Monday, July 14, 2014

Freezer Meals: aka, staying sane thru life with two jobs.

You may be asking, “BK, how in the world do you find time to have a 45-hour a week job, own The Scoop, manage a household, (periodically) update this blog, and still find time to cook?”

The answer?  I don’t.  I’m human…as human as anyone, and I CANNOT do it all.  Thankfully, the Hubs manages most of our household finances and the more “businessy” side of The Scoop so I can focus on marketing & creating specials, and oh, yeah, also periodically feeding our own faces.  It also helps that his “office” is in our home, so if he’s slow at work, he can do laundry, load the dishwasher, etc.  But, during Scoop-season, our schedules stay pretty packed, with very little down time for blogging and getting creative with our own meal options.  I typically use the weekends to make a big batch of something in the Crockpot & then we eat leftovers most of the week.  Not exactly glamorous, but it’s nourishment and it keeps us from having to eat at The Scoop as often, since sadly, Nathan Dogs, while famous, are not all that good for you.

And I also have my friend Meghan to thank for convincing me to start using my weekends to make freezer meals. 

For my first round, I decided to go with three “casserole” type dishes and some breakfast burritos, since I am notorious for not eating breakfast in the mornings if I’m in a rush & then stopping to get fast food.  At least if I make the breakfast burrito myself, I can control what’s in it.

Rather than recreating all these recipes here, I’ll just give you the links to the helpful blogs I used:

Breakfast Burritos:

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We filled ours with scrambled eggs, cheddar, crumbled sausage, hash browns, bacon, and jalapenos (well, some with jalapeno—some mornings I’m too wimpy for that).  The tip the blogger posts about nuking it for 1 minute, letting it rest, then 1 more minute?  Perfect. Makes these soooo easy to re-heat.  Sans aluminum foil, of course.

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Ravioli “Lasagna”:

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A girl from work brought in a birthday cake in an aluminum pan, so when it had all disappeared I pilfered the pan, washed & reused it for this dish. (Yay, recycling!)

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole:

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I made two of these, since one of our church friends just had a baby, so that we could take one over to them. (Even though I know they were REALLY hoping I’d send over a pot of jambalaya.)

Cheesy Ham Casserole:

Creamy Ham Noodle Casserole Recipe

(Apparently I forgot to take a photo while prepping this one.)  We decided to make include this one because we had a HUGE ham steak in the freezer—so part of it went into the chicken cordon bleu casserole, part into this, and the rest into sandwiches.

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So that’s our lil’ stockpile.  Most of those are gone now (the burritos disappeared fast), but it’s really helped during this season of The Scoop when we just get a little too busy but don’t want to have to eat take out.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Third Wedding Anniversary: The Leather/Glass Anniversary!

This Thursday marked our 3rd blissful year of marriage. Three years ago, it was crazy hot.  We were crazy nervous.  We were crazy for thinking we could have a midday Sunday wedding and people would dance (aside from the kids—the kids will always dance).  But that’s okay, because we’re a crazy bunch! 

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(…that will never win a synchronized jumping contest.)

Sadly, I spent most of my anniversary day in another town for a training class, but we’re going away for the weekend so that makes up for it.

Things I Learned in Our Third Year of Marriage:

  • If you decide to buy a “side business” with your husband while you both still keep your full time jobs…you might be crazy.  But you might also learn a lot, and get to eat a ton of ice cream.
  • If you decide to take a bus tour of New England, you might end up being the only Americans on the trip.  But this is okay, because a) it forces you to spend a lot of quality time with each other, b) you may learn how to distinguish various Asian communities from each other, and c) your Chinese tour guide will probably take you to the BEST Oriental buffet on the planet.
  • The Daniel Fast is tough—but it’s easier when you’re doing it together.
  • And finally—the secret to a happy marriage?  Is STILL separate bathrooms. :)

This one’s mine. Obvs.

If you missed it, I did a Wedding Week a couple years ago—here’s the links if you’re interested:

For our first anniversary (Paper), I did this heart map collage; and for our second anniversary (Cotton), I made The Hubs a pillow with a collage of ticket stubs.

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The third anniversary is Leather (or Glass for the “modern” interpretation).  Unfortunately, I have no leatherworking skills, so making something myself kinda went out the window (well, to be honest, I thought about making him some “fruit leather”, but didn’t have an opportunity to sneak it in before our anniversary.)

However, I still wanted to stick with our travel theme.  So, I found a gal on Etsy who made personalized leather luggage tags, so I made him one in a bright color (figuring that would help him pick out his bag when we fly, since our luggage is black & gray):

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I also picked up a leather-bound men’s devotional book, and got us a half-price deal to do some ziplining (since you have to wear LEATHER gloves when you go).  Since there’s also that “glass” tradition, I also picked up him a fancy-schmancy tulip glass from Deschutes (a brewery we’ve recently discovered)—which would have been a perfect place to stow the fruit leather…bygones.  He’ll stow beer in it.  Temporarily, anyway. :) 

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For our anniversary, we touristed it up down in Branson:  got a room at the Chateau on the Lake, went to a dinner show (Marco Polo), and of course, checked out all the winery & brewery tours we hadn’t yet been on (Copper Run Distillery, Stone Hill, Bear Creek…also the microbrews at Charlie’s Steak-Ribs & Ale, but we weren’t impressed).

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 Happy anniversary, Love!  Here’s to many, many, many more!

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Homemade Butter on Homemade Bread.

Earlier this week I mentioned my new cheesemaking kit. Well, “shake butter” is the first recipe in the kit…which is only slightly odd, since it doesn’t actually require anything FROM the kit to make it.  It’s SUPER simple, and requires three things:

  • A clean, empty 16-20 oz water bottle;
  • 4-5 oz heavy whipping cream; and
  • A working arm.

To make “shake butter”, you pour the heavy cream into the water bottle, close the top…and then shake…once per second…for a long time.  In fact, a backup arm to take over when you get tired/frustrated might be a good option as well.  After a minute or so of shaking, the cream will become whipped.  At which point, you’re all “WTF?  How can I SHAKE WHIPPED CREAM????”  And then you hand the bottle to your husband, and he gives it all of about 5-6 really strong whips, and BAM, the whipped cream separates into butter and buttermilk! 

You then pour out the buttermilk (save it if you like), then add some ice cold water to the bottle and give it a few shakes (this helps the butter solidify & washes off the excess buttermilk), then pour out the water.  Then cut the top half of the bottle off, and your freshly made butter comes tumbling out!

At this point, you can earn what my friend Babsy calls “hippie-cred” and add some salt, fresh herbs, citrus zest, honey, etc.—whatever floats your boat.  Or you can leave it as is.  Roll it into a small log, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and store in your fridge.

What shall we put out fresh homemade butter on?  Well, aside from the obvious answer of “EVERYTHING”, there’s homemade bread.  If you’re lazy like me, you’re a fan of “no-knead” breads.  They require more time, but they’re super easy, and this loaf was seriously good.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • olive oil mister
  • 2.75 cups bread flour, plus more as needed (I buy wheat gluten separately at the health food store, so I used AP flour with a tablespoon (per cup) of wheat gluten mixed in.  You could opt for whole wheat flour instead of the AP.)
  • 1 cup rolled or quick oats
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1.25 teaspoons instant active dry yeast (this WON’T be a whole packet, so you’ll have to measure it out)
  • 1/2 cup molasses or honey (I used about half & half)
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1.5 cups + 1 Tablespoon cold water

 

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl (I used the bowl for my KitchenAid), mix the bread flour, oats, salt, and yeast together, and then set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the honey/molasses and oil together, then add the cold water. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon (or your KitchenAid—my scraper blade worked well). Scrape down the sides as needed with a rubber spatula. If the dough seems stiff, add more cold water (1 Tablespoon at a time) until the dough is soft again. The oats are going to soak up a lot of moisture, so you don’t want the dough to be too dry.

Spray the top of the dough with nonstick spray or lightly coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise at cool room temperature (about 70F degrees) for 12 hours—I let it rise overnight.  The dough will rise quite a bit.

Once the dough has risen, spray a 9x5 loaf pan with olive oil.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in enough more bread flour to yield a hard-to-stir consistency - I used about 1/2 cup more flour. Coat your spatula with non-stick spray or olive oil, and fold the dough in towards the center all the way around the bowl. Then, turn out the dough into the loaf pan. Brush the top of the bread with oil or nonstick spray and smooth out the surface. Using a sharp knife coated in oil or nonstick spray, slash a 1/2 inch cut into the center of the top of the loaf longways. Cover the pan with plastic wrap (that has been sprayed with olive oil—this will keep the dough from sticking to the plastic wrap)  Now, heat your oven to 200F degrees, then turn the oven off and stick the loaf inside, leaving the oven door slightly ajar.  Let rise for another 1-3 hours, or until the top of the loaf has risen about 1/4 inch above the edge of the loaf pan—watch this carefully, because if you let it rise too long the dough might spill over the side a bit.  This isn’t a big deal, but it makes for a slightly less pretty loaf, and can make it harder to get the loaf out of the pan at the end.

Once risen, move the oven rack to the lower third of the oven and heat your oven to 375F degrees.  Remove the plastic wrap and bake the bread on the lower rack for 35 minutes.

Then pull out the loaf, cover the pan in foil & continue to bake the bread for another 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan, placed on a wire rack, for about 15 minutes.  Then you can remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

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Positively perfect when lightly toasted and slathered with homemade butter, and a side of Community Coffee.

This bread should stay fresh at room temperature, covered, for 3 days—or you can put it in the fridge, and extend that for about 2 weeks.  It reportedly also freezes well for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Homemade Mozzarella!

Earlier this year I bought a Groupon for a cheesemaking kit.  It’s their base kit, but with it & the booklet that comes with it, you can make butter, cream cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, chevre & queso blanco—basically most fresh & soft cheeses.

Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know I did a stint as a cheesemonger down in New Orleans during grad school, where an already (perfectly natural) love of melty cheesy goodness was transformed into a bit of an obsession.  I spent my days memorizing the specific deets about over 200 types of cheese… periodically rearranging them in our display case so that for a while, they were sorted by milk type (goat, sheep, cow), then by region (US, France, Spain, Italy, etc), then by type (Swiss vs. bleu vs. gooey-stanky-French). 

I spent hours tasting various cheeses with various spreads on various crackers, determining which combinations complemented each other best, so that we could sample them out to customers together & boost sales.  I learned which cheeses went best with which wines.  I built cheese plates:

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(…and ate a lot of them too.)

But as yet, I hadn’t tried to MAKE cheese.  So, I figured it was about time.  When the kit arrived, I bought a half-gallon of whole milk, busted out the instruction booklet, and gave it a whirl.

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Unfortunately, something went awry with the first batch—I think I overcooked the curds, because it ended up super crumbly, like Feta.  It still tasted good, but was definitely NOT mozzarella. (BTW—we still totally ate it.  Crumbled on salads, pizza, tacos, even stuffed inside crescent rolls.)  So then I decided to hit up YouTube.  I watched a few different videos, and each of them made it essentially the same way—and DIFFERENTLY than what my instruction booklet told me.  Grr.

So during my second attempt (this time, with a FULL gallon of milk, since trying to make a half batch requires only 1/16 TEASPOON of rennet, and I was concerned that maybe my attempt at eyeballing such a tiny amount during the first batch might have had something to do with its failure), I pulled up this nice Canadian fellow’s video to watch on my tablet as I went through the process step-by-step.

INGREDIENTS:

1 gallon whole milk

1.5 tsp citric acid

1/4 rennet tablet (or 1/8 tsp of liquid), dissolved into 1/4 cup water

Cheese salt (non-iodized) to taste (if you use iodized salt, it can add a green tint to the cheese)

Optional: 1/2 tsp calcium chloride dissolved in 1/4 cup water (If you’re using store-bought milk or goat milk, this reportedly helps to make a firmer curd & helps the cheese retain more of the calcium when the curds form).  They don’t use this in the video and their cheese turns out fine, so I basically only used it because it came in my kit.

Directions:

In a large pot, add the milk and the citric acid and stir gently.  Heat over medium heat (around 4-5 if your stovetop goes to 10) and stir periodically until it reaches 88F (if you opt to use the calcium chloride, add it now).  If not, continue on to a temp of 95F.  You’ll be seeing some separation.  That’s normal.  IMG_5090

When it hits 95F, move it off the burner and add the rennet.  Stir for about 30 seconds—you’ll see big curds forming.  Then put a tight-fitting lid on the pot & let it sit for 25 minutes.  It’s a good time to watch Big Bang Theory, or part of Cutthroat Kitchen. :)

After the 25 minutes are up, use a mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the curds.  Drain as much of the whey as possible, and transfer the curds into a microwave safe bowl.  IMG_5093

Drain off the whey form the bowl, and then, using your hands (gloved if you can, though he doesn’t in the video), squeeze the curds to get as much of the whey out as possible.  He spends about 2 minutes on this in the video. 

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Next, you’ll nuke the bowl of curds in the microwave for 1 minute.  This will pull more of the whey out—just drain it off.  Turn the curds out onto a mat or cutting board and sprinkle with cheese salt—then knead!  The heat causes the curds to come together.  You can fold it over on itself several times & mix salt in as you go, to taste.  If you want to add in any flavorings (I did a few with basil & rosemary mixed in), mix that in with the salt when you start kneading.

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The more time you knead it, the more whey you’ll work out of it, so the harder it will get.  If you want a really soft mozz, you can just knead/fold a few times and then roll into balls.  You can also make little knots if you want, or ropes.

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Then you’ll need to “preserve” the cheese in someway to protect it until eating.  You can wrap each ball in plastic wrap (what I did this time), OR, you can store them in a jar of olive oil—or even seasoned olive oil to make “marinated” mozzarella & add flavor that way.

 

I’m SOO looking forward to when my tomatoes finally ripen so I can make some caprese salad!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Watermelon, Mint & Feta salad

I am a newb gardener.  Let’s just get that out there in the open.  My mother was blessed with a green thumb.  My Grammy growing up always had a huge garden that we would help water, and she’d let us grow a few seeds in our own little section of plot, but even back then, the only thing I could ever get to grow were root vegetables—radishes & turnips.

Over the years, periodically I would make an attempt at getting something to grow, like a watermelon plant or a small herb garden, but they never took off. Probably because I wouldn’t take the time to water them, and would forget they existed for weeks at a time.

But after I got married, I started pondering on the movie “28 Days”, and the end when Steve Buscemi is telling the group when they might be ready for emotional relationships again. “First, you get a plant.  If it’s still alive at the end of a year, you get a pet.  If, by the end of the second year, both are still alive…then you can start thinking about a relationship.”  Of course, if my case, it was more “baby” than relationship.  I figured I should probably know how to keep something green alive that only requires sunlight & water before I had to try to keep a whole other human being alive, too.

So, in the first year of our marriage, I had a bamboo & re-grew some green onion tops in a windowsill. 

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In the second year, I took potatoes for a whirl, along with some rosemary & a tomato plant.  The potatoes didn’t thrive, but I got enough for a shrimp boil.  The rosemary did great, and the tomato plant struggled at first, but once we put it into a larger pot, things turned around for the better & we got a couple months’ worth of grape tomatoes out of it.IMG_20131026_133817

This year…I have squash, mint, basil, three types of tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, and I recently started some romaine & celery from store-bought ends. 

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I had a cucumber in a Topsy-Turvy, but I don’t think it was getting enough sunlight so it’s no longer with us. (RIP, Japanese cucumber.)

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Our patio garden.

Oh, and I still have the bamboo & green onions.

So far, most things are growing well…some things a little TOO well.  I guess I should have read a little more about which plants are compatible for growing together in a pot… I bought rosemary, mint, and basil at the same time, and put the rosemary in a pot by itself, and the mint & basil together in a large pot.  But apparently, mint doesn’t play well with others.  It’s a bully, and it chokes out everything near it.  So I’ve been spending the summer trying to keep my mint under control so it doesn’t kill my basil. Because Basil > Mint, in my culinary world.

Of course, upon this realization, I also then realized…what in the world am I going to use all this mint IN??? I rarely cook with mint.  However, my friend Ruben made this awesome watermelon-mint salad last Fourth of July, so that was the first thing I decided to make.

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This is perfect for your upcoming Fourth of July BBQ!  Super easy to throw together.  It’s also great for tailgating—we went to a ball game earlier this month, made this ahead of time, and brought it in a gallon Ziploc bag in our little cooler.

 

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 seedless watermelon, chunked

1/4-1/2 cup chopped mint

1/2 cup feta crumbles

juice of 1/2 lime

salt & pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss well.  While it’s great even just a few minutes after making, if you let it sit over night the flavors will combine even more.  The lime, salt & pepper are optional, but the acidity adds another layer of flavor, and the salt & pepper can really make the flavor of the watermelon pop.