Home In Disarray

May 30, 2009

My herb garden update

My herb garden update
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Things are still going slowly for a few plants, my basil and mint in particular. I had to replant the basil as a couple of latish frosts all but killed the starts that I had planted earlier. I have no clue what’s going on with my mint, but for the last few weeks I’ve had the tiniest of little seedlings poking up through the soil, here’s hoping they start growing soon!
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My gardenia is also doing shockingly well. I figured that I’d try one for $6, and Craig’s mom bought one a couple weeks before and it hadn’t died on her yet. From what I’ve read on the internet, growing gardenias in this climate is basically voodoo. I have yet to sacrifice a chicken over it, but I have recently started watering it with coffee occasionally. Poor Sue, hers is down to about 15 leaves. Mine is on it’s 2nd and 3rd blooms, and there are at least 2 more flower buds that are getting ready to pop. Mmmm, it smells so good!
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There’s this strange cutout in the built-in seating on our deck that Craig thinks was for a grill which seems silly as grills get mighty dirty when they’re out in the rain, but it’s really the only plausible explanation so far. I figured I’d fill it in with plants and herbs so it doesn’t look so weird without a grill there.
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My syringa pubescens sp Miss Kim seems to be doing quite well though, and I love that it’s flowering later than the normal syringa vulgaris, it gives me a longer bloom season!
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Posted in: Garden
May 30, 2009

My amazing cinnamon rolls

My amazing cinnamon rolls
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I took a couple pans of cinnamon rolls up to the cabin over Memorial Day weekend. I figured that I’d try to contribute something to the vast array of food that follows Sue and the gaggle of women that come up every Mem. Day. When I took some to Jen’s superbowl shindig they got an astoundingly positive reception. I was going to try Peabody’s Honey Peanut Brittle cupcakes but decided to be cheap since I’m out of cake flour and have no clue where to buy creamed honey. That led me to one of the least expensive to make desserts that I could think of that still gets oohs and ahhs, Cinnamon Rolls. One thing that I’ve identified as the main issue with Cinnabon (the low bar that everyone seems to measure cinnamon rolls against) is that they use way too little sugar and way too much cinnamon in the filling. WAY TOO MUCH CINNAMON. It makes them harsh and dry inside. Then they use a frosting made mostly of sugar to make up for the shortcomings in their filling and it overpowers the flavor of the dough. Bad form, but since Americans don’t seems to make baked goods often enough for them to know the difference, those monstrosities pass as cinnamon rolls.
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My mom got this cookbook somewhere around her high school years when the mother of a friend of hers died and they were getting rid of her stuff. They’re still friends. I’ve been enamored with it for as long as I can remember, and I basically forced her to give it to me when I moved out. It’s a first edition Betty Crocker cookbook published in 1961. In addition to a multitude of classic Americana recipes, it also has meal planning suggestions, diagrams teaching you how to cut onions, mushrooms, etc, and types of table services explained. It basically teaches you how to be the hostess with the mostest.
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As this is my most commonly used recipe in the book, when I flip the book open, it automatically settles on the page with the Sweet Roll Dough. I make Betty’s basic sweet roll dough, but usually improvise with the filling. I find that just using butter, sugar, and cinnamon provides a fine filling, but it’s nothing special. The two times that I’ve gotten universally glowing reviews is when I’ve made a caramel of sorts. It’s very easy as well, don’t be concerned about the process, it’s not as scary as it sounds. I just get a few cups of brown sugar (I don’t measure) and a little water, just enough to dissolve the sugar and heat it up on medium heat until it hits about 230-240. It will hang for quite a while at 212-215 while the water is boiling off. It’ll stick at this temperature until all the water is gone, don’t turn the heat up at this point unless you want burned caramel. Be aware that any undissolved sugar crystals could cause your sugar mixture to turn into a rock once the water evaporates. I’ve had it happen multiple times. The best way to deal with this is to add a little more water, dissolve everything again, and simply swirl it in the pan, don’t use instruments if you can’t keep them free of crystals. My grandmother’s trick was to have a tall glass of hot water next to the stove that she stored her mixing spoon (I use a silicone spatula) and candy thermometer in which would dissolve anything that hung on. Anyway, once the mixture is bubbling and at the right temperature range, pull it off the heat, throw in a few pinches of salt (I use kosher because it’s easier to grab with my fingers), maybe a teaspoon or two of vanilal (it’ll make crazy hissing noises) and 1/3 of a cube (or so) of soft butter. Then I just pour it out onto the already rolled out dough, sprinkle with a little cinnamon, and roll it up.
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This is the recipe exactly as it appears in the Betty Crocker cookbook (1961 version, they changed it in the 70s, god knows why). I’ll give you the “small recipe” which should be enough to fill a 9×13″ pan, I usually make the large recipe (just the small one doubled) and if I’m not feeding an army, freeze the rolls(before the final rise and baking) separately and pull them out periodically to impress people with a home baked dessert.
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Sweet Roll Dough

The basic magic dough to create glamorous coffee cakes, such as Swedish Tea Ring and Stollen, as well as dinner and luncheon rolls in many interesting shapes. Follow the large recipe or the small recipe according to what you plan to bake.
Small Recipe
1/4 cup warm water (not hot – 110 to 115º)
1 pkg. active dry yeast (this is 2.25 tsp, if you are using instant or bread machine yeast, drop it down to 2 tsp and don’t bother proofing it in the water, it doesn’t accomplish anything with instant yeast)
3/4 cup lukewarm milk*
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup soft shortening (I always use butter because crisco kind of weirds me out, you really just want a semi-solid fat for this, bacon grease would probably be a pretty amazing substitution, I’d drop the salt though)
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups All Purpose flour
In bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Add milk, sugar, salt, egg, shortening, and half of flour to yeast. Mix with spoon until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to handle easily. Turn onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth (5 min.) Round up in greased bowl, bring greased side up. Cover with cloth. Let rise in a warm place (85º) until double, about 1 1/2 hour. Punch down; let rise again until almost double, about 3 min. Shape, let rise, and bake as directed in specific recipes.
*Scald milk then cool to lukewarm to destroy enzymes which make doughs sticky and hard to handle (you can bypass this if you’re mixing it in a bread machine or kitchenaid, I’ve never noticed the difference when mixing the dough mechanically)


Cinnamon Rolls
1. Roll dough into oblong, 15×9.” (for bigger, thicker, gooier rolls, roll the dough out thicker. Your final diameter makes a big difference) Spread with 2 tbsp softened butter and sprinkle with 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.
2. Roll up tightly, beginning at the wide side. Seal well by pinching edges of roll together. Even up roll by stretching slightly.
3. Cut roll up in 1″ slices. Place in greased 13×9″ pan or 18 greased muffin cups. Cover and let rise until double, 35-40 minutes. (for the love of god, don’t cut them into 1″ slices, really. Go for 1.5 at the very least, or you’ll have weird cinnamon rolled biscuits or something. 12 to a pan should be more than enough. I make mine thicker and usually end up with 9-10 to a pan. Just be sure they’ll all touch when they rise, or else you’ll have strange outer texture on the ones that weren’t against something on the sides)
Heat oven to 375º (I use 350º) Bake 25-30 minutes. Frost while warm. (that number really is a rough estimate, keep an eye on them and when they start to get golden, get a couple knives and see what they look like in the inside seams. If they look cooked, they’re done, if not, cover with foil(to keep them from getting too dark) and let them go another 5 minutes before checking.)

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My frosting recipe is somewhat like my caramel recipe in that I usually just use what I have, but my most recent batch of frosting was 1 8oz package of softened neufchatel cheese (lower fat cream cheese), 1 stick of softened butter mixed together with the whisking attachment of my kitchenaid, then I added maybe 2 cups of powdered sugar (very slowly!) a tiny bit of vanilla, some salt, and a few tablespoons of milk until I was happy with the consistency.
Posted in: Cooking
May 28, 2009

Boris’ kidneys

Boris’ kidneys
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On Monday the 18th of May, Boris the pooch found a bottle of ibuprofen that had been lost and forgotten long before we ever adopted him. I arrived home to find the bottle in one room, the lid in another, and a few piles of pills throughout the house. Out of the 180 caplet bottle, there were 55 pills missing. The problem was in guessing how many we had taken versus how many the dog had decided would be delicious. Not knowing how exceptionally toxic ibuprofen is to dogs, and seeing that he seemed normal, we figured that he hadn’t eaten that many. After waking up to piles of vomit all over the floor, we figured that he had eaten a few, but he was still very happy, active, and hungry, so we figured that he was ok.
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He acted normal for the rest of the week (with the exception of drinking and peeing more than normal which we attributed to him flushing his system out) until Saturday morning, when he wasn’t interested in breakfast. Not knowing better we took him to Craig’s family’s cabin for the weekend. When he still hadn’t eaten anything by Sunday afternoon and was acting lethargic, we knew there was a problem. We took him to the pet emergency room early monday morning and the vet tested his pee and his blood.
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Normal creatinine levels for dogs are .6-1.2. Normal BUN numbers are between 10 and 20. Normal urine SG is 1.020-1.040. When we checked Boris in, his creatinine was 5.1, his BUN was 111 and his urine SG was 1.011 (thinner than a fermented beer). His kidneys were passing more water through than they should have been, dehydrating him, and also not handling toxic buildup of bad compounds. The vet gave him a 50% chance of survival. They hospitalized him, put him on an IV and other drugs, and hoped for the best. I was a huge mess. Huge crazy sobbing mess. Craig was wonderful and helped keep me busy and hugged me when I was upset. We were both very worried.
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We had to wait like 30 hours to get his bloodwork results back, but it was worth it. On tuesday afternoon, the vet said that he had improved more than she would have guessed possible. His creatinine was 2.8, and his BUN was 55. The vet told us that even if he didn’t improve at all past that, his numbers were manageable and that we could keep him alive with a fairly decent quality of life for quite some time, but it’s likely that he’d make a better recovery.
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By wednesday morning, his BUN was down to 19, and his creatinine was down to 1.5. They also cleared us to pick him up and bring him home with a special kidney diet (which I’m not too impressed with, but it’s what the vet prescribed, so he has to eat it for a week til they check him again) and a couple medications for his stomach. If his numbers are still within acceptable ranges, then he can go back to his normal food and begin leading a normal life, with full recovery expected in about 6 months!

Posted in: Dogs
May 17, 2009

Peach & Ginger Cobbler

Peach & Ginger Cobbler
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Cobblers and crisps are my favorite spring and summer desserts. Pretty much anything I can jam fresh produce in, cover with a layer of some sort of topping and bake until the fruit is tender and the top has crisped makes me a little giddy.
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For this one, I knew I wanted to do a cobbler but wasn’t sure what fruit to use. My most effective method of determining this isn’t searching online for the perfect recipe; it’s going to the grocery store and seeing what looks good and is on sale.
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As luck would have it, it was slim pickins in terms of stone fruit and other cobbler-worthy fruits, but peaches were on sale, so I picked up 12 smallish ones. Unfortunately, they were the opposite of freestone peaches, meaning that the flesh is stuck to the pit with an iron bond. After poaching them for a few seconds to remove the skin, I tried to twist them in half, pull the halves apart, anything. It was unsuccessful in all but 2 of the 12. I ended up giving up and cutting them up like they were mangoes.
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To keep this from getting too sweet, I added a couple tablespoons of finely minced fresh ginger to crisp up the flavor a bit. I also went a little overboard with my cobbler topping. Next time I’d put a little less buttermilk in so it’d say more solid, and use a lot less. I just went a little overboard.
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Luckily, we had some ice cream to soak into the cake topping and mix in with the peach goop. It was awesome.
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Posted in: Baking
May 15, 2009

Huge Rhubarb Crumb Cake

Huge Rhubarb Crumb Cake
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I’m going to be honest. I totally poached this recipe from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. It’s an awesome recipe.
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It’s jut a basic coffee cake, but with rhubarb smushed into it, and twice the crumbs of normal crumb cake.
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I made this the friday before Mother’s day, intending to serve it both to Kim, and Craig’s mom and grandmother. I had one piece and left for work. Then Boris helped himself to the remaining 8 pieces while I was away.
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I had to make 2 more on Sunday morning so we’d have a cake to eat. It was pretty rough on me. No really, it was.
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I don’t usually like crumbly toppings on stuff, but the crumbs cook down into this cake, so there’s no worry of too many runaways. I wouldn’t change the recipe a bit. Except maybe put in a ginger spiked seedless raspberry reduction instead of the rhubarb. But probably not, I really like rhubarb.
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Posted in: Baking
May 7, 2009

Cool Cucumber Pico De Gallo

Cool Cucumber Pico De Gallo
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When I was in middle school, we moved out of my dad’s house, and had satellite TV for the first time. Prior to that, we had an OLD TV with an antennae on the roof. Depending on the season, we got 4, 5, 7, fuzzy 9, 11, fuzzy 13, and occasionally 22. I was amazed at the vast quantity of channels on subscriber television. Eventually all the glitz and glamour of channels in the triple digits wore off, and I became seriously addicted to food network. This was before food network sold out and got all ridiculous. It was the days of Sarah Moulton, Gale Gand, Emeril (before he was popular and annoying), Alton Brown was the big star, and Martha Stewart was still aired. Oh Martha, how I miss your classical shows, your homegrown herbs and kahlua mocha cigars, from scratch (I made these once, they were awesome. They are basically a chocolate-studded thinner fortune cookie dough, cooked then rolled into cylinders with kahlua whipped cream piped in and the ends dipped in chocolate shavings. YUM). I digress.
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Back in Food Network’s glory days, Sarah Moulton, executive chef of Gourmet Magazine, had the most useful show in existence. While her cooking leaned a bit to the french/exotic side, she often had guest chefs on who would show her their favorite recipes. One of the chef’s showed Sarah her “Cool Cucumber Salsa” and it sounded so interesting that I had to make it. From what I remember, since she was a guest chef and the recipe came from her cookbook, it was only on their website for like a week. I remember printing it off, and losing it after the first time I made the stuff, so the whole thing is pretty much by memory.
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The recipe is simple enough (This is enough to feed an army, but it stays good for about a week, and I have a big enough list of people that can’t get enough that I am able to give away quite a lot of it).
4 regular seeded cucumbers, chopped FINELY
1-2 white or yellow onions, chopped FINELY
6 roma or vine ripened tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
2 jalapeños, deseeded and chopped FINELY
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2-4 T white or rice vinegar
Lime juice is a nice touch but not necessary
1 packet ranch dressing mix

It also has a fatal flaw that I’ve been unable to remedy through a vast array of experiments, the water. I suspect it’s a result of the salt in the ranch dressing mix pulling liquid out of the cucumbers and onions. I’ve tried salting the cucumbers and onions overnight, then draining, rinsing and continuing as usual. That was fruitless, it still seeped quite a bit. I’ve drained the salsa after it seeped, most of the ranch dressing mix came out, and adding it back didn’t have the same effect. Regardless, the juice is DELICIOUS and adds a lot to the flavor, so try to scoop it up in your chips, or you could drain it off and marinate chicken breasts in it (YUM) or drink it by itself, whatever. The ranch dressing packet is indispensable. You can use the store brand, I couldn’t tell the difference. I make this often enough that I got sick of paying $1.25 each at the grocery store and found HUGE packets at the restaurant supply store that make like 10x the amount that a grocery store packet does for twice the price, so I bought those and I just guess at how much I’m adding. Anyway, it’s awesome.
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I made a bowl full of this stuff for our Cinco De Mayo party at work only to find out that it had been pushed back to the 15th of May, so now I have a huge bowl to go through before making ANOTHER batch in a week. Oh well, I’m sure I won’t have any trouble eating it. Of course I forgot to take a photo of the finished product for this batch, but I have one from another smaller batch, so you’ll have to look at a different kitchen and a different bowl. Tough Shit.
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Posted in: Cooking
May 6, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie – am I turning into Sandra Lee?

Chicken Pot Pie – am I turning into Sandra Lee?
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We had chicken pot pie for dinner last night, well, my version of it, which is perfectly within the rules of chicken pot pie. I make it without a pastry crust. I’m not particularly fond of crusts, and Craig picks them off of things, so I use biscuits instead. And I don’t like making them in pie plates. That’s mostly because I usually make too much filling and then it gets all over the oven. Knowing that I wouldn’t have much time to get the meal together after work (it had to spend a considerable amount of time in the oven), in a moment of weakness, I purchased canned biscuit dough. This led me to believe I may be turning into Sandra Lee, which makes me nervous. Luckily, I have not yet begun dressing up to match my kitchen, and creating “tablescapes.”
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I started by sautéing 2 HUGE chicken breasts. Ideally you’d just roast a chicken(or buy a rotisserie chicken) and tear it apart, then chop up all the meat, but 1.5 lbs of breast meat only cost me $4.50 and it only took a little while to cook. After pulling those guys out to rest, I threw in 3 chopped carrots, 1 chopped white onion, 3 sticks of chopped celery, and about 8 button mushrooms that had been cut into 8ths. Those got sautéed until they were tender, then removed and mixed in with the cooled and then chopped chicken in a 9×13″ baking dish.
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For my “cream” sauce, I melted 4 tablespoons of butter in my awesome All-Clad SS pan, and added about an equal amount of flour to it, whisking regularly until the mixture began turning a light golden brown. Once I reached that stage, I dumped in about 1/2 a cup of dry sherry, and about a cup of chicken stock, and whisked the hell out of it. Once I got most of the lumps out and it had started thickening, I put in about 3 cups of regular old 1% milk and whisked it in again. I also added salt and pepper to taste, some garlic powder (a shallot would be a great alternative), thyme leaves, and would have added poultry seasoning if I had been able to find it. Instead I used dry ground mustard powder. It worked fine. After this had cooked sufficiently, I poured it on top of the vegetables and mixed it in.
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Then I got to the biscuit topping.
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Yes, you can see the circular indentations on the biscuits from the can. It’s classy, like cranberry sauce from the can on Thanksgiving, ok. OK?
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The thick layer of fake biscuit dough on top of the creamy vegetable and chicken goodness.
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It spent FOREVER in the oven for the underside of the biscuits to get done, whatever, stupid biscuits.
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But oh was it tasty!
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The only problem with me getting stuff in the oven as fast as possible (and drinking Makers Mark with water without having eaten anything for about 10 hours) is that the kitchen gets destroyed. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was unable to clean up after myself at all because I was totally uninterested in unloading the dishwasher. Everything ended up on the counter and in the sink and slowly took over the kitchen. I was a little afraid to get out of bed this morning as a result.
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Posted in: Cooking