Monday, September 7, 2009

Scotch eggs for breakfast

I've had a hankerin' for scotch eggs lately, so I fired up the deep fryer this morning and whipped up a batch. I used this recipe, leaving the flour out of the sausage mix and using panko bread crumbs for the golden brown and delicious crunchy outer coating. I made a dipping sauce by mixing marmalade and spicy brown mustard because using marmalade made it feel all breakfasty.

The recipe made 4 eggs, but both Spork and I decided that one each was plenty for brekkie. Now we have leftovers just perfect for a cold snack with beer.

Nom, nom, nom!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More adventures with deep frying

My parents are from North Dakota, so deep frying is not in my genetic makeup. My mom makes homemade donuts, but everything else was made in the oven, even French fries. I've worked really hard to overcome this deficit and I'm slowly getting better. My ultimate goal is to be able to make some awesome fried chicken. I've seen some improvement in that area, but nothing I've deemed picture-worthy.

These little gems, on the other hand, were pretty darned fab!

Yes, that's right. Those are deep fried mashed potatoes! Spork had seen some on a blog and casually mentioned them about 47 times. I made some mashed taters the other day and when he casually mentioned them once again, I took pity on him and gave it a whirl.

I rolled the leftover potatoes into small balls and placed them in the freezer for a while (I left them in longer than I intended - I was aiming for 'firm' an ended up with 'frozen solid'). I dipped each ball in beaten egg, then rolled it in panko bread crumbs. I set the fryer for 360F and fried until GBD. They were wonderful! A crunchy, golden shell (panko crumbs are great - how did I live without these?) filled with warm, creamy mashed potatoes. Mmmmmm!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Turkish bread

For some reason I've been on a real flatbread kick lately, so when I found this super-easy recipe, I had to try it.

Turkish bread

2 Cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon salt
3/4 Cup plain yogurt

Stir all the ingredients together, then knead until an elastic dough is formed. Place in a bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Divide into 8 rounds and let rest briefly. On a floured surface, roll out to 1/8" thickness and dry fry in a cast iron skillet or cook on a grill, allowing both sides to develop some dark brown spots.

NOTES: If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour. If it is too dry, add a little more yogurt.

Results: Excellent! The bread actually keeps well, stored in plastic, for a couple of days. It's not quite as pliable the second day, but I think a little experimenting on reheating methods would fix that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ellie May's spy cam

For my birthday, Spork gave me a really cool present: a Moultrie game camera. The camera is made to be mounted outside and can capture both still pictures and short video clips. In daylight, the images are color, while the nighttime ones use an infrared flash, yielding black and white images.

The camera is intended to be left in place for months at a time, but I can't stand to let it go for more than a day or two before I have to grab the images and see who has passed through. I've had it set up pointing at the bird baths, the bird feeders (thanks to the nifty clamp that Spork made) and at various places in the woods.

So far we've had lots of birds, raccoons and foxes. I'm hoping to add opossums, skunks and deer in the future. I've even set up a bribery station in the woods with a feeder block and a salt block. When I have some intriguing fruit leftovers, such as melon rinds, I put those out near the feeder block, for extra enticement.

Bathing cardinal family


Enthusiastic blue jay


Baby cardinal and wren

The camera makes a slight shutter sound. There were about 20 pictures of this baby cardinal giving the camera a suspicious stare.

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Downy woodpecker and wren

Firefox looking for some din-din

Firefox pounces

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pioneer Woman's Gazpacho with Mark Bittman's Spicy Broiled Shrimp

I discovered today that I cannot say gazpacho. I can make gazpacho. I can spell the word. I can "hear" it in my head. Alas, what comes out of my mouth is a different word all together. Perhaps my proficiency at industrial grade swearing has taken a toll on my pronunciation skills.

We have an abundance of tomatoes right now, so I decided it was time to try Pioneer Woman's Gazpacho (gaz-PAW-choe, gauze-paw-choe, gauze-paw-CHOE, gauze-pawch-OH... ARGH!) , since Spork had sent it to me asking why I'd never made it. In my defense, the recipe was only published a month ago - hardly a sign of slacking, in my opinion. Of course, being chastized hurts my little feelers and probably means I should bake something. Or buy some ice cream. Or both. Ice cream is Spork's Achilles' heel. It is my best weapon in the battle of the wills. (Did that sound evil?)

One of the suggestions in the PW recipe was to add a grilled shrimp to each bowl of gazpacho. That's 'a' as in one. One shrimp. Who eats one shrimp? That's just crazy talk, that is. I suppose I finally found a fault with the glorious and wonderful PW. I won't hold it against her though, because I went ahead and prepared two pounds of Mark Bittman's Spicy Grilled or Broiled Shrimp. Two pounds for two people. That's more like it! Normally I (or Spork) would grill it, but because of The Incident, the grill is temporarily out of commission. I went with the broiled version.

Results: Yum! I was worried that it would be too salty with the tomato juice, but it's very light and fresh tasting. I didn't have any celery, so I substituted 3 serrano chiles (What? Doesn't everyone substitute serranos for celery?). I also used some diced jalapenos in the reserved chopped veggies. With both of those chiles, there was a little bite to the soup, but nothing overpowering. I will definitely make it again.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The berries are becoming more cordial

Today was the first weekly shaking of the berry cordial. Spork and I pulled it out of the cabinet this afternoon and noted a few changes from last week: the vodka has become pinkish, the blackberries have turned red and the raspberries have turned white. The sugar at the bottom of the jar was almost completely dissolved, too. One shake down, seven more to go.

Before shaking

After shaking. Note the white raspberries.

We are harvesting more berries than we can eat right now, so Spork resorted to freezing some for future use. I broke with cobbler/pie tradition this week and baked a clafoutis (or flognarde, since it's made from berries). It is one of the best smelling things to have ever graced my oven. It was yummy, but I regretted not having some vanilla ice cream to go with it.

Crusty, oozy berry goodness

The garden is finally beginning to produce. It's been a strange spring - even the farmers' market produce is behind. I've only had one bird-pecked tomato so far, but lots of yellow wax beans, summer squash and eggplants.

Ichiban eggplant showing flea beetle damage on the leaves

My butterfly garden, while messy, is very bloomy. I can't get enough of the passionflowers, which I find to be almost hypnotic. I originally grew them only because they are larval host plants for gulf fritillary butterflies, but now I love their complex flowers.

Passiflora incarnata

Bee balm with one of the skipper butterflies

My sister, Terri, has two new puppies, Taz and Buckley. It's great for me because I get to play with puppies, but my shoes aren't destroyed in the process. The pups are 1/2 schnauzer and 1/2 catahoula. The rescue group Terri adopted them from told her these would be small dogs, but Buckley has the feet and legs of a Clydesdale. Mmmm-hmmmm. They are mighty cute, though.

Taz (front) and Buckley, with hand model

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Birthday goodness

This year's birth celebration (I celebrate for a week, minimum) started out with a bang. Spork's uncle Joe, expert kayak builder and chess guru, had emailed that he was sending some sunflower cuttings so when I went to the post office and found the Key of Joy in the mail box, I was very excited. When the Key of Joy revealed a 5 pound package, I thought I might need to pick up another jar of rooting hormone on the drive home.

Helianthus debilis, aka beach sunflower

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the package contained a tiny bag of sunflower cuttings and a really cool piece of wooden inlay, which Spork later told me was called an intarsia.

Cutest birthday intarsia ever

I am so tickled by this! It was a complete surprise to me and I am so touched that he went to that much effort for me. Bonus points all around: 1) it was a surprise 2) it was a surprise that came in the mail 3) it was a birthday surprise that came in the mail and 4) it has a kitty on it! It's the best! I smile every time I look at it. :)

On the culinary front, Spork asked me what kind of cake I wanted and I requested a coconut cake with lemon curd filling. He donned his manly Triumph apron and made the entire thing from scratch, right down to the lemon curd! It was so good that I volunteered him to be the official cake baker from now on. For some reason, he didn't seem to relish that idea.

Spork's coconut cake (with lemon curd filling)

My girl Daisy helped me open my presents. Then moved on to shredding random papers.

After many days of cake (in addition to Spork's cake, Becky provided a super-evil raspberry amaretto cake and my mom made a red velvet cake), I couldn't face the idea of cobbler-ing the enormous quantity of berries that had accumulated in the refrigerator. It was time, I decided, to try my recipe for blackberry cordial, slightly modified to mixed berry cordial (blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries).

Day 1 of the mixed berry cordial

For this recipe, you pour a cup of sugar into the bottom of a large jar. Top that with 4 cups of berries (washed and patted dry), then pour in 4 cups of vodka. Place in a dark cupboard for 8 weeks, shaking once a week. Strain through a sieve, then through a coffee filter. Store in glass bottles.

I've never made this before, so I overlooked the bit about 8 weeks of waiting and shaking. I'm sure it will be worth it, though.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Just for John: Blueberry Cheesecake Pie

I thought for sure that John would show up, fork in hand, on Saturday night when we cut into this ridiculously luscious pie. It's a graham cracker/pecan crust (made with a whole stick of butter!), topped with a layer of cream cheese whipped with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice, topped with a layer of cooked blueberries. It was good last night, but even better for breakfast today.

See John, it was with authority when I wrote that Spork is only 99.99% evil. I am pure evil! ;-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cobblers, critters and rose rustling

The first cobbler of 2009 has been baked and consumed! It was made from the wild trailing blackberries, aka dewberries. The dewberries produce in the time between the strawberries and the "tame" blackberries. The upright (not trailing) wild blackberries are also producing, but they are... ummmm.... less than desirable. We have dubbed them vomitberries, if that gives you an idea of their flavor.

Dewberry cobbler

The "tame" blackberries are absolutely loaded with green berries, just beginning to turn pink. I use quotes around tame because for the most part they are huge plants covered with wicked thorns and they send up baby plants in every direction, 12+ feet away from the mother plants. Some of them are also sending out more blooms. I'm not sure if these will make berries, since they are so late, but you won't hear me complain if they do.

Chickasaw blackberry bloom

The raspberries are also covered in baby berries. The raspberries are interesting because they produce twice on each cane. Here in Texas they produce on the tips of the new canes in the fall, then again the following spring lower on the canes (the tip is dead by then). My understanding is that up north the canes don't produce in the fall on the first year, but instead produce twice in the second year - tips of the canes in the spring, followed by the lower branch berries in the fall. Either way we get two harvests of raspberries a year and that is a very good thing.

Baby raspberries

Once again we are sharing the stuga with a wide assortment of lizards, skinks, snakes and frogs. We have many green anoles, including this guy, who guards the water hose. He does not approve of my use of the hose, as evidenced by his liberal use of the stink-eye.

Green anole

This little guy was hiding in my compost container (aka, plastic Folgers coffee can) when I brought it in. When I set the container on the counter, he jumped out and it was an exciting few minutes while I battled Lucy and Daisy for his capture. Fortunately for the frog, I won the battle and he regained his freedom.

Green tree frog

I have been wanting to try rose rustling for a while, so I was happy when I noticed a rose growing from a mound of unkempt shrubs in front of an abandoned gas station. The rose had sent up large arching canes dripping with dark purplish/maroon flowers right through the center of the shrubs. I was so excited to find one I could rustle, that I planned for a week exactly when I would do it. Then when we got there, I chickened out at the last minute and Spork had to run over and do the clipping! He was very cool about it. I think he has a future in stealth crimes, as long as he doesn't have a plan that involves following whispered instructions.

Unknown purple/maroon rose "liberated" from the abandoned gas station

It is most likely Dr. Huey, which is commonly used as a root stock for grafted roses, but is also a pretty climbing rose in its own right. I won't know for sure until this one takes off (if the rooting is successful, that is).

Liberated rose in its fancy mouthwash bottle greenhouse

Finally, I received a surprise delivery of gardenia cuttings last night. Yay! I've been wanting to try gardenias and growing your own from cuttings or seeds is the most fun way. It's funny because the best part of gardening to me is fussing over the baby plants up to the point they really take off and grow on their own. Once they become part of the landscape, I'm pretty ho-hum on them and usually I have more babies in the queue or at least added to my list of plants to try.

Gardenia cuttings soon to be added to the nursery/plant ghetto

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This is the time of year to be outside!

I can hardly stand to be inside right now. The weather is pleasant and the bloodsucking mosquitoes are still scarce. I do tote my camera around most of the time, so maybe pictures will help explain why I'm not here much.

Here is the asparagus, beginning to get bushier.

The bearded iris are beginning to bloom. I don't know the name of any of mine, but I find their complexity very appealing.

A bud from one of my new roses, Perle d'Or

Another of my new roses, the very confusing Mlle. de Sombreuil, labeled incorrectly in the US as La Biche. If I've interpreted everything correctly, this is a tea rose that can be trained as a pillar. It was one of my $2 Chamblees clearance finds.

The lovely China rose, Old Blush. I planted 3 of these in 2007 and they've really taken off this year. There's something nice about knowing that people have been growing this rose since the 1700s.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Asparagus Lesson of the Week

Since Lorie is so fascinated by the asparagus in it's native environment (aka, "the ground"), I thought I would post a few pictures to enhance her experience. :) It's hard to get a good picture of it with all the green in the background, but let's see if this helps.

Here is a shot looking down the length of the row. Can't really see it, can you? It will become more "ferny" over the season, so later pictures will be better.
From Garden 2009

Here is Spork, helpfully holding the top end of one stalk of asparagus. Still pretty hard to see, but you can get an idea, since he is 6'2".
From Garden 2009

And here is Spork offering his services as Hand Model again, giving some scale to the photo. This particular variety, Jersey Knight, is very robust. Unlike the grocery store asparagus, these mondo spears are still crisp and tender.
From Garden 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Real Sporks eat quiche. And they like it.

I've never understood why "real" men wouldn't eat quiche. You take what is basically an unsweetened custard, add some fillings, cheese and herbs, then bake it in a pie crust. What could possibly be bad about that?

My asparagus bed is finally mature enough to harvest a small amount, but I wasn't sure what to do with just a little asparagus. This morning I happened to see this recipe being made on Today and thought I'd give it a whirl. The original recipe called for a pound of asparagus, which I didn't have, so I filled in with spinach and herbs (parsley and thyme) from the garden (along with a leek from the garden - brag brag).

Results: Yum! I will definitely be saving this recipe.

This was my first experience with fresh-from-the-garden asparagus. It's a lot lighter and fresher tasting than what I've bought, almost like snow peas. And even though the stalks I picked were about 2 feet tall, they were very crisp and tender. I like growing my own! I'm looking forward to trying more asparagus dishes in the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Even more spring!

Have I mentioned that I'm a fan of spring? I'm not sure. In case I haven't, let me just tell you that I love spring! Love it, love it, love it!

Signs of my favorite season are popping up all over the place. First, we have the dogwoods. They seem to bloom "big" every other year here and this is one of the "small" years, so we only have 25 or so blooming. I know, poor us! But, even though it's a small year, they are still pretty.

From Spring 2009

The wild dewberries have been blooming for a couple of weeks now and this morning on the dog walk, I spotted the first baby berry. Cobbler season, here we come! (Not to mention I plan to try making blackberry cordial this year - tipsy season, here we come!)

From Spring 2009

Another sign of spring I think a lot of people miss is the emergence of the mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum. They look like a plant plucked from a fairy tale and I always imagine bands of leprechauns and other tiny magical creatures living under them.

From Spring 2009

From Spring 2009

From Spring 2009

Alas, the creatures I'll most likely find beneath the mayapples are snakes. I'll just have to pretend it's something magical living under there.