Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spiced Raisin Quick Bread

I made a quick bread recipe I found at About.com, Spiced Raisin Quick Bread. Rather than buying croissants or other baked goods from Baywood Cafe, I like to make something to take instead. So I've been trying recipes that sound good. I have a good half dozen or so on a list of recipes to try.

Anyway, I pretty much followed the instructions, except I did not add the lemon zest/peel. I am not too fond of lemon zest in my baked goods, and I find peeling the zest a bit of a pain. I did accidentally end up putting the lemon extract in the creamed sugar and egg mixture instead of with the milk, so I just added the vanilla to the lemon. If I make this again, I'd probably mix the raisins in at the end instead of after creaming the eggs and sugar together. I don't like using the mixer after adding raisins or other chunky additions, so I ended up having to mix it by hand. I'd also probably experiment with adding some additional spices, such as some cinnamon to give it a little more flavor.

Overall, the bread is a bit bland, and could use a few more raisins (I love raisins!). I ended up baking it in two loaf pans instead of one, but this recipe could have fit in a single loaf pan.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend Cooking

I try to cook several things over the weekend so I have leftovers for both lunch and dinner. I always prefer taking a container of leftover soup or stew than a sandwich or having to resort to getting a sandwich or something from the mini-restaurant downstairs.

So this weekend I made corned beef and short rib stew with ale, both from Simply Recipes.

Corned Beef (aka New England Boiled Dinner)
Every now and again I crave a little corned beef, so I make this. It's easy, just toss the corned beef in a pot, cook, then add the vegetables later.

I add some peppercorns, whole cloves, and a bay leaf in addition to the spice packet that comes with the corned beef. I also use about half of a small head of cabbage and some potatoes, and leave out the carrot.

Short Rib Beef Stew with Ale
I sent Carlon out for some Newcastle Brown Ale so I could use it in this. Good thing he got a six pack -- he made serious inroads on the other 5 bottles in the six pack once I used one in the stew. I didn't have any hot paprika on hand, so I used regular. The stew is really good, but would probably be even better with a bit of a bite from hot paprika instead of regular. And yes, it's been hot weather-wise, so not necessarily stew weather, but I like to toss stuff into a pot and let it cook, especially since we don't have a grill set up yet. And soups and stews make excellent lunches, just toss some in a container, pop the lid on, and take to work.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Books, Movies, and Books Turned into Movies

I just finished reading The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. I've also seen the movie version of The Devil Wears Prada half a dozen times (on the conservative side). And this is a prime example of why I do not like to watch movies based on books. I enjoyed the movie. It became one of the ones my mom and I would throw in the DVD player if we couldn't agree on anything else. Since I liked the movie, and I kept getting recommendations for it on both amazon.com and whatshouldIreadnext.com, I figured I'd go ahead and read it. And I enjoyed the book.


The book clashed with the movie. The main character's best friend is very different in the book compared to the movie. Same with the boyfriend. It's very obvious that the movie is based on the book, but there were significant differences.

This is a very good example of why I do not like to watch movies based on books I've read, whether it's Harry Potter, Narnia, or any of the other myriad movies currently playing in the theaters that are based on books (and they all seem to be based on books these days). When I read a book, I have a vision in my head of what the characters look like, what the action is like, and when I see a movie, it often conflicts with what goes on in my head. And I've discovered that I much prefer my version of a book than a movie director's version.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cinnamon Apple Cake

I usually like to make some sort of baked goodie to take to work for breakfast. And while this is a cake and usually meant to be dessert, I think it does quite well for breakfast, as long as I don't get too many cinnamon crumbs on my pants and then smear them as I try and brush them off.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
(adapted from Cooking Light)

1 3/4 cups sugar (divided)
3/4 cup cream cheese (softened) - about 1.5 packages
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups Rome apple (cored, peeled, and chopped) - about 2 large apples

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Grease an 8" springform pan.

Core, peel and chop the apples if you haven't already. Blend two teaspoons cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar in bowl and sprinkle two tablespoons over cut apples. Stir a bit to cover apples. Set remainder of cinnamon-sugar mixture aside.

Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and beat at low speed until well blended.

Stir apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into springform pan and sprinkle remaining cinnamon-sugar on top.

Bake at 350° F for 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) or until cake pulls away from sides. Cool completely on a wire rack. Use a serrated knife to cut.

Some beautiful NorCal photos...

My friend took these photos while out paddling around in the water in northern California. Personally, the water is probably just a tad bit too cold for my now acclimated Florida bones. But the air probably smells delightful, and the weather is probably just wonderfully crisp and clear.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Movie Review: Forbidden Kingdom

We got free passes for last night's "premiere" of Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan. I got dragged along, kicking and screaming, because I could think of lots of other things I'd rather be doing than watching a martial arts film.

But it turns out that despite the whole movie theater experience (there's a reason I prefer renting videos -- better snacks and no smelly people that invade my personal space), the movie was pretty good. My definition of a good movie is one where I don't look at my watch during the show to see how much longer I have to suffer. So, in this case, I was actually entertained.

I had a hard time understanding Jackie Chan on more than one occasion. And I thought some of the lines were a bit on the cheesy side. And like any other movie with long drawn out scenes, such as car crashes, things getting blown up, I thought some of the fight scenes went on a bit too long. But despite not being an aficionado of martial arts movies, let alone not having any knowledge whatsoever of martial arts movies, I enjoyed the movie.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Trouble with Trilliums

These are photos taken by Marcella in Arcata, CA, of trilliums. I love how beautifully green and cool it looks there in northern California.




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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm R2-D2

Your results:
You are R2-D2

Luke Skywalker
Han Solo
Jabba the Hutt
Princess Leia
Qui-Gon Jinn
What you lack in height
and communication skills,
you make up for in industriousness,
technical know-how and being there
when others need you most.

(This list displays the top 10 results out of a possible 21 characters)

Click here to take the Star Wars Personality Test

Windy Beach Walk

Left work on time today! An unusual event, to say the least, but things are rather calm at the moment so I took advantage of the opportunity to come home in time to go to the beach with Carlon. He runs, I walk. We went out there today at 5, and it was WINDY!!!! And it was low tide. Very low tide. I usually walk into the wind on the first leg, so I have the wind at my back on my way home. Since it was low tide, there were large amounts of foam sitting at the water's edge. As a particularly large gust of wind came along, chunks of foam would break free and skate across the sand. It looked like something out of a weird sci-fi movie -- attack of the killer sea foam (which reminds me, my brother still has my Grave Robbers from Outer Space card game)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Old Apartment View

This is the view of the Cedar River that we had in our old apartment. View from the new apartment coming soon, but it isn't anywhere near as spectacular as this one.
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The other day I was driving home, and the light and timing was just perfect -- all the reflectors on the barriers were lit by the sun and it looked like someone had taken an orange highlighter and run it down the middle of the road.

Unfortunately, the look wasn't quite the same the next day when I took this photo -- I think my timing was off, plus the light turned green. Anyway, this is the new bridge along Beach Blvd heading east towards Neptune/Jacksonville Beach. This bridge replaces the old drawbridge over the intracoastal waterway.
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Mexican Pork

I made this the other day and it was a huge hit with Carlon. Unfortunately for me, it was a tad too spicy. The flavor was good, but the afterburn was a bit much for my tender tastebuds. This one is also from Pure Flavor.

2 1/4 lbs boneless pork sirloin chops, cut into 1/2" cubes (I used boneless pork roast, I think -- basically whatever I had in the freezer that day)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tbl olive oil
1 cup chicken stock
1 7oz can or jar salsa verde (mild to medium) -- I used Herdez salsa verde, and the only heat option was HOT!!!
6 cloves garlic crushed or chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbl ground cumin
1 tbl + 1 tsp chili powder
1 tbl dried oregano
dash cayenne pepper

In bowl, season pork with salt and pepper.

In large skillet (I used a dutch oven with a lid) over high heat, heat the oil and add the pork, searing it on one side. Stir the pork and continue searing it on all sides, stirring occasionally. Pork is done when liquid in pan has evaporated.

Add chicken stock through cayenne and 3 cups of water to the skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes until desired amount of sauce is left.

Macaroni and Cheese - the adult version

The other day I was craving macaroni and cheese, so I tried this recipe from Pure Flavor. I chose gruyere for the cheese sauce, which tasted good, but had a rather strong smell to it. I think the next time I try this, I might try provolone instead of the gruyere in the cheese sauce.

Macaroni & Cheese Casserole

12 ounces pasta
4 cups cheese sauce
2 ounces Cheddar cheese grated (1/2 cup)
2 ounces Gruyere cheese grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp chile powder

Preheat oven to 350F and butter or oil a baking dish.

Cook pasta just until cooked -- it will finish cooking in the oven. Rinse pasta in cool water.

Combine the cooked pasta and the cheese sauce in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place into baking dish and sprinkle cheddar and gruyere cheese and chile powder on top.

Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

Original recipe called for chipotle chile powder, which I didn't have. I used a sprinkle of regular chile powder instead. But I think paprika would have been a better choice.

Cheese sauce:

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 1/2 cups grated semi-hard cheese (I used gruyere and cheddar; other options might be swiss, gouda, emmenthaler, or provolone)
1/2 cup grated semi-soft cheese (I used monterey jack; other options might be colby, fontina, havarta, or mozzarella)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder

I didn't put any chile powder in the cheese sauce, relying upon the chile powder I sprinkled over the whole casserole. I also didn't have garlic powder, so I used a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic salt instead.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue stirring and cook for 2 more minutes. (Will get a bit bubbly, but don't let it sit or it will burn.)

Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. (Add milk in small batches, and make sure it's all stirred in and smooth before adding the next bit of milk -- this would be my mother's instructions to ensure a smooth sauce because no one wants a lumpy sauce!). Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stir frequently. Then remove from heat.

Add the cheeses, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder. (I recommend adding the cheese in batches and letting it melt before adding the next batch.) Stir until cheese is incorporated. Use immediately or refrigerate.

Makes enough sauce for the mac & cheese casserole above.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Orange Peel Beef

This is from The Essential Asian Cookbook, the Chinese food section. This is quick and easy, especially if I don't have to slice the beef myself. And it tastes so much better than the restaurant version. To round this out, we heated up some frozen vegetables as a side dish.

Beef with Mandarin

11.25 oz rib eye steak, finely sliced (I used the stir fry beef pre-cut in the butcher section)
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbl peanut oil
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 tsp finely chopped dried mandarin or tangerine peel (I use Spice Islands dried orange peel -- it's the only thing I could find around here)
2 tsp soy sauce (extra)
1 1/2 tsp powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup beef stock

Place the beef in a bowl. Mix the soy sauce, sherry, ginger and sesame oil together and pour over the beef. Stir to mix until beef coated. Set aside and let marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat the peanut oil in a wok or pan over medium-high to high heat. Add beef and stir-fry until meat changes color. Add the white pepper, orange peel, extra soy sauce, and sugar. Stir and stir fry briefly.

Dissolve the cornstarch in some of the beef stock. Add the rest of the beef stock to the pan and stir, then add the dissolved cornstarch and stir. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens.

Serve over rice.

A quote for today's times...

"There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president."
-- Kurt Vonnegut

Chicken Marsala

Also from SimplyRecipes.com, I made the Chicken Marsala with Pancetta and Cream. For the most part, I followed this exactly, although I had to substitute regular bacon for the pancetta. I've been unable to locate a store here in Jacksonville that carries some of the more "exotic" items that I would normally be able to find in Trader Joe's or some of the grocery stores in Santa Barbara. (Oh, TJs, when will you build a store in Florida???)

Even with the subtle difference based upon the bacon choice, this was excellent. We ended up having it with rice on the side. The sauce was quite yummy -- I love cooked onions. I could see adding some sliced mushrooms at some point in the cooking in a future version of this.

Beef Pot Roast -- Two Thumbs Up!

Last weekend, in between frantic bouts of work, I managed to cook a few things. One was the Beef Roast Braised in Zinfandel recipe from SimplyRecipes.com. For the most part, I followed the recipe exactly, but in the interests of getting work done, I had to perform a few shortcuts. Based on the result, these didn't impact the final outcome one bit.

1) I used a cabernet sauvignon (one of the under 7$ a bottle brands) instead of the zinfandel
2) I didn't tie the roast together (I didn't have any string)
3) I didn't turn the roast every 45 minutes -- too much work for me to pay attention to the food that frequently

After 3 hours of cooking, the meat was falling apart. I managed to pull out most of the vegetables before running the sauce through a sieve, but I did miss a carrot or piece of celery in a few spots. But overall, that didn't change the delicious outcome. This was excellent served with mashed potatoes on the side.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spinach Artichoke Dip

I need very little persuasion to make this dip. In fact, any excuse I can come up with to make it will work. Especially when I'm craving something with melted cheese.

This recipe is modified from one I found in Cooking Light years ago, and is no longer considered "light", and by this time, I have no idea what the actual amounts were in the original recipe.

2 packages of cream cheese (room temperature -- it's easier to mix with the other ingredients)
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (I get the 3 cup pre-grated stuff in a bag)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 can artichoke hearts (not the marinated stuff - it gives the dip a weird oily taste), chopped
1 package frozen chopped spinach (thawed, rinsed, and water squeezed out)
1/4 cup (or one large dollop) sour cream (optional) - recipe works just fine without this

Mix all ingredients together and put in a 9x13 glass baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese on top. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes until bubbly and edges start to brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before digging in.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Sweating season has arrived...

Here in northeast Florida, there are two seasons -- sweating and non-sweating. Sweating season has officially arrived. This means that I sweat in my sleep. I sweat when I walk outside. I sweat when I breathe. I'm completely soaked before I start my beach walk in the morning.

I also know that I'm getting pretty acclimated to the weather. While, yes, sweating season might have arrived, up until this week, it was too cold to go outside most of the time without a sweater in my opinion. And yet, there would be people on the beach in bikinis or shorts while I was shivering and wondering how fast can I get back to the car and turn the heater on.

Now, my goal is to hold off on turning on the air conditioner until May. So wish me luck...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My Blues Name...

Curly Legs Lee

If I weren't married, it would be Curly Legs Smith. One of my brothers-in-law: Fat Back Jackson.

Got these from Sticky Fingers when we had dinner there the other night after we moved. As usual, I got the sampler platter, substituting the sweet or whiskey for the jabanero. I think the jabanero is too hot (yes, I'm a wimp). As usual, the ribs were good.