Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Little Pend Oreille Weekend (by Kat)

Our daughter safely stowed away with her friend for the weekend, we skedaddled away from home and ended up in the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.


The first evening found us on Bailey Lake. As the sun set, we were in our t-shirts and perfectly warm. Out on the lake, which is a pond, really, a North American river otter swam back and forth. See it's tail up in the air? I haven't been able to figure out what the purpose of that was. If anyone knows why an otter would swim around for so long with it's tail up in the air, please tell me! I need to know!

Here's the very last picture of the evening. The lake appeared to be on fire. I've never seen anything like it. I want to go back and see it again...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Vols-au-Vents (by Kat)

Today is the 27th, so I finally get to show you my Daring Baker's challenge for September. I finished the challenge early this month, and have had to keep quiet until now. This is no easy task, to be sure! It was even harder not to share because I was so excited about the results.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

This doesn't look too appetizing, does it? It's flour, water, and salt. Oh, but someday, little pile of wet sticky dough, you will become something so great, so unimaginably wonderful, that you'd blush if you knew right now.

The criss-crosses cut into the top are to help the gluten relax. Even though pastry flour is used to reduce gluten formation in the dough, the criss-crossing helps just a little bit more. While the dough was relaxing, I was able to vent my feelings of unease concerning this big project by pounding out a pound of cold butter into a rectangle.

As you can see below, the rectangle of butter is enveloped into the dough, and hopefully that's the last you'll see of it.

So the package of butter and dough is rolled out, forming a large rectangle of thin layers of dough, then butter, then dough. The rectangle is folded into thirds, and then re-rolled back out to the same size as before, about 24 inches long.

Again, the dough is folded into thirds, this time yielding six of layers of butter and twelve layers of dough (if my math is right...). This completes the first two "turns" of the dough, which is then refrigerated for about one half of an hour. Two more turns ensue, then another chill. Then two MORE turns, for a total of six, and a longer chill.

An hour or so seems to be the Daring Baker consensus for the length of the final chill, but it really depends on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. I actually let mine chill overnight, and proceeded the next day. Here's my dough, wondering what the four basic ingredients it consists of could ever turn out to be...

Rolling the dough, and cutting circles with my brand-spankin'-new-to-me set of three biscuit cutters from Saint Vinny's. Cost? Fifty cents, in an unopened wrapper. Fred Meyer's? Didn't have any cutters. So, score a BIG one for the second-hand shop once again!

The pastries are brushed with an egg wash just prior to baking. My girls lay very yellow-yolked eggs, adding quite a bit of color to the final product.

Even though I docked the bottom layer of the vols-au-vents, they still puffed up a little too much, and I wanted mine to hold as much as they possibly could, so I tamped down their centers to make them nice and deep.

Now for the fun part! These little guys can be stuffed with anything your heart desires. Sweet, savory, vegetarian, meaty, you name it!

On the left is our garden vol-au-vent. It stars freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers. In the back is a mushroom and leek creation, and on the right is smoked salmon mousse with prawns.



Lemon curd, raspberries, and lemon balm.
My daughter put these together.

More savory..

Homemade vanilla bean espresso ice cream,
chocolate ganache, and dulce de leche (aka boiled can).

What a feast!

This challenge was outrageously fun, and all of us had a really great time assembling our own favorite combination of fillings. My daughter wants to do these for her birthday in April. I'm all for it! In fact, I want to do these for my birthday in January! Me first! Me first!

A note I'd like to make is that we were able to incorporate many of our home-grown foods into this challenge, which gave me even more pride in the final product. Here's what we used from our garden and yard: eggs, leeks, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, basil, lemon balm, grapes, and garlic.

PBS has a video online of Michel Richard and Julia Child making this exact recipe. It's a hoot to watch, but also really helpful to view prior to making puff pastry.


I think I'll make some more dough soon, and keep it in the freezer as Michel suggests. It stays good for quite a few months. I'm thinking it could come in handy during the holidays.

Here's the recipe, and I hope you'll try it.

Now, what do I do with myself until the next Daring Baker's challenge is unveiled on the first?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Are You Going to Scarborough Fair? (by Kat)

This picture just doesn't do justice to the varying greens and silvers I jarred up today.

This past weekend was the perfect time to pop on out to the garden and harvest the herbs, and today they were dry, so into the jars they went.

The plants themselves have been snipped at all summer long, providing flavor for meals the whole season long. Most of the plants have gone to seed, so the size of the crop was somewhat diminished, but we still have far more than we need to get us through the winter. And hopefully, just hopefully, those little seeds will grow up into nice new plants next year.

In fact, a good portion of our herbs start themselves every year. It's a good thing, because I'm really quite a lazy gardener, so if they didn't do it themselves, it just might not get done...

Here's a big tray of parsley, drying in the sun...

Silvery, feathery, fragrant sage...

Rosemary. I love the little purple flowers. I keep them in the jar, even if it's not really the right thing to do. I get a little cheer out of seeing them looking out at me from their beds of green rosemary needles when there are no other flowers to be found for months...

And thyme. This is the herb that I like harvesting the least. The needles are so small, they cling to their stems so tightly, and they're just an overall pain. But I do love thyme in my food--yummy!

Now, why did Simon and Grafunkel stop after parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme? What about the basil, people! I ask you again, what about the basil?!

And the marjoram? What about the marjoram?

I think the song needs another verse.

The lemon balm is still in the yard, I'll wait until it cools down a little bit more before I bring that in. There's also the catnip, or at least the catnip the cats haven't already eaten.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll get a little more thyme?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interlacing (by Bet)

Recently I have been reading Beowulf with my class. One of the ideas that was prevalent in the time of Beowulf (560 CE) was interlacing, the idea that everyone and everything is connected. Things fall apart when you are disconnected from family, friends and community.

I just returned from a trip to Costco where I bought processed food that I haven't thought of putting into my house for many years. I bought enough calories to potentially feed my family of four for an entire year if we could subsist on just fat, corn syrup products and unrecognizable vegetables. I drove my Honda Odyssey for forty minutes both ways for the privilege of doing this, dragging both of my children with me.

One of the reasons I think this became something to do was because my family is so busy. We rarely have time to sit down together much less have free time. I started back to school and have the stack of papers to prove it. Both children are in soccer and swimming. There is no time for meals. When did making my family nutritious meals become less important than a trip to Costco?

Today at school I learned that one of our students was in a car crash yesterday afternoon. She got out of a friend's car and ran around back to cross the street right into a neighbor's on-coming car. She bounced off of that car into another. This afternoon she lays in a medically induced coma with broken legs and pelvis, lacerated organs, and a swollen brain. Doctors don't know how she made it through the night. Her boyfriend and best friend witnessed the whole thing.

This morning, as my principal is making this announcement, I realized how unconnected I really am -- from my friends, my family, and my community (is there such a thing anymore?).

I'm not sure I always have it in me to be connected. But spending quality time with my kids at Costco is not the way to start. Perhaps something as simple as a rootbeer float is the key to building those connections.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Putting Autumn in a Jar (by Kat)

Have I mentioned before how very very much I love autumn? You see, I really really do love this time of year...passionately.

So what does a person do in the deep dark depths of winter after fall has gone far far away? A person eats grape jelly, that's what! Then, a person can think back to watching the plants turn green in the spring, the flowers starting to develop in mid-summer, and the hard little fruits appearing in the late summer. But most importantly, one can remember that gorgeous day in early fall when the grapes were ripe and everything else was dropped in order to make grape jelly.

First, pick about five pounds of grapes. It doesn't really matter what kind, as long as you like their flavor. I used a mix of green and purple grapes, because that's what was ripe on Sunday afternoon. My colander, generously filled, is about five pounds.

How do I know? I weighed the grapes on my kitchen scale. I love this guy! Until he came to live on my counter, I had no idea how useful one of these puppies could be! The more I bake, the more I've come to love weighing out my ingredients. And with jelly, it's nice to know that I'm starting with the right amount of fruit at the beginning in order to get the right amount of juice at the end.

So, throw all five pounds of washed and stemmed grapes into a good-sized pot, add about 1/4 cup of lemon juice, a cup or so of water, and bring the slurry to a boil. As it's heating, mush it a bit with a potato masher. Or, mash it with a potato musher. The choice is yours.

Cook your grapes at a hard boil for at least 20 minutes. I boiled mine even longer because I added too much water and needed to cook some off. I also forgot to add the lemon juice, so I just threw that in later with the sugar.

Do you see how fool-proof this is? Two mistakes already, and the jelly still turned out great.

Now that everything is cooked down and your kitchen smells yummy, take a clean flour-sack towel and line a bowl with it. Some of you fancier folks might actually have cheesecloth on hand, so use that if you do.

Next, dump your hot grape mess into the bowl and pull up the corners of the fabric to make a sack. Try not to burn yourself. Slip a rubberband over the top, poke a wooden spoon through, and hang it from a cupboard.

Now, kick yourself for never coughing up the money to buy the jelly bag and stand at Bi-Mart...

Please ignore the toast in the picture. The bread had just come out of the oven, and was schmeared in this year's apricot jam. But really, please just ignore it's existence, ok?

Interestingly, the juice from green grapes is pink. Kinda weird, huh? Also, I added a few purple grapes this time, so maybe it's just a little bit pinker than normal, but certainly not much.

Let the juice sit for a few hours, at least, to let the sediment drop out of the solution. I kept mine on the counter overnight and finished up Monday evening after work.

Pour off 3 3/4 cups of grape juice without stirring up the sediment from the bottom. Add the lemon juice now if you forgot to add it to the boiling grapes yesterday. If you see crystals in your juice then congratulate yourself on making potassium hydrogen tartrate, aka cream of tartar. Don't you feel cool? Of course you do! You can strain the crystals out if you like. Do science on them, if you dare!

Ok, to the juice, add your box of pectin, and after that boils add 5 1/3 cups of sugar, and bring to a boil again. Boil it hard for two minutes, and you're done! Carefully pour the liquid into jars, put lids and rings on top, and boil in a canner for 10 minutes.

And there you go! Autumn in a jar!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend (by Kat)

I am loving this weekend!

The light is falling from the sky with a definitely autumnal slant, and I'm starting to get the accompanying burst of energy that hits me every fall.

The eggplant plants are falling over from the weight of their fruit. And for some reason, the pumpkins are fully ripe. We picked them yesterday, and they look like they're ready to greet the new season with yells and cheers.

In spite of everything going on outside, I actually spent most of my time yesterday inside. But now I can say the bathroom painting job is finally done! THAT has been a long time coming.

And today, I'm going to spend as much time as possible outside.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

View from Lion's Rock (by Kat)

Here's the view from a nearby promontory. The expanse of land before your eyes when you stand up here is incredible. Until this recent visit, I'd never been there when the wind wasn't howling and the air bitingly cold. I've been snowed on in July up here.

This day, though, was just beautiful.

Don't you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Autumn is Striding Toward Us (by Kat)

I love the last days of summer. These are the best days of summer. Not too hot, not too windy, not too dusty, not too much of anything, really, but a whole lot of something else.

When autumn really does enter, I get a certain giddiness that my husband tells me should be reserved for spring and for spring only.

These last few days of summer are not filled with that same giddiness, nor the drive to be productive, nor do they have a sense of fleetingness. I think that's why they're usually "wasted," and maybe that's why I like them so much. You can waste these days, and it doesn't really cost you much.

There isn't an overwhelming sense of "this could be the last warm day of the year, so get out there and USE it!" There's no feeling of "if you don't rake the leaves today, you'll be scooping them up in the Spring."

This something else is options. And it's freedom from having to choose an option, as well.

Options are good, and optional options might even be better.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mallow Cookie, Mellow Evening (by Kat)

Ok, getting all caught up here on moving posts from Daring Bakers onto our webiste.
So, without further ado, this was my first Daring Baker challenge from back in July...

My first Daring Baker challenge! I think the words "Daring Baker" should be surrounded by flames and racing stripes, don't you? There's thrills, excitement, knuckle-whitening moments, and sometimes, like waiting for the chocolate to set, it's about as exciting as race cars going endlessly in circles.

So, my first thought upon reading through the recipe was that Nicole, from Sweet Tooth, crept into my kitchen one night, and saw that none of my printed recipes involving homemade marshmallows had sticky fingerprints on them, and that she decided I needed to stretch myself. Hooray! Thanks, Nicole, you're welcome to prowl anytime (hee hee)! And, you'll see upon your next visit that fingerprints have been added.

August Daring Bakers Challenge: Dobos Torte (by Kat)

Hooray, I have a bit of blogspace now where I can put my Daring Bakers challenges. This was the August challenge, completed a few weeks back.
You see, every month we're given a challenge on the first, which we get to explore throughout the month with the great camaraderie of other Daring Bakers, but in complete secrecy from non members. On the 27th of the month, we finally get to show the world what we've done.
You don't have to have your own blog, luckily, as they so kindly provide a space for non-bloggers to post on the Daring Bakers site. That's where this was originally posted.
Daring Bakers is SO MUCH FUN people! I wouldn't lie to you, would I?

(Bet, back me up here. Would I lie to them?)

Ok, if you don't believe me or Bet, just look at the challenge from August! Here it is, straight from the Daring Bakers website to my own!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Family Togetherness (by Bet)

This is what is happening at my house right now.

Dad, sitting on couch: "No! Put it down. No! You may not hit your sister."

Five-year-old boy with a stick in the air: "But she pulled my pants down."

Nine-year-old girl cowering in chair: "Lets go get your pants. I'll help you put them on."

Afterwards, they went outside and put salt on a slug together. Nothing like a day of family togetherness.

Sometimes I wish there was a treehouse to escape to.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Old Friends, Good Food, Living Well (by Kat)

This is our blog, our home, our apartment we never shared.
This is where we keep in touch, share what's good, celebrate what's great, and laugh out loud at the rest.
Okay, maybe this is a test, too, to see where a blog of two friends can go.
But mostly, this is a place to hang out without a care.
Tag, Bet, you're it!