I think I like you

I had very high hopes when I decided to adopt another dog that the new dog would get along with the cats. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the cats to not accept the new dog Gracie was the first to try, but by the time she did, Arthas was wary of the cats. Ms. Leia had attached first a few too many times.

The last few months have been very good. Tigger ignores Arthas, but he isn’t afraid of him. Arthas is curious about Tigger, but prefers to conserve energy rather than chase the cat to figure out exactly what he is. Leia is just plain determined to make the dog love her – or annoy the heck out of him, we aren’t exactly sure which.

The other day, we got contact with no issues. Leia and Arthas were paw to paw for a few minutes and neither made any angry noises. Arthas even sniffed Leia’s face and didn’t get upset when she sniffed his nose back. I’m calling it progress.

 

Artezin – Zinfandel 2013

  • Basic info: Artezin, Zinfandel from Mendocino, CA, 2013
  • Type: Red Wine
  • Price estimate: $15 (at Total Wine)
  • Look: Dark ruby in color, not translucent. Medium viscosity, probably medium alcohol.
  • Smell: Wine. Maybe a little jam and blackberry (but it could also be that I want to smell those)
  • Taste: Jam leading to pepper. Round wine and very smooth. Really nice finish with just a little bit of tannin.
  • Conclusions: I really liked this wine when I opened it and I liked it even more the next day. It drinks really well and is easy to drink. You know there is alcohol there so you are not in danger of over drinking, but it is not enough to knock you out with a single glass.
  • Other notes: I really liked this wine for a few reasons. It is a zinfandel and I am really partial to zinfandels. It had a great body, but it wasn’t heavy and it is a wine that I could sip. Some wines I find have such low alcohol content that I just drink them this wine I could savor. It definitely drinks like a more expensive wine.
  • From the bottle: “This zinfandel offers varietal aromas of raspberry and boysenberry with notes of spice and black pepper.” 14.7% alcohol by volume.

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North Valley Chardonnay – 2013

  • Basic info: North Valley (Soter Vineyards) Chardonnay, Oregon, 2013
  • Type: White
  • Price estimate: $30 (from vineyard)
  • Look: Pale yellow in color. Very few legs evident
  • Smell: Coconut, pineapple, vanilla (Bob agreed on the smells, surprisingly.)
  • Taste: Pear and apple initially. (Bob got pina colada, which I got as a secondary taste, but he got it upfront.) Nice acidity, but still a soft wine. Long finish.
  • Conclusions: Love this wine. Great body – not heavy, oily or okay, but still soft and fuller than most white wines. The acidity is softened by the texture of the wine.
  • Other notes: Bob and I bought two bottles of this when we were in Oregon last summer and were saving them for a special occasion. I decided that we really should just drink a bottle since we had it, so we opened it. I don’t usually go for Chardonnay  (see first wine post) but both of us loved this one the fist time we had it, and it was just as good as we remembered this week.
  • From the bottle: No bottle notes on this one, but from the website: “Aromas of Meyer lemon, Asian pear, fresh apple with hints of vanilla bean, custard, hazelnut and a trace of match stick. Sleek and silky with a vibrant, juicy quality. Rich and mouth coating, the fresh fruit flavors are echoed on the palate with hints of stone fruit (white peach). There is an unmistakable mineral element on the finish as the flavors linger.” 13.4% alcohol by volume.

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Hoisin Tofu Buns

I was in a weird place this weekend. I didn’t know what I wanted to make for dinner this week and I was having trouble thinking of something different. I wanted to try something new, but I also knew I had a lot of school work to do. Part of me wanted pork steam buns, but I really didn’t want any meat. I decided to try a vegetarian version using tofu instead of pork, but with the same hoisin sauce mix that is just perfect with steam buns.

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I started with pickling vegetables – carrots, red onion, cucumber and kale. Wait, kale? Yes, kale. I am still working through the last of the kale from the garden and decided to try picking it. It isn’t bad, but not my first choice.

I did try to make steam buns again, in large part because I can’t find them in a store around here. I used a different recipe than the last time I made them, and refined the steamer just a little. It worked, but the buns didn’t rise the way I wanted them to. I’m getting closer on the buns, but they still aren’t perfect. (Taste was good, but they didn’t rise enough and were pretty dense.)

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So tofu. I know what you are thinking – how is this going to work. Soft tofu on a soft bun … the texture should not work. But … cornstarch. Cornstarch is my best friend when it comes to frying tofu. Light coating of cornstarch and into hot oil – the result is a crispy, crunchy tofu with a soft, silky center. And the tofu took the sauce beautifully.

So how did it turn out? I can’t wait to have this tomorrow for lunch. I’m skipping the buns and just using the pickled vegetables with the tofu as a salad. It’s tangy, sweet and really satisfying.

Pickled Vegetables:

  • Vegetables of choice – cut (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch salt

Mix together vinegar, sugar and salt. Add chopped vegetables and coat. Let sit at least fifteen minutes, up to an hour. If not using in the hour, drain the pickling liquid.

Hoisin Tofu:

  • 8 oz. extra firm tofu, cut and pressed
  • 1/4 cup corn starch (probably could use less, but I like to make sure there is enough in one go)
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (or sub whatever soy sauce you have on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (I used sherry vinegar because that I what I had, but rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar or white vinegar should do fine too.)
  • Mix of sesame and olive oil (about 1 tablespoon sesame and 2 tablespoons olive)

Cut tofu into strips about the size of the buns. Place between paper towels and press for about ten minutes. (I find a baking sheet over the tofu works pretty good)

Mix together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce and vinegar until well combined.

Heat pan with oils over medium high heat until hot enough to crisp the tofu. Toss tofu in corn starch and add to pan. Allow bottom to crisp (don’t turn) for a few minutes until lightly browned. Flip and crisp/brown the other side – about 7 minutes total. Reduce heat to medium and add hoisin sauce mix. Toss tofu in sauce over medium heat until well coated and the sauce begins to thicken, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place one piece of tofu on the bun and top with pickled vegetables of choice.

 

Cheese Dinner

Bob and I still love getting our monthly boxes from Louise at Artisan Cheese Company. It has been about five years that we have been going there, and the cheese just keeps getting better and better. This month we did our cheese dinner without the typical cheese plate, and it was just about the most interesting cheese plate dinner we have done in the last five years.

IMG_20170416_182524There are no soft cheeses on this plate. No buttery triple creme, or runny brie, just a number of semi-firm and firm, nutty cheeses with a sheep and goat thrown in for good measure. We had two experimental cheeses from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia, a blue for Bob and a nutty semi-firm for me. I loved the Yeti (top right in the picture) and thought it had so much character and layers of flavor. Bob described the blue as “stunning” and one of mildest, creamiest blues he ever had. We also had a sheep/cow mixed cheese that was unique and one of the best cheddars I think I’ve ever had – Westcomber from England. I usually go for a Vermont cheddar, but this was perfect. Creamy and nutty with a ton of flavors and layers.

It looks boring, our little plate of cheese, but there really were so many different flavors it is difficult to describe why it was so good. It still amazes me that essentially a few ingredients – milk, salt, enzyme – can produce such a variety of flavors and textures.

In pet news, Arthas had a field day with the pulled kale stalks. He managed to eat an entire stalk before I took it all away from him. He was not amused that I took his snack, but I think he would have eaten all four stalks that were there, and possibly kept going even after they were gone. He looks so cute and innocent; as does Ms. Leia.

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Mellen-Meyer – Brut

  • Basic info: Mellen-Meyer, Brute, Willamette Valley, Oregon, no vintage
  • Type: Sparkling, white
  • Price estimate:$35 (from winery)
  • Look: pale yellow, light. Fine bubbles with low viscosity and few legs. Low to Medium alcohol.
  • Smell: Vanilla and wine. Bob smelled grapefruit.
  • Taste: Fine bubbles lead to great mouth feel. Dry, but not overly so.  Tastes reminiscent of hard apple cider – fruit, and citrus, but can’t tell which fruit or citrus specifically. Clean and refreshing. Bob called apricot and grapefruit on the taste, but I didn’t get those.
  • Conclusions: “Pitch perfect” was how Bob described this one. Probably one of the best sparkling wines we have ever had and that includes actual champagne. Not sweet, but not dry, it is refreshing and clean tasting. The bubbles are fun – fine, and not overpowering. If I had a party or occasion that called for sparkling wine, I’d try to get a case of this.
  • Other notes: Bob got excited when he saw this in our wine club shipment from Oregon. We only get six bottles every six months, but we love the different varieties and producers that we would not normally try as we live about as far from Oregon as you can get while still being in the U.S. We thought about saving this one, but decided to just open it and have it with our cheese box this month (see next post for more on that) and we are so glad we did. It went perfect with the rich cheeses and we loved every taste of this.
    • There are no tasting notes on the bottle but the wine club notes say, “it has a beautiful toasty biscotti nose with green apple and pear notes and a lively effervescence that creates a nice, fluffy mousse.”
  • From the bottle: “Brute, Willamette Valley AVA 35% Chardonnay & 65% Pino Noir. Disgorged Aug. 2, 2016, 315 cases” 12.5% alcohol by volume.

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Couscous Stuffed Peppers

After harvesting all the kale, I made batches of kale pesto. Batches of kale pesto.

I am not sure if I make kale pesto the “correct way or not” but in general I use kale, walnuts or almonds, garlic, a little salt, pecorino cheese and olive oil. I sometimes add lemon juice , honey or basil to it to cut some of the kale taste, but I try to keep it pretty simple. I think I ended up making about eight cups of pesto on Saturday and I know I used a head of garlic and a bag of walnuts along with most of the harvested kale. (Still have enough for a large kale salad.)

But what to do with all that pesto. Well, we have a nice ravioli and pesto lunch and for dinner I tried a modified version of a NYT recipe I found that looked really good. I wasn’t going to make regular pesto, and I wanted to make my own tomato sauce using the tomatoes I picked (so they wouldn’t go to waste).  I wasn’t sure about this since Bob doesn’t like peppers all that much, I decided to try it.

General thoughts were that I loved the sauce (I was actually really, really impressed with the sauce) and the filling, but didn’t think the peppers added much to the dish. I think it can be much simpler – leave out the peppers, fold the pesto and the tomato sauce into the couscous and toss with a little mozzarella cheese. That, I think would make a perfect dish.

Kale pesto:

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (+/- depending on consistency preference)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • basil leaves, lemon juice, or honey (optional)

De-stem the kale and break into small to medium-sized pieces. Rough chop the garlic and walnuts. All kale, walnuts and garlic to food processor process for a few seconds, just until everything starts to break down. Add in olive oil, salt and any extras (basil, lemon or honey) and process again. You may have to do this two or three times, scrapping the sides in between each round. You may also have to add olive oil in batches if you like a more sauce like consistency. (I tend to make my pesto dry and add more oil right before I use it if needed.)

Tomato sauce:

  • 1 cup heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 oz crushed tomato
  • 1/3 cup pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the tomatoes and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until the skins become soft. Add crushed tomatoes, garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Stir to combine everything and allow to reduce a little. Add pasta water and mix. Reduce a little more – the sauce should thicken a little – and taste to adjust seasoning.

Couscous:

  • 1 cup pearled or Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Heat olive oil in a small to medium pot over medium high heat. When hot, add couscous and stir to coat all the pearls. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes. Add two cups of vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Cook about 15 minutes. Drain 1/3 cup of the liquid and reserve for the tomato sauce. Drain the rest of the broth and return the couscous to the pan.

To combine:

Add pesto (about 2/3 cup is what I used) and mix well.

Here is what I didn’t do, but will be doing next time:

Add couscous with pesto to the pan with tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Mix in about 1/3 cup mozzarella pearls (or chunks of fresh mozzarella) and combine. Plate.