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Yeah, I’m Crafty

19 Sep

“Oh my gosh, I’m so not crafty!”  Sitting at the kitchen table, glue gun webs of melted plastic draped from my fingers, I exclaimed my pretty obvious observation.  My good friend, Caroline, and I took the night to make crafts out of bags of saved wine corks, something we have both wanted to do for a while.  It seemed like a productive and rewarding way to use the evidence of years of wine drinking – I mean “tasting” (no, I really mean drinking).

Caroline was fashioning cork trivets out of antique picture frames, and I, to much avail was trying to make a wine cork wreath, uber fitting for the upcoming entertaining holidays.  The glue guns were smoking, the four-letter words were flying, and the martinis were flowing.  Needless to say, we weren’t near the perfectly imperfect Martha Stewart excellence.  However, in the end, I think Ms. Martha would have been proud.

There’s something so unique about a girl’s night; they can be simple or extravagant, gossipy or humble, over-emotional or relatively quiet.  Whatever the circumstance, day of the week, or excuse it takes for girls to get together, something memorable usually occurs.  While I know I’m not speaking to a large, albeit less numbered, half of our population, I think it’s important for every man out there to know that girls nights are 1) needed so we don’t yell at you about not wringing out the sponge, 2) not about pillow fights in negligée (sorry to burst some lingering pubescent floating bubbles of desire), and 3) a great excuse for you to watch that Pawn Stars episode with that man trying to sell the Days-of-Yore-this-is-worth-at-least-10,000-dollars-ok-maybe-$75.50 musket.

(Side note: as I literally finished writing that, Rob came upstairs and said, “Hey babe, I’m watching this really cool show about guns!”  No joke.)

After three hours of chatting, glue-gun burns, ignoring Sig (he learned to give up early), and, “Are you sure this looks ok?” reassurances, we had finished our little projects with sore hands and a sense of accomplishment.  By golly, we actually were crafty.  Caroline had created her trivets, and I had made my wreath.  Aside from feeling like we had actually done something worthwhile with our Saturday night, the process of cutting each cork perfectly to fit its puzzle-piece spot left us sighingly remembering each bottle of wine we loved, and just liked, and enjoyed with friends and family over laughs and good food.  Needless to say, the projects resulted in more than just our finished products.

To celebrate (and to secretly make Martha proud), dinner was in order, and a good one at that.  Our CSA basket is still giving us beautiful, bounteous baskets full of harvest summer fruit and veg, including lots of sweet corn.   I stuffed Poblano peppers with a colorful corn sauté, and eating this rustic Pacific Northwest meal gave us a different sense of accomplishment – like we had done something good for our community (and our stomachs).

The next morning, the leftovers were calling my name.  With a mixture of sautéed corn, cabbage, bacon, cranberries, and Manchego cheese, a breakfast burrito with a fried egg built itself in my mind putting my hands and sauté pan to work.  The foggy-morning dance of frying an egg until it is just cooked through has become second nature to me.  Using the benchwarmer microwave to cheatingly heat up my tortilla, I layered a little hot sauce, my harvest summer sauté, and the fried egg; breakfast was served.  And on the becoming increasingly rare occasion, breakfast was slow and savored.

With fall just around the corner, I can’t think of a humble breakfast that says goodbye to summer, and hello to autumn, better than this one.  Maybe it’s just because the memory of discovering my inner craftiness pairs as well as a mimosa would, or maybe it’s because it really is that good.  You be the judge.

Happy almost fall!

Harvest Summer Breakfast Burrito
(this recipe will give you enough filling for about 4 burritos, or extra to stuff roasted Poblano peppers!)

  • 1 ear sweet corn, kernels cut off cob (raw)
  • ½ head green cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 3 strips bacon, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced 
  • 1 large carrot, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • ½ c + ¼ c beer (light ale)
  • juice from 1 lime
  • ½ c Manchego cheese, grated
  • 4 flour tortillas
  • 4 eggs
  • a dash of olive oil
  • basil for garnish
  • s&p
  • hot sauce optional

Brown the bacon in a large sauté pan over med-high heat until crispy.  Remove bacon and set aside on a paper towel to drain off the excess grease. 

Pour out all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat, and add the diced onion.  Season with s&p and sauté until softened and translucent.  Add the jalapeño and deglaze with the ½ c of beer.  Let simmer until the beer is almost completely reduced, and add the cabbage and corn.  Season with a pinch of s&p again.  Add the extra ¼ c beer and cook down, until no extra liquid is in the pan and the cabbage has wilted. 

Turn off the heat and mix in the carrot shreds, cranberries, and crispy bacon.  Sprinkle over lime juice, and taste for seasoning. 

At this point, heat up the tortillas, and either mix in the grated Manchego cheese, or layer it within the burrito (I like to layer it in rather than mix together – it keeps different textures alive within the burrito). 

To fry the egg, pour a dash of olive oil into a non-stick pan, and crack in the egg.  Season with s&p, and leave be to cook over high heat, and then flip when the edges start to brown.  Cook to preferred doneness (runny yolk, medium, or hard cooked), and put on top of sauté in the burrito. 

Pour over some hot sauce, if you like it spicy in the morning, garnish with basil, and fold like, well, a burrito.


They’re Baaaaack!

15 Apr

One of the first things I learned in foraging on the Oregon Coast is that Banana Slugs are delicious.  Might I clarify learned, as in, someone told me so.  My pleasantly surprised, “Oh, I have so many of those in my backyard!” statement lead to the thankful explanation that the backyard ones should NOT be eaten.  Those slugs live off poop.

Needless to say, I have not delved into the wonderful world of Gastropods.

Figures, since Sig donates his fair share of excrement to the earth, and waiting for the sun to dry the ground just enough to collect his donations hasn’t happened, since, well, pigs flew around dropping the money that grew on their barnyard trees.  Thus, the slugs are back!  They kill my rosemary plants every year, wrapping their black, slimy, squidgy bodies up and around the very top branch, leaving not one little pine leaf unslithered.  Blech.  And now they have taken a liking to little Siglet, attaching themselves to his furry shorts every chance they get (maybe to get closer to their food source?).  There’s nothing like the comfort of walking around the house barefoot, until you step on a slug.  Squish.

There are many home remedies for slug removal, the most common being beer.  Can’t you just picture it: good ol’ drunk, fat slugs having their own little frat party until they pass out?  (Don’t worry – no hazing involved.  These are civilized slugs.)  And normally, I’d be all for the drunken explosion of herb destroying slimy bugs, but there’s a big problem: Sig. Loves. Beer.  We’d have dead slugs and a slurring Sig.

So in honor of the fact that I can’t kill the slugs, and Sig can’t have the beer, and Rob is underway and is not allowed to have beer, I decided to make a tasty pub concoction: Honey Oat Beer Bread.  Toasted with a slather of Orange Butter and you’ve got a treat that any person, or slug, or Sig for that matter, would enjoy.

A Caution Tested Through Experience: This bread will make your house smell heavenly while baking.  But, like most breads, it’s best after having cooled quite a bit.  So, have a hanky ready (to wipe the ensuing drool) and consume yourself with a good book to avoid scalding your mouth.

Honey Oat Beer Bread with Mandarin Butter (makes 1 loaf) 

  • 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 c 5-grain oats, plus more for sprinkling on top (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand) 
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 + 1/8 c honey
  • 1 bottle good flavorful beer 

Mandarin Butter 

  • 1 stick room temperature butter 
  • 2 mandarin oranges, zest and juice 
  • sprinkle of fine sea salt 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the butter, using a small spatula, mix all ingredients together until incorporated.  Taste for seasoning.  When mixed, spoon onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and mold into a log.  Put in the fridge to harden.

For the bread, mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add 7 tbsp of the melted butter, the honey (tip: it pours and mixes better when warmed; just heat for about 15 seconds in the microwave), and slowly pour in the bottle of beer.  With a heavy whisk, mix together until just combined.  The dough should be loose, but thick.

Pour into a prepared greased and flour-dusted loaf pan.  Top with a sprinkling of oats, and then drizzle with the last tbsp of melted butter.

Bake until golden and when a took pick is inserted, it comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Let the bread cool, then spread a dollop of Mandarin Butter on top.




Not Your Average Sheboygan

10 Jun

I grew up with brats.  Not brats, like the screaming child who kicked you in the leg at the grocery store, but bratwurst, the sausage (pronounced broughts).  My dad, being a native Michigan Upper (pronounced you-per) and then having spent most of his growing up years living in Wisconsin, had the natural Midwestern instinct of knowing how to make a good brat.  Let me tell you, there are good brats, and bad brats, and when you find a good one, buy a lot because a perfectly cooked brat is good any which way – hot, cold, bun or sans, in casseroles, in quiche, on pizza, really the options are endless.

Along with the eating options, there are also the cooking ones: there’s the boil-in-beer technique, and the grill is always a favorite.  The toppings can be endless – onions, caramelized or not, sauerkraut, chili, cheese, relish, or anything your little sausage heart desires.  But in our house, it usually always came down to the simple, but still debated, question of using mustard or ketchup (obviously, mustard is the clear choice.  Did you hear that Jenn?  Mustard.).

My mom would serve brats and my dad would turn into a little kid again, occasionally doing a little dance in front of the grill and making sure there was a good cold beer in the fridge awaiting.  She always had a yummy salad to go with, or maybe baked beans, or if we were really lucky, she’d make her prize-winning macaroni salad (the prize was from our church picnic, but still).  As the four of us would sit around the kitchen table dipping our brats into the topping of choice, Casey (the dog) would eye us from just outside hoping one of us was nice enough to bring out a piece (we were never nice enough).

Not so many years later, I meet a New Englander who just happens to also be a huge brat fan.  Who also likes them with mustard!  What luck!  And it’s funny, Rob’s grill stance/dance is similar to my dad’s, and there’s always a good cold beer waiting in the fridge.

So, keeping with the yummy summertime theme, last night we grilled brats.  But, knowing what we had in the fridge, I decided to shake things up a little bit and turn the standard simple brat into something even more delicious.  We both had seconds.

First the toppings: so, I was debating whether or not to beer boil, and then grill, or just grill, but then while driving home, the idea sparked – I’ll make a sweet beer mustard sauce.  There I am getting saucy again.  But it totally worked – fingerlicking worked.  I reduced some summer ale with a bit of maple syrup, added the mustard and seasoning, and voila, a perfect brat sauce.

But that wasn’t all.  Our school has a beautiful, yet overgrown, garden that has the most lovely herbs (why I’m only discovering this now, with 4 days left of school, is beyond me).  So I picked some chives with the flowering bulb at the top (a vibrant purple color with a mild onion flavor), and mixed together those chive flowers in a simple relish of mango, cucumber, and lemon juice.  Topped on the salty and spicy brat, with the sweet and tangy mustard beer sauce, it was a flavor combination that kicked good ol’ sauerkraut back to Germany.

Then the side dish: beans.  But, with limited I-just-got-home-from-work-and-I-will-eat-pounds-of-nachos-if-I-don’t-cook-something-healthy-now patience, slow cooked baked beans were not going to cut it.  So, turning towards the pantry and freezer I grabbed some staples: black beans, chickpeas, and frozen edamame.  These three protein and fiber packed powerhouses warmed slightly and mixed together with just a touch of butter and herbs (chives, applemint, and thyme – again, from our school’s garden) created a tasty, colorful, rustic side dish.  It provided a perfect creamy contrast to the main dish with its cooling relish.  There were even enough leftovers for a delicious lunch today (the thought of which made my stomach start talking around 10am).

I don’t know how my Wisconsin grandparents would feel about my vamped up brats, but Rob and I were certainly happy.  And I’d like to think my dad might even skip the beer boil step to try the beer mustard sauce.  But for now, we’ll keep the grill hot, make lots of leftovers, and thoroughly enjoy our glamafied sausages.

Sweet Beer Mustard Brat Sauce (makes about 1 1/2 c) 

  • 1 c summertime (light) ale
  • 1/4 c good quality maple syrup
  • 1/2 c dijon mustard 
  • s&p (optional)

Over med high heat, combine the maple syrup and ale in a sauce pot.  Reduce (let bubble and boil) until the mixture has concentrated by half.  Off the heat, whisk in the dijon mustard.  Bring back to med-low heat, and reduce for about 10 minutes more, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth, silky, and coats the back of a spoon.  Taste for s&p seasoning. 

Serve over hot grilled brats. 

Warm Herbed Three Bean Salad (serves 4-6) 

  • 1 can black beans, strained and rinsed
  • 1 can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
  • 12 oz edamame (if frozen, pop in boiling water for 3-5 minutes until the beans in the pods are tender with a bite) 
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
  • 1 tsp applemint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp thyme, finely chopped
  • s&p 

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat until just melted.  Add the chopped herbs, and stir.  The herbs should become fragrant very quickly.  Add the mixture of three beans, s&p to taste, and stir to combine.  Turn heat down to low and keep stirring until just heated through.  Turn off the heat and immediately cover.  

For a rustic look, serve in the pot with a wooden spoon. 


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