Friday, June 25, 2010

Royally Crabby.

This week I modified my dad's favorite casserole.  Some of you may be gasping, "To think, changing a favorite?!?" But hey, it's not my favorite. It's my dad's. And really it was only a slight modification.

This recipe for Royal Seafood Casserole calls for two cans of Cream of Shrimp soup, which apparently they have a hard time finding in grocery stores in Kennewick, so they stocked up on of the last times they were here. Later, I saw it in the store and thought I'd give the recipe a try. It has some seafood, some crunchy veggies, and some other stuff to make it creamy. I bought frozen shrimp and canned crab and waited for the occasion to come along where I wanted a quick and easy casserole for dinner.

When I made it I switched orzo for the rice. It was pretty good, but I cooked the orzo before making the casserole, like you do the rice, and it turned out a bit soggy. Next time I'd leave it dried, or maybe cook it for just a wee bit.

Royal Seafood Casserole
from my mother's recipe box

2 10.5-oz cans Cream of Shrimp soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 small onion, diced
1/2-3/4 cup milk
Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
3 lbs shrimp, deveined, detailed, and cooked
10 oz. crabmeat
3/4 cup diced celery
1 cup uncooked rice, cooked
Slivered almonds

1. Blend soup into mayonnaise in a large bowl.  Stir until smooth.  Add onion, then milk.  Start with 1/2 cup, adding more, if needed, to make it creamy.

2. Begin seasoning using a heavy hand because rice and seafood are bland.  When mixture is seasoned, combine with other ingredients except paprika and almonds.  Check seasonings.

3. Transfer into large, shallow buttered casserole, sprinkle with paprika and scatter with almonds.  Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes.  This freezes well before cooking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marshmallow Man Cake

I started looking for recipes to use up my somewhat-canned curd before it had a chance to even think about going bad. And, I admit, I really just wanted to eat it because it's tasty. I found lots of recipes for lemon bars, but all of them called for lemons and sugar, essentially making your own curd for the bars. It hurt my wee little brain to think about how to convert, so I found a recipe that called for straight up lemon curd.

Everything I'm made from Smitten Kitchen has turned out, so I was excited about this cake. It called for self-rising flour, but also gave the conversion for using regular all-purpose flour. I keep cake flour on hand, mostly for red velvet cake, and whole wheat flour, mostly for pizza dough, but self-rising has not quite reached the "Costco closet" (our pantry) yet. Everything else I had in spades, so to the Kitchen-Aid I went.

It turned out great. The batter was SUPER delicious and I really wanted to keep eating it instead of baking with it. The recipe calls for three layers, but I only own two rounds so I made two and cut them in half. All the better to use lemon curd, my dear. I managed to use a whole pint as filling between the layers, plus a little bit to stick the bottom in place. 

Oh, a side note. Have I mentioned my new found love of parchment paper? It's GREAT. Not only do I bake cookies on it so I don't have to scrub the pans, I now use it under my cake batter so the cake doesn't split when you shake it out. And, thanks to Alton Brown, I know that it doesn't burn because it's made with silicon. He's so smart.

You know who else is smart? Smitten Kitchen. She used lemon curd as her crumb layer. Not only more lemony deliciousness, but also another way to use a pint of lemon curd!! YES!!

Okay, it's kind of ugly. Next time I'll strain my eggs, alright? Sheesh, give a girl a break. Or at least wait until you've tried it!

With almost two full pints of lemon curd coating my cake (I ate some on toast, some went straight into my mouth, and some was left over in the jar), I tossed it into the freezer in an attempt to harden the curd before frosting.

Enter the Marshmallow Man. The cake recipe called for a Seven Minute Frosting. I had a wee bit of trouble getting my egg whites to form stiff peaks, but I kept whipping and it eventually turned out. Then I had the great terrible idea of adding lemon curd to the frosting. The 7-minute frosting has zero fat in it so the egg whites make a nice light, frothy frosting. The lemon curd has a ton of butter in it. That means that the curd addition to the frosting made it all oozy floppy instead of fluffy stiff. Once frosted, my cake looked like the Marshmallow Man.

Even after sitting in the fridge for a couple hours the frosting still melted off the cake. There were big oozing puddles on all sides when I took it out of the fridge. Fortunately, it was still delicious so I cleaned it up really really well. With my finger.

1-2-3-4 Cake
From Smitten Kitchen

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted self-rising flour *
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.  Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy.  Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6-8 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.  Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.  Divide batter equally among prepared pans.  Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3-4 inches above counter, then dropping flat onto counter.  Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure you of a more level cake.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

*Self-rising flour has both salt and baking powder in it, but you can make your own at home with the following formula: 1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour, minute 2 teaspoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Seven-Minute Frosting
From Smitten Kitchen

5 Tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk first five ingredients together in a large, stainless-steel bowl.  Set the bowl in a wide, deep skillet filled with about 1 inch of simmering water.  Make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl.  Beat the white on low speed until the mixture reaches 140 degrees F on a thermometer.  Do not stop beating white the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked. 

Beat on high speed for exactly five minutes.  Remove the bowl from the skillet and add vanilla, beating on high speed for two to three more minutes to cool.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breaking the Rules

You know those patterns that you just struggle through? The ones that aren't difficult, but man, it's hard to sit down and work on them? Or, they just seem to take forever to make progress on? My rule: toss the pattern, never to be made again.

Well, this weekend I broke that rule. The problem is, I really liked the final result. It turned out great. When I found this yarn in my stash, I knew it was destined to used for this pattern. So I'm in for several weeks of painfully slow knitting. Hopefully I won't give up on it halfway through.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slouchy Mama, part 2

I finally finished stitching in the ends on both of my Slouchy Mama hats and found a head to model them.

The original:

I didn't like the look of the X, but I liked the look of the hat in general.

So I made another one. This time I changed the decrease pattern from *K2tog, k to last two stiches on needle, ssk* to *k2tog, k until middle of needle (start with 6, then decrease by one stitch each row), k2tog, k to end of needle*. This gives the more common "swirly" pattern. I like it much better.

Think I'll keep this one. We'll see where the spare goes.

Somewhat-Canned Curd.

At some point on Friday I decided I was going to make lemon curd. I'm not quite sure how the idea came about, but I think it had something to do with a bag of lemons on sale for $1.88 and a craving for lemon bars.

I found a recipe on the web that made a big batch that required canning. Perfect! I had just bought a flat of pint jars at Fred Meyer and they were still in the back of my car. The recipe said it made 7 half-pint jars, so I pulled out four to wash and prep.

The curd needed the zest and juice of 8 lemons. EIGHT LEMONS!! That's a lot of lemons.  Good thing they were so cheap. I keep meaning to buy a micro-planer for zesting, but always come up with excuses why I don't need to spend the money. Consequently, the only tool in my kitchen that will adequately zest is the tiny-side of our beat up grater. Due to the quantity of lemons (EIGHT!) that required zesting, I got creative.

First, I washed the lemons. They was dirty. Then, I used the monkey peeler (the best of the 6 that we own. No joke.) to get off all the skin, but left the pith on the fruit. This was SO much quicker than zesting. Then I threw it all into the food processor to make it zest-sized.

Perfect! The zest and juice get cooked on low heat with sugar and butter, then you toss in a crap load of eggs. Everything was going swimmingly until I decided to skip the step where you strain your eggs through a fine sieve. Bad move. The result was little bits of albumen, etc. that cooked on their own and instead of making it creamy, it left little bits of cooked egg. Still tasty, but kinda weird to see clumps in your curd.

At this point I was ready to can, but the kitchen was a mess. A messy kitchen always makes me a bit frantic, and I'm beginning to think that canning does, too. Probably just because I haven't done it enough and don't know the tricks of the trade.

One of those "tricks" is apparently to have the appropriate sized pot for your water bath. Unfortunately, I had just assumed that my giant pot was big enough to cover my pint jars with one inch of water and didn't check it. Completely full to the brim, there were about 3mm of water over the jars. This required my third frantic call home to Mom, the expert in all things Home Ec. After some troubleshooting, the only solution I came up with was to scrounge around the house for all my tiny jars that at one point held marmalade or homemade concoctions I had acquired from other people. These guys ranged from 1/4 to 1/2 pint and met the "must-be-less-than-this-tall-to-can" requirement.

After cooling, I had three 1/4 pint jars, two 1/2 pint jars, and two pint jars (with sketchy seals) full of lemon curd. Had I not eaten some, or spilled a crap load when transferring from pint to 1/4 pint, I would have had at least another 1/2 pint jar full. I will have to find some good recipes to make in the near future to use up the two pint jars. Otherwise I may just eat it all on toast for every meal, and while that may be super tasty, the 25 pounds I would gain from eating scones all day would really put a damper on my 5K plans in August.

Homemade Lemon Curd
posted on Tasty Ktichen

8 whole lemons, zested and juiced
2 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups (1lb) unsalted butter
8 eggs, beaten

1. Finely grate zest of lemons into medium sauce pan. Squeeze juice from the lemons. You should have around 1 1/2 cup of juice. Add lemon juice, sugar, and cubed butter to sauce pan.

2. Heat pan over low heat until sugar has dissolved and butter has melted.  Strain eggs through a fine-mesh sieve into lemon mixture. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. As mixture steams it will thicken into a creamy consistency and coat the back of a spoon.

3. Remove from heat. Fill hot, sterilized canning jars to 1/8 of an inch from the rims. Wipe rims clean and top with hot lids. Screw on bands to finger tight. Process jars in hot water bath (212F) for ten minutes.  Make sure the water covers lids by more than 1 inch. Remove jars immediately and set upright on towel in away from drafts. Allow to cool 12 hours. Check for proper seals. Label the jars and store in a cool, dry place for up to one year.

Makes 7 half-pint jars.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How does your garden grow?

Photosynthesis. It's wonderful when it's actually happening, which, coincidentally, started this weekend!!

After days upon weeks upon months of rainy Seattle weather it finally started to feel like spummer. I'm calling it spummer because I don't quite feel like we ever had a real spring and it's not quite warm enough to be summer. So spummer it is.

Saturday it was in the upper 70s, followed by a lower 70s Sunday with a slight wind. My garden loved it. My plants that had been stagnant started to grow, bloom, and produce.

My onions seem to be doing well.  I was hoping my carrots would be ready by the time the onions needed the space, but they may need to be pulled early. I'd hate to crowd them both and not have anything to harvest.  All four of my zucchini are rocking (yes, I did buy two more... oops). I replaced the two cucumbers in the raised bed that committed suicide with one zucchini and planted the other new guy in a pot on his own. They are all blooming. Hopefully they will have more to harvest than the one scrawny zucchini I got from my starts last year. The strawberries are all blooming, but I haven't seen the beginnings of any berries or any starts. Last year they sent out starts all the time so I think the planter may need a location change.

My peas seem to be creeping up my homemade trellis quite nicely. They're short but they've got flowers and are still growing every day. The other guys, however....

My other peas keep getting longer and longer but are having some serious problems growing UP. They have been grabbing onto each other and the spinach, which has bolted and is no longer good, but refuse to grab the trellis. I think it's time for an anthropogenic influence by way of tying them up. I think if they can manage to grab onto the trellis they'll get more light and hopefully give me lots and lots of delicious peas.

My tomatoes, on the other hand, are the best of the bunch. I'm up to five plants. The two in the raised bed are growing like crazy. The Ultomato cages are really pretty dang cool. I had a few branches that were trying to escape the cage so I popped off the cross bar, pushed the branch back in, and snapped the cross bar back in place. So easy! And so good for production!

Leda planted a wee little organic tomato start in a pot a week or so after the raised bed went it. The nice weather recently has spurted growth and it's starting to catch up with this guys at a rapid pace.

Garden harvest to date: 3 radishes. Soon to be more... I hope.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Knit hand towel

Finally, some knitting! Finished this basket rib hand towel last week.

Pattern: Basket Rib Hand Towel by Tracy Heiner
Yarn: Lily Sugar'n Cream, Potpourri
Needles: US 6

I finished a dish rag for Mother's Day, but didn't remember to take a picture before mailing it off. It was quick and fun, so there will surely be more of them.

Also started a new project:

Pattern: Slouchy Mama by Brook Harlan
Yarn: Moda Dea Silk'n Wool Blends, Aquatic
Needles: US 11 Double Pointed

I already completed one, but I really didn't like the decreases at the top, so I'm making a second one. Not sure what I'll change yet, but I'll be sure to do something I like.

Flipped, turned upside down.

Of all the Food Network shows, Good Eats is my favorite. I like the way Alton Brown presents the science behind what's happening in your oven/mixer/bbq as well as great recipes. Our DVR is 78% full; probably at least 80% of that is Good Eats episodes I haven't gotten around to watching yet.

It's to the point where I can't sit down and watch just one.  When I look through the list of what has been recorded there are always three on bbq, or one on spaghetti, followed by one on meatballs and one on ravioli. Then there might be one on olive oil, so I end up watching two hours straight of Alton Brown in the kitchen.

The only problem with spending this time in front of the TV is that I always forget which recipes sound delicious. I try to make mental notes, but have rarely looked for the recipe after the fact. Case in point: Chocolate Lava Muffins. These sound absolutely delicious, but I forgot about them for several months until I accidentally re-recorded a chocolate episode. Now that they're on my radar (and my blog), I'm going to try really really hard to actually make them soon.

Two weeks ago I watched an episode on peaches. It was the perfect welcome to summer show. Too bad the Seattle weather hasn't listened! There were several recipes that sounded delicious that I promptly forgot about, regardless of the fact that I had gotten three peaches in my Full Circle Farms box that week. They weren't quite ripe, but I wasn't quite ready to eat them, so into the fridge they went. I completely forgot about them until yesterday when I picked up my next box. This week I got not only peaches, but nectarines as well. I decided I had to use the old ones before putting the new ones in the fridge, so onto the counter they went. Luckily, I watched an episode on shish kabobs while eating dinner and remembered the Peach Upside Down Cake

They turned out SO GOOD!! The only modifications I made was to omit the ginger (didn't have it) and to use three peaches instead of two (that's what I had). The Peachy Keen episode has some good notes on how to skin a peach, but I was in an excitement-induced haze and skinned them with a knife instead. My only complaint -- they turned so ooey-gooey-delicious that the ramekins will need a three day soak before they come clean.

But is that really a complaint?

Individual Peach Upside Down Cakes
by Alton Brown, Good Eats - Peachy Keen

3 Tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 medium peaches, peeled
1-ounce finely chopped crystallized ginger  (~3 Tablespoons)
2.5 ounces all-purpose flour (~1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Divide 2 Tbsp butter between 4 (6-ounce) ramekins.  Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and set aside.  Evenly divede the brown sugar between teh ramekins; sprinkling it into the bottoms of the dishes.  Cut each peach into 12-14 pieces.  Lay the peaches on top of the sugar; evenly dividing them between the dishes and sprinkle with the ginger.  Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, buttermilk, vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of melted butter.  Ad teh wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just until combined.  Pour the batter over the peaches, dividing the mixture evenly between the dishes.  Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cake reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.

Remove from the oven to a rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each dish and turn upside down onto a serving plate.  Repeat with each cake.  Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

While the weak stayed in Seattle to battle the torrents of rain in their houses with a cup of tea, those of us made of sterner stuff (only 2 of us, apparently) made the trek out into the wilds of Washington.

It rained at Lake Keechelus (where I will be operating a screw trap for the next three months), but after a lengthy stop at the Safeway in Cle Elum, the rain mostly stopped for the remainder of the weekend.

We stayed at Little Naches Campground in the Wenatchee National Forest.  The campground sits on the bank of the Little Naches River where it flows under Highway 410.  The whole place was reserved for the weekend, but several groups didn't show, likely due to the poor weather forecast (wimps). Ryan had reserved a site, but couldn't make it due to work obligations. After checking out the two sites, we ended up setting up in Ryan's site.  It wasn't on the water, but it was further from the road noise and had better tree placement for the tarp city.

On Saturday we hiked along a loop trail out of the Soda Springs Campground. Several years ago we walked the 500 ft to the mineral springs but didn't walk the rest of the trail (campers may remember Dad deciding the red mud made good face paint).  We started the loop counterclockwise and started to climb. The trail ran through fields of both purple trilliums and fairy's slippers.

I don't think I've ever seen purple trillium before. I was obsessed with how pretty they were and took tons of pictures, only to read in the Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (highly recommend) that white trillium turn purple with age. Also found out that the technical name for what I've always called lady's slipper is either fairy's slipper or lady's slipper "Calypso."

The other great botanical find on this hike? MORELS!!! Nom nom nom nom.  I was taking pictures of flowers and mushrooms and realized that what I had been photographing was actually edible! I'm so used to hearing "NO!!!" when I ask if I can eat things on the trail that I've pretty much stopped asking. Unless I'm with Amber. She says no, then usually follows it with interesting facts about berries, such as that you shouldn't eat red berries unless they're from the rose family. Who knows that kind of stuff?!?!

But I digress. Morels are one of the two mushrooms that I am confident enough to harvest in the forest (the other is the chantrelle). Nothing else really looks like the morel. There is a False Morel, but they look rather a lot like a brain instead of a... well, you know. Even if you do happen to eat a falsey it will most likely only cause diarrhea and vomiting. They have solid, fleshy stems instead of hollow ones and look like this:

We harvested a dozen or so morels on our hike, but saved them to eat at home.... okay, okay, before we got back we were only 90% sure they were morels because we couldn't remember what the false morel looked like. But now I will harvest in complete confidence.

Approaching the last quarter to half mile of our hike, we came across a family with a baby attempting to climb over a tree that was downed across the trail. They commented about how difficult it was to climb over with a baby on your back, so we did a little trail maintenance. Don't I make a great lumberjack?

Have been trying to key out this flower. Think it might be a three-leaved anemone, but I'm not very confident in that ID.


Went for a hike up to Goat Peak on Sunday. Not a terribly long trek, but hooo-ey was it steep. It was very exposed in some parts and still had patches of snow near the top.  Some drifts at the top were up to mid-thigh. Would have been some great views, but it was overcast and mostly just gray, so no good pictures from the top.  

Sunday night we tried something a little different, food-wise. Into the fire went tin foil packages of potato, onion, butter and lemon pepper. Also into the fire went pie irons filled with steak! They turned out tender and delicious. The only thing I would have done differently would be to heat the irons in the fire until they were super hot to sear the outsides. Regardless, they were very tasty and got the best meal of the trip award.

A note on peanut butter bars: apparently they should be kept at room temperature when you're going to eat them. All weekend I wondered why they didn't taste as fantastic as usual, but when we got home and left them on the counter they warmed up and were as delicious as ever!! The amount of peanut butter bars I consumed over the weekend totally made up for the lack of rum cake. As for the red velvet... well, I'll just have to make one for the 4th of July.