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This weekend we were able to use up one of last year’s Christmas presents, gift certificates to a cooking class at The Chef’s Academy. The topic this week was International Vegetarian Cuisine, right up our alley!
We had a lot of fun in the class, especially having free roam of a big commercial style kitchen. We gained lots of helpful hints on saffron, custard, polenta, kale, naan, and more. The best part was that we got to enjoy the spoils of our efforts at the end of the class (and even had leftovers to take home).

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Last weekend we drove up to farm country to cook with my family. We had been wanting to try Baked and/or Bombe Alaska, and developed a state-themed menu to work around it. We had homemade Hawaiian bread with spinach dip (the bread recipe wasn’t quite right), Indiana Cole Slaw, Minnesota Wild Rice Soup, a Colorado Sky cocktail, and the Bombe Alaska.

Lighting food on fire is almost always fun.

Caution: The fire was lit by a former Green Beret, and we had a volunteer firefighter-in-training on hand. Please use extreme caution when following your pyromaniac dreams.
The dessert was delicious. Plus, a 350 degree oven and several seconds of blue-hot flames couldn’t melt the ice cream. How fun!

And, you can’t leave town without a hearty rendition of My Heart Will Go On………

~Alex

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We did it!  We can now officially be considered hippies. We made our own cheese!  (Though hippies probably don’t blog about their accomplishments…)
We had toyed with the idea before, but I was inspired anew while reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on the plane home from Seattle (which I highly recommend, even at half-way through).

Aside from a gallon of milk, the only ingredients needed to create your own cheese are citric acid and rennet. Barbara recommends getting supplies from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, which I’m sure is a wonderful resource. However, when we stumbled upon them both while shopping at the Good Earth last weekend, we took it as a sign. (The idea of buying a pre-assembled starter kit didn’t seem rogue enough for us.)
The idea is simple: slowly heat up the milk, add the citric acid and rennet, wait for the curd to form, and remove it and squish it into a big ball. Easy, right?

Well, our first attempt didn’t go so well. It turned out like this:

Poor Alex had to undergo my customary reaction to all cooking experiments gone bad - “I’m never cooking again!” I was pretty depressed.
But not depressed enough to keep us from trying it again the next day. We refused to be bested by the “easy” 30-minute mozzarella that consumed at least 3 hours of our previous night.
Making a few adjustments based on some quick internet research, we immerged from the process successful (and with a lot less mess)!

The end product was quite tasty as well!  We’re now inspired to keep experimenting with our technique, as well as try new types of cheese.

And since it’s all clear in the city code, I’m thinking a pet goat might be in our future…
~Sonja
For those interested, I’ve included a summary of the recipe below, along with some tips for avoiding our traumatic first-time experience. We followed the 30-minute mozzarella recipe recipe from Animal, Vegetable Miracle.
Step 1: Pour 1 gallon milk (any kind, just not ultra pasteurized) into a stainless pot. Put in a food thermometer and start heating gradually over low even heat.
Step 2: At 55°F, stir in a mixture of 1 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water.
Step 3: At 88°F, stir in a mixture of 1/4 tsp rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water.

Tip: Make sure to only stir once or twice at this point. Then just walk away – no more stirring!
Step 4: Wait until all the curd has pulled away from the sides of the pot and collected in a mass, and the whey around it is clear. This should happen around 100°F to 105°F.
Tip: This is where we made our fatal mistake the first time. Wait until the whey is completely clear and the curds are basically all congealed together. Our thermometer appeared to get stuck at around 95°F the second time around, so I would worry more about the look and less about the actual temperature.
Step 5: Spoon the curds out of the pot in batches into a microwave safe bowl, and squeeze the curds to remove much whey as possible (very important!).
Tip: Do whatever you can to get the whey out. I think this was another major problem in our first attempt; we mixed too much of the whey with the curds, so they never congealed into a solid ball in the next step.
Step 6: Wearing rubber gloves, begin the heating and kneading process:
  • Heat the curds in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Press the cheese to remove more whey.
  • Repeat about two more times, heating for about 35 seconds and then kneading again to remove whey.
  • Add salt to taste, and continue kneading a bit to the desired texture.
Enjoy!!

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This past weekend we had  - count ‘em - TWO perfectly cooked vegetarian meals from some of our friends. On Friday night, Ryan and Emily made us a meal of tofu stir-fry, bread-n-olive oil, and a salad with homemade candied walnuts. The food, music, views, and conversation were delightful, but we sadly forgot our camera to document it…
Saturday night featured the 10th Smiley-Overhiser out-do-the-other meal. Lynne and Kirk threaded the courses together by using their own garden produce in each one. Read all about it here.
It has been fun to see our culinary (and photography) skills being challenged and improved over the 14 month history of this wonderful dinner rivalry. Here are a few of the past meals: Italian, Cajun, French, Spanish, and Veggie.

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After two (mostly) sunny days in the city, we were ready to experience that cute “outdoorsyness” that inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest are famous for. We told Lisa and Evan that we were up for a semi-vigorous mountain hike, and that’s what we got. We walked 4 miles straight uphill, ascending almost 3400 feet from our sweet rental car.

Lisa is quite enchanted with the pixel-y evergreens gracing the slopes of these mountains. The air was cool, moist, and refreshing; although these old lungs (and calves) could barely get enough of it…

My favorite part of the hike was the bounty of wild blueberries spotting the path. Without these guys to sweeten up my life, I’m not sure I would’ve made it to the summit. We even managed to bring back a bottle full to the city with us.

The view from the top was grand. We stood there for a moment, amidst the quickly moving clouds, taking in the sights of far-away peaks, lakes, and roads. Of course, we only stood there for a moment before devouring a backpack full of bread, cheese, and protein bars…

We were a bit more leisurely on the way back down, enjoying all of the sights that the we had missed during the oxygen deprived ascent.

And finally, the view from behind of our favorite outdoorsy Seattlites, which was all I was able to see during the hike. Those damn kids are just in too good of shape for me!

And Sunday we enjoyed a blueberry cobbler, the recipe from an old church cookbook that magically arrived in the mail…

And if that wasn’t enough pictures for you, see ‘em all here.

~Alex

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Fortunately my sister is equally or more interested in the art of appreciating food as we are, so she made a fitting food guide for our 4-day weekend.
Seattle has this institution called Happy Hour, where restaurants (many of them independent) offer a few selections on their menu at a fraction of the price for a few hours each day. This allows those who otherwise wouldn’t to sample their cuisine (such as recent college grads).

We took full advantage of Happy Hour, first at Maximilien, a French restaurant with the enticing offer of eight appetizers for $20. At that price, they could definitely slack on a few of the choices, but they were all excellent! 

Not to mention that we munched on our mussels and pommes frites while overlooking a beautiful view of Elliott Bay, to the sound of live French vocals and accordion.

Another venture took us two steps out the door of my sister’s apartment to Txori, a traditional Basque tapas bar. We enjoyed pintxos, various items perched on tiny pieces of bread. The hands down favorite was this deceptively unappetizing-looking item (squid in its own ink), which was prepared perfectly. My two bites were heaven.

We enjoyed the pintxos, though we were a bit disappointed by their diminutive size (apparently they are not designed to be shared like normal tapas). Not to worry, we later filled the empty space in our stomachs, and were inspired to create our own traditional pintxo that was just as delicious.

~Sonja

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We’re back in action after a vacation to Seattle to visit my sister. We used it as an excuse to experiment with our camera and take advantage of the culinary delights of the Northwest, as well as have all sorts of fun with my sister and her BF!

Pike’s Place Market
Seattle is a beautiful city, full of imaginative architecture,
 Space Needle and Experience Music Project
intriguing visual art,
 Olympic Sculpture Park
beautiful vistas,
 View from Elliott Bay

lush surroundings,
 Hiking on Mount Washington
and interesting inhabitants.

Check out our full album for more photos.
More posts to come!
~Sonja