Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finally, some CHEESE!

Fresh mozzarella from my kitchen, at last.

I had been wanting to make cheese for such a long time that it was becoming painful. While I had taken a few classes, I had yet to tackle the project at home. There were too many other projects on the list to be done first and most days, simply too many dishes and piles of laundry.
Finally I decided to live a little, step out on a limb and forget about the daily duties of my at-home mom persona and do it. I ordered the supplies from The New England Cheesemaking Supply website and waited. The day they arrived I could barely contain myself. The next morning, with three kids in the kitchen, it was cheese time. Thirty Minute Mozzarella, here I come! After that, with the leftover whey, I made ricotta. The following day, same thing. Just like that, I'm a cheesemaker. I walked around for the next few days with a permanent grin affixed to my face.

A week later while my friend Stephanie was staying at our house, I became Cheese Instructor. While I had only three batches under my own cheesebelt, I assisted Stef in making her first batch of 30 minute mozz and photo-documented the process.

Testing the temperature.
Almost there.
Ricki Carroll's Cheese Making book, in action...dog eared pages and all.
The curd, separated from the whey. Getting closer!
It becomes a solid. With a little additional heat and some kneading by Stephanie,
the fresh mozzarella takes on a bit of a life of its own.

Really stretchy stuff.

The final product. When's dinner?

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Little Bread... another style

In addition to the Artisan, 5 minutes a day variety of bread, I've also been busy baking focaccia bread. This recipe came from some pages I ripped out of a Cook's magazine in 1997 and have slugged around with me from apartment to apartment to house. They were finally placed in a plastic sleeve last winter and filed away in my white binder for recipes. It was a task I thought would never be completed.

The texture of this focaccia bread is better than any I had ever baked, most likely because the dough has potatoes--riced potatoes to be exact-- and they keep the dough very moist. Topped with some olive oil and rosemary from our garden, this is a delight to share with friends along with a nice glass of red wine.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Artisan Bread in my Kitchen!?!

Have you seen this book yet? The authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois are good Minnesota folk and have gotten a bit of publicity around the Twin Cities. I had read about them when the book was first released, considered buying the book, but then found a copy of the original recipe in a magazine somewhere, figuring I could make do with that. (Here's a YouTube clip of the authors.) That magazine clipping sat in a pile in my kitchen collecting dust and we continued to buy The New French Bakery's take-n-bake loaves for $3.00 or $4.00 every week.

Two weeks ago my mom left for her two week water color class in France and I asked to borrow the book, figuring that now that I'm making cheese regularly, I ought to have some better options for bread on which to eat it. After paging through the book a little bit every night before I crashed into bed, I decided it was time to stop the take-n-bake mania. Time to get out the bucket. The bucket of dough, that is.
The premise behind this book is that with a few good pieces of equipment and a bucket with a lid, any of us can create artisan bread in our homes. No, not just the stay-at-home crafty types, but everyone, even those who work full time jobs. If you have five minutes a day, plus about 40 minutes to let the bread rise when you get home from work (while you read the mail, talk to your kids, walk the dog...), then you can do it.
You start with warm water and yeast, adding kosher salt and unbleached flour and mixing it well, until it becomes a wet mess. My Kitchen Aid mixer's dough hook was in mixing heaven. My hands stayed clean and my counter didn't have to be scraped of excess flour from needless kneading. From there, you let the dough rise in the bucket a few hours, then sneak it away into a corner of your fridge until you feel the urge to pull out the take-n-bake gourmet bread that you paid too much for. Oh yes, pull out the bucket from the fridge, chop off a hunk the size of a grapefruit, make it into a ball, and voila, you're almost done! It rises on a pile of cornmeal to prevent sticking but 40 minutes later, you place the ball into a pre-heated oven with a pizza stone at 400 degrees, and 30 minutes later, you're ready to kiss the authors.

The secret lies in the wet dough, the hot stone and oven in addition to the hot water you place in the oven, creating a steam bath of sorts. These are the secrets that pastry chefs and bakers around the world have been keeping from the home bakers. The curtain has been yanked. We can do it!

And I did. Two nights in a row. I've baked three loaves and each one was amazing! Here's proof:

They say that you're supposed to let it cool 'til you slice into it, to preserve the "crumb" and the delicate custard-like texture of your artisan masterpiece, but who can resist? I wanted to do cartwheels down the street and shout to my neighbors... "The bread is here, bring your butter!" I didn't, of course. Instead, we happily dunked it into Ron's Crab and Corn bisque with his parents. A toast to bread, indeed!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Adventures in the City

My dear friends Stephanie and Edward visited for a week from Angola and Atlanta. We had a wonderful week of conversation, amazing food and beverages, early mornings and late nights and many city adventures. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was one, across the street from the Walker Art Center and the location of the orginal Guthrie Theatre. Loring Park, the "Central Park" of Minneapolis is just a jaunt away across an art bridge. The kids in tow, we visited both and made a stop at a local coffee shop for treats. I think the church in the rock photo is St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Below is the Basilica.

Minneapolis' most famous sculpture: Spoonbridge and Cherry.
Definitely worth a visit. Louise agreed.

You'd almost think this was their little family.

Louise certainly didn't get her hair color from Edward or her height from Stephanie.

These two are eternally in search of moving critters-- whether bugs, squirrels, ducks or friends. They discovered the Canadian geese in Loring Park. I warned them of my misadventure as a child in this same place when we fed the ducks and I was bitten. Or was it squirrels? Have you noticed that after a while, the memory fades and the exact details aren't quite so important? I know we were feeding something that bit me... what was it?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Firetruck Frenzy

A couple of weeks ago we attended the annual parade in Burnsville called the Fire Muster. It is a parade of firetrucks. Only firetrucks. Well, maybe a few other emergency vehicles, but mostly firetrucks. New and old, from near and far. It is THE best kind of parade my boys could imagine. Late in the season, it isn't hot, it isn't cold. Mid-morning, they aren't tired, they aren't cranky. The route is long but not too populated, so there are no fights for curb seats. It is just perfect.
This year we were wise enough to bring appropriate seating. Ron had his chair while the three kids enjoyed the removeable sides of the wagon/bench. I hovered. Isn't that what we moms do? We learned this time that Louise too, has a 'thang for fire trucks. Don't you? What is YOUR favorite parade?

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Peace Picnic

While the Republican National Convention was in nearby St. Paul, there were many other events around the Twin Cities for the non-delegates to explore. One such activity was the Peace Picnic, not related to the groups who were arrested, but a family picnic to celebrate peace. The kids and I went with my sister in law and her kids. The music was captivating as was the free meal, but being quiet for the speakers... NO THANKS! We settled on some music and dinner, then headed to the park nearby. Great fun. The kids were also very intrigued by the Coast Guard cruising up and down the Mississippi, watching the Peace picnic for any un-peaceful activities.

Someday, Gus will most likely use this saying as his personal motto.A very cool park feature... a water table. Our guys were interested in making a dam, perhaps even a lock to go on the dam, and more than anything, getting themselves wet.

Even Louise got in on the water fun. Imagine the ride home with five soggy kids! Instead they were five kids in their undies and diapers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Park Fun

Parks have become this little lady's favorite thing these days. If we drive by a park, she starts screaming until we stop or we distract her by pointing at squirrels. Everyone says she has red hair... but the tube is red. Why do we call this shade of hair red? My nephew who has the same color hair calls it orange. You tell 'em, B.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My New Camera

For our 8th anniversary a few weeks ago, Ron surprised me with a present for both of us: a digital SLR camera. I've been drooling over the photos of fellow blog-mamas for quite some time, yearning for the day when I could graduate to a more hefty camera. I told myself that I had to organize all my digital photos on the computer, backing them up, renaming the files... before I could allow myself to indulge in a camera. I think that at the rate I'm accomplishing things, that day would have never arrived. Thankfully, my dear Ronny decided that a digital SLR could be a hobby for both of us and did the camera research himself. Also included with the camera were certificates for us to take photography classes together, levels one and two. I'm thrilled!

The above photo is of Gus' hands chock full of cuke nuts, or what look like miniature watermelons but taste like cucumbers. It is my favorite photo thus far on the new camera. While we sort out the techical aspects of downloading from the new camera, I'll be using both cameras.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Off to Kindergarten Today

Big C was off to kindergarten this morning, bright and early. Ron walked him the 1/2 block to school while G, L and I finished our breakfast. We noticed a large void in our morning, staring at eachother, wondering what to do next. Carl is our ring leader, our entertainer, our joke teller and big brother. I'm so excited for him to go to school, but my oh my, where have the last five years gone?

The tree he is standing next to is the tree that we planted the day after our wedding. Just as when I was a kid, we've been taking pictures next to the tree since he started preschool. It is fun to see the kids grow and partake in their school milestones as well as watch the red maple grow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Butterfly Adventure

The buttlerflies have taken over our lives. We've fallen totally in love, head over heels for the monarchs. My sister took a class this summer on teaching Elementary kids about butterflies and we were the happy recipients of five little critters. Four came as caterpillars, one as an egg. The boys and I happily fed them and cleaned their fras out of the cage. We learned all about the process of molting, growing, eating milk weed, turning into a chrysalis and then emerging as a butterfly.

Let's see if this Youtube clip works.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The State Fair: Minnesota's Finest Hour

I love the State Fair. Not love, but LOVE! We grew up going every year as kids and now my own kids have developed an affinity for it as well. We went with the Selbergs to the fair, though without Louise. We concentrated instead on our four combined boys and activities that would interest them. The log rollers were a big hit, as were the Sky Ride and the big slide. And oh, the food. Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookies, hot out of the bucket, cotton candy, salted nut rolls, hot dogs, corn dogs, ice cream and more. Bring it on... the more to share with the group, the better. And oh, the animals. The birthing barn, the goats, the.... and on and on.
Cotton candy, gotta love it. The four boys shared one bag without fighting. I couldn't believe it.
Pronto pup or Corn dog, what's your pleasure?
With my fascination with all things mosaic, I was knocked out by this giant mosaic
mural of Minnesota. Check out Paul Bunyan's big blue ox, Babe, below.

Recycled bottles as art. A contest sponsored by Coca Cola. This was the one we voted for.

Mesmerized by the Space Needle.