Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BOTD: Sweet Potato Bread

When I go to a grocery store, after I've found the things I came for, I always scout around for interesting new ingredients. When a new ingredient is something I can use in bread, I silently "squeee" a little bit before I toss my prize into my cart.

My latest find was at Whole Foods and the ingredient was at the same time exotic and familiar. Sweet potato flour. Squeeeee!

I've used white potatoes in bread, and I've used instant mashed potato flakes. And I've used winter squash puree. For no good reason, I've never used mashed sweet potatoes in bread, but this was even better. This is flour, so it's shelf stable. And since it's dry there's no need to make late adjustments for the unknown amount of liquid in mashed potatoes.

White potatoes make bread fluffy but they add no flavor. When I added squash to bread dough, it made the bread a very pale orange, and the flavor was very subtle. But like dried herbs that are stronger than fresh ones, the dried sweet potatoes in the flour added a very distinctive flavor. The color wasn't a bright orange like my double-tomato flatbreads. Instead, it was an earthy orange-tinted light brown.

I let this dough rise twice, but you could skip that second rise and proceed directly to forming and baking. I used active dry yeast here, but instant would be fine as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nightcap Tart from "The Boozy Baker"

This first appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier in my "What’s Cooking?" column

Boozy Baking

No, I’m not talking about drinking while baking – I’m talking about adding booze to your baked goods. And “The Boozy Baker” by Lucy Baker is the perfect guide, with recipes that use everything from beer to vodka.

What I really liked was that most of the recipes offered alternatives for the liquor used in the recipes, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to use something you like, or you can use up some of what you have on hand.

This chocolate tart was particularly tasty. It called for coffee liqueur like Kahlua, but I used a Colorado-made coffee liqueur instead. The suggested alternate was a cream liqueur like Bailey's.

The filling is somewhere between custard and creamy fudge – very rich, so a little goes a long way.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The $10 Tomato

Well, not really. Because there ought to be more tomatoes coming.

And really, I thought this was a great deal. At a garage sale, I bought an early version of the Aero Garden. It had never been used, and included the seeds. All for $10. I thought the seeds might be too old to sprout, but there were no problems at all.

I really wanted this to grow herbs in the winter. This time of year, I don't really need to be growing tomatoes indoors, but I wanted to see how well it would work, so I set it up and let it go.

The plants grew well, and then I got flowers. And look! A teeny little tomato.

Later, I'll buy an herb kit or maybe one of the plant-it-yourself kits and I can plant my own selection of herbs. If the tomatoes do this well, I'm sure I'll have plenty of fresh herbs this summer.

Well worth the $10, I think.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gelato: Stracciatella

A while back, I had a discount at Williams Sonoma and at the same time their gelato mixes were on sale...and coincidentally, I had just read comments from people who were raving about how good these mixes were, and that they were just like gelato served in Italy. Add all that together, and I had to give them a try.

I had no idea what flavor Stracciatella was supposed to be, but the ingredients listed chocolate, so I knew it couldn't be too bad. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from a word that means "torn apart" and it refers to the shards of chocolate in the white gelato.

The interesting thing about this mix was how fast it is to make. With most of the ice creams I make, you have to wait for a custard base to cool, or at least you have to chill the combined ingredients - and I usually chill them over night. With these mixes from Williams Sonoma, you mix milk with the base, dump it in the ice cream maker, and give it a whirl. The only waiting time is after it's done and you put it in the freezer. The instructions suggest three hours, but it's not going to be ruined if you dive in sooner.

The flavor was good and the texture was good, but I wasn't head over heels about it. I'm used to a creamier - okay fattier - ice cream. But that certainly could be remedied by using half-and-half instead of milk.

Gelato is supposed to have less fat than American ice cream, and less air is whipped into gelato than what's in commerical American ice creams, but I have no idea how that relates to the ice cream I make at home. It doesn't seem like I'm whipping vast amounts of air in.

I've never had real Italian gelato, so I can't say for sure authentic this mix is, but people who've been to Italy claimed that this mix is exactly what gelato is like in Italy. I'll take their word for it. Maybe some day I'll have a chance to try it in its native environment. Meanwhile, this is a quick, easy way to have a frozen dessert.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fire Crackers (version 2), Cherry Bombs and Grape Grenades

Cherry Bomb!
On Saturday, my friends from Hot Heads (the guys who make the very addicting Pepperspread) will be at Cayenne Kitchen in Longmont, talking to people about their product.

Since I'm their pet pepperhead, I'll be there with them, handing out samples of some of the spicy creations I've made that use their product.

First, there will be the ever-popular Cherry Bombs, which proved to be so popular when I first blogged about them that David Lebovitz put a link to my blog on his FaceBook page, and according to Site Meter, I got a visit from the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

I'd like to think that the White House Chef was looking for recipes, but my husband pointed out that it's more likely that the word "bomb" prompted a visit from a government security bot.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guacamole

This guacamole was inspired by one in Rick Bayless's cookbook Fiesta at Rick's. I had planned to make his recipe as-is, and had the avocados waiting. I also had the required sun-dried tomatoes. And I always have onions, usually in multiple colors.

When I went to the store for other things I needed for dinner, I completely forgot about the guacamole that was going to accompany the fajitas and chips.

So, no cilantro.

As I re-read the recipe, I realized that cilantro wasn't the only thing I forgot, and at that point I decided to abandon the recipe entirely and just use what I had on hand to make an inspired recipe instead.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I generally don't like tomatoes in guacamole. A little is fine, but mostly I leave them out. Maybe it's because there is usually a tomato salsa nearby when guacamole is on the table. But Bayless's recipe sounded interesting to me because he used sun-dried tomatoes, and he specifically recommended the type that is sold by the dried fruits rather than the oil-drenched ones in jars.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tomato Salad (again)

When I was a kid, I'd eat tomatoes plain, like the fruit that is is. Sometimes I'd add a little salt. My dad would usually grow tomatoes, be we went through so many, we'd buy them in large boxes from a market. None of them got canned, we just ate them.

When my dad's tomatoes were ready for picking, there would be arguments about when they were ready. My dad wanted them completely ripe, and my mother liked them when they were still a little bit green, because she liked the tartness. And then she'd want some green ones to fry, but my dad would refuse to pick them green until the very end of the season.

Me, I liked them any way I could get them. I still eat them fully ripe, part ripe, and I fry the green ones.

I missed the farmer's market over the weekend, so I stopped at a farmstand for my tomatoes. Compared to the photos from the other day, these look pink. For one thing, the last tomatoes were a very dark heirloom variety, so they were a deep, deep red inside. And second, these were just a little bit short of being fully ripe.

But that's fine. I'm an equal-opportunity tomato eater.

The salad was simple: tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, Real Salt (It's a brand name. It's pink and has flecks of darker colors. Allegedly has more minerals or something.), basil-infused olive oil, pepper, and a teeny sprinkling of brown sugar. Nothing was mixed, it was just sprinkled on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

BOTD: Almond Rolls

Ripped in half, you can see the filling and the layers.
These rolls have a layered dough, sort of like croissants, but they're as easy as pie crust. Or, if you think pie crust is difficult, disregard that last sentence. They're pretty easy, considering the result.

This dough is actually pretty hard to mess up. If you process the butter too much or let it get too soft during the rolling, it will incorporate more into the dough and you'll end up with a sweet, buttery soft dough with lovely layers. It won't be as flaky as one where the butter was kept chilled and stayed separate from the dough, but neither result is bad.

Almond filling can be found at most supermarkets. It's been sold since I was a kid. It's the flavor that I remember from bakery almond confections way back when. I've tried some boutique brands of almond spreads, but they just aren't the same as the old-fashioned grocery store brand.

If you don't like almonds, you can substitute your flavor of choice. These would be nice with a simple sprinkle of cinnamon or a nice dollop of thick jam in the center.

And if you really like almonds, you could sprinkle some on top, after the eggwash.

While these were very tempting right after they came out of the oven, I actually liked them better after they cooled completely. While they were warm, the filling seemed a bit too sweet for me. After it cooled, it was just right. But you be the judge. Just let them cool a little before you tear into them. That filling can be very hot.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tomato Salad

The Caprese Salad is becoming old hat, but I've been making dishes like this for a long time, and I think I'll continue to do so even after it falls out of fashion.


The tomatoes were a dark heirloom variety from Ollin Farms, the (very very) fresh mozzarella was from Deli Italia in Lakewood, the basil was from a pot growing in my back yard, and the black and white flake salt was from Marczyk Fine Foods. There was a drizzle of balsamic vinegar that I had on hand.


A perfect summer feast.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lunch: Gyros in Denver

Pete's Gyros Place.


Gyros and fries.

'nuff said.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hummus with Cashew Butter

The first time I encountered hummus, I had no idea what I was eating, but I liked it. Later, I found it pre-made at grocery stores. I still didn't know what was in it, but it was interesting. I might have glanced at the ingredients list, but back then I probably didn't know that garbanzo beans and chickpeas were the same thing.

And then I forgot about it.

The next time I ran into hummus, it was one of those slap-yourself-in-the-head moments. The dip that I thought was so mysterious and exotic and probably difficult to make was little more than mashed chickpeas.Sure, there are flavorings added, but it's not a difficult dish, particularly if you've got a food processor or blender to do the work.

Recently, I've seen all sorts of things called hummus. Green pea hummus, for example. Okay, if peas can be hummus, what about using other beans? Butter beans? That might work. Pinto beans? Um, isn't that sort of like refried beans?

I've also read recipes that claim if a hummus doesn't include tahini, it's not real hummus. And I've also read recipes that say it's fine to leave out, but you shouldn't substitute.

Friday, August 20, 2010

BOTD: Double-Tomato Skillet Flatbreads

These flatbreads are a pretty orange color; perfect to impress company and easy enough to make any day for sandwich wraps - or to go with dinner. The tomato flavor is there, but it's not overwhelming, so these won't clash with other dishes on the menu.

But of course, this recipe is infinitely adaptable to make it mesh better with your meal. Add any herbs or spices you want. For most, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon would be right.

The sundried tomatoes I used were the ones that are sold in grocery stores near the dried fruits. They're soft and pliable, and in the package I bought, each piece was half of a tomato. so I used eight of those pieces.

 I also saw smoked sundried tomatoes, which looked interesting. I'm sure those would be fine as well.

My instructions have the sundried tomatoes added at the end of processing, since the food processor could break them up too much if they were added earlier and I wanted larger pieces. If you prefer smaller bits, add them earlier and/or chop them finer.

If you really want a smokey flavor, use smoked paprika instead of the sweet paprika in the recipe. If you want a little kick, use a sharp paprika. The choices are yours.

I made eight flatbreads about 6 inches in diameter with from this recipe, If you wanted smaller flatbreads for appetizers, you could keep dividing and make 24 or more smaller portions. One thing to keep in mind is that these don't expand in diameter when they cook, but they do get a bit thicker, so roll them a thinner than what you want to end up with.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cool as a Cucumber Salad

On a hot day, a cool, refreshing cucumber salad makes a great side dish. This one couldn't get any simpler. You can certainly add seasonal herbs and spices, but I think that incredibly fresh pickling cucumbers don't a lot of extra flavors.

And really, this is a cooling side dish. Put your herbs and spices in the main dish.

I like either wine vinegar or rice vinegar for these cucumbers, but you could use something else. This time I used a red wine vinegar, and immediately gave the onions a nice pink tinge.

While this is an incredibly simple dish, it had several faces. When freshly made, the vegetables are crisp and bright. Let it marinate over night, and the vegetables become more like a pickle.

But then you've got another choice... you'll see.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

BOTD: Caraway Rye

This was sort of an experimental loaf. The ingredients were pretty standard, but I adjusted the way I combined them. I'm happy with the way the loaf came out. Flavor was good, texture was good, and elasticity was good when I was kneading and forming the loaf.

I'm not saying that anything I did was essential to making the bread, but it all made perfect sense at the time. Since I was using milk, it needed to be scalded before use, and then it had to be cooled before using so it didn't kill the yeast.

Since I keep my whole grain flours in the freezer or refrigerator, it made sense to add the cold flour to the warm milk to moderate the temperature.

Meanwhile, I mixed the yeast, yogurt and sugar while the milk and flour mixture was cooling off. I figured that it would give the yeast just a little bit of a head start at softening and activating.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

BOTD: Dressed-Up White Bread

If you're going to serve a loaf of bread to company, why not make it pretty as well as delicious? This one looks impressive, but it's simple to do.

As far as flavor, I brought this one to a potluck, and one of the comments was that it was so good, it didn't need butter.

It's not a plain white loaf - there's semolina and oatmeal to add character and flavor - but it's also very approachable for diners who aren't adventurous.

And while it's a dressy-looking bread for dinner, the leftovers are perfect for breakfast toast or lunch sandwiches.

If you don't need a fancy loaf, you can skip the snipping and make it a plain loaf. Or use the snipping technique with your own favorite bread recipe. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Home Made Rigatoni - Or Close Enough

Fresh, home made pasta is a great thing, but most people stick to simple shapes like flat noodles. A few more might make filled pastas like ravioli or shapes like gnocchi.

But what about tubular pastas? Can you make those at home?

Yes, you can, if you have the right equipment.

Tubular pasta is extruded through dies, and I have an  attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer called the Pasta Press that's made to do just that. It came with dies for rotini, spaghetti, and several different sizes of tubular pasta.

I went with the die labeled "large macaroni" which made ridged noodles about the size of rigatoni.

I used the recipe from the KitchenAid manual that came with the Pasta Press. Unfortunately, the recipe uses cup measurements for the flour, so it's not as accurate as it could be. I estimated 4 ounces per cup, since it specified sifted flour.

The instructions about adding water is also just a bit ambiguous. I'm still not sure if the extra tablespoon of water is supposed to be to adjust the egg measure, or if it's in addition to that.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Frozen Yogurt from "The Perfect Scoop"

Okay...it's a couple of scoops.
I've never had an ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz go wrong, and this one from his book The Perfect Scoop is no exception.

Except, well, it's frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.

The Vanilla Frozen Yogurt recipe offered a few variations - use plain whole-milk yogurt, strain the yogurt for a smoother, creamier consistency, or buy Greek-style yogurt. I usually make my own yogurt and strain it, but didn't have any one hand so I bought some Greek-style yogurt.

My favorite brand is Fage, and I usually buy the Fage Total, but after checking two stores, I had to settle for the Fage Total 2%, which is lower in fat. Oh well.

Lebovitz noted that strained or Greek-style yogurt could be substituted cup-for-cup for regular whole-milk yogurt in any of his recipes without any variations in the recipes, but for the Vanilla Frozen Yogurt, he had two variations - one with plain and one with strained yogurt. I followed the directions for the strained yogurt, which required a bit less sugar.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Atomic Tomatoes: They're "the Bomb!"

Atomic Tomatoes. They look innocent.
My husband doesn't venture into the kitchen often, but he's still really handy to have around for some of my cooking projects. Because sometimes when I want to do something I don't have exactly the right tool to do the job.

He's really good at kitchen-hacking tools for me.

In this case it was a turkey injector. You know, those big plastic syringes that are used for injecting (mostly cajun) flavorings into turkeys (and other meat, too, I guess).

A turkey injector has a pointy tip on the metal needle so you can insert the thing through the turkey skin and into the meat. It also has two openings on the sides of the needle where the flavoring squirts out.

It was almost what I wanted, except I wanted a single hole on the end of the thing. And if it could be angled instead of blunt, that was a plus.

Friday, August 13, 2010

BOTD: Sausage Buns

I love light and fluffy hot dog and hamburger buns, but sausages seem to warrant a heftier bun. These would also be nice for sub sandwiches. If there are leftovers, they'd be great sliced, toasted, and used for crostini.

This recipe makes just six buns, so it's good for a small family. Or double it, if you want more.

The reason you need to scald the milk is that milk has an enzyme that can affect the protein in the flour and thus affect the rise. It's not always fatal to the bread, but scalding is extra insurance. It takes a little extra time since you then need to cool it, but I've accelerated the cooling by adding cold water.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Italian Sausage Sandwiches

Simple dinner on a hot day. Italian sausage sandwiches. No frills.

My garden's not going gangbusters this year, and I missed the farmer's market on Saturday...but I've still got home-canned goods from last fall, so that's what I used for cooking the sausage.

Aren't these Roma tomatoes pretty? I'd like to have enough to make sauce, but so far there are just a few ripe ones here and there.

Here's how I cooked the sausages: Two pint jars of my home-canned tomatoes went into a pan, and I broke them up a bit and got them simmering. Then I added one green bell pepper and one red pepper cut into strips, and about a third of a jar of a chunky non-spicy home-canned tomato salsa (tomatoes, diced onions, peppers...). Simmered that for a while, then added four pieces of Italian sausage that I brought home from Chicago. Simmered that until the meat was done and the peppers were getting softer. The sauce was a bit chunky since it hadn't cooked for terribly long, but it had a lot of flavor.

Often, when I cook Italian sausage for sandwiches, I use tomato sauce rather than whole tomatoes, but I didn't have any on hand, and I did have the whole tomatoes...so...that's what I used. If you have tomato sauce, use that. Or tomato paste thinned with water. Or whatever works for you.

You might note that I didn't add any seasoning to the sauce besides what was in the salsa. I find that if the Italian sausage is good, it adds plenty of flavor to the tomato sauce. And really, the tomato sauce is a condiment for the sausage sandwich, it's not the star of the dish.

If you want more flavor in the sauce, basil, marjoram, oregano and/or fennel would all be nice. Add salt if the sauce needs it, but the sausage might be salty enough to season the sauce, so taste it before you salt it.

I served the sausages on home made buns. They were a little denser than my fluffy hot dog buns, and a little bigger. The denseness was nice for soaking up the sauce, and to fit fat sausages rather than skinny hot dogs.

Oh, you want a recipe for the buns? Be patient, it will be up soon.

On the side, I served some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. Since they were so fresh, there was no need to dress them up at all.

I might break up the left over sausage and serve it with the sauce over pasta for the next meal. We'll see. The leftovers might not make it past lunch.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's Cooking? Gluten Free!

This was originally published in the Left Hand Valley Courier in my "What's Cooking?" column.

If you spend any time in the baking, snack, pasta, or baked goods sections of the grocery store, you’ve probably seen plenty of gluten-free products for sale, from baking mixes to cereal products to spaghetti.

But what’s gluten, and why would you want to be free of it?

Simply put, gluten is a type of protein. It’s typically found in wheat flour, and it’s actually very important when making bread. Gluten is what forms the webby network that holds the bubbles that make the bread what it is. Bread flour has more gluten than all purpose, cake, or pastry flour because you want that webby structure in bread, but it can make your muffins or piecrust tough.

Bring up the topic of gluten-free food in any group of people, and you’re likely to get a variety of comments, from “It’s a fad; it’s the new Atkins,” to “That stuff is bad for you. Everyone should avoid it.”

The truth lies somewhere between those two sentiments. Gluten sensitivities are no more a fad than peanut allergies. We’re just hearing more about them now that people have become more aware and doctors are finding it easier to diagnose.

On the other hand, gluten isn’t bad for everyone. Just like any sensitivity, it’s only bad for the people who are sensitive to the item. And just like anything else, there are degrees of sensitivity. Some gluten-sensitive people can have a small amount of gluten with no ill effects, while others can become ill from trace amounts, which is why gluten-free products are produced and packed in facilities that are kept free of all gluten contamination.

Since wheat and other gluten-containing grains are so common in things like bread and baked goods, those used to be difficult for people with gluten sensitivities. Now there are bakeries that specialize in gluten-free goods, and you can find gluten-free baking mixes, if you’d prefer to make your own.

Although I don’t have gluten issues, I’m always interested in new products, just to see what they’re like. And to be prepared in case I ever need to cook for gluten-free guests.

Recently I tried King Arthur Flour’s gluten-free brownie mix. The directions were simple and the only things I needed to add were butter, water, and eggs. Since there were no high-altitude directions, I baked the brownies in a slightly larger pan, just in case they rose too much.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

BOTD: Orange Quick Bread

I'm calling this a bread, but it walks a fine line between a quick bread and a muffin-like loaf pretending to be a pound cake. It doesn't have nearly as much sugar or fat as a pound cake, but it's sweeter than a typical beer bread, which is where this idea started.

But there's no beer. That got lost somewhere between the idea and the baking pan.

This bread made me ponder where the line is drawn between bread and cake. It's not the yeast, since there are plenty of yeastless breads. And it's not the sweetness, since there are sweet breads and somewhat savory cakes.

Eh, it doesn't matter. I created it, I'm calling it a bread. Because having a slice of toast for breakfast sounds so much better than having a slice of cake.

This quick bread has a nice citrus flavor and just a hint of sweetness. It's fine on its own, but there's nothing wrong with adding a bit of butter.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Paul Brezinski's Cheesecake


The center of the cake has more filling.
Not only did I leave Chicago with a carload of food, I also left with a few recipes from my brother-in-law, Paul. He was particularly enthusiastic about a dessert that had been handed down though the family, so when I got home, of course I had to try that first.

When Paul told me about the recipe, he called a double-crusted Polish cheesecake, but it's not so much a traditional cheesecake as it is a a sweet yeasted bread with a cheese filling. If you think of it as a cheesecake, you'll expect more cheese filling and less dough. If you think of it as a cheese-filled cake, you'll expect it to be softer and a bit more delicate than this yeasted bread.

But think of it as a sweet bread with a cheesecake filling, and you're all ready for breakfast, brunch, or dessert.

When I made it, the outer edges of the cake had a higher dough-to-filling ratio than the center of the cake where there was more filling and less dough. I don't know if that's the expected outcome, or the result of how I rolled the dough and put it in the pan. But it's something to keep in mind as you cut and serve.

Here's the recipe as I got it:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Road Trip: Going Home

Ah...the last day in Chicago.

The back of the car was jammed full of packages, bags, and boxes, and we had two coolers full of frozen food. We stopped for dry ice and set the GPS for Omaha, since that seemed like a decent halfway point.

We actually stayed in Council Bluffs, Iowa, over night, but that's close enough. We had dinner at one of the restaurants in the hotel complex (oh, and did I mention that it had a casino...how convenient...)

I ordered a small pizza, and wondered what it would be.


Not terrible, actually, but as I told Hubster, I had low expectations to begin with.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Road Trip: Part 14

One more party to go, this time just Hubster's immediate family. And again, we moved from one house to another, this time stopping to pick up some gyros meat and some Italian beef to take home.

And yes, I do make my own, but it's been a long time since I've had the authentic Chicago versions, so I wanted to pick some up as samples to compare to my versions.

We stopped at Central Gyros in Chicago for the gyros, and we got the beef from Jay's Beef in Schiller Park. Here's a nice shot of the gyros....


And then we had a little time to hang around before it was time to head for the party. I picked up my mother-in-law for a quick spin to a Polish grocery store to see if she wanted anything and to help translate labels.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Road Trip: Part 13

The dinner bell rang in Morton Grove, Illinois, and we decided on Chinese food again. This time we had our tour guides (AKA hubster’s brother and his wife) to guide us to better cuisine than what we’d found in Bloominginton.

Our destination was China Chef, where I ordered moo shoo pork (again), hubster ordered egg foo yung (again), and brother ordered orange fish, and sis-in-law ordered Mongolian beef.

It was all great, and I completely forgot about photos until mid-meal when plates were demolished. We walked out with leftovers, including almond cookies. I hadn’t seen these in a long time, and they were always my favorites.


Mmmm…cookies. I’ve got to figure out the recipe one of these days.

The following morning was the day of the family reunion for my husband's father's side of the tree. But first, I met up with another old friend for some lunch. I drove to meet her at the place where she works - a natural pet food store in Wheaton, Illinios.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Road Trip: Part 12

Morning dawned with yet another brother on the itinerary, and we headed to the suburb of Morton Grove. The weather was being peculiarly cooperative, and we were looking forward to more family time.

Meanwhile, I had reconnected with an old friend, and we were planning to meet for lunch. And when I say “old friend,” this was my best friend in high school and we’d been through some…interesting…times together.

Even though we hadn’t seen each other for something like thirty years, I felt like a teenager when I was driving to the restaurant to meet her. A sort of creaky and wiser teenager, but still a teenager.

Let’s just say that there was a bit of tearing up and a lot of hugging that went on, and pretty soon we were telling each other everything that had gone on in the intervening years. It was like time hadn’t passed, except of course we were catching up on thirty years instead of the few hours we would have been apart when we were teens. The more we talked, the more we remembered. Lunch turned into several hours while the coffee got cold and the ice cubes melted and the lunch crowd disappeared.

My friend and I had been inseparable during some really fun times, and those happy days got us through some very painful times in both of our lives. You can have dozens of school pals or neighborhood buddies or work friends, but there are a few friendships that go beyond that. I don’t have any sisters, but I don’t think a sister could have been any closer that we were.

And then we drifted apart. I’m not sure what happened, but we lost touch little by little, and then I moved away. I made new friends but there always seemed to be something missing.

Then, in ten seconds, and after thirty years, it felt right again.

Oh yeah, and we had lunch. It’s completely irrelevant.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Road Trip: Part 11

Before I go on, let me apologize for any peculiar typos in any of these posts. I’m doing much of the typing in a moving car while we’re going from one place to another, and getting them online when I have time. And considering the family and fun, I’m spending very little time online.

Dinner had to be at the Hop Leaf. This is one destination we planned on before the trip started, since this brother has been working at the Hop Leaf for years, and hubster and I had never been there.


We got the lowdown on the beer selections from my brother-in-law who helped us make our choices. Hubster ended up with Dortmunder Gold from the Great Lakes Brewing Company.

After a taste of two different stouts, I ended up with the Black Bourbon Stout from Allagash Brewery.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Road Trip: Part 10

Morning dawned with less humidity, but still more than I’d become used in in high and dry Colorado. It was also a little less warm, so the humidity was more like a soft caress than a stifling soggy blanket.

We took our show on the road again, heading out to visit another of my husband’s brothers, and were welcomed with the usual family hospitality. This brother bought an old Chicago bungalow years ago and he and his wife have been remodeling it back to its original state. That meant a lot of stripping of wood in all the rooms. Tedious work, but glorious results.

The kitchen was another story. They didn’t want a dysfunctional old kitchen; they wanted a modern kitchen with an old-time look to it. The stove is an older model, but the refrigerator is new with an old-style face on it. The microwave is hidden, and completely modern cabinets have faces that would have been at home when the house was new.

The finishing touch is a tin ceiling, but instead of hiding the wiring for the lights under the ceiling (which could have easily been done), there’s visible conduit painted the same color as the ceiling. It makes sense. Go to any old Chicago building with a tin ceiling and you’ll see that same conduit – with a real tin-ceilinged building, the electricity that came later couldn’t be hidden.

Descriptions don’t do it justice. Here are the photos.

BOTD: Cottage Cheese Dill Loaf

I was in a cheesy mood, but I didn't want an overtly cheesy bread, so I decided to use cottage cheese. By the time it was mixed into the bread and cooked, it disappeared into the dough, but it made a nice moist and slightly chewy loaf.

I also used whey left over from yogurt-making, but water is fine.

I added dill as well. Just a teaspoon. If you look carefully, you can see flecks of green in the bread. It added a pleasantly herby flavor without screaming "Dill!" at the top of its yeasty lungs.

I let this bread rest overnight in the refrigerator, but if you're in a hurry you can bake it the same day. Just let ir rise once, knead it and form it, and let it rise again before slashing and baking.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Road Trip: Part 9

Waking up in your old home town is a funny thing, particularly if you’ve been gone for a long time. There’s an anticipation of seeing all the old paces, and the dread of finding out that landmarks and old favorites are now gone.

A rib restaurant where I wanted to pick up some sauce had been closed for several years. My old grade school was in the process of being torn down. The place where my husband and I met was gone and the place where we got married had been replaced by condos.

One local landmark was still standing although it had been battered a bit over the years. I went to Gene’s and Jude’s to pick up hot dogs for lunch, and the dogs were still the same. I snapped some photos of the outside of the building and snapped a ew more while I was in line, but when I got to the counter and ordered, I was hoping to get some good shots of the hot dogs being assembled. It was something I’d seen since I was a kid, and I figured it was worth capturing for the blog. But then I was told that photos weren’t allowed in the building. I could take them outside, they told me, but no photos inside.


Oh well, at least I escaped with my hot dogs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Road Trip: Part 8

Morning broke early. I was curious about a grocery store behind the Chinese restaurant, so we headed over there to see if it was open. The sign on the door helpfully said that it was open “am to pm.” It was ten to eight, so we figured we’d give them a chance to open and drove down the street to see what else we might find.


A small bakery caught my eye, and I went in. It looked like a real bakery and smelled like a real bakery. A display case held a decent variety of tempting sweet rolls. I already had my thermos filled with coffee from the hotel, so I bought a maple-frosted long john and a giant cherry turnover.


There weren’t any prices listed, but I expected that the two would cost five or six dollars. Nope. Just $2.55 including the tax. Best bargain of the trip, and decent baked goods. The coffee, by the way, was fair and I had to settle for Coffee Mate instead of cream. But it was hot and fresh and free, so I can’t complain.
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