Archives for category: Cooking

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Yesterday was my first attempt at making lavender lemonade.  Lavender is my new thing.  My air freshener smells like lavender, my dish soap is lavender scented, I have a jar of lavender sugar, and I used fresh lavender in baking scones once.  It’s just about that time of year when fresh lavender will be available at the farmer’s market, and I can’t wait.  I’m always looking for new recipes to use lavender in and I’m really excited about experimenting some more.

Anyway, lavender lemonade.  This could have been much easier and less messy had I known what I was doing.  I got the idea from a lady at the farmer’s market who I’ve bought fresh and dried lavender from in the past (as well as some lavender jelly).  She gave me the following recipe along with the dried lavender I bought from her recently: IMG_7985

The first problem I ran into was the fact that I do not own a large tea ball.  I use tea bags like a civilized human being.  So I tried to improvise a bit.  I used a strainer with a coffee filter in it.

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Then I placed another coffee filter on top of the dried lavender.

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The plan (and I still think it was a sound idea) was to place the strainer in the pot of boiling water and press the top of the coffee filter with a soup ladle.  I’d show you a picture of this but this is the point in the plan where things got a bit crazy and messy and there was no time for pictures.  The problem, I discovered a little too late, was that my pot was A) too deep for the strainer to reach the boiling water while resting on the rim of the pot and B) had too narrow of an opening to dip the strainer right down into the pot of boiling water.  So I just dumped the lavender (coffee filters and all) right into the water.  After a while the water was supposed to turn “a light rose color.”  This did not happen.  The water turned an Ecto Cooler green.

I figured this was close enough.  I then fished out the coffee filters and the lavender with the strainer.  I ran the lavender-infused water through a coffee filter to get any little bits of lavender I missed.  I then let the lavender water sit to cool.  While that was happening I got out my drink jar (everyone should have something like this).

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Then I got out two cans of frozen lemonade

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I mixed the two cans with four cans of water.

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Then I added the lavender water (which miraculously turned pink somehow).

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Then I got out some mint I bought at the store.

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Mint can have a fairly powerful flavor, so you don’t need much.

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I then chopped up a few leaves…

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and added it to the lemonade along with a few handfuls of ice.  Here’s an exciting action shot of that happening:

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And a close up for some reason.

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The lavender adds a nice floral aftertaste that kind of sits in the back of your throat.  And the mint adds a subtle freshness.  After I tasted the concoction I discovered that it was too sweet.  I remedied this with a few extra handfuls of ice to water the whole thing down as well as a few squirts of lemon juice.

An added bonus to this whole thing was that my whole apartment smelled like lavender for a while.

Enjoy!

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When I got to the office this morning my Joy of Cooking desk calendar was displaying “Savoring Asparagus” for Monday, April 8.  The little blurb about asparagus states that “the Romans used to say, if they wanted something in a hurry, ‘Do it in less time than it takes to cook asparagus.'”  The rest of the calendar entry tells you how to properly prepare asparagus.

I do not like asparagus.  Today’s calendar page reminded me that asparagus will be in season very soon.  That means people will be putting asparagus in everything and then trying to get me to try it.  When I tell people I don’t like asparagus they usually tell me that I just haven’t had it prepared properly.  Then I try their way of preparing asparagus.  Then I tell them I liked it because I want to be polite.  Asparagus always tastes like crap.  There is no proper way to prepare asparagus because the product itself sucks.  I’ve had it prepared in every conceivable way.  It is always terrible.  There are so many tasty veggies out there.  Why do we keep wasting our time trying to make a terrible one taste good?

Despite my hatred for asparagus I’m sure I will have to endure eating it a few times again this year.  My life is hard.

A number of months ago my Aunt Nancy gave me a juicer.  I’ve always wanted one, but didn’t think I’d use it enough to justify the expense.  So a free one worked out perfectly.  Up until a few days ago the juicer has just been sitting on a shelf taking up space.

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That all changed when Hy-Vee had a sale on juicing oranges (18# bag for $7).  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

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I’ve never used a juicer before so I decided to start with just a few oranges to see how the thing worked.  The first step was to wash the oranges.

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Then I rolled the oranges around a bit to get the juices flowing (I have no idea if this actually does anything, but people on TV do it).

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Then I cut each orange in half and arranged them so I could take a picture because I am a crazy person.

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Then I placed each orange half on the juicing thing…

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…and placed the clear plastic cover over it (I learned later that this clear plastic cover serves no practical purpose and actually results in less juice and more clean up).

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To my disappointment, this was all the first orange half produced.

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But after 5 oranges I had a fullish glass of orange juice.

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Every morning since I’ve made myself a fresh glass of OJ for breakfast using 6 oranges and no clear plastic thing (it ends up being a lot faster and produces a full glass).  You’d be surprised how far 18 lbs of oranges will go.  I’ve barely made a dent in the bag.

I also discovered that it’s possible to turn the spout on and off.  I discovered this on accident this morning when I couldn’t figure out why no juice was coming out.  If you close it and let the juice all come out at once it is much more satisfying than the slow trickle.

In my opinion juice tastes a lot better when it’s fresh squeezed, but if you don’t like pulp this may not be the best device for you.

Now I need to find new things to juice!

It’s that time of year again.  That’s right, it’s Jayne Hat weather (https://jmsprague.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/jayne-hat-weather/).  When the weather gets a bit chilly I like to cook big batches of food.  This time last year I posted about making applesauce (https://jmsprague.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/making-applesauce-the-hard-way/).  Well, I made applesauce again.  Last weekend I found a new, and equally difficult, way to make applesauce.  First, I’ll recap how to make applesauce.

Get lots of apples.

Get annoying stickers off apples.

Wash apples.

Put some water in a pot.

Add sugar.

Add cinnamon.

Here’s where things differ from the last time I made applesauce.  Instead of peeling and coring the apples I just cut them up into manageable pieces (skin, seeds, and all!).

The reason….

Food mill!  This sophisticated piece of machinery was my great grandmother’s.  So it’ s over 100 years old.  You’re probably unfamiliar with this contraption, even if you own a food mill.  This is because modern food mills use things like electricity and gears, and are made of plastic.  Not this food mill.  This one is a perforated piece of aluminum with a stick.  As you will see, it didn’t make making applesauce any easier or cleaner.

After slicing the apples they go into the pot.  In this case I had to use 2 pots…

…and then 3.

Turn the burner on medium or medium/low, put the lid on the pot(s), and let the apples cook until they get good and mushy.

The food mill should go over a large bowl to catch (most of) the applesauce.

Pour the contents of the pot into the food mill a few large spoonfuls at a time.

I don’t drain any of the liquid off beforehand because I like my applesauce a little soupy.  But it’s up to you.  After dumping the apples in you just pound and press them with the big stick.  The applesauce goes through the holes into the bowl and the seeds and skins stay in the food mill.  Every once in a while dump out the contents of the food mill and add more apples.  After a while you will have a sore arm, a bowl full of applesauce…

…and a big mess.

It made quite a lot of applesauce.  It’s not as smooth as using the immersion blender, but not as chunky as using a potato masher.

It takes a while and is rather tiring, so I’m not sure it’s worth it.  Plus, when you are done you then have to deal with the extensive clean up.

On a side note, Zoey just learned how to jump on the back of the futon.  I’m not sure what took her so long to figure this out, but I’m so proud.

Sorry it’s been so long since I last blogged.  My only excuse is that I’m lazy and didn’t feel like writing.

My parents got a pasta maker for Christmas.  At first I thought this would just be another kitchen appliance/object that would be used once or twice before being tucked away in the back of a cupboard before eventually being given away to a relative or Goodwill.  I was wrong.  The pasta maker is awesome!

If you have a lot of time to cook, don’t mind a lot of work and a big mess, and have a lot of counter space then I recommend this little device.

We decided to make ravioli for the pasta maker’s trial run on (actual) Christmas Eve.  If you like ravioli you will most likely enjoy homemade ravioli even more.

Here’s how it’s done:

Obtain flour and eggs.  Most stores have these items.  (don’t forget to put a towel on your shoulder)

In a bowl combine two cups of flour with three eggs (I think that’s the right quantities).  Put the flour in the bowl first and make a little well in the middle.  Crack the eggs into the well to make a little yoke pond.

Slowly incorporate the eggs into the flour.  If the dough appears too crumbly and dry just add a little water.  Not too much though!  I also mixed a little olive oil in.

Knead the dough into a ball.

Put a damp towel over it so it doesn’t dry out.  Let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes.

While you are waiting for the dough to….I’m not sure what it’s doing under that towel…it’s time to prepare the filling for your raviolis.  The first time we did this we made a venison sausage filling and a ricotta and herb filling.  First, the sausage.  Brown the meat in a pan.

Add some onions.

Pretty straight forward.  Now for the ricotta and herb filling.  In case you are wondering, ricotta is a type of cheese.  Some of you may have just learned something new.  I pronounce it like the word terracotta.  If you’re fancy you might pronounce it like “rick-coat-ah.” (I think.  I don’t know.  I’m not fancy.)  Anyway, put the cheese in a bowl.

Then add some herbs.  I think we used parsley, but I can’t really remember.  It may have been oregano, or maybe basil.  It was something green, dried, and leafy.  I attempted to grind the herbs up in the fancy mortar and pestle we got for my dad for Christmas.  It didn’t really work.  But here’s a picture anyway.

My dad made some marinara sauce because you need a sauce with ravioli.  I have no idea how he makes it or what’s in it.  I’ve never thought to ask.  As long as he keeps making it and it’s delicious I don’t care how it’s done or what’s in it.  He has made this sauce for as long as I can remember.

Now that the dough has rested and the fillings are done, it’s time to make pasta.  Cut a small chunk off your dough ball.

Flour the machine and put the dough through.

Then make this face while holding your little dough baby.

Then fold the dough in half and run it through the machine again another 2 or 3 times on the highest setting.

Keep lowering the settings and running the dough through until it is a nice flat sheet.

Make sure to periodically flour the machine.

You’re going to need quite a few sheets, which is why you should have a lot of counter space if you plan on making your own ravioli.  After you have made each sheet lay it out flat on the counter.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Here’s something cool.  Not sure your pasta sheets are thin enough?  Place it over a newspaper or some other written material.  If you can read the print through the pasta sheet then you’ve made it thin enough.  Cool, huh?  I now read everything through pasta sheets.

Once you have enough sheets it’s time to start placing your filling.  Evenly space spoonful sized globs of the filling along the length of a pasta sheet.

Then brush the pasta sheet with a mixture of egg whites and water.  This will help the pasta sheet you will be placing on top of the one with the filling adhere better so none of the filling spews out when you boil it.

Place a clean pasta sheet over the one you just put filling and egg white stuff on.  Press around the filling, removing as much air as possible.  Cut the pasta into squares around the filling.  You can reuse excess pasta dough.  Press a fork along the edges of each little ravioli square to seal it.  Drop a few of the raviolis into a boiling pot of water for about 4 minutes.

Put some sauce and Parmesan cheese (Parmesan is a different kind of cheese from the ricotta you used earlier.  There are many types of cheese) on them and enjoy!

They also freeze really well.  Chances are you won’t be able to eat all the raviolis you made.

I’m back!  School is done for the semester and I am back home in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the holidays.  Since I have nothing to do for a few weeks I thought it was about time I restart this bloggy thing.

Every year my family prepares our traditional Christmas Eve Dinner.  It varies slightly from year to year but always consists of London broil smothered in a garlic and oil mixture, steamed artichokes with Italian dressing, and boiled potatoes with Bearnaise sauce.

You’re probably wondering, “how is he blogging about Christmas Eve already?  It’s only the 21st.  Does he have a time machine?”  Good questions.  You’re smart.

We had to do Christmas a little early this year because my sister and her boyfriend could only make it up here from North Carolina for the week before Christmas.  They flew back yesterday.  So we decided we’d just play around with the calendar a bit and move Christmas back to the 19th to accommodate them.  So Christmas Eve dinner was on the 18th this year (which also happens to be my sister’s birthday.  There was cake.  I’ll get to that).

And, yes, I do have a time machine:

For this cooking adventure I handed the camera off to my sister.  Let’s see what happened.

Here are some beautifully posed pictures of the various ingredients that went into the meal:

Artichokes!

Artichokes, redskin potatoes, garlic, gross asparagus, and a bottle of wine for some reason

Garlic on my parents' fancy new cutting board thingy

Flank steak!

The first thing I did was to chop the garlic with the fancy cutting board/knife thing, while making faces at the camera.

It worked really well.  It takes a lot less effort and concentration and the garlic came out well minced.

I put the garlic in a bowl with some lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and salt.  Then I mixed it all together while making another silly face.

While all this is happening the artichokes were steaming and the potatoes were boiling.  The artichokes take roughly 45 minutes to an hour.  The potatoes will vary by their size.  Just stick a fork in them to see if they are done.  Artichokes are a bit trickier.  You need to pull a leaf off occasionally to see if it is softening up.

Once I was done mixing the oil and garlic mixture together it was time to score the meat.  This is done by running a sharp knife blade across the surface of the meat.  Each slice should just cut into the meat.  You don’t want to make deep gouges into it.  Space each slit about 3/4 of an inch apart across the meat.  Then do the same thing running perpendicular to the first lines.  Flip the meat and repeat (that rhymed).

Next, I slathered on the oil and garlic mixture.  I didn’t use all of it though.  You need to save a little for later.

It is important to have a towel thrown over your shoulder while you cook.  People do it on TV so you should do it in real life.

While I was slaving away in the kitchen someone set the table.  We go all out for Christmas Eve dinner.  We use the fancy dishes and everything.

Behold!  The dining room table:

Can you spot the difference between this picture and the previous one?

We always have the artichokes as an appetizer while some of the other stuff finishes cooking.  With artichokes it is important to have one or two discard bowls for all the leafy bits and a bowl of Italian dressing for dipping.

The artichoke heart is the reward for all the hard work that goes into eating an artichoke.  A well steamed artichoke will have a soft, warm and hearty center.

Once we finished our artichokes it was time to finish up the rest of the cooking.  My mom made the Bearnaise sauce.  This is easy.  Buy butter, milk, and Bearnaise sauce packets.  Read the back of the packet.  Do what it says.

Bearnaise sauce is not healthy, but it is delicious.  It is basically butter, milk, and various herbs.  It is good on everything.

At some point the potatoes happened.

Why can't I look at the camera with a normal face?

The next step was the steak.  This is the star of the meal and usually the only time during the year that my sister eats meat (don’t worry, I’ve given her a hard time about it over the years).

The meat gets 5 minutes per side on the broiler.  When you flip it spread the remainder of the garlic and oil mixture on it.

When it is done let it rest on the cutting board for 10 minutes.  This is important.  Just let it be.  10 minutes should give you ample time to take pictures of it and pose people with the meat.

After the meat has rested for 10 minutes it is time to give in to temptation and cut it into thin strips.

Cut the meat at a diagonal.

Once again, very photogenic.

The meat should be rare and bloody.  Most meat should be rare and bloody.  If you are going to eat all your meat well done you might as well eat a salad because you are ruining a perfectly good piece of meat.

Here’s the recipe we used for the London broil.  It comes from an ancient Sumerian text known as the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

At some point there was asparagus in the meal, but let’s try to forget that.  It is a retched vegetable.

Begone foul thing!

After dinner we had red velvet cake.  Red velvet cake is the greatest of all cakes.  This is fact, not opinion.

You know the meal was a success when you look like this afterwords:

One more silly face:

Merry Christmas!

I know I said I was going to take a break from blogging for a while, but I just couldn’t resist.  I got a sudden craving to make a caesar salad a few days ago and I knew I had to share that experience with the world.  I lead such an exciting life.

In case you were wondering, the caesar salad was invented by Julius Caesar, our twelfth president, in 1986.  In addition to the caesar salad, he is also known for inventing the light bulb and the phonograph.  Isn’t history fun!

First step: Ingredients

Caesar salad can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.  This version is somewhere in between simple and complex.  Type, variety, quality, and quantity of ingredients will vary from person to person/place to place, and may even vary each time you make this.  You may have different ingredients that are available to you, you may have better or worse skills in the kitchen, you may feel lazier or more ambitious, etc.   But for today’s version you will need:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Caesar salad dressing
  • Anchovies
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Chicken
  • Croutons
  • Black Pepper

Second Step: Lettuce

A) This is what a bowl, a knife, and lettuce look like.

B) This is what chopped lettuce in a bowl looks like.

If you don’t understand how we got from point A to point B please allow someone else to make your caesar salad.

Third Step: Dressing

This picture is pretty self explanatory, right?

It’s time to get your hands a little dirty.  Make sure the lettuce is coated in dressing by mixing the dressing in with your hands.

I prefer to make my own caesar dressing when I’m not feeling lazy.  It can be a bit of a pain and doesn’t always come out right.  To make your own caesar dressing you will need:

  • Eggs
  • Some kind of mustard
  • Anchovies
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Roasted garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Some kind of oil

Put everything but the oil in a food processor and mix together.  Quantities will depend on how you want it to taste, how much you want to make, and what consistency you’re looking for.  The key to making caesar dressing is the oil.  You need to add it slowly while the food processor is going to emulsify the whole mixture.  Moving on.

Fourth Step: Anchovies

Is it just me or does that look like some kind of slimy alien sort of thing?

Many people don’t like anchovies.  I’m not sure if it is the texture, or the taste, or both, but I love ’em.

They have a strong flavor so I don’t suggest using too many.

Chopping them nice and small will make the taste less potent.

Add them to the bowl.

Fifth Step: Chicken

Heat a pan to medium heat and add chicken.

Because I’m lazy I used canned chicken breast.  It doesn’t taste as good and I don’t recommend it, but fresh chicken breasts are more expensive and take longer to cook.  Plus, the grocery store is, like, 200 yards away.  That’s soooooooo far.

Cook it until it looks like food.  Add the black pepper to the chicken and add a little to the lettuce as well.  Let the chicken rest a bit.  It’s had a long day.

Sixth Step: Cheese

Now is not the time to be cheap or lazy.  Cheese is important.  Make sure you get a good wedge of parmesan at the store and treat it with respect.  None of that shredded or grated crap.  You want freshly cut slices or shavings of good parmesan for your salad.  You can skimp on a number of ingredients, but don’t you dare disrespect the cheese.

Your current or future kids will understand if they can’t afford to go to college because you spent a few extra dollars on cheese back in 2011.  You made the right decision.

Add it to the bowl.

Seventh Step: Croutons

Again, if I have to explain how the croutons got from the bag to the bowl we might have a problem.

I prefer to make my own croutons when I have the time.  Croutons are pretty easy to make.  Turn your oven on to some temperature (400 degrees or so I think).  Get out whatever kind of bread you like or have in the house and cut it into 3/4 inch or so sized cubes.  Put the bread cubes in a bowl and add some salt and pepper (you may want to experiment with other seasonings as well).  Coat the cubes with oil and spread out onto a baking sheet.  Put them in the over until they are nice and crispy.  There’s no real set time for this.  Just keep checking on them so that they don’t burn.  Try one or two.  If they are chewy in the middle they need to go a bit longer.

Eighth Step: Chicken (Part II)

Add the chicken to the bowl.

Finally….

Mix it all together.

I suggest eating it right out of the mixing bowl.  Less dishes that way.

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