Additions to the Rumtopf: A boozy work in progress

About a month ago, my friend DB and I followed in our non-existent German ancestors’ footsteps and began making rumtopf. We each have our own crock, full (so far) of rum, strawberries, blueberries and nectarines.

I added some more goodies — fresh local blackberries and Bing cherries — to my crock this weekend. While I was in there, I tasted some of the liquid, rum with sugar and fruit juices. It is so amazingly good, I can’t even believe it.

In fact I’m tempted to start another batch now, because as soon as December hits I am going to plow through this one.

Blackberries and cherries macerated in sugar

Rumtopf crock brimming with goodness!

Want to start your own crock of boozy fruit? Check out the first post to see how!

A Girl and Her Lentil & Chickpea Salad

I’ve mentioned a few times that my husband is a chef. While this does mean that I eat very well, it also means that I am constantly pleading with him to stop buying cookbooks. We had to buy a huge IKEA bookshelf unit a month ago and it was immediately filled with all of the cookbooks that he had been storing hoarding at work. Since I keep trying to make him stop buying more, he has slyly found a way to work around that. He now buys them as “gifts” for me.

This is why I got a copy of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook for Christmas  — which, yes, I admit, is fantastically fun. This is also why, when in passing I mentioned a blog post I had read regarding chef April Bloomfield, her cookbook A Girl and Her Pig showed up on our doorstep a week later.

I don’t even know why I was surprised.

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On Rum and Friendship…

People have many different ways of defining friendship. Just look around on Pinterest if you don’t believe me — you’ll find a ton of various posts about how to determine if someone qualifies to be a best friend or not. One of my favorites is “A friend will help you move. A best friend will help you move a body.” While I haven’t — and hopefully won’t — ever need to move a body, I still appreciate the sentiment.

After this weekend, I have developed my own definition, more tailored to my own life. “A friend will let you come over and pick a few pounds of strawberries out of his garden. A very good friend will give you rum to soak them in.”

And my friend DB is a very good friend indeed.

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Cobb Salad 2.0 with seared quail breasts & Benton’s bacon

 

This dish came as a refreshing surprise considering the day I’d had leading up to it. I made this last week, on a Monday night, while our kitchen was in the midst of some serious home improvement. It started when our faucet went tits up. Basically the people who owned our house prior to us put in the cheapest possible equipment and the kitchen faucet was hanging on by a thread. This lead to us spending a day roaming around Home Depot, overwhelmed by the massive amounts of options available.

Which then lead to us getting a brand new sink, which lead to the whole kitchen being in complete disarray when dinner time rolled around. There were wrenches and silicone sealing stuff everywhere and, oh god, even a circular saw. I had these lovely quail breasts thawed and ready to be cooked, but my motivation level was at a steady decline as I surveyed the mess around me. It was a serious toss-up on whether I was going to cook or if we were ordering pizza. The pizza was looking like a front-runner, but somehow I resisted its siren call.

And when I managed to whip up this dinner about thirty minutes later, I damn near felt like a miracle worker.

But I can’t take all the credit because I had some amazing ingredients to work with. The first of which was some Benton’s bacon, a gift from my dear friend DB’s parents. They had come into town a month or so ago and I took them to my husband’s restaurant where he showered us with amazing, delicious treats. As a totally unnecessary (but truly awesome!!) thank you, they sent us the gift that keeps on giving — the gift of bacon. If you haven’t had Benton’s bacon yet, you are missing out. I would suggest you immediately click here and order some for yourself. Be prepared to be wait-listed, this stuff is in serious demand, but the four-week delay will be well worth it.

Quail Breasts — bone out, skin on

I also had some Manchester Farms quail breasts. This is a South Carolina-based company that I buy from every week at my job — though we tend to buy mainly whole or semi-boned quail. The breasts were an item we had ordered a few months ago to run as a special and I snatched up a few packs to stash away in my freezer. They cook quickly, are easy to eat (no teeny tiny bones to nibble around) and are way more fun than chicken. If you haven’t eaten quail before, you really should give it a try. Quail has a flavor almost like a cross between chicken and duck, and it’s extremely versatile — I’ve had it grilled, chicken-fried and, most recently, in a preserved plum sauce.

Next, from the depths of my fridge, I brought out hard-boiled eggs, goat cheese, butter lettuce, tomatoes and a few random veggies. I started by tossing some cauliflower and brussels sprouts in olive oil and roasting them in the oven. I looked at the rest of my ingredients and thought — hmmm…Cobb salad!

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Adventures in Dim Sum: Project Bean Curd Rolls

I love dim sum. I know I’ve mentioned that before in my posts about making Chinese dumplings and scallion pancakes. I love dim sum to the point where I bring my own Tupperware for my leftovers because I am serious about leaving no dumpling behind. I also tend to order as if I am eating with a very hungry army instead of with just one or two friends. I have also been known to hide the leftovers so my husband can’t find them. Please don’t judge me for that.

One of my all-time favorite must-eat items at dim sum are the bean curd or tofu skin rolls (also known as fu tse juan). The first time I tried them, I had no idea what they were made of, which is always a little nerve-wracking. There are so many things that can either be amazing or unfortunate at dim sum, and you really have to choose wisely. My experience eating congee with fermented eggs is not one I’d like to repeat.

But my friend Ariel, who is experienced at dim sum dining, gave me her word that I would like them. And I did…a lot. So much so that we immediately ordered another serving lest things come to blows over who got the third roll. (Why does food always have to come in threes when you’re part of a pair?)

First off, I should tell you a bit about these things in case you’re as confused as I admittedly was by the layman’s term “bean curd roll.” I originally thought these had bean curd in them and was so perplexed at why they tasted like mushrooms and pork instead of tofu. Luckily Ariel was there to explain that the wrapper is actually made of pressed tofu. It’s much easier to enjoy something when you know what it’s made of!

Now that I am also a dim sum regular, it’s hard to imagine that these glorious things could have caused me even one moment of anxiety.

Ok, sure maybe they don’t look as appealing as perfectly crimped dumplings or as pert as little steamed shu mei, but trust me. These things are made of magic. My first line of evidence in this fact is that they are stuffed primarily with mushrooms — an ingredient I usually despise. And yet, I can down an almost embarrassing number of them.

Anyways, the concept of these rolls intrigued me and I think I spent oh, about a year, gawking at recipes online, dreaming about making my own. In all my searching, this recipe is the best one I found (and I love the blog in general), so it was the one I used when I finally got around to making them.

Bean curd skins

Which was last weekend — hooray!

I invited my partner-in-crime DB to come over for a little dim sum extravaganza. First we went shopping for the tofu skins and after scouring H-Mart, we finally found them in the freezer aisle. Be warned — these suckers are huge. I mean, really, look at these things!

That mission accomplished, we moved on to the rest of the ingredients. One of the best things about this dish is that it’s pretty simplistic. Pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, bean curd. The writer of the recipe didn’t clarify what type of pork to use, so I figured one pound of pork tenderloin would be a good choice. Next we grabbed an 8 oz can of bamboo shoots and some mushrooms. We decided to go light on the mushroom flavor so we just used shiitakes and none of the dried Chinese mushrooms. In hindsight, I think I’d maybe lessen the bamboo shoots a smidgen and add more mushrooms. I can’t even believe I wrote that — as a life-long dedicated mushroom hater, my parents would die if they heard me say that out loud!

Pork tenderloin, sliced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms

Anyways, slice the mushrooms, bamboo and the pork into strips. Mix some cornstarch, soy and wine in a small bowl with the meat and give it a good toss. Then sauté everything up together until the mushrooms are tender and the pork is just cooked through.

We also added generous squirts of my favorite chili oil, salt and pepper. Next time I might go against tradition and add in some garlic, ginger and maybe some chopped green onions just because. The flavors were good, but it was just a touch bland, though the chili oil helped perk things up tremendously.

Then it’s bean curd time. Cut the skins into strips — they will be a little brittle, so be gentle. Since mine were circular, we trimmed them into rectangles, as instructed in the recipe (though I really don’t know if that’s necessary in the long run). At any rate, each circle made four rolls. You want them fairly long because it’s as much about the wrapper as it is about the filling. Soak them for a second or two in hot water until they are pliable.

Now it’s on to wrapping! (More pictures of this process in the gallery below)

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Why use a bunny when you can just mail your Easter eggs?

Thanks to Pinterest, I stumbled upon a blog post not too long ago that blew my mind. It was about all of the stuff you can just drop in a post office box and (with the correct postage, of course) have delivered. Now I’m not talking about large envelopes or small boxes, I’m talking about stuff like 2-liter bottles, soccer balls, flip-flops and…Easter eggs! As long as it weighs less than 13 ounces and isn’t breakable, it’s okay to mail.

I was stunned. And counting down the weeks until I got an opportunity to send some candy-filled Easter eggs to my nieces and nephews. I could just imagine my brother’s befuddlement at finding a stash of Easter eggs mixed in with the bills.

I decided to do a test-run just in case, so a few weeks ago I sent a surprise gift to my friend DB. It was actually a late party favor from my birthday — a little goodie bag with some honey candies and cookies that I had forgotten to give him before he left that night. However, I knew the cookies wouldn’t make it safely without a protective shell. Luckily a co-worker offered up a plastic quart container she had.

I printed out an address label and using our postage scale at work was even able to determine the exact amount of postage necessary. Then I taped that sucker to hell and back and threw it in the mail box outside of my office. Two days later I got a text that just said, “You are one crazy lady.” That’s the sound of success!

Since then I have been impatiently waiting for Easter to get close enough so I could mail out my eggs. I decided that two weeks prior was an acceptable time frame so I bought all my supplies last weekend and got to work…

Ready to roll…And yes that is a Bloody Mary. I drink while I craft.

I have five nieces and nephews (all in the same house) so I figured I had better send an emergency egg just in case one didn’t make it. Better safe than sorry. Once the eggs were stuffed with candy (a combination of Robin’s Eggs, Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs and Spring Skittles), I shoved in as much Easter grass as I could before sealing them up.

As a disclaimer — these eggs were far from sturdy. In fact, just closing them, I could tell they were in dire need of some serious reenforcement. So I used packing tape a few times over the seal and then covered that with some cute patterned adhesive tape I found at Joann’s. They turned out pretty adorable — and hopefully pretty durable.

The next day at work I printed off some address labels. I figured since the post office employees would already hate me enough for throwing Easter eggs in the mail box, I could at least make the addresses legible. I also added some adorable stickers just because. Then I used our handy dandy electronic postage scale and weighed them. Each egg was $.84 to mail, which is reasonable. Once the eggs were labeled with postage, I wished them luck and safe journeys and plopped them in the big blue mail box on the corner.

I spent much of my day reassuring my colleagues that you can indeed mail eggs, no box required, but a hint of uncertainly began to nag at me. What if the eggs didn’t even make it outside of the Portland post office? What if they break in transit?

* Click to read the update!