Monday, November 23, 2009

A little bit of Maine for you. Ayuh!

I think I've mentioned before that once a month 3 friends of mine and I get together and make a big dinner. We rotate hosting and whoever hosts picks the theme and makes the entree, the others bring appetizers, sides and dessert. We've been going strong since last October, which is pretty impressive that we've kept up the tradition, and it shows no signs of stopping. Good thing, because I love it. Anywho. I pride myself on my dessert abilities, and I hadn't been in charge of dessert for a while, so when I was given dessert duty this month, I thought, CHEESECAKE, that'll impress 'em. I was so pumped. I read through the recipe, made my grocery list, and was all set to go, and then saw the final two directions. Cool for 2-3 hours, then chill for at least 4. Uh. That's minimum 6 hours between finishing cooking the thing, and eating. And dinner is at 6. So. Shoot. I decided that the cheesecake would have to wait for another time, when I plan ahead a bit better and prep the night before.

So here I was, it's 11 am, I have tons of time till dinner, but I had a friend in town that I wanted to see for an hour or two, and bear in mind I take the bus over to my friends house, so it had to be something portable. I came across Creme Caramel in my cookbook and had pretty good feelings about eating that for dessert, but realized that was not something you can make at home, then carry on a bus for 15 minutes, walk a few blocks with, eat dinner, then serve and have it look the way it should. So that was out. I found 3 or 4 different chocolate cake recipes, each with their own variation, that sounded fantastic, but I always make people chocolate cakes (they're my weakness, and most other people's too, so they're usually a good choice). So I gave up and went and hung out with my friend for a bit. Now it's nearly 1 pm and I still haven't picked a dessert. First I flipped through the dessert section of a bunch of my cookbooks (Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, The Art of Mastering French Cooking, Craig Claiborne's NY Times Cookbook, and last but not least, Cook's Illustrated's 'Best Recipes' book). Nope. Nothing that yelled 'make this Elspeth!'. So then I went over to my stack of magazines. I subscribe to both Cook's Illustrated and Bon Appetit, and both offer, so nicely, and index, by category, of all of their recipes in the issue. So I frantically flipped to the last page of each magazine, making piles of yes or no. The yes pile is where all the delicious sounding chocolate cakes came into play...oh those will be made one day, and they will be so delicious! Anyway, back to my mission. I got to the end and last but not least, in the October 2005 Bon Appetit, which I bought at a used bookstore for 80 cents, had a recipe for Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Ohhhhhhhhhh boy. Not only are whoopie pies a Maine thing (people say they're a New England thing sometimes, but Maine is the state that fully embraces them) but they are pumpkin (!) just in time for Thanksgiving, when pumpkin is on the mind. I baked 'em up, put them together and voila, in no time I had a dessert that was quickly (and happily) gobbled down a few hours later.

Whew. This post is a bit longer than I originally planned, and I haven't even talked about the fabulousness that is whoopie pies. In short, whoopie pies are two chocolaty cake cookies (excited yet?) with super sweet white sugar something in the middle. They're wrapped in plastic wrap and in every general store in Maine. I promise. Usually with a sticker on it saying that they were made by so and so, who is the owners sisters aunt or something. Pure delicious. Also pure 'bad for you' but, it's worth it.

This recipe, which is a bit more refined, seeing as it IS in Bon Appetit, not Uncle Henry's (the local weekly classifieds booklet, preferred over Craigslist by Mainers I'm sure, and also found in every store in Maine). You'll find it's cream cheese mixed with the powdered sugar rather than shortening, and you can make these a bit more manageable size wise, rather than the huge ones you'll find in Maine. These cake cookies are so moist, and the overall taste is quite delicious, and for not much work too, so this is a great party pleaser.

Here's the recipe, from Bon Appetit's October 2005 issue (and from the RSVP section, where it states that the recipe is actually from Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe in Brattleboro, VT...bah. Vermont. Whatever).

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Makes about 24 (I halved the recipe this weekend and it worked just fine!)

2 3/4 cups flour
4 1/2 t ground cinnamon
2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 1/2 t ground ginger
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t ground cloves
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 T dark molasses
2 t vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups canned pure pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk

2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temp (that is two 8-ounce, not 28 ounces)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
2 t vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Begin with the cookies. Whisk first 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, molasses and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in pumpkin. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating until just combined. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies 1 sheet at a time until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 13 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. While cookies are baking, make the filling. Beat all ingredients for the filling together in a medium bowl until smooth. Adjust sugar amount to your liking. Once cookies have cooled, spread 2 tablespoons of filling on flat side of 1 cookie. Top with second cookie, forming a sandwich. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling, and of course, adjust filling to cookie ratio to your liking. Let stand at room temperature for up to a few hours, if it will be longer than that until you serve them, refrigerate until ready, but try to serve them at room temp.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


Mmm yum. One of my favorite things is homemade macaroni and cheese. It's so easy to make, and so tasty and certainly one of my top comfort foods. My friend and I had both had slightly rough weeks, so Friday I had her over for dinner and we happily devoured the warm deliciousness that is mac and cheese. I highly recommend it, whether it's a cold night, you need an easy entree, or you're looking for some comfort food to delight in. I'd like to say this is a family recipe, but I believe it's originally from the back of the Prince pasta box, though I've made a few edits to it. As I recall the original recipe called for all cheddar cheese. Once we had some leftover asiago in the fridge, so I tossed that in, and it gave it a great extra zing. Somewhere along the way I started doing about half monterey jack and half cheddar, with an eighth or a quarter of a lb of asiago. Play around with the cheese ratios and find one that fits your tastes best!

1 cup elbow macaroni
1/2 lb cheese
2 T butter
2 T flour
1/4 t dry mustard
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1 1/2 cups milk

Directions: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook elbow macaroni, drain, and add to a buttered casserole or baking dish (approximately equivalent to an 8" x 8" size pan). Cut cheese into small cubes. Over medium low heat, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour, dry mustard, salt and pepper and blend with a whisk. Add milk slowly, whisking while you pour it in, and keep stirring until sauce thickens. Add cheese cubes to saucepan, stirring until melted. Pour over macaroni and casserole dish and stir just a bit to make sure everything is mixed together. Bake for 30 minutes, serve and enjoy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's official! I'm a Seattleite.

(Photo Credit: New York Times)
It's official, I'm fairly prepared for the wet winter weather! After enduring last winter with soggy feet (I was unemployed, so couldn't really go out and buy some snazzy new boots, could I?), I now own nice boots AND fun rain boots. All I need now is to switch over to a waterproof jacket (all I have is a water-resistant one) and I'll be good to go! Yeah yeah, it seems silly that I don't own a rain jacket yet, but they're really expensive, and it doesn't often POUR here, so often my water resistant jacket is fine, or my winter wool coat. Umbrellas work in the fall, but the wind really picks up in the winter and umbrellas don't stand a chance. Anyway, the Mainer in me couldn't resist these boots when I saw them, so check 'em out!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Farmers Market is Winding Down...

Well! You can tell fall has arrived and winter is just around the corner! The air is brisk, the rain comes often, the wind is strong, and the leaves can't handle any of it! After four years of living in Southern California, I love it! Any sign of a change in season, of brisk air, I relish.

Last year my farmers market only ran until the end of November, this year though, it's running all the way until December 20th! Sunday isn't quite as complete without a nice stroll through my farmers market, and though the pickings are getting smaller, there's still some great stuff. Here's what I got last weekend...

Since the flower selection is nearly non existent, I got some eucalpytus, which is some nice greenery around the apartment. The cabbage, well. When I bought it, I was all pumped to make stuffed cabbage. I haven't yet, the last few days have been quite sunny and I haven't felt the urge to cook a hearty cold weather meal (which is what I think of when I think of stuffed cabbage, not sure if that's accurate, but.). The carrots I couldn't resist, at only $2 for that big bunch of hearty carrots. Yom yom yom! Besides just munching on carrot sticks, which are so delicious, especially with local organic carrots like these, I love to cook carrots with honey, just like my Mom always did. Delicious!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Halloween is a time to be crafty!

So. Halloween was a week ago, in case you missed that somehow. I was a crafty little bugger this year and made my own dress, which was a blast! My friend and I both got short haircuts a few months ago, and realized that we would make great flappers, so we dressed as a pair. I used to sew a lot growing up, and my mom sewed a ton, she even made my sister's prom dress! Crafty lady, my mom is. Anywho. I've been itching to sew something for quite a bit, so I went all out this year. I used vintage fringe I found on and got the rest of my supplies at Stitches, a great little sewing shop on Pike Street in Capitol Hill. I'm quite pleased with how the dress turned out!

To round out the homemaker in me, I made sugar cookies and pumpkin cupcakes for the party, which were festive and tasty! The pumpkin cupcakes themselves were good, but the frosting was a disaster so I'm going to skip on those recipes. The sugar cookies, on the other hand, were taaasty, so I've included the recipe below, taken from 'The Christmas Cookie Book' by Lou Seibert Pappas. Ignore the name of the book title and think Halloween! So...Happy Halloween!

Ingredients: 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract and beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Scrape out the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Wrap and chill for about an hour, or until firm. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a section to about 1/8th of an inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut into the desired shape and place on a baking sheet. Bake the cookies 6-8 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining sections of dough. Decorate as you wish!

Pot Roast

There's nothing tastier on a cold day than my Dad's pot roast, so as the weather turned cold in the last few weeks, I decided it was time for me to take a stab at making it myself. I love cooking things that fill your home with a delicious aroma, and since a pot roast has to cook for a considerable amount of time (~4-5 hours all in all), this is certainly one of those dishes. I wanted to use as many ingredients as I could, so I headed over to my Sunday farmers market (which runs a month later than usual this year, until Dec. 20th!) and got what I needed. Here's my haul...

Everything but the leeks and the butternut squash was for the pot roast. The lady at the stand I got the celery and leeks from laughed pretty hard when I presented the single stalk of celery to her. "Do you seriously expect me to charge you for that?" she asked me. "Yes!" I replied. She didn't. I hate celery, but it does fantastic things to stock, so I knew I couldn't skip that step. I happily hurried home with my haul, proud of myself for even getting the meat at the farmers market. For a few reasons, I barely eat beef these days. First of all, I've been trying to reduce my meat intake quite a bit, because nutritionally it's really not all the necessary to eat vast amounts of it, ethically, I don't want to support the beef business and on the tail end of that, out of wanting to be a healthy person, I've reduced my beef intake because of the dangers of eating beef due to horrible practices by the beef industry. More on that in another post.

It's really a shame I'm so against store bought beef too, because when I got home, it occurred to me that it was nearing 2 pm, my roast had to cook for 4 hours, and my friends were arriving for dinner in that same amount of time. The problem? I bought a nice, wholesome, grass fed chunk of beef....that was frozen solid. And I don't own a microwave. So. Kind of a silly move on my part. I had to run over to get a few more ingredients from the grocery store, and lo and behold, roasts were 'buy one get one free'. So I caved and bought the two smallest
I could find...each about 1.9 lbs. My recipe, which said served 6-8 people, called for a 3 lb roast. I now had just under 4 lbs of beef for 4 people. Oh well, I thought, I LOVE pot roast. I cooked the roast, and happily my apartment filled with the great smell of vegetable stock, followed by the even more delicious smell of beef, stock and herbs simmering. Each time I turned the roasts, the meat felt more and more tender. By the time the rest of the meal was ready, I had two deliciously tender pieces of meat as well as some tasty carrots and potatoes that had cooked with the meat for the last half hour or so. We only ended up eating one of the roasts, but I had delicious leftovers for the next week, so, whew, it wasn't a problem!

I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe for 'Simple Pot Roast', found below. Serves 6-8 people.

Ingredients: 1 boneless chuck-eye roast (~3 1/2 lbs), patted dry with paper towels
Salt and ground black pepper
2 T vegetable pil
1 medium onion, chopped medium
1 small carrot, chopped medium
1 small celery rib, chopped medium
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 t sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 - 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup dry red wine

Directions: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the roast generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large oven proof Dutch oven over medium high head, brown the roast thoroughly on all sides (8-10 minutes each), reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke. Transfer the roast to a large plate; set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown (6-8 minutes). Add the garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and beef broths and thyme, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Return the roast and any accumulated juices on the plate to the pot; add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the roast. Cover with a lid, bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook, turning the roast every 30 minutes, until the roast is nearly tender and a sharp knife slips in and out of the meat with little resistance, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Remove the roast from the pot and tent with tinfoil. Pour the braising liquid through a mesh strainer and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the empty pot and let settle for 5 minutes; use a wide spoon to skim the fat off the surface. Return the roast to the liquid and add your desired amount of small red potatoes and carrots. For 6-8 people add about 1 1/2 lbs of each. Return the pot to the oven and cook for about 30 more minutes, until vegetables are almost tender. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the roast to a carving board; tent with foil to keep warm. Add the wine, salt and pepper to taste. Boil over high heat until the vegetables are fully tender, 5-10 minutes. Serve the meat and vegetables with sauce poured over it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Hangover

Well folks. Election day has come and gone. In Maine, the results are in, and they aren't good, so I'm having a bit of an election day hangover. Yesterday I was full of nerves, but super excited, and today I just feel 'ugh'. Since Seattle folks vote by mail, we don't get the final vote count until 4:30 PST, and the race for mayor is so close that we probably wont' have an official result on that for a few days (the current report is that McGinn is ahead by 910 votes, out of the 85,000 that have been counted), so let's get back to the news about Maine.

Maine voted to reject gay marriage. I'm appalled. I'm shocked. I'm sad. Honestly? As many have pointed out, the fact that we even put people's rights to equality to a VOTE is absurd. The fact that when give the chance to grant or deny rights to a minority group, rights that the majority group unquestionably has, and we deny those rights, just makes me sick. I don't understand how there could be so much hate, so much disillusionment that No on 1 did not prevail last night. I do firmly believe that the majority of people in Maine wished to grant same sex couples the right to marry, but that many were confused about the language on the ballot and/or confused by the Yes on 1 campaign who used lies and manipulations. The main tactic was to make people think that their whole life would be changed if they voted yes (but seriously, that's not an excuse, so what if your kids find out in school that it's totally okay to have to men or two women in a committed relationship) or...and this is what I think happened to the rural, and often older, folks in Maine, they made people think that voting 'yes' granted rights. I don't know if that all makes sense, but I want to believe that the people of Maine, overall, aren't that intolerant, but it's really hard to say with a vote like last nights.

In better news, Dow Constantine beat the pants of Susan Hutchison, thank god for that, Tim Eyman's initiative got rejected by a landslide (as far as Tim Eyman's initiatives go, at least), and Referendum 71 is trending towards 'Approved', which is fantastic. I got to go to Kay Smith-Blum's victory party last night, as she won resoundingly over the incumbent to become the new School Board member for District 5. She has great ideas, she's unbelievably well informed and I think she's going to do a great job! So. Washington election results are so far so good, but I'm really having trouble celebrating, due to the loss in Maine. Perhaps when we get the final results for the mayors race, McGinn will have won, and I can celebrate more then...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day!

It's election day folks. One of my most and least favorite days of the year. I love election day because I love politics, I love the possibility for change, I love finally finding out what the result of everyone's hard work campaigning for change is. What I hate? Waiting. Seeing how few people vote. Seeing anti-choice, intolerant values and candidates win. So. Today I am a ball of nerves. But, I'm a hopeful ball of nerves. Many people could care less about today's elections, but there are some really important things on the ballot...I'll highlight the ones that I'm worked up about...

In Maine. Proposition 1. Governer Baldacci signed into law the right for same sex partners to marry. Prop 1 is trying to veto that law and they are using the same people, same $$, and same lies they used in California to confuse and manipulate votes. Vote No on 1. Support equality in Maine.

In Seattle (some King County, some statewide):

Mayor: Democrats Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan are neck and neck in the polls. Mike McGinn is an environmentalist, a lawyer and someone who is going to put Seattle on the right track. Joe Mallahan is a T Mobile executive who has little experience, a bad voting record and has used his own personal funds to get himself this far. Vote McGinn!

County Exec: Dow Constantine supports a woman's right to choose, has experience and will work hard for equality, the environment and a slew of other things. Susan Hutchison is a staunch conservative who is anti-choice, has no experience and is counting on her name recognition from years as a TV anchor to pull her through. She is wrong for King County and a win for her is a win for intolerance.

Referendum 71: Vote APPROVE on Ref 71 to retain the rights given to domestic partners. This isn't just a gay rights issues, it's a senior issue too. Voting APPROVE on Ref 71 gives long term domestic partners the legal rights and protections that they deserve.

Initiative 1033: This is a Tim Eyman initiative, must I say more? Vote NO on I-1033 to make sure Tim Eyman doesn't succeed in his efforts to cap our government growth and push our economy into an even worse position fiscally. Vote for the sake of our schools, healthcare, the environment, each and every person who lives in Washington, just vote NO!

So there you have it, the things that I'm so anxious about. Now go vote if you haven't already!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Razor Clams - From Beach to Plate!

Whew. I'm a bit behind on posting, so if all goes as planned, there will be a 3 or 4 catch up posts in the next few days. If my grade school art teacher, Mrs. Turcotte, were here, she would pull out the huge cardboard cut out of a ketchup bottle, and then we'd all get to work catching up. But anywho.

A few weeks ago a group of us went out to my friends family beach cabin on the Washington coast. For the record, it's my favorite spot to be on the West Coast. When we were there in April, it was the official 'Razor Clam' season and we woke up to dozens of personal planes, a scattering of helicopters and many a 4 wheel drive vehicle on the beach, accompanied by a bajillion people digging for razor clams. A few friendly clammers showed us their loot and we were certainly impressed - the clams were huge!

This time around, the personal planes weren't there, but as the tide went
down we noticed a bunch of locals headed out to the beach to dig for clams. We thought, hey, we should give it a go! So we headed out to
the beach with our snazzy clam digging piece of metal and tried our luck. The first few holes provided us with some funny looking shrimp things, or nothing at all...making us a bit nervous about our prospects, but we persevered and headed out closer to the edge of the water and sure enough, we started getting clams! To 'dig' for the clams, you take the metal cylinder (shown here) and wiggle it with all your might straight down into the sand over an air hole. You cover the two metal holes with your fingers and you pull with your whole body, till you've got the cylinder out of the sand. You release your fingers, releasing the suction, and dump the sand out. If all goes as planned, there's a nice big razor clam in the middle of it!
Once we got our fair share of clams (not many, as we didn't quite expect to actually be successful), we headed back to the house. Our friend with an iPhone managed to get reception for JUST long enough to read the first few paragraphs of 'How to Clean a Razor Clam', which proved very helpful. We soaked them in freshwater to purge the sand, dropped them in boiling water for 7-10 seconds to release them from their shells, cut the 'razor' off as well as the black tip of the foot and the guts, then sliced them in half. We then sauted them with butter, lemon and salt and pepper (I believe). The final product was a bit iffy. We let them overcook a bit, and in our nervousness to taste them, let them cool off a bit they weren't the most delicious thing I've ever eaten, but you could tell they COULD be good, if done correctly.

The point is. We dug those clams ourselves. Yeehaw!