20 December 2011

Chocolate Cookies - Yum! Yum! Yum!

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I'm pretty set in my ways when it comes to the cookies I bake for the holidays.  For years, our cookie boxes consisted of the chewy, snickerdoodles, and spritz.  Not a big variety, but some of tastiest cookies I make. 

Last year, Valerie found a chocolate cookie recipe that she wanted to try.  She wanted to make them for Christmas, to boot.  Skeptical, I agreed to include them, and we made a batch.  The cookies turned out delicious and they become a welcome addition to our Christmas cookie lineup.

The best way I can describe these cookies are as a chocolate snickerdoodle.  They are moist and chewy on the inside with slightly crispy edges.  We make them the same size as our snickerdoodles and roll them in sugar before baking.  They have a really nice chocolate flavor, too.  Kind of like a brownie cookie.  Yum!

Top Secret Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional sugar for garnish

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, add the butter and sugar and cream together with a hand mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the creamed mixture and mix until combined.

In a medium bowl, mix the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until incorporated. Roll the dough into walnut size balls, roll in sugar and place on wax paper lined baking sheet.  Rrefrigerate for 2 hours.

Once thoroughly chilled, place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

11 December 2011

Gingerbread House

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Gumdrops, candy canes, marshmallows and more!  Valerie was determined to make a gingerbread house with the kids this year, and I think we came up with a delightful little candy clad cottage.

Gingerbread house kits abound at the stores these days, but to me that feels like cheating.  It's just my nature to try to make things from scratch; especially things that are edible, so I figured a gingerbread house should be no different.

I modeled the gingerbread house design from the Santa houses that Nonna and Grandpa used to make.  I measured the dimensions of the Santa house and cut templates out of construction paper.  I found a recipe online for the gingerbread and got to work.

I rolled out the dough, put the templates down, and cut around the templates.  I baked the gingerbread and then cut around the templates again after it came out of the oven.  I whipped up some royal icing and waited for the pieces of the house to cool before assembly.

It was nerve wracking working with those pieces of gingerbread, knowing that one could snap if I made one wrong move.  Thankfully, the pieces held together and the house went up without any issues.  The house was ready for decorations, and the kids were all too ready to help.

I was also nervous watching Ari and Emilie's little hands as they put the decorations on.  There was one mishap early, but it was easy to fix, and they were otherwise very delicate and careful with the way they worked.  I am delighted with the way our gingerbread house turned out; it has just the right amount of character and charm.

02 November 2011

Link Costume

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After beating Ocarina of Time for the 3DS it didn't take long for Ari to declare that he wanted to be Link for Halloween.  No sooner did he say it, I started planning how to make the costume.  I originally planned to make a tunic and hat for him, but was concerned about my limited sewing skills.  Upon studying a picture of young Link from the video game, it looked as if his tunic was just a big polo shirt.  With an idea in my head, we went shopping.

I was surprised how hard is was to find a green polo shirt for boys, but we finally found a green button-up shirt that looked the part.  Ari tried it on and it came down to just above his knees.  I found two belts in the store and buckled one around his waist and one across his chest and it looked perfect.  Our little Link was coming together.  Now it was time to equip him with some weapons and accessories.

My weapons search was in full swing when the living history encampment, Koh-Koh-Mah, was holding it's annual event.  I was excited to search the vendors for a sword, bow and arrow, and other items Link had in the game.  The first item we found was a little leather pouch that I could wrap around his belt.  The other item we found at Koh-Koh-Mah was a little wooden sword complete with a sheath.  I was very happy to find that sword because I could attach the sheath the belt that went across his chest.  Our trip was successful, but I still wanted a couple more items to complete the ensemble.

I went to the internet to find the rest of the items.  I found an inexpensive bow and arrow, boomerang, and even an ocarina.  His costume was really coming together, but he still needed boots and a hat.  We found some Ugg type boots that worked really well; plus, they fit Valerie.  Bonus!  I made his hat after finding an elf hat pattern on the internet, which came together a lot easier than I thought.  We also stumbled upon a Legend of Zelda belt buckle on clearance at Toys-R-Us that I snatched right up.  And, I printed an image of the Hylian Shield and taped it onto a Nerf shield Ari already had.  After all that, his costume was finally complete.

I was surprised how much Ari looked like Link.  I showed him the side-by-side picture that I posted above and he couldn't wipe the smile off his face.  He looked at it in awe and was quite pleased with himself.  The best part about this costume is that he can play with all the items after the trick-or-treating is over.  Plus, he has a couple of nice belts and a nice green button-up shirt for the future.  Valerie also got a nice pair of boots out of it.  Definitely a costume to remember.

31 October 2011

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

26 October 2011

Macaroni and Cheese

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A comfort food if there ever was one.  Few things are more satisfying than sitting down with a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.  It is one of my favorite things that Grandpa used to make.  I couldn't track down his recipe, but seeing how my grandparents always had San Giorgio pasta in the pantry, I suspect his recipe may have came from the back of the box, with a few modifications.

It's those modifications that I can't put my finger on.  I've come close, but it still isn't exactly what I am looking for.  I'm pretty sure Grandpa added sauteed onions to his mac and cheese which is something I have yet to try.  Another secret ingredient that was sprinkled on top of the macaroni and cheese when I was growing up was dulse. 

Dulse is a red algae that grows along the the northern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  It is used as a flavor enhancer and it adds a wonderful flavor element to macaroni and cheese.  Plus, the little red flecks are visually appealing and leave people guessing as to what it could possibly be.  I can't really describe the flavor, but it is unique, and my mac and cheese is much better with it.  I don't know who started putting dulse on the macaroni and cheese in my family, but it probably has something to do with my aunt owning a natural food store.

My macaroni and cheese has become a staple at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, and there is rarely any left in the dish.  It is rich, creamy, and delicious, with just the right amount of crunch along the top and sides.  The perfect accompaniment to almost any meal, especially during the autumn and winter months.

Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dulse (optional)
Fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Cook macaroni according to package directions in salted water and drain. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour, salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of dulse.  Whisk in the milk until combined and free of lumps.  Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Then add the shredded cheese and stir to combine.

Fold the cooked macaroni into the cheese mixture and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of dulse.  Bake for 30 minutes and allow to rest for five minutes before serving.

Recipe can be easily doubled and baked in a 9 x 13 pan.

05 October 2011

Toothless

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Ari lost his first tooth, which means he is well on his way to manhood.  It had been loose for over a month and he was nervous about it coming out.  The night before it fell out, it was so loose that I was tempted to just pull it.  Alas, I refrained and it came out the next day while he was at school.  He accidentally swallowed it, so he didn't have anything to put under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  Being a gracious soul, the Tooth Fairy left him a little something under his pillow anyway.  He was quite tickled.

22 September 2011

The R.E.M. Impact: One Fan's Story

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As I was browsing the internet yesterday, I came across the headline, “R.E.M. Call it a Day.” I had that sinking feeling, I knew what it was bringing on, I might as well click it. I read the story in disbelief; my favorite band was no more. I immediately tried to rationalize it.

“It must be some sort of April Fool’s Day joke...oh wait, it’s September.”
“But on the last tour Michael Stipe said, ‘See you soon!’ He wouldn’t lie to me!”
“Maybe the website got its sources wrong.”

So I went to remhq and read it straight from the source. R.E.M. was, indeed, calling it a day. Reading the quotes from the Michael, Mike, and Peter, soothed my mind a little, but it was still a shock.

R.E.M. has defined what music is to me for nearly twenty years. I remember as a teenager buying albums from other artists based on a popular hit song. More often than not, the hit single was the only bright spot on the album, and I was left with a lackluster listening experience. Not with R.E.M., though. I fell in love with nearly every song on Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Monster. Once I discovered their back-catalog, I was hooked.

I remember going to the record store to buy used copies of Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Dead Letter Office, and Document. I think my parents already had Lifes Rich Pageant, Green, and even a copy of Eponymous. I loaded the CDs into our five-disc player and let'er rip. Every song was pure joy. I found my band, and couldn’t wait to hear what they came out with next.

I bought New Adventures in Hi-Fi the day it was released, and I played that album non-stop.  It is, to this day, my favorite R.E.M. album; though, Collapse into Now is giving it a run for its money. With such a huge influx of music in such a short time, I still wanted more. I didn’t want to wait for the next album to hear some R.E.M. songs I never heard before. So, I hit the record store circuit and started buying singles.

I scoured record stores in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Bloomington, and Louisville, looking for singles with b-side songs I had not heard before. I found a lot of success along the way, not only with CD singles, but with 12” and 7” vinyl singles, too. Some record stores even had bootleg concerts for sale on CD, which I was more than willing to shell out extra cash for. I was amassing quite the collection, and then I discovered eBay.

eBay was a dangerous place for me. Every single I didn’t have, every poster I ever wanted, rare memorabilia, everything was there for the picking; it just depended how much I was willing to spend. Admittedly, sometimes I may have spent too much, but I don’t regret a single purchase. I was now in the thick of my R.E.M. collecting phase, and the band had since released Up and Reveal. It was about this same time when Napster came rolling along.

I really enjoyed Napster because I was able to pick and choose what R.E.M. songs I wanted, and they were free. Granted, I had almost every song, but there were a few surprises like “I Walked With A Zombie” here and there. Once Napster was gone, I found out about a peer-to-peer sharing site that specialized in live concerts. Suddenly, I had at my fingertips countless live R.E.M. performances spanning their entire career. Even better, I no longer had to pay $30 to own the performance; I could get it free. Needless to say, I downloaded just about every concert I could find.

Looking back, the peak of my obsession was in 2005 when I listened to all the concerts I had in chronological order. It was probably 200 or so concerts, and it took me several months to get through them all. Those concerts were the only music I listened to; it was fun, but I don’t think I would do it again.

Since then, things have slowed down quite a bit. I no longer feel compelled to listen to every concert, and I have pretty much tapped out the collectables market. There are still some elusive items like the "Gardening at Night" gardening gloves, a Dead Letter Office letter opener, a Fables of the Reconstruction book, and an R.E.M. backpack. I occasionally check eBay for those items, but I haven’t had any luck in a long time.

After the lackluster Around the Sun, R.E.M. rebounded with Accelerate and Collapse Into Now. The latter being their best album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, in my opinion. It has been a wonderful ride being an R.E.M. fan for all these years. My highest high came in 2008 when I decided use most of my R.E.M. shirts to make a quilt. After posting the quilt on latent chestnut, remhq posted a link to it on their website. I don’t think it could get any better than that.

I think it goes without saying that I am deeply saddened that I may never hear a new R.E.M. song again.  The anticipation of a new album, the thrill and rush of hearing those new songs for the first time, stumbling through the lyrics as I try to learn the words, I want to experience it all again. I do understand their decision and wish them all the best; and I will always be a fan. I am happy to have been able to go to several concerts since I started following them.  That said, here’s hoping the reunion tour comes sooner rather than later!

For whatever it's worth, thank you R.E.M.!

14 September 2011

Zimmernian Pickle Power

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Although my first attempt at making pickled cucumbers was a success, the flavor of the bread and butter pickles was not really what I was hoping to achieve.  The bread and butter pickles are delicious on a burger or hearty sandwich, I was looking for something that would go well with a lunch meat sandwich, or to eat on their own.

I wanted to make a dill pickle, but most of the recipes I found made use of fermentation.  Not comfortable with the idea of making fermented pickles just yet, continued to look for recipes.  Much to my delight, I stumbled upon a pickle application from Andew Zimmern.

I enjoy watching Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel.  He is my second favorite television food personality; right behind Alton Brown, of course.  Once I read the pickling process, I was very excited to make these pickles.  Here's how to do it.

I waited until I had a bunch of lemon cucumber ripe on the vine and went out for my biggest harvest.  The cucumbers were soaking on the brine in no time, and I placed them on the counter to sit for 48 hours.  It wasn't nearly as hard to wait two days as opposed to seven for the bread and butter pickles.

I was nervous about how they would turn out since the lemon cucumbers are so much rounder than traditional green cucumbers.  I worries melted away as soon as I took my first bite.  These pickle are crunchy, sour, garlicky, with just the slightest hint of heat.  A perfect pickle!

06 September 2011

Quilted Memories Body Pillow

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After dabbling in pillow coverings with the Indianapolis Colts pillows, I really wanted to make a body pillow for myself.  I decided to use fabric scraps from all of the past quilts I have made.  My original idea was to use the squares in their original size, so I wouldn't have to cut as much, but configuring a pattern was a lot more involved than I was planning.  So, I decided to cut the scraps to the same size squares and go from there.

The body pillow cover took a lot longer to make than I thought it would.  I had to do a lot more cutting, plus I just didn't have the time or energy to do much work on it during the summer.  I am so glad it is finished, though.  It looks even better than I thought it would and it is so cool to see the fabrics I used in the quilts I made.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.

30 August 2011

Peanut Butter Pie

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What good is making your own peanut butter if you don't have a fabulous peanut butter pie recipe to go with it?  I have been making my own peanut butter for about three years, and I love to make this pie every once in a while.  I say 'every once in a while' because this pie is so rich; a little bit goes a long way.  That said, I usually take this pie to parties because it would be too much for my family to eat by ourselves in a reasonable amount of time.

If you are going to make this pie, I would recommend using AB's peanut butter recipe that can be found on Food Network's website.  If you click the 'printable recipe' link below, the peanut butter recipe will be included.  Also included in the link is AB's roasted peanut application.  I have never roasted my own peanuts for this pie, mainly because I can't find raw in-shell Spanish peanuts anywhere.  I buy roasted salted Spanish peanuts from The Sunspot, and they never fail to produce a scrumptious peanut butter.

This peanut butter pie recipe is fairly straightforward.  There are a lot of steps, but the end result is well worth it.  The hardest part is waiting for the pie to cool, which you have to do a couple times during the process of making it.  The wait is well worth it as the reward is a smooth pie, that's not too sweet, where the peanut butter is actually the star.

Peanut Butter Pie
Recipe Courtesy Alton Brown

Ingredients
6 1/2 ounces chocolate wafers
1 tablespoon sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1 batch homemade peanut butter
3 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the wafers and 1 tablespoon sugar. Process until the wafers are fine crumbs. Melt 3 ounces of the butter and drizzle into the crumb mixture. Pulse to combine. Press this mixture into the bottom, up the sides and just over the lip of a 9-inch metal pie pan. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

After the crust has cooled, place the peanut butter and remaining 2 ounces of butter into the bowl of the food processor. Process for 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and process for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until smooth. Carefully spread the mixture into the pie shell and return to the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while preparing the topping.

Place the heavy cream into a heat-proof bowl and microwave on high just until simmering, approximately 30 seconds. Remove the cream from the microwave and add the chocolate. Make sure the chocolate is completely submersed in the cream. Allow to sit for 2 minutes. Gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and combined with the cream, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Spread the chocolate mixture over the pie and chill in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours before serving.

25 August 2011

Pickled Lemon Cucumbers (AB's B&Bs)

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My goal before summer started, and before my garden was even planted, was to pickle something.  I had cucumbers in mind as the season started.  Much to my surprise, I ended up with lemon cucumbers, and since they taste almost exactly like conventional cucumbers, I figured they will be perfect for pickling. 

I hoped to pickle my cucumbers whole, but the round shape of the lemon cucumbers were a bit intimidating to me, so I looked for a pickle recipe that called for sliced cucumbers.  I looked to Alton Brown first to see what was in his repertoire and found a recipe for bread-and-butter pickles, AB's B&Bs.

The pickle prep was short and sweet, and they were sent to the refrigerator for their week long pickling process.  After the week was over, I was excited to try my yellow pickles.  Since they are bread-and-butter pickles, I expected them to be sweet, and I was not disappointed.  They were almost too sweet to eat by themselves, but they are quite delicious on hamburgers.  I imagine they would also be good made into relish, or on other hearty sandwiches like sloppy joes. 

I enjoyed my first attempt at pickling.  I really like the novelty of using lemon cucumbers as well.  Their large circumference made it so that all I needed was one pickle to cover my entire burger.  I do want to make a pickle that isn't so sweet, though.  With a number of lemon cucumbers ready to pick, I think I may try a recipe that calls for whole cucumbers.

AB's B&Bs
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Ingredients
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon pickling spice

Directions
Combine the onion and cucumber in a 1-quart glass jar.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for four minutes.  Then, pour the pickling liquid over the onion and cucumber until the jar is completely full.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for one week before serving. 

20 August 2011

The Tale of the Lemon Cucumber

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I was so excited to plant cucumbers in our garden this year.  I enjoy cucumbers fresh, but I was most looking forward to the prospects of pickling.  Looked forward to harvesting a number of little green cucumbers and taking them straight to the pickle jar.  I bought a seed packet with a picture of a lovely green cucumber on the front and was ready to go!

One of the cucumber seeds I planted really took off, and I planted it in the corner of the garden, expecting it to grow along the ground.  After it was planted in the ground, the cucumber plant grew like crazy, and I routed it out of the garden to grow along the fence-line.  The vines grew and grew, and soon pretty little yellow flowers began to emerge throughout the lush green leaves. 

The flowers came and went without any cucumbers beginning to grow.  I inspected the plant every day for changes and still nothing new.  One afternoon after work, I was checked the plant and saw a little white orb by the base of the stem.  It didn't look like what I expected a cucumber to be, but I figured it was young and it would soon take the all too familiar shape I was looking for.

That remained to be the only cucumber on the plant for at least a week, and the little orb wasn't getting any longer, and it wasn't getting any greener.  In fact, it was getting rounder, and it was turning yellow.  I thought maybe this was just an unfortunate mutation since it was the first cucumber on the plant.  Soon, other little orbs began to take shape on the vines, and I knew something wasn't right.

One evening, Kevin came over and we showed him our cucumber plant.  He was also growing cucumbers in his garden, so we asked him if his started out in this peculiar way.  He informed us that his cucumbers started out looking like little cucumbers and just got bigger.  More confused than ever, Valerie retrieved the cucumber seed packet to see if it would offer any answers. 

We looked on the back of the packet for information, and found nothing noteworthy.  Then, we looked on the front.  Underneath the big bold "CUCUMBER" on the front of the packet was the word "Lemon" and it went on to describe it.  We had purchased and planted lemon cucumbers.  We found out they are called "lemon" not because of the taste, but because they are about the size and color of a lemon when ripe.

So, that first cucumber wasn't an unfortunate mutation at all, it looked just as it was supposed to look.  Realizing that the cucumber on the vine was ripe, we hurried outside to pick it.  We were excited to try a new variety of cucumber that we had never even heard of before.  Come to find out, it tastes exactly like a green cucumber.  It was a little strange.  

I was glad the mystery was solved, and the plant soon began to produce more cucumber than we could reasonably consume.  Plus, the yellow orbs became a nice conversation piece with guests and neighbors.  With a surplus on hand, I soon set my sights on making yellow pickles...

18 August 2011

Kindergartener

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This is Ari the morning of his first day of school.  Yes, there is a little anxiety in his eyes, and he would be the first one to tell you that he was nervous.  He had every right to be.  His world was about to change.

I was apprehensive, too.  The night before, as I was putting him to bed, a rush a emotions came over me out of nowhere.  I finished reading him a book and I asked him how he felt about going to school.  He looked at me and said, "Daddy, I'm nervous."  There was so much trust, so much faith in his eyes that I could ease his mind.  As I was talking to him about what to expect, it hit me, I started to get choked up.  I managed to finish what I was saying, kissed him on the forehead, and took a moment to collect myself before going downstairs.

That look, that trust, that love, I don't ever want to lose that.  I think I saw his first day of school as a glaring signal that he won't be young forever.  He's growing up, and I am so proud of him. 

He did well his first day of school.  We both survived.  He's almost through his first week of school, and though he is a bit tired, he seems to be getting used to his new routine.  He is still the outgoing, generous, kind-hearted little boy he always has been.  I hope he never loses that.

12 August 2011

Beer Battered Mushrooms

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Bring the fair home with these delectable beer battered mushrooms!  One of the highlights of the county fair for me is the food.  Well, the food may be the only highlight.  Once a year, I look forward to going to the fair and indulging on the guilty culinary delights.  Fried vegetables is always on the list of items to procure.  There is just something about a selection of vegetables battered and deep fried with a side of ranch dressing that I just can't say no to.  The fried mushrooms are one of my favorites, so I wanted to try them at home.

I have made these a few times, consistently enough that the last time I made them I wrote down the recipe.  The batter couldn't be simpler, and the mushrooms are ready in no time.  The batter is versatile enough that it can be used on other vegetables as well.  I have tried cauliflower, onions, zucchini, garlic sprouts, and even cheese.  Even making them at home, the mushrooms are still my favorite.  There is just something about the crispy batter matched with the tender, juicy meat of the mushroom that is just so satisfying.  

Beer Battered Mushrooms

3/4 cups beer (your choice)
3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 oz. white button mushrooms
4 cups cooking oil

Pour the oil into a 2 quart saucepan and heat until it reaches 350 degrees.  

Add the flour, salt and pepper to a medium mixing bowl.  Slowly pour the beer into the mixture and whisk until smooth.  Dip mushrooms into the batter to coat well.  Fry mushrooms in batches of 4 or 5 in the oil for about four minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the mushrooms to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with a little additional salt.  Serve immediately.

04 August 2011

Strawberry Cream Pie

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When I was young, I loved the strawberry cream pie from Moore's Pie Shop.  In fact, I even had one for my birthday one year instead of a cake.  The strawberries have been wonderful this year, so I decided to try my hand at making a strawberry cream pie of my own.

The components of the pie seemed simple enough; pie crust, cream filling, and strawberries.  So, first I made and blind baked a pie crust, then I made a batch of AB's pastry cream, then halved and macerated some strawberries.  I let the pastry cream cool and strawberries macerate overnight in the refrigerator, and the next day I was ready to assemble my pie.

The strawberries released a lot of their juices overnight, so I put the juice in a small saucepan and let it reduce to a syrupy consistency.  I then poured the strawberry syrup over the strawberries to act as a glaze.  Yum!  I spread the pastry cream on the pie crust, then placed the strawberries on top of the cream, and my pie was complete.

The strawberry cream pie was simply delicious.  The strawberries and cream go together so well, and the tender, flaky crust is the perfect vehicle to bring it all together.  It's a cool, sweet flavor wonderland.  A perfect summer treat!

27 July 2011

Rhubarb Peach Cobbler

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Whenever I'm in the mood to consume an entire cobbler by myself, I make rhubarb peach cobbler.  I am the only one in the house who will eat rhubarb, but I usually share a couple servings with Michael, who also enjoys its tartness.  I have been making this recipe since it first aired on Good Eats in 2005. 

I have three versions of this recipe.  One from the Good Eats episode, "Cobbled Together" printed off foodnetwork.com, one from I'm Just Here for More Food, and one from Good Eats 2: The Middle Years.  I mainly use the printed recipe, but I really enjoy using the Good Eats books, so last time I made the cobbler I reached for Good Eats 2.

I noticed right away the recipe was different because it called for lemon zest instead of lime zest in the crust, yet the filling still called for lime juice.  I decided to still use lime zest since that what I was used to for this recipe.  Then, I entered bizarro world, the measurement for lard was labeled in tablespoons.  I have never seen an AB application measure lard in anything other than by weight.  I was so baffled by it, I didn't realize the recipe called for nine tablespoons!  That's a lot of lard, especially when the recipe calls for only nine tablespoons of butter.  It didn't hit me that it was way too much until I started to measure it out.  Once I saw how much nine tablespoons was going to be, I got another copy of the recipe and checked.  Indeed, the correct measurement for lard was 1.5 ounces, or three tablespoons.  I'm glad I know butter to lard ratios or I would have had one lardy cobbler.

The cobbler turned out absolutely delicious.  The rhubarb and peaches work so well together in this dish and the crust is out of this world.  The crumbled bits of crust on the bottom are soft, tender and filled with the juices from the peaches and rhubarb.  The top crust is very pie-like; tender, flaky, and delicious.  This could very well be my favorite cobbler.  I just wish I had more people to share it with.

Rhubarb Peach Cobbler
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

Ingredients
9 1/2 ounces all purpose flour, approximately 2 cups
1 ounce sugar, approximately 2 tablespoons, plus 1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated lime zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces, plus extra for dish
1 1/2 ounces lard, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 ounces ice water, approximately 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound sliced peaches, peel on and sliced into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any drippings. Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.

Place the flour, 1-ounce sugar, lime zest, and 1 teaspoon salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 3 to 4 times. Add the butter and lard and pulse until the mixture just becomes crumbly. Sprinkle or spritz the mixture with the ice water a little at a time and process just until the dough holds together when squeezed in a fist. Place the dough into a 1 gallon zip top bag and form into a disk. Place the dough into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, while you prepare the filling.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the 1 cup of sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir in the rhubarb, peaches, and lime juice.

Remove 1/3 of the dough from the bag, pinch into pieces and distribute evenly in the bottom of the prepared dish. With the remaining dough still in the bag, roll it out to a sheet large enough to cover the top of the dish. Pour the fruit mixture into the dish and top with the dough that has been removed from the bag, pressing the dough into the corners of the dish. Bake, uncovered, for 60 minutes or until the dough is cooked through and starting to turn golden.

Change the oven setting to broil and continue to cook until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

19 July 2011

Peach Cobbler

2 remarks

When I think of cobbler, peach cobbler is what instantly comes to mind.  When I think of peaches, I think of Georgia.  When I think of Georgia, I think of REM.  But, alas, REM has never published a peach cobbler recipe.  So, when I think of food and Georgia, I think of Alton Brown.  However, AB doesn't have peach cobbler recipe that uses just peaches (that's another post).  So, when I think of food and Georgia and eliminate the AB variable, I think of Paula Deen. 

Of course she has a peach cobbler recipe, in fact, it's the first thing that comes up in a 'peach cobbler' Google search.  I have been making this cobbler for a long time, mainly taking it to summer family pitch-ins.  It is always a hit, and I rarely take home any leftovers.  The dough is buttery, light and fluffy, and the peaches work in perfect harmony to bring the dish together.

I always use fresh peaches when making this cobbler, and I usually use about five or six cups instead of the recommended four.  Otherwise, I follow the instructions as they are written.  For me, it is nice to have another use for self-rising flour, which I tend to have on hand for biscuits.  I use a 9x13 baking dish for the cobbler and mine tend to bake for about 40-45 minutes.  I also prefer to eat my peach cobbler without any whipped cream or ice cream, though I am sure they would be a delicious addition. 

Peach Cobbler
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen
Printable Recipe

Ingredients
4 cups peeled, sliced peaches
2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/2 cups milk

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the peaches, 1 cup sugar, and water in a saucepan and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Put the butter in a 3-quart baking dish and place in oven to melt.

Mix remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk slowly to prevent clumping. Pour mixture over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup.  Batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.

To serve, scoop onto a plate and serve with your choice of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

14 July 2011

Blueberry Cobbler

0 remarks

I have yet to meet a cobbler I didn't like, and this blueberry cobbler is no exception.  I found the original recipe when I was looking for a new dessert to make with fresh strawberries.  Somehow, I stumbled upon this dish and I'm glad I did. 

The first time I made it, I used frozen blueberries and added some fresh strawberries (just because I was determined to use strawberries, I guess).  The result was a very soupy cobbler, which wasn't what I was going for at all.  The flavor was wonderful, though, so I wanted to make it again.  I ditched the strawberries, switched to fresh blueberries, and with a few other tweaks, came up with a very pleasing summer dessert.

The cobbler comes together very much like a peach cobbler recipe that I have.  An interesting ingredient to this application is boiling water.  The boiling water, poured directly on top of the cobbler just before baking, adds a shine and a nice subtle crispiness to the crust.  It is like a combination of pie and cake, and the softness and juiciness of the blueberries are a perfect compliment.  I can see myself making this cobbler again and again.

Blueberry Cobbler
Printable Recipe

Ingredients
3 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 3/4 cups sugar (divided)
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch + 1 teaspoon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup boiling water

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 11x7 inch baking dish.

Add the blueberries to the baking dish. Squeeze the juice from the lemon over them, add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and mix to combine. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter and cup of sugar until smooth. Combine the flour and baking powder and add to the sugar mixture alternately with the milk until smooth. Spoon over the berries, and spread evenly.

In another bowl, combine 3/4 cup of sugar, salt, cinnamon and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Then, pour the boiling water over the entire dish.

Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown.

11 July 2011

Garden Update

1 remarks
It never fails.  For about two months, the garden looks nice, neat and organized in the small patch of land we fenced off for it.  Then, boom!  The plants start to breach their confinement and it gets hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.  Once once small plants transform into a lush, green garden jungle of sorts.  It still surprises me, but at least everything is happy and healthy.

The tomatoes will be ripe for the picking soon, and we have been eating lettuce for some time.  There are little jalapeno peppers taking shape, and the cantaloupe is starting to flower.  Our cucumber plant started to take over the garden, so I had to move it over the side of the fence.  Though huge, it still hasn't produced any cucumbers, which concerns me.  Unfortunately, our pea plants were a bust; they just shriveled up for some reason.   It is an otherwise exciting time in the garden and I can't wait to see what the coming month will bring!

Cherry Tomato


Tomato


Lettuce


Jalapeno


07 July 2011

Introducing Printable Recipes!

0 remarks
I am excited to announce that you can finally print the recipes featured here on latent chestnut.  This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while and I am happy that it is now available.  A majority of the recipes I posted on my blog are from Food Network, so I just posted a link to the 'print recipe' page on their website.  However, for recipes were not initially found online, there is a link in the post that will direct you to a 'latent chestnut recipes' page designed specifically for printing.

My curiosity was peaked when I saw the feature available on the blog Closet Cooking.  I did a quick Google search for 'blogger printable recipes' and found that the creator of Closet Cooking, Kevin, posted instructions on how to make printable recipe pages.  You can find the detailed instructions here.  I was honestly surprised how simple it was.

With the instructions so readily available, I just had to find the time to go back through all my old posts with recipes and post links to the printable pages.  It was a little time consuming, but it is now complete!  As I was going through my old food posts, I noticed that I didn't include recipes for a number them.  So, I may do another post on these foods in the future complete with a recipe. 

For now, you can revisit these recipes with the new printable format.

Apple Crisp
Atom Bomb
B&K Spanish Sauce
Brown Soda Bread (the first recipe I posted on latent chestnut)
Carrot Cake
German Chocolate Brownies
New York-Style Crumb Cake
Nonna's Apple Pie
Pear-nana Bread
Pie Crust
Snickerdoodles
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

More coming soon! 

30 June 2011

T-Ball - Take 2

0 remarks
Ari took a sabbatical from T-Ball last summer in order to focus on getting more play time on Saturday mornings.  But the lure of being on the same team as Piper and Samuel did him in; he really wanted to play this year. 

I can't believe the season is already over.  All the games were a blast to watch and the kids did a great job.  Ari will move on to South Side next year, so it was fun that he had a chance to play with Piper and Samuel.  Here are some of the highlights:

Piper running to first base as a swarm of children try to field her hit.

Ari eyeing the ball as he was about to make one of his best hits of the season. 

Piper running home, with Samuel behind her and Ari rounding second base.  The kids usually batted one after another and it was neat to see all of them on bases at the same time.

Ari reflecting on the season that was.

24 June 2011

Wii U

0 remarks
We are big Nintendo fans in our house.  I have owned every Nintendo console since the original NES, and got into the handheld scene starting with the Gameboy Advance.  We mainly stick to first party Nintendo games, Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and the like.  To me, Nintendo makes games the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

We have had a Wii since the second week it was available in 2006.  I would have had it the day it was released, but there were people camping outside stores to get one.  While I am a fan, I am not that die hard.  It would be an understatement to say our Wii has had a lot of use.  Ari has turned into quite a little gamer, and there have been plenty of games to keep us busy over the years.

After nearly five years, our Wii is beginning to show some signs of wear.  Sometimes it takes a few tries before it reads a game disc, and when it does, the fan inside isn't as quiet as it used to be, to say the least.  That's why I was so excited when Nintendo announced it's new console, Wii U, at E3 this year.  With a release date sometime in 2012, I just need our Wii to make it another year.

18 June 2011

Homemade Shower Curtain

0 remarks

We renovated the bathroom recently.  It badly needed an update, and we were finally able to get it done.  We replaced the vanity, sink, faucet, medicine cabinet, light fixture, and added a cabinet over the toilet for additional storage.  The bathroom looks so much better and I contemplated doing a post about it, but I thought home improvement like this wasn't really the style of latent chestnut.  But, when I made the shower curtain and valance (look in the mirror) and thought that would definitely be worthy of a post.

I don't know where we came up with the idea to make a shower curtain, but I'm glad we did because I am so happy with the way it turned out.  There are a lot more fabric options than shower curtain options, so we were able to get something we really wanted.  I decided to do big stripes because there weren't any pieces of fabric big enough to make the curtain out of a single piece. 

I was able to finish the shower curtain in one afternoon, and it came together rather quickly and simply.  Once I finished the front, I sewed a piece of muslin on the back and it was almost complete.  Our old shower curtain had button holes on it for the shower rings to go through, so I looked in my instruction book on my sewing machine, and sure enough, I could make button holes!

The button hole making process was a lot of fun.  I practiced on a fabric scrap to learn the technique and then I lined up the new shower curtain with the old as a template to see where I needed to but the holes.  It was a little time consuming to do all those holes, but it was done in no time and the new shower curtain was complete!  The room couldn't look better, and I never thought I would have such a sense of pride walking into a bathroom.

11 June 2011

Garden Update

0 remarks
This year has been quite trying for the garden.  Multiple severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and flash floods have left my holding me breath as they blow through town.  Thankfully, there was no frost after we made the transition outside.  The tipping point came a week ago when about three inches of rain fell in three hours.

We were out during most of the storm and it was still raining as we pulled into the driveway.  Approaching the door, I looked into the back yard to take a look at the plants, and I couldn't see them.  Thinking my view had just been obstructed by the rain, I grabbed my umbrella to go out to take a closer look.  When I got there, I saw the tomato plants laying flat on their side, being pelted by the rain.  Panic stricken, I ran to the garage to get my tomato stakes.  As it continued to rain, I put the stakes in the ground and gently lifted the plants and tied them up.  I couldn't step one foot in the garden or it would just sink.  Once the tomatoes were staked, I splashed some of the standing water out of the garden and hoped for the best.

To my delight, most of the plants came out unscathed.  I lost some of my little lettuce sprouts, and a basil plant, but everything else bounced back nicely.  The tomato plants were a bit wilted for a day or two, but they look as strong as ever now.  Overall, the garden is looking great!  One of my cantaloupe seeds finally germinated and we were even able to harvest some of our lettuce to eat with our dinner salads.  It's such an exciting time, everything seems to be growing so fast!

Lettuce

Cucumber

Cantaloupe

Tomato

07 June 2011

Good Eats 3: The Later Years - Task Manifestation

0 remarks

As I eagerly anticipate the latest Good Eats book, I have come to the realization that I am going to have to clean out some of my homemade recipe binders.  I have a couple binders full of recipes I have printed from the internet, mainly from foodnetwork.com, and mainly Alton Brown recipes.  Preferring to use the recipes from the Good Eats books, my binders have seen less and less use.

The Good Eats books are wonderful resources, and I am sure Good Eats 3: The Later Years will not disappoint.  Sure, I could go online and print every recipe from the show, but with all the photographs, drawings, science-of-food facts, cooking tips, and food trivia, AB does a phenomenal job making it feel like you are holding a Good Eats episode in your hands.

As for my binders, they will still get some use, and I am thinking about making a new binder, too.  Not every recipe from Good Eats is included in the books.  Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese, Avocado Buttercream Frosting, The Thin, and The Puffy didn't make the cut.  Excluding The Thin and The Puffy is understandable because The Chewy is the only chocolate chip cookie recipe anyone would need.

Back to my original point, I am thinking about making a binder that includes all the Good Eats recipes that are not included in the books.  I have not gone through the books to see how many recipes that includes, so I don't know if I will print all the recipes or just the ones I use.  I just think it would be neat to have every Good Eats recipe at my fingertips.

31 May 2011

Baba Ghannouj

0 remarks

We are big fans of grilled eggplant in our household, so I was excited to make baba ghannouj for the first time.  I couldn't decide whether to use Alton Brown or Aarti Sequeira's recipe; so I combined the two, using what I liked best from each one. 

For the preparation of the eggplant, I sliced and grilled it before removing the skin.  I added the grilled eggplant to the food processor along with some garlic, lemon juice, tahini, parsley, salt and pepper, and pulsed to combine.  It was ready in no time.

The baba ghannouj was good.  It had a nice smokey flavor, though it was a little bitter.  I added some honey as AB's recipe suggested, but it didn't do much to counteract the bitterness.  It was probably the eggplant I used just wasn't sweet enough, so I might make it again in the future.  I may have to grow some eggplants in the garden next year!

26 May 2011

Colts Pillows

2 remarks
I was on the phone with my mom asking for birthday ideas for Marty.  She started listing a few things, then she mentioned he might want a body pillow.  That struck me as a different and fun kind of gift, but I didn't know how to pick one out for him.  My mom and I continued talking with the body pillow idea in the back of my mind.  I don't know if she came up with it or if it was me, but we decided it would be neat if I made a cover for it.  New project!

For the body pillow, I used Indianapolis Colts fabric, the same pattern I used for the back of the Colts quilt.  The pillow came together very easily, just a few cuts of fabric and a few seams sewn together and it was complete.  I was a little concerned about the pillow sliding around inside the cover, but it securely stayed in place.  Overall, I am quite happy with the way it turned out.


Marty really liked his present and it was displayed nicely on their new couch in the basement.  The couch is black, and my mom had been trying to find throw pillows to match.  I mentioned to her how nice the body pillow looked on the couch and she asked me if I could make throw pillows with the same fabric.  New project!

We were talking about the pillows when I noticed that her old throw pillows were enclosed in a zipper case.  All I had to do was unzip the case, take out the pillow insert, and they were ready for a new cover.  I used the same method to cover the throw pillows as I did the body pillow, and they were done in no time.  I took them back to my mom and they were a perfect fit in the basement.  Who knew pillow making would be so much fun?


21 May 2011

Hummus

3 remarks

It all started when Valerie wanted hummus, but didn't want to spend an arm and a leg for her favorite brand.  The others just weren't "garlicky" enough for her, so I decided to make my own.  I figured it would be a simple process of pureeing chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.  I was right, hummus is easy to make, and I was able to add as much garlic as Valerie could handle.

I like to use dried chickpeas when I make hummus, and I had to plan ahead before I made it since I had to soak the legumes overnight before cooking them.  I don't really have a recipe, I just referenced a few on the internet to get an idea of the ratios of tahini and olive oil.  When I am making it, I usually have Valerie come do a taste test for her final approval.

Much to my surprise, my hummus making became much easier after watching the "Pantry Raid XIII, Destination Chickpea" episode of Good Eats.  In the episode, Alton Brown cooked dry chickpeas in a slow cooker and they were ready in as little as four hours.  Intrigued, I tried preparing my chickpeas in this fashion, and they were perfect.  They had a creamy texture that I was never able to achieve in my cooking method.

So, not only did I find a better, quicker way to cook my chickpeas, they also taste better.  AB's hummus recipe still doesn't have enough garlic for Valerie, but I have adopted his preparation method because I think it yields a smoother end result.  One thing I wouldn't stray away from is cooking the chickpeas in a slow cooker. 


Slow Cooker Chickpeas
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Ingredients
7 cups water
1 pound dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Directions
Place the water, chickpeas, and baking soda in a 2 1/2-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for 4 hours, or low heat for 8 to 9 hours, or until tender. Drain and serve immediately, or use in desired dish.

------------------------------------------------------


Hummus For Real
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

Ingredients
1 pound Slow Cooker Chickpeas, cooled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
Powdered sumac, optional

Directions
Place the chickpeas, garlic, and kosher salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 15 to 20 seconds. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and process for another 15 to 20 seconds. Add the lemon juice and water. Process for 20 seconds. Add the tahini. Process for 20 seconds, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil.

To serve, transfer the hummus to a bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, to taste, if desired.

16 May 2011

Bike to Work Week!

0 remarks




This is the fourth year I have been riding my bike to work and I still look forward to setting out every morning.  May is National Bike Month, and this year Bike to Work Week is May 16-20 and Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 20.  Ride on!

11 May 2011

Grounded

2 remarks
We moved our young plants from the safety of the porch to the big world of the garden over the weekend.  I'm always nervous moving them outside because they look so small on fragile.  But, it needs to be done, and I'm sure they will thrive!
Tomato
(Wisconsin 55)

Cucumber

Lettuce

Pea

There are a few other plants in the garden that didn't really warrant pictures at this time, but I'm sure their time will come soon enough.


We got rid of the little wooden fence we had last year and opted for a white metal variety.  We did this to "Walter-proof" the garden since he essentially destroyed the fence we had last year.  It may not look as nice, but I hope it is effective.  I love to watch our modest little garden grow!

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