Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Salmon Croquettes

Remember the french bread I made? After it started to get stale, I stuck it in the fridge to keep it fresh longer, but ran it through my food processor to make panko bread crumbs first. Panko bread crumbs are basically white bread that has been made into crumbs, and not seasoned. I love that panko can be made with all sorts of bread, so using what I have on hand is perfect!

Since I had some panko to play with, and I also had a can of salmon, I decided to make some yummy salmon croquettes! Mmmm. These are wonderful with a dab of sour cream.

Salmon Croquettes
1 can salmon
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c panko
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dill
1 T shredded carrot
1/3 c finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 c panko for coating
Oil for pan frying

Mix all the ingredients, except for the 1/2 cup of panko and oil, in a bowl. Spread the remaining panko on a plate. Form eight patties carefully with the salmon mixture, and gently coat the patty on both sides with the panko. In a hot frying pan heated on medium-high heat, swirl enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan (about a Tbsp worth). When the oil is hot, test with a bread crumb to see if it sizzles. Once it sizzles, gently add four patties , making sure to leave them alone once they hit the pan so they won't break up. Cook for a bout six minutes, or until the bottom is lightly browned, and then flip it over. Cook the other side until lightly golden, then serve warm with a dollap of sour cream.

Be sure to flake your salmon as you mix!

The patty is almost impossible to see here.

Sizzling in the pan! Mmmm

Salmon croquettes...minus one for my daughter.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Teddy Bear Celery Cuts

Today I washed and cut up all of my produce for the upcoming week, and stumbled upon something really cute. If you cut celery just right, you can make adorable bear shapes! These will make a great decoration for my bento lunches, and any other cute food dress up. These bears are really easy to make, but you can only make a few of them because you have to cut them out of the branch part near the top of each celery rib. If you pick a celery stalk with several ribs, you can make more bear cutouts than if you use a sparse celery stalk. Here's how to cut them out:

Place knife about 1/8" above the indented part of the celery and cut.

It should look like this. Or close to it.

Cut on the indentation.
Teddy bears!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bow of Hair

I found this video on youtube that shows how to make hair look like a little bow, and I had to try it out on my little girl. It is really easy to do, and it stands out more than a regular hair bow. For my daughter, I added a hair tie that had a cute little doll on it, just to up the cuteness factor (which was added after the ponytail was bent in half and then split, so she had two hair ties in her hair). Here she is, all "dolled" up:

Her doll sits right in the center of the "bow".

From the back, it looks just like a little bow.
To learn how to make this, watch the video below.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Easy French Bread

This technique is great for people who have some experience with baking bread. I have decided to bake all of my bread from scratch, so this technique is perfect for me. To get started, let me give you a list of ingredients:

4 C Flour (I like bread flour)
1 T Yeast
1 T Salt
Very warm (not hot) water
Extra flour for kneading
Water to make steam
Oil to grease cookie sheet

This guy is seriously brilliant. I have to say, for the minimal effort, this bread is pretty tasty. After I bake my bread, a few days later, if there are leftovers, I put them in my food processor to make bread crumbs, and put them in a bag. These are called panko bread crumbs, and they are wonderful to cook with (more posts on that later). Let me know how your bread turns out if you give this a try. Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

By the way, I use the bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches, using cheddar slices, and they are out of this world delicious!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quick Macaroni and Cheese Bento

I found the cutest pasta at the local market on Friday. It's teddy bear shaped! Since it was time for lunch, and I had just done a ton of dishes, I didn't feel the need to dirty up much more with cooking lunch. So, I made a tiny batch of macaroni and cheese with 1 cup of the bear pasta. I boiled up some water, added a pinch of salt, and then filled the box with pre-cut cucumbers and pre-peeled carrots. I then got out a slice of cheddar cheese, and cut out a bear shape using my rice mold. With the leftover bits of cheese, a teaspoon of butter, and 2 tablespoons of milk, I made some simple macaroni and cheese using the hot, drained pasta. Then I filled the rest of the bento with half of the pasta and my daughter set to work eating it. To save time tomorrow, I took the other half of the pasta and made another bento for the fridge. This time I used a leaf of lettuce to separate the pasta, and added some grapes and cut cucumbers to switch things up a bit.

This is the coolest carrot I've ever seen! It grew wrapped around another carrot!

The first bento, with the cheese cut-out.

See? Teddy bear pasta!

Mmmm, pasta and some fruit and veggies.

Here you can see how it all fits with the lid on.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vintage Skills: Hand Embroidery, Basic Daisy

Hopefully all of the practice with basting and back stitching has encouraged some confidence and excitement to move on to more challenging stitches. The basic daisy is a fun embellishment for clothing, purses, handkerchiefs, greeting cards, and much, much more. If the daisies are grouped together, they create a lovely floral decoration, especially if different colored threads are used. This technique is not difficult, but it may take some practice to really get the hang of it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vintage Skills: Hand Embroidery, Back Stitch

The back stitch is a very important basic stitch in embroidery. It outlines beautifully and adds special detail to both simple and complex designs. This stitch can also be used to mend clothing if a seam becomes ripped or loose. The concept of this stitch is to start the stitches just close to the end of a line, but not at the end, and go backwards to make the first stitch.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hamburger and Pepper Pasta

I think my taste buds have changed on me. I find that lately I not only tolerate some spicy food, but I am actually craving it. Now, for me, jalapeno peppers are spicy...or used to be, anyhow. Lately I adore pepper jack cheese, so I bought some to use this week, not having an idea as to how. There were two peppers, one red, one green, in my fridge that needed to be cooked, so I thought a one pan dish would be perfect for dinner.

Hamburger and Pepper Pasta
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
1 Green bell pepper, chopped
1 Small onion, chopped
1 Clove garlic, minced
2 T Extra virgin olive oil
1 Lb ground beef
2 Cups fusili pasta/elbow macaroni
1 Box chicken stock/broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Cup pepper jack cheese, cut into cubes
1 Cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat the pan to medium-high heat, add olive oil. Saute peppers, onion, and garlic until soft. Crumble ground beef into the pan, and brown. Add the chicken broth and the pasta. Make sure the pasta is under the liquid, and cover with a lid. Cook for about 20 minutes or until pasta is tender. Turn heat to low, and add the pepper jack cheese. Stir until melted, then add the cheddar. Melt the cheddar and remove from heat. Serve hot.

Sauteed peppers, onion, garlic, and browned beef in the oil.

Chicken stock and pasta added.

Keep the lid on to prevent the pasta from drying out.

Adding the pepper jack cheese.

Adding the cheddar cheese.

Mmmm, super cheesy, peppery pasta.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sour Cherry Preserves

Making jam from scratch is never something I imagined myself doing, but recently I happened upon an amazing blog, called Tigress in a Jam and now I am obessed with trying to make jam at home. My best friend has three amazing cherry trees in her yard, but she told me that they tasted awful and thought they were inedible and probably just for the birds. So when I saw a post from the Tigress on sour cherries, I began to wonder if my friend had sour cherries. The blog had a few recipes to try with sour cherries, so I asked my friend if I could stop by and pick some cherries. I am SO glad we did! I happen to love sour food. When people are running and screaming for water after eating a particularly sour food, I tend to taste that food and grin in appreciation.

I brought home loads of cherries, but the season for them had just barely passed, and I had to sort through many that had burst open. Still, with the amount that was in good shape, I made the most amazing cherry pie (another first for me) and amazing preserves courtesy of this blog post's recipe. I was surprised at how easy it was to make...well, it was after I sorted, washed, and removed the stems and pits. I ended up with just a small amount less cherries than the recipe called for, so I cut down some of the sugar and the lemon juice and decided that I would keep my jam in the fridge for safety's sake. I've heard that jam making is easy, and now that I've done it, I just can't stop myself! The best part is that if the jam doesn't jell properly, the end product is a delightful syrup that can be used on ice cream, yogurt, pancakes, and all sorts of good food! All you do is add the ingredients to a pot on low heat, dissolve the sugar, then raise the heat a tad, stir, and wait till it's ready. Easy!

See that foam? You just heat the fruit in the pot, and the juice releases along with air bubbles.
The foam can be skimmed off easily with a spoon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Apple Sauce From Scratch

My good friend had a couple of apple trees with ripe fruit ready to pick, so I packed up my daughter and grabbed some beautiful apples. They were very tart, but now that they've rested a bit, they are much sweeter. The taste is between a yellow and a green apple, so they are very delicious. The only drawback with the apples is that they will not keep as well if left for long periods of time. Since I had two other generous friends who let me pick fruit from their trees, I gave them some of the apples, and decided to try and preserve some of my apples for future use.  Following the advice of another brilliant friend of mine, I decided to make my own applesauce and keep it safely in the freezer. It was surprisingly easy to make, and it tasted like apple pie filling!
Here's all you need:
Apples, sugar, and cinnamon

First, I peeled the apples. Then, I sliced them up into chunks and dumped them into a large pot. I don't mind the natural brown color that cut apples get, so I left mine as is, but if the color is a problem, a bit of lemon juice will stop the color change. On low heat, the chunks became soft enough to release juice and soften up for mashing into a beautiful, chunky applesauce. Then I used my potato masher and carefully mashed the apples, making sure to not burn myself on the steam or rogue bits of apple that shot out of the pan from the movement. To finish the applesauce, I added sugar and cinnamon. I like mine a little tart, so I used a little sugar and a little cinnamon. I just added a little bit at a time, and tasted it until it was just right. Not bad for my first time making applesauce!

This is when I added the chopped apples.

As they heat, the color becomes a gorgeous golden brown.
This is when the apples start to get soft and begin to release juice.

The finished product. Pure bliss!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Food and Books and Books About Food

I love summer, especially this summer, which I have dubbed the summer of food and books. Jen and I have become healthily obsessed with food, specifically things like homemade sauces, preserves, and organic produce. My kitchen has never seen this much action before; I'm actually using all my gadgets and appliances, and I'm using every meal as an opportunity to experiment. I'm finding that I can cook even complicated meals with minimal stress and mess. It's almost surreal to get through the preparation of a pot of mushroom risotto without cursing, crying, or throwing my wooden spoon, but hey, it's a nice change.

I have been reading like crazy, especially books about food. Like I said, I am nursing a healthy obsession here. Sometimes I sit and read through my cookbooks, which has its own appeal, but what's even better is a book that combines food and great stories. My favorite food book is Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, a memoir of the food writer and critic's early life in a dysfunctional home with a mother who not only can't cook, but really, truly cannot cook. Despite her mother's disasterous turns in and out of the kitchen , Reichl is able to find strength and love and personal connections through food. This book gave me a deep appreciation for the ways we can connect through food, and respect for food safety rules. It's funny, it's sad, it's relateable, but the best part? This book has recipies! I tried a few of the recipies, but my absolute favorite was for Nonna's Lemon Ricotta Biscuits, which my husband and I make all the time now.

So go ahead, read a great book and cook some great food this summer; that's what I'll be doing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vintage Skills: Hand Embroidery, Basting Stitch

Hand embroidery is an art form that is becoming harder and harder to find since the invention of the embroidery machine. While I am a huge fan of embroidery, whether machine made or not, there is a touch of something sacred in the skills of this centuries old art form. Kings and Queens adorned themselves in elaborate embroidery, but the meek and lowly also had family treasures passed down from generation to generation that were hand embroidered. The stitches marked the time of people who lived and worked long ago. In ages where many people could not read or write, their legacies lived on in the stitches passed down through generations. Tapestries were added to when marking the family tree, and family histories were often stitched to capture important memories, grievances, or victories.

When I look at the underside of an embroidered design, it shows me the time, patience, and attention to minute detail that was all put into the creating of the brilliant design on the front. That doesn't exist with machine embroidery. My Grandmother and my Mother taught me the basic skills of embroidery when I was young. Of course, I had little appreciation or patience for it back then, but I am very grateful for the knowledge that was passed down, now that I am older. My other Grandmother made handmade gifts for me and my sisters, so I feel very sentimental when I embroider anything.

Since I was blessed with learning to hand embroider, I would like to share this treasured skill with my readers. Once the basics are mastered, greater skill levels are easy to obtain. There are books that have simple and complicated stitches to keep up levels of improvement. The materials needed for embroidery are very inexpensive. Embroidery needles, embroidery floss, embroidery hoops, needle threader (if you can't thread the needle easily), scissors, fabric or garment, and stabilizer are necessary equipment for hand embroidery. These items can be purchased at craft stores and fabric stores. *If you are a beginner, avoid fancy metallic or iridescent floss; it is not easy to work with.* Always use fabric that is not important, or the final garment to practice on before starting a major project. Mistakes are part of the learning process.

Now that the materials have been discussed, it is time to learn the most basic stitches, and a few tips that are important for embroidery. Each week, a new video will showcase a new stitch or technique.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grilled Cheese Bento

Right now I am trying to transition my way of cooking and eating to include more organic and local goods as possible. Organic goodies tend to be more expensive, so I have decided to take some time to make the permanent shift. I am a frugal person, so I cannot just waste what I have in my pantry and freezer. The good news is that I have very little processed goods so far. Meals in boxes and freezer bags are not in my house any more. So while my diet and my choices are far from perfect, I am taking some time and making it my goal to get there by January. Wait, not that I think that I can be perfect, but that I think I can give my best effort to be more conscious about where my food comes from and how it is produced.

I give myself kudos for baking my own bread when our last loaf went bad (in Germany the mold grows very fast!). My bread always seems to be smaller than what I get at the store, so it works perfectly for my bento boxes. After I slice my bread, I butter one side of a couple of pieces of bread, slip in a half slice of havarti cheese, and heat it up in my skillet on medium heat. I lightly brown each side, and get it ready to serve my daughter. Since she rarely eats a whole sandwich, I cut it in half, and give her one for dinner, and wrap the other one for her bento box. For my own bento, I cut my sandwich in half and stack the halves on top of each other, keeping the curves together. I wrap my two halves and my daughter's one half in cellophane, then add them to the boxes. My heart-shaped silicone cups hold some cut-up tomatoes, and I cut a plum in half, using cute blue elephant picks to decorate each half. Since the sandwich remains loose, I wedge in a few slices of cucumbers to secure it. My daughter loves hearts, so I add a paper heart with some tape. Cute stuff!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homemade Mayonnaise: You Can Make That Yourself?!

This started as mayo, and I tried to save it with some extra flavors.

I can't help myself. The inner Curious George creeps out when I learn that there are things that you can make easily, but that I grew up buying in jar or box form. One such product is mayonnaise. To be honest, we were not a mayo eating family growing up. Our loyalties were with Miracle Whip. But, after growing up, my taste buds replenished themselves enough to change my taste preferences. If you didn't know, your taste buds change every 7 years or so. So now instead of being fiercely loyal to one version of condiment, I can enjoy them both.

I first heard about making mayo from scratch on a Martha Stewart show. She was having a sandwich showdown with some famous guy and started to boast about how her mayonnaise was made from scratch. So I tried to search her site for how to do that. I didn't have any luck. Then, as I was reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell, she started to talk about her adventures in mayo making. She mentioned how easy it was, so I got even more curious. Now, I stumbled upon an amazing blog (via Tigress in a Pickle) called From Scratch Club, and saw a post about Aioli. I had no idea what aioli was, so I checked it out. That post drove me to take a deep breath and dive into the world of making mayo.

I had some limes on hand, instead of lemons, so I grabbed a lime, two egg yolks, and ground up some fresh salt and pepper. I didn't have any garlic scrapes to make the aioli, so I just went with plain old mayo, which is what Liz, who wrote the amazing piece, said would work just fine. I had heard that if you use straight olive oil, the mayo will taste just like olive oil; I decided to mix in some vegetable oil because I had some on hand. I figured it wouldn't be a strong flavor, and would tone down the olive oil flavor some. (Do not do this!)

My ingredients were all set up, and I started to pour in my thin stream of oil. Then I panicked in my mind because it sounded like water mixing up for a long time. I was beginning to wonder if I made a catastrophic mistake. But slowly, it thickened, and I felt a little brighter. Once I was finished adding the oil, I switched off the food processor and then I tasted it. It was awful! It tasted like vegetable oil, with a slight tang of lime juice. Trying to rescue my mayo, I grabbed some parsley that I had chopped finely, some onion powder, garlic powder, a touch of cayenne pepper, and folded them in. It tasted really great with the new flavors combined, but the dominant taste was still the nasty oil.
Lesson learned: always use really tasty oil when making mayo. I am going to try this again, once I have awesome oil to use.

I used my organic eggs for this. Lime juice, salt & pepper are ready, too.

My super thin stream of oil going into the processor.
This was a tricky picture to take!

This is when I felt relief because it got thicker.

The finished mayo. After I took out the blade,
some oil was pooled underneath. I just folded it in with the rest.
Added ingredients:
Fresh parsley, chopped fine
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Cayenne pepper (dash)

*I feel that it is important to mention that there are raw eggs used in making mayo. When raw eggs are consumed, you can increase your chances of becoming sick with a food borne illness. If you choose to make your own mayo, refrigerate it, and use it within a few days of making it.*

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Charaben Bento Box: Happy Worm

Almost too cute to eat!

I love making bento lunches for my daughter, but haven't tried out the character bento, also known as a charaben bento, until today. I wanted to start out with something simple, and quick, so I went with this cute little worm! He is happy, and why wouldn't he be, with those yummy carrots and that juicy strawberry to tempt his tastebuds?

First off, I made a simple wrap using leftover chicken, mayo, and slices of cheese. I had to tuck in the sides before I rolled it so that it would fit nicely in the box. I just rolled it from the short end to short end of the long rectangle...or top to bottom if you are looking at the picture below.

After I folded it like this I rolled it from top to bottom.
After it was rolled, I cut it into three sections. To make sure the sections would fit the box, I placed the whole roll in, took my knife and made a mark of how tall the bento came on the side of the wrap. I cut that section and then cut the remainder in half as well. If a section is slightly too big, try to put the lid on. If it won't close, then you can cut off however much is necessary to make it fit. Easy as pie! Once I had my wrap spirals, I carefully added them to one side of the box, and cut out my sliced cheese shapes using a little kitchen knife. The black stuff is nori, or seaweed, that was cut with kitchen shears. Nori sticks to the cheese easily. After I put his head on, it looked odd, so I made a wavy cut from the side of the cheese, and put it on the bottom of Mr.Worm. That did the trick! Then I cut up a little carrot into sticks and placed them in the bento box along with a strawberry. This took me about 10 minutes to make. I love easy lunch days!
*Nori can be found in grocery stores in the ethnic food sections. They are used to make sushi as well as other things.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Making Vanilla Extract: Ridiculously Easy!

This stuff smells so good.

I checked out some cool websites on how to make your own vanilla extract, and I just got very Curious George up in my head. Could making real vanilla extract really be as easy as they claim it to be? The answer is yes! Yes, in the sense that I now feel like doing a little facepalm over how much money I have spent on real vanilla extract in the past. As you can see from this blog, I love to cook and to bake. When I visit people, I nearly always end up browsing through the cookbooks they have in their kitchen. I know, I am a bit crazy, but I just can't help myself! I love to try new flavors and new techniques. Well, actually, with the speed cooking that America has come to call home cooked meals, the techniques are more like old ones that are just new to me.

A close-up view of the bean pods in the vanilla extract.

Anyway, I found this cool blog, called Simply Recipes, where there was a recipe for vanilla extract.
How to Make Vanilla Extract. Then I got my butt to the grocery store, where they sell the beans in pairs, and not too cheaply. I got two bottles, leaving me with four bean pods. Naturally, since the recipe calls for 3 beans instead of four, I divided the 1 cup of vodka into three, giving me a 1/3 cup of vodka per bean. With four bean pods, that meant I needed 1 1/3 cups of vodka.

I sliced the pods as per directions and stuck them in my mason jar, then poured on the alcohol, and stuck it in a dark spot for a few months. EASY! Oh, and of course, I took a look at the bottle of vanilla extract that I bought at the store, and lo and behold...there is corn syrup in it! BOOO! I think the best part of making your own is that you can reuse and reuse the bean pods for years by just adding more vodka as you use up the vanilla. You save some money in the long run, and the flavor is really amazing! So now I feel like running outside and shouting "this Curious George has made vanilla extract! Oh yeah, baby!" Hmmm, somehow I bet my town would label me as the crazy lady if I really did, so I'll put that on hold for now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ice Cream Floats: 50/50 Shakes

Mmm, it looks so yummy!

When I think of summer, I think of one of my favorite treats that my Mom used to make: 50/50 shakes. Basically, if you know how to make a root beer float, you can make a 50/50 shake. The only difference is instead of root beer, you use orange flavored cola. However, I do not recommend Fanta for this. For some reason, it tastes like Kool-aid mixed with sparkling water added to vanilla ice cream. But if you use a rich orange flavored soda, like Crush (which of course ended up getting REM's song stuck in my head) you end up with a shake that tastes like a Dreamsicle, or a 50/50 bar, in drink form. They called them 50/50 bars because they were 50% orange flavored and 50% vanilla ice cream.

We all got to have shakes.

Get the kids out for this, set out your tub of vanilla ice cream, open some orange soda, and get out some tall drinking glasses. Fill the glasses halfway with soda, and add two scoops of ice cream, gently, on top. Make it fun by adding some straws. Make it fancy with an orange peel curl for garnish. Just make it! Heck, it would even be good with some dark chocolate grated on top of the ice cream or garnished with a strawberry, sliced nearly in half. Of course, if you're like me, there is never a bad time to add a little drink umbrella to a drink. Sit back and enjoy your new treat!

Adding the soda pop.
Adding the ice cream. It will foam and fizz.