17 October 2014

Visitors

We had some visitors last weekend.  Luckily their visit coincided with some really great weather.
They were really interested in checking out the Charleston Tea Plantation, so we headed there on Saturday.  This is a tea flower!
The grounds are gorgeous, and while we were there a wedding reception was being set up. 
While we were out in that direction, we also stopped by Firefly Distillery to try some moonshine!
Another tourist attraction nearby is the Angel Oak.  We had never seen it before, because it's...just a tree.  But I will admit it was kind of cool.  We got there four minutes before closing, however, which was a bummer.
Of course, we had to go downtown.  It happened to be Second Sunday on King, which is an event I'd like to explore more - we arrived later in the day.  It would be a great event to sit down with a beer and people watch.
With temps in the mid-80s, it was hard to remember that it's mid-October.  I kept seeing pumpkins as decorations and wondering "what the heck?" before I'd remember.
It would have been a gorgeous weekend to spend on the water. 
All in all, a great visit.

10 October 2014

Cuban Black Beans (pressure cooker)

Well, I busted out the pressure cooker for the first time in a few years.  Wait, no.  I use this pot all the time, just not under pressure.  So I guess it was only the weight that I hadn't used in a few years.  Anyway, I had forsaken dry beans for canned when I had a great source of very cheap canned beans, but that source is still in Michigan so I'm trying to remember how to pressure cook dry beans again!  And after making this authentic Cuban black bean recipe, I made this very traditional Cuban black bean poutine.  For reasons.
You, obviously, can just enjoy these beans as a side dish or over rice.  The poutine is a result of my less-than-inspired cooking lately.  Don't judge.
Into the pressure cooker with beans and water, along with half the onion, pepper, and garlic.  Some spices and olive oil to round it out.
Bring it all to a boil, then cook under pressure according to your pressure cooker's directions.  Hold at pressure for 25 minutes.
After the beans are cooked, add the rest of the onion, pepper and garlic.  Maybe a little more cumin because it's my favorite.
Voila, easy as that.  These are really great served over rice with a little cilantro and avocado.
Cuban Black Beans (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb dry black beans
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp cumin*
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Instructions:
1.  Rinse the beans and pick out any that look funny - including any pebbles.  Put the beans in the pressure cooker with water (the general rule is thrice as much water as beans - ie 2 cups of beans, 6 cups of water).
2.  Chop the onion, pepper and garlic.  Add half to the pot.  Add the salt and pepper, olive oil and 2 tsp cumin to the pot.
3.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Pressure cook according to your pressure cooker's directions for 25 minutes.  Let the beans come down from pressure.
4.  When the beans are cooking, saute the rest of the onion, pepper and garlic until fragrant.  When the beans are depressurized, add the sauteed veggies, along with the remaining teaspoon of cumin and apple cider vinegar.
5.  The beans should be tender and thick.  If not, simmer for an additional 10 to 20 minutes on the stove.

*Normal cumin is fine, but to kick it up a notch, roasted cumin is better.  Fact.
These would also be really great served as a snack with tortilla chips.  Really, any idea is great except for maybe black bean poutine.  You can do better.  Do it!

03 October 2014

Finally October

The last two months have been awful, and have not let up...until this week.  I attribute it to the sun finally coming out again.  I hate to say it, but the huge effect on my mood cannot be denied - I need sunshine.  That's why I'm now in the Palmetto State instead of the More Overcast Days Than Seattle State.
I didn't pick any goals for this September because it was all I could do to keep on hanging on.  So let's jump into some goals for October.
  • Bus work - we finally got the mechanical systems working (I'm sure there's always more to be done) so now it's time to start working on the interior.  It needs some work.  Let's do it.
  • We have some visitors coming this month and I'm really excited.  I can't wait to show them around the area!
  • I have been so anti-cooking lately, I don't know what's going on.  So maybe find a couple inspiring recipes.
  • Gut the garage.  We have this really lovely garage, but the insulation is shredded and I'm pretty sure there are things living in it.  It's got to go, and after it's gone we can start organizing stuff.
  • Start some wine.  Now that I'm settling in to a place I'm ready to start brewing again.
That seems like a pretty okay list for now.  I've definitely been through a rough patch lately so I want to take it easy and let things slowly improve back to normal.  This week started with winning a contest and then on Tuesday the sun came out and hasn't left since, so I'd say things are already looking up.  Okay, so time for the photos.  I hauled back a bunch of tomatoes from Michigan last month, and as they ripened I turned them into pizza sauce.
We tried to move, but the house we were supposed to move into was infested with fleas.  After spending a weekend of thankless, unpaid labor, we needed a break so Kyle packed up a picnic and we headed to one of our favorite spots on the water.
We rewarded ourselves with some great beer.  If anyone wants to send me more huma, yes please I will take more huma please.
After an exterminator poisoned my new living space, we finally could wait no more and had to start moving things in.  We loaded up the car with the first load, then promptly unloaded the entire thing looking for the car keys.  I finally found them packed in with a disassembled lamp.
 
I had bought us a housewarming gift of new kitchen towels, but then the universe really delivered the perfect gift - a new (used) grill.  Someone left it by the trash compactor with a sign that said "free! works great. we moved."  It was EXACTLY the thing our new house needed, and the price was unbeatable.  The gas can was a free dumpster find too, and it is also a thing we really needed.  Yay trash compactor!
There will be a later post about this, I'm sure, but we took advantage of the new garage situation tearing into the rear brake system on the bus.  Here's the mechanics-eye-view of our newest brake line!
Our bus efforts were aided by visits of the neighborhood...dog?  I named him BunBun.  He roams freely and has a dog cage on the porch a couple doors down.
And lastly, I planted some herbs!  If there's anything in this world that never fails to make me happy, it's a garden.  I planted them last Sunday and by Wednesday night, the basils had already sprouted!
 
So yeah.  It was a month.  I'm really glad September is over and I'm happily moving on to October.

19 September 2014

Pizza Calzones (freezer meal)

There are very few meals that I make more than once.  On this blog I can only find a handful - carnitas, for sure, protein bars have become a morning staple, and a variation of poutine nearly every Sunday night.  I've got some jalapeno poppers in the fridge right now, and roast chicken is still a regular visitor to my kitchen.  This recipe has been in my arsenal on and off since sometime in college.  It's a great heat-and-eat meal - like the pizza pockets of yore, except they don't taste like cardboard.  They are my favorite in-need meal (ie instead of bringing casserole - bleh - I'll freeze some of these and bring them to a friend in need so that they can be reheated whenever).
 
The fact that they're appearing in my kitchen has almost become a sign that something is wrong.  Despite that, they are DELICIOUS and this time, they only mean that I'm about to be very short on time and need a reliable, semi-nutritious meal that I can pull from the freezer when I'm too exhausted to even chop up some veggies for a stir-fry.
I go super basic here.  Mushrooms, peppers, onions, and some red chilis.  Add to that some (turkey) burger and, for a treat, bacon.
This is a time-tested and approved move:  shred and add the cheese.  I go back and forth this move: add sauce to the filling?  Or leave out and serve on the side?
Pick your dough, let it rise.
Dust your work surface with flour, divide the dough.
Flatten and prep for stuffing.
Put a small amount of pizza stuffing in the middle of the dough.
Seal the dough up and place on a greased pan.
Bake until brown and perfect (and spewing filling...I haven't solved this one yet).
But! the important part is how delicious they are.  And the fact that they can be frozen and reheated to make a perfect busy-night meal.

Pizza Calzones
(makes 12 servings, recipe can easily be halved)
Ingredients*:
  • 1 lb ground burger or turkey, cooked
  • 3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped (roughly 2 cups)
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Enough dough for two large-ish pizzas (I used 3 of these because they're dirt cheap and my give-a-crap was broken)
Instructions:
1. Grease a cookie sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix together all ingredients except pizza dough - this is the filling.
3. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts.  Flour the work surface, then take one portion of dough and flatten it out.
4. Scoop roughly 1/2 to 3/4 c. filling onto the dough.  Seal up the pocket of dough (if it isn't sealing well, use a twisting motion to combine both edges of the dough).  Repeat with remaining dough portions until pan is full - leave a few inches of space between each calzone.
5.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough turns golden brown.  The time will change based on the size of your calzones, so be sure to keep an eye on the first batch.
6. (Optional) Let the calzones cool on a wire rack.  When cool, put in freezer bag and seal.  Throw in the freezer for up to two months. 

*I've made my decision:  the sauce is better on the side.  Plus, who doesn't love dipping their food in delicious red sauce?  Also, feel free to substitute filling ingredients - chicken, cheddar and broccoli sounds good.  Or how about chicken and spinach with a little mozza and asiago?  There's a whole world of fillings to be explored here.
These are so tasty, I should probably make them more often.  These are great for making in big batches - eat some right away, freeze the rest for those nights when you just don't have time to get a big meal on the table.  And I don't think I need to say, but these are definitely kid-friendly.  I've also made them using a gluten-free pizza dough mix and had great results that way too. 

12 September 2014

Jetsetter

I tried really hard to have a recipe or something worth reading this week, but I just have zero content right now and zero time to generate it.  Please keep your expectations low for September.  Instead, I'll be rehashing the epic tale of my travels last month.
It started out with Jimmy Johns, which is my go-to travel food.  If I'm eating a JJ #12, I'm most likely on a road trip (in this case, the road that led to the airport).  A few hours later, I was in Boston.  And half an hour after that, I was at Walden Pond.  THE Walden Pond, apparently there are two of them in the area.  Thus began my week-long habit of parking illegally.  I got to the Pond about half an hour before the park closed, and the ranger station wasn't staffed so I didn't really know what to do.  I just parked.  Oh well.
What I found was Thoreau's idyll, overrun by parents and children trying to squeeze in the last rays of the summer sun.  There was also a (replica) Thoreau cabin to explore.
The whole experience, I'm sorry to say, was completely the opposite of Thoreau's.  Rather than simple or self-sufficient, my side trip put me way behind and maybe even too late for dinner.  My phone died and I didn't have a car charger so I was forced to fire up the laptop just so I could get enough juice to navigate the ridiculous driving experience that is Boston.  My first post-Walden priority was Night Shift Brewing for their uniquely flavor-infused brews.
My selection did not disappoint.
Whilst there, I inquired with the bartender whether he knew of any nearby restaurants that were still serving food.  He recommended Sarma in Somerville, and it was an excellent choice.  Small-plate Turkish bites - absolutely fantastic.  In all honesty, if work hadn't been paying for it there's no way I would have eaten there (the prices were a little higher than what I'm used to), but if you're splurging it's definitely worth it.
The flavor profile reminded me strongly of our Moroccan Christmas last year.  So delicious.  And it was only a little bit weird to be eating alone.  Walking back to the car I realized I was yet again parked illegally - there was a sign hidden by a tree branch, and the car that had been parked in that area (the one that let me know it was okay to park there) had left.  After that it was a late check-in at the hotel and I was dead to the world until morning.
The next night I bee-lined for the coast.  I ended up in the fancy-pants section of town (again parked illegally - it was residents / parking by permit only, which I didn't realize until I'd been there for half an hour). 
I had a delightful chat with the couple in this photo.
From there, I headed to downtown Salem, where the overhyped death of 20 women has led to a huge commercialization of...witches. (I realize that comes off as insensitive.  What I mean is that there are many events in history where the death toll was wildly higher, and sometimes I feel that those events are not given the respect they're due, whereas the small number of deaths in this case is popular only for the bizarre circumstances.)
I stopped at a brewery to try some different craft beers, but I was ignored for so long that I decided I would rather be walking around while the sun was still out and the air was still warm, and I left before ever even talking to a server (disappointing).  It was a GREAT night to be wandering around town - perfect weather.  This was an odd sight in the middle of an urban setting - at first I thought it was fake but those are indeed very, very old gravestones.
Next was a late meal at another fantastic restaurant - Dube's Seafood.  I had found this one online before I left.  It was in the middle of a residential area and the building was extremely nondescript.  I even stopped some patrons outside the restaurant to confirm that the food was worth eating.  The waitress warned me that my swordfish would take some time, which made me concerned that she meant they had to thaw it first, but it was clear when it arrived that the time was due to its enormous size.  Lemon slice for scale?  Sorry for the filter, it was a dark restaurant and the filter improves the photo a bit. It was so perfectly cooked and so tasty, I was blown away.  I ended up taking half of it home and eating it for breakfast the next day.
Day 3!  I took approximately three photos because as soon as training was over I headed straight to the airport.  Harpoon brewing has an airport location so there was no question about where I was eating dinner.
My little brother picked me up at the airport and arranged a bed for me to sleep on, then I spent Thursday at the farm working in the gardens with him (okay, so I slept for the first few hours while he worked but after that I gave it 100%!).  Later, he pawned me off my my dad, who drove me up to Cadillac.  After saying hi to my parents, Kyle and I visited some friends and had some wine.  I have one photo from Thursday and it begs too many questions to actually post here, so here's Zeppy instead.  Actually, I have hardly any photos from the rest of the trip.
I visited the gardens where my mom works, we visited my grandma, we went canoing, we had a cookout, all great fun!  But no photos.  Oh wait.  It occurs to me that Kyle took photos at the cookout, but they're on the camera, not my phone.
Then on Sunday, we visited my other grandma.  It was really great to see family on this trip.  It's definitely been hard to be so far away while they've been going through so much.  And after the visit, we started our journey home - with a quick stop at Horrock's to pick up a few of the Michigan craft beers that we missed (huma lupa!).  You just can't find beer like this in SC!
We made good progress on Sunday but called it quits with ten hours left to go in the drive.  On Labor Day, we timed our lunch stop to sneak in a quick visit to Asheville, NC to try out a brewery there.  We stopped at LAB, and the beer was great but I can't recommend the food.  Hopefully it was just an off day for the cooks.  Oh, and this is a very "Asheville" story:  when we first parked, a guy came up to our window and said he was leaving and still had two hours left on his meter, and we were welcome to take his spot.  So yay for legal, paid parking!  And the kindness of strangers!
So that was my whirlwind trip.  Oh, and one last photo.  After spending half my week in gardens, I brought home tons of fresh produce, including this pile of heirloom tomatoes left out to ripen.  Sure, they're slightly blighted and I threw most out before they were usable, but I still got 12 pints canned this week!
It was a awesome trip, starting out with great food and ending with great people.  Excellent weather, fresh veggies, fresh air, fresh perspectives.  It was exactly what I needed.