Posted by: Rachel | November 27, 2017

good things come… (part 2)

Remember that grand experiment I tried about making vanilla extract? It worked!

vanilla-y goodness, my goodness!

It was nothing more than vodka and vanilla beans and time (lots of time). Now it is a beautiful shade of brown, smells wonderful, and I’m looking forward to using it in all sorts of goodies! And, I can take the beans out at some point, dry them, and add them to my big sugar jar to make vanilla sugar. Mmmm!!

I could stop there but I won’t.

Remember those nasturtiums I planted a few weeks ago? They all sprouted!

wait for it…

OK, I’m still a few weeks away from having flowers, but the plants look really happy, so I’m happy as well. And I can wait.

My lemon tree, which has been confused for a few years now, is in full bloom and covered with tiiiiny little lemons. I can wait for those as well.

itsy bitsy, teenie weenie…

My mint, however, wasn’t so lucky. I planted 3 different varieties and sadly none survived. However, the cat smells yummy…

really? yes…

That’s pretty much it for today. If I don’t get to posting again before 2018 (although I will try…) enjoy whatever you celebrate, be safe and well, and I promise you nasturtiums one of these days (grin).

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Posted by: Rachel | October 30, 2017

walk with me (2017 edition)

Well it was another delightful trip to New York this fall. If you’ve been reading for a while you know I go up for a visit every year around this time. You also know that I was there for hurricane Sandy. This trip was much calmer!

We had perfect fall days, cloudless, cool, slightly breezy, delicious! And, since my cousins are kind and put up with my notions, I’m not afraid to make suggestions about activities or even restaurants.

I watch tv. There, I’ve said it. I own it. And, in a city with 3 PBS stations (4, if you count PBS kids) I’m rarely at a loss for something entertaining, enjoyable, and often educational.

Now forgive me but I’m not entirely sure what the name of the show was.Something like Life of a Chef, I think, and it was about a guy who opened a couple of ramen restaurants in New York.

Nothing particularly special about that, except that Ivan Orkin is not of an ethnic background most often associated with ramen. He is (and I quote his web site here) “a self described “Jewish Kid from Long Island””. But he’s done his homework, and his ramen, or at least the bowl I had, is very happy-making.

And, happily, one of his restaurants is only a few blocks from my cousins’ apartment.

nom nom slurp!

They hadn’t been to this place, but they’re game for most anything and very kind about humoring me. We walked over and had an excellent lunch. I thought the prices were quite reasonable, everyone we met was very friendly, the place was bright and cheery, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

so pretty…

Generous, very pretty, and delicious – what more could one ask for?

sadly it was over all too soon…

The walk over was super too. We poked around the Essex Street Market where I saw piles of beautiful coconuts,

so pretty!

lots of fresh-smelling spices,

mmmmm….

some truly gorgeous bread,

oh la la!

and if I hadn’t had my mouth set for ramen I’d have happily eaten right there!

Oh my, all that and it was only part of one day! New York is a great walking town. I get a kick out of the mini-chalkboards that so many establishments sport. This one seemed appropriately seasonal:

And this one, well, I think it about says it all. Until next time, enjoy the season, be safe if you go trick-or-treating, and be well!

indeed…

Posted by: Rachel | September 30, 2017

(almost) too cute to eat

I don’t usually get carried away by cute (unless it involved kittens…) but I got involved in a discussion about quail eggs recently and it got me to thinking.

The only way I’ve seen them served at a restaurant is as a raw yolk on top of sushi. I like them that way, but that wasn’t something I was going to try at home. This, however, seemed a reasonable “do-at-home” idea.

Astonishingly, it went exactly as I imagined it!

These bites could be an appetizer, or perhaps something to serve as part of a brunch. They’re awfully cute and mighty tasty, and as is often the case with dishes I propose, you can customize as you like!

All I did was get the quail eggs, some mushrooms, a bit of garlic, and, of course, some olive oil. I took the stems out of the caps and set them aside. Then I sauteed the caps in olive oil.

I chopped up the mushroom stems with about 1/2 clove of garlic. I took the caps out of the skillet, added a small spoonful of the chopped filling, made a nice little indentation in each one, and carefully (they’re fragile after all) opened the quail eggs**. I set one quail egg in each. I carefully returned the caps to the skillet, turned down the heat, covered the whole thing and let them cook for about 4 minutes until the whites are well set.

I guess I’ll let the photos do the talking.

tiny but mighty

gently, gently…

almost there…

The only other thing I can suggest is perhaps a bit of chopped parsley or cilantro or chives or even scallion on top if you like. If I were a downtown restaurant I’d probably make some sort of colorful sauce to dress the plate, but I’m not so I didn’t.

**And, the only advice I can add is, don’t try to crack these like chicken eggs. They’re far too fragile. Just hold them carefully (firmly but gently) and use a sharp serrated knife to take the top off. Yes, really!

If you do decide to try this, let us know how it works for you. Mmmmm… and have fun!

Posted by: Rachel | August 24, 2017

what a difference a day makes!

While I’m waiting to see if the weather everyone is talking about actually happens, I thought I’d share a bit with you. From the forecasts I think (and hope!) that we’ve seen the end of the 100F+ days for this year. I can’t be certain, of course, but I hope so!

However, as long as its been unholy hot here and sunny to boot, I figured I’d do well to see what else I could dry in my car. My thoughts turned to mushrooms.

Now seriously, I had no idea if this would work. I imagined a tray of soggy gray nastiness and that seemed as plausible as anything else. But I got lucky. The ‘shrooms went from this:

fresh mushrooms on a baking sheet

soft and supple

to this:

crispy deliciousness

in just about 8 hours in full sun on my car’s dashboard.

Amazing!

Now I must say that there is not a lot that is more boring than a plain mushroom. They get their yumminess from the olive oil/garlic/onions/(insert your favorite herbs and spices here…) that they’re cooked with. So I improvised a bit.

I made a blend of roasted garlic powder, smoked salt, and truffle (mmmmm) salt, and tossed the mushrooms with it before laying them out on foil on a cookie sheet. I think the salt pulled some of the moisture out and helped them dry faster. At least that’s my story (grin).

That said, I cant even really offer you a “recipe” this time. Just get a pound or so of whatever mushrooms you like (I used shitaake this time). Slice thin and toss with garlic powder and salt. I used about 1 tsp of each for 1 pound of ‘shrooms.

Line a cookie sheet with foil, spread the mushrooms, and put them on you car’s dashboard as long as the internal temp of the car reaches at least 150F. Mine was at 160F. Leave for 8 hours or until crisp. I did open the car door for just a minute or so at about 4 hours to let the steam out… and oh did my car smell wonderful!!

Let cool before putting in a zip bag or other airtight container, and snack at will!

That’s probably it for my dashboard dehydrator this summer. At least I hope so – I miss cooking in my kitchen!

Until the next time… stay safe!

Posted by: Rachel | July 30, 2017

2 hot 2 do 2 much

Seems like August came in mid-July this year. The past 2 weeks we’ve been over 100F every day, and that in the shade! Miserable, but if you know me or if you’ve been reading this for a while you know that in addition to refusing to turn on my oven until things return to reasonable (I no longer say “normal”…) I’ve been thinking about how to use all that sunlight.

Or, at least the sun that falls on my driveway.

See, my poor little car sits out, uncovered, and if I leave the windows up it gets pretty toasty in there.

oven thermometer showing 160F

hot enough for ya?

In case it is too crudded up for you to read, it is registering 160F. That’s just over 71C. Hot!

In past summers (although never in July, always in August!) we’ve enjoyed sun-dried tomatoes, blueberries and mangoes, and even dates. This year, though, I though I’d try something a little different.

I decided to make fruit leather. I remember enjoying the chewy, slightly sticky flavorful, melt in your mouth gooey stuff as a kid and figured why not? Now if you look for “recipes” for this, there seem to be two main camps; the “cook it first” camp and the “why bother” camp.

Again, if you know me you know I’m lazy, so I fell happily into line with the “why bother” folks. Honestly, unless you are concerned about the chance of stray bacteria or unless your immune system shouldn’t risk it, why bother turning on the stove?? In any event, make this at your own peril, but I haven’t suffered yet (grin). Here’s all I did.

Peachy Leather Unrecipe

3 large ripe sweet peaches, pitted and cut in pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup juicy red watermelon, cubed and carefully seeded
water if necessary (or more watermelon)
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice
1 tsp ground ginger
(nope, no sugar needed if the peaches are sweet!)

Put all fruit (I didn’t bother peeling the peaches) and spices in a blender and whirrr until you have a thick but pourable pulpy mess. Cover a cookie sheet with microwave safe plastic wrap. Pour the pulp onto the plastic wrap and spread out evenly. Put the cookie sheet flat on the dashboard for roughly two long hot sunny days and keep the windows rolled up. Remember to use an oven mitt when moving the cookie sheet to the passenger seat or floor before driving!

When the edges are dryish but the center is still slightly tacky bring it in, let it cool until room temperature, and it should peel right off the plastic. I rolled mine up and put it in the fridge and I’m nibbling on a piece of it as we “speak”. Mmmm!

That’s pretty much it. The spices are, of course, optional and up to you; I just really like ginger! Here’s a photo overview:

pulpy goodness

almost ready

ready to eat!

See? And, oh does my car smell wonderful! If this weather keeps up who knows what I may decide to dry in the car next month. Ideas? I’m open to suggestions!

Stay cool if you can and be safe… more soon!

Posted by: Rachel | June 25, 2017

as promised…

Last time I promised to “show and tell” you a bit about my recent trip. It isn’t quite as recent by now, but fresh in my mind none the less. For all that the weather seemed awful (40s, rainy and very windy) I’d sure love a day or two of that stuff right now!

In any event, here are a few images to whet your appetite. We started in

Amsterdam

yup, Amsterdam

home of

so many cheeses, so little time!

as well as

loads of smokey fishy choices – mmm!

and, I discovered

the whole country seems to have a sweet tooth!

but really, we were there for the

field of tulips

tulips!!!

and

these tulips as well

and the occasional

windmill

windmills

Despite the wind, rain, and hail, it was dreamy. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Imagine fields of hyacinths – intoxicating!!

The food was wonderful (oh, the fish!! ah the fries!!), the King’s birthday was great fun (how nice to live in a country where you happily celebrate your ruler!), and I had a grand time due in large part, of course, to my travel companions and new friends. More soon, from here, there, or wherever… until then, eet smakelijk!

Posted by: Rachel | May 7, 2017

mujaddarah!

Last week I spent a few days at my sister’s, and as is my wont we visited those Armenian markets in Watertown. This time I stumbled over a prepared mixture of lentils and rice. That may sound pedestrian, but it was a lovely side/salady addition to lunch and dinner! The container said “mujaddarah”.

I don’t know it that is mu like moo, or mu like mud but either way is was delicious. So, I went online and found a bunch of recipes for it. The following is what I did.

First understand that in all the recipes I looked at the only difference really was in the spices and what I’d call add-ons. They all seemed to agree that the basics are simply lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. Mmmmmm!

Most of the recipes said to cook the rice, then the lentils, then the onions, and combine. I’m lazy so I cooked the rice and lentils together and it worked fine. You, of course, can do as you wish but in my world, one less pan to wash is a good thing!

The version I bought at the market was vegetarian, the version I made was not at the end. Read on and I will explain, I promise. Both were (I say were because I’ve finished what I made already!) tasty and very satisfying. And both were gluten-free. So…

The hardest, or at least most time intensive part is making the caramelized onions. This is not actually difficult, it just takes patience and a heavy-bottomed pan. If they burn or if you try to rush them, well, just remember I warned you!

There are a ton of sites that will tell you how to do this, but I just put some olive oil in a heavy skillet, cut the onions fairly thin, set the heat to medium-low and let them sort of melt. I stirred them every once in a while, maybe every 5 minutes or so, but mostly I left them alone. It took maybe half an hour or more but they didn’t burn and the flavor was divine. Its worth the work!

So, here’s my overly simple recipe for a fine side or main:

Mujaddarah

2 medium white onions
1 cup rice
1 cup lentils*
2 T butter and 2 T olive oil
water (or stock)
salt, pepper
ground allspice
(1/2 lb ground lamb optional)

In one pan, caramelize the onions. When they are done, add about 2 tsp of ground allspice, stir in, remove from heat and set aside.

In a good sized pot, cook together the rice and lentils. I started mine off as if for a pilaf, meaning I browned the rice in the butter and oil before adding the lentils and water. I used those little French green lentils because I like their texture – they don’t turn mushy. You can use whatever kind you like, of course. Add just enough water to cook the rice and lentils (this will depend on the kind of each, of course) and keep an eye out that it doesn’t scorch.

When the onions and lentil-rice mixture are done, combine them and add salt and pepper to taste. That’s it for the vegetarian version. If you want to add lamb, simply cook the ground lamb and add it to the melange.

This is not a beautiful dish, but it is hearty, works cold or hot, is good for you, and couldn’t be much simpler. All in all it took less than an hour. I like it by itself but it is also good with plain yogurt mixed in I think. So… enjoy.

By the way, right before spending time at my sister’s I was on vacation. More about that coming soon but here’s a hint:

need I say more?

Much more about the vacation next time I promise! Mmmmmm!!

Posted by: Rachel | April 9, 2017

going Dutch

This all started with a group of bakers who share stunning photos of their sourdough bread on Facebook. In their posts they use abbreviations, including DO. I first thought they meant dough, but finally realized they were referring to Dutch ovens.

Ah!

That got me started thinking about our language and how often “Dutch”, as either Dutch something or something Dutch, crops up. Here’s some of how my brain wandered – enjoy the ride!

Dutch oven, as above
Dutch uncle (lots more things Dutch from Wikipedia here!)
Dutch courage (Wikipedia says…)
Pennsylvania Dutch (who aren’t actually Dutch at all)
Dutchman’s breeches (which don’t occur here in Texas, mores the pity)
Dutchman’s pipe
Dutch chocolate
Dutch-processed cocoa
Dutch baby (mmm!!)
double Dutch
Dutch door
and, of course,
Dutch treat, aka going Dutch

Have you even noticed that if you look at a single word over and over it begins to look odd even though you know it is spelled correctly? Hmmm, never mind, maybe that’s just me.

In any event, I just wanted to share what passed for thoughts today. Have fun adding to the list – I’m sure there are plenty more where these came from. Oh, and if you do make that Dutch baby, eet smakeliijk!

Posted by: Rachel | March 31, 2017

out like a lamb

March has been a confusing month, meteorologically speaking. Folk wisdom tells us that if the month comes in “like a lion” it will go out “like a lamb”.

This month has been more of a pushmi-pullyu!

Mind you, I’m not complaining, even though the weather folk tell us daily that we are “about 10 degrees above normal”. Do you suppose it might be time to redefine “normal”? Oh dear…

Anyway, the month is ending on a beautiful note here in central Texas. Nary a cloud, warm but breezy and dry today, greener than green due to torrential rains earlier this month, a great day for kites and al fresco dining!

I was lucky enough to eat outside this noon with good friends. And, I didn’t have to lift a finger (other that transporting the full fork to my mouth, of course).

Here’s some of what we enjoyed:

chicken salad and green salad

a salady duo – mmm!!

The small empty spot on the plate was filled with deviled eggs and a slice (or two) of baguette. For dessert we had:

creamy, dreamy, fresh and fruity – mmmmm!!

So good; spice cake with fresh fruit was delightfully “spring-y”! And, of course, everything tastes better when eating with friends.

Does spring inspire you to new salad ideas? I’m leaning that way myself, even though the weather folk say it will rain heavily over the next two days. Guess we’ll wait and see – it might just be their idea of an April Fools (Fool’s? Fools’? Perhaps all 3!) joke!

In any case, stay well, eat happily (and healthily), and enjoy the season!

Posted by: Rachel | February 26, 2017

easier than pie…

I’m actually embarrassed to share this one with you. I mean, it is so easy that it hardly counts as “cooking”. Still, it sits on the stove for a few hours gently simmering, makes the house smell wonderful, and feeds me (and sometimes friends as well) for days, so I guess it counts. And, you do have to chop the onion…

The thing is, you *could* do it the hard way. By that I mean you could buy five different kinds of dry beans, soak them overnight (after picking out any bad ones and bits of pebbles or other detritus), then cook them each in their own way until done. Or, you could buy five cans of various beans to your taste and go from there.

That’s what I choose to do. But, I’m a lazy cook from time to time.

Honestly, when I measure my time against starting form “scratch”, well, I guess I’d just rather do other things than mind all those dry beans. Enough already, here’s my recipe for the world’s possibly easiest soup.

Stupid Easy Smoked Turkey and Bean Soup

simmering silently

simmering silently


1 onion, chopped
olive oil
1 smoked turkey wing or drumstick
5 cans of beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of “fire roasted” tomatoes

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Sautée until the onion is transparent. Add the turkey, then all the rinsed beans and the can of tomatoes. Add maybe 1/2 can of water to where you can just see it, do not drown the beans.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Remove from heat and remove the turkey to a plate. Let the turkey cool, remove the meat from the bones and add the meat back into the pot. Stir well and enjoy.
***

See? Embarrassingly easy but oh so good. And, if you are of the vegetarian persuasion you could certainly do this with no turkey and 1/2 tbsp of smoked paprika added to the onion. Mmmm!

Now, just a few notes. I usually use a mixture of chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and whatever other kinds they have at the store. Also, if you can’t get your hands on “fire-roasted” tomatoes, you could certainly use something like stewed tomatoes instead.

This freezes well, tastes better on about day 3, and is fine with a simple rough red wine and a hunk of bread. I wish we’d had more cold days this “winter”…

What is your ultimate comfort food? I think this might be mine! Mmmm…

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