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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Selfie Sunday: Wild Eagle Cruise

When I heard that Lake Coeur d'Alene hosts eagle-watching cruises every weekend in December I immediately knew two things: one, that as a bird lover, I needed to go the first weekend I could, and two, that I'd be going alone. Everyone I know around here is busy with school or family, and since I don't have either of those to occupy my time on the weekends, I embarked on the two-hour drive north to Idaho with my 90s alternative mix CD as my sole companion.

Two hours is a long time to reflect on where I am and what I'm doing. I'm starting to accept that being on my own is a reality of this Palouse living situation. I'm just trying to make the best of it.

But am I seriously taking the whole day to be alone on a cruise in Idaho and look at eagles?

When I got to the lake, I parked the car and walked over to the resort. I bought the tickets from a woman who asked how to spell my last name while my credit card was sitting right in front of her. This was right after she told me the cruise might have been sold out before she found the right button. I asked where I meet the boat but she said she'd tell me after she was done. She promptly forgot to tell me and I had to ask again two minutes later. After I had my tickets in hand and my patience in check, I walked down to the coffee shop I first visited when we stopped in CDA on our moving trip to Pullman. It's a different coffee shop now. The counter guy was rude and sold me a stale cinnamon bun. 

The people in CDA are snooty but not very smart. It makes me glad I live in a place where people are at least friendly and humble. You'll also never see an anti race-mixing rally in Pullman. At least I hope I never see something like that again.

Eventually I made my way to the dock of the bird watching cruise. I figured that since the resort also offers a Santa cruise for kids, that this particular boat would be filled with people like me. People who want to see wild eagles. Maybe some loners with books. An old couple or two, perhaps.

Oh, I was so very wrong.

An over-enthusiastic lady in a Santa hat greeted me at the dock. I stuck out like a sore thumb sitting at a table by myself with my Oscar Wilde book while families of 5 and 10 and 20 started to board, eventually taking over the rest of my table. There were babies spitting up and young moms that talked too loud. I got up and tried to find a quiet spot outside in the cold, but you couldn't go about 10 seconds without wild kids running past and almost knocking you over. 

The boat left the dock and the Christmas music started. Moms loudly asked Dads if they could please go to the bar and get the hot chocolate?! No, not that hot chocolate, that other kind? And a regular for the kids! All 42 of them!

Half an hour later we arrived at the eagle destination. A woman on a microphone pointed out the eagles as she saw them. "There's one right at one o'clock, swooping down," she'd say.


"Teeth! Show mommy teeth when I take your picture! Show teeth you silly knucklehead!!"

I'm straining to get a good look at that first eagle but I'm getting too annoyed. I move to the other side of the boat and go up another flight to the second level.

"Gimme those armpits! I'm gonna tickle those armpits!" 
"Heeheehee! HAHAHA!"

The guide says, "it behooves the female eagle to be larger, because she alone must incubate the eggs for 30 days nonstop," but I can't make out what the rest of what she's saying. The dad came back with the hot chocolates. There is too much excitement. I went back downstairs.


A few adults are blocking the window, but they aren't looking outside. They're in the middle of a conversation about nothing. They're just as bad as the kids. They give me a dirty look for trying to look past them. I don't bother with this spot anymore.

I go back outside and up the stairs again. Now there's a guy on a cell phone. He's talking loudly about his business trip coming up. I went starboard.

I found two guys that had binoculars and SLRs, who actually wanted to see some birds. I stood just close enough to hear them point out the eagles they saw. I could still hear the lady with the Santa hat trying to get a good picture of her kids with armpits and teeth. 

I tell myself not to let this experience mar my feelings about people and Christmas. But right now I don't like people and I certainly am not excited about Christmas. I'm not so wild about kids right now, either.

A tip for future eagle-enthusiasts: You can skip this whole cruise abomination and just set up shop along Beauty Bay. Christmas music optional. Just drive along the lake until you see the guys with fancy cameras on tripods. Pull over there. Bring your own spiked hot chocolate in a flask for your own measured amounts of holiday cheer.


When I saw them, I considered swimming to them and just leaving Oscar Wilde behind.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Selfie Book Club: Of Mice and Men

I have not been handy in the kitchen lately.

In fact, everything seems to go to crap when I try to get dinner started. The utensil drawer broke. I reached for a bowl along the top of the cabinet and the entire shelf came crashing down on me. I tried to make a mascarpone-egg cream for fettuccini and it curdled on contact. I went to get the food processor out of the closet and it fell and shattered -- on the carpet. THE PLASTIC SHATTERED ON CARPET! How is that even possible?

A wise woman put it in perspective and told me "maybe part of you is rebelling against this homemaker stuff you're trying to force on yourself."

I took her words to heart. I'm not the person to greet people at the door with a perfect cake in hand. I'm not going to have a home-cooked dinner on the table when my husband gets home because I WORK TOO! And he gets home when I get home, because I'm the driver, too! I guess I'm trying to pigeonhole myself into something I'm not. But when a city girl gets stuck in a place like Pullman, what else should I do to satisfy the needs of time passing, entertainment and creativity?

I suppose reading books answers some of those questions. Maybe writing about reading takes care of the rest of it.

I've been devouring old classics that I never had a chance to read. Last night I finished the quick novella Of Mice and Men, since I loved Steinbeck's epic East of Eden so much.

"Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella."

This line about sums up the text. Big dumb Lennie and smaller, slightly smarter George are off to find the American dream, working together on farms in an attempt to save up and buy their own house on a small plot and live off the "fatta the lan'."

I never knew that this funny cartoon was a parody of this classic. I kept picturing these two knuckleheads out trying to make a living together.


I think this is the right image. I don't know.

Anyway, finishing this book made me sit there and stare at that last Penguin publishing page and try to gather my thoughts. The kind of stewing in your mind that makes you jump when you get caught.

The plotline is so simple, but the themes that lay below the surface are numerous: race, inequality, marriage, friendship/companionship, too much love, not enough love. And dreams. I guess dreams and wishes and wants are the big ones.

Poor Lennie has so much love in his heart that he can't properly express without squishing animals to death. Mice, dogs. Plus one woman. Poor Curley's wife, who didn't even have a name that we knew. She was always looking for attention, and she finally got by getting her neck snapped. Her crime was letting Lennie pet her hair, lovingly brushed to silky perfection.

George did what he felt was right and decent for his friend. Lennie was off looking in the distance repeating the long-repeated dream about a farm with rabbits that will be fed plenty of alfalfa when (spoiler alert) George fixes him the way that stranger fixed 'ol Candy's dog. He aimed that rifle right at the back of the head, where he won't feel nothin'. And so Curley can't come after him.

The dream, the friendship, the giant heart of love! All blown to bits for the poor guy's own good. Lennie dies. Mean Curley lives on. Maybe Steinbeck was saying that Darwinism isn't always on our side. 

"(Lennie) subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits."

Poor Lennie. He might have been a pretty good rabbit-keeper.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spicy Chipotle Skirt Steak Chili

It's been balmy and mild out for almost-mid-December. No complaints here, as the one snowfall we've had so far had me creeping down Sunnyside Hill sideways for awhile before I gained traction on State Street. Maybe I'll need snow tires after all? Stomping into work that day felt like familiar deja vu. I'm not ready for another round of winter here in ice-slicked and hilly Pullman. And I'm too stubborn for those $900 snow tires anyway. You know, if we all just paid half of that in taxes we could just have the roads plowed in the winter and be done with it. 

Pullman is clearly not a democracy.

Anyway, considering the warmish weather, I didn't have a reason to start craving chili. But there I was at work yesterday thinking about all the things I had back home that I could build into a hearty stew: chipotles in adobo sauce. A skirt steak. Avocado.

I have a hard time staying focused sometimes.

Anyway, I researched a few recipes for inspiration and ran to Dissmore's IGA after work to bulk up on whatever I might be missing (read: beans). I was home and had dinner done in under an hour. Too bad Rob was stuck at school for another 2 hours after that. I guess it gave the flavors time to mellow.

I'd recommend this recipe only if you really like spicy food. Most recipes called for only one of those chipotles, but because it comes in that cute little can that isn't really dividable, I just threw the whole thing in there. The heat is strong, but enjoyable in that way where you keep eating more in order to keep your mouth from that burning thing called oxygen, and the next thing you know you ate it all too fast but you feel sooo satisfied and ready for a bear nap.

I may or may not be battling a mild case of sadness with food and sleep.

Anyway, enjoy the chili!


Spicy Chipotle Skirt Steak Chili with Avocado Topping

Ingredients:
1 red onion
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 small can of chipotles in adobo sauce
1lb skirt steak, cubed into small pieces
ground cumin
lime juice
cilantro
2 avocados

Directions:

Add onion to a food processor and chop to a small dice. Set aside.
Add 1 can of the black beans, tomatoes and chipotles to the food processor and process until smooth. Set that aside too.
Heat a small amount of oil in a dutch oven over high heat. Add steak and cook, stirring, until all the raw color is gone. Remove and set aside.
Add all but about 2 tbs of the red onion to the now empty pan. Season with salt. Cook about 3 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Season onion with cumin to taste. Add the chipotle mixture along with the white beans, the black beans and the steak. Simmer until the husband gets home. Off the heat, add lime juice, cilantro and salt and pepper, if needed. 

For the avocado topping: mix the remaining onion with 2 diced avocados seasoned with lime juice, cilantro and salt. Top chili bowls with the mixture.

You can also add tortilla chips, sour cream and shredded cheddar to help cool the spicy chili. I only had cheese on hand, but it was glorious.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

5 Reasons Palouse Folk are Awesome

I haven't posted in a little while, and it's not just because I'm not cooking. I'm kind of lulling in creation of any kind. 

Sometimes it's just hard living a place that you know you'll never feel at home. It's a bummer thinking about how I've partly adjusted here and how I won't be able to just jump back in when I do get home to NYC. 

I had a phone conversation recently with a start-up manager that brainstormed as she spoke. I couldn't keep up with the flow of conversation and could sense her frustration with me. I realized then that I was losing skills while semi-adapting to this slow Palouse lifestyle I never wanted a adapt to. All in all, I'm turning into Elf: I don't fit in in the city and I don't belong in the North Pole!



So in an effort to stop moping around and to focus on the positive, here's a list of five qualities that Palouse people possess that New Yorkers (and New Englanders) will probably never adapt:


  1. They are courteous drivers -- It's true! If they see a car coming, they will never pull out in front of them. In fact, they will probably wait much too long to pull out onto a main road because there is usually a car coming at SOME distance. I can't decide if they are just bad judges of time and space, but let's go with super courteous, shall we?
  2. They are polite phone people -- When I answer the phone at work, the person on the other line addresses me BY NAME! And this line of work involves answering the phone to people who are not always in the best mindset. But you know what? They greet me by name. Almost every single last one of them. Even the kids. 
  3. They are community-focused -- It would be strange if they weren't. I don't even know that many people and can't go to the grocery store, out to dinner, out shopping, nothing, without running into people. I can't stand it because I'm usually telling a story that I don't want that person to hear. Or I am wearing the same thing I wore yesterday and now someone knows it. People who live here thrive on seeing others out and about. I think it gives them a notion of safety when you're living in a town surrounded for miles on all sides by wheat fields. 
  4. They want what's best for the kids -- I've noticed that a lot of kids out here are special needs. I think the schools here are really good and have special areas of focus for special needs. I met a special needs teacher at a party once and could tell how much she truly cared for her kiddos. The parents need a strong support group, and they find one simply embedded in this community. It's very different from hipsters who have kids and focus too much energy and buying that perfect jaunty hat for their little wiggle worm at approximately 250% markup.
  5. They are troopers -- They need to go to Seattle for the weekend? No big deal; 5.5 hours in the car is nothing. It's starting to snow? No biggie, they got their snow tires on weeks ago. Their kid has a game after school 2 hours away? They'll just pick up a pre-made dinner at the grocery store and hit the road. Often times I wonder "Why? Why put yourselves through all this?" But to them, leaving has never been an option. I have never met anyone who lives here (that isn't a student) that does not have an exit plan. They love it here.
I just wish I loved it here, too.

But for now, I'm going to try and learn from them. Accept what I like. Take it with me. And who knows, maybe New Yorkers will start greeting callers by name and hesitating before cutting people off. I think I'd enjoy a nice taxi ride where I'm not fumbling for the seatbelt halfway through the fare.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Taco Sundays

Warm tortilla. Slow simmered meat. Sharp cheddar or tangy queso fresco. What's not to love about a taco?

Back in Brooklyn there were so many taco shops and food trucks to hit that very specific craving. My personal favorite was the Endless Summer truck that was parked out on Bedford Ave. What a sad day when I learned that summer is, in fact, a mere mortal season. I miss the intention of bringing home a few pork tacos but eating them along the way back to Greenpoint instead. 

Needless to say there is no taco truck here in Pullman. They say Mexican is fantastic out on the west coast, but I guess we are too inland to benefit from that. Lucky for me, they're easy to make. 

I'm sort of obsessed with America's Test Kitchen's 6 Ingredient Recipes magazine I grabbed off the racks recently. So many great and easy dinners that balance flavors intricately for a handful of ingredients. They have two pretty amazing recipes that rival those Brooklyn street taco favorites: one steak and one pork, like I used to get when I ordered a la carte. I adapted them a little to fit my tastes. Enjoy!



Spicy Chipotle Steak Tacos

I have to admit I'm super impressed with how good these incredibly simple-sounding tacos came out. It's all in that chile-in-adobo-sauce stuff. You use it as a marinade and that's it! Deeply flavored steak from a 1-ingredient marinade. Color me impressed.  


Ingredients:

1 can chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 (1 lb) flank steak
1 red onion
Guacamole (avocados, cilantro, red onion, lime juice, salt)
Tortillas

Instructions:

Blend chiles with salt and pepper in a food processor. Put in a plastic bag with steak and marinade for about a half hour. 

Meanwhile, make a guacamole (I like 4 avocados + handful of cilantro + good splash of lime juice + about 1/4 a red onion).

Broil steak on an aluminum foil-lined pan, about 10 minutes each side. The recipe says to broil the onions with the steak, but I found that mine got too crispy that way. I would sweat them on the stovetop instead. 

Let the steak rest before slicing against the grain. Fill warmed tortillas with steak, top with onions and guacamole. 





Spicy Pork Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

The awesome cheat with this one is kind of like the canned chipotles, only it's two canned ingredients -- pineapple and diced tomato with chiles. Granted, the recipe calls for fresh pineapple, but I went the easy route. I also found a way to use the food processor twice to quicken the prep time. And they thought I would just do all that chopping willingly. Ha!


Ingredients: 

1 can pineapple chunks
1/2 small red onion, divided
Fresh cilantro
1 10-oz can Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies
1lb ground pork
Tortillas

Instructions:

Drain juice out of pineapple and pour about half into the food processor with 1/4 onion and about 5 stems of cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put salsa aside.

Pour tomatoes with their juice and the rest of the pineapple into the food processor and blend until smooth. Cook pork with the remaining 1/4 onion until no longer pink. Stir in tomato mixture and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While pork simmers, make the guac. You can't have this without guacamole.

Scoop pork into taco shells and top with pineapple salsa and guac. You can add cheese if you like, but I think the sweet-spicy pineapple flavors work better without. 



Also I like to use Fritos scoops for taking care of the rest of that guacamole before it gets brown and unusable and who likes to waste food, right?*


*I am clearly no longer on my wedding diet

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kale & Tomato Baked Eggs

A few nights ago there was a knock at my door. It was my neighbor, of course, with a bag of fresh kale for me, naturally. "Had to harvest it all before the frost tomorrow," she says. 

And it was a good thing, too, because Veteran's Day I woke up and could sense that chill outside. I checked my phone: it was under 20 degrees! I lounged in bed for a few minutes before my breakfast plans roused me: kale, sauteed in butter, simmered in tomato sauce, baked with eggs. 

I've never actually baked my own eggs, but I loved getting those individual cast iron pots of warmth on chilly Saturday mornings in New York. Five Points on Great Jones Street, the old Paloma in Greenpoint (before it was Paulie Gees and who knows if that's even still there), Juliette in Williamsburg. This was basically the reason I registered for these little cast iron beauties for our wedding, and I hadn't even used it for this purpose yet!

I checked a few recipes before I just invented my own and flew with it. Honestly though, I bet you can use whatever veggies and sauces you want. Maybe a garlic cream next time for me. Enjoy!



Cast Iron Kale & Tomato Baked Eggs

Ingredients:

1 Handful of Kale
1 TBS butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can tomato sauce
Salt & pepper to taste
3 eggs
Parmesan
Mozzarella
Parsley

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350. Put a small cast iron pan over medium heat. Sautee kale in butter. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomato sauce, salt and pepper and cook until warm and bubbling. Crack eggs into a cup one at a time, and slip into divets made in the sauce. Sprinkle with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes. Top with parsley and serve. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sunday Supper: Crockpot Lamb & Roasted Potatoes

This past weekend I had a hell of a time spinning my wheels. I felt like everything I tried to get accomplished just wouldn't give. At one point I found myself in Lewiston, 40 minutes away, arguing (and losing) with the Subaru car dealership people and then trying to seek solace in Costco, before I realized I didn't even have the AmEx! The only credit card they take! But at least they take debit cards.

So clearly I had to take advantage and get something I can't get at Safeway or any other little grocery in Pullman. Which I guess is pretty much anything. I mean I have a pretty hilarious list of foods employees at Safeway have never heard of (chia seeds, hazelnuts, prosciutto!). But I wasn't here to make a meat & cheese board. I needed something hearty, for the slow cooker.

I found a leg of lamb and did a quick Google search to see if I could crockpot it. Dinner with Julie said I could. So I decided to do the whole lamb and potatoes her way. Only I made a few modifications, as I tend to do these days. I amped up the lemon, garlic and rosemary and cut the lamb in half, because it was still plenty. Then Rob whipped up a gravy with the drippings. The potatoes I kept exactly as was written. I was a little skeptical of adding liquid at 15 minute intervals, but they came out well-roasted, if not a little under-salted, which always surprises me considering how many turns of Himalayan pink sea salt I cracked onto it. Easy fix at least. 

In the end, everything came out great! Which is fortunate, because we had company.

It was nice to have something go my way.

Slow-cooked Leg of Lamb with Garlic, Lemon & Rosemary
1/2 boneless leg of lamb (cut down the middle so the remaining pieces are relatively square)
1 lemon
5 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup red wine
On a chopping board, pat your lamb dry with paper towels. Grate the zest off the lemon and grind into a paste with the garlic, rosemary, oil, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle or food processor. Rub the paste all over the lamb. If you like, let it sit on the countertop for half an hour or so, or refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Put it into the CrockPot. Add water and wine. Squeeze the juice of the lemon on top. Cover and cook on low for about 5 hours.
Lamb Gravy
There will be all sorts of delicious liquids in your crockpot when the lamb is done. While it's sitting out to rest, put the liquids into a saucepan and add a little sage, salt, pepper, a splash of wine and enough flour to thicken, stirring constantly. 
Lemon Potatoes with Garlic and Oregano
3 lbs. Yukon gold or baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed or thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup beef or chicken stock
1/3 cup lemon juice
chopped fresh oregano (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the potatoes in a single layer in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and pour the oil over them. Add the garlic, dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste and toss well to coat with the oil.
Roast the potatoes for 15 minutes. Add the stock, toss and bake for 10 minutes more. Add the lemon juice, toss and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the potatoes are golden and cooked through. If you like, sprinkle with fresh oregano.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Churning out that Apple Butter


I'm thinking I might do a string of posts about apples. Because I still have that bushel of apples from my friends' yard and I'm running out of things to do with it! 

But I do have to hand it to myself for finding new ways to use them up. Life gave me apples and so I made... apple butter.

The plum butter was good and all, but this apple butter tops it. By a lot. I slow cooked the apples in cinnamon and spices for 24 hours and the next thing I know I'm spreading liquid apple pie on my toast. Cracker Barrel ain't got nothin' on me!

I adapted this recipe from Brown Eyed Baker. Enjoy!


INGREDIENTS:

6½ pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used as much as would fill up 3/4 of the crockpot)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey

1 cinnamon stick
A dash of nutmeg, salt and allspice
A splash of vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

1. Place apples in slow cooker. Mix in sugar, honey and spices. Cook on low for 23 hours.
2. Stir in vanilla extract, breaking up any large chunks of apples that remain. Uncover and cook for an another hour to thicken.
3. Use an immersion blender to puree the apple butter until completely smooth. 
4. After sterilizing Mason jars in boiling water, spoon mixture to the top of each jar. Boil jars with apple butter inside for 10 minutes. Make cute labels because you feel like it. Give them out to your friends to buy their love and affection.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aunt Ruth's Apple Cake




I have a confession to make. While this apple cake recipe originates from someone who is technically in my family, she is not actually my aunt. In fact, I've never even met her. Ruth was my cousins' great-aunt. At least, I think she was. Maybe she was their regular aunt. All I know is that everyone always gushed about Ruth, including my own grandparents, who apparently loved Ruth more than they cared for their own daughter-in-law. Ah, families by marriage.

Anyway, it well well-known in my family that this Ruth person had a knack for cooking in the kitchen. So when I saw on Facebook recently that a friend of my cousin's posted Ruth's apple cake recipe (with permission from my cousin, of course), I'd barely scanned the ingredients before I was off the grocery store to make this thing happen before the recipe disappeared or something. Ruth's apple cake! I wasn't even quite sure what apple cake was, but I was ready to make it appear.


I had the typical meditative joy I get from baking a long-favored family recipe. Ahh, the apple chopping, the egg beating, the flour sifting. But then. Then I stuck the thing in the oven and within a few minutes, the kitchen smelled eerily amazing, like I was being visited by the ghost of October pastries. I felt as though I should be someone's grandmother, baking up this delicious, old-fashioned thing. And that this baking apple scent right here? This should really be someone's first memory. I wished my godbaby was not 3,000 miles away because I feel like this apple scented air wafting from the oven could really bring her into consciousness.

The second mind-blowing thing about this recipe is the glazed topping. Butter, brown sugar and evaporated milk. That's it. HOW did I never know that these three simple ingredients blend together to create this thick, syrupy caramel of the gods in about two minutes flat? How can I live with this knowledge now? I want to put this stuff on everything. Pancakes, cookies, bananas, apples, gummy bears, EVERYTHING. But yeah, it works pretty well on top of the cake too, because you punch holes in the top layer and let it melt on down into the moist interior of the fluffy cake.

And so, because I'm sure I didn't talk it up too much, here it is. Aunt Ruth's apple cake. 


Aunt Ruth's Apple Cake

Ingredients
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups cooking oil
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon 
1 c. pecans, chopped
3 cups apples peeled and chopped

Topping
1 c. lt brown sugar
1 stick butter
1/4 c. evap. milk. 

Directions
Grease a 9x13x2 pan. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat the eggs. Add the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Fold in apples and nuts. Batter will be stiff. Pour in prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 


To create the topping, combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat with a spoon until thick. Poke holes in cake with a toothpick and pour the topping mixture on the care in the pan while cake is still hot.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Eclair

When I was a kid, I remember my parents having two go-to recipes for bringing dessert to a friend's house: Lemon Delight and Chocolate Eclair. Both were no bake, no fuss, easy to assemble. Mom and Dad usually preferred the lemon stuff because they made it in that glass trifle dish that added to its 70s appeal, but I would usually beg for the eclair, and they would usually give in. Also I loved it so much they would make two of them so I wouldn't be tempted to eat it all at the guest's house. You know, manners and all that.

Anyway, fast forward to an invitation to a dumpling party a few weeks ago and I was like: a-ha! I know what I can bring. Chocolate eclair! So I hunted down my Dad for the recipe and, at 31, I finally made it myself to bring to a friend's house. Only I forgot to make a second one to stash at home and dang! No leftovers. I was hungry for more.

Fast forward another weekend or two and I'm invited to a Harvest Party by my friend with the chickens and the apples and all that (of course). I was skeptical that they would put us to work harvesting their crops. But in reality the harvest party involved lots of chili and spiced cider and a fire and a couple pinatas. 

Aaanyway, to add to the October feel of this whole party, I decided I wanted to amp up the chocolate eclair and make it... with pumpkin. Because surely no one in the history of October has ever done such a thing. (A quick Google search proved me wrong, but you know what? No one out there has THIS recipe).

And so it is with pumpkin-spiced relish that I will share this recipe, one that is 95% my childhood and 5% my own heartfelt contribution of autumn (Read: pumpkin pie in a can)*.



Pumpkin Chocolate Eclair

Ingredients
1 package graham crackers
2 small packages instant vanilla pudding
1 8oz package of Cool Whip
15 ounces pumpkin pie mix


Frosting
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk

Directions
Make pudding according to package directions, but leave out 1/2 cup milk. Fold in Cool Whip and pumpkin pie mix.

Line a 9x13 pan with graham crackers. Pour half the mix on top. Add another layer of graham crackers, the rest of the pudding, and the top with a final layer of graham crackers.

To make the frosting, prepare a double boiler by placing a mixing bowl over a pot with a small amount of boiling water. Melt the butter and chocolate. Then add the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread on top.

Refrigerate at least 24 hours to let all the flavors marry and the graham cracker to get nice and mushy. I'm not kidding! 24 hours at least.

Cut into squares and serve.

Don't forget to make a second one to hoard at your house and delve into when no one is looking.



*I also replaced white karo syrup with agave nectar because, what the heck is karo. Also the original recipe uses a microwave for the chocolate but I'm a sucker for the double boiler method.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spaghetti Squash: Proof that Mother Nature was an Italian

It's mid-October now and I can't get my hands on enough squash. Butternut! Acorn! Baked, soups, sautee! 

Yesterday, I had a spaghetti squash laying around from last weekend's trip to Trader Joe's in Spokane (a somewhat rare and much joyous occasion). With an hour to go between me getting out of work and Rob needing a ride home from school, it seemed a perfect thing to prep while being kind of lazy about dinner, too. I needed something to cook while I FaceTimed with a friend. Then I could broil the last bits up after I was done making goofy faces in the little corner of her phone, because spreading joy is demanding like that.

Anyway, this Lasagna Stuffed Spaghetti Squash recipe was perfect for timing, but I was a little skeptical about blending marinara and cheese in a squash. Even if it is a spaghetti squash.

This recipe has changed my whole understanding of the versatility of a gourd. The added sweetness of the squash worked so well with the Italian flavors I had to wonder why I hadn't substituted every pasta dish I've ever had with this stuff. Plus, we got the extra veggie serving without the added carbs! Because let's be honest, a little side dish of green veggies isn't getting touched willingly when I eat hearty like this.

I adapted the recipe a little to fit what I had on hand, to limit the amount of cooking utensils I might have to dirty, and to shorten the amount of time I had to spend at the stove. Honestly though, I don't think you can mess this thing up. A spaghetti squash, like yours truly, is as buoyant as its Sicilian ancestors*. 



Meaty Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 lb ground sausage
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • Oregano, basil, parsley
  • 1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Slice spaghetti squash length wise and scrape out the seeds. Rub 1/4 tbsp olive oil into each squash half and season with salt and pepper. Place spaghetti squash half face down in a large baking dish and bake for 1 hour.
  2. In a large pan, sautee sausage until cooked. Add sauce and season with herbs. Simmer until thickened.
  3. When spaghetti squash is fully cooked, flip in the baking dish so that it is now skin side down. Spread ricotta in the indentation, and fill the rest with meat sauce. Top each half with mozzarella cheese.
  4. Turn oven to broil, and cook for an other 2 minutes, until cheese is browned and bubbling. 


*Yes, I realize spaghetti squash does not actually share my heritage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crockpot Cinnamon-Vanilla Plum Butter

I'm not used to being in surplus of a lot of things. Certainly not produce. I used to overpay for about five or six pieces of fruit at a time at the corner stand. But now here I am visiting a friend after work and coming home with bushels of apples and crates of grapes and a bucket of plums. 

I've been taking my time eating everything. Making a dip for the apples with melted chocolate chips and granola crumbles, juicing the grapes with a steam pasteurizer,  whipping up apple cake and berry cobblers. But those plums get mushy and start attracting those tiny fruit flies fast, so I needed something that used all 5+ pounds at once. I needed to make a plum butter.

But I didn't want to mess with it! The canning part would be time-consuming enough. The rest had to be easy.

I researched a few recipes before I combined the best of them and freestyled in the crockpot. Here's what I came up with.


I filled the crockpot up with the best looking plums and tossed the mushy ones. The bees got into some of those. Or so I was told.

The plums were washed and pitted. I mixed in about 2.5 cups of sugar, set the crock pot on low, and let it cook for about 24 hours.

The juice starts to fill up the pot after the first hour or so. The goal is to thicken that stuff up. Keep checking on it and stirring it when you get a chance. For the last 8 hours or so, I left the lid open a little bit to let evaporation help out.

For the last hour, I bumped the heat up to high and took the lid off entirely. That gave me enough time to boil all the jars to sterilize them properly.

Before I canned them, I added a few dashes of cinnamon and a good splash of vanilla extract. Next time I would add a whole cinnamon stick and a whole vanilla bean for that last power hour. It would be hard to overspice this stuff. I mean, if you think about it, it's only like a tiny dash of cinnamon per plum. It smells warm and spicy and just like October.

Then I filled the sterilized Mason jars with the sticky jammy stuff, boiled them another ten minutes, and set them out to seal.


And that's it! My favorite crostini so far is a toasted slice of sourdough with butter, plum butter and a swirl of honey on top. It needs a dollop of ricotta and it will be autumn umami.


Plum Butter

- A crockpot full of washed and pitted plums
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- ~2 TBS vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean)
- ~2 TBS cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)

Turn crockpot on low for about 16 hours. Prop open the top and leave on low another 8 hours. Crack up to high and take the top off entirely while you sterilize the Mason jars. Add a good drop of vanilla extract and a few shakes of cinnamon, or if you can, add a whole vanille bean and cinnamon stick. Fill each jar to the top, seal, and boil for ten minutes. Set out and listen for that sweet popping sound. Store in the fridge once opened.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

After the Harvest

Here we are at the end of September, the first part of the second school year. After the wheat was harvested (and all the respective little towns went back to school the week following their own individual harvest schedule), everything went back to the same kind of grind. Rob in school 10 hours a day, the sunlight hours noticeably dwindling already. It's hard this time of year not to be extra homesick, when the feeling in the air changes and its easy to think about the bowls of hot, porky ramen we could be eating at Ippudo, the last of the outdoor concerts at Central Park, the mimosas at brunch we could be enjoying with friends. I don't know what it is about changing seasons that makes it so much harder to stay put here in the middle of nowhere, but it's hitting me hard this autumn.

But before I get all bummy and miserable, I do have to admit we had an awesome summer. We went to Portland about once a month to visit family, explore, shop, and dine in hipstery restaurants that reminded us of home. It was a great way to recharge.

On our last visit, we had a great early dinner at The Farm Cafe, sitting in their cute backyard and soaking up a few Northwest rays of sun. The salty, crispy trout with summer vegetables was enough to make up for many months of no fresh seafood in Pullman. 


The next morning, a tapas-style brunch at Tasty n Alder was literally all I could eat all day. I suppose we didn't really need to order four things when it's just the two of us. There was fried oysters with bacon and a cheddar biscuit. There was polenta with stringy fresh mozzarella and a sunny side up egg. Thinking of our favorite tapas spot Tia Pol in NYC, we gave in to the patatas bravas with aioli. And an egg. And then, just to try something sweet, we tore into some french toast with raspberry-apricot maple and whipped cream. 




It was great fuel for our touristy stop at Multnomah Falls on the way home. The waterfall is so high and the stream is so thin in comparison, it's hard to get a good picture of the whole sight. It's also hard to block out all the heads of the other tourists and their five million kids with ice cream cones that are dripping everywhere. 


By far, the best thing we did all summer (I mean aside from get married and the honeymoon and all that) is our camping trip to the Gorge. I know, I did not expect to do camping again anytime soon, and especially to enjoy it as much as I did. But the only way we'd be able to see the Arcade Fire at this glorious location was either to drive 40 minutes to an overpriced motel in Moses Lake, or just bite the bullet and set up camp. 

We don't know what we're doing when we show up to these places like everyone else does. All of a sudden there are sleeping tents and overhead tents and RVs and awnings and barbeques, there's a whole community to our little two-person tent with an aerobed inside and that's it. Luckily, we wound up next to a pretty awesome group of people that took us under their wing, fed us grilled sandwiches and gourmet cheese, showed us where to pick up the bus when the concert was ready to start.


I really don't think anything could have prepared me for the truly breathtaking setting. It's like I walked onto a painting. I couldn't make sense of the river far below or the size of the clifs. My brain literally could not comprehend all the beauty, and combined with phenomenal acoustics of our favorite band that reminded me of Brooklyn, I don't think it could have been a more perfect concert.

We left early the next morning and waved goodbye to the one or two friends that were awake already. I didn't want to ask their full names or try to keep in touch. It made me too sad to think about following them on Facebook and reading their posts about what they ate for breakfast that day and marring the real connection we had that made the night before. That's how things worked back at Woodstock, and with all the talk of Woodstock that inevitably came up that day, it seemed only right to respect experience in the time period this type of experience was born in. 

But I am hoping we see them again next summer. Next time, grilled brats are on us.

Monday, August 4, 2014

At the Grind: Meat & Coffee

Ok, so here's the deal with summertime in Pullman the second time around: It. is. Boring! Especially when our friends are on vacation and Rob's lab is closed and the gym is closed and shouldn't I be at a beach somewhere? (Answer: Yes, yes I should, but we are out of vacation time. Thanks a lot, wedding!)

It was nice back in May when all the college kids moved out off campus and left about 100 of us townies behind. Driving through frat row from work to school, I saw bro-hugs while Mom waited in the car, and couches being loaded into pickup trucks much too small for them and had these weird pangs of envy-disgust where I wanted to be those kids heading out of there but ugh! That couch looks so dirty and did they really just sit on that all year.

As usual, we've taken solace in the kitchen. There are lots of new toys to keep us occupied, and I think our new favorite is the meat grinder attachment. (Thanks a lot, wedding!)

We used this thing to grind up the chuck for burgers, and then again to make some killer sausage with a pork loin about the size of Rob's torso. We baked half of it for slicin' in the new meat slicer and ground up the rest with apples and garlic. 

It's fun to get the mise-en-place all set up before you push it through the first round. Who ever said you shouldn't watch them make the sausage?
 



Anyway, from what I understand about meat grinding, you're supposed to be a purist for the first two rounds, then you add on the salt and herbs after that. 


We like to make a mix of patties and meatballs, keep some refrigerated and freeze the rest. It's nice to have on hand for things like a quick pasta dish. Like this quick and easy spaghetti adapted from Cooking Light! (Can they just hire me to make their recipes better already?) See the original, not-as-good recipe here


Spaghetti with Parsley & Basil Pesto and Homemade Sausage


  • 1 lb spaghetti 
  • As much garlic-apple sausage that looks right
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
  • About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Handful of basil leaves 
  • Lemon juice 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add pasta to pan, and cook 8 minutes or until almost al dente. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 3/4 cup cooking liquid. Discard the remaining cooking liquid.
  2. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add Italian sausage to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan, reserving drippings; drain on paper towels. Add garlic to drippings in pan; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add pasta to pan; cook 1 minute, tossing to combine. Remove from heat.
  3. Combine about 2 tablespoons cheese (I just put in a whole hunk), parsley and basil leaves in a food processor; process until finely ground. With motor running, add remaining 1/4 cup cooking liquid, olive oil and lemon juice; process until smooth. Add parsley mixture and salt to pasta; toss well to coat. Divide pasta mixture evenly among 4 shallow bowls; top evenly with sausage. Serve with grated Parmesan.


Okay, so here's the other thing I'm working at perfecting, and I'm sorry about the double entendre title but its TRUE I'm fiddling with coffee these days. 

It's been in the 100s here every day and too hot for hot coffee anymore. Plus, it gets nasty in the thermos after awhile. So I've turned to cold brewing.

There are a few different variations online but you know how it pisses me off when recipes require strange measurements for a normal French press or weird filtering equipment. What's the point of these recipes? Why are we bothering to brew 1 cup of coffee overnight? It doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, I think it is important to use high-quality ingredients. Get good coffee and use cold, filtered water. It matters.

Here's what I've come up with:

Cold Brew Coffee in a Regular French Press Without Dumb Filtering Equipment


  • 2/3 cup freshly ground coffee
  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 1 small can condensed milk
  • Almond milk

Preparation

Grind up 2/3 cups of your favorite coffee. Cover with cold water. Let it sit at room temperature overnight.

Push down and pour the goods into a container. Save enough to fill ice cub tray about halfway. Finish the cubes with regular water. Trust me!! Now your iced coffee won't get too watery and it won't make you too jittery. 

Do this a few more times, if you can. You'll want to stock up.

Add a few spoonfuls of the condensed milk. I'm guessing the entire container would be good if you had maybe a gallon of coffee. Use a little at a time and shake it up. The coffee should be lightly brown and chocolatey looking.

Fill a reusable cup (you care about the environment, right?) with the half-coffee ice you made. Top with 3/4 of the condensed milk coffee and finish with enough almond milk to drape around the coffee luxuriously before you mix it together with your metal straw. Because you care about the environment! You said so.

 

It also tastes really good in Mason jars on the go. Perhaps on a Sunday going rock climbing at the Snake River? Because all those college kids will be back before ya know it, ruining it for the rest of us.

Dang lousy kids. 

I hope they get a better couch this year.