin and I were talking about different kinds of foods.  To make a long story short, she confided in me that she'd never had French food.  Having lived in France and learned from a very skilled French woman how to cook a variety of things, I was stunned!  How can anyone never have had French cuisine?!? 

Worse yet, how could I not have introduced my family to a cuisine that I love?

Off we went a week later for dinner at a local French restaurant recommended by friends.  We enjoyed a good meal that ended with our sharing of a mousse au chocolat and a lemon tart.

I was disappointed by the mousse au chocolat.  It felt "puny" in my mouth and had no oompf or texture.  Yes, I know that "mousse" means "foam" but I'm used to mousses that are silken and creamy, not airy and meh.

Mousse gets its texture from the air bubbles suspended in a sweet medium.  You can use whipped cream or egg whites when making a mousse au chocolat.  Most recipes I see for mousse use whipped cream, which I don't think provides that unctuous creaminess you want from a mousse.

Here's my favorite recipe for mousse au chocolate, taken from French Cooking: Traditional recipes for the contemporary cook, the first French cookbook I ever bought.  This cookbook deserves a look because the traditional French recipes are expert at showcasing local and seasonal ingredients. 

Turns out that the amount of chocolate is variable depending upon your taste... or memory.  I didn't consult the book before delving in and used just half of the chocolate.  And I forgot the butter.  But a friend at the dinner party said, "I would sell children for this."  High praise.

Use a high quality chocolate because its flavor will be in the limelight.  The recipe scales up easily, just remember this ratio -
1 egg : 2 ounces chocolate = 2 servings

My counter has a slight bullnose on it.  I whip out the pounder thingy and whack the crap out of the chocolate while it's still in the package.  Way easier than chopping it.

I'm submitting this as a Dark Days Challenge recipe because it uses just 3 ingredients: butter, eggs, and chocolate, any 2 of which are easy to get locally.

This rich mousse is silken, dense, and decadent. A little goes a long way, helping to keep portion sizes small.

(Yes, the girls' eggs really are that bright orange!  Booze is all optional.)

6oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp butter
3 eggs, separated, room temperature
(optional) 2 tbsp liqueur of choice

When you separate the eggs, make sure to remove the chalaza, that white squiggly thing attached to the yolk.  You don't want someone who is in the middle of a foodgasm to stop and pull a funky white thing out of their mouth.  Believe me - this happened to me once.  Moussus interruptus is bad mojo.

Break or chop the chocolate and put into a microwaveable bowl with the water.  Zap for 30 seconds, then stir well.  Zap longer if needed to melt but don't burn the chocolate.

Allow to cool slightly then add the butter, egg yolks one at a time, and the optional liqueur.

Beat the egg yolks into submission.  I had to do mine by hand because I got rid of my hand mixer last summer.  Can I count that toward my exercise regime?

Gently... gently... fold the egg whites into the chocolate one third at a time.  Don't try to get an even color throughout: doing so will release too many of the bubbles trapped in the egg whites.

Pour the mousse into your desired vessel(s) and chill overnight.  I did one that was with Grand Marnier and another with the brandy I'd soaked my currants in for the Christmas Stollen.  The original recipe suggests rum and I've also seen people use Chartreuse, which is from the region where I lived.  On a side note, my friend is the head guide for the Chartreuse aging caves.  It's an acquired taste but good once you've acquired it!

I promise you that this will be the best chocolate mousse you've ever had.  I once made it for friends in France and they asked me for the recipe.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I'm putting my New Year's Resolutions here for everyone to see, making me more committed to them.

So here goes:

1. Hubbie and I are committing to a healthier lifestyle.  For both of use, that means watching what we eat and exercising.  I will make up weekly menus each weekend, something I used to do anyway.  I will also take the dog for more frequent and longer walks.  It is good for both of us.  Come summer, I will ride my bike to work at least 2x/week.  You'll see healthier items here, too.

2. After enduring a marathon pre-Christmas cleaning session that took me 3 days, I am resolved to deep-cleaning 1 room of our 6-room house each month.  I am talking mother-in-law-is-visiting clean.  I mean wash-the-walls and move-the-appliances clean.  The kitchen, bathroom, 2 bedrooms, living & dining rooms as one, and laundry room will each get thoroughly scrubbed twice annually.  And in case you're wondering, we do, of course, clean the house as needed and will not neglect the bathroom for 5 months at a time.  This resolution is aimed at getting deep cleaning on a regular cycle instead of the "on crap, company's coming" cleaning frenzy that has typical of Hubbie and me.

3. Hubbie and I will pay off my car this summer.  We will roll that money into the credit card with the highest balance and pay it off as fast as possible.  Our joint goal is to dramatically reduce our household debt in 2011.  Paying off the car and a credit card will help that goal immensely.

4. I am giving up my daily Starbucks coffee (gulp).  This helps resolutions 1 and 3.  To make it easier to resist the temptation of getting a coffee I will do 2 things: 1) I have started using my French press to make coffee at home and 2) I will leave my debit card at home.  I live just 3 mies from work.  If I need my debit card, I can come home to get it.  Mary Hunt would be proud.

5. I plan to knit my first adult garment in 2011.  I've selected my project, the Silke Jacket from Brave New Knits.  I can't wait to start it.  The book, which I bought recently, is fabulous.  If you knit, run to check it out.  It's a very good book (insert disclaimer about how the author doesn't know me from Adam and didn't give me anything for this shout out blah blah blah).

Did you make any resolutions?  Why/why not?  If you made some, what are they and what steps will you take to make progress?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Look what Santa brought me

Every time Hubbie and I walk through Home Depot or Lowe's I stop and paw through the clearance plumbing.  I found the faucet for our bathroom remodel at Lowe's a few years ago for something like $5.

The previous owner of my house had very fussy, but cheap, taste.  She tried to turn this house, a Craftsman, into a Victorian.  She remodeled the kitchen and installed white cabinets (well, most of them... 1 set is cream and it drives me nuts), white countertops with painted tiles and white grout, white flooring, white appliances, and a white faucet.  The cheap wood grain fluorescent lighting was totally unforgiveable.  Blech!  None of the products she used are of exceptional quality and every speck of dirt or grime shows instantly on the vast expanse of white.

You should have seen the awful wallpaper that was in here.

I search and search through plumbing clearance because I hate my kitchen faucet.  I happened to take a picture of it the other day.  It's cheap, it's - SURPRISE - white!, and it has a shocking amount of surface area that needs to get cleaned.  Those old + style handles get grody.  I noticed during my pre-Christmas cleaning that the gaskets were starting to fail and that it leaked a green-black-tinged stream water from the base.

See the cream cabinets on the left?  Gah!  Why would she allow that to happen?!?

We've been gradually moving things over to stainless steel appliances.  My dream is to install a cork floor and redo the cabinet faces to something a little less... white.

I awoke Christmas morning to this.

G-man had waited for me to go to bed on Christmas Eve before he started on this project.  Thank goodness I sleep with earplugs!  The faucet features a pull-out nozzle, which I use with surprising frequency.

It's a beautiful faucet and much better than the old one.  There's a 10-year warantee.  My grandma said that the gift sounds like a house repair, not a gift, but I don't care.  It's something I use daily, wanted, makes me more proud of our little home, and practical.  Besides, I don't wear perfume, have plenty of jewelry, and am not on the market for new clothes right now.

My orchid decided to bloom just for the occasion.

Sauteed parsnips with rosemary honey

I'd been meaning to drive to Tenino, where my friend Lisa has her Lucky Pig Farm, so that I could pick up some things before Christmas.  I never made it but, luckily for me, she drives through Tacoma weekly and we were able to connect. 

There's always a voice in the back of my head whenever I'm meeting someone in a parking lot to buy a non-commercial, locally raised product like meat or honey.  That voice says, "So, ya got da stuff?"  Cracks me up.

Lisa brought me a fresh chicken.  I roasted that guy up with some thyme from my yard, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

While the chicken was roasting, I made these parsnips.  I had dug them out of my garden a while back, pleasantly surprised at how big they'd gotten.  Parsnips are easily one of my favorite winter vegetable.  I love the sweetness they develop after being cooked.

adapted very slightly from

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound large parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, cut into sticks
Coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon rosemary-infused honey

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add parsnips.  Sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Sauté until parsnips are beginning to brown at edges, about 12 minutes.

Add butter, rosemary, and honey to parsnips. Toss over medium heat until heated through and vegetables are glazed, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired.

I finished off the meal with some aspargus from my pantry and voila!  A 100% local meal.

On a side note, I'm in awe of how big my kitchen looks when the counters are clear... wow.