Monday, February 28, 2011

Mystery of the Day

Why can I walk into almost any kitchen, be presented with a bunch of random ingredients, and throw together something delicious, and quick -- except my own?  In my own kitchen I stare into the refrigerator piteously and wonder why the idiot in charge of purchasing hasn't been sacked.

This is exacerbated by the end of the quarter.  I have been putting in long days at school, and I come home at night wanting a lamb roast, new potatoes, a slice of pie, and half a bottle or so of something dry and red.  Needless to say none of those things are waiting for me. It's already eight o'clock, so no time to cook a lamb roast (if I had one).  So it's frozen ravioli, pasta sauce from a bottle, and a handful of frozen spinach in the sauce to keep me from biting the neighbors.  It's not bad...

 I think I'm going to interest a friend or two in the idea of roast lamb sometime soon.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Alternative Uses for Pancake Mix

Today I could not face my usual scrambled egg breakfast. I require a hot breakfast in the mornings, cereal is an excellent snack at any other time of day, but it is not breakfast food -- too cold and lumpy. I was going to be off doing things for most of the day (OPERA! With an Aunt! What Larks!), and I was uncertain about lunch, so it needed to be a substantial meal that might carry me through to dinner.

So I stared into my refrigerator pondering my choices. I contemplated pancakes but did not feel sufficiently something or other. I contemplated a quesadilla, but that did not sing to me either. I thought about a Dutch baby*, but a true Dutch baby required more eggs than I wanted to commit. I returned to contemplating the buckwheat pancake mix. It still did not appeal as pancakes, but what if used it in place of some of the flour in a Dutch baby, in the hopes that its leavening agents would compensate for the lack of an egg. 

Cap Hill Baby

1/2 c Archer Mills Organic Buckwheat pancake mix
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp veg. oil
2 Tbsp butter

Combine everything but the oil and butter in a blender. Beat until smooth. Stick in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 350.

In a ten inch cast iron skillet combine the butter and oil. Place the skillet in the oven for 10 -15 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, and carefully (it might spatter) pour in the batter.

Bake for 15 -20 minutes, until puffed and solid. (To my surprise it was done at the fifteen minute mark not the 20. Although if I had let it go longer it might have gotten browner, but I was in a time crunch.)

Serve with your favorite pancake toppings. Today I ate it with canned peaches, in honor of my great grandmother, and yogurt.

This procedure resulted in a dense, chewy cake with good buckwheat and butter flavor. It was not quite what I was expecting, but it was a good hearty brunch on a morning when I walked to the Seattle Center. I could have taken the bus, but I would have had to leave the house at the same time. It was a very nice walk even on a day inclined to serious bluster.

*It's a baked puffy thing that exists in the borderlands between pancakes and souffl├ęs. These are two things that at first glance do not have obvious borders.  Yorkshire puddings occupy similar culinary geography

Saturday, February 26, 2011

For Science!

My excellent friend JVW recently sent me a care package.  Among other things it contained a jar of Double Apricot brand Preserved Cabbage.  Apparently it's Thai cabbage that is preserved.  The contents of the jar appeared oddly dry for something that I imagined belonged in the sauerkraut family. 

The jar might have sat in some out of the way place in the kitchen except that this week also saw me bringing home a bag of Safeway's house brand frozen pot stickers. (I speak the international language of dumplings.)  This evening I thought I'd have some for dinner.  The soup I'd been planning to eat had not thawed, so I cast about for another side dish.  At once, I thought of the Preserved Cabbage.  So after I whisked the pot stickers out of the skillet, I dumped what I thought was an appropriate Sarah size portion into the remaining water from the pot stickers.  I can be enthusiastic about cabbage and its relatives.  Very enthusiastic, so it was rather a lot of preserved cabbage.

Only then did I taste the cabbage.  It was salty.  No... it was SALTY.

This was not pickled cabbage in the kimchi tradition, this was salted cabbage in the salt pork tradition.  Only more so.  

Clearly it had been intended to be rinsed, blanched, and used as a condiment.  I had dumped almost half the tightly packed jar into my skillet.  I added more water.  I added vinegar.  In desperation, I added a pinch of sugar.  Anything to cut through the salt flavor. 

Dear readers, I did not succeed in appreciably diminishing the saltiness of the preserved cabbage, but because I was very hungry, I dumped it over my pot stickers and attempted to eat it anyway. I mostly succeeded, because I was very stubborn and very hungry (having spent the afternoon walking around Seattle in cold, wind, and snow hunting a particular book). 

If there is a lesson here, it's probably try the bizarre Asian canned goods sent to you by your friends, before you commit to eating half a jar.  I will be trying to figure out what to do with the remaining preserved cabbage in the weeks to come.  If you have ideas, drop me a line.  My ideas at the moment involve mashed turnips and potatoes.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So Tired

An online thesaurus offers these synonyms for tired: all in, beat, bone-tired, bored, burned out, bushed, dead tired, dead, dog-tired, done in, drained, drooping, drowsy, enervated, exhausted, fagged, fatigued, flagging, out of gas, overworked, pooped, punchy, ready to drop, sleepy, spent, taxed, wearied, wearing, wiped out, worn out, zonked.  Most of these are applicable.  I am once again facing the reality that if I were getting paid for the time I spend at school, I would be pulling some serious overtime, and that's not counting the night when I was up until one am doing research.

But that's me whining.  Have some random bits and pieces instead. 

1. To your left you see the doodle that happened when I was supposed to be paying attention to a lecture about paper.  Those of you who have "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" burned into your brains may notice that there are two problems with this quotation.  One I figured out on my own, and one a friend* pointed out to me.  Only the latter was fixable.  

I should try to remember to update the image tomorrow with the fix.  I should also try to remember that I now want to do a gigantic Prufrock poster when I have time and energy.** 

2.  The second item is vaguely related two the first.  My shoddy memory dropped "sirens" into Eliot's deathless verse in place of "mermaids".  I drew a mermaid anyway.  (I like drawing mermaids, and have been drawing more or less rubenesque mermaids since sometime in high school. This may be because I don't particularly love drawing feet.)  A quick google image search, which I don't actually recommend, will show you that most sirens in the popular imagination are fish tailed temptresses (or else scantily clad women lounging on motorcycles).  However, the ancient greeks, imagined the Sirens as bird women.  Often just a woman's head on a bird's body.  Sometimes a winged woman with duck feet.  The webbed feet are fairly constant though (or possibly, they are the most memorable).  Temptresses with duck feet.  Get your head around that.  

Now consider this, the Ancient Greeks adorned their funerary monuments with images of the Sirens. Yes, at least some Greeks apparently hoped to be conducted into the afterlife by duck footed women.  This fact is not mentioned enough during the acquisition of a liberal arts education.   

3. Today is the 110st anniversary of my great grandmother's birth.  Today I learned that she, like me, loved canned peaches.  I also learned that, unlike me, her first name was Alvira (I've probably been told this fact before).  For reasons that are probably obvious, she went by Belle instead.  

4.  The strangest search term to find me in the last 24 hours was "Happy Giant poems."  Apparently this search points you at the Giant Cephalopod Awareness Day post, which does contain links to poetry.  And yet somehow I don't believe it was what they were looking for, although what they were looking for puzzles me.   

5. Breyer's ice cream at my local safeway is $2 a carton this week.  They have found my Achilles heel.

*To the best of my knowledge, this friend does not have Prufrock burned into his brain.  The fact that there are people in the world with perfect pitch for scansion would be the a cause of much teeth gnashing if I were not all of the things the thesaurus claims I am.  

**I do have Prufrock burned, however imperfectly, into my brain thanks to a college habit of dramatic reading duets with my roommate.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh, this is nice!

Still Life with Shrimp, Vincent Van Gogh
In a fit of something or other early last week it seemed the thing to invite Jackie up to spend the night and invite a new friend of seemingly compatible temperament over for dinner with us after I dragged Jackie to the church that I am tentatively beginning to think of as mine. 

It was a good incentive to clean.  So I cleaned.* And then Sunday afternoon, I realized that I had no idea about what I was feeding my two unsuspecting dinner guests.  Except that I definitely did not want to cook another pot of soup or unending casserole, and quiche would take too long after we arrived hungry after church.
I decided that the least I could do was make pizza dough.  Either I'd make pizza or bake it as bread with dinner.  I threw the first stage of pizza dough together and set it aside to rise. 

Then I stared into the depths of the freezer, hoping that I would discover inspiration.  Instead I discovered  most of a bag of frozen spinach.  Somewhere back in the primordial ooze of my mind, a memory stirred.

"Hey M, how do you make that spinach and scallop thing?" 

M is not so big on recipes, but she is a damn good cook.  She thought for a minute  and said, "well, first I take some bacon..."

I groaned a little bit, for one of my guests does not eat dead mammal generally speaking, and turkey bacon does not cut it in the delicious fat department.

"... and if I want a bit of crunch I sprinkle some pine nuts on top.  But the bacon is what really makes it."

I thought longingly of the spinach and scallop thing, and decided that I could sub some olive oil and butter for the bacon grease, and walnuts for the pine nuts.** So I hustled off to the nearest grocery store.  The closest QFC appears to be a grocery store,  but manages to thwart me every time I go in.  This time they did not have the tiny sweet sea scallops of my dreams***.  Sea scallops are relatively cheap and insanely delicous.  Instead, they had great hulking bay scallops for much more than I wanted to spend.  Not having time to run to the either of the larger grocery stores nearby I resorted to some midsized shrimp.  And a lemon.

I got back, and did the stage two things to the pizza dough and shoved it into the fridge to wait.

That evening we feasted.  The pizza dough became a focaccia-like substrate to the not-really-actually-M's-spinach-and-scallop-thing-at-all.  We crumbled feta on top and washed it all down with mugs of tea and glasses of water, and it was wonderful and homey and filling.  For some reason we spent quite a lot of time discussing the literary uses of the Seven Deadly Sins.   

Here are the particulars such as they are.  I confess that I was not measuring anything too strictly for this endeavor.  I could make pizza crust in my sleep, and almost the only ingredient I measure is the water at the beginning.

Pizza Crust or Fake Focaccia

This recipe takes time.  At least a couple of hours.  If you're hungry, but have your heart set on homemade pizza, make yourself a snack before proceeding further.  

Combine in 1 c. tepid water
1 tsp sugar
1Tbsp yeast (or roughly one packet if one does not buy yeast by the jar)
if it foams up in ten minutes or so, then it's usable. If it
doesn't you're probably better off putting yeast on the shopping list
and ordering pizza.

Stir in 1 1/2 c unbleached flour (try to keep the flour to a minimum,
you can always add more if necessary -- this does reflect my prejudice
towards a thinner crust)
optional 1/2 tsp crushed dried rosemary (parmesan cheese, oregano,
and or basil are also good, but I tend towards rosemary because the
other things end up in the toppings)
Stir until flour (and any other additions) is combined.

Go do something else for 45 - 60 minutes. I tend to lean towards the longer rise time

Stir in 1/2 c more of flour (more if the dough is especially wet, as it sometimes is)
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp salt.

Knead for three minutes or so until the dough is thoroughly mixed and

Here we come to a choice. At this point, one can cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge, and leave it there for a few hours or a day or so. Or one can go on to the next bit straight away. The texture is better for the long rest in the fridge, but it's not necessary.

Pour a bit of oil in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Turn
the dough over to coat it with oil.

Oil an appropriate pan and sprinkle it with
corn meal to discourage sticking. Brush off excess cornmeal.

If one is making pizza, attempt to follow these instructions. Form the dough into a round blob. Attempt to stretch it into a disc
about six inches in diameter. Place this in the center of the pan,
working from the center out stretch the pizza dough until it fills the
pan. Try to maintain an even thickness, pinch tears together. The
terminal morrain of crust forms naturally as you work towards the

Go back to ignoring the dough. This is a good time to turn on the
oven. Turn it on to it's highest setting (probably 500 or 550). By
the time it's done preheating, the 20-30 minute second rise should be
done. This is also a good time to make the sauce if you are going to make one.

Place the pizza somewhere in the upper half of the oven. Leave it
there for 5 minutes.

Top the thing.

Bake it for 10-12 minutes (long enough for the cheese to melt and get
bubbly). Serve it to a grateful public.

OR you can skip making pizza, and instead pat out the crust into a round or rectangle about half an inch thick and cook at 450 for 15-20 minutes or until golden on top.

Sauteed Shrimp and Spinach

(Not M's amazing Spinach and Scallop thing really, but pretty wonderful all the same)

This comes together fast enough that one can pretty much do the entire thing while the fake focaccia is in the oven.

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Butter
1 half large onion
1 shallot
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 pound shell on shrimp
frozen spinach, I think it was at least a cup and a half, maybe two
1/2 cup walnuts chopped
Juice of half a lemon (about a 1/4 cup -- it was a large lemon)
1/2 tsp salt
loads of black pepper

Heat the olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat.

Chop the onion and shallot, and talk a friend into peeling the shrimp.

Add the onions, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. 

Defrost the spinach in the microwave after discovering that it had not thawed as much as you had hoped while you were at church. 

Stir the alliums occasionally, while you try to make conversation with your guests.

When the alliums are translucent, add the shrimp.  Flip the shrimp occasionally, so that they cook evenly, but keep an eye on things, for over cooked shrimp are sad. 

When the shrimp are nearly cooked, but still have translucent bits, add the spinach and the lemon juice.  Stir frequently for a couple of minutes while the extra spinach juice cooks off.  Salt and pepper.

Oh it was good. 

*Cleaning at one point involved staring in dismay at the slurry of water and crumbs that resulted after I knocked both my toaster and electric kettle off the cart where they ordinarily reside.  It wouldn't have been so bad, except that I had been moving the cart in order to mop under it.  I looked at the mess, and thought about crying, while I muttered, "This is why I suck at housekeeping. I only make things worse."  And then I went and got the towel that impersonates a bath mat, and sopped up the water and crumbs and remopped the floor. 

**Something of a dice roll, since I am periodically sensitive to walnuts and pecans, but I had been avoiding both for a couple of months, and decided to risk it since I did have a freezer well stocked with nuts from before the last time my body decided that tree nuts were evil. 

***If shrimp are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy; scallops are doubly so.

Poor Kerouac!

I was doing dishes.  Jackie, who was pretending to be a guest, was wandering around the kitchen and had come to rest before the refrigerator.  She was reading the things stuck there on.

"I don't know how I feel about exploding spiders."

I looked up from scrubbing the cookie sheet on which I had baked the evening's bread.  Jackie was reading the Jack Kerouac magnet, the one that reads:
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...

"They're metaphorical spiders."

"I know, but I'm still not sure I like the image."

I thought about it for a moment and concluded that I was at peace with the image.  "Exploding spiders will never be in my hair."

Jackie is a more compassionate and enlightened person than I am (AND she reminds me, she used to work at a zoo), "there are lots of things that spiders can do that are not exploding or in your hair."

I once found a spider in my hair.  It was horrifying.  "but exploding spiders will NEVER be in my hair."

I'd like to think that my position re: exploding spiders, metaphorical or otherwise, is unassailable, but I have a feeling that Jackie may have the moral high ground here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Will Take the Ring

Walking to school I spied a silvery circle on the sidewalk. Curious, I bent down and picked it up. It was a ring. Battered silver plate eroded enough that the copper beneath had worn through at the edges.  In the best traditions of one of my favorite genres I stuck it in my pocket.  Regrettably the rest of my walk to school was uneventful. No riddle games at all.*  Upon further inspection, I discovered a Mysterious Inscription: in deeply
etched letters, it read "DATUMAMORE. AD DEFENDUM."  It more or less fit on my right thumb, or the first finger of either hand, though it attempted to slip off unexpectedly.

Sensing Latin, I googled the phrase when I got to school.  I was right.  It was not the Black Speech. (Sigh.) Instead it was one of those instances, where people use Latin to say something sappy that they might otherwise be too embarrassed to say.  In this case, apparently,  "Given with love, for your protection."  Which is nice, although one wonders how it ended up lying on the sidewalk, clearly having been run over a couple of times. Some protection.

*The answer to "what has it got in its pocketses?" is lengthy: knife, keys, head lamp, plastic dinosaur, phone, change, hands, pen, hand kerchief, and sometimes a hat.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Baleful Chickens and Other Things

The Buff Orpington is not amused, neither am I.
Since this post devolves fairly quickly into me ranting about people doing health food badly, I thought I'd mention up front that I passed a very pleasant Sunday with my Viking cousins and their chickens.  The chickens are charming and dopey until you look them in the face and realize that not only are they dinosaur relatives, but also they probably remember being tyrannosaurs in previous lives.  The chickens are biding their time.  (Mostly by making daft noises and begriming their living space, but still.)

The Viking fed me squash and kale soup that was so good I think I have added another brassica to the list of cabbage family members that I adore.  He also sent me home with a tub of homemade coconut butter cream that he made for the Little Viking's birthday cake.  I'm supposed to come up with something fantastic to do with it.  I did.

However, it's spreading the butter cream on peanut butter cookies (which are surpassingly moist and chewy several days after baking.  I may have to revise my initial assessment of the recipe as nothing more than inoffensive).   I think the Viking had more spectacular things in mind.  Against that, I am toying with ideas involving crab apple sauce.  (It's a little known fact that crab apples and coconuts are friends.  I'm not even making this up.  JVW's crab apple and coconut tart is objective verification of my assertion.)

Secondly,  ginger ale mk. 2 was so good that it is almost gone now.  Heating the ginger and adding lemon seem to be the things that ginger ale mk. 1 was missing.  I'll probably have a definitive recipe ready to go soon.

Now that the preludes are out of the way, I come to the reason that there is an angry dinosaur descendant headlining the blog tonight.

Today I ate an unpleasant thing.  It was a portobello mushroom cap "pizza" picked up in the produce section of my local Safeway. Now this is not an automatically bad idea.  I wouldn't have bought it if had seemed like an automatically bad idea.  I like mushrooms.  I like pizza.  I like food that attempts to be healthful.

I mention this because the experience of eating my dinner was entirely unpleasant.  Everything people, who don't like mushrooms, say about mushrooms was on display.  Grey, faintly rubbery, and ever so slightly funky like toe cheese.  I like mushrooms (I say this a second time, both for emphasis and also to reassure myself that I do still, in fact, like mushrooms) and this was not a happy vegetable and cheese stuffed mushroom.  What went wrong here?  

Firstly, a mismatch in expectations.  There was NO garlic.  I have made and served pizzas without garlic to people with garlic allergies.  It happens.  But if you label a food as somehow being of the pizza nature, unless it explicitly says so in large friendly, neon-yellow letters larger than fourteen point, it had darned well better have garlic.  Even pizza margherita which dispenses with pizza sauce, and can be pretty casual about the cheese has GARLIC.   (These yahoos had dispensed with pizza sauce too.  This was probably a mistake.)

Secondly, as I have ranted before, in an attempt to be healthy, the makers of health food often strip the fat from their foods (I had to buy yogurt today too -- do I even need to mention my disgust at there being no fat bearing yogurt on sale?).  In this case they skimped on the skim milk mozzarella and skipped the olive oil entirely.  Fat in excess is not all that great for you. You know what is excellent for you, and will kill you in excess?  Water.  Fat is necessary.  The human brain is mostly fat.  Human fertility is fat dependent.  Yes, folks, the survival of the human race depends on there being enough fat.  (Not that a badly executed portobello pizza will bring the human race to a screeching halt because of amenorrhea.  Probably.)  And the kind of fat that should have gone into this pitiable excuse for a dinner was good fat, namely olive oil.  Olive oil would have helped the mushroom caps to brown, carmelizing and sealing in juices that would have immeasurably improved the texture and the flavor.  

So this is what I would have done, and what I probably will do later this week or maybe next, because while the execution was poor, the idea was sound, and filling.  I'd probably skip the sausage in favor of more vegetables.  Maybe a roasted bell pepper.  More cheese. Definitely more cheese.  Maybe some sauteed onions. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Giant Cephalopod Awareness Day

Today is the day when we turn aside from worldly affairs and contemplate our relationship with the strange things that live in the sea.* A friend of mine reminded me that since we live in Seattle, bordered by sea, the squid are watching.  We think it should be the basis for a tourism campaign, and that Capital Hill should be renamed Calamari Hill.  I think it has a nice ring to it.

In my early youth I spent a lot of time watching PBS nature shows.  My attention at some point was captured by the tragic plight of the octopus and cuttle fish.  The males spawned and died, and then the females starved to death while guarding their eggs.  This worried me deeply.  The poor baby cuttlefish and octopuses who never knew their parents!  The poor parents who gave their lives for children they never met!  This had all the cathartic grandeur of a Greek tragedy for my eight year old imagination.

As I got older, I never got over being fascinated by members of clan cephalopoda.  They're intelligent.  They change color to communicate (well, some of them do).  Some of them demonstrate tool use, others social behavior.  Many of them taste wonderful deep fried with garlic aioli (but not the giant squid which uses ammonia to maintain its buoyancy). Sometimes I dream about them. 

And I am not the only one fascinated by these amazing, if squishy, creatures.

Artistic intimations of squidity

Oliver Wendell Holms uses the nautilus as a poetic figure for the growth of the soul. 

Tennyson meanwhile has strange ideas about the apocalyptic significance of the giant squid.

And here are some things to read and watch if overwrought nineteenth century poetry is not your thing. 

A rather long article from the Smithsonian about the giant squid which culminates in adorable baby squid pictures.  The adorable baby squid, regrettably, are not Architeuthis dux

The Flamboyant Cuttlefish is not truly giant, except in AWESOME which it has in abundance.  

This Giant Octopus, on the otherhand, is huge, and curious.

Have a safe Giant Cephalopod Awareness Day.  Remember, the squid are watching.

(If you really want to celebrate that other holiday with a poem about love for today, here are two favorites.)
*I've heard about another holiday that falls on February 14 that involves covering mediocre candy in red and pink foil and giving them to people you care about.  Obviously it's a holiday that celebrates the importance of forgiveness in human affairs.  Cephalopods are more interesting.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

They're Alive

It was a nasty rainy cold miserable day outside today.  I think I've mentioned that already.  Since I could not face the amount of soaked to the bone a long walk with a camera would involve, I puttered.  I made another batch of ginger ale, invented (mediocre) cookies, cleaned out the fridge, did laundry went grocery shopping, and then I made soup.  I had planned on a bean soup. (Having had enough of pureed soups made from orange vegetables for a while.) I had bacon that needed using.  I had quick cooking dried beans.  I had onions.  I had shallots.  I had carrots (I'm in the bad habit of buying baby carrots sticks when they're on sale and then forgetting them).  It was going to be great.

I fried the bacon.  I chopped the onions and shallots. I opened the recently discovered pack of baby carrots intending on using a handful.  They had roots.  They had bulbous orange excrescences that were the beginning of roots.  They had foliage.  Clearly they all needed to be cooked now.

So I made carrot soup instead.  A quick online search turned up all sorts of exotic carrot soups, all calling for ingredients I didn't have.  I surveyed the ingredients I did have.  So it's carrot soup with bacon, cumin, coriander, and new mexican green chili.  It's really good.  But it's also pureed.

The orange vegetables win again.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese cookies

I was suddenly seized by a twelve year old memory of the peanut butter pie at the Glacier Brew House.  I believe I have only eaten it once and it was so rich I could not finish it.  Suddenly I had to duplicate the experience of the tangy peanut butter cheese cake  swathed in ganache ... in a cookie? 

I don't know why my brain seized on a cookie as the appropriate medium for conveying the experience.  There are recipes for peanut butter pies.  There are no recipes that I could find for peanut butter cream cheese cookies.  I know, I spent a couple of weeks looking.

This afternoon I went and bought cream cheese (and more peanut butter, I was running out).  I forgot to buy chocolate for melting and dipping the cookies in.  I may go back and rectify that, but only after I bake the cookies and find out how they are.  The dough is currently chiling in the fridge.

Experimental Peanut Butter Cookies

3/4 c cream cheese, room temperature -- not the spreadable kind in the tub, they add oil to make it spread.
3/4 c creamy peanut butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

Beat cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar, vanilla and the egg together, until lightened in color, two or three minutes.

Add dry ingredients, and beat on low speed until just combined. 

Cover and chill in fridge freezer (after an hour in the fridge the dough was insufficiently solid)for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll heaping tea spoon fulls of dough into balls.  This will be sticky but possibly less so if you keep your hands damp.  Place on cookie sheets, flattening to around 1/2" thick. 

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Or something like that.  As previously mentioned, I'm only at the chilling the dough phase now.  I will be editing with the results this evening.  The dough tastes like Reese's Pieces.

Edit: These turn out to be rather... inoffensive.  Peanut buttery, but not overwhelmingly so.  Nice texture.  But they need something.  So for the next round, I've put dark chocolate chips on top of the cookies on the theory that the chips might melt and and spread into a nice topping.  If that doesn't work, I may have ganache based frosting in my future.  Which would be okay, and truer to my memory of the peanut butter pie.   To be continued...

Edit again:  I never did get around to dipping the cookies in chocolate, because they got eaten.  The cookie victims, my design classmates were universal in their approbation, so these will probably get made again after all.  

Ginger Ale, Mk. 2

I'm starting my weekend off by blending up the remaining chunks of ginger and putting them to boil with a third of a cup of honey and some powdered ginger because I didn't have enough fresh.  Why the boiling?  It's my impression that ginger is hotter when it has been exposed to heat, and I like ginger heat.*

The last ginger ale was enough of  a success that I'm trying it again. It lacked the straight forward fire that I was expecting from a quarter cup of ginger puree.  Instead it was complex and floral.  Altogether lovesome but not hot or what I had expected.  Also, it took longer to ferment than I expected, and while very nice it was a bit... flat, mildly bubbly rather than exuberantly so.  I responded at the time by adding more yeast.  However my excellent brother, who brews a better than acceptable ale, made some suggestions in his inimitable way: 

Yo, for future experiments with Ginger Ale you might want to add more sugar instead of additional yeast to make it bubble more. If the yeast doesn't have enough sugar to eat it wont make enough CO2 or it will take forever. Knowing you and your need for instant gratification- this will not do, sugar Sarah sugar. 
So I am punching up the sugar content.  I'm going for a third of a cup honey and half a cup of sugar.  Certainly this will be a sweeter effort, but hopefully worth while.

Hopefully such trifles will keep me from deciding that I need to start experimenting with real brewing until I have a bigger kitchen.**

Edit:  After the Saturday afternoon grocery run (the fall back after The Present Deluge made me think twice about an expedition to the park to take pictures), I suddenly owned a lemon.  As the juice of same had been suggested in the original ginger ale recipe, I squeezed it and poured the juice into the current ginger ale batch. 

*I am not really a chili head.  I don't feel a need to casually snack on habaneros or make bean dips hot enough to afright bachelor uncles.  However, I adore hot ginger things, especially ginger ale or ginger beer.  At an impressionable age I bought a six pack of Cock and Bull that was strong enough to make me feel as though my head were about to explode into a cloud of ginger vapor.  I've been seeking out such mind expanding experiences ever since.

**Curious phenomenon, everyone I know who brews their own is without exception nice.  Really nice.  Nice enough that when I worked at Summit, and brewers were coming in regularly, it was remarked upon by my coworkers as well.  Possibly only high quality people can brew good beer.

Friday, February 11, 2011

And since I haven't fallen over yet...

I guess I'll write a bit more about things food. I will probably come back tomorrow and discover my prose loaded with homophone errors and incoherent.

As mentioned previously, I was running on very little sleep, and I was an easy target when La Peliroja suggested we go down to the culinary arts program's Bistro for lunch. The Bistro is apparently what CA fondly believes that fast food ought to be.  Yes, food arrived rapidly, but trout almondine, Brussels sprouts, and something that may have been a timbale  -- it was definitely divine -- for six dollars are the apotheosis of the idea of a value menu.  That was La Peliroja's lunch.  I NEEDED coffee, and intended to eat my chicken sandwich later, so I ordered a cappuccino, and then upon intolerable temptation a chocolate hazelnut brioche -- my snack was both perfect and cost less than a mocha at Starbucks.*

The portion of trout almondine along with everything else on on La Peliroja's plate was heroic.  She offered to let me help her with it.  I helped in a helpful fashion.  It was perfect -- so perfect that I liked it even though trout is a fresh water fish. (Browned butter and lemon makes up for most things.  Crunchy almonds don't hurt either)  The probable timbale too got shared.  Then I was eyeing my companion's Brussels sprouts.**  I asked her, "may I taste the Brussel sprouts?"

She looked down at her plate and looked at me, than back at her plate.  "I'm feeling kind of territorial, but I suppose I could let you have that one," she said pushing one of the smaller ones towards me. 

"I'm sorry," she said, "but these are so good." 

When I finished thoughtfully chewing my sprout, I had to give my wholehearted though sad assent to her territoriality.  Fortunately disaster was averted when more sprouts were discovered beneath the giant fillet of trout (there may well have been a half pound of fish on that plate), so I got to have another. 

*I do not expect cappuccinos in America to be perfect.  I'm always delighted when I'm taken by surprise.  This was one of the delightful surprises.  There may have been moaning upon my first sip.

**With apologies to William Carlos Williams. 

so much depends

a green Brussels

flecked with black

beside the trout

The Spirit of Blog Posts Yet to Come

I am falling over early tonight owing to an unwise moment of weakness in the face of a long awaited library book last night.  I have some how not fallen over yet today, despite running on about four hours of sleep. 

On the otherhand, I hope soon to write a short essay about how I came to love iceberg lettuce, post a recipe for peanut butter/cream cheese cookies (as soon as I can invent one, which will hopefully be before Monday*), and quite possibly some pictures of various things, for I have a good camera this weekend (ostensibly for taking pictures of poultry).

Edit:  After a minor debate about whether this article about food and the Interesting Events in Egypt should be a separate post, I decided to fold it in here. 

*In addition to being Giant Cephalopod Awareness Day-- which may merit a post of its own -- my subconscious has also decided that it's Take Cookies to Classmates Day, a moveable feast which reoccurs on a schedule that baffles me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


There ought to be a really good name for a cocktail comprised of two parts homemade ginger ale, two parts cranberry juice, and a shot of gin (at least, I think it ought to be gin -- there is at the moment no hard liquor in the house to experiment with). 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nappa Cabbage and Carrots

A friend asked for vegetable recipes and this one was the first one I thought of.  I need to make this again sometime.  

This comes originally from Savoring Spices and Herbs by Julie Sahni (I omit a couple of things, and add others, but credit where it's due).  It's quick.  It's easy.  It's cheap.  I usually serve it dumped over rice. 

Nappa Cabbage and Carrots with Caraway

1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 T olive oil
1 large carrot shaved to ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1/4 medium onion diced finely (optional, unless you are me)
1 smallish head of nappa cabbage sliced  1 -1 1/2 pounds
1/3 cup water or chicken or veggie stock 
Kielbasa or reindeer sausage* (also optional -- leftover chicken or pork are alright as well -- don't use raw it takes too long to cook) 
1 tsp cider or red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup nuts (I've used pine nuts -- the recipe called for walnuts or pecans -- I've also skipped them entirely, particularly if I'm using meat for my protein)

You need a large skillet with a close fitting lid. 

Toast the caraway seeds in the olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant.  

Add the carrot shavings and quarter onion.  Cook until the carrots are tender.

Add the water or stock, the vinegar and the sliced cabbage, if my dad is around, you might also want to slice up some sausage and toss that it.  Cover the skillet and let the cabbage steam for 10 minutes (longer if using regular cabbage), uncover and let some of the liquid evaporate.  

Toss nuts with the veggies before serving.   

Devour.  Makes 3-4 servings depending on appetites and enthusiasm for cabbage.

*You can add reindeer sausage to the list of things I really miss about Alaska. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

In Media Res

1) The 2L bottle of ginger ale was not quite as hard as a rock when I cracked the seal on it this evening, but my intense curiosity could stand it no longer -- I had to know.  I can report that I should have let it wait longer, because it was not as intensely bubbly as I felt it should be -- although there was definite fizz.  On the other hand, the flavor is amazing -- complex, rounded, layered, and mellow(?!?).  Yes, folks, mellow.  It is very nice, and I will be glad to drink the entire bottle, but I was not shooting for mellow.  I was shooting for intense, fiery, flirting with the edges of my ginger tolerance, punch myself in the nose flavor. 

On the theory that I could address at least one of those problems by adding more yeast, I did.  The bottle is back to hanging out on top of the fridge.  I keep squeezing it every fifteen minutes in the hopes that fermentation is fermentating faster than I expect. 

2) The banana ginger cake, despite containing a third of the ginger in the ginger ale is much spicier.  I think this means that the next time I make ginger ale, I will briefly boil the ginger puree before proceeding, on the theory that heat releases some of ginger's more volatile compounds.  It is also excellent if you like that sort of thing.  Or even if you don't.  The Piephile who greatly prefers pie to just about any other human vice, except for dancing (maybe), conceded that the cake in question was very tasty even though it was not a pie or dancing. 

3)  Some salad in a bag is at the end of it's lifespan as salad-in-a-bag qua salad.  Waste annoys me.  I may attempt to make lettuce soup or at least vegetable stock. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Finally the Banana Upside Down Cake

Today has been a day of thwarting.  I wish I could say that I was off thwarting the powers of evil and corruption and mundane unpleasantness.  Alas, instead I was being thwarted by the powers of the laundry room.  I have a hate hate relationship with the little machine that sucks my cash into it's depths and theoretically puts money on a card that can then be used to pay for my laundry.  Theoretically.  Usually it just refuses to acknowledge that I have put a correctly formatted card into the appropriate slot.

In an excess of despair -- for clean socks are a basic human need -- I stomped off and decided to bake another banana upside down cake to address the imbalance of pleasant things in my personal universe.

Since I had leftover fresh ginger from last night's ginger ale experiment (it appears to be fermenting right along nicely), I decided that since bananas and ginger are both tropical crops they obviously went together.  I also had some pineapple orange juice which I dumped on the topping in the hopes that the extra liquid would make for a less impermeable layer of caramel.

So this is what I did this time.  (Except for the things that I know I did wrong, which I will not tell you to do.)

Banana Ginger Upside Down Cake

 I bake upside down cakes in a ten inch cast iron skillet.  I understand that there are different approaches, but that's what I do. 

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup well packed brown sugar
1 or 2 sliced bananas depending on size
3 Tbsp orange pineapple juice or orange juice or pineapple juice

 1/3 cup Crisco shortening -- I don't know why Crisco and not butter, but I theorize that because this recipe contains so much liquid already, that the person who invented the recipe I've messed with substantially wanted a fat with less water in it than butter has.  Anyway, I liked the idea of a smidge less cholesterol in the dessert
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
A peeled and chopped 1"x 2" chunk of fresh ginger
1/2 cup buttermilk*
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract (or less, but in my thwarted state I was feeling decadent)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Over low heat, melt the butter in your skillet.

Attempt to sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the surface of the butter.  This will probably fail, I have never known well packed brown sugar to sprinkle readily.  That's okay, grab a wooden spoon and smooth it out.  Allow to cook unmolested for 3 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat, and arrange the bananas over the face of the caramel.  Be careful, the bubbly brown stuff is hot and irascible.  Cover the surface as well as you can without overlapping the banana slices

Cream the Crisco and the sugars together, beating until light and fluffy in texture. This takes a few minutes.  (I use my stand mixer, and mix up the dry mixture and the wet mixture while creaming and beating in eggs is going on.)

Add two eggs, beating well after each.

In a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup (you can use other things -- but this is the perfect size) mix the buttermilk, the  bananas, the vanilla, and the chopped up ginger.  Take your immersion blender and puree.  (One could of course mash the bananas by hand and grate the ginger, but this is nice and easy.)

In a medium size bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  

Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in three parts alternating with the banana mixture.  Mix until just combined, and scrap into the skillet, trying not to disarrange the bananas too much.  Smooth out the cake batter, and pop into the oven.

Bake 40-50 minutes, or until golden and a tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool in skillet for fifteen minutes, before running a knife around the cake.  Placing a plate of suitable size face down over the top and invert.  Hopefully the cake will end up on the plate and not the floor. 

*  One can -- and this one does-- make a buttermilk substitute (or use 1/2 cup of plain yogurt). 
1/2Tspp (or 1 1/2 teaspoons) vinegar
enough milk to then make half a cup when combined with the vinegar
Leave it alone for five minutes and then stir.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Zeno's Casserole and Ginger Ale

I know how to spell Zeno, but I keep double checking because my inner sense of orthography autocorrects to Xeno as the obvious masculine form of Xena... as in Warrior Princess.  Xena's Casserole probably ululates, flies through the air, and has sharp edges.  This is merely the casserole that I've been eating on and off for a week. 

Yes, the black bean casserole is what's for dinner again.  Someday I will learn to cook in quantities suitable for one person, or at most two.  Not two adults and two starving teenagers which was my standard portion when I was learning to cook.  I swear that casserole is regenerating when I turn my back.  (The real problem is that I discovered that the casserole goes from very good to scrumptious when dumped on top of tater tots, thereby halving the amount of casserole that I think I'm eating.)

Never mind.  It was funnier in my head.

Anyway, after finishing my Friday afternoon face plant (somewhat accentuated by the fact that my body is not as certain of my convalescence as my brain) around 8:30, I thought,"I told the nice people in Blogland that I would experiment with making my own ginger ale when I was back on my feet."  So off I ran like a good little blogger and bought a chunk of ginger root. And then I made ginger ale which was as easy as I thought it would be. Now I just need to wait a day or two for it to ferment into what will hopefully be the wildly fiery ginger ale of my dreams. 

It should be noted that I have a touching faith in ginger, and particularly ginger ale as a panacea for most human ills.  I treat stomach upsets, colds, sinus infections, and the existential blahs with ginger ale, or a hot tissane of ginger and honey.  So far I haven't died, so my faith is validated. 

Anyway after the most recent round of yuck, which was something like the flu (the real one, not the stomach flue) and something like a cold, when I was reduced to drinking ginger and honey several times a day, the discovery of the ginger ale recipe seemed fortuitous.

A quick survey of the recipe suggested that it would not be gingery enough for my taste and probably too sweet as well.  So some changes have been made.  Likewise the original called for a box grater and a funnel.  I don't own either of those things so more changes have been made.

Ginger Ale (Slightly Tweaked)

1 clean 2L soda bottle
1/4 tsp bakers yeast
1 largish chunk of ginger (approximately 1.5 inches in diameter and about 4 inches long -- when I chopped it up roughly it appeared to be between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup.  I'm nuts, you do not have to use that much.)
2/3 cup sugar
enough water

Pour a little cool water in the bottom of the soda bottle, drop in the 1/4 tsp of yeast.

Peel and roughly chop up your ginger.  Place it in the bottom of a pyrex measuring cup, add enough water so that an immersion blender will blend when immersed in the measuring cup.  Puree the ginger.  So much nicer than futzing with a box grater and taking the skin off your knucles.  Add more water and the sugar.  Give it a good stir to make sure everything is more or less liquid.  Pour it into the bottle.

Continue to fill the measuring cup with cold water and pour into the bottle, until the cup is rinsed clean and the bottle is full to about an inch below the beginning of the neck. 

Cap the bottle tightly, and shake vigorously until anything not heretofore dissolved is rendered aqueous. 

That all went fairly slickly.  Here is where I venture into the realm of trusting my informants.

Leave the capped bottle out on the counter for 24-48 hours.  Check regularly.  When you cannot dent the bottle by squeezing it, place it in the fridge and chill for eight hours or so.  Be very careful to open it slowly and bleed off pressure when you open it.  Under no circumstances use glass bottles. 

I will, of course, let you know how it comes out. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

That Must Have Been Disappointing

Two people apparently found the blog today after doing a Google search on "shrubbery + cheap".

I was deeply bemused.  Deeply.  Especially as this blog is nowhere to be seen in the top ten pages of google results.

However in checking this out I did discover in the website snippets that Google posts a reference to "a dance troupe wearing bustiers and exotic shrubbery."  My bemusement is now as the void of interstellar space compared to the void inside a peanut shell now.   Especially since, judging from the rest of the snippet and the url, the site is a Chinese pimp's web presence.*  So now we have men paying for the privilege of spending time with women in uncomfortable underwear and agricultural products?**

What's next inappropriate fixations on hedge shears? 

I don't think I want to know. 

*I did not click through, but s/he does promise virgins, though s/he makes no mention of what sort of plant life they are afflicted with.  Probably aspidistras. 

** How do you wear a shrubbery anyway?  Do you root it in the cups of the bustier?  Do I really want to go on thinking about this?