Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nobody better lay a finger...

Need to gain ten pounds instantly? Make these. You won't be able to stop eating until the pan is clean and PRESTO, your hips and thighs will magnify!

Peanut Butter Cup Bars

1 cup butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat and add graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter, and powdered sugar. Smooth into 13x9 inch pan. Refrigerate (or freeze if in hurry) until topping. Melt chocolate chips in favorite method (I usually do 1 minute in the microwave, followed by stirring and heating for 10 seconds until melted, just like the package says, instead of double boiling so I don't have to worry about the whole steam/curdling issue). Pour over cooled peanut butter mixture and cool for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator before cutting.

These bad boys are one of my favorite snacks because they taste just like Reese's peanut butter cups! I made them for camping Memorial Day weekend. I needed something to make it feel just like old times when the three families would go camping together. Apparently massive amounts of sugar hit the spot.

Now if only a red velvet or rum cake could magically appear during "happy hour" on Sunday it would REALLY be traditional camping.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whidbey Island Adventure

Decided to go on an adventure outside last weekend. Packed up the kayaks and camping gear and headed to Deception Pass State Park.

We put in at Bowman Bay. This is where my company picnic was last summer, so I've paddled in the bay before. We decided to let the ebb tide take us out of the bay and into the Puget Sound, just north of Deception Pass. There was lots of wildlife about. Like this seal.

And these sea birds.  We even saw two guys landing a decent-sized lingcod on the rocks at the entrance to the Bay. After lunch we hiked around Deception Pass State Park and saw a bunch of bald eagles and lots of wildflowers in bloom.

Spent the night camped at South Whidbey Campground. It was a nice campsite, but surrounded by stinging nettles. Needless to say, I found them immediately and often. We watched the sunset from the beach at the campground and it was beautiful. We were disappointed it wasn't quite as clear on Saturday as it had been on Friday, but it certainly made the sunset prettier.

Not only was the adventure fun, it was a good chance to air out my tent and sleeping bag before Memorial Day weekend. I keep learning different lessons about canned food while camping.  Last summer I learned that I need to put a can opener in my camp box (result: hungry campers) and that one should never try to pull back the top of a can with bare hands (result: bloody fingers). This time, I learned that even when you buy cans with pull tabs, you should still have a way to get the hot cans out of the fire (result: burned hands, burned food, or hungry campers). We decided we should just leave the cans in the box for a later trip and ate another hot dog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good to the last Crumb.

As I said earlier, I made Lime Yogurt Cake last week for a dinner party. I thought it was pretty dang good. I liked that it was moist but had a nice sized crumb, and that instead of frosting I got to use in-season strawberries to make the topping. The general consensus on the brownies was that there was too much cinnamon. I might make them again, but without most of the cinnamon and/or chili powder, and then mix up the toppings to be nutella and peanut butter. Now THAT sounds like a brownie.

Lime Yogurt Cake
From Smitten Kitchen

1 cup unsweetened yogurt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
zest of one lime
1/4 cup lime juice
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt

12 oz fresh berries (I used strawberries)
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper (not needed if you use springform).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, sugar, lime zest and juice.  Add the eggs, one by one, whisking well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together, right over your yogurt batter.  Stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan to loosen. If you are using springform, unclasp the sides. Otherwise, flip the cake onto a plate and flip back on the rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. 

Combine berries, water, sugar and lime juice in blender or food processor. Puree until very smooth, then press through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds (I didn't do this as I used strawberries). Cover and refrigerate until cold.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Not so much shakin', but a whole lot of bakin'.

I am going to a dinner party on Friday and signed up to bring desserts. I thought this would be a great time to try out two recipes from a couple blogs I follow. Conveniently, I just happened to have on hand the ingredients for both Cold War Brownies and Lime Yogurt Cake.

I started with the cake. It came together quite easily. I used my springform pan (YES! I love my springform!) and it popped out real slick-like. It's sitting at home right now just waiting to be tasted. I'll leave the results for after party when I have some reviews.

These brownies came together smoothly. The chocolate melted perfectly with the butter and looked deliciously smooth in the pan. I wasn't too concerned at the time that all I had was plain ol' cocoa instead of Dutch-processed, and finished the brownie batter in a snap. It didn't quite taste the same as from the box batter (which I love and always get a tummy ache from eating way too much), but I decided it was going to make better brownies, so I pressed on. 

The cream cheese batter confused me. I don't think I've ever been asked to add only an egg yolk to cream cheese for brownies before. What's wrong with just pure cream cheese? That's how I've always done it in the past. But I followed the recipe and finished by plopping and swirling.

I used a little more than half of the cream cheese recipe, and half of the nutella called for and still thought there was plenty on top of the brownies.

I think I'm disappointed in the final product. All I ate was the cast offs from when I cut it into pieces, but they seemed super dense and too much like cocoa and not enough like ooey gooey brownie. The egg in the cream cheese thing? Still don't know if I like it. She does say they change flavor after a day in the fridge, so I'll try them again this evening. But, it may have been a learning experience: don't use regular cocoa when it calls for Dutch-processed.  I may have to make these again after I buy some better cocoa to see if it makes a difference. Stay tuned.

Cold War Brownies

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
rounded 1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
5 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cinnamon

4 Tbsp Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 plan with foil, allowing to hang over the edges. Lightly grease.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate together. Remove from the heat and stir in teh sugar, then the eggs. Add the flour, cocoa, chili powder, cinnamon and salt and mix in. Finally, stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.

In mixer, beat together the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.  Drop dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownies. Drop dollops of Nutella.  Use a dull knife to swirl the whole thing.  Bake 35 minutes, or until just set.  Let cool completely before lifting out and cutting into bars. Store in the fridge.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Growing, Growing....Gone.

Can we talk about how awesome our greenery looks right now?
Everything is coming up and it looks like spring. I love it. I have already thinned by radishes and carrots once and it looks like the need it again (first planter). I have onions and turnips in the second planter. The onions are going crazy. I planted them from sets, so I wasn't really worried they were going to come up, but it's my first time growing them, so it's an interesting experiment. Speaking of experiments, what's going on in that third planter??


I love peas. I remember picking handful after handful as a child and sitting in the grass, shelling them, and immediately popping them into my mouth. Better than candy!

Well, maybe just as good as candy.

Much better than green beans. Dad would always plant about three rows too many and it would take hours to strip them all of the plants, wash, cut and can them. Sure, they were great to have around in the winter, but it took up way too much of my prime grass-laying time.

I was getting worried that my peas were getting too tall to support themselves last week.  They're about four inches tall and, with the beautiful weather this week, will probably have another growth spurt. When I was working "in the field" down by Cougar, WA, I picked up some downed branches on the side of the road to make a pea trellis. I lashed the branches together with hemp twine (discovered in my craft bin) and ran some twine up in lines for the peas grow along. I like it. I think it's cute and artsy-fartsy. AND, it's solves my problem!

I got some flack from "some people" about trying to plant too much in my raised bed. Well, take a look and see for yourselves.

Two tomatoes and a pepper, followed by a patch of onions. Rows of radishes and carrots (alternating), green onion, romaine lettuce (from seed), and spinach in front of two cucumbers, two zucchini, and MORE PEAS! One of my cucumbers looks like it got attacked by a wild animal (potentially the long-haired cat I saw running around right after I planted it) and I don't think it's going to make it. I may be surprised when the weather is consistently this nice, but for now I'm calling him dying.

I planted the peas in the bed about two and a half weeks after ones in the planter. While the planter peas are trying their damnedest to reach the trellis, these guys are just now peeping their heads out of the soil. I was worried they might not pop up and all of my hard work creating the other trellis would be for naught.

This guy, made from old fence boards Dad so kindly sawed into 1.5 inch pieces for  me, will hopefully allow my peas, cucumbers and zucchini to grow vertically instead of horizontally. My only concern is that I'll need to somehow tie the top to the wall so the awesome weight of my harvest won't tip it over. Luckily, there is some sort of strange screw sticking out of the middle of the wall that I can probably rig the trellis to.

Other yummy goodies planted around our yard include:
*Organic tomato
*Heirloom tomato
*Red pepper
*Mustard greens
*Butter lettuce

Okay, so the blackberries are invasives that may or may not bear fruit this year. I pulled a bunch of teeny tiny ones, but let two of the decently big ones grow, just because I was hoping for fruit. Apparently I'm a bad environmentalist. But don't worry, Leda pulled all the English ivy that was growing on our fence, so at least we have that going for us.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Barrel Tasting!

Last weekend eight of us hit up my parents for some free lodging so we could go do Walla Walla Spring Barrel Tasting. Mom successfully got one car schnockered on Friday night while waiting for the second car to arrive. And so began our weekend of debauchery.

Saturday morning we started (according to Dad not-so-)early at 11am. Started at L'Ecole, where Korinke was hit on and received a giant "taste." I believe she may have still been drinking it when she walked out of the building. Next we hit Waterbrook. They had great art, a nice tasting room, and they even washed out glasses for us! They get a gold star.

Cougar Crest was a big disappointment (no surprise there, it was founded by WSU alums). Wine sucked. Cheese was gone. Staff was rude. The only good thing this place had going for them was the Scottish dude making barrels out behind the building. He was polite, informative, and good at his job. He gets the gold star that Cougar Crest fell far short of receiving.

Last stop before lunch was Whitman Cellars. I always like Whitman. They took quite a bit of my money. Luckily, the family is wine club members so we got a discount.

After lunch at the Worm Ranch (delicious) we only had time to hit two more: Amavi and Northstar. We got to see Amavi's new tasting room and pick up wine club shipments at both places. By the time we hit Northstar we were more interested in the cheese table than the wine tables.

As soon as we arrived home, Dad met my friends and poured them all whiskey. And so started the enabling. That is what my father does. He "enables" people to be drunk. How does he do this, you ask? Why, he fills your glass when you're not looking, of course! Can't leave until you finish your glass, right? Well you had better stand on the other side of the room with your hand over it or you never know when he'll sneak in and give you a refill. Doesn't matter if you say no, trust me. He keeps pouring and you keep drinking! Just ask the Neighbors.

And my friends used to wonder where I got it from...

One would think that after the amount of wine consumed on Friday and Saturday we would have had our fill. You'd be right. But that didn't stop us from visiting Kestrel on our way through Prosser. I happened to know that there was a sale on Pure Platinum and had to stop. Only $90 for a case??!? That gets the Red Bird stamp of approval.