Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

March 18, 2016

Spring Reset

The other day someone asked me what I was proud of recently... and I said I was proud of the fact that I managed to clean the bathrooms. HA! That should give you an indication of how much 'extra' stuff I'm managing to (not) get done these days. 

'Write blog post' always seems to get pushed to the bottom of a lengthy to do list, after I've accomplished all of the necessities (like cleaning those bathrooms...) I've been procrastinating with this blog, mainly because, duh, I have a toddler and precious few minutes to myself. But I've also been procrastinating because it feels like I haven't been working on anything 'original'. Instead, I've been redoing a lot of stuff. Stuff that I initially crafted and loved, but as I continue to purge the apartment in an effort to simplify my life, I'm realizing there were a lot of things I made in the past that I don't like now, or never really liked if I'm honest.

You may remember when I organized my recipes into these neat little books, over two years ago? I'm sad to report that it did NOT help my recipe organization or meal planning one iota. The recipes got shoved into the front of the book... the book didn't sit right on my shelf, and let's face it, most of the recipes I pasted into the book were either disasters, or I couldn't remember why I saved them in the first place

The dessert binder, on the other hand, has been great! I managed to keep those pages organized and I easily found any recipe I was looking for. 

Recently, I scored some paper products on sale at a craft store, and they inspired me to redo my recipe book in the same way I've done the dessert one. I ordered a similar binder to the one I have for the desserts, and even though I haven't gotten around to transferring everything yet, I can already tell, I may actually find and more importantly, USE more recipes now. 

In knitting news, remember this cardigan? Yeah, neither do I. I hardly wore it. It really didn't suit me, and the whole thing hung kind of weird. 

So I ripped it apart and kept the yarn, and now I'm making this groovy shawl. (The pattern is actually called, 'groovy'...)  

What's the point of all of this? I'm not exactly being very prudent with my precious spare time if I end up doing a project and then destroying it to start another one with the same materials. 

Or am I? Sometimes I just need to create something, even if it's a disaster. Some nights, I spend an hour knitting or crocheting something, only to rip everything apart right afterwards. 

But you know what? That was an hour where I fed my soul, even if the end product didn't turn out the way I planned. Sometimes I finish the whole project and then I realize a few years down the line that I don't really like it. That doesn't mean I failed. Sometimes the process alone is what I need to feel creative, not the end product. I still had a blast knitting that cardigan, and I still remember sitting at the table sorting out my recipes. I actually LIKE organizing some stuff. It wasn't a chore (unlike cleaning those bathrooms.) 

Spring is a great time to purging, for setting goals, and for just resetting your life sometimes. Even if it just means completely remaking something out of that green yarn purchased on sale, or tossing out recipes you know you'll never make, in order to make room for ones that are now kept in a more organized binder. 

What are you remaking these days? 

March 23, 2014

Cast Iron and Pizza

A few years ago, when the Sailor and I moved into an apartment downstairs from my mother, I slyly tried to manipulate her into letting me 'borrow' one of her many cast irons pans. We were still building up our kitchen arsenal and I didn't yet have many of the things I needed for my tiny kitchen. We were already borrowing several other things from her in the meantime, so I didn't think she'd noticed if I added one of the cast iron pans to the list.

She cleverly retorted, 'The cast iron stays upstairs.' 

That week, we bought ourselves our very own cast iron pan. A few months later, a brand new round griddle pan (minus the ridges) made its way into our kitchen collection -- courtesy of my mother, who said that the Sailor could now have his own dish to fry up bacon. 

Sure enough, that griddle has seen a lot of bacon grease. 

This weekend, I discovered that it's also the perfect vessel to use to bake a pizza. 

We eat a lot of pizza... and going out for the stuff isn't cheap. We haven't found a great place that delivers here, and some days, you just want pizza now. Plus, the Sailor is picky about the amount of sauce on his pizza. The only way around this is to make our own. So, in an effort to get out of my cooking rut, and also to try a new recipe every week, I decided to finally make pizza.

Whole Foods here sells fresh dough for $3 -- cheaper than a slice! (I know, I know... I could make it even cheaper, but let's go the convenient route for now, shall we? If you want to make your own dough, I found this great recipe with detailed instructions here.)  

Once I got the dough home though, I realized I didn't own a pizza stone, or even a chintzy pizza pan. After living in such a small kitchen for years, I dislike having things that are only good for one or two dishes, even though I now have more space to store them. Pizza pans are right up there. But a cast iron griddle? You can make a lot more than bacon in that thing. Like pizza, for instance. 

We halved the dough, since the skillet isn't that big and proceeded to bake a homemade pizza in our oven. It was the perfect size for the two of us and we still had a leftover slice to split later. 

The crust didn't cooperate with us on one edge, and I think I probably should have put the spinach below the rest of the ingredients. Never mind all of that -- the pizza tasted delicious and it didn't stick at all to the cast iron griddle. Best of all, who needs a pizza stone? Win win.

March 13, 2014

South African Sailor Homecomings

I know I just wrote about needing some recipe inspiration this week... but then I remembered that I promised the Sailor a proper South African milk tart when he arrives home. No inspiration needed there!

When I discovered that it was his favorite dessert while we were dating, I set out to perfect it. I've had a few disasters along the way (once, I actually flushed the contents of the pan because it was so awful. I had attempted to make it at a friend's house and mistakenly used corn meal instead of corn starch. They didn't have a garbage disposal. I still don't remember what we ate for dessert instead.) 

But by now, I've got this recipe in the bag. Or the vintage Pyrex -- which by the way, is the perfect size for fridge milk tart.

I'm sure the Sailor will be happy. I'll be even more thrilled that he's home.

March 11, 2014

Favorite Recipe Inspiration

I feel like even though I've now organized my recipes, I've been dining out far too much lately. To be fair, my city has some amazing restaurants with great food. This past weekend, friends from out of town visited and it was also my birthday. All great excuses to eat out. 

But in general, I've also just been in a food funk and don't really feel like cooking. (Anyone else out there occasionally have cereal for dinner? Go on, you're in a safe place to confess here.) Oh I've baked a cake here and there -- I just made another orange marmalade poppy seed cake over the weekend -- but one does need a little more sustenance throughout the day than simply flour and sugar.

Plus, since the Sailor is also returning to land soon, I'll need to up my game with planning meals. 

One of my absolute favorite sites for recipe inspiration is Annie's Eats. I've mentioned her blog several times in previous posts. I wrote earlier about her mac and cheese (which is fabulous) and about a month ago I made her drool-worthy cinammon sugar pull-apart bread.

She recently started a new section on her blog called reader love, where one of my pics from Instagram got featured last week. It's been neat to follow her story and passion for cooking over the years. Her photography is also gorgeous and that alone often makes me want to cook whatever I see on there.

I'm also a huge fan of Supercook. Sometimes I have a ton of ingredients on hand, but I'm not sure how to put them together. This site is so handy -- just type in what you have and it gives you a list of what you can make! It has saved me from more than one kitchen disaster

Inspiration for gazpacho

What's your go-to plan for recipe inspiration?

March 2, 2014

Vintage Cooking

Over the weekend, I hosted a small gathering of local ladies as part of a cooking club. Soon after we moved here, one of the members got married and moved overseas, and I got drafted in to fill her seat. Every meeting offers a new theme and everyone brings a dish -- an intimate potluck, if you will. The hostess provides the drinks and party flair. 

This month's theme was my idea and of course I picked 'vintage'. Any excuse to pull out the Pyrex, I say.  

My vintage recipe books hold a cornucopia of old-fashioned recipes, so I was excited to see what the gals would cook up. They didn't disappoint. We had baked brie (divine), old fashioned PA Dutch Pot-Pie (homemade noodles; no crust involved), pistachio jello salad (yum) and a pineapple upside down cake (yes, please!)  

All I had to do was supply the beverages. I desperately wanted to use my punch bowl that I thrifted last summer. But every vintage punch recipe I saw had waaaayyyy too much booze in it. I'm all for a good tipple, but many recipes called for three or four different types of alcohol mixed together. And the quantities were astounding. This was an intimate affair -- not a party for 40. 

I finally found this one from the 1960s -- a bourbon punch. I halved the recipe and I mixed together the lemons, seltzer, tea and sugar first, and it was delightful all on its own. It reminded me of tea cooler -- that summertime blend of lemonade and iced tea. I ended up only using a quarter of the bourbon called for though -- it was plenty strong just like that and reminded everyone of a good whiskey sour. 

I think my favorite part of making the punch, besides getting to use actual vintage punch cups and the bowl, was the giant ice block. I poured water into my smallest bundt pan, added lemons to it and let it freeze. Rather than having small ice cubes melt away and dilute the drink, the giant block melted much slower and was just fun to watch bobbing around in the bowl.

Not to be outdone, the non-alcoholic option was just as tasty. I made this raspberry cordial, àla Anne of Green Gables. I halved the cordial and it still made a ton. Considering this hardly took any time or effort, I think I might be making a lot more cordial in the future! 

I served the cordial with a bottle of seltzer water (cordial is far too sweet on its own and should be diluted) on a Pyrex plate, and as an added vintage bonus, I included glass swizzle sticks for guests to stir their mixture together. I've been hunting for vintage swizzle sticks for a long time, and I found these three cute ones with sailboats on them, last week at a thrift store. 

While the vintage cooking theme was a resounding success in my book, I do realize that not all vintage recipes appeared (or tasted!) as lovely as ours. For a good laugh, check out BuzzFeeds's 21 Truly Upsetting Vintage Recipes. If the photos alone don't make you laugh out loud, the captions definitely should!

February 27, 2014

Cooking up a Recipe Organizer

As much as chaos often contributes to my creative process, eventually it has to give way to a little order at some point. 

Years ago, when I lived in the UK, I didn't really know how to cook. I hadn't amassed the cookbooks I have now, and the Internet certainly wasn't as readily accessible, especially at home. Instead, I had a few recipes scribbled in journals and on index cards given to me by friends and family. I also took to checking cookbooks out of the library and then handwriting the recipes I wanted to try out.  

I had a little journal that I used to keep track of which recipes I tried. My rule was that the recipe couldn't go into the cooking journal until I actually made it (and of course it had to be successful...) The problem was, I had way more recipes I wanted to try than the ones I'd actually made, and nowhere to put them.
Some things never change -- even across an ocean. For a long time (too long) I've collected a stack of recipes in a pile, thinking I'd eventually do something with them. Eventually finally happened. Around Christmas time, when I couldn't find the recipes for the cookies I wanted to bake, I knew I had to sort these things out, pronto

Last week, I finally got so fed up with the pile of recipes, that I commandeered the kitchen table and threw everything on top of there to sort out the paper mess. 

I found a few neat blank books at a craft show in Pennsylvania before we moved, from ReNewed Intent. They had all kinds of re-purposed blank books -- I picked out two that were recreated from old cookbooks. You can shop ReNewed Intent right here on Etsy. 

All I did was sort out the recipes according to category. Once that was done, the rest simply fell into place. 

I used the larger book for everything from beverages to side dishes to main courses. The smaller book holds general how-to cooking info and homemade condiments recipes. I simply pasted the recipes onto the pages. All you need is a glue stick, really.

For the recipes that were too big to glue onto the paper, I created little folders at the start of each 'chapter' to simply shove in the folded full-page recipes. I even made little tabs for each chapter.

I found another blank book to use for my pile of scrumptious dessert recipes. I found this one on clearance at Michael's -- I'm still not sure what brand it is; it's similar to a Smashbook, only it has a three-ring binder in it. I love the ready-made pockets at the front and back -- they're perfect for those little booklets I seem to collect out of magazines.

For a year I had a subscription to Food Network Magazine and I found that I would end up ripping out a few recipes and then recycling the magazine. Most of those recipes take up a few pages -- especially their 'mix and match' ones (which I love!) This blank spiral bound book was perfect. I simply punched holes and attached the full-sized recipes. 

Not to be left out, my trusty everyday bamboo recipe card holder still holds many of my favorite weekly recipes. But now I finally have a place to stash the recipes that either don't get used as often, are too big for the box, or ones I still want to try. 

I feel gloriously organized at the moment!

Now all I need to do is start cooking something from those recipes... 

February 5, 2014

Bread for Brunch

So this glorious bit of brunch happened this weekend. 

Drooling? I sure did. 

Sometimes, especially when the Sailor isn't home, I don't make a great effort to sit at the table, let alone set it with any great fanfare. I end up hastily eating something over the sink, or somewhere near the counter, wondering if I should have even bothered using a plate. 

Is it just me, or do we all do this at some point when we're on our own? 

I have gotten better about this... and nowadays I do find myself eating most meals at the actual table. Last Friday, soon after I bought these flowers, I decided I had a hankering for Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread (this delightful dish is one of many found on Annie's Eats... my go-to site for great recipe ideas.) 

Bread isn't normally on my list of things to make from scratch on a weekend morning, but when I realized I could make the dough ahead of time and then store it in the fridge overnight, I decided to just go for it. The next morning, all I had to do was roll it out, assemble it, let it rise again and then bake it! 

As a bonus, this was the perfect scene for the first day of February's round of #7Vignettes on Instagram. The theme was 'love' and who doesn't love a good Saturday morning brunch? (Not to mention those wonderful pink Pyrex vintage plates?!)

January 12, 2014

Soup's On! (and on... and on... and on...)

I don't remember having a ton of actual toys growing up, but living on three acres of forest land meant that I had an amazing backyard at my disposal. 

It also meant that I got a little creative with nature and the tools we had on hand. I remember using a giant five gallon plastic bucket and the garden hose to make soup. There were twigs, rocks, floating leaves and even some dirt thrown in the mix. Random berries growing around the property made the 'soup' look even tastier.

Thankfully, I knew better than to actually sample my soup, but I had fun throwing things together and imagining that I was a chef. 

When I first tried my hand at real cooking, some of my soups had that same dirt-like appearance. I had a number of soup disasters -- I suspect the dirt soup may have actually been more palatable. Borscht ended up all over my Pepto-Bismol pink walls in England when I tried to grate the beets. Broccoli soup turned into a gooey mess. In Ukraine, where I ate soup three times a day, every day, I added too much salt when it was my time to cook. WAAAAYYY too much salt. In South Africa, I didn't bother with any kind of soup because the Sailor wasn't really into it. 

By the time that I relocated back to America though, I was determined to eat healthy and shop frugally. I grew tired of finding half dead vegetables in my drawer and wasting leftovers. 

Soup found it's way back into my kitchen. Soup is AMAZING. Seriously. A small cup is a great compliment to a meal and a large bowl with some bread or crackers is enough to fill you right up all on its own. (And warm you up in the winter!)

Sauté a little onion, add some vegetables, some leftover rice and cooked chicken and some basic stock, and voilà, you have Chicken Rice Soup. Are those veggies getting mushy? Sauté those and add a little broth and milk and then puree, and you have soup. Thankfully, these days, the Sailor actually requests (and then eats!) soup, so I make it now on a regular basis. 

I used to try to plan my soup meals and then I'd shop for every ingredient that I didn't have. It wasn't the most frugal plan. I still ended up with food rotting. Then I started challenging myself to make something with what I already had in the cupboard and fridge. Obviously, I still shop. The other day, I had to buy onions, because I knew I needed those for soup, and my stash had run low. But it's amazing how long I can go between shopping endeavors when I think creatively about cooking.

The other night I had a bit of a soup marathon. Within an hour and a half, I'd made three different soups. I had half a bag of carrots that needed to be used, so I made carrot and coriander soup, but I just halved the recipe (if at all possible, I usually try to double soup recipes and freeze them... but for the sake of carrots that would go to waste, I whipped up half a batch!

I also found a frozen bag of roasted veggies from a dinner we hosted a while back. I always cook too much... and then I end up throwing it in the freezer, not always knowing what to do with it. This time, I saved the beef broth from the roast as well. I cooked both together, pureed the mix with my hand blender* and then added some milk (or cream if you prefer) and salt and pepper. While the result doesn't look much more appetizing than brown applesauce, it was DELICIOUS. And healthy! I know exactly what was in the veggies and broth because I cooked them all from scratch to start with. 

Besides, soup gives me a great excuse to store the leftovers in vintage Pyrex. Win win. 

Finally, I found a bag of parsnips in a pile in the fridge. I bought them for Christmas dinner and then totally forgot to cook them. (In my defense, they were hiding under the spinach and that half bag of carrots...) I found a recipe for Parsnip and Parmesan soup in my favorite soup book:  The New Covent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups. (I've had my copy since the late 90s, and you can be assured it will continue to be a staple in my kitchen arsenal.

While I didn't have Parmesan, I at least had cheese. Substituting is not a crime. Throwing out a whole bag of parsnips would have been. 

Soup's on.  

 *Hand blenders are absolutely necessary in my book for soup making. I make a lot of pureed soups because I personally think the flavors blend together better than if you don't puree them. If you have a small kitchen, and don't even have space for a regular blender, then a hand or immersion blender is perfect! You can do the same things as with a regular blender (except maybe chop ice cubes...). I wouldn't recommend pureeing a soup in a regular blender unless it's completely cooled off. With an immersion blender, you can just whip the stuff right in the pot! I recently replaced my old hand blender with this one from Cuisinart.

December 13, 2013

Delightful Dishes

With the onslaught of holiday baking and entertaining, you're probably doing more dishes than usual -- or at least wiping off the counter top and table a little more often.

For years, I lived not only in small spaces, but also places with no dishwasher. Now that we've moved, the Sailor and I have this modern convenience, but it still only gets used less than once a week. One reason, of course, is that I use a ridiculous amount of vintage Pyrex daily and it's a total no-no to put any of those dishes in the dishwasher. (We also have limited cutlery and I can't stand foraging through a dirty dishwasher hunting for a spoon...)

The other reason though, is that I sometimes actually LIKE doing the dishes. I enjoy cooking, so for me cleaning up is just part of the methodology. There's something wonderful about stepping back to admire a clean kitchen -- even if it's only for a brief moment. I mentioned the same thing here around this time last year, before I had a dishwasher. Even now though, my reasons are still valid.

Whenever I'm between projects, I tend to make a dishcloth -- sometimes for myself and sometimes for gifts (they make great hostess gifts, or holiday presents with a bar of soap or even a few dishes!) This week was no exception. I had this yarn in my bag from a Thanksgiving week trip to the craft store. The pattern came free on the ball band, but you can find it here too.

This yarn wasn't the only thing I bought over the Thanksgiving week road trip. You can see the obscene amount of Pyrex I found here. And you can bet none of those went into the dishwasher.

November 25, 2013

Betty Wason

This week, there will be a lot of cooking going on. I've seen so much yummy goodness already posted in the blogosphere that I think I'm starting to sniff my computer screen some days. 

I won't be cooking the turkey this year -- I'll leave that one to my mother. (Let's all give pause to the women -- and men -- who will be cooking up a storm this week. Let's also give thanks for shared recipes that get passed down through cultures and generations.)

Eons ago back in July, I made German Sauerbraten and I mentioned The Art of German Cooking author, Betty Wason. I also promised to tell you more about this fascinating lady.

I picked up this book at a thrift store for a whole dollar -- I have a thing for old cookbooks (especially bargains) and figured this one could actually come in handy with some practical recipes. 

I perused the anecdotes to the stories and was a little transfixed. This woman could write. I mean it's one thing to write a recipe... it's quite another to offer the reader the added bonus of an entertaining story to go along with it. I just assumed Betty Wason was a great cook who also had a talent for writing. 

Her name sounded so familiar to me though. 

I delved a little deeper, and then discovered, amongst many other talents, that she had been a war correspondent between 1938-1941. She country-hopped through various invasions, but despite finding the stories on the ground, her employer, CBS, asked her to find a man to read her texts. 

Wait, what?! 

Apparently they thought the audience wouldn't be receptive to a woman's voice on air. Later, the man who read her texts was offered a contract. (There is so much more to the story here and here.)  

Eventually, when Betty returned home to America, where she was rebuffed by CBS (!) and turned her attention instead to writing books. Her cookbooks are by far the most numerous. 

She has also been featured in one of my all-time favorite books: The Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel.

So, as we all gorge ourselves on American goodness this week, let us also give thanks to the amazingly brave and talented women like Betty Wason -- who not only gave us some fantastic recipes from around the world, but who more importantly, reported on events that changed the world forever -- even if they didn't always get the credit.   


October 29, 2013

Dried Apples

The Sailor arrived home this weekend and as soon as he walked into the apartment, he immediately noticed the enormous quantity of apples, apples and more apples, adorning the table. 

I remembered I wanted to do something with all of those apples... 

I made an apple cake, but that barely made a dent in one of the bowls. 

I needed another solution before these fantastically fresh apples straight from the orchard would start rotting. 

A few years ago, my mom and I were out shopping, and she bought me a food dehydrator on a whim. I had mentioned that I wanted to experiment with beef jerky for the Sailor. The jerky process still needs some work. (In the meantime, the Sailor has built his own contraption to make South African biltong that I promise to feature later.)

In any case, we seemed to go through dried fruit like crazy in our house and I figured there must be a cheaper way to keep it in stock. I also didn't like that a lot of dried food products contained a ton of preservatives. 

I wanted to keep things simple, even if it meant we had to eat the dried stuff faster than the purchased preserved kind. Over the years, I've experimented on a lot of fruit, but apples are some of the fastest and easiest to dehydrate.

I simply core them, peel them by hand, slice them fairly thin, and then give them a good dip in lemon water to help preserve them. 

Sometimes my timing isn't great. I got a little over ambitious this time and I cored a dozen apples before I started peeling them. I'm a fairly fast peeler, but the cores were already turning brown in the meantime before I could get them in the lemon water. 

Make sure you also get cut off any bruised bits. 

You don't have to peel them in any case. It's perfectly acceptable to leave apple skins on the apples. Unless you don't like apple skins. I do like apple skins though, so I'm not sure why I've always peeled them when dehydrating. (I'm thinking the Sailor had a say in the process at some point...

Then, I let them dry out in the dehydrator. It usually takes about five hours depending on the type of apple and thickness, until they're the right consistency. If I'm ever in doubt about whether they've dried out enough, I just keep the stash in the fridge (many dried fruits in packages advise you to store the stuff in the fridge after opening in any case!) 

Cost-wise, I have calculated that it is usually cheaper to dry out my own stuff, depending on where and when I buy the fruit. In this case, it worked out about the same price -- but I can eat my dehydrated apples knowing they came straight off the tree and were dried out with only lemon water as an additive.

Plus, how fun is it to just watch fruit shrivel up in a matter of hours? 

If you don't have a dehydrator, you can get the same effects as one by simply using your oven on a very low temperature. You'll need to experiment as to how long it takes -- best done on a day where you don't have to leave the house! 

* I have this dehydrator. It was definitely on sale when my mom and I found it. I'm sure that's why it got purchased on a whim. I liked this one because you can purchase more racks to dehydrate more food at one time.

September 8, 2013

Life, Lemons and Pie

I love lemons. Seriously. I used to beg my mother to let me eat lemons whole. I'd sprinkle a tiny bit of sugar on them sometimes, but most of the time, I'd cut them up and stick the slice in my mouth and pucker up. 

Nowadays, my taste buds are a little bit more refined. I'd rather eat my lemons in a cake, pie or cookie than simply raw. I still crave them though. I even dream of having a lemon tree of my own someday. Is that weird? 

Tree or not, last weekend, over Labor Day, I realized how many lemons I actually had laying around. I also realized what a hankering I had for Lemon Meringue Pie. 

When life gives you an abundance of lemons, what else is there to do but make pie? 

Years ago, I found a copy of the Joy of Cooking: All about Pies and Tarts on sale at a craft store of all places, and I grabbed it on a whim. I've never regretted it. It's been my go-to recipe book for all kinds of pies -- and it's never failed me. Every single thing I've made from there, sweet or savory, has been delicious.  

While I couldn't find the actual recipe from the book available from Joy of Cooking online to share with you, I did find this one from Better Homes and Gardens that looks deliciously similar and just as tasty, if you are craving your own pie. 

 Don't be put off by the meringue -- it's deceptively simple if you follow the recipe! 

The only thing better than baking the pie is sharing it with friends and eating it, naturally. Spontaneous pie picnics over holiday weekends really are the best (especially when the pie is eaten out of vintage Pyrex, of course.) 

August 28, 2013

Simply Wine and Cheese, Please

My last post about tea reminded me so much of living in England that I thought I should explain how I got there. At the end of my third year of college, I was offered a 10-month internship overseas. Of course I said yes.

Having already volunteered two summers in Scotland, and decidedly blasé about postponing my college graduation for a year, I picked a flatmate and before I knew it, I found myself bashing around London as they say. 

I hardly knew how to cook, and the internship stipend proved meager at best. Luckily, the office where I worked had a cheap canteen and enough staff who recognized a foreigner living on pennies, that I got invited out often enough.

Young, impressionable, and thirsty, I spent a good portion of my time overseas in British pubs with my new friends. (I also lived in a house with no heat, so over the winter and when friends were too busy to accompany me, I bundled up and trudged the few meters up the road to my local establishment and spent hours writing in my journals, on my own, while nursing a soda. True story.)

When we weren't at the pub, often we gathered at someone's home for a wine and cheese evening.

It was the thing to do for any sort of event: house-warming party, a leaving-do or anniversary. Sometimes people hosted them for no reason at all except to hang out with friends. People came and went as they pleased, and in between we all drank wine and ate cheese. 

Simple as that. 
This week, a local friend had a birthday and I volunteered to host a wine and cheese gathering on her behalf. It's been a while since I've done a soirée of sorts (last December actually) but I was confident I could pull it off quickly and easily. Besides, I've moved into an apartment with a kitchen that is made for entertaining.   

I gathered the necessary nibbles and drink, and then the night before proceeded to Google 'wine and cheese party'. You know, in case I missed something.   

Clearly I had, because that day, when I mentioned that I was hosting a party, the wine clerk said he'd be terrified. He wouldn't even know where to start -- he had a hard enough time picking out cheese, let alone trying to pair them with the wine. 

Driving home, I started to panic. What was all of this pairing nonsense? I said I would host a wine and cheese -- is a wine and cheese in America different to all of the ones I've been to in the UK?! In all of those years, had I never been to a PROPER wine and cheese party? 

I didn't actually know everyone on the guest list. More panic. Maybe they're really posh... what if they think I'm a total wine and cheese dunce?

Google affirmed my fears. Every site I pulled up listed ways to pair the wine with the cheese and how to arrange the cheese on a board. I saw list upon list of which wines went with which kind of cheese and I got a little dizzy. Then they all said 'make sure to label' each cheese. And above all, only have 3-5 cheeses.

Forget that, I thought. 

The day of the party, I set up a lovely spread -- it was my friend's birthday after all, so I made the same coconut cake* that I made this past Mother's Day. I used the thrifted vintage snack sets (they were a huge hit) and I decided to do things the way I learned in England years ago.

I opened a few bottles of red and white, put some non-alcoholic beverages next to them, and unwrapped more than the recommended quantity of cheese and crackers. Of course I arranged everything nicely, but I didn't worry about which cheese was at 12 o'clock and which one was next to it. 

I certainly didn't worry about which wine went with which cheese.

Admittedly, at one point, I had both printer labels and toothpicks in my hands and I contemplated writing out the names of the cheese. The moment was brief. There would be no sad little white flags skewered in my cheese. 

When the time came for people to actually tuck in, I simply pointed to each cheese and said what they were. I figured that anyone coming later could ask me (I'm usually the one hovering by the food table in any case) or they could ask someone else. What better way to meet new people than to strike up a conversation with the person standing over the cheese?

I added a few chopped veggies, hummous, grapes, olives, nuts and dried fruit to the table spread. Chocolate also made an appearance, as did some summer sausage. But the cheese was still central -- so was the wine. 
And the only word I heard all night over the din of party chatter was 'delicious'.  
So, there really was no need to panic. My wine and cheese was a success. 

Now that it's over, I'll share my secret rules with you: 

1. Eat cheese
2. Drink wine
3. Be merry

Seriously. It's not that complicated. Don't be scared off by what Google says you should or shouldn't do. You can have an elegant wine and cheese, casual wine and cheese, or anything in between. Generally, no matter what you do, unless you're serving wine aficionados who misread the invitation to read: 'wine tasting', you'll be fine. 

Above all, make sure you have enough for leftovers, because the only thing as nice as a wine and cheese party, is an encore with a few friends a day or two later. 

(* I altered the recipe for the coconut cake by using sweetened coconut instead of unsweetened and then halving the sugar.)

August 19, 2013

Fig Frenzy

I think I have fig fatigue -- brought on of course by this weekend's fig frenzy. 

In my entire life, I've eaten fresh figs only a handful of times. They are intrigueing little bundles of goodness though, so naturally I jumped at the chance to go fig picking with a friend. Within 30 minutes, I had a bounty of figs (and mosquito bites!)

Motivated by the fact that figs go bad very quickly, I set off to make the most of my fruity finds as quickly as possible. 

I tried my hand at canning years ago when I lived in England. My raspberry jam was a gooey mess that needed to be consumed within a week. Looking back, I'm sure I didn't use pectin, or even proper canning jars. I don't remember ever sealing anything. I've never bothered to can jam since. Besides, I usually receive a stash of yummy homemade jam over the holidays from other friends and since the Sailor and I don't eat it everyday, I don't really feel the need to make my own batch. 

Chutney, however, is in high demand in our household. It really is such a versatile condiment, in my book. You can serve it with meat, use it on a sandwich, or simply eat it with a nice cheese.

I made peach chutney the other week, and this weekend, I tried my hand at fig chutney. I found this recipe from David Lebovitz and it turned out fig-fantastic. 

One pound of figs makes about two cups worth, so you can easily just keep it in the fridge and consume it right after making it. I kept a little bit out to eat that night, and then canned several small jars worth to save for later. I have a feeling they're not going to last very long though. 

Apparently I wasn't alone in my preserving party -- this past weekend was National Can-It-Foward Day. Even if you missed it, there's still plenty of time to can all kinds of good stuff. Ball has a great PDF on the basics of canning here.

{I see you eyeballing my Pyrex bowls at the top. The small Gooseberry pink cinderella bowl cost me a whole $1 recently, as did the Town and Country mixing bowl at a local thrift store. I already have the same small Gooseberry bowl in my collection, so I'm thinking that perhaps another giveaway is in the blog's future? What do you think? In the meantime, you can see more Gooseberry goodness here.}

July 25, 2013

Peach Chutney

I had never tasted chutney until my 20s, when I ordered curry at an Indian restaurant in the UK. I always associated chutney with Indian food from then on. I had no idea what else you could do with it.

Then I married the Sailor and he introduced me to a whole new world of chutney-related items. Earlier this month, I mentioned that my go-to roast these days included a bottle of Mrs Balls Chutney. I still haven't found Mrs Balls Chutney locally. 

What I did find was my mother-in-law's recipe book. Years ago, in a bid to learn more Afrikaans, and to help the Sailor's mother, I typed out her recipes and bound them together in a book. There are numerous typos (really, I didn't know any Afrikaans when I set out to do this project... and most of the recipes were scraps of paper written out by hand). I still need the Sailor's help to translate a number of the recipes, but the book is a wonderful reference. 

It's peach season where we are and it reminded me of South Africa. My father-in-law cultivates amazing peach trees -- you can read more about those peaches here and see another photo here from our last trip to the Southern Hemisphere. The Sailor reminded me this week that there is a peach chutney recipe in that book.

I've been wanting to try my hand at preserving food for a long time now, plus, I needed an excuse to use the giant stainless steel pot I recently scored at a thrift store.

I started off with a very small manageable batch -- only six jars worth. 

While the chutney simmered, the Sailor breathed in deeply and said it smelled like his family's house. It certainly did. When we left  South Africa earlier this year, my mother-in-law tried desperately to send us home with jars full of chutney. Baggage handlers and breakables don't usually go well together, so we declined the offer, but our taste buds regretted it the moment we got back to America. 

I'm beginning to realize how significant it is to carry on cooking traditions from both sides of my family. In January, I wrote a post on Family Kitchen Mergers -- you can read that here, in case you missed it. When I sent my mother-in-law a photo of the chutney cooking, her response implied she was over the moon. I think most families love to see a little of their history getting passed along.

We may have turned down importing my mother-in-law's stash of chutney, but I think she's just as pleased that we learned to make it ourselves. As per her instructions, we need to wait at least a week to sample the goods. Rest assured, I'll let you know the canning results.