Friday, November 4, 2011

From summer in a jar to winter in a pot

It is in the fifties outside, with rain pouring down quite hard at times.  Welcome to winter in Southern California.  It's actually cold enough to justify a log in the fireplace, and even though the central heating isn't yet on, we are definitely throwing an extra blanket on the beds.

I wanted something warm and hearty to serve for dinner, so did some pantry diving and put this together while getting some work done from home this afternoon.  It was exactly what the weather called for, and even the Monkey took big spoonfuls of it.

Bacon Barley Soup with Mushrooms (makes about 6 servings)
4 strips of bacon, or the rough equivalent of 4 strips in bacon ends (which I actually prefer)
1 cup of pearled barley
1/2 pound of carrots
1/2 large onion
6 stalks of celery
2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1 quart of chicken stock
2 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Roughly chop the bacon or bacon ends, and throw into a 6-quart pot (nothing screams hearty soups like my Le Creuset, so I used that) over medium heat.  Let it sizzle for a bit so the fat starts to render out.

In the meantime (it's all about efficiency here people!), chop the onions, carrots and celery.  Add to the pot and let it all cook down until it smells wonderful and looks beautiful.  You should see a bit of browning going on if you're doing it right.  Don't rush this step -- it adds so much to the flavor to let everything caramelize.

Add the chicken stock, water, and barley (rinse it first!) to the pot.  It should then take about 45 minutes of simmering for the barley to swell and cook through.  About 10 minutes before it's done, add the mushrooms to the pot.

Barley is not easily overcooked, so cook it until it's good and soft and chewy, and then add salt and pepper to taste.  If you let it stand, it'll thicken up a bit further.  A sprinkling of chopped flatleaf parley would be lovely on top, then serve!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crunchy pickled goodness

I had never had these before trying my hand at making them out of sheer curiosity, so started out with one jar and waited impatiently for the recommend 3-week-period to pass before cracking them open.  Instantly in love, I whipped up 4 more jars yesterday.  They take so little time, and are a great way to take advantage of summer's green bean bounty.  I wish I could say I used beans from our own garden, but alas our gardening efforts seem to result in either charitable contributions to the local wildlife or flat-out failure.  Maybe next year...

One note about the recipe: I like to trim all the beans to about the same size so they stand up neatly in the jars, which means I end up with a lot of smaller pieces which I then cook up for dinner, etc.   If you were to cut them all up into smaller pieces, you'd have less "waste" so wouldn't need to buy as much.  I've put two pounds as the amount in the recipe but there could be some pretty significant variance depending on your preferences.

Pickled green beans (makes 4 pints)
2 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt
Spices - I use mustard seed, dill seed, peppercorns, and sometimes a garlic clove in each jar
4 wide-mouth pint-sized jars with 2-piece lids

Make sure your jars are clean and sanitized, and lids are in very hot water to soften.  Pour spices into the bottoms.  In a saucepan, combine vinegar, water and salt and bring to a boil.  In the meantime, trim the green beans to fit the jars, or just cut them into desired lengths and pack into the jars.  Personally I'm a little OCD and like them all the exact same length, standing up like little soldiers.

When the brine is boiling, pour over the green beans to within 1/4 inch of the jar tops.  Release any air bubbles and add more brine as needed to maintain a 1/4 inch headspace.  Screw on the lids and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Then try your best not to dig into them for at least three weeks!

Daily bread

I first started baking bread on a regular basis after Monkey was born. I guess I really sort of painted myself into a corner because after having homemade bread for a few weeks, I found it truly impossible to go back to store-bought "bread" -- and didn't want to pay for so-called artisan bread that I could make at home.  So, I'm now on the hook to produce two loaves every other weekend to supply us with bread for toast and the occasional sandwich.

This is my standard recipe, to which I might make small tweaks but never truly deviate. When Rachel will eat nothing but bread for a whole day, the fact that I know what exactly goes into that bread (and that it's relatively wholesome) makes me feel better.

I make this in my trusty Kitchenaid, but the recipe can be made completely by hand if you're so inclined (it's a great upper body workout).

Everyday Bread (makes 2 loaves)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3-4 cups bread flour
1 cup flaxseed, ground
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2 cups boiling water
1 cup whole milk (sour if you like)
2 packets instant dry yeast (approx. 4 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten (optional - but it helps with the bread texture and rise)
1/3 cup honey
1 tbs butter
3 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs vegetable oil
Optional add-ins: 1 cup raw sunflower seeds,  ground sprouted wheat berries, or other nuts/seeds

Put honey, oats, and butter into the Kitchenaid mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over, and allow to sit for 10 minutes until oats are soft, butter is melted and honey is dissolved.  Add milk, whole wheat flour and yeast (make sure not to add yeast until you've added in the milk and flour); stir until dissolved and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes until bubbly and foamy.  Add vital wheat gluten and 2 cups of bread flour with dough hook on lowest speed; add salt, ground flaxseed and the rest of the bread flour 1/4 cup at a time until a nice dough pulls together.  This stage should not take longer than 10 minutes or you risk overkneading your dough.  If you're using additional mix-ins, add them in last, just as the dough starts to come together.

Once the dough is smooth, elastic, and cohesive but not overly sticky, it's all standard process -- add the oil and roll the dough in it (I do this in the same bowl - one less thing to wash!); allow to rise until doubled; punch down, shape into loaves, allow to rise again; and bake at 350 for approx. 50 minutes (time will vary slightly depending on your loaf pans).  Once the bread is out of the oven and cooling, you can brush the top with some melted butter if you like.

Then let the warm-and-fuzzies wash over you as your finicky three year old demands a "BIG PIECE OF BREAD" and practically inhales it on a day she has turned her nose up at everything else you've offered.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The jam-making machine is back online!

...with some assistance from the IBH, of course.

Picked up 8 packs of beautiful blackberries, and a lapful of black velvet apricots on the last trip to the farmer's market. Decided they might blend together nicely, and be complemented with a touch of warm spice... time to experiment!

The blackberries...

Popped one in my mouth and decided I did NOT like blackberry seeds, so just about killed myself separating the juice and pulp from the skins and seeds. I'm sure there is an easy way to do this, but could not think of one for the life of me, so basically forced them through a sieve with a spoon. Pretty darn primitive.

Some lovely puree of black velvet apricots...

Swirl them together in my treasured Le Creuset pot...

Add lemon juice for acidity and the calcium water that is Part I of the Pomona's Pectin process. Bring to a boil, stir in sugar with Part II of Pomona's Pectin, taste, add more sugar as needed, add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste, test for gelling, pour into hot sanitized jars, process in boiling water, seal... then leave the jars on your counter so you can caress them lovingly each time you pass by (and make all the people who visit your home jealous).

Cannot wait to start cracking into these.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I'm not a huge fan of heat, but there is something deliciously languid about long summer days. You can almost pretend you're a kid looking at three months of uninhibited freedom when you still have several hours of daylight left after a full workday. We try to make it down to the community pool a few times each week. Rachel's been practicing her crab crawl.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Growing up in the Deep South, I had zero exposure to sushi and zero desire to ever try it. The idea of raw fish was just too "icky" for me. After moving to California, I gave it a try and decided it was fabulous, fabulous stuff. It's amazing how much your environment can shape your attitudes about things. Makes you wonder how we might be different under different circumstances. Anyway, we went out to sushi last night, chasing after a sense of normalcy that has been a little too rare of late.

Mmm. Good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Carrots on sticks

Sometimes you just need things to look forward to in order to keep yourself moving forward. We had to push out our honeymoon to Costa Rica, but haven't given up on it yet; can't wait to take in sights like this.

And as consolation for having to push it out in the first place, a couple nights here:

It all makes it so much more bearable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We recently got IBH a Neti pot:

which, to be fair, does look suspiciously like a teapot, so IBH graciously allows Monkey to play with the "teapot" in her bath.

The other morning, IBH is using the Neti pot for its originally intended purpose, and in that moment of vulnerability (I don't know what else to call it when you've got a spout shoved into a nostril and water streaming out the other side) Monkey walks into the room, sees him doing his thing, and demands to know...

"Hey, what are you doing with my teapot?!?!?!?"

Monday, July 11, 2011

I could smell lawsuits a-brewing

Yesterday, my Irish Boxer Husband and I were talking about how people I meet seem to feel compelled to share their deepest, darkest secrets within the first ten minutes of shaking my hand. My first visit to a new primary care doctor resulted in finding out about the saga of their pregnancy successes and tragedies (and I was not there for anything fertility-related). A makeup artist I hired for our wedding gave me a dollar-by-dollar rundown on how much she gets (or doesn't get, depending on the month) in child support from her ex-husband, who is now looking to get re-married to his new (insert choice words) girlfriend but is getting laid off and while she secretly loves that the new (insert new choice words) girlfriend is going to have to be the breadwinner, she also knows this means she's not going any more child support for awhile. See what I mean? And I never pry, most likely because I'm not sure I really want to know; all this information is just volunteered...

Anyway, the IBH suggested I may need to pursue a degree in psychology so I can let people tell me things for a living. My first reaction was "hmmm." My second reaction was "wouldn't work." "Why not?" he asks. Well, because this would be me, of course:

Ribbon cutting

Giving this whole blog thing another go. Had started one back in the early 2000s when it was the "in" thing to do, then abandoned it once life got a little too hectic and I didn't have so much to say, but have decided to take another run at it. I'm going to tap into my Pisces intuition and guess that my updates may be sporadic and rather random in nature. Should be interesting. :-)