Recipe Revisions

January 26, 2009 at 11:43 pm (Recipes)

I’ve been experimenting with a couple of standard recipes lately and thought I’d give you an update.
 
First is the classic Beanie Weenie recipe from the family cookbook.  These beans are always, in my opinion, much better the next day when they’ve thickened considerably.  Unfortunately, I don’t want to make Beanie Weenies a day ahead and I don’t like eating BBQ soup with some beans and smoked sausage (I substitute for hotdogs).  I could either double the amount of beans and sausage and leave the liquid the same, or I could reduce the liquid.  Since the quantity is fine, I went with the latter option.
 
This time, I reduced the BBQ sauce from 1.5 cups to 1 cup, and instead of 1 cup of brown sugar, I reduced to ½ cup.  For plain BBQ beans, a sweater bean is fine but for a dinner I could save myself the sugar by halving the amount.  Because I’ve made this mistake before, I kept the liquid smoke proportionate to the sugar and started with ½ TBS and added to taste from there.
 
These Beanie Weenies were more in line with what I like for dinner.  They weren’t nearly as runny as previous versions, but neither were they the thickness of cold leftovers.  There was definitely less sugar but I don’t think that’s something you really miss in a soup/stew mix.  I’ll continue to use two variations depending on how much time I have and what the ultimate purpose will be.
 
Next I tackled steel-cut oatmeal in a Crockpot.  In the past, I’ve generally made the oats on the stove in a big batch on Sundays.  As you know, cooking on the stovetop takes at least 30 minutes, and quite honestly, the past few weekends I haven’t wanted to spend any time in the kitchen.  And why couldn’t you use a Crockpot?  It seems reasonable.
 
I turned to Google and right away got the answer I was looking for, complete with pictures, from this blog.  Use the Crockpot as a water bath!  This eliminates the problem Andrea had where the oats formed a crusty shell around the pot. 
 
The method is simple to execute.  Combine the oats, water and fruit optional (proportions are the same as the package instructions) in a bowl that will fit inside the Crockpot.  Pour water between the oats bowl and the crock, about half-way up the side of the oats bowl.  Set the crock on low and walk away for 7-9 hours.
 
I turned mine off at about the 6.5-7 hour mark and tested.  The oats were the softest I’ve ever cooked them, but substantial.  The texture was similar to old-fashioned oats and they bordered on creamy.  I dished them into individual Tupperware containers and stored in the fridge.
 
Here is where I need your help.  This morning on re-heating, the oats were a bit too gelatinous and gluey.  They really didn’t have a spoon-able quality; it was more like eating bread pudding.  The texture was mushy yet firm.  I know, this is hard to explain.  I’m wondering if it would be better if I reheated with some soy milk (or regular cow-juice for some folks) and stirred it around a bit – that might make it too watery but perhaps it would loosen it up a bit more.
 
The other option would be to cook for less time, even undercook it, since it seems to continue cooking/absorbing water even as it cools in the fridge.  I used to do that with the stovetop version as I found with the cooling and reheating process it could actually overcook.
 
As it stands, the crock method is extremely easy and it seems to make a delicious bowl if you were to set it before bed and eat in the morning.  I suppose I could also go with that method – make one bowl at a time overnight.  Anyway, if you are one of my steel-cut oats eating, Crockpot using friends or family (and who haven’t I converted at this point?) and you test this method, would you please report back your findings and hopefully, with the power of collective thinking, we can come up with the precise times and methods for this.

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Recipe Recap

January 25, 2009 at 10:33 am (Recipes)

For our anniversary this week, Tom and I decided to stay home and make a nice dinner together.  We were both really looking forward to this – and we ended up saving quite a bit of money and got to eat in our sweats.  J
 
We decided to make and appetizer of bruschetta and Fettuccini Alfredo with seafood for the main course.  For dessert, instead of making something elaborate (read: I’ll be eating it for the next 5 days), Tom picked out some individual treats from the bakery counter of our local higher-end grocery store.
 
With most things Italian, if I don’t have a family recipe I turn to Giada DiLaurentes.  I like her food, and I appreciate that her recipes are simple, don’t require too many exotic ingredients, and aren’t time-consuming.  I got both recipes from her section of FoodTV.  The bruschetta was awesome.  The Fettuccini not so much.  And honestly, I was very disappointed.
 
The Fettuccini recipe called for 2.5 cups of heavy cream and 12 TBS of butter – it’s not heart healthy.  Also, it called for ½ cup of fresh lemon juice and 2 tsp. of lemon zest.  I always read the comments, and overall, this was a highly rated recipe.  The commenters seemed to be split over the use of the lemon juice.  Some said that the lemon gave it a lighter feeling, not quite so heavy – which I thought was a plus.  Some, obviously, commented negatively on the amount of lemon – there seemed to be a rebuttal that you had to use fresh lemon and not lemon concentrate or store juice.  But since it was Giada’s recipe, I decided we should go for it.
 
Tom bought some lovely seafood – and I regret that it met it’s end in such a disappointing dish.  In retrospect, I should have started with a much, much smaller amount of lemon juice and added more to taste.  One thing I’m not good at is following a new recipe while carrying on a conversation.  I get distracted from independent thinking – I follow the recipe to the exact letter without thinking about what I’m doing.  I guess that’s better than leaving out a critical component.  In the end, Tom said that the lemon actual grew on him, but I feel that your dinner should not have to grow on you.  Andrea, with her love of lemon, might really like this.  And indeed, the lemon did cut the heavy taste, but it was too overpowering for me.  I think Tom will be eating whatever leftovers he wants and then I’ll toss the rest.
 
While the lemon was the obvious problem, one of almost equal importance was almost ignored.  The sauce did not thicken.  The recipe says the sauce will thicken when tossed and warmed, but it never happened.  And to me, for Alfredo, that’s unacceptable.  Even if the lemon flavor was appropriate, the lack of a thick, creamy sauce would have doomed the recipe anyway.  This was soupy, didn’t stick to the pasta, and pooled at the bottom of the bowl.  Giada’s recipe did call for FRESH pasta and I momentarily wondered if that would have helped thicken it, but I can’t imagine that the recipe would be limited by an ingredient that 80% of the population doesn’t have ready access to.
 
Now the bruschetta – that was very good.  I have leftover mozzarella and may make a dinner of bruschetta this weekend.  Extremely simple to prepare – we used a take and bake baguette, a can of whole tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil.  I used my mini-food processor and it all came together in about 8 minutes.  If I was to do this again, I would first smash the whole tomatoes with the back of a spoon to release extra juice, and I would pulse the garlic first, separately, so that it’s very fine and integrates better.  But otherwise…umm.
 
I bought some of the Chateau Pinot Gris we had at Christmas, a most excellent mid-price wine in my opinion, and Tom purchased two desserts – a cannoli which was delectable and kept with the Italian theme, and a devil’s food cupcake with chocolate frosting.  It was the best cake I’ve ever had from a bakery.  Soft and moist, but without that oily moistness you sometimes get from bakeries.  The frosting was real butter cream and had a rich chocolate flavor – no shortening in this.  The desserts definitely made up for the Alfredo.
 
To recap – Giada’s Alfredo recipe was a bust not only because of the excessive lemon, but the lack of a thicker, creamier sauce.  If you have a good recipe, please send it my way.  Her bruschetta was divine, simple to make, and would be an impressive appetizer for a dinner party or to eat alone on a Friday night.  Byerly’s has yet to disappoint me with their bakery department.  It’s probably a good thing that the closest on is in Eagan, and therefore nowhere near my usual errand route.

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A Mid-Week Mild-Up

January 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm (Uncategorized)

The Eskimos have a thousand words to describe snow.  Seattle-ites know what rain with periodic showers actually means.  Here in Minnesota, they have something referred to as a “Mild-up”.
 
A mild-up is a period of time where the temperature increases and the skies are clear and sunny.  When the temperature increases from 1 degree to several days of 24 degrees, it’s still well below freezing so to call it a warm-up would be laughable.  But it is, relatively speaking, milder than the week before, hence the term. 
 
Mild-ups are something that are relayed by the weathermen with the same sense of excitement Seattle weathermen report a sunny day in January – a bit of awe and a whole lot of eager anticipation, as if they are personally responsible for delivering this welcome gift.  Also, there is usually something called a “January Thaw” in Minnesota, where the temperatures will climb all the way to 36 degrees for a couple of days, and combined with the bright winter sun, snow does indeed melt.  Today is one of those days, but I think to be a true thaw, it must consist of several days in a row.  It is possible that we won’t experience a thaw this January.  Many Minnesotans look forward to a mid-winter thaw; it helps them get through the rest of the season.  I assume this is similar to the February week in Seattle where the rain stops, the winds pick up, and the area dries out.  I suppose it’s mother nature’s way of ensuring you don’t succumb to that building mental breakdown.
 
Weather is indeed something that you get used to – in Seattle you become accustomed to months of rain.  You buy the proper clothing, resign yourself to flat hair, and deal with the standing water, gloomy skies, and pervasive dampness.  Here, I can honestly say that in a very short period of time I have become accustomed to the cold.  To be sure, it is physically much, much colder than Seattle.  But the temperature in Seattle is not quite cold enough to actively discourage outdoor activity.  And since there really is no good way to protect yourself from all the wet and damp, the chill is hard to shake and even though you can get outdoors, you’re likely miserable most of the time. 
 
My experience in Minnesota has been different.  When it’s very cold – single digits and below – you just stay indoors.  It’s that simple; you run errands out of necessity but otherwise, you cuddle up with loved ones and the dogs, make fattening crock-pot dinners, and entertain yourself.  But once it’s in the teens, especially when it’s sunny and bright (more than 50% of the time), you can run errands and get outside without having to duck your head and cover the back of your neck to protect your skin from raindrops.  Sure, you don’t want to spend tons of time outdoors, but it’s doable.  Very doable.  And, with all the dry cold, if you do bundle up in snowsuits or Carhartts, non-exposed skin is very toasty.  It’s a cold that you can actually layer up and protect against, and you can warm up from.
 
That’s an important part – being able to warm up from the cold.  I remember in Enumclaw that if I got cold and chilled during morning chores, sometimes you just couldn’t warm up all day long.  Even in the coldest weather I have ever experienced last week, I was able to quickly warm up from the walk from the parking lot to the building.  I even warmed up faster and more completely after that disastrous riding experiment than I expected to.
 
This winter has been described as exceptional cold and harsh – which hasn’t bothered me.  I’d rather experience the worst mother nature can throw my way right up front, and know with certainty that I can survive and even thrive.  I like the snow and the sun – I’ve found a place to eat my lunch in the sun.  It’s the first time I’ve experienced mid-day, mid-winter sun in 15 years.  It’s a real treat. 
 
All that being said – who wants to come visit?  J

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A Point of Pride – Seattle Starbucks Baristas

January 19, 2009 at 11:25 am (My Daily Life) (, , )

I know – another Starbucks-based post!  I think it’s because now that I’ve been here almost a year, I’m seeing more subtle differences between Minnesota and Washington.  That, and the fact that I didn’t visit a Starbucks for the first six months I was here.

Anyway, the cool weather combined with the lack of latte access has driven me to unearth my Starbucks Barista machine and make myself lattes on the weekend. Since my local grocery store doesn’t carry any espresso beans in bulk, much less decaf beans, I’ve been using a dark french roast.  Yesterday, as I was making my morning nourishment, Tom asked if he could have a sip.  He really liked it, which surprised both of us, so I made him his own.  Before he had finished his travel mug, he had decided that he would like to learn how to make these for himself in the morning! 

We went to Starbucks to pick up some beans (decaf for me, regular for him) and a second travel mug.  When I was at the Starbucks in Bridle Trails over Christmas, I noticed that they were selling seasonal syrups, which I thought was very cool.  You never see peppermint syrup or pumpkin.  I asked the local gal if they still had the seasonal syrups, and she looked at me blankly.  You know, the peppermint and the pumpkin syrups, they come in a bottle like those vanilla ones over there?  To which the other gal behind the machine chimed in and said they don’t sell the pumpkin flavor, they never have and they probably never will since it’s made just for them.

Excuse me…I explained to her that I indeed DID see them for sale, in a store in SEATTLE, so is this something that’s not being sold in all the stores?  I had specifically driven the 10 miles to a Starbucks store since they are all supossed to be identical and sell the same product.  Basically, she told me that she didn’t care what I saw (crazy lady), I wasn’t getting any seasonal flavors, much less pumpkin.

This peeved me a little.  Remember last year when all the Starbucks around the world closed at the same time on the same day so all the employees could receive Starbucks-approved training?  It was an effort to standardize the Starbucks experience so your coffees always tasted the same, the baristas all projected the same attitude, and in general, made the stores fit the corporate mold better.  I thought it was a brilliant idea – who wants to pay $3+ dollars for a drink only to find that it’s not as good as the Starbucks on the other side of the street.  Or that the Starbucks on the west side of the street skimps on the milk, but the one on the east side gives you extra sprinkles.  All of this has happened to me before this training session – although to be honest, I don’t visit Starbucks often to I can’t say for certain that the after-training was really successful, but in my experience it seems to have helped.

My point is that the Starbucks in Minnesota seem to lack the pride that the Seattle Starbucks’ have.  In Seattle, the baristas know they are something special being part of the State-Drink.  They treat you like they should – that they know that spending $4 on a drink is a luxury and it’s something special, and deserves special treatment, some panache, and a nice attitude.  Seattle baristas know they are providing more than liquid refreshment, they are providing an escape, a treat, and a familiar, comforting routine.  They treat the customers with a sense of friendliness that I haven’t seen here – they take pride in knowing your order, or at the very least, getting it down correctly without a deer in the headlights look (even ordering beans seemed to confuse this gal).

Minnesota isn’t void of pride however.  Target and Best Buy are both locally based stores, and I have great experiences in those stores.  The people who work at Target are extremely helpful, considerate, and dare it say it – intelligent.  Shopping at Target is a much better experience in Minnesota than Washington.  I know the ability for employees to take pride in what they do and deliver a good shopping experience exists, but for whatever reason, corporate Starbucks isn’t able to communicate that to the local stores.

I came home from Starbucks and called a store in Washington.  I explained that when I was there at Christmas, I noticed they had seasonal syrups and I was wondering if they were still selling them and if so, did they still have some pumpkin.  The guy was very nice, didn’t miss a beat, and said that they did have seasonal flavors, but they were peppermint and gingerbread!  OMG – see how easy that was!  He knew the answer!  He knew what I was trying to ask and instead of telling me all the reasons why pumpkin will never be sold to the public, he just gave me the correct answer.  Problem solved and I can move on with my life.

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Not the stupidest thing….

January 14, 2009 at 11:52 pm (My Daily Life)

It’s not the stupidest thing I’ve done (lately), but it ranks right up there. 

I went to the barn tonight.  So what if the entire mid-west is under a wind-chill warning.  So what if it didn’t get into positive temperatures today.  I’m not going to let this cold weather dictate what I can and cannot do – if I don’t take a stand and push myself to go outside in cold weather, I won’t be outside until April. 

I figured that 1.) the cold weather would scare off some lesser people and give me more space and privacy in the arena and 2.) since the arena is indoors, I would be relatively protected from the cold since the wind wouldn’t be a factor.

HA!  Dude!  Where was my brain??  It was NEGATIVE ten degrees when I left.  That’s without the wind.  Yeah.

To be honest, I was doing okay with all my layers.  I had on a long underwear tank, a performance long-sleeve shirt, a polar fleece and a Brooks jacket, plus my breeches and my full chaps, plus my winter boots and half chaps.  All that was fine.  But there isn’t any way to layer up my hands and still be able to grip the reins, aside from my insulated gloves.  Every five minutes my fingers would go completely numb and hurt!  I tried to ride through the pain, I tried switching my whip to give my fingers something to do, but as the pain increased I began to worry about frostbite so I slowed to a walk and stuck my hand under my shirt.  Every five minutes I would have to walk and warm up alternating hands.

And this is TMI, but you have to understand how cold it was.  Usually, in the first five minutes of riding, I have to stop and blow my nose because it runs when it’s cold.  However, tonight I noticed I didn’t have to do this – everything from my face skin to nose hairs and sinus had frozen!!  Or so I thought until about 20 minutes into my ride and I realized that a tiny bit of snot had run down my nose and onto my lip.  And I didn’t even notice, that’s hold cold it was!!  My face was a glacier.

When I got off Felix, I noticed that his whiskers and the entire rims of his nostrils were coated in white frost, thick, white frost!  He didn’t seem to mind the cold, but I’ve never seen frost on a horse – indoors.

As you can imagine, nothing could warm me up except a long, hot shower and a hot mocha.  I’ve decided that the low teens, high singles are my limit.  Life is to short to freeze to death on a cold Wednesday night.  Thankfully, this cold snap is predicted to end on Friday.

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Lola’s Return to her Domain

January 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm (All Lola All the Time)

I know this is a bit late, but I’ve had lots of pictures to sort through before I could get to this post. But I know how much Andrea needs her Lola-fix, so I try to oblige.

We returned late on Saturday night, so we picked up the dogs at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. There were a few families ahead of us and we could hear all the dogs barking behind the doors. They began by bringing out the leftover food and the beds – I busied myself by loading these items in the car while Tom stood at the door, looking through the small window waiting for the first sight of his dog.

While she was checking us out, the owner said that Lola was really friendly and Tom and I exchanged a look of disbelief. I asked if she meant Spice, and when she clarified the size, she agreed that Spice was very friendly. As we figured, once Spice got over her initial apprehension, she viewed this week-long stay as an opportunity to audition for a new home. But the owner did say that Lola was friendly, and that both of the dogs really liked the treats I left, the Salmon Munchies. I feel good that the dogs ate all the treats that I left, and that the owner and workers took the time to feed them the treats.

When Spice walked through the door, she was so happy to see Tom she started crying. Have you ever heard her cry from excitement? It’s kinda cool. Lola was happy to see me, but even happier to just get out of there. As soon as I opened the door to the house, Lola made a bee-line to the food bowl and didn’t resurface for a full 5 minutes. Apparently, she was on a self-imposed hunger strike to protest our Christmas vacation.

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Lola would also like to thank Nonno and Nonna for the treats and toys. She was hanging out while I was unpacking the suitcase and it was uncany – she KNEW there was a pookie in there just for her.

Meek Hedgy, the Hedgehog. Lola pulled him out of the suitcase and proceeded to do this.

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For some reason, she wasn’t attracted to the duck or the rabbit. I think it’s because they are such faithful, miniature recreations of QuackQuack and Wabitt, both of which are Spice’s Pookies.

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She really enjoys having new Pookies, and she really likes the small ones that she can toss around and manipulate better.

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She seemed content, so I walked away to throw some clothes in the wash. Not TWO minutes later, this is what I came back to:

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What is her damage???  Why must she destroy??  Such a vicious little dog.

Anyway, it’s been a week and no further damage has been done to Hedgy.  Mini-Bunny and Duck are still around, unscathed.  I see Lola running around with them occasionally, as Spice chases her from room to room.  Perhaps they will live a little longer.

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Also, we paid to have the groomer bathe Lola and trim her up a bit – in the Puppy-clip.  She did as I asked and left fur on, but Lola didn’t really look like she’d been groomed at all.  Even Tom commented that the groomer didn’t do a very good job – she’s a bit uneven and a bit too long to have gotten a decent trim.  The groomer also did a poor job on her ears – they were even when she went in and now are nearly 1/2 inch off – and she didn’t trim the fur from the inside of the ear.  Thankfully, she kept her snout square as I requested.  The result of all this is that Tom finally agreed that at $40 for a trim like this – I do a much better job.  Go me!!

I hope you all had a love New Year and an enjoyable holiday season.  I got a lot accomplished, like finally getting my MN driver’s license, bought some much needed new clothes and *ahem* bras, and ate, a lot.  I’m ready to go back to work and am looking forward to seeing what my new job holds.

And I’ve made only one New Year’s Resolution: in 2009, I would like to finally figure out how to correct red-eye and the demon-dog-eye look.  I think it’s doable.

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Christmas Photos Uploaded on Flickr

January 3, 2009 at 5:39 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve uploaded all the photos taken on my camera over Christmas and they are in the Flickr gallery, located in the right-hand panel. Please let me know if there are any photos that you would like, and whether you want them for print, web, or adjusted in some manner (cropping, color, clarity, etc.).  Use the sequence number on the photo when letting me know which ones you’d like.

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