Thursday, September 29, 2011

Painting Yourself a Pick-Me-Up: Kitchen Cabinets

 I was just really down last week. Down and stuck in the house. 

By Thursday, I'd had enough. I looked at this...

and said 'Enough! blahblahblah...something has to change.'

So I looked at this. And looked through my leftover paint. And found something I could change about my life. 

At about 4pm I started clearing out the cabinets and painting the back-splash of each one. The wallpaper in the kitchen contains blue and yellow. I had yellow, and it seemed like the kind of cheer I needed. You need surprisingly little paint for this project (unless you have a ton of cabinets). They sell trial pints and those work really well. The investment is under $3 as long as you have a brush around the house somewhere.

See how it just pops? Just paint the back...not the sides or shelves.

A little bit of color for my day. And a good reminder that even though I can't change everything in my life there's usually *something* I  can. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Plum Kuchen

Recreational baking, anyone? 

I was interested in doing something a little different and some good German baking appealed to me. Oma would be proud...if she'd ever baked anything in my lifetime.

I took a few internet recipes and adapted them. I have some interest in making a more traditional cake with sourdough but this is the quick coffee cake method. 

Plum Kuchen (cake)

1/8 lb (1/2 stick) of butter
2/3c sugar
2 eggs
1/2tsp salt
1tsp baking powder
1 1/2c flour
1tsp vanilla
1/2c sour cream
3lb small, ripe plums

Preheat oven to 375. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add dry (salt, b.powder, flour). Add vanilla and sour cream. Spray a cake pan or springform pan (you'll get a cleaner line with a springform pan if you want to use this with company). At this point you can do the plums several ways. Halve the plums and remove the pits as best you can. Then you can either push the halves into the pan, or you can slice and make a design like above. Or you could chop some and mix into the batter (the skins leave beautiful red marks) and halve or slice the rest for the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar or crumble topping. Bake @30 minutes. Do not over-bake! The cake is a simple baking powder coffee cake and it's small so its easy to dry out. Mine was actually done in 20 minutes but my oven was hot. Keep an eye one it after 15-20min. 

Side note: You can use 1/4lb (1 stick) of butter and 1/4c of sour cream instead of what's written above. I like the extra sour cream myself. If you don't have sour cream you can use the whole stick of butter and sub milk for the sour cream. Whenever these kind of changes are made it will affect the texture slightly. 

Other additions are up to you (nuts? other fruit? apple instead of plum?).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall Clean Up

 Harvesting herbs. Oregano ready to be hung and dried. I like to put 10 stalks about a foot long into a group and then tape them in a bouquet. I hang the bouquets from a shelf in the pantry. Culling also thins the plant too, a good idea. Basil leaves sit in a low bowl on the kitchen counter. I crumble the two together in a few weeks when they are dry and easily broken up. I put them in old spice containers and label with a marker on masking tape. 

Fall is also the time to order perennials and bulbs. Garlic can be planted. Now is also a great time to thin and divide perennials like I did here. Especially aggressive perennials such as obedient plants or bee balm. Make some space. Fill in other areas with the bounty.

Sometimes plants are too overgrown and need dividing like this sedum.

 And my cute little overgrown sun garden is still producing like crazy. I harvested the basil and am on my 2nd leaf growth. Almost time for that too. I purged the limp, yellow lower leaves and the tops started leaving again.

Lots of tomatoes to be harvest and dried in the oven. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, split tomatoes, a dash of olive oil and salt. The oven should be on its lowest setting. Leave it for 1-3 hours. Remove and use within a week or freeze. Makes great tomato paste or tomato soup base. 

And a whole lot of landscaping I may or may not get to before Spring.

Lots more to do. I also cleaned out the shed. Put away some of the tools and chairs. Piled the snow shovels together. 

Time for some relaxation and some recreational baking. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Most recipes are pretty similar. Last winter I tried this with the Smitten Kitchen recipe. It seemed to lack something (that something may have been my ability to fry things without a thermometer) so I tried a new recipe this time. 

I used the Washington Post recipe, but after going through this I think I'd add more flour...more like the New York Times recipe. The 2 recipes are nearly identical (like I said, there's not a wide variety of recipes for these online), but the WP calls for 3.5 cups of flour and the NYT calls for 5.5 cups. 

And ohhh, the dough was sticky with the Washington Post recipe. I could roll it out and even cut it out given enough oil, flour, and finesse, but scraping those things off the board in the correct shape was not possible. Go for the extra flour unless you're making amorphous blobs. 

I generally don't buy specialty or one-use objects, so I was cobbling together a doughnut cutter. I found a biscuit cutter I found at a garage sale for 50 cents (below right). I was searching for something that made a good hole in that biscuit circle. 

I have this adjustable teaspoon/tablespoon measure (liquid and solid). It works great for honey, molasses, salt, etc. It fit perfectly, and the base adjusts to make a nice hole.

This is the part that L. loves the most. I made the biscuits and he cut the holes. What's not seen here? Me, trying desperately scrape the cute doughnuts off the board. Solution? Pull up a few holes to test the oil. Scrape the sticky mess into a pile and add more flour until it accepted it's fate.

 I have made these without this (clipped candy thermometer), but in my opinion its worth paying $1-5 if you make these at least once a year. The oil should be between 300-375 degrees Fahrenheit. It is very easy to over-heat or under-heat. Keep an eye on it when it's heating up. Over-heating takes forever to cool down. If you get over 400 degrees F, then put a few inches of water in the sink and cool it down a bit and start again. Otherwise it could be 20 minutes (or more). 

I have a digital instant read thermometer but its pain for holding a consistent temperature.

And the cinnamon sugar, that's J's favorite part. He's on topping duty.

And no final product pics. Sorry! There's no way I could keep them in one place that long while I was on fryer duty. lol

Also fun, I grated some apple while we were playing a board game the next day and made apple fritter things. With a light coat of powdered sugar...yum!

Anyone baking anything interesting for Fall? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Golden Raspberries and Stocking Up All the Year Round

Three this time. That means four so far this year (and two truly tiny ones left on the bush). More than I expected. The Japanese beetles were really bad this year and raspberry leaves appear to be their favorite food.Very mild taste for raspberries. I like the color and fall timing though. 

The blackberry also just flowered and is developing one berry at its tip. That could be interesting. 

One of the rules I try to live by is stocking up while things are in-season. Walmart had crates on sale for $2 each. They are great for the storage of perishables (food) and inperishables (books, papers, toys). Other stores also have school and office supplies on clearance so it may be time to evaluate your stock of pens, pencils, legal pads, and rainbow colored Sharpies!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pressure Cooker Explosion Paranoia

One of the (many) things I've never done is use a pressure cooker. 

Several years ago D. bought me one and I looked it over and immediately became confused by the directions and worried by the WARNINGS. Plus my grandmother had one explode on joke..and that's why my mother never even considered using one. 

D. was discussing this with a colleague from India and he got a look of disbelief. I guess pressure cookers are pretty common in India and Indonesia so we were considered quite odd. 

We probably had that coming. 

Anyway, I had 'cook beans in a pressure cooker' on my goal list for the year so I thought I'd give it a try. Feel free to critique my technique because the instructions were pretty vague. I made the kids stay out of the kitchen when I opened it. 

1. I had no beans soaked, and it was an hour or so before dinner, so I 
rinsed the beans,
 brought them to a boil (no cover) for 2 minutes,
 and then put on the cover,
 turned off the gas,
 and let it sit for an hour.

2. With the cover snapped in place I then cooked them on medium heat for @15-20 minutes. 

3. This is where the tricky part came in. 
I couldn't tell how long I should wait to open. An hour? 15 minutes? Put the whole thing in cool water and open a little at a time? The instructions have each of these options and it seems to depend on what food or food combination is used. They aren't very good at explaining what is a dried vegetable and what is a fresh meat, etc. etc. 

I let it sit a bit and then I messed around with the pressure spigot with a long spoon. No burning steam came out so I opened the lid. To be honest, I'm not sure it ever attained pressure. It was a bit like my first time canning. I couldn't say for sure that the jars had ever sealed because I never heard a ping and couldn't tell if the tops looked right. 

Eventually the roasted corn/black bean salad was done. D. said the beans were great. 

Not sure I'd do this again. It didn't seem any shorter than cooking them on the stove. Andrea Chesman has great stove top directions that don't take any longer than the pressure cooker did. They did seem less squishy though. Definitely more beans from scratch around here. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Westward Ho

Craving a bit adventure, we threw caution and tomatoes to the wind last month. 

We ate birthday cake under a spotlit Mt. Rushmore.

Saw oil rigs on a dusty plain. 

Wound our way over some mountains (the Big Horns). 


And under others (the Absaroka).

Communed with the past in many different ways.

And played with nature.

Always a new day experiencing something bigger than us. 

And a few things that reminded us very much of home. 

Sometimes I just had to pinch myself. It was all too amazing.

But we're all glad we're home. Thanks to the family who hosted us on our way. 

August 10th Update

Before we left the Midwest completely on a summer adventure, we were here...baking, swimming, gardening and the like.

As of early August, things were still a little lean (late start on my part). 

Luke contented himself with cutting up a lone asparagus (asparagi? just like the way that sounds).

We also found one perfect blueberry low on the bush. The deer never found it. 

And the tomatoes were heavy on the branches. I feared they would ripen and rot while we were gone.