29 September 2008

Spicy Tomato-Black Eyed Pea Soup

I was in search of a new take on my favourite comfort food - pasta fagiole soup. This didn't quite work, but it was an attempt. The original soup is fairly basic - onion, celery, carrot, garlic, some herbs, kidney beans, pasta, hot sauce for kick, and tomatoes. More or less.

This was pretty much the same thing, except that I cooked my own black-eyed peas rather than using canned, and I skipped the pasta. Instead of the hot sauce, I diced up a serrano pepper and a red hot pepper.

Unfortunately, the beans just had no intentions of cooking to an edible state. I've never cooked dried beans before, so maybe I just didn't let them soak long enough or maybe I didn't cook them long enough after they'd soaked. Maybe they need to be boiled at a higher temperature. Maybe maybe maybe. I don't know. I got tired of waiting for more edible beans though, and just went on with slightly undercooked beans instead. Maybe when I eat some of the leftovers tomorrow, I'll find them more properly cooked.

I also put in too much tomato. I wasn't paying enough attention to my proportions and essentially doubled up on the crushed tomatoes, so it turned out a bit like tomato puree, rather than tomato soup. So not impressed.

The spice from the peppers didn't pop through at all - too much tomato? - so for tomorrow's leftovers, I added some water to thin it out and a glob of hot sauce. Here's hoping the leftovers will be a more worthwhile meal.

25 September 2008

Steak with Peppercorn Gravy, Cheesy Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans

Another of the Sandi Richard recipes, from the new book, the title of which I don't think I mentioned in my last entry. Actually, I don't really remember the title of the book, and it's downstairs, but I'll be making something else from the book fairly soon, so once I get to that, then I'll have to remember to talk a bit more about it. Really, the book is pretty similar to the other one I've got.

Richard's focus is all on how to streamline the dinner making process so that five days out of every week, dinner can't be the most stressful part of your day. This book, and the other (The Dinner Fix) contain 10 weeks of 5 meals each - complete meals, that is. I modified this dinner, but if I'd made it her way, I'd have seared and cooked the steak first, then got started on the gravy, then I'd have put corn on the cob on to boil, and prepared a salad. Once those things were ready, the gravy would also be ready and the steaks rested, and dinner is ready to be served.

I started out with the potatoes, since they had to boil. And I felt like doing something a little bit more interesting than usual, so I added some torn up Havarti and Provolone cheese (since I could buy those by the slice at my work - I bought one 30g slice of each, and used about half of each in the two servings of potatoes that I made). Yum. All stringy and cheesy and delicious.

The beans are just steamed beans. I didn't even spritz them with a bit of lemon or add butter today. I've been having a little love affair with green beans lately. I wish the fresh ones in the stores looked a little nicer, because they always taste so much better than frozen, but these frozen ones are quite nice as well.

And then the steak. It was good, but not spectacular. I think it could have been better, but it was good enough for me to make a second attempt some day. I think next time I'll crack the peppercorns first, because, really, who wants to eat whole peppercorns? And I think the flavour would get into the gravy a lot more if they were cracked.

I think also that the gravy would have come together more easily if I'd made the full six servings, rather than 2 servings of it. It certainly wasn't bad, but I think it's one of those things that don't translate overly well to a reduction in the recipe.

24 September 2008

Gifts from Grandma

This past weekend my 90 year old grandma came up to visit my sister and I and she brought two quilts with her. This one is a sampler quilt she made for me. (She never has gotten away from the idea that girls should have quilts in pastels. I think every quilt I've got from her has pastel sashing and borders. My sister always gets the reds, but only because my sister is willing to say that she wants something other than pink and I can't be anything but grateful that she'll make anything for me at all - so much work goes into it, how can I tell her to make something in a bold blue or a charcoal or something stronger anyway than Easter pastels?)

A lot of the colours and patterns aren't things I could imagine doing myself, but they're so very much what my grandma does and has always done. Even though I'm a little bit frightened of Sunbonnet Sue (Has anyone done a sort of... Brothers Grimm version of Sunbonnet Sue, with wolves peeking out of the bonnets and bloody axes dripping behind the sweetly-dressed girls' backs?) this is so much a product of my grandma's sort of quilting style, the time she came from and using up all the scraps and all those sorts of things, that I can't help but love it and find it amazing and so much more special than something I could bang out in a weekend and have look perfectly polished.

This is the quilt she brought for my sister - all done in redwork, which looks so amazing. She used to do a bit of blackwork and we've got some of that downstairs in our house, but it's quite beautiful to see it done in colour and made into a quilt, rather than just a framed piece of embroidery.

Rumour has it that she's working on another quilt each for my sister and I. I can't quite imagine how she does all this, when she's almost completely blind in one eye - it's all hand sewn and then hand quilted in her chilly basement on her homemade frame. (My grandpa made her a frame out of saw horses, c-clamps, and two by fours.) She's been making quilts for all the grandkids this last little while. I wish I'd asked to see what she'd made for my BC cousins, but perhaps those ones aren't finished yet.

Hoisin Beef with Green Beans

It's been a few days again and this is what I've come back with? Blah. One of the problems with stir-frys is that they all sort of look more or less the same. A dark sauce on vegetables and meat. And then this one has only one colour of vegetable - green beans - so it doesn't even get a bit of interest from carrots or... something.

Worse than boring, it didn't even taste that good. I didn't know it was possible to make a stir-fry sauce that was made of several ingredients but actually tasted like nothing.

This tasted like nothing. Not green beans, not steak, not soy sauce, not hoisin sauce, not chili sauce, not ginger and garlic. Just an unrelentingly sweet and salty mask for otherwise tasty things.
I knew it would be sweet - hoisin and sweet chili sauce are both made of a lot of sugar. I knew it would be salty - soy sauce and hoisin are both very high in sodium.

In this respect, I think it's the worst thing I've made from one of Sandi Richard's book. The soy sauce soup was pretty awful, too, but this was worse. Maybe I'm so much more bothered by this because I, most of us I imagine, could make a basic stir-fry in our sleep and have it taste better.

Sandi Richard does basic, family friendly recipes very well. She makes things I can imagine eating for everyday occasions. Things I could have imagined my mom making, had my mom been more inclined to try out new things. (Rather more steak and fish than my mom would ever use, but otherwise...) I have had far more successes than failures from her books, so maybe that also is why it bothers me so much. She says in her notes that her family could eat this meal again and again, but I just... why? Why would you want to? Maybe it just didn't translate well to single serving cooking, but this sort of thing usually does translate very well. So I don't know.

The rice was exquisite, though, for brown. You can see how to make it yourself here. I've made, per usual, enough for five meals, so I've got it all single-serving frozen and ready to go. Yay!

21 September 2008

Stampede Postcards

For my Art2Mail postcard exchange, I decided to do a couple of series of postcards (as well as the Doctor Who card I posted earlier). The first series, because we started up our exchange just as Calgary Stampede 2008 was about to start, I decided would be cowboys. I've done cowboy postcards in the past, so it feels a little bit like it's just my thing now. I like the image, even though I'm not all that interested in cowboy culture or the West or whatever.

Because I wanted the cards to have something to do with the actual Calgary Stampede, I bought up newspapers during Stampede week so that I could mine them for interesting photographs and images of cowboys that I could turn into silhouettes for the cards. So each of these images actually comes directly out of local papers. I wish I'd kept notes on what was happening in the cards that came from photos of actual people.

This card isn't based on a picture of a real person during the Stampede, but came from a graphic in the newspaper. I found the real photographs surprisingly difficult to work with because often parts of the scene would be blurred out or cut off so that only the most interesting part was showing, but to make them into silhouettes, it often made unrecognizable shapes of the animals. (The card following this is an example of that.)

I've had a lot of mixed reviews about this card. I've been told it looks like a whale with a dog sitting on its tail. I've been told it looks like a turtle with a teddy bear on its head. I've been told it looks like a blob. I think it could look a bit like a Rorschach blot, if only I'd done a mirror image.

I think I knew too well what the picture was to see what the postcard looks like. It is actually a cowboy wrestling a steer. He's got his arm wrapped around the steer's head, with one of the horns rising up between the cowboy's arm and body. The actual image blurred out the steer's legs and tail and the angle the animal was standing at, in reference to the camera, really shortened the body so that it turned into a big blob. It was, if nothing else, a good exercise in looking at the shape of an image, rather than the image itself. At least if I'm intending to make a silhouette out of it.

And then finally there is this card. One of the things that I was trying to do with this series was to use backgrounds made of fabrics that felt sort of country to me - wheat or things that might have been shirting material or something. I think this card was the least successful, but I was running out of options in my stash. (Or at least running out of options that were in large enough sizes to make into cards.) It seems a little too much like an ocean fabric or something, rather than something cowboy-esque. Ah well. The shape of the cowboy itself is quite interesting, so I think it's excusable.

19 September 2008

Who? postcard

I mentioned in my last entry that I'd joined a quilted postcard exchange, one that is set up through Art2Mail. I'm not sure how long Art2Mail has been around, but my exchange group was the 49th, so it must have been going for a while. I don't think I'd realized that fabric postcards were quite such a common thing in the quilting world, but I suppose I am very much on the outskirts of things - I don't read any of the magazines or often go to shows or belong to any groups. I haven't even been to a quilt store in months.

At any rate, a friend joined the same exchange, so I decided to make something special for her - a Doctor Who postcard, since we're both fans of the show. I found the base image on some colouring pages that the BBC put out. (See them here.)

The tough thing with this card was figuring out where to stitch in the clothing. I didn't draw on any of the lines, just started sewing and hoped things would come out more or less where they needed to. Some of it didn't work out so well, but on the whole, I think the errors blend in well enough that you don't really notice them.

I wish I could have figured out how to give him a face, a basic one at least, but I think anything I could have done would have come out a little bit too cartoony. (I also wish I wouldn't have forgotten the part of his coat that hangs behind the leg propped on the rock, but nobody ever notices that it's missing unless I point it out.)

Fabric Postcards

It's been nearly a year since I updated here, which is a shame for two reasons. First, I just haven't been sewing that much. I do go through stages with sewing, but it was a very, very long off stage for me. Depressingly, distressingly long. But it was largely because I was distressed and depressed for a lot of the time. So.

Second, I kept forgetting to update, even when I did sew. And I've gotten to a lot of intermediary stages on things, but mainly on things I didn't want to update on until they were finished. So I've got this entire quilt put together, but I can't figure out how to quilt or tie it, so I've just not finished it. And there's another quilt that I don't even have any photos of any longer, which is finished but needs to be sandwiched and tied or quilted. And then there's ANOTHER quilt which is sandwiched, but I'm not any good at quilting, so I haven't finished it. One of these days. Maybe.

In any case, I joined an exchange for fabric postcards. I thought something small like that, 4x6 quilts, would be a good way to break myself back into the quilting habit. This card wasn't for the exchange, but it's the first one I'd made after a long while of not doing anything, and just before I started up making cards again.

This particular card was a thank you to my boss's wife, who helped me out with some scrapbooking stuff. I must have been feeling a little crazy when I made it because the colours are so bright and the quilting completely insane. But I like it: it's so bright and cheerful.

17 September 2008

Leek and Oats Stuffed Chicken with Grilled Zucchini and Asparagus

This turned out to be a bit of a hit and miss dinner. I loved the chicken, but could have done without the vegetables.

The chicken is a recipe for stuffed turkey breast that I found in the Clean Eating cookbook. It's stuffed with chopped leek, onion, rolled oats, and some herbs - sage, thyme and rosemary. The herbs make it taste just like fall, sort of warm and cozy. It was a nice way to cook chicken, and much cheaper than buying turkey breast. (Less wasteful, too. What would I do with a 3lb turkey breast, serving only myself? That'd be a lot of leftovers.)

The vegetables were less successful, which surprised me because they were so basic. I actually roasted them in the oven on a grill pan, with just a little olive oil and salt and pepper, but they tasted very bitter, so much so that I couldn't eat the zucchini at all and the asparagus was only barely passable. I know it's long past season for asparagus, but I don't think I've ever had it taste so bad. And the zucchini was strangely, incredibly awful.

I think I'll definitely keep the chicken recipe in mind for the future, because it was quite nice. And looks nice for serving, too, if I were to make it for guests.

16 September 2008

Apricot-glazed Ham with Sautéed Spicy Green Beans

I'm trying this week to eat no added sugar because I've found myself having weeks where every day I need a mid-morning pick-me-up donut and I hate that. So this week, it's all very explicitly planned meals.

I'm also trying to keep using up food that I've got in the freezer. I don't really like things that have been frozen, somehow, so it bothers me that I just keep on buying things that are frozen and then leaving them to sit for half an age. (I have a box of chicken burgers, unopened, in my freezer that I've had since I moved here. In February 2007.) I tend to freeze leftovers a lot too, but once they disappear into the freezer, I sometimes forget about that.

This black forest ham was one of those forgotten things. When I was looking for healthy recipes for the week (though this one does contain sugar, the very thing I was trying so hard to avoid!) I ran across a recipe for baked ham and suddenly remembered the dish in the freezer. The meat, on inspection, was a bit freezer burnt, but otherwise fine. It smelled, from the first cook-through, of cloves, but that was okay because the recipe also contains cloves.

This apricot glaze smells and tastes like fall to me. It's sweet and sticky and fruity and tastes of cloves and cinnamon. It'd be perfect for a fall dinner, Thanksgiving maybe, followed up by a spicy pumpkin pie with mounds of whipped cream. (Oh, wait. Probably not so much, if I'm aiming for healthy, eh?)

The ham looks so prominent in the picture because it's propped up on a pile of deliciously spicy green beans. I just steam them lightly, then sauté quickly with a dash of oil and some red pepper flakes. Wonderful.

15 September 2008

BBQ Baked Salmon with Potatoes, Red Peppers and Broccoli

A while back I talked about instituting a Fish-for-Supper Sunday, which I haven't quite managed in the sense of actually having fish every Sunday, but the point really was to eat fish once a week, if I could manage it. I think I've probably missed a time or two, but I've come pretty close to eating it weekly. So this is my most recent fish dish.

The store I shop at recently brought in individually packaged 4 oz salmon fillets, which is perfect for someone like me who only cooks for one and who doesn't eat big portions of protein at a time. I don't know that I'd buy it again, but that's mainly because it isn't terribly cost effective to buy food in small portions like that (and it's wasteful, just in terms of the packaging). At any rate, it came with a recipe on the back of the packet for a one-pot dinner, where you coat the fish with a sauce (bbq or peanut, were their suggestions), the place it in a baking dish surrounded by baby potatoes and sliced red and yellow pepper, and then bake for 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, 20 minutes wasn't enough time to bake the potatoes, so I wound up with rather overcooked salmon. It was still edible and tasty, but about the texture of salmon from a can. And it didn't hold a candle to the medium-rare salmon I ate at Redwater at my birthday dinner. I do think it would be interesting to try again, with a peanut sauce, but I think I'd parboil the potatoes else start baking them 5 or 10 minutes before adding the peppers and fish to the baking dish.

14 September 2008

Tandoori Fish with Nutted Rice Pilaf

This was my most recent Dinner From a Box and also Fish for Dinner dinner. (Most recent, but from some time last week - I think last Tuesday.)

I mostly try to avoid eating a lot of stuff out of boxes because I do worry about all the additives and things that are meant to make it shelf-stable and the amount of sodium and unnecessary sugar and all sorts of things like that. I don't eat exclusively things I've made for/by myself, but I definitely lean strongly in that directly.

This, though, all boxes. The rice pilaf is by the same company whose whole wheat couscous I buy. (I can't think of the brand name just now.) They do a number of boxed tabbouleh and flavoured couscous and rice pilafs, so I thought I'd give one of their pilafs a try. I don't think it was worth it. It tasted too much of a very salty broth and the nuts had no flavour and neither, really, did the spice mixture that went into it. It smelled a little of cumin, but I certainly couldn't taste any of it over the saltiness.

I think I could probably do something similar, but better, myself. Maybe toast the nuts first, so they have a strong nutty flavour and then stir them in at the end so they retain crunch, rather than cooking the taste and texture away. And the spices, I have a recipe for yellow rice that would work for flavouring, though I'd probably leave out the turmeric for something like this.

And then the fish, well, it didn't all come out of a box. (You can get some bagged fish things in the meat department that would probably come out similar to this, though.) The spice mixture did, though. All it was was a bag of spices that you stirred into plain yogurt with some oil and then used as a marinade. It had a really nice flavour, a bit spicy but not too hot, but it had a terribly grainy texture that I didn't really care for. I'm not sure what I could do to get rid of the graininess, though.

I used Basa fillets for the fish, which seemed to work out quite well. It was nice and firm and plain enough that the Tandoori didn't compete with the taste of the fish.

09 September 2008

Beef, Barley and Mushroom Soup with Cheese Quesadilla

I'm still behind in my updates, but I was sure that I'd posted this before so I didn't do it yesterday, but looking through things today, it looks like this will be a first after all.

So this I made yesterday when it was cold and miserable and feeling like winter. (It's only going to get worse from here, but still.) Soup is the perfect thing for that, warm and filling and you can throw in nearly anything you've got and it's perfect. This one is mostly filled with mushrooms and barley, but it's also got a little diced steak and then the usual sorts of things - onion, celery, carrots. Tasty, that.

08 September 2008

Something like Niçoise Salad

This isn't, I know, a proper Niçoise, but it's a vegetarian (ovo-veg, anyway) variation on it. I can't seem to get a particularly definitive answer about what does and doesn't go into Niçoise, but I'm pretty happy with this, even if the French would turn up their noses at it.

There isn't really a whole lot to say about this: it's boiled new potatoes with hard boiled eggs, green and wax beans, red onions, tomatoes and a vinaigrette. I ate it warm (last week, for dinner) when I first made it, and then took the leftovers to work at had them cold. It's delicious either way.

(I've also photographed this before, without the potatoes, but we'll just pretend I didn't. I like the look of this, even though I could have made it more interesting looking than just a lot of food scooped on the plate, and so it's getting posted. Maybe next time I'll stack it up instead of spreading it out so that I can photograph it again.)

05 September 2008

Steak, redone

Well, this photo is several days old now, but somehow I just haven't felt like updating and talking about it. Maybe because it's just a variation on something I cook relatively frequently (steak and eggs) or maybe I've just not been in the mood. I don't really know.

At any rate, this is my recreation of the previous day's steak, this time cooked through and served over scrambled eggs with a fresh garlicky tomato salsa. I ate it on a baked to slightly-crispy corn tortilla, up until I realized just how much I (apparently) don't really like corn tortillas unless they're deep-fried. I wound up scooping the filling off the tortilla and throwing the tortilla away. It had become slightly soggy and it just had a funny taste that seemed somehow faintly chemical to me.

The eggs cooked up nicely - I'm getting much better at making scrambled eggs with large "grains" of egg, rather than too many dried out small bits that hardly stay on a fork. I don't mind scrambled eggs like this, where the bits are big enough to properly spear on a fork.

The salsa was quite nice, though I don't particularly like the hot sauce i used to add spice. I forget the name of it, but it didn't really have much of a flavour. I prefer the old standbys like Tabasco, I guess, to some of the odder off-brand hot sauces that are out there.

02 September 2008

Marinated Flank Steak with Spicy Broccoli and Baked Sweet Potatoes

I'm running a day behind on my posting here: this was from yesterday evening. It was one of the more involved things I've made in a while, though it wasn't really very involved. It's just that I had to make a marinade for the steak on Sunday, and obviously that extra step somehow made it seem like a nearly insurmountable amount of work.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the steak in the marinade because it looked like a ziploc bag of grass soup with a raw steak in it. Mmm grass soup. It was actually more or less equal amounts of cilantro, parsley, and basil with some olive oil, spices, and chicken stock, but was bright bright green and looked like grass soup.

I have a hard time cooking steak. Usually I overcook them, this was slightly undercooked for my tastes. I mean, it tasted great and the texture was perfect and I KNOW that steak is better like this than cooked more well-done, but I have issues with juices and so I had to close my eyes and take a mouthful without looking at the redness or else I'd have thrown it all in the garbage.

Much like I threw the sweet potatoes in the garbage. I knew before I photographed it that I wouldn't be eating them, but I wanted to add that extra colour to the plate. They were soggy. No amount of baking would dry them out or crisp them up. They were in the oven almost double their intended baking time and still they came out damp. I've made sweet potatoes like this before and not had this problem, so I'm not sure what did it this time. Shame, anyway.

The broccoli, though, yum. And the steak, too, yum. I think I'll make the steak again, but next time I'll cook it a little longer, just to get a little less juice and a little more personal comfort.

01 September 2008

Beer-can Chicken

I haven't got a picture of the complete dinner that I ate with this chicken; well, I do, but I'm not going to post it because it's boring. This chicken is so much more interesting as a chicken than as a piece of chicken on a plate.

My sister and I haven't wanted to try out beer can chicken for a while, but it never quite seemed to happen and we'd never think about it at convenient times. But then my sister wanted to cook dinner for me because of my birthday and wanted to know what I wanted her to make. What I'd really have liked was lasagna, which I haven't had in AGES, but her husband doesn't like it, so that seemed a bit silly to ask for when we were having a family dinner. I'm not sure what brought this to mind, but it's what popped into my head, so that's what we had.

We ended up cooking the chicken in the oven, rather than on a bbq as you're meant to, because it was miserable and cold outside, but if we ever do this again, it'll be on a barbecue because it made such a mess of the oven. It tasted quite moist, though, and the flavour was nice, if a little bit too subtle (since I don't eat chicken skin). If we try it again, we're going to try putting the spice rub under the skin, rather than over it.

What I really like about this picture, though, is how completely hilarious it looks. It looks like it should be animated and dancing or something else completely ridiculous. It's like something out of some violent cartoon like Itchy and Scratchy where one of the characters catches the other, butchers it, roasts it, and then it pops out of the oven like some kind of zombie and chases the other one around.

Anyway a friend, Tanya, came around for dinner and brought cupcakes! So these are my birthday cupcakes. They are chocolate with chocolate icing and chocolate on top. (At least the ones with M&Ms have chocolate on top.) There is never too much chocolate.

When we arranged the cupcakes for the photo, we didn't notice that we'd arranged it to look like the food table at some kind of convention for children of the Ku Klux Klan - KKK down either side. Which was a kind of funny contrast to my OTHER birthday cake from my actual birthday which was an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen and which my sister bought decorated with the Sikh insignia.

She tells me that most of the cakes were either ugly or childish and then there was this one cake with a purple blob on it that looked like some kind of alien. Another friend who was here on the day I got that cake said she thought it was kind of alien sword. Meanwhile, they walk in with it and I go, "You bought me a cake with a Sikh symbol on it?" It was ridiculously funny.

(This, by the way, was from Sunday. The Sikh cake was photographed 27 Aug 2008.)