Jalapeño cheddar beer quickbread

I’ve been thinking for some time now that I should create an MDIC spinoff blog that focuses exclusively on food. But then I pinch myself and remember — oh wait! Last time I checked I didn’t have time for one blog, let alone two.

So, there you have it, my waning readership, you’ll just have to deal with posts about food interspersed with posts about… whatever it is that I write about when I’m not talking about food. At least I’ll throw in some pictures for good measure and easy scanning.

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Behold a random picture of the last tomato harvest of the 2010 season, inserted for easy scanning.

Got home from work today and figured, to hell with cooking, I’m going to defrost some sauce I made back when the tomato bed wasn’t a goopy tangle of dead vines. I’ll cook up some penne and toss it with parmesan and call it good. Lazy and easy and delicious.

Next thought: but maybe I should bake some bread to go with it?

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More scanning ease! Here we have lamb shanks and cornbread cooked over the fire pit in the backyard. Made this back in August or so.

Luckily, just as I’d had that ridiculous thought, Martin had been perusing through our free copy of This Week, a painful-to-read “newspaper” that the Oregonian delivers to our door on Monday evenings in hopes that we’ll be inspired by the dreadful advice columns to subscribe to the actual paper. (Somehow, we never are.) The one bonus of This Week – other than providing a free source of poop bags — is that it contains selections from FOODday, the Oregonian’s rather respectable food section.

When Martin overheard me musing to myself about bread and the stand mixer and where did I put the yeast?, he suggested that perhaps I instead try THIS recipe, noting that it would be a great use of the two small jalapeños left in the garden:

Jalapeño cheddar beer quickbread!

So I did. And it was quite delicious. And much easier/faster/reasonable than baking bread on whim after a long day of work.

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Really, the only good way to consume a PBR: bake with it.

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Cheesy crusty deliciousness.

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Soft, moist, spicy and cheesy. Most excellent!

Notes:

  • Didn’t have whole wheat flour (the ants ate it) so I substituted a cup + a TBSP of unbleached white.
  • The recipe says you can choose between a quarter cup of oatmeal or a quarter cup of cornmeal, which seems a little odd to me. I went with cornmeal — because if cinnamon’s not involved, I see no reason to bring oatmeal into the picture. I was out of yellow cornmeal, so I used blue cornmeal instead, which I have no idea why I have in my cupboard. But I do.
  • I added shredded cheddar to the top before sticking it in the oven, because I just love the way crusty baked cheddar looks.
  • Left in the pepper seeds for extra spiciness. The result is that some bites are spicier than others, but I kind of like that.
  • I might cut back on the beer just a smidge. Or choose a slightly more distinguished brand than PBR, which kind of reminds me of day-old backwash. Every so often, I can taste the PBR in this bread, and that’s not a good thing.
  • Other than that, it was perfect, and made an excellent accompaniment to the penne and marinara. Would be particularly delicious with my favorite bean chili recipe, which I’ll share one day when the mood strikes.

On brownie cutters and cupcake couriers

I just received an email from a reader who noted the distinct absence of an update on this site. Sorry ’bout that. I have been: out of town at a frisbee tournament, up ’til all hours working on the neighborhood newsletter (which is now online-ish! Read it here), and dealing with a landlady who snoops around my house and asks me to do things like “clean the bathroom ceiling” and “oil the kitchen cabinets.” Plus, now that I am famous and all, you know, it’s hard to go anywhere without getting stopped by the paparazzi.

So, because it’s late, and because I’m lazy, and because I think I just undid the last four months of physical therapy by sloppily diving for a disc (and not catching it) and I need to go ice my shoulder, I am going to repost something I wrote over on my Culinate blog last night:

If I only had a steam-free milk frother…

My mother always says that a kitchen isn’t complete without a lettuce spinner and a food processor. When she visited me a few years ago, she was dumbfounded by my lack of both.

“I couldn’t function without mine!” she said. (And I don’t doubt it—it was a crisis of epic proportions when her microwave gave out.)

I don’t think I need to tell you what she gave me the following Christmas.

Now, I do love my lettuce spinner—almost as much as I love my Cuisinart—but I’m not sure I’d make the case that a kitchen isn’t complete without one. In fact, I think I got along quite fine before either item entered my world. Even now, without all of the appliances and accoutrements I wish I had—a crock pot, a stand mixer, a Le Creuset pan—I’d say my tiny little kitchen is pretty well stocked.

But, just like your self-esteem, your confidence in your kitchen is fragile. One little nudge and mine shattered.

Enter the cooking.com catalog that arrived, unsolicited, in my mailbox. After drooling through the All-Clad section, I discovered a trove of kitchen gadgets. It turns out that not only am I missing some basic gear, I also lack in “essentials” I didn’t even know existed.

Such as:

  • Non-stick paring knives
  • A cookie dough scoop (spoons are so passé)
  • A cupcake courier (this is a “must-have for the baker”—it safely transports up to 36 cupcakes without disturbing the frosting)
  • A salad-dressing mixer (I guess shaking your dressing in a jar is inefficient)
  • The “Garlic Zoom” (a little plastic ball on wheels that chops your garlic—like a garlic press, except straight out of the Jetsons’ kitchen)
  • “Poach Pods” (silicon egg poachers)
  • A lemon and lime squeezer AND a device to store sliced citrus (anyone who is anybody knows not to squeeze by hand, didn’t you know?)
  • A potato ricer
  • An apple peeler (apparently regular peelers aren’t good enough—this one even cores and slices your fruit)
  • A clip that holds stirring spoons to your pots (never lose a drip again!)
  • A vegetable sanitizer
  • A brownie cutter-upper (The blurb says: “Take the guesswork out of evenly slicing brownies.” Thank goodness someone has finally solved the inequitable distribution of brownies in this world.)

I read the catalog cover to cover, partly out of jealousy for the things I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t have room to store even if I wanted them, but mostly out of outrage over the fact that there’s actually a market for things like “ice orbs” (vertical ice cube trays that store ice while making it) and “muffin top pans” (inspired, I’m sure, by that episode of Seinfeld).

And yet, despite the ridiculous nature of about half of the products in the catalog, part of me couldn’t help but feel like my kitchen has a long way to go. Just like those clothing ads designed to make us feel inadequate about how we look (ergo forcing us to spend money on more outfits), this little kitchen-supply catalog was twisting a non-stick paring knife in my side. And then sprinkling salt from a battery-operated grinding mill on my wound.

LAURA, I KNOW THE TRUTH, it said. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A REGULAR PARING KNIFE. IN FACT, YOU’RE NOT QUITE SURE WHY A PARING KNIFE IS NECESSARY.

AND I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE A COOLING RACK.

I put the catalog down. You know what? My kitchen might be smaller than most people’s cars, but it gets the job done. True, I don’t own a fat separator or fancy stainless steel cookware. But then again, I don’t need a cinnamon mill to make good food.

As far as I’m concerned, all anyone really needs is a chef’s knife, a cutting board, a couple of pots and pans, a baking dish, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Sure, lettuce spinners and food processors are nice, but you’ll be complete without them.

I am famous!!!!!

You know someone decidedly isn’t famous when they need to announce that they are. But, nonetheless, I am having a moment of almost-semi-kinda-sorta famous-ish-ness! And: that’s thanks to you all!

That is to say—my carrot story won the culinate.com blogging contest! YEE-HAW!!!!!!!!! Observe the current state of the Culinate homepage:

Here’s a close-up:

For those who don’t have their reading glasses on but should, that says, “We like the sound of ‘Lucky Laura,’ but of course, more than luck was involved.” Well, I’ll say! This is what was also involved: drumming up votes via Facebook, Twitter and MDIC.com* and spamming nearly everyone in my address book. Knowing me over the last week was like being on Barack Obama’s mailing list during the last month of his campaign—which is to say, pressing delete a lot. I was probably the only finalist launching a full-on social media marketing campaign, which would explain why I won even though I was up against a bunch of really kickass entries.

But… no one said you couldn’t Tweet the hell out of your story!

Thank you so much to you all for a) voting and b) putting up with my broken record about remembering to vote!

YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Signed,
MDIC

PS: I discovered that I had won after returning to the office from my lunch break. I checked my email, gasped and squeeled “I won!” and everyone on my side of the building popped up from their cube and erupted in cheers and clapping. This celebratory atmosphere may or may not have been related to my incessant chatter about the contest and spurred, at least in part, by the relief that its being over may bring.

*MDIC.com is short for mydogischelsea.com. The actual MDIC.com is apparently for sale at the incredibly reasonable price of $4,950. Wow, what a bargain! In retrospect, I should’ve just written MDIC out, since this footnote has far usurped any time I may have saved with the shorthand.

Sprouts! I have sprouts!

I have kept a little garden for the past couple of years, but I’ve always a) planted starts b) sewn my seeds directly into the ground once the last frost was over or c) a combination of a + b. This year, I decided to get my herbs, tomatoes and peppers going indoors and avoid starts altogether.

So for the last week, I’ve been obsessively monitoring my seed tray: Is the soil damp enough? Is it warm enough? Is it getting enough light? Perhaps I should move it near the heater at night and to the window by day?

I learned that for $30 you could purchase a foil pad that heats your soil—and heat is necessary especially for the tomatoes and peppers, which need the soil to be at least 70 degrees to germinate. This seemed a bit spendy to me, and instead I opted to insulate my tray with my down jacket and a towel, rotating my seeds from heater to window with the rising of the sun. (Luckily for the seeds, it’s been cold enough in my room to need heat.)

My makeshift plan has had me worried all week—what if they never sprout?! And then, last night, the first cilantro seedling poked up through the soil. By morning, four tomatoes had joined in (three orange tomatoes and one red) along with what might possibly be basil. And they are growing FAST! Since I took the pictures below half an hour ago, the tomatoes have already doubled in size. Behold:

Basil!

Tomatoes! (It’s hard to see it, but there are three)

Here is a more recent photo of the tomatoes (I just took it!):

So exciting!!!

EDIT!

When I got back from ultimate practice, the tomato you see above had become positively huge. Observe:

Close-up:

Vote for me!!!

No, I’m not running for president in 2012 (can’t—I wasn’t born in this country). I’m in a blogging contest on culinate.com!

It’s easy: go to the voting page and select “Laura.” You won’t need to hit submit or anything—it logs your response automatically. And, even better, you don’t need to create a member log-in to vote.

So, please vote!

You can find a link to the story I’ve been nominated for on the voting page, or just scroll down a few entries and see it here. I’m not going to give you the link, because this is the only one you should be clicking. =)

Thanks!

I am famous!

I know, I know! How lucky can one girl get?! First, my Barack Obama cake gets featured on yeswecake.com. Then, my pumpkin makes it to yeswecarve. Now, this! Here’s a screenshot I just took of the home page of my favorite cooking site, culinate.com:

Thats me!

For those who need reading glasses:

That’s me!

I won a copy of Alice Water’s new book! And I am one of 8 finalists for a bigger prize! (Your help with the voting will come in soon. This is Mixer Madness Redux. Although no mixer appears to be at stake… yet.)

This is so exciting.

The carrot quandary

(I originally posted this on my Culinate blog.)

“What do you think this is? A carrot or a beet?”

I was eating dinner recently at the bar of a nice restaurant with my Uncle Joe and my mother. The patrons next to us were prodding their side veggies—a beautiful medley of young carrots in a rainbow of colors—with a fork.

“Couldn’t be a carrot—too purple. Definitely a beet.”

Now, I know it’s rude to eavesdrop on and then interrupt people while they’re dining, but I had to set the record straight: the plate in front of the woman to my right was decidedly beet-free.

I leaned over. “It’s not a beet,” I said.

“What is it?” one of the women asked.

“It’s a carrot.”

I am no food scientist but I know a carrot when I see one. Heck, I can spot a carrot when it’s nothing more than green leaves poking out of the earth or wild roadside Queen Anne’s Lace. Carrots, much like garbage cans or telephone poles, are pretty much universally recognizable, especially when they are out of the ground, cleaned, stemmed, steamed and lying whole next to a roasted chicken thigh.

Or not.

“How can you tell?”

“It’s definitely a carrot. It looks like a Purple Haze. I grew them once,” I said.

“Really? How did you get them to be purple?”

I paused for a second. I had to be careful. I grew up in New York City, where trees grow only in designated holes in the sidewalks and produce ships in from California. In fact, I had a fear of plants (especially tall grasses and skunk cabbages—eww) until I was far too old to admit here. Believe me when I say that my green thumb is a relatively new development. I have no right whatsoever to be a know-it-all about this sort of thing.

But still. There are only so many ways to answer this woman’s question.

“I put the seeds in the ground,” I told her. “And they grew.”

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