Thursday, May 31, 2012

May in Instagram

Blue Star Brewery Tour
Extreme Cat Closeup!

This time every year I think about cutting my hair and it never ends year.
This year, I'm going to fight it.

Triathlon #2!

Drinking beers on Venice Beach in the Sun.  Can't beat it.

Animatronic Diorama at the La Brea Tar Pits

Adorable Knitting Project (with Bonus Project)

3 c. blackberries + 3 c. Greek yogurt + 1 can evaporated milk

Eggplant Fritters with Kale and Brown Rice

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Quinoa-Stuffed Poblanos

I photographed three different recipes with peppers before deciding to share this one.  This round was easy for me because I cook a lot of peppers with serranos and chipotles my favorite on the spicy side and red bell pepper popping up in many dishes both cooked and raw.  I've tried several recipes for stuffed (green bell) peppers in the past with modest success.  While the filling is usually decent, I didn't really get the point of putting it in an unwieldy pepper that was difficult to cut and invariably separated from the filling.  I have a specific memory of trying to cut into a still crunch pepper with a dull table knife and flipping the whole thing onto the table.

When I first saw this recipe from Foodie Bride, I knew it would be superior to it's run-of-the-mill breatheren.  First, it used a flavorful poblano which lent flavor to the filling; plus the poblano is roasted and the skin removed so it is easy to cut into and eat along with the filling. As a bonus, it's vegetarian, which is how we eat most nights, but has good protein from the quinoa.  I'm so glad I took a chance on the stuffed peppers because it was fantastic!  I followed the recipe as written except that I substituted feta for the queso fresco because I find it more flavorful and I used the last of my salsa ranchero instead of the grilled Romesco (which I'm sure would be delicious, but I'm lazy and the salsa ranchero was there).  The mild flavor of the roasted poblanos gave just a bit of a kick and I'm thinking I might like to try them with some other fillings.  Does anybody have a favorite stuffed pepper filling?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spa Girl Triathlon

I completed my second triathlon on May 13th at a resort north of San Antonio.  The race was a bit shorter than the Dam '09 which was good because I was not as well prepared!  Luckily, the atmosphere was welcoming to both newbies and experienced triathletes and the swim took place along a lazy river which was by far my favorite part.  It's all the fun of an open water swim without the fish pee!  Afterwards, there was champagne and lots of delicious food (including a chocolate fountain).  The event was all-female but the guys were able to join us to hang out by the pool for the rest of the morning.  We took advantage of the water slides, floated the lazy river with tubes instead of swimming at top speed, and generally enjoyed the last not blazingly hot days before summer began in earnest.  I'm really falling in love with triathlons.  The swimming and biking are my favorite part, but I'm getting used to the running too!

Even the frog is happy for me!  Or trying to eat the magnet I made out of my finisher's medal.  I can't tell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anadama Bread

The story of Anadama bread is what drew me into this New England Bread.  The story goes that housewife Anna was fed up with her husband and walked out one day leaving him with nothing to eat but cornmeal mush and molasses.  "Anna, damn 'er," the man exclaimed in a heavy Boston accent before adding flour and yeast to turn these humble ingredients into a lightly sweet and nutty bread.  (The James Beard Foundation offers several alternative stories, but they are all in the same vein.)

A good story, however, isn't enough to keep a bread recipe around for more than a century.  I adore the flavor of molasses and I was interested to see what the cornmeal would do to the texture of the loaf.  This bread is great either sliced for sandwiches or toasted with (blueberry) jam since it has both sweet and savory dimensions.  I'm struggling to describe it because it doesn't really taste like any other bread I've ever had. Surprisingly, the cornmeal adds a hint of graininess without weighing down the bread while the molasses adds a slightly earthy flavor.  If you are looking for a twist on your regular sandwich loaf, consider Anadama bread (and quit cursing!).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Pecan Crusted Trout

Sarah's choice of nuts of nuts for this round posed a problem that I often run into with Feeding Friendship - too many choices!  I have nutty recipes for every course - beet, goat cheese, and pine nut salad; peanut soup; walnut bread; hazelnut-chocolate crepes - but in the end I decided to dig into my enormous pile of recipes torn from magazines to make pecan-crusted trout.  I had a recipe, but ended up mostly using it as a suggestion (I have issues with authority) and simply salted and peppered my trout fillets before dipping them the non-skin side in succession into (1) flour, (2) yogurt thinned with milk to replicate buttermilk, and (3) a mixture of a 1/4 cup of finely chopped pecans and 1/4 cup of panko bread crumbs.  Cook the trout 4 minutes per side over medium high and serve with a squeeze of lemon. The combination of rich fish and oily nuts makes the dish deeply satisfying with the crunch provided by the panko and nuts offering up a nice contrast to the soft fish.

This was a Sunday night meat and two vegetable sort of meal (an unusual occurrence at our house where I like to shove my protein, vegetables, and carbs into a single dish).  Spring time means peas for me so I simply blanched them and then tossed them with butter, salt, pepper, and lemon zest.  Another easy side - perfect roasted potatoes.  Have I told you about these before?  My friend Summer taught me this rather obsessive method for cooking potatoes.  Toss quartered red potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then line them up, all facing the same way with one cut side down.  Roast for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Flip each potato over so that the other cut side is down. Roast 10 more minutes and toss with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.  I promise, these will be the most perfectly crisp roasted potatoes you have ever had and they really aren't THAT much more effort.  Perfect potatoes - because I'm worth it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Empanada Day!

I found a list of national food holidays so get ready for some weird celebrations.  These lists are extensive and frequently repetitive, but I think they are fun opportunities to create mini-celebrations.  I'll do anything for a party.  May 8th was National Empanda Day and the perfect opportunity to try Sarah's empanadas.

Did you know that empanadas originated in Portugal? That may be the first time that word was used, but every culture seems to have a version of them - English pasties, Indian samosas, Italian calzones, Chinese dumplings - they are all ways to seal up something delicious into an equally yummy wrapping.  I made the dough from the original recipe, but I had to add a lot of extra flour to get a consistency I could work with.  The dough is essentially the same as for tamales, but you fry it instead of steaming it. I had thought about trying to bake these instead of frying, but there is no way this dough would have stayed together without frying.  The softness of the dough also means that it was hard to fill.  But gently patting it out with a lot of flour and then using the plastic wrap to hold everything together made it doable.  The dough is tasty, but too fiddly for a work night.  Next time I'll try an easier recipe.

As annoying as the dough was, the filling was easy and delicious.  In the morning I put 2 lbs of lean stew beef, 1/2 cup of water, 1 chopped small yellow onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, 2 minced serrano chiles, 5 minced cloves garlic, and 1 tablespoon of cumin in the crock pot.  Per the recipe, I added a packet of Goya Sazon.  Then I read the ingredients - it's mostly MSG and salt - so you can decide if you want to use that or not.  I cooked it on low for 6 hours and then shredded the beef before stirring in 1 cup of cooked peas, a bunch of sauteed greens, and 3 tablespoons of minced, fresh oregano.  I can't recommend the oregano enough, it really makes the filling.  The other key to this recipe is the dipping sauce made by blending an avocado, juice of 2 limes, salt, and 1/2 a bunch of cilantro with water to thin.

The empanadas were fantastic and I can't wait to make some more.  With the extra dough, I made dessert empanadas - fresh strawberries and banana with caramel!  Maybe the 8th of every month should be empanada day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kitchen Organization

I decided to begin my deep-cleaning efforts in the kitchen because we've hit the point of precariously balanced glassware and that can only end badly.  Not to mention the wastefulness of having purchased three canisters of Ghirardelli natural cocoa powder in the past year.  I reorganized the dishes, pots, and pans first before turning to the pantry.  The shelves were covered in seven types of flour and sticky with sugar spilling out of open bags.

On top of the mess, the bags were not ideal for scooping out flour or keeping anything fresh.  I had a few old canisters that were not big enough to much flour so I was storing both the canister and a half-full bag - useless.  So the small canisters were reassigned to new duty.  Befitting their new roles, I decided they needed labels.  But, knowing that I would change their contents frequently, I decided to paint a strip of chalkboard paint around each.

For the flour, I bought four of these IKEA canisters.  The paint stuck easily to the frosted surface and I found that three layers of paint created a perfect, erasable surface.  Just be sure to cover the whole area with chalk and then wipe it off once before you start writing on it to be sure everything thereafter wipes cleanly.  I love my new canisters and I was on an organizational role, so I finished up with this 5-minute planner

I took a large, old frame that had nothing in it and covered the backing board with contact paper.  Then I printed out a blank calendar page, a list of our daily chores (I'm trying to do 20 minutes of cleaning a day so I don't have to spend two grumpy hours cleaning on Sunday), a to-do list, and two empty squares for notes, menus, or whatever else.  I taped them over the contact paper and then slid the whole thing into the frame.  You can use dry erase - or even better wet erase - markers to write on the glass and then just wipe it off at the end of each week or month.  I used neodymium magnets to mount it on the side of the refrigerator for easy access.  And now I'm a little too excited about our kitchen organization - on to the living room!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May the Cookie Be with You

Last year I learned that May 4th is Star Wars Day only that very day so I was determined to make the most of it this year (and give you a head's up).  The Christmas before last, I got these adorable cookie cutters in my stocking and I've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to make some cookies.  I scaled down my original plan of 4 flavors of cookies (lemon storm troopers and almond boba fetts got the axe). down to two - vanilla Yoda (recipe from the Lovely Cupboard) and chocolate Darth Vader (from Bake at 350, my cookie guru). Having tasted both, I definitely see the appeal of the dark side.

I baked a half-batch of each recipe and added a few drops of green and just a bit of blue to the Yoda dough.  Although the cocoa makes a fairly dark dough, you'll also need to add a few drops of black to the chocolate dough to get the proper Darth Vader color.  The cookie cutters are a little finicky. If you don't flour your cutter before each and every impression, you will end up with deformed characters and lose ten minutes of your life picking dough out of the crevices of the cookie cutter with a toothpick.  But most of mine came out nicely and the fun impressions means there is no decorating once they are out of the oven!

The vanilla cookie recipe is meant to be sandwich cookies and I think some lemon curd would really make this cookie. Oooooooh, and Darth Vader ice cream sandwiches!  You can cut out the cookies without imprinting them to make a smooth reverse ...I know what I'll be doing next year.  But for now, 

May the 4th be with You.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Zakuski: Or How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Russian Food

This is the first of a many-part series that I like to think of as "Educating Ellen."  It seems that there are a number of cultural touchstones that I somehow completely missed.  In an effort to catch up on the movies that everyone has seen but me, I added "watch classic movies" to my 30 by 30 list.  I thought it would be fun to make dinner to go along with the movie, which is made difficult by the fact that, of course, I haven't seen any of these movies.  So, free association will sometimes come into play.  For example, this meal was decided as follows: Dr. Strangelove -> Cold War -> Soviet Union -> Russian Food.

Unfortunately,my knowledge of Russian food is caviar and borscht.  Luckily, one of my favorite food bloggers, Deb at Smitten Kitchen, has some great Russian small plates (zakuski) recipes including Russian Brownbread, spicy bean salad, and eggplant caviar.  I love small plates, and these are simple and can all be made a day or so in advance.  I also cooked some mushrooms with dill and kasha (buckwheat) and, to balance out the peasant food, a tsarist dessert - Strawberries Romanov.

Having come into the world of Russian food expecting borscht and potatoes, the assertive flavors of these dishes was an awesome surprise.  The savory dishes all have an earthy undertone, frequently cut through with vinegar, pungent raw garlic and onions, or intense spice.  All of the dishes were great, but I definitely recommend ending your meal with a breath mint as my breath was so bad I was offending myself.  Strawberries are at peak ripeness is Texas, so I added only a tiny amount of sugar and the juice of an orange to the strawberries and just a splash of vanilla extract to the cream as I was whipping it.  If you are ever looking for a lighter alternative to biscuits for strawberry shortcake, I think those Romanov's really knew what they were doing with the meringues.

This is my first Kubrick film  other than Sparticus (I have never been able to sit all the way through 2001: A Space Odyssey) and everything I knew about the movie is summed up in that screen shot at the top of the post..  For me, Dr. Strangelove was intensely, laugh-out loud funny and I'm sure that aspect of the dark comedy was there in 1964 but it took me until the final scenes to realize how incredibly frightening this would have been when the movie come out two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. I suppose one of the most interesting aspects of movies that become cultural icons is how much their meaning has changed over time.  While I certainly appreciate the message that military one-upsmanship is a losing proposition (see also, War Games, a movie I DID see in my childhood), the urgency is lost on me as someone who barely remembers the Berlin Wall coming down.

I've got a pretty full list, but I'm always open to recommendations.  What do you think are the movies that absolutely everyone should see?  Name anything you like, I probably haven't seen it.
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