Monday, March 28, 2011

Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Still Love KU!

I was hoping that this post might have a happier conclusion, but unfortunately not.  As an early birthday present, my parents got me tickets to the NCAA regional finals (aka the Elite Eight), so Geoff and I headed downtown on Sunday morning.  We had lunch overlooking the Riverwalk.

And headed over to the pre-game pep rally to hear the band play.  (I think I saw one of my mom's cousins, but there were too many people to be sure.  Also, my mom has a lot of cousins - Thanksgiving with her side of the family has been known to have 90 people.)

The game took place at the Alamodome, which is gigantic.  The court was only half of the arena - everything really is bigger in Texas.

Things started out badly for the Jayhawks and they never really recovered.  I won't rehash it here because it seems that every media source I encountered today was discussing the game. VCU's coach is a real character.  He ran up and down the sidelines like a mad man the entire game.  I could see his sweat stains from our seats 50 rows back.

We took this picture at half time because we already suspected there wouldn't be smiles after the game.  We had a great time though and Geoff was yelling nearly as much as I was.  This was his first KU game, but I doubt it will be his last - he has to experience one in the Fieldhouse!

 Congrats to VCU - it is quite the cinderella story and I'll be cheering for them the rest of the tournament.  But I have to say, when I looked up at the big screen and saw Markieff Morris crying, I nearly did too.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Something's Fishy....or Bivalve-y?

I meant to post this sometime last fall and just found it in my drafts folder when I went to look for the mussels recipe to make with oven-baked frites.

I've always been a little intimidated to cook seafood.  I blame this on growing up in Kansas, minimally 700 miles from an ocean.  I did catch a catfish once!

Me with Granddad Bill (and a catfish)

As my taste in seafood has grown, I feel like my culinary skills should grow as well.  So these are my attempts to branch out beyond my salmon in parchment paper stand-by.  My first effort was Ina Garten's Scallops Provencal.  I love scallops but had never cooked them myself.  I believed them to be horribly prone to being overcooked and that the Top Chef judge in my head (the mean British one from Top Chef Master's) would sneer at me for ruining an expensive meal.  Turns out, scallops aren't that pricey, or that difficult to cook.  These will be making an appearance again!

Seared Scallops with Roasted Beat and Goat Cheese Salad

Emboldened by my scallop coup, I decided to follow my friend Laurel's advice and make mussels at home.  Laurel has been telling me for years (literally) that mussels are the easiest thing to make at home - just cook some shallots in butter, add wine and mussels, cover for 5-7 minutes, eat with bread.  And it turns out, she was right, very easy!  I tried out a saffron-infused broth from Barefoot Contessa and they were delicious. 

These are the most recent moules with oven-baked frites.

Seeing as I was on a bivalve roll, I decided next to tackle pasta with clams sauce.  Also, I really wanted to use more of the fresh cracked pepper fettuccine I buy at our local farmer's market.  Unfortunately, it was pouring rain on Tuesday and I just couldn't motivate myself to go down there.

The linguini in clam sauce was okay, but I couldn't help but think how much more delicious the mussels would be over pasta - mmmmmm.

As an added bonus, all of these bivales can be sustainably produced.  Having overcome my shellfish phobia, what next?  Maybe seared tuna steaks?  I know I want to whole fry a fish.  Anyone have some suggestions?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is It Worth It? Homemade Ricotta

Ricotta is pretty much the easiest cheese you can make - just heat regular milk and buttermilk together.  The most difficult part is finding the cheesecloth, but I have a houseboy for that.  The second most difficult part is figuring out what to do with it.  I knew I didn't want to bury it in layers of noodles and sauce where it would go unnoticed.  Ricotta goes beautifully with all sorts of delicious spring vegetables like peas and asparagus and the zucchinis and tomatoes of summer; but despite it being 90 degrees this weekend (yes, 90, no, I'm not excited about it), the full flush of the spring harvest hasn't arrived at the market yet.

Then I found this recipe for a ricotta bruschetta with lemon zest and honey and an idea was born: weeknight tapas.  About an hour before dinner, I heated a half-gallon of the tastiest 2% milk I could find with 2 cups of buttermilk until the curds and whey separated.

Why would Miss Muffet want to eat that?
While the milk was heating, I started on the other tapas.  To keep it simple, there would be only three plates, (1) the bruschetta, (2) a roasted beet salad made with local goat cheese and walnuts, and (3) my favorite tapas ever.  Two years ago, we visited our friends Holly and Kevin and they took us and our friend Bren to an amazing tapas place.

The tapas are so good, we're hysterical

Although the sangria may have helped

My favorite little plate contained bacon wrapped dates.  I'm not usually a big fan of dates, they are too sweet for me.  But wrap them in smoky, salty bacon and I'm all over it.  Every time I have seen them on a menu in the last two years I ordered them.  So with some dates from my grandma sitting in my refrigerator and some cottage bacon (one of three types of bacon made by our friendly local charcutier) from the farmer's market, we were ready to go.

I let the curds drain 15-20 minutes which made it quite a bit drier than what you find in the tub at the grocery store.  I seasoned with salt and pepper and piled it onto the broiled bread.  Zest a lemon, drizzle on just a hint of honey, and that is one pretty appetizer.  

We ate as much as we could, but there was still quite a bit of ricotta left over.  Luckily, I had another dish up my sleeve - Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce.

I added a huge bag of local spinach to the filling, doubled the ricotta, and layered a spicy marinara on the bottom of the shells.  I was really happy with the results - cheesy but still light and bright.  I took a pan of them over to Veronica and Mike's for a KU watch party.

And KU resoundingly defeated Richmond - coincidence?  I think not.  


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yogurt and Memories

I may have set myself up for failure when I decided to make my own yogurt.  You see, I was in search of a very specific yogurt.  My Platonic ideal yogurt is thick and creamy, served from an earthenware crock in a small, dark dining room up narrow spiral stairs on the second floor of a little hotel in Athens, the name of which has long since escaped me.

I ate this yogurt each morning in the final days of 2005 when Summer and I spent a few fleeting days in Greece.

You see now why no yogurt could live up to this hype.  I tried this very basic recipe from the kitchn and it was thin and without much flavor.  Covered in strawberries macerated with sugar and balsamic vinegar, it is okay, but the rest of yogurt will get dumped into smoothies.

The nice thing about making yogurt is that it is pretty easy.  Just heat a half-gallon of milk, do about 30 minutes of yoga (not required, but recommended) while it cools to 115 degrees, stir in a 1/2 cup of active yogurt, then wrap it in all your clean towels and leave in a warm (but turned off) oven overnight.

So is it worth it to make your own yogurt?  Maybe, I'll save my judgement until I give this another try.  I'm not sure my starter yogurt was in great shape, nor did I maintain the yogurt at the right temperature for long enough.  I've heard that you can make it in your crock pot so I may try that sometime soon - I'd be glad to hear any suggestions from those of you who make your own.  For now, I foresee a lot of smoothies - or maybe frozen yogurt - in my future.

You have yogurt?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Little Green Dress Will Take You Everywhere

I have a little black dress, but I rarely wear it.  It would look unbelievably chic with pearls and a scarf - but most of the time chic just isn't my style.  So the weekend before Geoff and I drove to Houston to meet up with my family for my cousin's wedding, I decided I should make myself a fun new green dress.  A quick trip to Joann's (coupon in hand, of course), and I had all the fabric I needed.  Despite 43 steps, 22 pattern pieces, and hand-stitching the lining in the hotel room the night before, I ended up with a dress I'm really happy with!

I picked a stiffer, slightly shiny fabric for the dress to give it a more structural look.  I am really pleased with the results and now that I see how the dress comes together, I could make another fairly quickly.  I bought some crazy multicolored fabric with a nice drape that I want to use for a more casual dress.  This pattern has a variation with cap sleeves and pockets that I think would be adorable - keep an eye out!

Geoff and Ellen, photo crashers.

Congratulations, Courtney and Jon!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Can Can

Learning how to can seems like a skill from the days before refrigeration, but it has been growing in popularity recently as a way to maintain a commitment to local produce year-round.  But as the bounty of summer gave way to the slim pickings of the winter market, I thought I had missed my canning window.  But then we moved to Texas, home of these beauties.

The Texas Rio Star Grapefruit
As I think about what types of canning recipes are worth my time, I really want things I can't find at the grocery store.  So simple orange marmalade wasn't good enough.  The salmon-blush of grapefruit marmalade, however, can rarely be found on a supermarket shelf.  I found this recipe online at the cosmic cowgirl's very cute blog and set to work.

I love the smell of grapefruit, but I find it can be too bitter for me.  I also decided that I wanted to cut the amount of sugar in the jam so I added additional low-sugar pectin.  In the end, I removed almost all the peel  to reduce the bitterness and ended up with four jars of mildly bitter, but sweet and bright jam.

Look how pretty!!
Of course, there is no better use for freshly made jam than spreading it on warm, homemade bread.  Luckily, I've been baking two loaves a week so I always have some on hand.

Realizing that it will take me months to get through the jam one tablespoon at a time, I decided to incorporate it into a BBQ sauce for a shredded pork shoulder.  The sauce was delicious - just a little sweet with a good bit of heat and a deep, rich flavor.  I piled the meat onto homemade buns (definitely worth the extra effort) and paired it with a feta coleslaw inspired by the BBQ truck that parks at the farmer's market each weekend.  If you want to try them (and I think you should), I've written out my recipes below.

You can decide whether or not you want to take an artistic still life of your ingredients before you begin.
Fruity, Spicy BBQ Shredded Pork

This makes a pretty spicy sauce - feel free to reduce the chipotle chiles to taste.  My local market had pork shoulder cut into large chunks labeled "carnitas meat," but a bone-in shoulder would work just as well with an increased cooking time.  If you don't have grapefruit jam, I'm sure orange marmalade would be almost as good.

     3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 6 pieces
     1 small onion, finely diced
     4 cloves garlic, minced
     3 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
     1/2 c. grapefruit jam
     1/2 c. hoisin sauce
     6 oz tomato paste
     3 T balsamic vinegar
     2 T wochestershire sauce
     2 T chili powder
     1 T cumin
     1 T salt

Mix all ingredients together and coat pork in the crock pot.  Cook on low 4-6 hours (during which time, you should make the buns and watch KU win an NCAA tournament game).  Remove pork and let sit until cool enough to handle.  Meanwhile, let sauce continue to simmer in crockpot to thicken.  Shred pork and return to sauce.  Serve on soft buns, with pickles if you have them.

Feta Slaw

     1/2 head cabbage, green or red
     2 carrots, grated
     1 red bell pepper, julienned
     5 green onions, thinly sliced
     6 oz feta, crumbled
     1 T canola oil
     1/4 c red wine vinegar
     1 t dried oregano
     salt and pepper

Shred half a head of cabbage (I made a stirfry with the other half, but you'll do as you see fit) and toss with grated carrots, julienned bell pepper, and green onions.  Whisk together oil, vinegar, oregano,  several grinds of pepper, and a pinch of salt.  When ready to serve, mix vegetables and feta with the dressing.

My first run at canning was really time-consuming (the better part of two nights).  But it was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to making super-garlicy pickles, our own house-blend of salsa, and more jams and fruit butters as the farmer's market options grow.  I may even go pick my own berries for preserves

Hank Likes to Help in the Kitchen

Sunday, March 20, 2011

{clapclapclap} Deep in the Heart of Texas

We arrived in Texas late in the first week of the new year (now more than 2 months ago!!!) and I began work  the following Monday.  I've been sending my mom a picture of myself on my first day of school every fall since I left for college (prior to that, she took the picture herself).  So it only seemed appropriate to text her a quick photo on my way out the door on the first day of my postdoc.

I'm a dork.
Work has been great so far. I'm getting to learn different skills than I used during grad school - which is exactly what I was looking for.  The transition to a new job is challenging because I hate constantly feeling like I don't know what I'm doing!!

I'm official!
The second week of work, there was a "snowstorm" that closed my office until noon.  It looked like this:

See how the sidewalk looks white?  That's the snow.
Geoff and I are really liking living in a larger city and having a lot more options for food, shows, museums, and more.  We really miss our friends in State College, but our favorite thing in San Antonio is living a block and a half from the Holtz!!  Veronica and I haven't lived in the same state for ten years and this is closer than we have lived our whole lives - it's wonderful.  They introduced us to our favorite thing in the neighborhood - Paciugo gelato!

We like it so much that Geoff even requested a gelato pie for his birthday in February.

Happy Birthday!

We formed a Wii Rock Band, have each other over for dinner, and go to the farmer's market every weekend.  

The farmer's market in San Antonio is great because it is year round!!  The growing season starts so early that there were strawberries at the market today.  Between the farmer's market and all the "Made in Texas" food at the grocery store, it has been relatively easy to hit 50% local food.  Not to mention, everything is bigger in Texas:

That dog is a Afghan Wolfhound.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Move that Ate Christmas

"And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Moving was a logistical challenge (last minute delay to replace tires, 4 hours to get the cat into the car, movers stuck in traffic), but the hard part was really the emotional toll of leaving so many amazing friends and the only town Geoff and I had ever lived in together.  I just can't imagine my life without some of these people so I'm sure we will see them again.  Still, heading out into the unknown is scary, even with Geoff by my side.
Goodbye last remaining granary in Pennsylvania

Despite the move, and knowing that it would be taken down prior to Christmas I went ahead and put up our little Christmas tree.  Almost all of the decorations are tiny knit sweaters, hand-sewn felt shapes, and the annual painted wooden frame with a picture of Geoff and I that I make each year.  Best of all are the red crocheted snowflakes my mom made from the same pattern she used to make snowflakes for she and dad's first tree.

It made me smile amidst all the packed boxes.
During the move, a lot of junk we (okay, really, I) accumulated was donated or thrown out which was desperately needed.  Among all the cleaning, sorting, and packing, I convinced myself that I needed to get as much knitting done as possible - because then I wouldn't have to pack the yarn (my powers of justification are legendary).  I made quite a few of these little sheep sachets with bits of white, black, and gray yarn.

Get it?  They are sheep.  That protect wool.
But the best stash-busting project?  This guy:

Just look at that face.  I almost couldn't give him away.
I had some leftover orange and tan yarn and I had found a board book called "That's Not My Monkey!"  The book ends with an orangutan, so I knew this would be a perfect little stuff animal to knit for Miss C.

Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the pattern and "little" isn't how it ended up - I needed all of a second ball of yarn!  You'll see why in a minute but it was all worth it.  

Like all good toddlers, ripping off the wrapping paper was all part of the fun.

And once it was opened, C found an orangutan as big as she is!

The orang has velcro hands so it can give hugs!
Perhaps the most fun part of the gift?
We left State College on December 22rd and got to my parents on the 23rd, so Christmas sort of snuck up on us.  I had meant to send out cards or a letter, or even an e-mail - but I ran out of time.  So....

Thankfully, my parents were more than amply prepared for Christmas so we arrived to stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Stockings are strictly hung in descending age order in the Quillen/Harp household.

It would be a while before our truck arrived in San Antonio so we spent about 10 days in Lawrence and Geoff found a great open mic night to play at the Jazzhaus.

But eventually we had to get back on the road.  Hank had finally started to trust us again, when we strapped her back into her kitty harness and dragged her to the car.

30 hours of freaked out cat on my lap.

Next stop...Texas.

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