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Monday, July 30, 2007

Recipe Review 7/30/07 - The Salad

I thought I wasn’t going to have a recipe review for this week because with the extremely warm and humid weather we’ve been having I haven’t made or baked anything new. But I realized I was quite incorrect.

I have been enjoying the lettuce salad in all its wonderful variations this past week. I’m not referring so much to what I call the ubiquitous "American" salad, you know the one I’m talking about: iceberg lettuce, the obligatory hard tasteless tomato, grated carrot, two large red onion rings, and if you unlucky, four cucumber slices. And don’t forget the crunchy, teeth shattering croutons.

No, today I am going to wax eloquent about the fresh garden salad. With hand picked lettuce from the garden - buttercrunch and mesclun mix in my case. I like to use both types in my salads, or just one variety if that’s all I’ve washed up. And washing that garden lettuce is uber important! There very little more unappetizing than finding some small slimy thing hidden between leaves on your plate.

And a salad just isn’t a salad with out at least a couple toppings. If I’m not following a specific recipe (Blueberry, Blue Cheese, and Spicy Pecan Salad or the Nicoise Salad) I like to experiment with what I have on hand. I just read recently in my local "Taste" section of the newspaper that a salad should have no more than five toppings otherwise all the flavors just overwhelm each other. Here are some combinations I’ve tried lately:
  • Parmesan cheese slices (sliced very thin with a vegetable peeler) and raspberries.
  • Egg, beef tenderloin, radish, Parmesan cheese and blueberries
  • Radish, egg, baby zucchini
  • Goat cheese, raspberries and radish

The blueberries, radish, raspberries and zucchini were all from my garden. The beef tenderloin was a leftover from a dinner with my folks and I just love a hard boiled eggs.

And to top off these delectable delicacies I have been turning toward the very simple vinaigrette. I had some leftover maple vinaigrette from the blueberry and blue cheese salad, and some leftover mustard vinaigrette from the Nicoise Salad. For something different I’ve tried and enjoyed Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Raspberry vinegar, with white balsamic, and with red wine vinegar. All are refreshing with their own nuances.

Lastly, I like to add a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper to my salads. Both make the ingredients really pop with flavor.

The varieties and combinations are endless, so find so some fresh lettuce, see what’s in the fridge and enjoy with a chunk of crusty bread.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Playing with Yarn!

This weekend I hooked up with my friend Tess and had a absolute lovely day! We started out with lunch at the New Scenic CafĂ© (our favorite next to Sarah’s Table, India Palace, and Bulldog) and then went and visited a yarn store in Knife River called, appropriately, Playing with Yarn. We concluded with a Culvers sundae in Two Harbors. Yum!

This was such a charming place. Small, filled from the floor to ceiling with all sorts of yarn, completed projects, and a couple of very charming Yorkie dogs. The lady who runs the place was very friendly, enthusiastic and helpful, and she didn’t put me down for being a novice knitter like I have experienced at other stores.

I ended up purchasing yarn for a hat for the nephew Fin, for Tess’s baby boy, and one general purpose hat. In addition, the gal helped me get set to make socks and I purchased one skein and #3 dpns and #2dpns. She didn’t have any #4 wooden circular needles so I will have to get those elsewhere. I also purchased the book Sensational Socks - two knitting people have now recommended this one so I figured that was a sign I should own it.

The other two books I picked up at the Yarnery in St. Paul when I went down for my nephews birthday.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Recipe Review 7/23/07

I had the Folks out for dinner on Sunday evening and this dinner turned out fantastic. Even though it was delicious, there are just a few things I would tweak in the next go around. But I’m like that, can’t leave a darn recipe or meal alone.

Penne with Roasted Veggies and Goat Cheese (Ckng Lght BB, link here) 9
Oh! Heaven in a bowl! Whole wheat penne is combined with roasted summer squash, garlic, onion, tomatoes that are drizzled with balsamic vinegar. This is then tossed with fresh basil and thyme and goat cheese, which creates a lovely decedent sauce. Mmm, mm, good!
This was served with a fresh sour dough flute from Cub; a garden salad (from my garden) with shaved Parmesan, fresh raspberries, raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I had a small dish with olive oil and pepper for dipping the bread in. Very European.
And last, for dessert, I made Creme Brule:

Vanilla Creme Brule (Cuisine at Home Ad) 8

It has always appeared that Creme Brule was this really difficult fancy dish to make, but as the years have gone by, I’ve come to learn that it’s actually easier to make than homemade pudding. The hard part was finding the torch to caramelize the topping.
Sugar and a vanilla bean are pulverized to a powdered sugar consistency in a food processor. Combined with heavy cream and half and half , this is brought to a "steaming" temperature (except mine went from warm to boiling, oops! So I then had to cool it down by whisking and waiting). This is tempered into waiting eggs, strained to remove all the hard bean bits and poured into waiting ramekins in a water bath. Then bake, cool and refrigerate.
That is pretty much it.
Was it good? Well, the recipe made 6, there were 3 of we got to play with a little torch...

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

The Green Hills of Africa is one of Hemingway’s pieces of non-fiction. I’ve read The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Old Man and the Sea, all of which I’ve enjoyed immensely so when I needed some literature for my trip to Vegas, I returned to Hemingway.

In Green Hills, Hemingway recounts his adventures of being on safari for a month with his wife (also known as Pauline, aka Poor Old Mama, aka P.O.M). Hemingway recounts the thrill of being in Africa, his fascination with big game, the excitement and disappointments of the hunt and people who annoy him. He talks about the natives who cart their belongings around, who guide them, and the quiet social structure amongst the guides and camp help.

As you read this, you can almost feel the dust being kicked up under the tires of the car as the Hemingway’s move to a new camp, you can see the sweat on the foreheads of the Masai as they wait for the white hunters to get their act together, you feel the impending mugginess as the rainy season threatens, and you feel the African soil under your feet as you follow Hemingway as he tracks a large kudo under the relentless afternoon sun and the evening calm around the camp fire.

While not as strong as some of his other works, his writing style is as always just fascinating. This was perfect reading for 101* temps beside a warm pool.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Recipe Review 7/16/07

Last week was leftovers and this week I’m going on a mid-week camping trip, so not much in the way of new recipes is being made. However, I did promise my book group that I would bring dessert this month and so on Sunday morning I made Blueberry Cheesecake. Later in the evening I pulled together my lunch for the week: a Nicoise salad.

Blueberry Cheesecake (Ckng Lght, as adapted by Culinary in the Desert)
Despite the huge ingredient list, this was fairly easy to pull together. The recipe started with the crust, a combination of graham crackers and vanilla wafers which is baked and set aside. Then I kinda started multi-tasking by starting the blueberry topping and sauce while making the cake itself. The blueberry sauce was super simple, frozen blueberries and cornstarch are brought to a boil and thickened. Part of this is set aside for the finishing sauce. Cake was cream cheese, sugar and eggs. Pretty simple. This is placed in a prepared pan, then the blueberry topping is swirled prettily on top. While it bakes, a sour cream "topping" is made and added for the last 10 minutes of baking. The leftover blueberry concoction is added to some sugar water and boiled, with a cup of fresh blueberries folded in at the end.

I haven’t tried this as of this posting, as it needed to sit for a minimum of 8 hours (I suppose I could have had some for breakfast...) and I’ll be bringing it to the meeting tonight. I hope it tastes as good as it looks!

Nicoise Chopped Salad (w/o chicken) (Every Day w/ Rachel Ray, Aug 07)
I’ve got lettuce. Lots of lettuce. I planted buttercrunch and a mesclun mix and whoo! I’ve got lettuce. Then I went and bought some because I didn’t think it was going to be ready in time. Which means I need to start eating some lettuce.

Last week was a Blueberry, Blue Cheese with Spicy Pecans in a Maple Vinaigrette salad (title long enough?) and this week I found this recipe. Pretty simple: boil eggs, crisp tender cook some green beans, then cook the potatoes. This can all be done right in the same pot. Add capers, tomatoes, Nicoise olives (I used kalmata) and hard boiled eggs. The chicken seemed like overkill so I skipped it. Add to lettuce and toss with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. We’ll see how it tastes for lunch today.

Oops! I forgot to add my continuation of my efforts with my pantry reduction project. I was able to use up:
1 bag of frozen blueberries
2 bags of home-made vegetarian pot stickers

Editing to add, the blueberry cheesecake was a hit with the bookgroup. Only two pieces came home with me! The Nicoise salad was very good as well, though it needed a bit of salt and pepper to bring out the flavors.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

This is kind of a sequel to Old Man's War which the book group read last fall. We enjoyed the concepts and - I almost hate to phrase it this way - the simplicity of the book. And by simplicity I mean it wasn't a 900 page grind with huge creative words and broad universe spanning concepts.

But I digress. Ghost Brigades focus's on the Special Forces of the Colonial Forces. These are elite troops that are created, rather than a human being who has their consciousness transferred from an old body into a new one while they are alive. These are people who have someones else's consciousness.

Jared Dirac was created for one purpose, to find a traitor. He carries - no, he is Charles Boutin who has turned against the human race by pitting three other races against humanity with the single purpose of wiping them out. But yet he's not. Jared is himself with someone else's memories. The story was an interesting look at consciousness transfer and the ramifications of putting someone else's conscious into a new body. It rather asked the question - Who is the person ultimately?

I enjoyed the story and the idea presented. I enjoyed the length (short). I look forward to Scalzi's next book. Not much else to say.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Recipe Review 7/9/07

The weather has gotten way to warm to be doing much more than salads, but a mid-week holiday offsets that because you can make lots all in one go! Especially if you have company.

For the 4th of July I made:
Rose Sangria
Grilled Eggplant Stacks
Grilled Shrimp and Scallop skewers
a blueberry, blue cheese and spicy pecan salad with a maple vinaigrette

Grilled Eggplant Stack (Ckng Lght July 07, pg 145) 8
These were excellent. Eggplant is cut into 1/4 inch medallions, zucchini and summer squash sliced the long way, red pepper quartered and flattened. A good goat cheese is blended with oregano and basil. While the eggplant and squash are grilled, a balsamic and red wine vinegar reduction is made on the stove top. The medallions and squash slices are thinly spread with goat cheese and a little sandwich is created, with the reduction topping all. The cheese melts so very nicely and everything together is just a wonderful combination of flavors. I served this as a side to grilled shrimp and scallops and it was perfect.

Rose Sangria (Ckng Lght ??) 8
Another sangria recipe (I'll have to look up the particulars again) that turned out really good. Strawberries, oranges and raspberries are combined with triple sec, orange juice and a dash of sugar and chilled for a good hour. Then cold sparkling white zinfandel is added and everything is served over ice. This recipe said it served 8, but I think realistically 4 would be a better estimate (three of us were very happy). I liked the simplicity and ability to make most of this ahead of time.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Knitting, Project #3, The Other Sister's Scarf

K4 (my other sister) wasted no time in requesting a custom made scarf when she learned I had taken up knitting. She lamented that she hadn't been able to find a scarf in the color red she wanted and once it dawned on her that I could do custom work, she leapt upon opportunity. I happily agreed.

As mentioned in my Knitting Project #2 post, I found the yarn for K4's project at the Yarnery on Grand Ave in St. Paul. It is a beautiful, rich, cranberry red in 100% wool. As a bonus for K4, I also made her a matching hat as I had found a nifty pattern and wanted to work on my knitting skills. I had fun with this one. It was much easier to do than I thought it would be and came together in just a couple weeks. The flower adornment took a bit extra work, but I like how it turned out. I'll definitely be trying more hats in the future.

Pattern: Knitting by Jennifer Worick, Rock in Roll Brim Hat
Yarn: Cascade Yarns 100gr/220yds; 3 skeins
Store: The Yarnery, St. Paul
Needle: #6 circular and #6 double point

K4 is a hip and funky kinda gal, so I felt her scarf should reflect that. I modeled her scarf off of the pattern below, but used #10 needles instead of #15 and the same yarn as above. The scarf turned out a bit funky for me, but it will be just perfect for her. I also made sure it was a decent length as she complained most scarves are too long for her vertically challenged stature. It should wrap nicely around the neck once, and hang to about the hips with perhaps a bit peeking out from under her coat.

Pattern: Knitting by Jennifer Worick Ladder Scarf pg 36
Yarn: (coming soon...)
Store: The Yarnery, St. Paul
Needle: #10
She doesn't know her goodies are done yet...hehehe. What a fun package to open in the middle of July!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Recipe Review 7/2/07

Okay! I’m caught back up on my posts now and can resume a more leisurely pace. The weather has cooled off a bit allowing me to do a bit of baking this past week, that and I’ve had a bit more time around the house.

Here’s what we made this past week:

Granola (Gluten Free Gourmet Ckbk) 9
A co-worker was recently diagnosed with a gluten allergy and his wife is frantically trying to learn new ways of cooking. I saw him munching on homemade granola bars (made from this recipe) and I simply had to try them myself. This recipe was really good! It is puffed rice, sunflower seeds, soybeans, raisins and toasted unsweetened coconut tossed with a bit of canola oil and slowly toasted in the oven for about two hours. This was simply delicious (even though I forgot the raisins...)!

Granola Bars (Gluten Free Gourmet Ckbk) 8
Using the recipe for the granola above, first it’s pulverized a bit in the food processor, then mixed with brown rice syrup (a substitute for high fructose corn syrup), brown sugar, butter, vanilla and I added some cinnamon. Then everything is combined and baked for 20 minutes. Baking time should have been about 15 for my oven as the bars got a tich overcooked. Still, these turned out really good (a bit hard on the teeth, but as I mentioned, that was my fault).

I love how very versatile both recipes can be. Can’t have soy? Substitute a different nut. Don’t want raisins? Use cranberries or other dried fruit or leave them out completely. I will be making these again.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Ckng Lght, June 07, pg 252) 9
This is me eating these cookies: mmfph, smack! yum! I'll have just one more...

This was a reader recipe from 1998 that I actually can remember making. These were really good at first publication, but they had HFCS as part of the ingredients. Well, Ckng Lght must have also thought they were really good because they revisited the recipe and re-worked it to eliminate the HFCS. I have to say they are even better! These were awesome. Nestle Toll House, I am sad to say you’ve now been replaced. I did make one addition, I added some chopped walnuts as part of my attempts to increase nuts in my diet (makes them healthy ya know!).

BLT Salad (Eating Well, July/Aug 07, pg 34) 9!
Oh my oh my! This was divine! A grated tomato (sans skin) is combined with mayo, vinegar and pepper. A couple of slices of bacon fried. Either make your own croutons or use store bought (I made my own following the recipe). Combine over romaine lettuce. Absolutely FANTASTIC! The dressing is what really pulls this recipe together. I even think some chopped avocado added to the rest of the salad would be just smashing. It was really like eating a BLT, but in a bowl.

Cashew Chicken Salad (The New Ckng Lght Complete, pg 431) 7
I was in the mood for a chicken salad sandwich, but I wanted it to be on croissants, so the flavor had to be just so. This is a very simple recipe: shredded chicken, mayo, sour cream, curry powder, green onion, and cashews. I thought the curry would be a nice contrast to the sweetness usually found in a croissant. I have left the cashews off until I eat the sandwich, I’m not wild about soggy nuts. I also doubled the mayo sauce - it just wasn’t going to be enough to cover the two chicken breasts they called for. I grilled the chicken after topping with salt, pepper and smoked Spanish paprika. This made enough for lunches all week.

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