Saturday, March 31, 2012

The 366th Photo

When I began my Photo 365 Project last April 1, I didn't account for the leap year, so it should properly be called the Photo 366 project.  This is my last week and I've been putting together a photo book to document this year in photos.  It has been a challenge to take a photo every day (and, I'll confess, sometimes I cheated and took two in a day to make up for it), but I'm glad to have a record of some of the more everyday aspects of life.  

Saturday March 24: Farmer's Market

Sunday March 25: Draw Something - My New Obsession

Monday March 26: Wind Power at St. Phillip's

Tuesday March 27: Found a Nest in Our Front Tree

Wednesday March 28: Strawberries in Balsamic with Cream

Thursday March 29: Pretty Chard

Friday March 30: Hank Eyes the Mailman

Saturday March 31: Veronica and I helped at the Women Breaking Through Workshop

So there you have it, the 366th photo.  I'm sure I'll still be posting on Instagram regularly and if you want to follow me, my screen name is ells_bells.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Mussels Steamed in Beer

Sometimes when the feeding friendship ingredient is revealed, I spend a day or two thinking about what I want to make and researching options on the internet.  But more often than not, an idea comes to me right away and I just go with it, for better or for worse.  My local grocery store has been hawking their mussels for the past several weeks and each week I've stopped, admired, and then walked away.  This week, they came home with me.

This recipe is a riff on Moules √† la Marini√®re, a classically French dish of mussels steamed in white wine with butter and shallots. I've substituted a wheat beer for the wine - I love the unfiltered wheat from Kansas City's Boulevard Brewery which is getting much broader distribution than it was a few years ago.  Mussels, like most shellfish, will get chewy when overcooked so I start pulling them as soon as they open, usually within three minutes on the heat.  Overcooked mussels are like checking on erasers.  So keep an eye on them and remove each as it is perfectly cooked.

Your mussels come with their own sauce which they will let loose into the pan to mingle with the beer you use to coax them open.  This is a pretty tasty mixture, but I couldn't leave well enough alone.  Once all the mussels were out of the pan, I added a few heaping tablespoons of stone-ground mustard and thyme.  When the sauce had reduced by about half, I stirred in some half-and-half and parsley.  Voila!

Along side the mussels, I served a spring mix salad with mustard vinaigrette and slices of pumpernickel bread which married nicely with the mustard-cream sauce.  Bread (or fries) are a must with mussels to soak up all the saucy goodness.  Geoff thinks this version is even better than it's wine-based cousin, and I think I have to agree.

Mussels Steamed in Beer with Mustard, Garlic and Thyme
serves 2, generously

2 lbs. mussels
6 oz. wheat beer, I like Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh thyme
3 tbsp. half and half
1 heaping tbsp. stone-ground mustard
2 tbsp. parsley, minced
1 tbsp. butter

1.  Clean mussels, remove beards, and discard any mussels that are open or cracked.
2.  In a very large pot, melt butter and cook garlic until just starting to color
3.  Add beer and bring to a simmer over medium.
4.  Add mussels, cover pot, and let the mussels.  Steam for about 3-5 minutes or until the mussels open.
5.  Remove mussels and split into two large bowls.  Discard any mussels that don't open.
6.  Add half and half (or heavy cream, use what you have on hand) to the liquid in the pot and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce.
7.  Stir in parsley and pour over mussels.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Slippers Just in Time

Just in time for 80 degree weather!  Seriously, it's already getting up into the 80s on a regular basis around here.  Nevertheless, I wanted some nice, cushioned house shoes that were not as warm as my beloved alpaca socks.  I had some leftover feltable wool yarn in chocolate brown, avocado, and red so I adapted my slippers from these short-row shaped slippers I found on ravelry. I looked at a LOT of slipper patterns and this was my favorite.  The directions are a bit confusing at first, but as you work through the pattern, it will start to make sense.  If you are interested in the detailed alterations I did, they are here.

Felting projects always make me nervous because you really don't know exactly how they are going to end up.  Now this is partly because I refuse to make and felt swatches, but also because felting things that are supposed to fit is hard (it's totally not just me).  The original pattern was for slippers about 5 sizes too small for me, but I over-compensated and ended up with roomy slippers.  Luckily, I had an extra pair of insoles.  Now they fit and are extra cushiony - perfect for long afternoons in the kitchen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bibimbap (or the best fried rice you'll ever have)

I had never heard of bibimbap until a friend mentioned it on Facebook.  A few days later, I came across a version in my Cooking Light magazine.  It seemed like the universe was telling me to make it.  My internet research revealed that bibimbap is literally "mixed rice" in Korean and the ingredients vary.  It's essentially a deconstructed fried rice.  What really set this apart was the last of my pickled carrots and daikon from when I made banh mi and the runny yolk of the sunny-side up eggs, otherwise, use whatever you have left over in your fridge.  

If you don't have pickled vegetables (and really, why would you), you can pickle them quickly while you cook the rest of the ingredients.  Cooking each ingredient separately is a bit tedious, but can easily be done in the time it takes for the rice to cook.  I've never had bibimbap in a restaurant, but evidently you can get it in a heated rock bowl that makes the bottom layer of rice crispy and the whole thing hot enough that the raw egg can simply be cooked right on top.  I don't have a bowl carved from the very earth itself, so I simulated the results by frying the rice in a bit of oil and cooking the eggs sunny-side up.  It was the best fried rice I've ever had!

Serves 2

1 cup long grain rice
8 oz firm tofu
2 tbsp. ginger, minced
2 tbsp. garlic, minced
1/3 cup pickled vegetables
1/4 cup green onions
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
6 cups kale, roughly chopped
4 eggs
3 tbsp. sesame oil
Sriracha, to taste 

1. Cook rice according to package directions.
2. Cook tofu, mushrooms, and kale individually with 2 tsp. of oil and 2 tsp each garlic and ginger. Season with soy sauce.
3. Fry cooked rice in 1 tbsp. of sesame oil and divide between serving dishes.  Assemble all toppings.
4. Cook four eggs sunny-side up until whites are just barely set and set on top of the rice.  Serve immediately.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mole Part 2: Mole Verde

I know that I have already made mole for the blog, but a few months ago we went to Guajillo's restaurant here in town and I had an AMAZING version of mole verde that I just had to try and recreate at home.  Mole verde is anchored by tomatillos and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) along with cilantro and green chiles. Oh and lettuce, you cook lettuce into it.  The flavor is fresh and light, exactly the opposite of the dark and rich mole oaxaqueno and a perfect springtime dish.

You can get fresh tomatillos in the summer, they look a bit like green tomatoes in a husk. Canned tomatillos will work just fine the rest of the year, or when you can't be bothered to husk the sticky tomatillos.  By the way, tomatillos are NOT green tomatoes (no matter what the can or guy stocking the shelves who had to help me find them says).  Anyway, I used a recipe from Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican, which my brother gave me for Christmas last year and I am loving the regional focus and simple treatment of ingredients.  The recipe is quite similar to this one, but there seem to be a thousand slight variations.  The recipe made a ton of of leftovers and it freezes and reheats very well.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rogan Josh Chicken

I had never heard of Rogan Josh spice blends until I stumbled across it at Penzey's.  It smelled so good that I brought it home without much plan for what to do with it.  It has an intensely rich flavor with a subtle heat that would be great for those who enjoy the taste of Indian food but have no tolerance for heat.  (tangent - I'm not sure about this, but I think that northern Indian food tends to be milder and this is a spice blend from that region.)  Based on the label, it is a combination of paprika, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Korintje cassia cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and saffron.

I had planned to use this spice blend on goat, but I slept through the farmer's market so I substituted four chicken thighs.  After browning the chicken in a bit of oil, I sauteed an onion before adding 4 tablespoons of spice mix.  As soon as the spices smelled fragrant, I added 28 oz of crushed, roasted tomatoes (I wanted lots of sauce), 1/2 cup of yogurt, and a pinch more cayenne pepper.  I returned the chicken to the pan and let it simmer for about 20 minutes while I turned my attention to the roasted brussels sprouts.  I don't know that brussels sprouts are a particularly Indian vegetable, but I love them and they are going out of season,.  I just heated about a tablespoon of oil in a very hot cast iron skillet then tossed in some black mustard seeds and then seared the quartered brussels sprouts.

All that sauce from the chicken was soaked up with a variation on this naan with 1/3 whole what flour.  Instead of eggs and milk, I substituted a heaping 1/4 cup of yogurt and mixed in both minced fresh garlic and  cilantro.  I suppose I didn't really make that naan at all, did I?  Oh well, it was good and got nice and toasty baked on the pizza stone in a 500 degree oven.  Make lots.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Foto Friday {50}

Saturday March 17: Sunset on St. Pat's

Sunday March 18: Shadows

Monday March 19: Hiding with Hank from a Tornado that Fizzled Out

Tuesday March 20: Getting Ready for Easter

Wednesday March 21: BodyPump!

Thursday March 22: The last Thin Mint.

Friday March 23: Nail-Bitter of a Basketball Game

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Call Her Easter Ellie

Since Easter falls so early this year, I wanted to go ahead and get my Easter wreath up.  Easter for me as a kid was all about scurrying around the yard looking for those brightly colored eggs (and frequently uncomfortable tights), so I wanted to include those in the wreath.  These were about $1.50 and I simply drilled a hole CAREFULLY through each end before stringing them on some heavy gauge wire.

The bunny was also pretty quick to make, but I looked at lots and lots of patterns for knit bunnies before I found one I liked and was the right size and shape.  This is Edmund the Bunny, but I call her Ellie.  I knit her with some scrap yarn and lined her ears and feet with scrap fabric.  Even the ribbon was already on hand, bringing the total for the wreath to $1.50.  And I still have some eggs left over to fill with candy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pescado a la Veracruzano

The Mexican state of Veracruz is narrow East-West but long North-South having claimed much of the prime gulf real estate.  As a result, Veracruz is most famous for seafood served in the style of Veracruz (pescado a la Veracruzano) and as the point from which Cortes began his march on Tenochtitlan.  This later point, perhaps, explaining the heavily Spanish influence on salsa veracruzana.

Salsa veracruzana contains several classically Mediterranean ingredients - olives, capers, marjoram, and thyme - along with a number indigenous to the Americas - tomatoes and chiles - plus a few warming spices from Southeast Asia - cloves and cinnamon - for good measure.  It is quite the melting pot of a salsa.  I made mine loosely following the recipe in Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican, which contains quite a few really delicious seafood dishes, but there are hundreds of versions online.

Because Texas and Veracruz share a gulf, I thought it would be appropriate to use a gulf fish and the fillets of Texas Redfish looked fresh and was on sale.  (Texas Redfish is also known as red drum and is found as far north as Massachusettes and as far south as Veracruz.  I don't know why Texas likes to use a different name for it, but that is the only way I've seen it labeled at the fish counter.)  Cooking the fish couldn't have been easier, just gentle poaching in the salsa for about 10 minutes while I focused my attention on the homemade corn tortillas.

I really don't care for corn tortillas.  I find the mass-produced variety too dry, too bland, and with a rather unpleasant consistency.  But before I wrote them off entirely, I decided to give handmade a try.  Corn tortillas are easy to make - just masa, salt, and water (although next time, a little fat wouldn't hurt) - but sort of a pain to roll out.  My first several attempts were too thin and tore as I tried to get them onto the griddle.  With a little patience, I persevered and ended up with very fresh, soft, tasty, but irregularly-shaped corn tortillas staying nice and warm in the embroidered tortilla warmer our friend Maria gave us.  Totally worth the effort - although in the future, I'll definitely be picking up one of the $15 tortilla presses sold in every grocery store in town.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dosas and Sambar (after a six month wait)

This recipe has been a very long time coming.  About 6 months ago, my friend Geetha took me to Pavani Express and introduced me to dosas - crispy rice and lentil based crepes filled with various curries.  I was in love and we went back several times before Geetha mentioned that she could teach me to make them.  Yes, please!  It took many attempts to find a weekend that we were free to meet and then when we finally made the dosas, I forgot my camera.  No loss, though, it just meant that I "had" to make them again at home.

The biggest challenge with dosas are remembering to start the batter a day before to give it a chance to ferment (think of it like sourdough bread).  The end result has an oddly grassy smell that I found to be quite nice.  The dosa batter does require a somewhat unusual ingredient - urad gota - which seems to be a type of lentil, but it was cheap and easy to find at our local Indian market.  While there, you may want to pick up some dried or fresh curry leaves (Geetha shared some of her special stash with me!).  Everything else you will need should be available at a well-stocked grocery store.

Along with the dosas, it's nice to serve some sambar (lentil soup) which is quick to make - especially if you add in frozen, mixed veggies.  Start the lentils simmering while you make the filling for the dosas.  I had some sweet potatoes and cauliflower on hand so I substituted those in for the potatoes that are commonly found in the filling.  Lastly, you should make the peanut and spicy tomato chutnies.  I know this seems like a lot, but they are completely worth it and everything except cooking the dosas can be made the night before and reheated.  Once the filling and lentil soup are ready, it's time to make the dosas.  

It may take a few tries to get the dosas right, but we had lots of extra batter, so don't sweat it. My favorite tip from Geetha was to use the end of a potato to lightly oil the nonstick pan.  Get the pan over medium-high heat and pour on about 1/3 of a cup of batter.  Use the back of a measuring cup to make it as thin as possible without creating large holes.  You only cook the pancake on one side, so once it starts to get brown along the edges, smear on spicy tomato chutney.  Place a dollop of filling in the middle and fold over the edges.  Straight out of the pan, the dosas are amazingly crispy, but they start to get soft within minutes so go ahead and eat them right away as you are cooking more.  And you will want a lot of them.

These recipes are my adaptation of the notes that I took from Geetha.  I hope they work for you, but if they don't, it's totally my fault, not hers.  Her dosas are crazy-good.

Lentil Soup (Sambar)
Serves 4-6

1 c. dried lentils
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1.5 c. mixed frozen vegetables
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
5 curry leaves
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. sambar powder OR a combination of cayenne, coriander, and garam masala
1 tbsp. oil

1. Cook all spices in oil.
2. Add lentils, tomatoes, and 3 cups of water until lentils are tender (30-60 minutes).
3. Add veggies and salt, simmer until veggies are tender.

Peanut Chutney
Serves 4-6

1 cup peanuts
2-3 dried red chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp coconut (optional)
heavy pinch of salt (if peanuts aren't salted)

1. Toast peanuts in a dry skillet until browned.
2. Combine all ingredients in a blender with enough water to form a thick paste.
3. I include a bit of coconut in my version because it tastes to me like that is how Pavani Express does it.  Geetha doesn't include it in her dip.

Spicy Chutney
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp oil
2 onions, chopped
1/2 tomato
2 cloves garlic
3 red chiles
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

1. Cook onions, garlic, and chiles in oil until onions are translucent.
2. Blend all ingredients with just enough water to form a thin paste.  Add cayenne pepper until it is as hot as you can stand.  Remember that this is a condiment and will be distributed thinly on the dosa.

Serves 10+

3 cups long grain rice
1 cup urad daal
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 tsp. salt

1. At least 24 hours before making dosas: Soak rice and urad daal for 12 hours in cold water.
2. That evening, grind soaked rice, daal, cooked rice, and fenugreek seeds with enough water to make a pancake-like batter.  Let sit 12 hours at room temperature before adding salt and making dosas.  If you aren't making them right away, the batter can sit in the refrigerator for a few days, but be aware it will become slightly more sour as it continues to (slowly) ferment.

Dosa Filling
Serves 8-10

1/2 head of cauliflower
2 small sweet potatoes
1 onion, diced
4 dried hot peppers, chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. ginger, minced
5 curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp. cayenne
4 tsp. corriander
1 tbsp. garam masala
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
salt, to taste

All of these amounts should be adjusted to your taste.  Geetha just eyeballs it, so I did too.

1. Steam cauliflower and sweet potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces.
2. Fry mustard and cumin seeds in about 2 tbsp. oil.  Add onion, garlic, and ginger.  Cook about 3 minutes or until onion is translucent.
3. Add curry leaves, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.
4. .Add remaining spices and 1/2 cup of water.  Cook until water evaporates.
5. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

This was an epic post, but well worth it.  I'm so in love with dosas.  Discovering new foods makes me feel like a kid again!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Family Fun

Last weekend, my family came down for a visit.  The last time they were here was August, so it was great to have them here when the weather was nicer.  We had planned several outdoor excursions including a trip north of San Antonio into the Texas Hill Country.

Unfortunately, it was intermittently foggy and rainy so the drive was not as pretty as it might otherwise be.  But we braved the weather to have a delicious lunch at High's Cafe in Comfort before poking around The Tinsmith's Wife where I picked up some fantastically soft yarn spun in Austin.  Our final stop was one of the 32 wineries in the Hill Country where we tasted some local wines and stumbled across their annual music festival.  I'm looking forward to getting to several more of those wineries!

The next day was sunny and warm, perfect for visiting the Japanese Tea Garden in Brackenridge Park.  The tea garden was first built in 1919, had it's name changed to "Chinese" Tea Garden during World War II, and eventually fell into disrepair.  The city has invested half a million dollars into renovating it and it really is even better than I expected.  And best of all, it's free!

After the Japanese Tea Garden, we checked out the Andy Warhol exhibit at the McNay Museum.  On Monday, I took the day off work and we visited San Marcos to see the glass bottom boats at the Aquarena Center.   

I was probably the most excited of anyone to go on the tour because eight years ago my family came down to San Antonio with me while I was doing some work.  They went to see the glass-bottom boats while I did some genotyping.  I'm still holding a grudge.

I loved the tour.  The water is unbelievably clear because it is fed directly from the aquifer and you can see all sorts of fish and weird brush-looking plants and where the water springs up through the bottom.  It looks like the limestone sand is boiling.  Next time I want to try the glass-bottom kayaks!

Sitting in a boat can really work up an appetite so we headed to Black's BBQ in Lockhart - one of the best BBQ joints in Texas.  I am still regretting not bringing home the frozen brisket by the pound.  You should not be that foolish.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Caldo Tlalpeno

This really isn't much a a recipe, but rather a suggestion to add more avocado and cheese to your soups.  These are pretty much two of my favorite things, so it took very little convincing for me to do so.  I made my version of  caldo tlalpeno based on this recipe but you can find many variation online.

Essentially, this a chicken and vegetable soup with chickpeas (I left out the chicken and added extra chickpeas).  Sounds a bit dull, right?  It's not.  The soul of this soup are the spicy and smoky chipotles blended into the broth and the chunks of cool avocado and panela cheese.  If you aren't familiar with it, this cheese tastes a lot like mozarella, but softens without melting when dropped into the soup.  It's easy to find here in San Antonio, but you might try substituting those cute little mozzarella balls you can find at the olive bar at your fancy grocery store.  Feel free to substitute in whatever vegetables you may have on hand; this is a very forgiving soup.  Buen provecho!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Foto Friday {49}

Saturday March 10: Wine Tasting

Sunday March 11: AMAZING Japanese Tea Garden
Monday March 12: Glass Bottom Boat

Tuesday March 13: Thin Mints, because we care about the youth of tomorrow

Wednesday March 14: Going through Old Photos
Thursday March 15:Zombie Bunny has no eyes

Friday March 16: ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!

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