Monday, July 30, 2012

up north

I just spent the last week up north.  If you're not from Michigan, you probably have no idea what "up north" means.  I have had snarky people (not from Michigan) knock the whole "up north" thing, but they're just jealous.  THEY don't have an "up north".  So what is it, you ask?

It is heavenly.  It is fresh air, great lakes, sunsets, trees, beaches, farms, stars, fruit stands, small town mentality, time to relax.

My mom lives up north from before Memorial Day to past Labor Day.  I have spent my summers there from when I was 8 until 18.  Unfortunately, I can't stay up all summer like I used to, but I try to get up there at least once a summer.  My husband didn't spend time up north as a kid, so it took him a long time to actually get it.

There's limited cell phone service, limited internet access, everything closes early, and if you go into town, at any given moment, there is a ready-made B movie scenario:  trout competitions are major events, parades are commonplace, night-time bonfires on the beach with high schoolers *gasp!* drinking beer, three fudge stores on a main street with only one traffic light, and probably more than a fair share of sandals with socks.

Our favorite B movie happening was when we went to a town 15 minutes away to watch fireworks on July 4th.  The town across the bay was doing their own fireworks that night too.  It was ALL the buzz about how "WE were going to have the better fireworks, hands down" and "there is NO WAY they will beat us this year!"  Everyone was so fired up, and we just couldn't stop laughing and shaking our heads.  Really??  Over FIREWORKS??

Well, as it turned out, the fireworks began, and they were lukewarm.  There were some "ooohs" and "ahhs", but only some.  I think the other town waited to see what the competition had to offer.  About mid-way through our display, the sky completely exploded.  BOOM!  KAPOW!!  The other fireworks had begun.  There was no mistaking it.  They were laughing at us.  Their fireworks were world class.  Ours were Indiana, at best.

And that's when the conspiracy theories began.  "Their City Hall is corrupt!  They spent all of the money for schools on fireworks!"  "But didn't you hear?  Their mayor told everyone that our chief of police was having a scandalous affair!  His marriage crumbled and that's why he didn't organize the display this year.  And he was the best!"

See?  B movie.

But look at that beach.  Just heavenly.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

summer's pasta

I love pasta.  I'm sure I've said that before.  And making your own pasta sauce is really not that much more difficult than opening a jar, provided you have the ingredients on hand.  The best part is that by the time your pasta is cooked, the sauce is done.

During much of the year, I always have a few cans of good diced or whole peeled tomatoes, lentils, and white beans in my cupboard for a quick sauce or lentil soup.   In the summer, I simply go outside: swiss chard, tomatoes, and basil freshly picked from the garden.  Toss it with some olive oil and add some crispy bacon or prosciutto, and you have a fresh, delicious dinner.

It really doesn't get much better than that.  Well.. maybe.

A while back, I heard that in some parts of Italy it is common to serve pasta with potatoes in it.  I don't remember where I heard this or even IF I heard it.  I may very well have dreamt it.  I don't know.  What I do know, is that when getting together my dinner ingredients, I found some red skin potatoes.  And I had bacon in the freezer.

Everything just tastes better with bacon....

I used the bacon grease to cook the potatoes.

Ohh my!

summer's pasta

1 box of pasta
4 slices of bacon, cut into pieces (I had my bacon in the freezer, so I just sawed it from the frozen hunk.  As it turns out, frozen bacon cuts very nicely!)
3-4 red potatoes, chopped into little bits
2-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (I didn't have any garlic for this dish, and although it was delicious, I really missed my garlic)
1-2 c. chopped tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes and large tomatoes, since we had both)
handful of swiss chard, chopped (or any other hearty green like spinach or kale)
small handful of basil, chopped
good olive oil

Put a pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile, heat a skillet on medium high heat and cook the bacon until nice and crispy.  Do not toss the bacon grease- pour it into a mug or other heat proof vessel.  Leave (or add) about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the skillet.  Add the potatoes, spread them so that they are in a thin layer, and cover the skillet with a lid.  Cook, flipping occasionally, until the potatoes are crisp, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, give it all a good stir, and add the swiss chard and basil.  Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the greens are wilted, about 3 minutes more.  Drain the pasta and add to the sauce.  Stir it all together, and finish it off with a drizzle of good olive oil.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

mama, please make me a cuddly

It all started with the hat.  The "mama, I want a pig hat that's just a pig" hat.  I have been knitting for many years, so making hats is pretty simple for me.  No problem, I thought.  I WILL make a pig hat that's just a pig.

I wanted it to be quick work, so I went upstairs, picked out some extra large, extra pink yarn and extra large needles.  For those of you who haven't been in my house, I have a bit of a problem with yarn.  And fabric.  I have an entire room devoted to yarn.

And fabric.

It's not remotely organized..  BUT..  I am pretty well equipped to make anything that tickles my fancy at any given time.  Unfortunately, my daughter picked up on that pretty quickly....

So in the heat of the hat challenge, I just started knitting a basic ear flap hat, putting on a nose, ears, and eyes at the end.  I didn't use a pattern and I made it in 3 hours, while my daughter took her nap.

She doesn't nap anymore.  And she knows that I can make a hat in 3 hours.  I don't quite know yet if that is a good thing or not......

Next up was the teddy bear.  She had a dream about this little tan bear with a blue nose.  When she woke up and couldn't find the bear anywhere, she sort of flipped out.  She was heartbroken that she couldn't find the bear.  And she was still so sleepy and didn't understand that the bear wasn't real.   It was very sweet..

I featured the teddy bear in an earlier post that you can read here.

So by the time my daughter came up to me and asked me to knit her a baby gazelle, I realized that I had set the bar way too high.  But..............

I did it anyway.

I so love a challenge.

I used to knit sweaters for kids, sweaters for myself, scarves..  clothing items.  But oh how I love to knit or sew little guys for my little guys.  The excitement in their faces when they see the newest creation is so unbelievably rewarding.  And having them see me make them (well if they aren't sleeping or at school), is even sweeter.  I am all about inspiring creativity here in the Karimipour Household.

This one kind of has a weird stance...

He (oh, I'm sorry, SHE) looks so uptight in this one.

Gazelles have a stripe.  And a wee little tail.

And although they may not have fluffy blue eyes, baby gazelles do have wee little horns.

Horns, not antlers...

Ta daa!  I'm really proud of this little gal...  the white stripe going down the front and on her belly is a little screwey, but that's ok.  It adds character.

This little lady was the most fun to make.  I wrote my own pattern for the gazelle (which was a challenge indeed- it took me three days and three tries), but this little lamb started out in a book as a bunny.  I made some changes with the body (changing yarn, needle size, and knit stitch- I also halved the book pattern because I wanted it tiny, and I did actually change the pattern a bit to just have one seam in the back as opposed to two seams down the sides), and changed the ear position, but mostly it was out of the book.

Although I love making things on my own, sometimes it is really such a breath of fresh air to use someone else's work...

So here's a big THANK YOU to all of you out there who shed your blood, sweat, and tears to bring wonderful creations into the world!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

empty cupboard pancakes

I really love to cook.  And in times like this morning, I am really glad I am comfortable in the kitchen.  The kids wanted pancakes.  But our cupboards were nearing empty.  No all purpose flour, minimal spelt flour, almost empty milks...  After the pancakes, however, a trip to the store is in my immediate future.

Pancakes are such a wonderful intro food for the beginning cook.  They are so easy to make, and they are even easier to experiment.  You can substitute flours, sugars, add fruit, add spices, and the measurements don't have to be perfect.  The consistency can be a bit runny for a thinner pancake, or a bit thicker for a more robust pancake.  You can make savory pancakes, or sweet; seedy pancakes, grainy pancakes, potatoey pancakes, eggy pancakes.....  The list goes on and on.

These pancakes were completely improvised, and were absolutely delicious!

Since I had minimal flour, I took some old fashioned oats and put them into the food processor to make an oat flour.  And then I used the last bits of whatever flours we had left, and it turned into a downright healthy pancake.  Protein from the spelt flour, fiber from the oat and whole wheat flours.

empty cupboard pancakes

1/2 c. ground oats
1/2 c. spelt flour
very scant 1/2 c. whole wheat flour- I added just enough to make the right consistency
2 tbs sugar, or honey, or maple syrup, or brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
a few shakes of cinnamon
1 1/4 c. soy milk (I actually ran out of soy milk at about 1/2 c, so I supplemented the rest with almond milk, which also ran out- I really wasn't kidding about the empty cupboard!)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla (this is approximate- I didn't actually measure.  I just emptied the rest of the vanilla into the bowl)
3 tbs melted Earth Balance dairy free butter

Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Mix well.  If you use honey or maple syrup in place of the sugar, put that in with the wet ingredients.  In another bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Pour the wet into the dry, and mix to just combine.  It's ok if there are lumps.  Slowly add the butter, mixing as you go, so as not to cook the eggs.

In a preheated skillet set to medium low, pour little batter circles.  My circle size is usually pretty small, maybe about 3 tbs.  Cook until bubbles form on top of the pancake, which will take about 3-4 minutes minutes.  Flip the pancakes and cook for about 2 more minutes.  

Stack em up, slather em with honey butter, maple butter, maple syrup, whatever you have left in your cupboards!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

cinnamon swirl bread

We are planning a trip up to Charlevoix, to go see my mom.  There is a restaurant up there, Juilleret's, that is more than just a place to get food.  It is a landmark- nay, a monument.  

I have been going up north since I was 8 years old.  I have never, and I mean NEVER, gone up without having at least one meal at Juilleret's.  Their specialty is breakfast, and they are famous for the cinnamon bread and cinnamon french toast.  

So, of course, while planning our trip, I have been thinking about how to handle the Juilleret's situation.  This time we won't be able to go.  There is no way I will take Ian into that restaurant.  I am sure that the bread has dairy, as well as everything else on the menu.  

So I'll just have to make my own.

I have only made bread once before, and it was spectacularly disastrous.  The recipe I used promised a tender, moist honey wheat, but I ended up with a dry 10 pound rock that had to be chiseled out of the loaf pan. Actually, TWO dry 10 pound rocks that had to be chiseled out of the loaf pans.  I have now learned to read a recipe through to the end.  Why the recipe was for two loaves is beyond me....

This recipe, however, had all the right proportions.  It had all the right ingredients.  I had to adjust it a little to make it dairy free, but it was super easy.  

And absolutely delicious.

We're talking eating the whole loaf in one sitting delicious.

This is why it is so difficult to photograph food.  There are little hands everywhere in my house.

And little faces, too.  

Little faces who think it is absolutely hilarious to move my bread around with said little hands while I am perilously perched on the counter, wedged between the stove and the window, camera on my thigh trying to keep it steady, obviously in no physical position to prevent that little face and those little hands from moving my bread around....

Consequently, the pictures may be blurry.  But that happens when you have a houseful of little hands.  And little faces.

cinnamon swirl bread
Adapted from The Galley Gourmet

3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast 
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 c. white granulated sugar
4 tbs Earth Balance dairy free butter, melted
1/2 c. dairy free buttermilk (1/2 c. soy milk plus 1/2 tbs white vinegar mixed together and let sit for 5 minutes)
1/4-1/2 c. lukewarm water
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

3 tbs light brown sugar
3 tbs confectioners' sugar
2 tbs ground cinnamon

2 tbs dairy free milk (I used oat milk, but any would do)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbs dairy free milk (oat milk, but again, any would do)

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, butter, buttermilk, water, vanilla, and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment and knead, on medium speed, until smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes.  You may have to add flour a bit at a time to get to the right consistency.  You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Shape into a ball, and place into a large bowl that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and place in a warm draft free space to rise until doubled in size.  The Galley Gourmet found her bread to rise in 1 to 1 1/2 hours, but my bread took 3 hours to rise.  I haven't figured this out yet.  Maybe it was the buttermilk substitution, or maybe I needed more of the warm water for the yeast.  That's probably it, actually...  Next time, maybe I'll use 1/4 c. buttermilk, and 1/2 c. warm water, which is what I should have done in the beginning.  No matter though, the bread came out perfectly- it just took a bit longer....

Gently punch the bread down to release the gas.  Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and shape the dough into an 8x18 inch rectangle, short side facing you.  In a small bowl, combine the sugars and cinnamon.  In another small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla.  Brush the dough with half of the milk mixture.  Sprinkle the dough evenly with the cinnamon mixture, leaving 1/2 inch border at the opposite short end.  With the short side facing you, tuck and roll the dough, brushing the remaining milk mixture on the dough, brushing and rolling as you go.  Fold the end seams under the roll and put the whole thing into an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan that is lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap, also sprayed with cooking spray.  Place in a warm, draft free space and let the dough rise until it gets to the size of a regular loaf, about 1 hour. (But with my screwy loaf, 2 hours.)

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk for the egg wash and carefully brush over the top of the loaf.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a thermometer inserted reads 190˚F.  Loosely cover the top with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.  Remove the bread from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.  Slice, slather with butter, eat plain, soak in egg mixture and fry it up in a skillet, eat however you like.  But it is probably a good idea NOT to eat the whole loaf in one sitting.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

strawberry pickin

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I found some rhubarb at the farmer's market.  The second I saw it, I knew that I had to make strawberry rhubarb pie.  Which means....  that's right.... strawberry picking!  I called my friend with two little girls, and we all went out into the fields.....

They ate, and chased, and ate some more, and otherwise had a ball.  I really can't believe I was able to pick as many as I did.....

So I knew that I would be making the aforementioned pie, but I also had some strawberry basil jam in mind.  I stumbled across the recipe, and since we have an abundance of basil in the garden, it really struck a cord. 

Not to mention that both of my kids eat basil off of the plants as if it was candy.  Basil, spinach, thyme, even rosemary!  The other ones I get, but the rosemary baffles me...  Raw rosemary just reminds me of floor cleaner.... 

I really love making jam.  It is so easy and so satisfying.  I don't know much about canning, or sterilizing, or jarring, so I like to make just enough.  This recipe gave me two jars.  I had fully planned on giving the other jar to my mother in law, but... well....  as you can see, our jar is quickly disappearing.  

This lemon was my jam enemy.  

My jamenemy.  

My jameny.  

I like to condense words.  It saves time.

strawberry basil jam
Adapted from Alaska from Scratch

4 c strawberries
1 1/4 c sugar
zest and juice of one lemon, and if you're like me, the top skin of your knuckle as well
1/2 tsp vanilla
handful of basil leaves

Wash, hull, and chop strawberries.  Place them in a Dutch oven, followed by the sugar, zest, juice, knuckle, vanilla, and basil.  Over medium heat, stir the fruit until the sugar dissolves.  With an immersion blender or a potato masher, blend/mash strawberries to desired consistency.  Raise the heat to high, and stirring often, let the mixture come to a rolling boil.  Keep stirring and cooking until a candy thermometer reaches 220ºF.  I kept the boil going for several minutes after it came to temp, stirring constantly, until the spoon was coated.  Pour into jars, put the lids on, and put them in the fridge to cool.