Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Corn Chowder!!

By now, if you're a fan of Panera's Summer Corn Chowder, you realize that the summer is slipping away too quickly, and they're just not afraid of breaking all of our hearts. It doesn't look like they're bringing it back this year at all. So I took matters into my own hands and scanned Pinterest for some copycat recipes. There are lots there, so I combined two or three of them, and have just the thing to tide us over-- or at least to feel like we broke up with Panera first. Maybe this tastes TOO good, or the vegetables are TOO fresh, but I'm pretty confident you'll be happy.

Kickass Summer Corn Chowder!

Heat 2 Tb. olive oil with 1 Tb unsalted butter and add a whole onion and one celery finely diced. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until both are nice and soft.

Stir in 3 Tb. flour and cook for 3 to 5 more minutes.

Add 5 cups of vegetable broth and 2-3 diced potatoes. I used a couple of russets and a couple smallish Yukon golds. They both cook down nicely. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Then add 4 c. corn kernels (I used frozen), 1/2 each of a red and green bell pepper, finely diced, 1 c. half and half, about 1 Tb. minced flat leaf parsley, salt & pepper to taste. Cover that bad boy up, lower the heat, and let it simmer for at least 10 more minutes. The longer you can wait, the better, since the potatoes start to thicken the broth more. If you're lucky enough to have some roasted green chiles, throw about 1/2 c. of those chopped bad boys in there too!

Serve with a little parsley garnish on top and some crusty bread with butter. This is no longer something that's just for summer, and we're no longer captive to the whims of the Panera seasonal menu!

BONUS: I get to stay home with the dogs and cats and have all the seconds I want!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Meet Zipper's New Sister

Her name is Sophie and she is a complete goofball. I'd like to say she's the kind of dog who will fetch a soda from a fridge for me; who can catch a frisbee mid-air; who leaps into swimming pools and off lake piers with complete joyous abandon. She can sit on command "when she feels like it." I have no idea what she'd do around a body of water since we live in the arid southwest. You would think light drizzle would melt her toe pads off, based on her tiptoeing around the dry edge of the patio. She is excellent at nibbling her own back foot like corn on the cob. She looks dashing in a bandana and dressed up as a cowgirl for Halloween.
She loves eating dried sweet potatoes that I bake for her each week. Her best friend is my parents' dog Guapo, who has three legs and lives in Albuquerque.
As you can see, she makes us laugh.

My parents, incidentally, never call her by name. My mom calls her Tofu. My dad calls her Taco. I guess the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

I'll have to work on that frisbee thing.

Our New Thing: Weekly Whole Wheat Breads

One of the very best things I received as a gift has been Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  I adore baguettes and ciabatta more than most things, and have relied on those Take and Bake loaves they sell in grocery stores for more than a decade. Well, NO MORE.

The recipes in Artisan Bread are awesome for me, because I am incredibly impatient and imprecise. With these recipes, you just throw ingredients into your mixer (I also received a KitchenAid stand mixer as a gift from my parents. I'm so happy to say I use it weekly, and it's covered in flour on a regular basis) and mostly forget about it for a couple hours. I've since acquired professional baking sheets and silpat that no one else in my household is allowed to touch, a pizza stone, and purchased one of those plastic Sterlite shoebox bins specifically to store dough in (maybe a dough rising bin will be a next purchase).

From the book, I've basically used four or five pages. The recipe and instructions for a basic boule, then the instructions to use boule dough to make a baguette, ciabatta, and pita bread:
I've also used and tweaked the recipe for light whole wheat bread (it uses 5 parts white flour to 1 part whole wheat flour. I've gotten it up to 2 parts whole wheat to 1 part white flour, and it's delish!
The olive oil pizza dough for a KICKING white pizza (I'll have to dedicate an entry to the recipe for this, because we haven't been out for pizza ever since I've gotten this one down!). I even learned how to stretch a pizza pie (this guy helped a lot):
And finally, our 100% whole wheat sandwich bread. Zips loves toast with breakfast. This bread is hearty, wheaty, slightly nutty. Unlike some of the other artisan breads, this one doesn't require any baking accessories besides a bread pan (the usual 9" x 4"), and you don't have to crank your oven any higher than 350.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread 

(adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day)

3/4 c. lukewarm water
3/4 c. lukewarm milk
3/4 Tbsp. granulated yeast (1 packet)
1/4 c. honey
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Mix these together then add

3 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
Mix until completely incorporated into a sticky dough with your stand mixer's dough hook or food processor's dough attachment. This will take a couple of minutes. You might need to scrape the sides of the bowl down.

Leave dough in the bowl and mostly cover (I use saran wrap, but leave a gap to let the dough breathe) for 2 hours. If you're not going to bake immediately, after this initial rise period, you can store the dough in the fridge in a lidded (but not airtight) container.

When you're ready to bake, prep your loaf pan with some nonstick spray, sprinkle the dough and quickly shape it into a loaf by gathering the sides of the dough to the bottom. Pull the sides to the bottom, rotate the dough, and do it again until it looks smooth on top. I keep my hands floury so I don't accumulate too much sticky dough on my fingers as I do this. I also try to shape it into an oval or football shape so when I drop it into the loaf pan, it takes up most of it. If there's a gap at one end or the other, that's okay. You're going to dust the top of the dough with a little more flour and then give it a couple of shallow slashes with a serrated knife.

Let it rise another hour to hour and a half. The cookbook says 1 hr 40 min. I let mine go just over an hour, and it passed being a lovely rounded loaf to looking a bit like an inverted flat tire. You'll know when it looks like you should throw it into the oven.

Have your oven preheated to 350. Since you're not using a pizza stone, you can pretty much bake as soon as your oven gets to temperature. Bake for 45 min-1 hour. Again, you'll know when it looks right. The longer you keep it in, the more deeply it will brown (until it, you know, burns). Let it cool a little and turn it out of the pan. It will nearly kill you, but for best results, let it cool completely before cutting it into slices. After I've sliced it, we actually keep ours in the freezer in a ziploc and take out individual slices each morning to toast. It's very wheaty, a little crumbly, but hearty and delicious. And we have only purchased a single loaf of bread in the past five months.    
Happy baking!

Cheesy Quinoa!

Cheesy Quinoa!

So I'm always trying to put quinoa in things to eat it more often. I hear it's good for you, right? So how would it fare in a comfort food recipe like Mac and Cheese to make that slightly healthier than The Worst Thing For You That You Love To Eat? Turns out, it's pretty damn good. I'm not calling it Mac and Cheese, it really deserves to be called its own thing.

1c. quinoa cooked in 2c. water (bring both to a boil, cover it, and let it simmer 25 min. until absorbed)

Meanwhile, make a roux with

2 Tb. butter
1 Tb. flour

and gradually stir in 1/2 c. milk (I used plain soy milk. It's all I had around, and it worked just fine!) and 1/2 c. vegetable broth

Then add in 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. chopped fresh spinach
and the cooked quinoa.
salt and black pepper to taste

Divide into individual baking dishes (I used 3 mini-tart pans) and top with sprinkle of breadcrumbs (I made my own!! From my own bread!!), grated Parmigiano, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. 

This is a great size for a side dish for 2 or 3 eaters (if I'd made more--I could probably get myself into a lot of trouble). It has 2x the protein as regular mac & cheese!

Bánh Mì Chay for Lunch!

I've been craving a good vegetarian Vietnamese sandwich for eons now. A few weeks ago, I visited my parents who live in Albuquerque. When running errands, my mom and I ended up at Talin World Market, an absolute godsend for stocking up on Asian groceries in these parts. Its lesser-known neighbor, Talin Supermarket (the white building on the south end of the parking lot) is actually a little deli that serves bánh mì and other Vietnamese delights. Their vegetarian sandwich is stuffed with marinated, sauteed tofu, cucumber, cilantro, and thin slices of fresh jalapeno. Back at home, I've found the fresh baked bolillo loaves at the local Mexican grocery have exactly the right crispy crust and light crumb inside for a fantastic bánh mì, so my lunch plans were set!

Bánh Mì Chay!

2" chunk of an English cucumber. Thinly sliced.
1/4 c. cilantro
julienned carrots
1 fresh jalapeno chile. Thinly sliced.
Maggi or Bragg's or other soy sauce
1/2 package of extra firm tofu
1/4 c. vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce

Slice the tofu block in half lengthwise, and marinate in the vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce. It can be for as short as 10 minutes. This was a new ingredient for me. I took it at my mother's insistence, and she almost always uses it to marinate tofu. It's a bit like a sweet, dense soy sauce. If you don't have any, I'd probably just use soy sauce with a little bit of sugar dissolved into it.

After marinating the tofu, brown it in a pan with a little vegetable oil. Turn it so that each side gets browned. Remove from the pan and drain on some paper towel. Then slice into uniform slices. Mine were about 1/4" thin.

Prep the bread with some mayo on each side. Not to much here. I used Japanese Kewpie mayo, because using our Veganaise seemed a little weird to me.  Then give it a squirt of Maggi or Bragg's or soy sauce. Again, not too much. I basically drew a line in soy across each side of the sandwich. You don't want to saturate either side!

Then pack it with your fixin's. I laid out the tofu slices on one side of the bread, then layered carrot shreds, cilantro, cucumber slices, and chile slices on the other and squeezed it shut. I actually used a tiny serrano chile from the humongous harvest I had all summer last year. I have a TON of tiny, fiery serranos in my freezer still. My mouth is burning, but it was totally worth it!

When I do this again (probably tomorrow), I'll probably pickle a little of the carrot shreds with some cucumber shreds in some rice vinegar and sugar and salt. My only complaint today was that it was just a tad dry. But I am thrilled I won't have to wait until my next road trip to ABQ to enjoy one of my favorite things!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Getting back into Potting

So Zips has enrolled me in the ceramics class that is offered at the local art museum downtown. I've been at it since last October, after a 15 year hiatus since undergrad art classes (!!). This means I've had 50# of clay (Laguna Speckled Buff Stoneware) and access to some glazes (not a great variety-- but enough to get my legs back under me).

My early attempts at even centering the clay went poorly. I experimented with the colors and consistencies of these new glaze colors. One of the first successes I had was throwing a bunch of small pots "off the hump" (this means making 6 to 10 tiny cup/bowls from the same larger piece of clay-- cutting each off and centering the top of the hump of clay that remained on the wheel to throw again), and then flipping those pots over to make Japanese furin wind bells. I love the green iron furin we purchased at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I love how round their forms are, and how often poems and prayers are written on the paper tag that catches the wind.

My first three were experiments in scale and in figuring out how I would construct them-- how to hang them and where to install a clapper (which are actually cuttings from last year's Christmas tree branches that I'd cut into firewood!) . The glazes here are Robin's Egg and Shino

The next ten or so, I was ironing out shapes, experimenting with looping handles and cutting the holes into the furin body so that it was all a single continuous piece.
And I got a bit more experimental. The bright blue below is Amaco Cara Bien Stroke & Coat underglaze striped over light blue Shino, and blue Shino speckled with Gun Metal Gray (which has turned out to be my favorite combo!)

Zips called dibs on this one immediately. I haven't even had a chance to put a clapper into it to make it a proper bell.

Because the clay class has always been meant as a kind of stress management art therapy for me, and because I've grown rusty and out of practice in the years it's been since I've worked with clay, I've had to really work at allowing myself to focus only on throwing clay when I'm there. I get self-conscious, I lose confidence. The other folks who are in the classes seem like they've been doing this forever. I watched a guy make a huge, lovely bean pot in the time it took me to simply center my hunk of clay the size of my fist! Another guy pulled a chips/salsa platter, a young woman makes enormous, shapely bowls and planters. And since I feel my blood pressure increase and my confidence plummet as I feel my meager skills draining out of my body, I decided to stay small and threw a set of tiny bowls.
And I decided to purchase my own glazes (since they have such a limited, weird array there), so this is blue Shino with the Gun Metal Gray flecks (I love this!)
 This is light green Shino
This is light blue Shino
And this is the blue Shino painted on the outside (it was rather thin, so it turned out a nice, even dark brown), and Tamale Red Stroke & Coat inside. This is great, since it's a vibrant red while also being food-safe.
So this is some of my wares. Not everything, of course. I'm also giving and have already given a couple of pieces away. I felt weird that the very two pieces I made I gave to my parents for Christmas. I didn't know what else to get them, and they were very small and very wonky. I hope my parents understand that I wanted to give them something my hands brought into the world, however imperfect. I'm afraid it just communicated "I'm poor and I have no idea what you want."
My favorite pieces of them all (so far) are this trio of low Japanese-style bowls. The shallow, rounded shape is actually inspired by a set of inexpensive dishes I bought in Japantown in San Francisco. In any case, again with the blue Shino and the Gun Metal Gray. I think this first one was with the communal glaze bin at the art museum-- it has a lot of lovely inconsistencies in the dark blue that create a lovely galactic effect.
My subsequent efforts to duplicate this with the blue Shino that I bought are nice too. But that first little bowl is my favorite of everything I've made. Here's a larger bowl:
As I write this, I have a ton of greenware drying. That will need to be glazed. Something like 7 small plate/bowls, 4 large bowls, 2 jars, on top of 4 other large bowls that are already bisqued, and a small hunk of leftover clay that I'm going to hand-build things with until I run out. Zips demands a likeness. I may have to do the rest of the animals as well.
Most of the other folks who've been in class with me are very generous with their expertise and with their encouragement. I've learned tricks and gotten ideas for projects and how to layer the glazes they have. I'm probably going to keep purchasing my own (oooh! professional!). I already know I want to buy a white glaze and maybe a speckled yellow one. When these classes pick back up in the fall, I'll probably be there again. I've got to give better Christmas presents this year!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green Grass in the Land of Xeriscaping

Well, technically, our backyard has "zeroscaping"-- xeriscaping in the front, but zero in the backyard. It's a major drawback of the house we currently rent. The backyard of the first house we rented here in Southern New Mexico was the single reason we chose that house before we ever set foot inside. It had a grand eucalyptus tree, it had rosemary shrubs dripping down the top tier into the lower half of the yard. It had white and pink oleanders blocking the neighbors to the east. It had roses. We spent so much time in that backyard. We loved it and miss it.

But those owners wanted to move back into their house, so we packed everything up and moved literally one mile down the road. Now our backyard consists of lots and lots of hot, pointy gray rocks. And our midwestern cat and dog babies miss having a yard. We resorted to container gardening, and have potted tomatoes. We built a raised bed for baby red potatoes last year and finally decided to re-purpose that raised bed for a yard!
In fact, Zips talked me into purchasing not one but FOUR pieces of sod, even though one is all it takes to fill the raised bed. So I filled that bed, then filled whatever other container I could find. I have 3 wine crates, several terra cotta planters (one is now in our bathroom so Zips and Bijoux can have nibbles), and a 4x4 "yard" on either side of our back patio.   
 We even found mini garden gnomes to stand watch over the grass boxes.
The babies seem content, even blissful. And there are enough boxes allow each of them to have their own personal spot.
Since they're all in the shade of our patio and the rock wall that is closest to our house, the grass is always cool under paw, soft to lay in, and edible. 
"It'll do for now, human."

Zips Vegetarian

Vegetarian Crafty Garden Travel Foodie Kitty Blog