Friday, July 27, 2012

How pinteresting....

OK, there are about a million people with blogs that cover Pinterest.  Two of my favorites are The Pintester and WTFPinterest?  So I'm not trying to become another "Look what I did on Pinterest!"  blog.  If you don't know what Pinterest is, I might have to ask you if you've been living in a cave for the past year.  It's a completely addictive "virtual pinboard" where you can save links to websites, pictures, or just ideas that you like.  Or pictures of Channing Tatum shirtless, apparently.  I mostly use mine to save recipes, go figure.  But there are tons of pins floating around that look like really good ideas, and after you see them 65 times you decide to pin them and maybe try them sometimes.  Like, you know, the one about getting rid of the dry skin on your feet, or make your own face mask, or spray paint your couch.

Anyway, most of my pinterest attempts have turned out good, or at worst just not worked.  I've never had a spectacular fail.  Although that is most likely because I have never attempted anything too outlandish.  I'm always interested to see the pins that people have actually tried, and how they turn out.  Here are a few that I've tried (And they aren't all food!).

Click on the name of the pin to see the original pin - I've posted a few pics of my own attempts.

No-Bake Energy Balls

I pinned this months ago, but I finally just decided to make them this week.  Since I am in class from 7:40am to 11:10, and I honestly don't usually have time for breakfast ( I KNOW, it's bad!), I get HUNGRY.  These looked like an interesting little snack to try.  But my food board was so jam packed with pins that I couldn't even find it.  So I just did a search on pinterest for them, which turned up so many different results.  I guess this has been done many times, by many blogs.  But, I stuck with my original pin.  I  find it funny that the blogger who posted this refers to these as "healthy little treats".  Yeah, I don't know if I would go so far as to call them healthy.  They are basically like little granola bars, they have oats, honey, coconut, peanut butter and CHOCOLATE.  So, they are more like a cookie than a healthy snack.  But they are tasty and portable.  I rolled them into fairly small balls - I think I got about 27 out of this batch.  One tip I read in the comments section of the original blog was to keep a small bowl of water next to you as you roll the balls, and then get your hands wet after every few balls.  it keeps your hands from getting to sticky to work with.  That was a great tip, it worked really well.  If I were to make them again, I would use slightly less honey and slightly more peanut butter - they were a bit too sweet with not enough peanutty taste for me.  I placed them on a cookie sheet and stuck the whole thing in the freezer.  I brought a few of them with me to class on Thursday, and since they were frozen solid in the morning, they were still holding their shape by the time I ate them a  few hours later.
Verdict:  Not bad!

Energy balls about to go in the freezer

Sock Bun

I first pinned a photo tutorial for this a long time ago, but the photos were not clear enough for me.  If you actually know how to do a sock bun, sure, the photos are great 9 but why would you need them?).  When i found this video tutorial, I was really excited and tried it the next day.  It was pretty easy, and I think it looked very elegant.  I can't stand to have my hair on my neck when it's 110 degrees, so I really needed to find some different updo's other than my standard messy bun.  Love it.
Verdict:  Pinterest WIN!

Tub and Shower Magic or Soap Scum Killa

I like the idea of a DIY cleaner, and so I decided to give this a try.  The only problem is that I don't have the BLUE Dawn dish soap on hand.  Ever, actually, I really hate the smell of it.  The dish soap that I had on hand was the Green Works brand.  The post seemed to indicate that you really need the BLUE dawn dish soap, but I decided to give it a try anyway.  I mixed it up according to instructions, then put it into a spray bottle and shook it up - which was ill advised.  It shot out of the spray nozzle and all over my stovetop.  Which needed to be cleaned anyway, but it was almost comical how it just shot out of the nozzle uncontrolably.  I had to unscrew it a little to releive some of the pressue before it would stop.  And then I dutifully sprayed it in my tub and letit sit for an hour or two, and then went to see if it worked.  I started scrubbing away and...nothing.  It worked in the way that really ineffective cleaner works.  Like barely at all.  So, maybe this was because I used the wrong soap, but I wouldn't try it again, even with the right soap.
Verdict:  Pinterest fail :/

I wish I took a picture of the aftermath, but I was too busy cleaning it up

Glass Stovetop Cleaner

Both our apartment in Portland and our place here have a glass stovetop.  It seems like it would be easy to clean, but it still gets weird spots on the burners that are hard to clean up.  K wanted to buy a Glass Stovetop Cleaner at the store, but I thought I would try this DIY version first.The directions say you have to soak a rag in a soapy water, sprinkle baking soda on your stovetop and then lay the soapy rag over it for 15 minutes.  I just got a rag wet and soapy instead of soaking it, because why should I have to use another bowl?  Then I followed the instructions.  The problem was that after wiping, and wiping, and WIPING, there was still baking soda residue on the stovetop.  It took multiple attempts to remove it, and then I had to finish it with a cleaning spray anyway.  Also, once I finally got the residue up, the thing wasn't totally clean.  So it didn't even work.
Verdict: meh.

One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

This was tempting because moving to this hot climate has made me want cool treats more often than I used to.  I froze a banana in slices, blended it in my food processor, and added some peanut butter and nutella.  It turned our like a blended banana with peanut butter and nutella.  So, fine, I guess.  But I honestly don't really like banana flavored things, so I guess this really isn't for me.  If you want a no dairy treat, this might be OK.
Verdict: meh
Blended bananas, before the add ins

Pouring grease into a foil lined bowl to throw away

Wow, there is no way to shorten the name of that pin.  Basically the idea is that for easy disposal, you line a bowl with foil and then pour bacon or other grease into it, wait for it to harden, and then just ball up the foil and throw it away.  Great idea!  I never know what to do with the grease.  My mom used to use a tin can, which is a good idea, but I never have a can when I need it, and so I would pour it into a cup or something, but then you have to clean that out - gross.  So I tried this idea.  And, I think it would work great, except that my house is never cooler than 78 degrees.  Sooo... the grease never hardens.  I ended up putting it in the freezer.  That seemed to work.  Overall, a pretty good idea.
Verdict:  Not bad!

So, Pinterest fun for everyone!  I love seeing how other people's pins turned out.  Have you ever tried a pin?  What happened?

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Cucumber Mint Gimlet and Bacon Leek Tart

I realize that I have mostly been posting recipes on this little blog.  I didn't intend for it to become a food blog, but honestly, cooking is the main thing that we do for entertainment around here.  It works out nicely since I like to cook, we love food, and most of the restaurants around here suck.  So without further apologies, here is your Friday happy hour post.

This week has been a long one, friends.  It's one of those weeks where you start wishing that tomorrow was Friday on Tuesday.  I don't really know what my problem is, I don't even have a job.  Seriously, I am about one quarter of the amount of busy that I was when I lived Portland.  But I still really look forward to weekends because it means I get to spend more time with K, and also this summer Stats class has really amped it up, so not having to do 4-5 hours of homework a night on the weekend is pretty awesome.

Anyway, to help take the sting out of the fact that it was only Wednesday, I decided to throw us a mid week happy hour.  Since I still have a bunch some gin lying around from the Lavender Collins, I have been looking for some other gin cocktails to try.  We also had a few ingredients from our CSA that I wanted to use up, so I came up with HH menu of a Bacon, Leek and Gruyere Tart and Cucumber Mint Gimlets.
App Happy
I was excited to use our cucumbers, and a cucumber drink just sounded so refreshing.  I thought it would make it EVEN MORE refreshing if I incorporated mint into it somehow.  I am really loving the idea of making flavored simple syrups since I discovered how easy it is, so I decided to make a mint syrup for this drink.  Don't worry, this one is even easier than the lavender syrup from last week.

Mint Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup of fresh mint, torn into large pieces

Place all ingredients in a small pot, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Take off the heat and let it steep for about 20 minutes.  Strain to remove mint.  Makes about 1 cup.

Simmering syrup

Cucumber Mint Gimlet

3 oz Gin
1.5 oz mint simple syrup
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup diced cucumber 

Once you have the syrup made, these come together pretty quickly.  Peel, seed and dice 1/2 of a small cucumber (or all of it if you plan on having a few of these).  Place the cucumber into your shaker with your lime juice and muddle.  Add your gin, mint syrup and ice.  Shake to combine and strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with a sprig of mint or a slice of cucumber if you want to get fancy.

Beautiful but Deadly:  these guys are sneakily strong

Bacon, Leek and Gruyere Tart

I wanted to use puff pastry as the crust for this, but for some reason I couldn't find it whenever I was at the store.  I saw some phyllo dough, and figured it was pretty much the same.  It's not.  Also, I now sort of hate phyllo dough, it's a huge pain in the ass to work with.  So, if I make this again, I'm going to try it with puff pastry.  But the phyllo did end up giving this a super crispy crust, which was nice.


2 small leeks, diced
2-3 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
2-3 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
6 sheets of phyllo dough
2 tablespoons butter, melted

I would recommend having everything prepped and ready to go before working with your phyllo, as I said it is a pain in the ass and I totally burnt my bacon while I was trying to multi-task.  To prepare your leeks, cut off the root and and the tops where the leafy green part starts.  Slice into small rings, and put them in a bowl of water and swish them around to clean and separate some of the rings.  It also might help to slice the whole thing lengthwise first, which I didn't do, but would have made cleaning them easier.

Start by placing one sheet of phyllo dough on a cookie sheet lines with parchment paper, brush with butter, and top with another sheet of phyllo.  Repeat until you have about 6 layers.  Sprinkle a thin layer of cheese,  then top with the leeks and bacon, followed by the rest of the cheese.  Place into a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes.  Watch carefully, this cooks fast.  Remove when the edges are golden brown.

This was a nice mid week happy hour, and pretty easy to throw together.  But now it's the real weekend, so go enjoy it!
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Friday, July 13, 2012

I only drink gin in the summertime

Back when I worked for an evil insurance company, I became friends with a coworker who introduced me to a beautiful concept -  "Martini Friday".  And trust me, when you worked there, you needed a few martinis by Friday.  Actually, you really needed them everyday, but I digress..  She and her husband would mix some fun drinks and make some delicious appetizers to start the weekend off right.  I fell in love with the idea of a mini celebration every week, and so have adopted the idea for myself.  Last Friday I decided to start our own Friday Happy hour.  The drink of the week was the Lavender Collins, which I adapted from Fratelli in Portland.  The apps are some of my favorite, easiest appetizers in my repertoire. Fig and Chevre Crostini and Bacon Wrapped Dates.

Lavender Collins (adapted from Fratelli, Portland, OR)

1/2 oz Lavender Syrup
1 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin (Or whatever gin you prefer, I'm not the gin police)
Juice of half a lime
Club Soda

Combine the lavender syrup, gin and lime juice in a martini shaker with ice.  Shake it up like a pro.  Pour into a low ball glass over ice. Top it off with club soda, give it a gentle stir and garnish with a slice of lime. (Click here to see my post on making your own lavender syrup, or if you don't want to make it you can buy some - Monin makes a good one)

Lavender Collins

Fig and Chevre Crostini

I love this appetizer, it's great for summer when figs are in season!

Half of a French Baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
5 oz Creamy Herbed Chevre
5-6 Fresh Black Mission Figs, sliced crosswise
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Slice your figs crosswise into about 4 slices, discarding the top and end piece. Arrange your bread slices on a cookie sheet covered in foil.  Spread chevre on each slice of bread, and then top with one slice of fig.  Drizzle honey over all of the crostini and finish off with a dash of black pepper.  Place under the broiler in your oven until the edges are nice and brown and cheese and honey starts to get bubbly ( It only takes a few minutes, watch it carefully so they don't burn!).

Bacon Wrapped Dates

As K says, wrapping anything in bacon is the easiest trick in the book.  These are super simple and will have everyone thinking you're a genius. 

12 pitted dates
4 slices of bacon, cut into thirds

Wrap each date in a third slice of bacon ( I've found that is the length that fits perfectly around a date, but your results may vary).  Secure with a toothpick ( I didn't have toothpicks last week, so I threaded 4 of them onto a wooden skewer and made bacon date kebabs).  Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the bacon is crispy.    Allow these to cool for a few minutes or you and your guests will burn their mouths in your haste to eat as many as possible.

These are the kind of apps I want for a causal happy hour - easy but still a little impressive.  Have a good weekend!

Our Friday Happy Hour

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How to: Make lavender syrup

Happy Friday everyone!  This is a How To post on making your own lavender simple syrup.  I have loved this stuff for years, and use it to make lavender lemonade, lavender iced tea, and most recently a cocktail called a Lavender Collins.  I used to buy the Monin brand, but when I decided to adapt the Lavender Collins recipe, I wanted to try my hand at making my own syrup as well.

I first purchased lavender at Williams-Sonoma.  It was a .3 oz jar of French lavender for $7.95.  Wow!  My BFF suggested that I check out the bulk section at the natural grocery store.  I am a big fan of bulk for spices, but I was skeptical that they would have something like lavender in the stores here.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did have it!  So I ended up getting about an ounce for .87 cents.  Now, the Williams-Sonoma brand does have a deeper color and is more fragrant, so it probably is a higher quality product.  But I got more than twice as much lavender for about 10 percent of what I paid at WS.  So, yeah, I'm going to be buying this from bulk spices from now on.
Bulk spice on the left: .87 cents.  WS on the right:  $7.95

All you need for your syrup is lavender, sugar, and water.  Simple, right?

Lavender Syrup (Recipe from Food and Wine)
1/4 cup organic dried lavender
1/2 plus 3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine your lavender and 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let it sit for 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid into a separate container.  You will be left with a beautiful, deep purple liquid.

Now combine 1/2 cup of sugar with the 3 tablespoons of water.  Bring it to a boil, and give it a few stirs.  Continue to boil until it reaches 280 degrees ( about 4 minutes).  Leaving it on the heat, slowly pour in your lavender liquid, stirring until it is nicely combined into a smooth syrup.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.  Now you can transfer it to the container of your choice.  It can be refrigerated for 3 days.  I tried to freeze mine in ice cube trays and it didn't work out so well.  The sugar in the syrup prevents it from freezing.  So I have these gooey, non-frozen ice cubes in my freezer.  But I've still been using them to make drinks, so I guess it sort of works?

Aside from making delicious beverages, you can also drizzle this over cake, pour it over ice cream, toss some fruit in it - basically you can add it to anything you want to give a fresh and unique flavor to.  Try it in a Lavender Collins!
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hey, Hey, CSA!

"What the hell is a CSA?"  you may ask.  Last week I signed up for our very first CSA, and we got our first bag of goodies on Saturday.  I was so excited that I started posting pictures all over facebook and instagram.  But what is a CSA?  Luckily, my BFF is a hippie (the real environmentalist kind, NOT the smelly dreadlock wearing kind), so she introduced me to the concept years ago.  I've been wanting to sign up for one ever since.  CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture".  It allows you to buy a "share" of a local farmers crops, and then you receive a weekly bag or box of produce from that farm.  It's a great idea because you are supporting farms in your own community (instead of mega farms thousands of miles away), the "carbon footprint" is smaller because you are not buying veggies that were shipped across the country (or even across several countries) in a semi truck, and you are getting them as fresh as you can without growing them yourself.  On top of that, it exposes you to new foods that you might not have purchased at the grocery store, and helps you to eat seasonally.
Our first week of fresh, local veggies!
I opted for the "half share" instead of the "whole share" since it is just the two of us here.  It is working out to be about $18/week for a grocery bag full of fresh, local, organic veggies.  These are the real thing, not the genetically modified for long shelf life versions that you see at the supermarket.  I also discovered how awesome spaghetti squash is!

We picked up our share on Saturday morning at a coffee shop that just so happens to be across the street from our new favorite brunch spot (We've been there twice now, so we're regulars, see?).  Hmmm, what a fortunate coincidence.  So of course since were already right there, we stopped in for some delicious brunch.
Speaking of farm fresh, how about this Farm Scramble?
We spent the weekend doing things like grilling pizza, mixing up new cocktails, and of course as new suburbanites, visiting Home Depot.  On Sunday we went into Downtown Phoenix....not much of a downtown, but more than our 'burb has to offer.  I had to insist that we go check out a super cool coffee shop that I had read about on Yelp.
Lola Coffee

 Yes, it was super cool.  I could almost see myself living in Downtown PHX.  But for the same reasons as everyone else that moves to the suburbs, we probably will stay put.  Why do people move to the burbs, anyway?
Some big, actually old palm trees in the Historic Roosevelt District

Portland in Phoenix

It's practical, really.  It's cheaper, you get more space, it's often safer.  In our case, it's closer to work and school.  But I don't really know anyone who actually likes the suburbs.  Except for this one girl I met onetime, who told me that she liked visiting the city and then going home to the suburbs.  But it seems that most people talk about living in the suburbs ruefully, as if they sort of regret it.  There is a sort of sadness in reaching the maturity level where you are willing to give up the cool factor for practical reasons.  But really, who needs to be within walking distance of all the best bars and restaurants?  The best happy hour in town is at my house anyway.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Cherry Picked

I hope everyone had a fun 4th of July.  I woke up to full on rain - the streets were wet and everything!  This was sort of ironic since I moved from a temperate rainforest where it rains 155 days a year to "The Valley of the Sun".  However, despite the fact that if I had been in Portland, I would have complained about the rain, this was a welcome sight.  The morning rain seemed to significantly cool the temperatures.  It stayed under 100 degrees all day.  We were comfortably able to sit outside while we barbequed in the evening, and even eat outside without bursting into flames!  It was wonderful.

To celebrate our nation's independence, I decided the to make a cherry tart.  Cherries are in season right now, and we picked up some gorgeous ones the other day.  When I saw this recipe on pinterest, I knew I had to make it!

Fresh Cherry Tart (slightly adapted from Everyday Food)

9 Graham crackers
3 Tablespoons plus 1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 oz bar cream cheese, room temperature ( I used Neufch√Ętel
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 Tablespoon seedless raspberry jam

  First, I had to pit all of those cherries  It's has been years since I've pitted cherries, and of course I don't own a cherry-pitter - I agree with Alton Brown that unitaskers are generally silly kitchen gadgets to have.  I found this video on YouTube that demonstrates how to pit cherries using a chopstick.  It's pretty easy, and made quick work of those cherries.  After pitting, cut them in half. 

This tart doesn't require much cooking, which is great in this heat.  You do have to turn on your oven to bake the crust - but it only takes 15 minutes and then you can turn it off.   After you turn on your oven to 350 so it can preheat, you can assemble your crust:

  In your food processor grind 9 graham crackers (which is one sleeve if you buy the Honey Maid brand) and 2 tablespoons of sugar until finely ground.  Melt 6 tablespoons of butter, and add to the graham cracker crumbs until it reaches your desired consistency - the recipe calls for 6 tablespoons, but I thought it might be a little too much butter.  Far be it from me to question Martha, but next time I will add it more gradually, and I have a feeling 5 tablespoons might be better.  Use your best judgment.

 Pour your graham cracker mixture into a tart pan - the kind with the removable bottom if you have it.  Yes, I have a tart pan that I bought 10 years ago for another Martha recipe, I knew I would use it again!  Press it into the bottom and sides of the pan.  It helps to use a flat bottomed measuring cup to push it against the sides.

 Now bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  While it's baking you can pit your cherries.  When the crust is done, cool it on a wire rack.  It needs to be completely cool before you fill it.

To make the filling, whip 8 oz of cream cheese with half a teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Gradually add 3/4 cup of heavy cream, whip until it forms soft peaks.  Pour it into your crust and spread to make it even.

 Arrange cherries on top.  To make the glaze, place 1 tablespoon of seedless raspberry jam and one teaspoon of water in a microwave save cup, and heat for about 30 seconds in the microwave.  Stir to combine.  Brush the glaze over the cherries. 

Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

We have been enjoying this tart for the last two days - it is a nice cool treat, and not super heavy.  Perfect for the hot summer weather everyone (except Oregon and Washington) is having!
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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Moving right along...

Sunday was the two week mark of my arrival to Arizona.  Wow, it feels like longer.  And although a two week "vacation" was nice after finishing up the busiest time of my life, I am ready to get back into the swing of things.

On Friday I visited the school that I hope to attend for my Masters program.  It was exciting and scary - and then disappointing when I realized my total GPA was lower than I thought it was.  I sort of wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into my younger self.  I'm not sure what I was doing 10 years ago, but apparently it wasn't studying.  I spent the weekend being sort of mopey and lamenting to K that we should get a clean slate after 10 years.  I mean, your credit gets wiped after 7, why should your GPA haunt you forever and ever?

Luckily, I had something to force me out of my pity party - a condensed summer class in a subject I am not comfortable in, now with increased pressure to get an A.  Ahh, yes, that's more like it.  I feel better already.  It also helps that I'm not working and I have my very own personal tutor (K is really really good at math).

It was also encouraging that we FINALLY found a place that we like when we went to brunch on Sunday.  As I said before, we have had very little luck finding restaurants to satisfy our foodie hearts.  On Saturday we made breakfast at home, which I declared the Best Breakfast in Arizona (and she's humble too!).

  But I love going out for breakfast, so we decided to try a place that I had bookmarked in Yelp long ago - Postino's East.  But it is listed as a wine bar, and I was planning on going there for happy hour sometime.  When we were at a different restaurant last week, we saw a sign across the street for a "Rockin' Brunch" - and it turned out to be Postino's.

Walking up, I was encouraged.  They were playing Citizen Cope.  Good sign.  We walked in - it was buzzing but not packed - there was no wait.  Was this heaven?  The atmosphere was lovely - warm and modern and beautiful.  We ordered a pot of french pressed coffee.
French Press at Postino's
Ciabatta French Toast at Postino's

The food was as delicious as it looks.  I think I can safely say that this was the best restaurant we have been to in Arizona. 

Also, apparently being a wine bar makes it socially acceptable to do some day drinking (classy day drinking, of course) - because I noticed more than a few people drinking glasses of wine before 11am.  I try to stick to the good old standard, no wine before 5pm - so K and I just ordered another pot of french press.  But I am looking forward to returning for happy hour.

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