Thursday, February 28, 2013

Asian Pickles Japan by Karen Solomon

Asian Pickles Japan by Karen Solomon

I have so much to say about Asian Pickles: Japan: Recipes for Japanese Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Tsukemono by Karen Solomon, that I hardly know where to start.

First of all I love Karen Solomon, I have Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projectsand totally love it!  I don’t hesitate to grab anything from her.

Second of all, when did they start these little Kindle books?  How did this happen and I had no clue.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  This book is a sort of mini Kindle book, and it’s only $2.99!  Now, true, it only has 16 recipes in it, but they are 16 fabulous recipes.  I have paid over thirty dollars for a cookbook that I ended up only liking a couple of recipes.  I am a huge fan of pickles (and by pickles I don’t mean the kosher dills you get in the store – though I am a big fan of them also), I am talking about any and all kinds of vegetable pickles.  Some of you may remember my “Summer of PIckles”

Okay, back to the book.

It begins with an intro.  The introduction covers topics like how and when to serve the pickles, the basics of Japanese pickling, canning beds, pressure, squeezing, marinades and vinegars, and key ingredients (even includes audio pronounciation!).  None of these pickles are canned so if you are afraid of canning, nothing to be frightened of here.

The next session is Traditional Tsukemeno (nine recipes) some that I marked to try are:

  • Miso pickles – ready in as little as 30 minutes
  • Pickled plums and pickled plum vinegar
  • Pickled ginger
  • Pickled mustard greens

The second section is Inspired Pickles (seven recipes) some that I marked to try are:

  • “Sitting Fee” Cabbage Pickles
  • Cucumber Arame Pickles
  • Pickled Asian Pear with Lemon
  • “Wasabi” Pickled Carrots

Really I plan on trying them all.  I love pickles.  I love them as a garnish, I love them as a quick side dish, I love having them in the fridge for quick snacking. 

I believe that there are going to be other books in this series, including a Korean version that is coming out in March!  I can’t wait!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Garden Tuesday ~ Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker

I try not to spend too much time wondering why the red bellied woodpecker has a red head and I don’t see a speck of red on his belly. 

What are you wondering about in your garden?

Please join me for Garden Tuesday.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Homemade Kefir

Homemade blueberry kefir

Have you had kefir before?  It’s pretty easy to find at the grocery store, it’s usually right next to the yogurt.  And if you buy it from the store, that is what it tastes like…sort of a thin yogurt.  But if you make it yourself, it is a totally different animal.

First of all if you Google kefir you will find that it is an amazing food that does practically everything except paint your house for you.  It is filled with beneficial bacteria.  While store-bought kefirs usually contain around 6-7 probiotics, homemade kefir can contain 30+ probiotics.

Milk kefir grains 

The first thing you need to do is get some milk kefir grains.  I got mine from Cultures for Health.  Since I am loathe to purchase one little thing when online ordering, I also purchased a San Francisco sourdough starter.  And speaking of sourdough starters, if you’ve made sourdough bread  before the concept of a kefir starter will be familiar to you. 

I am not going to get all scientific on you and explain the whole process in detail, because that’s not how this blog rolls.  You can Google and find much better explanations, I’m just here to touch on the basics, because this is not difficult at all.  Plus your kefir grains will come with instructions.

Straining homemade kefir

Basically what you do is first rehydrate your kefir grains by some initial soaks in milk.  Once it has rehydrated, it will begin making kefir.  To make the kefir, you spoon the grains (do not use metal utensils) into a jar, add a cup or two of milk (within a week, I am up to using two cups, as my grains grow, I’ll move on to a quart), cover lightly (I use a coffee filter and a band from a canning lid), and sit it on a counter to ferment.  Start checking in 12 hours.  Depending on how warm your house is, it can take anywhere from 12-24 hours to make kefir.  Since the counter I sit it on is near a heating vent, mine usually thickens up in about 12 hours.  I use a rich local dairy milk that is not ultra-pasteurized, so I actually get a creamy layer on top.

Once the milk thickens, you might even see some separation at the bottom of your jar (the whey), lightly stir your kefir and then strain it into another jar, trapping the grains in the strainer.  The grains then go into either a new jar or the old jar (I use mine a couple of times before washing), with a new batch of fresh milk and the process starts all over again.  Sometimes if I’m not going to need any new kefir for a couple of days, I will let the grains and milk rest in the fridge and then bring it back out onto the counter when I’m ready to make more kefir.

The kefir that you made can be sweetened and flavored with fruit. 

Homemade kefir in the fridge

For the blueberry version I added some frozen blueberries and a little agave nectar in the jar, pureed it with my immersion blender and then strained the kefir into it, stirred it and total yum!  For the plain version, I added a little agave nectar and a splash of vanilla extract. 

Do not expect homemade kefir to taste like store-bought kefir, it is a totally different thing.  The store-bought kefir tastes like thin yogurt.  Homemade kefir tastes like yogurt, but with a fizzy yeastiness on top.  I really can’t explain it, but when you smell it, it will remind you of bread dough, with a hint of sourness.

If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to try it.  It is really, really easy and even though I don’t believe every single one of the magic claims coming from kefir aficionados, I do agree that since I started drinking this, I do feel pretty darn fabulous.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Wine Reviews #147 Red Silk McLaren Vale Shiraz

Red Silk McLaren Vale Shiraz

Oliverhill Winery, Red Silk, 2009, McLaren Vale Shiraz, $14.99, Costco.  They Say:  complex fruit and sexy tannins.  We say:  pepper and spice.  Very light mouthfeel.  Earthy.  Buy again:  yes. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Patchouli for Saturday Pet Blog Hop

Cat at window

This is a quick snap of Patchouli in her basement apartment.  Her window looks right out at the bird feeder.  This is where you find her sitting most of the day. 

This will be my entry for The Saturday Pet Blogger Hop! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Baked Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fetta

Baked Risotto with Butternut Squash and Feta

I love risotto.  It is such a homey and comforting dish.  I even like standing over it, stirring, and stirring, and stirring.  I get into such a zen like state watching the rice absorb the chicken broth.  But there are some days when I have things to do.  When the stirring would seem like it was infringing on my time, and instead of relaxing me, would have the total opposite effect.

While browsing through The Instant Cook by Donna Hay, I saw Baked Risotto with Pumpkin and Feta.  I was intrigued.  I think I remember seeing something in one of the Barefoot Contessa’s books about her trying a Donna Hay baked risotto recipe.  The recipe page actually has 4 variations for you:  Baked risotto with Bacon and Peas, Baked Risotto with Pumpkin and Feta, Baked Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon, and Baked Risotto with Chicken and Spinach.

I plan on trying them all, because this was good and easy!  Perfect for those times when you want a risotto, but you have other things to do besides stirring!

Baked Risotto with Pumpkin and Feta

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 leeks sliced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 10 oz peeled and chopped pumpkin (butternut squash)
  • 3 1/2 oz feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 390.  Heat a frying pan over high heat.  Add the oil, leeks and thyme and cook for 5 minutes until the leeks are lightly browned.  Spoon into a 10 cup ovenproof dish.  Add the rice, butternut squash, stock, and stir.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Add the peas, recover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove the risotto from the oven, uncover and add the basil leaves, salt and pepper, and stir about 4 minutes or until thickened.  Serve topped with the feta cheese.

Makes 4 servings.



This will be my entry for Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Ready Player One: A Novel is not a book I would normally read, but when I saw it on a trusted book blog, listed in the top ten, I was curious.  She stated the same thing, that it was not a book she would normally read, but it ended up being one of her favorite reads of 2012. 

It is now one of my favorite reads of 2013.  

The book takes place in 2044.  Earth is in bad shape, we've ruined the planet.  But luckily there is OASIS.  A virtual place where you can spend the majority of your day, walking around as the avatar of your choice.  OASIS was build by James Halliday, a man with a passion for the 1980's.   In this virtual reality, he has hidden the ultimate "Easter egg" for gamers to find.  But in order to find it, they must become experts at the 80's, to be able to pass through and beat the puzzles.  

Wade Watts, or Parzival, as he as known in OASIS, finds the first key.  Instantly his score is broadcast to all of the other gamers, and the hunt becomes more frenzied.  Even though he is a lone gamer, he has a few close friends in OASIS.  Friends he has never met in real life, but whom he spends most of his time with.  

The story is well paced, the 80's trivia is entertaining, and it is very well written. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Garden Tuesday ~Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose


At first I thought these Lenten Roses were blooming awfully early.  But then last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and I realized that they are right on time. 

How about you, what is in your garden this week?

Please join me for Garden Tuesday.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pork Slap Pale Ale Farmhouse Ale

Pork Slap Pale Ale Farmhouse Ale

Apparently I buy my beer the same way I buy my wine, by the label and the name.  I simply could not resist Pork Slap Pale Ale.  Really who could? Though I was a bit concerned about pale ale in a can, this was mighty tasty. 

We had this on Super Bowl Sunday.  And see the peanuts?  That was our snack.  I didn’t make wings, or dips, or chips.  I know.  But Super Bowl Sunday is the one day a year that Mr. Sidewalk Shoes makes dinner – his famous chili.  So, I officially took the day off.  The whole day off.   It was heavenly.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Wine Reviews #146 Luna Nuda Moscato

Luna Nuda Moscato

Luna Nuda, Moscato, $4.99, Trader Joes.  They say:  delicious wine, sweet but never cloying with intense fresh flavors and crisp acidity on the finish.  We say:  sweet, peach, apricot, creamy.  Buy Again:  Yes.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Coco refusing to cooperate for Saturday Pet Blog Hop

Calico cat on Walkway

This is response as I am calling her name to look up at me.

calico cat on walkway

Simply can not be bothered to turn around and look at me.

Calico cat in garden

Obviously has more important things to do.

This will be my entry for The Saturday Pet Blogger Hop! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Penne with Wilted Arugula and Prosciutto

Penne with Wilted Arugula and Prosciutto

Last week at school I had to do “Gate Duty.”  Each teacher is required to do 3 gates – meaning that you have to sit and collect money at some sport event, usually in a two hour shift.  Like a fool, I thought it would be easy to get two of them done in a row.  Wrong.  That means that Monday after a long day of school, I had to stay two more hours and collect money for the volleyball game.  Then Tuesday, after a long day at school, I went home, petted the kitty cats, grabbed a quick bite to eat and went back to school to collect money at the wrestling match.  Not a good idea.  By Thursday I was pretty much done with the week.  Luckily, Thursday night’s menu was Penne with Wilted Arugula and Prosciutto from Donna Hay’s   The Instant Cook 

I always turn to Donna Hay when I want a simple, quick, flavorful meal on the table.  She is the master of using simple ingredients.  What I really liked about this recipe (besides how yummy it was) was learning the technique of broiling the prosciutto.  This worked really quickly and created less mess than using a skillet.  I used aluminum foil on the baking sheet, so clean up was minimal.

Penne with Wilted Arugula and Prosciutto

  • 14 oz penne
  • 8 slices prosciutto
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 1/2 oz baby arugula
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.  Drain and return to the pan.  Cook the prosciutto for 2-3 minutes under a preheated broiler or until crisp.  Set aside.  Add the oil, balsamic, arugula, salt and pepper to the pasta and toss to combine.  Place in bowls and top with the prosciutto (I just tossed it in with everything else).  Serve with Parmesan cheese if you’d like.  (I liked)

Serves 4



This will be my entry for Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites


Steamy Kitchen's Healthy Asian Favorites

The subtitle of Steamy Kitchen's Healthy Asian Favorites perfectly sums up the book:  “100 Recipes that are Fast, Fresh, and Simple Enough for Tonight’s Supper.”  

The book begins with an intro by Jaden Hair, who most people know from her Steamy Kitchen blog.  She talks about her early years in Hong Kong, growing up in Nebraska and her current homesteading lifestyle.  Touching on topics like her blogging and her fabulous food photographs.

After the intro the book is divided into 9 sections:  Soups, Pickles & Sauces, Salads & Dressings, Little Bites, Share, Vegetables, Tofu & Eggs, Meat & Seafood, Noodles & Rice, and Sweets & Libations.

Soups opens up with the basic stocks including dashi and miso.  I loved the sound of them all but marked to try:

  • Thai Tom Yum Soup (2 versions)
  • Hot & Sour Soup
  • Healing Chicken Ginger Soup

Pickles & Sauces – I found lot’s to love here:

  • Gari (pickled ginger)
  • Korean Bean Sprout Salad
  • Cucumber Apple Kimchi

Salads & Dressings – there is a great variety of dressings and some fabulous sounding salads:

  • Simple Citrus Dressing
  • Big Salmon Salad
  • Quinoa Salad with Avocado and Peas

Little Bites:

  • Korean Beef Bites
  • Chicken Mango Lettuce Cups


  • Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Roast Pork
  • Japanese Hot Pot

Vegetables, Tofu and Eggs:

  • Roasted Kabocha Squash
  • Baby Bok Choy with Garlic and Ginger

Meat and Seafood:

  • Chinese Style Parchment Fish
  • Lemon Chicken

Noodles and Rice – One of my favorite sections!

  • Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Bowl
  • Vegetables and Egg Ramen Noodle Soup
  • Dan Dan Mien
  • Singapore Rice Noodles

Sweet and Libations – tied for my favorite section with the noodles and rice!

  • Ginger Black Tea
  • Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger Herbal Infusion
  • Banana Nutella Ice Cream
  • Mango Brulee
  • Sparkling Vietnamese Limeade

The book ends with a thorough explanation and description of ingredients that one might not be familiar with.  It is divided into the subheadings:  Vegetables, Herbs/Aromatics, Noodles/Rice, Wrappers, Sauces & Condiments.

A very well put together cookbook with lovely photographs and very doable recipes!

**I received an advanced reading copy of this book to review.  Thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Garden Tuesday ~ Rain, Rain, Rain

House finch staying out of the rain

birds on gutter staying out of the rain

finches on gutter staying out of the rain.

I know some of you had to deal with inches upon inches of snow.  Well, we had to deal with rain.  Never ending rain.  Even the little birdies were tired of it.  I saw these house finches trying to stay drive under the eaves of our porch.

As you can imagine, the kitty cats were not amused with the rain at all.  I had to open the door and show them the rain about 5 minutes.  However, the kitty cat’s refusal to go out in the rain made some critters very happy.  The squirrels seemed to instinctively know that there would be not kitties out in the rain.

squirrel eating in the rain

squirrel in the rain

squirrel eating upside down

How about you?  What’s happening in your garden this week?  Rain?  Snow?  Sun?

Please join me for Garden Tuesday.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lemon, Tuna and White Bean Salad

Lemon, Tuna and White Bean Salad

I don’t know about you, but when I get home from work, I am exhausted.  I don’t want to do anything, except maybe take a nice 10 hour nap.  But I have business things to do for Pamela Greer Photography and I have two mouths to feed, mine and my husband’s. 

We eat out usually two night’s a week, or rather I don’t cook two night’s a week.  On Wednesday’s my husband brings home some kind of takeout and on Saturday’s we usually eat out somewhere.  Which means, I need to have something made 5 days a week.  It can feel daunting and times, but what makes it manageable is wonderful, quick, easy recipes like this.

This sweet, simple salad from Donna Hay, The Instant Cook was everything I wanted it to be.  It’s made all in one bowl, is super healthy with beans and tuna and spinach.  Served with a slice of homemade crusty bread and a glass of your favorite vino, you are a rock star.

Lemon, Tuna, and White Bean Salad

  • 14oz can tuna, drained
  • 14 1/2 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 small cucumbers, thinly sliced (I diced mine)
  • 3 1/2 oz baby spinach leaves (I used a spring salad blend)

Place the tuna, white beans, parsley, capers, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss gently.  Let stand for about 5 minutes.  Place the cucumbers and spinach on plates, top with the tuna mixture and serve.

Serves 4


This will be my entry for Souper Sundays (Soup, Salad, or Sammie) hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.