my ingredients to life....

my ingredients to life...
this blog is to share recent happenings, our culinary feats, knitting creations, stories of travels, and just updates of our lives in general. i believe that the small parts of each day inbetween the clock in and clock out, commute and the few precious hours of sleep really are the key components to a happy life. i am truely blessed, no complaints.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cedar plank salmon with tomato basil relish over grilled squash and polenta

So I can't take full credit for this dinner, but I definitely made it my own. One of the clinics I interviewed with took me out for dinner at a restaurant called Turkey Red in Palmer, Alaska. It's a organic, wholesome ingredient restuarant with some amazing dishes. I had pan-seared salmon over plain poleta with grilled asaragus and the tomota relish. I think mine was better! Justin agreed, but he wasn't there for the first one. :D

This was dinner tonight - sooo good!

Cedar Plank Salmon
I bought a wild pink salmon 1lb filet and cooked it over a cedar plank for flavor.
  • 1 cedar plank (6 by 14 inches)
  • 1 - 1 1/2 pound salmon filet (my preference is wild, not farm-raised)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil 
Soak the cedar plank for at least 4 hours, I did overnight in a shallow baking pan. Rinse the salmon then pat dry. Place on plank and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Prepare the sauce in a bowl, then when it is ready for the oven, gently brush half the sauce over the fish. Bake at 350' for about 10 minutes, depending on how thick your salmon is. I brush the rest of the sauce on about half way through cooking. Once the fat looks white and it flakes with a fork it's done!

I topped it with tomato basil relish. 1 1/2 vine tomatoes diced, about 1/4 cup minced red onion, 2 Tbsp fresh basil chopped, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I prepare this ahead of time for the juices to mix and soften the onion flavor.

Spicy, cheesy polenta
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups quick polenta
  • 1 teaspoon  black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
Boil the water and salt, then slowly whisk in the grits. Stir constantly about 3 minutes, then add the seasoning, butter, and cheese. Take off the heat and finish stirring. Generously butter a dish (something shallow enough you can cut and serve the polenta) and pour into the dish. I used a glass pie dish that I could put back into the oven to stay warm while the salmon was cooking. I'm not talented enough to have everything finish together all at the same time!

Yellow squash and zucchini - I just sauteed these with some olive oil in a large skillet for about 15 minutes. Gentle sprinkle of black pepper. No salt needed.
Greens - I tossed the baby romaine in a little olive oil, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar. I would have added some slivered almonds or feta, but we didn't have any and I didn't think that far ahead.... next time.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Black beans and car dents

I've been reading about some of the best nutrition-packed foods, and black beans are up there on the list. Lots of fiber and protein, and very low glycemic index. So last night a poured a bag of beans into a big bowl of water to rehydrate them. After an hour the beans were almost twice as big. I let them sit over night (and added more water as needed as the beans expanded) and then boiled them for about an hour and fifteen minutes to cook them. Justin actually stirred them a bit in the middle because I had to run to the store for some final ingredients for dinner and some beer.

So I'm walking out to my car from Hy-Vee (man, am I going to miss Hy-Vee up in Alaska!!) with my purchases. I following this guy and his 3 kids down the isle, and they apartently were parked next to me. The oldest kid of the three ran for the front passenger door beating his siblings and flung the door open. I was just at the back bumper of my car and then "thunk!!" That brat dented my front fender with the door!! My mouth just dropped and the father yelled at the kid. I don't think he saw me standing there at that point, so I cleared my throat a little just to imform my presence. "Oh ma'am....I guess I'll be paying for your car." Damn right you will! I got his information, tossed my groceries into the back, then walked down the strip mall to Wine and Spirits. Much needed at this point.

So I get back home and make dinner. I stongly believe that cooking is therapeutic. Sauteeing vegetables is one of my favs. I tossed some sliced green pepper and onion into the cast iron and went to work. After about 15 minutes of slowly tossing the veggies, all better! A couple stirs of the black beans that are just about tender and gathering the rest of the ingredients. And... voila. Veggie tacos! Today was green pepper and onion, black beans, diced tomato and some jalapeno, sour cream and cheese, sliced green and cilantro. Yummy sweet cilantro. Hands down my favorite herb... wait - basil. But a close second! And to pair with it - one of my favorite wheat beers, Blue Star from North Coast Brewing Co. I first had this at El Bait Shop in downtown Des Moines. I remember I was with my friend Emily and the wall which was actually a garage door was open and it was a great summer night. I think I had a few Blue Stars that night if I remember correctly... :D

And I got some more fresh flowers as well. My sister has got me started on this kick of having fresh flowers around all the time. She worked as a florist for a while and was always bringing home fresh flowers. My mom is absolutely spoiled - several times a week my sister would be scrounging for another vase and filling the counters and tables with arrangements. I would have liked to add a few more greens to this, but they didn't have any! I LOVE bells of Ireland, but my Hy Vee doesn't carry them. Or large tea leaves. Whatever, they still look nice.

I've also started another knitting project. I'm making socks. I've never knit a pair, and I've always been told they are super easy. This pattern has me using size 2 needles, so this could take a while....

Thursday, April 28, 2011


So it's been a while since my last post. I've been busy. I've gone to Alaska, twice. Justin went with my on the first trip and I went solo and the second, but I was visiting clinics after some job interviews to help make a decision on the best fit for me. And - I've made my decision!! I'm going to be joining a private practice PT clinic in Anchorage. I'm very excited. Justin and I will move this summer, so that means we have lots of stuff to do to get ready. And that means emptying out our freezer... preheat the oven!

And just because I've been busy and off traveling doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. I made chocolate cupcakes for one of the residency guys. Now this was interesting. I got this cupcake book a couple months ago that has some fun and different recipes. I tried out their chocolate standard cupcake, but it's a vegan recipe. I followed the recipe to a tee - and I usually fudge a couple ingredients one way or another. I did everything just like the recipe and they turned out like crap. The batter was really thick and fudge-like, but after 10 minutes or so in the oven they completely fell and caved in. After they cooled, they were bitter and just awful. I support the vegan eaters and all, but I want eggs and milk in my recipes. Oh, and I made chocolate ganache. YUM!! So I made a different batch of chocolate cupcakes and topped them off with chocolate ganache. Lesson learned - eggs make a difference.

My aunt made italian wedding soup from scratch a while back so I thought I'd try my hand at it. I used some sweet italian sausage as the base for the meatballs. I added parsley, parmesan, egg, breadcrumbs, and of course - garlic. In the broth I cooked carrots, spinach, and then some mini bow tie noodles. After the meatballs were nice and browned and the noodles to the perfect al dente - combine and serve. Sooo good. Very simple meal that just hit the spot.

I've made desserts and goodies for Justin to take to work, and a fair amount over the past 3 years. You ask any one of the guys in the department and they will most likely say the salted nut roll bars are the best. I'm famous at the lab just for these treats. I could eat half a pan of these things. If you like the candy bar salted nut roll, or even the salty sweet combination in general, these are just right. I got this recipe from a coworker, and I've made them several times since. The base layer is yellow cake mix, eggs, and melted butter. You bake the crumbly mix for a bit, then toss mini marshmallows ove the top and let them get gooey in the oven for 2-3 min. You make this caramely peanut buttery syrup with rice crispies and peanuts mixed in and then spoon it over the top of the gooey mallows. Unfortunately, these take FOREVER to cool, so you are stuck with that awesome smell in the kitchen and no nibble for about 2 hours. But once they do... oh mama!! I brought a couple to campus, and sure enough, they got great reviews there as well!

So now that I'll be home for a bit - I'll try to keep more recent blog updates. Now to just start thinking what I want to make next...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Culinary Re-cap

So for this week's tasty eatings...

Sunday we had Justin's side of the family over for dinner. He brined/corned his own brisket this year for St. Pat's. A couple days late, but it was delicious. Aparently the part that turns the brisket pink contains sodium nitrite. We have read that it is toxic if consumed by itself - careful people. Justin has been getting pretty creative in preparing large hunks of meat. And this one was delicious. He also made boiled cabbage and potatoes, your general Irish fare. For appetizers he made homemade pork dumplings. We got a dim sum steamer from the asian market just down the street (how convenient!!) and they were great. This recipe has a thick, sweet dough - a perfect compliment to the tangy pork filling. Yum.

Monday was left over beef bourguignon. Early this week everyone kept telling me they read the blog and thought I was crazy for spending so much time in the kitchen. It's fun, I love it. A few friends have said they feel stupid and have no idea what the stuff I make is, I just laugh. Nothing we eat is that crazy or odd.

Tuesday my brother and sister came into town, but not until late. I was starving after teaching lab in the aftenoon, probably because it was 90 degrees in there and we were teaching taping techniques. Not my favorite subject... Anyway, I stopped at Hy Vee to grab some dumpling wrappers to use the rest of the pork Justin made. There were no leftovers of his dough, too delicious. So we had a nice appetizer of steamed pork dumplings with spicy hot ginger soy dipping sauce. For dinner Megan and Derek wanted mexican - not a whole lot of selection for good, late-night Mexican. We went to Hector's, they have yummy margaritas!

Wednesday and Thursday, not a whole lot. The week got busy and both of us were tired. But Friday - Roman Coin pizza. I think it is the best pizza in town. Soooo goooood. This time was combination. Perfect crust, a nice sweet sauce, and perfect ratio of toppings and cheese. It never disappoints. I had a cold piece this morning for breakfast. :)

Today we stopped at Bruegger's for lunch. I LOVE their bagel sandwiches. And I could eat them everyday. Justin had his usual, smoked salmon, and I tried the cheddar, spinach and egg sandwich on sundried tomato. It was a good choice. Now Justin is sitting in the middle of the kitchen with a book making Schweinshaxe. (ShwINEs-hox) It's a German pork shank dish, my dad introduced it to us at Hessen Haus in Des Moines. Justin bought a German cookbook afterward that was supposed to have every German dish that is traditional, and it wasn't in there. Either the book isn't complete, or this dish is fake German. Either way I don't care. It smells soooo good. There is a whole bunch of clove and mustard seed in the meat rub. Can't wait! He's a pic of it simmering in the oven.

So tomorrow it's my turn. I took a venison eye of round of the freezer. My dad told me it should be sliced thin, either for stroganoff or fajita meet. I can't decide what to make yet. I have a recipe from my Aunt Mary for a asian merinade that uses molasses, mustard and ginger. I'm leaning toward that recipe.... we'll see!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Justin's Birthday

Yesterday was Justin's birthday. I had the entire menu planned out from breakfast on through after dinner dessert. Let's start with breakfast. The night before I started making the dough for cinnamon rolls. I've heard tons of great things about the Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls, and I coworker and I were just talking about them earlier this week. Pioneer Woman, for those of you who are familiar, was a city girl that fell in love with a rancher and moved out into the country with him. She cooks. And I mean cooks. Her recipes (found in her blog and cookbooks) do not disappoint. After I started reading through the recipe I realized 1) Anything with 2 cups of butter is going to be fabulous 2) This recipe yields 40 cinnamon rolls! I made 3 cake pans full, and still have dough wrapped up in the fridge.
They were pretty easy to make, just took some time and patience. After you heat milk, oil, and sugar and then add yeast,  you slowly combine in the dry ingredients. Let the dough rise, and then add the rest of the ingredients. At this point I had one ginormous ball of dough. I rolled out the dough in sections, pouring melted butter and cinnamon 'n sugar over the rectangular shaped blob. You roll them up, cut into pieces, and place into baking dishes. I found that the most paste-like the inner sugar is, the easier they are to roll up and stay into neat circles, rather than blobs. I decided to show you the nice circles and not the blobs. No one needs to see exactly how bad they were! They took about 16 minutes in the oven, and during that time I made orange marmalade frosting, just for Justin. I thought they were great, but don't look as appealing as they taste. I work on that next time!
Justin said he didn't want anything for his birthday (yeah, yeah, OK!). So what did I get? More kitchen stuff! Ok, so I profit from this too, whatever. We're married now. What's his is mine and what mine is mine. :) I got him a few new knives from W-S, a new garlic peeler, and microplane grater, and some Crane Coffee beans. You can never have too many knives. We have an old knife that I like, but it is getting dull despite the sharpening and Justin keeps yelling at me for using it. I suppose we might have to "misplace it" when we move out of the apartment. As for the garlic peeler - this is the most amazing kitchen invention of all time. We have had one of these, but it has disappeared. We had to peel garlic the old fashioned way for a month, so deprived. Pop in the garlic to the tube, roll it on the counter, BAM. Peeled garlic. Careful, get too carried away and you have mashed garlic, too!
So now for the good stuff. I also booked hour-long massages for Justin and I early afternoon. I did all the prep cutting and arranging of ingredients before we went. After we got back, I started getting the beef bourguignon ready. I have fallen in love with Julia Child. She is fabulous. I've watched several cooking shows of her on YouTube, and my grandmother has her complete set on VHS. Julia Child loves bacon. Don't be alarmed by what I'm going to talk about next. Vegetarians, skip down a paragraph or two.

Lardons. Yes, root word 'lard'. Bacon. I got slab bacon from our butcher. Again when I was buying it he asked me how thick I wanted it cut. Leave it alone - I need it slab! I used a generous 6 oz and cut it into 1 1/2" by 1/4" pieces. You actually simmer that bacon, and then saute it. Yum. After sauteeing the stew meet and onion and carrot, you combine it all into a dutch oven and add your juices.

Of course you have to use wine from Bourgogne if you are making Beef Bourguignon. I found this one at Whole Foods. So this is what it looks like when it is ready to simmer in the over for 3-4 hours.

Meanwhile, Justin is mixing wine from a kit we got for our wedding. They provide different combinations, and then you make a blend of your own. After you pick what you want, you can order it by the case from this company. Dangerous! So while Justin was pipetting wine and swirling and sniffing, I was making Gougeres. The first 'e' in the word has an accent, but I can't add it into Blogger. These are little cheese puff pasteries. This recipe is from our Bride & Groom cookbook from W-S. They described them as little, buttery snacks, great for appetizers or late-night snacks. And they did not disappoint. After nearly developing tendonitis from trying to stir this thick dough and adding one egg at a time, these cheese, butter, egg, flour, gruyere, and cayenne puffs were a great little snack to help the wine go down. I will be making these again, no doubt.

So those were in the oven, the beef is still simmering... time to make dessert. Chocolate pots de creme. (Yes another accent - I'm about to complain into Blogger.) Also from our Bride & Groom cookbook, these are made of 60% or more bittersweet cocoa bars, milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks. That's it. You gently melt the chopped chocolate into the heated cream and milk, then gently combine it into the egg yolk and sugar paste.
Next, I poured the mix through a sieve into a glass measuring cup. This takes out all the bigger pieces of chocolate that didn't fully mix and any egg yolk that didn't get incorporated. Pour the chocolate mix into ramekins nesting in a water bath and bake lightly covered with fo
il for 1/2 an hour until set. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

For a side dish I choose pancetta wrapped radicchio. Alright, so the radicchio would have been much healthier without the pancetta, or the olive oil for that matter, but hey - it was Justin's birthday. You have one life, I'd rather spend it eating good food. I wedged the radicchio, lightly drizzled olive oil and salt and pepper over, then wrapped it with the pancetta pieces. Ready for the oven to roast for 15 minutes or so.
So were are about 1 hour from dinner at this point. The next step for the stew is preparing the onion and mushrooms. The pearl onions were peeled and ends cut off, the mushrooms quartered. Sautee each, then the onions are covered and allowed to simmer another 40 minutes with a bay leave, thyme, and parsley. Next you remove the beef's juices through a sieve and discard the onion and carrot bits. Simmer down the juices until you get the consistency you want. After these are all done (and you've made either potatoes, rice, or pasta to serve under the bourguignon) you combine and serve!
It was great. The meat perfectly tender, all the right flavors, and great company. Justin said he was jealous I was making this dish first. I told him he could help, but he declined. It's his birthday, he deserves to just sit back.
After dinner - pots de creme. I made some espresso and then put some of the leftover whipped cream on top. YUM!!! The cold custa
rd and creme with hot coffee. Perfect after dinner combination. The recipe made 6, I'm glad there are 4 more in the fridge for me later!
So, overall a great culinary feat. I might have gained an pound or two, screw it. French cooking at it's finest. Thank you Ree (PW) and Julia for the inspiration, it turned out great. Happy Birthday, Justin!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Cleaning Part 2: The Great Purge

I thought I was productive yesterday, but today put a whole new meaning to the word. Justin and I did a complete 180 on the apartment. I started with the office. I was cleaning off bookshelves and found notes from undergrad. I guess I saved them thinking I would reference them again in the future, or need them at some point in my future career. Riiiight. That would involve me remembering what was in the courses, or the courses themselves, to even think about going back to find something. Not only did I find some of my own old notebooks, but I had one of my freshman roommate Renee's!! I had her economics binder! Yikes - that means that it made 1, 2, 3, 4, 5..... nope - 6 moves! I really need to get better about this.
After accomplishing 4 giant piles of recycling and a huge box of books to take to Goodwill, I decided my desk had spent it's last day. I bought the thing at Walmart my sophmore year, I'm sure it didn't cost me more than $40. The cheap wood was warping from one too many UV Blue and vodka spills, and one of the supporting side panels was barely hanging on. Too much weight on one side could have brought the whole thing down. So I cleaned out the drawers and the cubbys. In the back of the bottom cubby I had a giant bag of highlighters. Not a mix of pens, markers, pencils, but just highlighters. How do I hang onto this crap for so long?!?! And because my aunt works for 3M and provides a generous amount of post-its in our Christmas stockings, I filled a small shoebox with several pads of them. So we took out the desk, and for one moment we had some free space somewhere in our second bedroom. That didn't last long as I transplanted some totes with my Christmas decorations into the corner.
At this point Justin was working on laundry mountain that had erupted in our bedroom. He started dividing old T's into keep and Goodwill piles. Alright! Let's keep this ball rolling! I started going through my closet and drawers. Together we made 8 rather large bags of donations to Goodwill. It took me 4 trips to carry the stuff out to my car - I better drop the stuff off tomorrow or my gas mileage might decrease dramatically. ;)
Justin bought a new computer that hooks up to our TV a couple weeks ago, so the old one that he attempted to fix a couple times was just taking up space in the corner of the living room. I considered it a black hole. Anything that ended up on that desk seemed to vanish forever. So Justin took out his hard drive and decided to donate it to the lab for them to do something with it. Yeah - more space!! We still have his stereo there along with an end table, but still. It looks less cluttered.
I also started a massive project, it may have been too much to take on. Somehow Justin accidentally applied for a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens. It doesn't show up on any bills or statements, and we have been receiving the stupid magazine for probably 3 years now. Along with BH&G I have several old copies of Rachel Ray magazine and other cooking magazines. I've started going through all of them and tearing out the recipes that I want. No one needs to carry 100 lbs of magazines up the Al-can highway. I have a binder and the pocket sheets to organize them. As of now, Rachel Ray is done and about 3/4 of the BH&G is finished. I can't decide if I'm actually going to try to organize them by type of dish yet or not. We'll see how it goes. I just might do the same thing with my Women's Health.... OK, one thing at a time.
I want to find a scanner that I can turn all of my PT school notes into electronic documents, but that may take several weekends on end to accomplish that task.
Despite all this, there are still several things on my list of things to do. Tomorrow night I will be making chocolate cupcakes with chocolate granache and working on some work for the residency. Last week when I was sick a co-worker covered one afternoon for me, so I figured cupcakes would be fair compensation. If they turn out alright, they just might be the next blog!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Cleaning

So the past few weeks (OK, months) my strict cleaning and tidying habits have completely gone out the window. I used to perform a good cleaning about once a week, but who knows where that ambition went. I don't think the kitchen table has been completely cleared since I had some friends over for a holiday party in December. Magazines, stacks of papers, shoes scattered in the entry have caused tripping hazards, meals in the living room because there are no spots at the table, and lost documents for far too long now. This morning I woke up with some gumption, and I went with it.
I started with the coffee table. Somehow this 2x4 ft piece of wood gathered enough clutter to be stacked about 4 inches high in some areas. Avalanche warnings might have been in effect if this had gone on any longer.
Then dusting. I like dusting. Weird, yes, but I don't mind it. I use those swiffer dusters that gather all the yucky stuff and then you throw it out! Genius! So that went quick...
Vacuuming. We have two dogs. We should have been a bit more selective when picking out Izzy and Hondo from the Humane Society, but after seeing them with their sad eyes and instant connection with us, there was no other choosing to be done. Izzy sheds, but Hondo seems to molt. His wirey white hairs seems to get stuck to everything. And if something is white, his black hairs somehow have navigation to cling to it's surface. And I can't stand the dog hair. I have tried tons of mits, lint rollers, yada yada to rid us of the hair. I love that our new couch is leather - I can just brush it off!! So back to vacuuming. Justin got me a nice vacuum after the last one went kaput. It was a nice gift, I wasn't even offended. So it's a pretty nice vacuum, specific for dog hair. Today it just didn't seem to be doing the job. I turned the setting from medium pile to shag. Still nothing. It wasn't even picking up the little pieces of dried leafs that had fallen off my plant that I killed. (No surprise there.) I checked the filter, the collection canister, tubing. Nothing. So I turned it over on it's side for inspection. I was MORTIFIED. I can no longer get mad at the dogs for shedding as that would make me quite the hypocrit. There was enough hair wrapped in the bottom to donate to locks for love to give a little girl with leukemia a cute little bob. So I cut and pulled it all out. Second attempt - success. I could not believe how much it pulled up. Not sure if I should really be sharing this, but I emptied the canister twice after putting the vacuum back into the closet. I'm never letting that happen again! Good news is the carpet looks pretty nice.
So the next hurdle was the kitchen table. Stacks of mail from new health coverage at the hospital, student loan info, my PT magazines, and yes, still Christmas cards. I sorted it all into groups, purged all that wasn't important into the recycling, but then I seemed to loose steam at this point. The kitchen table is still covered, but in neat stacks of papers, magazines, and books that I'm sure will only take a few moments to really finish. Maybe tomorrow... but that was reserved for laundry. Laundry I don't mind - it's the putting it away. Hmm, do we see a pattern here??