Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Granola

On two of the blogs I follow, the authors recently made their own granola. I hadn't thought much about it until I picked some up wandering through the "Healthy" section of a Hanaford market. It was pretty good. But it was one of those things I couldn't stop eating. Every time I caught the container out of the corner of my eye I took a handful and ate it.

So I went back at looked at the recipes on the blogs. Since I had strawberries and bananas, I went with this recipe from Ruhlman's blog. I dropped the brown sugar and used agave nectar instead.

Here's a bowl of oats, wheat bran, flax seeds and almonds next to a container of strawberries, a banana, honey, agave, little oil, cinnamon and some H2O.

The fruit mix got liquified with a stick blender (this stick blender is an awesome kitchen toy to be used whenever possible).

After everything was mixed together, it went on a half sheet and into the oven to dry.

I mixed it every 15 minutes for about an hour. The house smelled good. Tossed in some dried cranberries and raisins.

It is pretty good. You can taste the fruit mix but it isn't as strawberry-banana-y as I thought it would be. Definitely a recipe worth working on. Maybe add some other seed (sunflower or pumpkin) into the mix. Other dried fruit would be nice too. The idea of using a fruit puree to evenly spread around the oats is brilliant. Not sure who came up with it originally. This blog chain links it back to Nigella Lawson, but that might not be the beginning of the chain.

I still can't walk the bag without taking a handful and eating it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rib and Pierogi Day 2010

This family festival is also known as Summer in February and was held on Valentine's Day this year. Nothing says romance like gluttony with the family. I'm not sure how the tradition started, but it has been going on for at least 5 years. We were trying to date the first year, but no one was sure. Anyhow, in the middle of February, a large portion of family gets together, ribs and sausage are cooked in a pit over wood coals, leftover Christmas pierogi are fried up, and all the side dishes would comfortably fit in at a summer picnic. Good eats like potato salad, pasta salad and deviled eggs. First, let me introduce Duke. He graciously agreed to host the party at his house.

Here's the pit used to cook the ribs and homemade sausage. Not sure why the picture of the food rotated, but the software won't let me fix it. The ribs were about done so they got moved to the sides when the sausage went on. The darker colored sausage is hot, the lighter rounds are sweet.

Once the ribs were finished, Aunt Carol started frying pierogi.

They get some seasonings and a little paprika to help with the browning.

She did a great job. They were fantastic.

Here's some of the spread. If you left hungry, it was your own fault....

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympic Fever

I've caught it. As a curler, there has never been a time where this much curling could be seen on TV. Unfortunately, the US curling teams haven't been doing that well. I stayed up too late last night watching Canada play Great Britain. The only Capital Region even I can compare watching curling at this level to is the Travers Stakes. You blow off work and head to the track some summer Friday to get an early start to the weekend. It's fun. You make some bets then stand by the rail and watch the horses run by. If you stand by the rail for the Travers, the horses running by you are breath taking. They are bigger, faster, stronger and very powerful. You ask yourself, "If these are horses, what were those other things that ran by before?"

That's how I felt watching last night's curling match. "If this is curling, what game am I playing on Monday nights?" The strategy was well beyond what I am used to seeing. The shot making ability was amazing. The judgment and ability of the sweepers was very impressive.

And happy 30th anniversary to the Miracle on Ice. I was 8 and I can remember watching the game. All of the other "where where you when..." events aren't happy. Pearl Harbor, Kennedy getting shot, the Challenger explosion, 9-11. Not many happy occasions get imprinted into the memory of a nation. But these guys really captured the hearts of this country. But enough reliving past Olympic glory. The American woman's curling team has a game on now.

Side Note: In completely un-Olympic related news, I ate a piece of sopressata yesterday. It was tasty, but I think it needs a little more time to dry. Should be done by this coming weekend.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Sunday

I'm not the biggest football fan. In the past (read pre-kids), I used to watch the Super Bowl. When it is a close game and you are surrounded by people really into the game, you can't help getting caught up in it. Plus, I am a sucker for sandwiches over 3 feet long. There are plenty of bad monster subs, but the good ones are really good.

For the past few years, we have used Super Bowl Sunday as an opportunity to bring our daughters to a "nicer than usual for them" restaurant. Restaurants aren't crowded today so getting a table is easy. Plus, if the place isn't full, the occasional loud noise from a toddler is less noticeable. The chances of us impacting another table' dining experience also drops significantly. Plus, when the girls are invited to something, the experience won't be new and they will know what is expected of them.

Tonight we went to Chez Mike in East Greenbush. I had never been and had read some nice things about the place online. I liked the place. Service was very friendly. A house pâté was on the menu and I couldn't resist getting it. It was good, but it isn't up there with the best I've had. Don't get me wrong, it was certainly enjoyable and there wasn't any left on the plate when it was cleared. For the main course, I had the braised short ribs. They were really good. Crazy good.

All in all, the family had a very nice meal. The girls were well behaved. My older daughter definitely understands that good behavior in a restaurant means more restaurant experiences and she is looking to get herself into more restaurants. The younger daughter will pick up on that soon. It's a nice tradition. I wonder where we'll go next year.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sopressata Part 2: And now we wait...

Last night I ran the pork through the grinder attachment of a Kitchen Aid mixer. The long stips worked pretty well. There were definitely piece that grabbed and pulled themselves through. Next time, I think I will be able to cut more pieces that do this. Pretty neat trick.
It looked like it had at least 25% fat so I didn't add anymore. The milk powder got added and the paddle attachment went on the mixer for a quick mix. A bigger mixer would have made the job easier. For some reason, I wanted this type of Kitchen Aid 10 years ago (there's a hinge and the bowl is locked in place) instead of the larger one where the bowl moves up and down. Can't remember why though.
I didn't get any pictures of filling the casings. My hands were a little messy and my wife uses the camera too. I started with the collagen casings which stuffed very easily. I moved onto the natural casings and only had one minor glitch - I over stuffed and split the casing. Not a big deal, just pulled out a little more casing and kept going. Here's the setup I used on the kitchen table. The sopressata on the right (darker brown casing) are collagen cased. The sopressata on the left are in natural casing.

The hardest part of doing this, besides cleaning up, is tying the sopressata to hang in the chamber. I'm not the best with knots. In the books I've read on sausage making, they have lovely pictures on how the know should look, but no real instructions. I'm going to have to ask around for pointers. Tying the collagen casings would have been much easier with an extra pair of hands. Since I do this after everyone else has gone to bed, I'm out of luck there. An el-cheapo kitchen dedicated vise grips might help. Maybe next time I'm in Harbor Freight. My fear with the collagen casing is that as the meat shrinks, a void will be created and the knot will slip. Tying the natural casing was easier, but also equally unprofessional. A seasoned butcher would probably get a good laugh. Here's a shot of some sopressata in bondage followed by a picture of the sopressata curing. I weighed each one so I will know what percentage of weight was lost in a few weeks. I'm going for 30%.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Getting Ready

Had some leftover white wine, so we put it to use in a clam and pasta dinner or Monday. There is something about this meal that is very satisfying. It is quick an easy to make. Drop some pasta into boiling water. In another big pot, heat some good olive oil. Dump in the clams and cover for a few minutes. Stir in a few cloves of minced garlic and cover it again. A few minutes later, add some wine and slap the lid back on. Once the clams are open, drain and add the cooked pasta (I like spaghetti with this). Stir it up so the pasta is covered with the sauce and add some parsley. Be sure to have bread to sop up the sauce. Dinner is served.
The chamber is up and getting ready. I have the humidifier running with the goal of keeping the sopressata curing in the 65% to 70% relative humidity range. I might need to reposition the fin. It depends on how many links of sopressata I make. The fin (a throwback to kid-free parrothead days) blocks the salami from being in the direct breeze of the humidifier fan. Hanging on the string is a outdoor part of a wireless temperature/humidity weather station. I picked it up a Lowes. I keep the receiver on the kitchen counter so it is easy to keep an eye on the temperature and humidity in the area the meat is drying. It works pretty well. At the time of the picture, the temperature was 57 deg F and the RH was at 57%. Last time I looked the RH was up to 61%. The humidifier is set at 75%, that gave me close to 70% near the meat.
And last, but not least, the casings I recently order came this evening. I got some larger diameter natural casing a few types collagen casings. Starting from the top, 30mm diameter clear collagen casing, casing for a large summer sausage, 38 mm diameter collagen casing and 35 mm+ natural casing. I think I will use the natural casings and some of the 38 mm collagen casings for the sopressata.