Blog Archive

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Best Beef Stroganoff. Ever.

A few weeks ago I bought a container of mushrooms at Costco. I don't know why, but they were good looking and cheap--so I made some super mushroomy beef stroganoff.

I perused many online recipes and scoured all my cookbooks for proportions and seasonings. So the end result is the best beef stroganoff recipe ever. Ever. It is creamy, mushroomy, scrumptious. It freezes and reheats well. One pint easily serves two people over egg noodles or rice.

My recipe/method yields about 5.5 pints.

Step 1: brown about 1lb of very thinly sliced beef in a few tablespoons of olive oil. If you are more of a meat lover than me you could easily double the meat.
Step 2: Add two sliced onions and keep on cooking until the pan is dry and the onions are cooked down. The pan will look like it is all burned, but it isn't.Step 3: Remove the beef and onions. The pan will look scary, but don't freak out. That stuff is delicious.Step 4: Pour about 2-3 cups of any old white wine into the pan, bring to a simmer,and scrape up all that brown stuff.Step 5: Dump in a huge Costco sized package of mushroom that you've sliced (about 2 pounds worth). Simmer for a long time, until the wine is mostly gone. Then add 4 cloves of minced garlic and cook until the liquid is all gone (don't burn the garlic!).

Maybe I should call this "beef" stroganoff or simply mushroom stroganoff since there's not much beef in it relative to the mushrooms. I only put beef in because Dave likes it anyway...
Step 6: Remove the mushroom mixture and melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan.Step 7: When the butter is melted, turn off the heat and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of flour and whisk into the butter.Turn the heat back to medium and cook for just a few minutes while stirring so the flour doesn't burn. It'll be like paste.Step 8: Pour a little beef stock in and whisk immediately to get all the lumps out. It'll get mighty thick.
Then keep stirring stock in and whisking out the lumps until you've added about 2-3 cups of stock. Let it come to a simmer for a few minutes and keep whisking. It'll get a little thicker.

( you're a fancy chef who is worthy of your own cooking show because you just successfully made roux (the butter + flour concoction). You could have added milk and some cheese instead of the stock to make alfredo. Or used the stock + roux as gravy if you let it thicken a little more. Rule of thumb: use 1T butter and 1T flour for each cup of liquid for a gravy-like thickness sauce.)

Step 9: Stir in about a cup of softened cream cheese and about 2/3 cup sour cream. Then add 2 teaspoons of prepared mustard, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and a teaspoon of dill (I know that sounds shady with beef, but trust me it is goooooooooooood). Then add the beef and the mushroom stuff. Add salt/pepper to your liking.
Step 10: Stick it into freezer jars, label, and put in the freezer for quick dinners later. All you have to do is boil up some noodles to go with it. Yummy!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Knocked Up

What if this guy got you pregnant? If you were me, you'd be super excited. If you're not me...well, then you (and Dave) would have a lot of explaining to do. =)

My husband is a Photoshop genius--he made the crappy picture I took of him look darn near identical to the Knocked Up movie cover.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bigger and Bigger

Here's the latest belly shot, at 24 weeks:

I'm pretty sure I feel larger than I look. Because I don't actually look like a whale...right? (Edward, as my annoying little brother you don't need to comment on that!)


Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to Pickle Beets

Last night I spent 5 hot hours in the kitchen pickling the beets. Luckily my kitchen TV kept me entertained and my wooden stool kept my somewhat comfortable (but how comfortable can a pregnant lady be in a hot kitchen for 5 hours?).

Here's the classic pickled beet recipe and procedure:
  1. Sterilize your pint or quart jars in the dishwasher. Don't wash them with any other dirty dishes. Use the heated drying option, too.
  2. Wash the beets in cold water. Make sure to keep the root and at least 2" of stem/leaves on top to prevent excess bleeding (of the beets, not you). Scrub them with a brush if you need to, but don't be too rough with them. Keep in mind that you'll be peeling them so a little dirt won't hurt.
  3. Fill a wash basin or sink with hot tap water and put your washed beets in. This will pre-warm your beets and help the boiling processes along since they won't cool the pot of water down so much.
  4. Boil the beets for ~20 minutes or until they are slightly fork tender.
  5. Cool them immediately in a sink of cold water. Then slip the skins off with your hands and trim the roots and tops with a knife.
  6. Admire your pretty bowl of beets. Here I have chioggia beets (the light ones) and standard reds.
  7. Make your pickling brine. For a five gallon bucket of untrimmed, fresh-from-the-garden beets, use about 2 jugs of apple cider vinegar with 16 cups of sugar, 8 teaspoons each of whole cloves and whole anise berries, and 20 cinnamon sticks (more or less; the spices can vary in quantity). Bring this solution to a boil then let simmer while you get everything else ready to go. Remember that the longer you let it simmer, the more flavorful your pickling brine will be. (In my opinion, the longer the better!)
  8. Sterilize your canning jar lids. There are various methods, but I like to bring a pan of water to a boil, add my lids (brand new), then shut off the heat and let them simmer there for several minutes. The package warns you not to boil the lids. I think this is because it can toughen the rubber material and they won't seal properly...leading, in many cases (not acidic beets, though), to spoiled food.
  9. Slice or dice your beets into uniform pieces and pack into your sterilized jars. I don't literally "pack" them in, but rather just dump them in until they reach the neck of the jar. Since mine are diced there is plenty of room for brine. If you choose to slice them, they might pack more densely, in which case you'll want to avoid filling the jars all the way to the top to allow enough room for brine. For fun, I decided to keep my light and dark beets separate but you certainly don't have to.
  10. Turn the heat off on your brine. Using a sieve, fish out the spices.
  11. Pour the hot brine into the jars, allowing about 1/4" of head space.
  12. Using a damp paper towel or clean rag, wipe the tops of the jars to remove any debris or sticky brine. This helps ensure a good seal will form when you process them.
  13. Place the lids on the jars and screw the bands on finger tight. Then lower them into a HUGE pot of hot water. Add enough water so that there is at least 1-2" of water above the jars. Then bring the pot to a boil and keep it boiling for 30 minutes. This is called a water bath and is used for canning applesauce and tomatoes, too (anything sufficiently acidic so that it doesn't require pressure canning). It is a great method because it doesn't require any special tools or equipment.
  14. Carefully remove the jars from the water. NOTE: Don't tip the jars to the side when removing them from the water bath. The brine will still be boiling in the jars at this point and because the lids haven't sealed down onto the jars yet (this happens as they cool on the counter), some of it might spill out. This compromises the eventual seal (remember why you did step 12?).
  15. Let the jars cool on the counter over night. NOTE: Do not touch the lids, as you might push them down. As they cool you will hear a lovely "ping" sound. That sound indicates that the lids have sealed. If you push the lid down you won't know for sure that it has sealed.
  16. Store the beets in a dark place for at least 6-8 weeks before opening and eating them. They'll last pretty much forever but probably won't last that long once you taste how yummy they are!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beet That

Last year I couldn't bear the thought of thinning my beets during the winter. There was something heartbreaking about ripping out all those plants that I'd sown from seed. Of course, at that point I didn't yet know how scrumptious beet greens were.

Now I am wiser.

Dave and thinned the beets twice before the spring heat came and enjoyed the harvested baby greens with browned Polish sausage and tomatoes over pasta. That dish is becoming our traditional beet harvest meal.
Despite the 90+ degree weather last weekend, I worked in the garden while Dave finished laying the pavers under the clothesline. (Now when I drop wet clothes while hanging them out to dry they won't get muddy. This makes me soooooooooooo happy because I can be quite clumsy and hate to rewash stuff.)

After removing some more soil, Dave shoveled in some aggregate base, and then tamped it down.
He topped that with some sand, which he leveled before placing the pavers. He got lots of help from the pooches (they were trying to steal his shade). After a while he made them move--Ruby chose to lay on top of the honeysuckle and Potatoes hid behind a chair. They are such weirdos!
I decided to harvest all the beets (roots and greens) and then till the entire garden yard. We're decided not to have a summer garden here in Davis this year since I'll be too fat/tired/hot/preoccupied to deal with it and we already planted a nice garden up in Gualala. So I worked on preparing the garden, essentially, for next winter's crops.
In total, I think we ended up with a full 5 gallon bucket of beets (nice fat ones) and 6 gallons freezer bags of greens. Not too shabby.

The rhubarb and strawberry plants will be moved to a new bed I created under the baby's window. These are perennial plants and it'll be easier to deal with the seasonal garden if they are out of the way. Plus we can now run a single irrigation line along the house for both this bed and the perennial herbs that are under the master bedroom window (rosemary, sage, lavendar, and lemongrass).

It was sooooooooooooooooo hot outside while we were working but made sure to take plenty of breaks in the shade (especially after shovling) and drink lots of water and lemonade. Dave actually felt ill from the heat and took appropriate breaks under the fan inside. For whatever reason I felt fine (just hot) and kept working throughout the day. Knowing we were going out on a date that night to see a movie probably encouraged me to keep at it. =)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pre Baby To Do List

Here's my list of "to do" tasks before the baby comes in August. Since many of these things require Dave's help (and often my dad's help), they have to wait until the weekends to get done--and we only have about 15 weekends left!

J = Julie
D = Dave
H = Harold
E = Edward
  • Open a college savings account for baby J (4/21)
  • Life insurance for me J (4/21)
  • Make changing table H (4/30)
  • Buy crib off Craigslist J (5/18)
  • Finish registering J (4/21)
  • Make tons of cloth diaper wipes J (5/27-28)
  • Get Simple Human garbage can for diaper pail (stink proof!) J, D (5/11)
  • Organize the hall closet/build shelves in closet J, D (4/25)
  • Run water line from BBQ yard to utility yard for irrigation J, D (4/26)
  • Install patio in BBQ yard J, D, H (6/13-6/18)
  • Sell old range, hood, and microwave on Craigslist D (4/26)
  • Finish retaining wall in front yard J, D (5/9, 5/15)
  • Irrigation/timers in front yard J, D (5/25)
  • Landscape front yard (or just mulch it and wait until fall) J (7/14)
  • Gas line installation for new oven D, H (5/2-3)
  • Install oven (5/3) and remaining cabinets in kitchen J, D (5/22-23)
  • Arrange for counter top installation from Lowe's J, D (12/4)
  • Install folding door between living room and hallway J, D (5/11)
  • Replace hot water heater D, H (5/2)
  • Hire a doula J, D (never mind...Edward has agreed to be our "doula") =)
  • Buy health insurance for baby J, D (6/4--found out he's covered under Dave's insurance for a while then we'll buy his own policy later)
  • Defrost deep freeze and make list of ready-to-eat items J (7/6)
  • Stock freezer with casseroles and other defrost-heat-and-eat items J
  • Unpack, sort, wash, and store baby stuff from my parents' house J (4/28)
  • Give crystal cabinet to Julie's parents J (5/3)
  • Earthquake proof baby's dresser and bookcase D (6/21)
  • Make curtains for baby's room from Grandma's old fabric J (6/2)
  • Flagstone porch and paths in the front yard J, D, E (6/6, 6/23, 7/4)
I know what you're thinking: "Holy crap, Julie. That's a loooooooooong list. You're never going to get it all done." Eh, you might be right but I think we'll get most of it done. Dave calls me a slave driver when it comes to getting stuff done around the house--I don't take offense to that because I am. But I don't treat him like a slave any more than I treat myself like one (haha)!

People like us have lists like this when we are discover we're unexpectedly expecting in the midst of renovating our first home.

I'll make sure to cross things off this list as I get them done; hopefully I won't be adding much to this list. (Dave--you will be happy to see that new windows are not on the list. You won that battle, my love!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Special Weather Statement

It is super hot here right now and it is only April.

I need to buy some shorts or skirts.

That's all.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Picnic Day 2009

Every year at UC Davis there is a big open-house, party type event across campus called Picnic Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the school and the 95th anniversary of the Picnic Day celebrations.
This year I worked at the Soil Art table. We had paper plates that the kids (and some adults, too!) could decorate however they watned with glue, glitter, water color paints, and a variety of soils in different textures, sizes, and colors. It was super fun! I even made one that looks like Davie. His beard, eyebrows, and hair are made of soil...hahaha.
Around noon Dave and his dad showed up (they'd gone to a beekeeping store in Sacramento in the morning). We went inside my building to eat our picnic lunch in the peace and quiet. I made chicken salad sandwiches on pimento cheese rolls (um, YUM!), jars of apple sauce, bananas, and string cheese. Last year Dave and I were far from impressed with the selection of food. There's probably a lot to choose from but all we'd found was the hotdog or hamburger with chips stand in the middle of the quad. This year's lunch was much better.

Then we headed back outside towards the entomology building. John has several dozen orchard trees (plums, apples, apricots, cherries) so he's always on the UC Davis website looking up the latest technology for getting rid of pests. He's also an avid beekeeper and was as excited as a child to get to talk to the entomologists about his bees. He bought himself a t-shirt that said, "To Bee or Not to Bee...That is the Question." The sales lady asked if he kept bees or just liked the shirt. I laughed and said he was a hobby bee keeper...if you can consider 30 hives a hobby. John cut in and said "No, no. Six hives is a hobby. Thirty hives is a helluv a lot of work!"
So we spent most of our time in the entomology building, looking at specimens of all the native bees and bark beetles (John also talked to a graduate student about these critters since he's a certified logger and has to deal with the pines these bugs destroy). I had no idea how many types of local bees there are around here.

Here's John talking to all the entomologists about his bees while Dave looks bored:
We also looked at the nifty glass beehive on display and did some honey tasting. There was one flavor collected from a hive that harvested its pollen exclusively from a redwood forest. It was strange how it tasted exactly like you'd expect--earthy like a forest. Our favorites were orange blossom and raspberry vine.

Then we headed over to the IM sports field to get a snow cone and watch the frisbee dogs (Ruby and Potatoes were better than some of the dogs there...) and see some of the sheepherding trials. ALL of the dogs in the herding trials were border collies (!!) and they were so beautiful. We talked to the announcer lady for a while and got to pet her Potatoes-look-alike named Jigs. She told us that she's worked for several counties' animal control offices; she and her dogs are dispatched regularly to move livestock off of lands during the summer fires--it is unsafe for the firemen in their big trucks and bulldozers to travel through the thick smoke when there could be huge animals like cows wandering around. I'd never really thought of utilizing a herding dog for the purpose but it totally makes sense.

We took the bus home because it was super hot--nearly 85 degrees--and I really didn't want to walk. John hadn't been on a bus, he said, since he was drafted into the Army about 40 years ago.
You can't read my shirt, but it says CARBON SEQUESTRATION EXPERIMENT on the belly. I'll take a proper picture later. =)

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Rose is a Rose

When we first bought our house in March of 2007, the right side of our house (now the "utility yard") was completely open and covered in grass. The ground was lumpy and the drainage was terrible (the previous owners were really cheap and never installed gutters on that side of the house).

We decided to build a fence that summer. Here you can see the beginnings of our fence post installation and the two honeysuckle vines I'd planted on the park fence. I love seeing old pictures like this because those vines are SO BIG now!
The first generation of our fence was done using old boards we found behind my dad's barn. He said they had previously been on two other fences. They were super ratty and often split when we nailed them, but overall they did the job just fine:
Later we found better used redwood lumber up in Gualala in John's burn pile. These boards had been part of the decks at the hotel downtown. Dave ripped the boards lengthwise so we could use them as fencing. It looks so much better now, even though you can tell they are used. I kind of like it that way, because then it doesn't look so out-of-place right next to our other old fencing. Notice the hole my darling Potatoes made while escaping from the yard last summer...
Last spring we bought some climbing roses from Costco, two pinks and two yellows. When I planted them they were hardly more than sticks. I was super excited when they showed signs of life (it meant I hadn't killed them!) and even more excited when they started growing. My goal is to have beautiful, flower-covered vines over the gates and some of the fences.

Here's a rose from last year:
And now look at them! This pink one really took off last summer and didn't bloom at all. Its energy went to growth, not blooms. It is rewarding us big-time this year. I think it looks so pretty.

From inside the yard, complimented by those sexy new gravel paths:

From the driveway:
I can't wait until the yellow one on the other side of the gate catches up and begins climbing over the gate, too. Climbing roses will bloom if their branches are allowed to go horizontal. So my goal for this spring is to keep tying the yellow rose branches onto the fence to keep them vertical so they'll climb instead of bloom.

It is supposed to reach the 90s over the next few days, which my plants will love, but my body will not. I've always loved the heat but this fetus is making me uncomfortable even in 75 degree weather. I hate to think how I'll feel when Davis reaches midsummer temperatures that are a good 30 degrees hotter than that. Whew...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Five Months

Today marks the beginning of my fifth month of pregnancy. much to do in four short months!

I just had to take a screen shot of my baby widget from the blog today since it is just so funny. The size of the baby and its position changes a little each week but this week is by far the funniest yet:
I read in my What to Expect When You're Expecting Book that my baby will double its weight in the next month (wow) and that I can expect to gain about a pound a week from here on out (holy crap). much weight to gain in four short months!

I've already gained about 20 pounds and I can't imagine gaining another 18-20 pounds. My mother-in-law pointed out that it is good that I have a long waist and short legs--it will help keep my center of mass low to the ground. She said, "aren't you glad you aren't tall with long legs? Just imagine how hard it would be to walk when your belly gets much bigger. You'd fall over!" That totally made me laugh.

I've always hated my long waist because it is hard to find shirts that cover my stomach. Luckily the fashion world has moved past those annoying "baby tees" that we popular in the mid 1990s and now favors long shirts with longer undershirts for layering. I just wish that the panels on the Old Navy maternity pants were longer/taller so they'd sit above my belly instead of grasping to the top of my bump. Oh well, at least I only have to wear this style of pants for a few more months. Once it gets hot I'll just live in my gaucho pants (Allison was kind enough to send several pairs back here with Edward so I have a good supply of them).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Weekend 2009

Happy Easter everyone! FYI: I left our camera in Davis so the pictures in this post were taken on Dave's phone. Sorry about the crappy quality.

Every Easter for the last several years my dad and I have either done some gardening or gone to our cabin, AKA the Farside Ranch. This year, instead of gardening with my own dad, I went up to Gualala to spend the weekend with Dave and my in-laws and do some gardening up there. Since Dave had to work both Friday and Monday this past week, I figured he wouldn't want to drive all the way down to Davis for only 2 days. (Not that I really want to drive all the way up the coast for only 2 days, but then again I don't have to make that drive every single week like he does.) Plus we knew the weather would be perfect for planting our summer garden and I wanted to hang out with Peggy and John.

On Friday I went to the hardware store and picked up:
  • 15 tomato plants (Ace, Brandywine, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, German Green Stripe, and Roma)
  • 2 winter squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 4 pickling cucumbers (for more of those bread and butter pickles, which turn out to be scrumptious, even to a pickle-hater like me)
  • 1 "Nacho" hot pepper
  • 2 orange bell peppers
  • 1 lemon cucumber
I also went to the public library and borrowed 2 books on CD. I listened to Memoirs of a Geisha on the way up here (and enjoyed it) and will listen to Baby Proof on the way back down tonight. Dave is going to listen to Memoirs when he comes back to Davis this coming weekend.

On Saturday morning it was sort of windy but warm outside. I rototilled the garden twice (yes, while 5 months pregnant!) while Dave and John worked on the berry vines. After lunch Dave and I dug out ten garden beds and set up the irrigation, complete with special irrigators for the tomatoes, which need deep soakings. By the time we got inside on Saturday night we were both exhausted and it felt great to have been outside all day. We fried up the last of the ocean rock fish Dave caught last summer and ate it with "green pasta" (which is what Dave calls pesto). We also made some dilly tartar sauce for the fish.

To use up the breading from the fish, I decided to make hushpuppies. To do this, I mixed the egg wash with the rest of the seasoned flour (this time was with salt, chili powder, and garlic powder--it makes the fish taste that much better), a little shake of baking soda, and a splash of milk. Normally I add some cornmeal to give them texture, but Peggy was fresh out. Dave fried up the little balls of dough until they were nice and brown. They weren't done inside yet, but we were to hungry to wait. So we just popped them into a 350F oven for about 15 minutes. They came out drier than usual so next time I'll add more liquid or some oil. Still, they were super yummy.

Fried fish and green pasta probably ranks as Dave and John's all time favorite dinner. (John's is probably fried abalone, actually. I love both.)

Then on Sunday (today), Dave and I did a leak check on the irrigation and then started planting our tomatoes. Right after we finished the tomatoes and the squash plants I commented on how loud the bees were getting. Suddenly, we both realized that there was a swarm! John had said that morning that it was "perfect swarm weather--not too windy but nice and warm." Sure enough there was a swarm forming about 200 feet from our garden, from one of the hives in the middle of John's hive community (he probably has about 25-30 hives each summer).
I stayed in the garden to watch where the swarm would go (usually they gather into a tree nearby but sometimes they'll fly away) while Dave ran to get his mom, who jumped in the car and got John. What an ordeal, I know. But a new hive's worth of bees from a breeder can cost well over a hundred dollars so it is worth it to catch the swarms and force them into a new hive.

After about 40 minutes the bees congregated on the back windbreak fence behind the hives. John set an empty hive box out there and swept some of the bees into it, hoping the rest would soon follow.

Once that was settled, Dave and I finished planting the garden by sowing the seeds:
  • a row of green zucchini,
  • a row of yellow zucchini squash
  • a half row of dill (the rest of the row is for peppers)
  • a row of Swiss chard
  • a row of sugar snap peas
  • a half row of red potatoes that Peggy discovered were sprouting in the we just planted them

After lunch we took the dogs (Poppy, John's dog, came along) to the river for some swimming.
Dave andI donned our fancy new waders that I got him for his birthday. He said he always wanted some for romping in the river when it was too cold to I surprised him with a pair for each of us from Cabela's. (Getting myself a pair might seem a little selfish but giving him a pair wouldn't allow us to go out to the river together. So his present was really a present for me, too. I guess there are just some presents like that. In fact, Dave's Valentine's Day present from me this year was a new computer video game--I got two copies and gave one to Edward so they can play together on the weekends. Without two copies the gift wouldn't have been nearly so fun for Dave since he likes those games most when he can play with Edward.)
We looked like total dorks but it was so much fun to walk around in the freezing cold water. Do you know how tiring it is to walk through water for a hour? Whew, I'm beat. As usual, we spent most of the time at the river commenting on how cute the doggies are while swimming--Ruby snorts while she swims and Potatoes splashes a lot--and collecting rocks. I found a reddish heart-shaped rock for Dave this time. We spent a lot of time walking into really deep water and sitting in the middle of the river just because we could. It was so much fun.

So now we're relaxing before our dinner reservations. Next weekend I'll prepare a proper Easter dinner of ham and all the Southern sidedishes we like with it (stewed greens, blackeyed peas, hot cross buns, sweet potatoes, etc.).

Well, we're off to dinner now. I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend with their loved ones!