"Take me home country roads..."

I am in Appalachia now. And as GG pointed out from my last blog, WV is not part of the Midwest. I have spent a lot of time explaining that WV is not part of the Midwest and no, I do not know anyone in Richmond, because I am not from Virgina or western Virginia I am from the separate STATE of West Virginia.

Phew. That always gets me riled up. I am not sure why I used Midwest instead of Appalachia...other than my subconscious wanting to ascribe a bad experience to the Midwest instead of Appalachia.

Anyway, I am back home in the WV right now. 30 points to the first person to name the artist and song title this posts title is from.

I forgot my computer charger so posts will be few and far between...but I will be back with you next week.

Take care everyone.

Casser-ol-me-o -OR- Summer squash and carrot casserole

Oh my. Do I love to make and eat casseroles. I seriously get pleasure out of making anything that goes into a baking dish.

I think one of the reasons I like casseroles so much is because they fall into the same category of soups and stir-fry's. You know, the "everything but the kitchen sink, I don't need no recipe" type of cooking.

I don't know if most of you think casseroles fall into this category or not, but they easily can. You just need to know the basics. Or at least what I consider to be the basics. Well, what I consider to be the basics for a vegetable based casserole!

First, survey the fridge for vegetables. I always start by sauteing an onion and few cloves of garlic. Once the onions have softened I add 3-4 cups of other vegetables and cook for a few more minutes. Anything will work really, squash, mushrooms, carrots (grated), peppers. You name it, you can put it in.

Next you just need to make sure you have some sort glue to hold it all together. I typically choose eggs and cheese. In general, I use one scrambled egg, a quarter to half cup of ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, or mashed up tofu and a half to full cup of shredded cheese. Mix all these together then add in your sauteed veggies.

The last must-have for a casserole (at least in my world) are bread crumbs. Look around on the Internet and people put in everything from wonder white bread slices to rye bread to week old baguettes. Okay, so maybe I am the only one who uses week old, rock hard baguettes. If you are using bread that is rock hard just cut it up into large chunks and soak it in some water, then squeeze out the excess water, and tear it up into small bits. No matter what type of bread crumbs you use, you want to use about a cup of them, and to mix it into the bowl with the glue and veggies.

Next you just press this whole mess into a greased baking dish (what size really just depends on how much you made). The finishing touches for me include about a quarter cup of shredded cheese on top and more bread or cracker crumbs (not so sure the water logged bread crumbs would work here.

Throw it all in the oven at 400 degrees F for about an hour, or until it starts to turn brown along all the edge and the top.

So there you go. You too can now be a casserole making fool!

Oh, you still want a recipe you say because this is like supposed to be a food blog you say?

I would be happy to oblige you dear readers. Coincidentally, I just happened to make a pretty darn good casserole last night.

Summer Squash and Carrot Casserole
serves 4

This recipe is really basic, like most casseroles. It is a really good way to use up all that squash some of you seem to be complaining about. And it tastes darn good. I don't include any salt in this recipe because I think the cheeses are plenty salty on their own.

1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 zucchini or yellow squash, quartered and diced
3 carrots, grated
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 egg, scrambled
1/4 c. cottage cheese
1 c. cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 of a baguette, torn or cut into small pieces
1/4 c. Parmesan, grated (optional)
6 crackers (optional)
butter or oil to grease the baking dish

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9x9 inch baking dish with butter or olive oil.

Saute the onion and garlic in the tablespoon of butter or olive oil for a few minutes, until they just start to turn translucent. Then add the pepper and cumin and cook for another minute. Then add in the squash and carrots and cook for about another five minutes, remove it from the heat, and allow it to cool for a couple of minutes.

While your vegetables are sauteing scramble the egg and the cottage cheese together in a large bowl. Once your vegetable mixture has cooled a bit add it to the bowl and stir it until the egg and cheese mixture covers everything. Then add in your bread crumbs and shredded cheese and stir it again.

Pour the whole thing into a casserole dish and even out the top with a spoon. Then sprinkle the Parmesan and crackers (crushed by hand) over the top.

Place it in the oven and bake it for about an hour, until the top and sides are brown.

It turns out I am getting old

I missed my 10 year high school reunion this past weekend. I totally would have gone if it had been in the vicinity of where I live now, but it wasn't. People keep looking at me incredulously when I tell them I missed it. However, while I know I would have had a good time, I don't feel like I missed out on too much.

I had a great time in high school. I get very nostalgic when I think of it. I just didn't feel the need to spend lots of money to go back for it. Hard to explain, I guess.

Instead of going to the reunion, I went to a Mariners/Yankees game. I had forgotten that Nick Swisher played Right Field for the Yankees. He and I graduated in the same class from my small-town high school. I took advantage of the situation and probably said one too many times "Yah, Nick and I both had to miss the reunion so we could be at this game. HAHAHAHA."

The only problem with incessantly broadcasting this close association with Swisher to those around me was that we were in row two right behind where the Yankees came in and out of the dugout. Therefore, people kept asking me why I didn't say hi. Or why he didn't say hi. Responding with "Uhhh, yeah...we didn't like know each other, " seriously took away the cool factor I had created for myself for "knowing" Swisher back in the day.

To add insult to injury the girl sitting right in front of us had someone on the Yankee team throw her a ball. We all looked at her like WTF? She turned around shrugged her shoulders and said "I went to high school with him." I kid you not. Everyone, looked at me like "How come Swisher isn't throwing you balls!?!?!" Thanks a lot nerdy past self for not knowing Swisher and ruining my own personal high school reunion celebrations!

Anyway, I have been unpacking a bit and came across all of my old journals that I kept from the time I was in third grade. I thought I would share my entry from my high school graduation. It was a really great day. I can still remember the feeling of total excitement, hope, and nervousness all rolled into one.


Dear Diary,

Well, I will start with graduation. During the ceremony all I could think about was how I wanted to bottle every emotion, every thought, every moment to open it up and remember it always.

It was probably one of, no, the only time that all 478 of us were equals. No one was better than anyone else, no one felt inferior. All 478 of us in our funny hats and robes were one. We were united to celebrate together.

In a way I sort of felt like I was in the movie "Can't Hardly Wait." We were wearing sunglasses against instruction. Someone passed around a program with had a cartoon on it about us getting stoned after wards. We tossed around beach balls, one of which was an inflatable penis.

There were some bad speeches, some good ones, and a great one - Emily. She did a kick ass job. It definitely felt good to have one of my best friends in the world up there speaking.

I have so much more to say, but I'm falling asleep so I will leave you with this:

"It's something unpredictable but in the end it's right, I hope you had the time of your life."*

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end"

"Time for you to go out to the places you will be from."

* 13 points each to the person who can list the correct artist and song these quotes come from.

Once you have already made the mess -or- Lemon cake with lemon curd and blueberry filling

There have been a lot of birthdays this week. And we all know what that means...your parents sure did know how to pass the time in the cold winter months!

At school we exchange birthdays so everyone is responsible for bringing treats for us all once a year. This week it was my turn. I had already made a huge mess in the kitchen the night before while making the cake and dinner for Mr. Man's birthday, so I figured it was the perfect time to bake something else. I mean, once the kitchen is dirty, there really isn't any excuse NOT to bake.

Plus, Seattle has pooped out on the summer's grand finale most people get and it has been raining. So, baking in 100 degree heat is not an excuse either.

I have been wanting to make this cake from an old Martha Steward Living magazine. It is in a big binder of recipes that I painstaking cut out of old cooking magazines, pasted together in traditional cooking categories, slipped into plastic coverings, and put into a three ring binder.

It took a lot of time and a lot of wine. Uhhh....yeah, that is how I deal with breakups. Projects combined with a little alcohol therapy thankyouverymuch. Anyway, it is full of recipes and this is one of them. It was worth the work and the wait.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and Blueberries
adapted from Martha Stewart Living
serves 10 (supposedly)

This cake requires a bit of extra work than your traditional cake. The extra work results in a very fluffy cake that is light and airy and perfect for a warm summer day. If you don't have the time you can substitute any white cake and just make the lemon curd. You can also make the a day in advance. Martha calls for canola oil but, I didn't have any. I used melted butter in place of the oil and it worked fine. Just make sure you add it last so it doesn't have time to solidify. In addition, make sure your eggs are room temperature. There is no way they will whip up into stiff peaks unless they are. It isn't the end of the world for this recipe, but your cake won't be as light and fluffy.

For the cake:
1 1/2 c. cake flour plus more for dusting
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 c. milk (skim, whole, whatever)
1/3 c. melted unsalted butter or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, whites separated from yolks
1 tsp. lemon juice
zest from half a lemon
1 Tbs. confectioners sugar
butter for coating pans

For the lemon curd:
The yolks from the above four eggs
zest of half a lemon
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. water

1 1/3 cups blueberries (about a pint), lightly crushed by hand

For the cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coat two round pans (8-9 inch round) in butter. Then lightly dust the pans with flour and set them aside.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. I like to do this with a wire whisk.

In a separate bowl whisk together a quarter cup of the sugar, the milk, the vanilla, 1 tsp. lemon juice, zest from half a lemon, and the oil and set aside. If you are using butter just whisk together all the other ingredients and wait to melt and add the butter until after you have completed the next step.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl on medium-high speed until they are foamy. Then begin to slowly add the rest of the sugar (quarter cup plus 2 Tbs.) and continue to beat the mixture until it is able to form stiff peaks when you lift the beaters out.

If you are using butter go ahead and melt it and stir it in. Then add about half of the flour mixture to the milk/butter mixture and whisk it until it is smooth. Then slowly fold in the rest of the flour and egg whites alternating between the two.

Split the batter between the two pans and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Let the pans cook on a wire rack for about 10 minutes and then turn the cakes out onto the rack and let them cool completely.

For the curd:

Put the egg yolks into a heat proof bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan whisk together the lemon zest from half a lemon, sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, and lemon juice until the sugar and cornstarch have dissolved.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook for two minutes then reduce the heat to a low-medium setting.

Gradually mix about a third of the lemon mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks. You want to do this slowly so that they eggs won't cook. Then pour the entire egg yolk mixture back into the pan, return it to the heat and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, while whisking constantly.

Once it is thick, remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, pour it into a bowl, and cover it with saran wrap immediately. Allow the curd to cool for at least an hour.

To assemble:

Stir the hand crushed blueberries into the chilled lemon curd.

Cut each cake in half using a bread knife.

Assemble the cake on the plate you intend to serve it on by placing one piece on top of the other, putting about a third of the curd in between. Make sure you use a bottom half for the bottom and a top half for the top!

Once this is done put the confectioners sugar into a small wire mesh strainer. Lightly tap the sides as you move over the top of the cake to lightly dust it.

Happy 30th Birthday to Mr. Man -or- Chocolate Rum Cheesecake

"You only live once, so do it."

These are the only words written by Anna Thomas in
The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two to describe the chocolate rum cheesecake. They are also pretty good words for a 30th birthday. It is a milestone. A reminder to take life and live it. To do things that scare us. To do things that make us happy. To take risks for ourselves. To eat cheesecake. And this cheesecake is definitely the one you want to eat.

Yesterday was Mr. Man's 30th birthday. I know that when I turn 30 I am probably going to be a mess. Who am I kidding? I am mess every year I on my birthday. I really do not enjoy getting older. I will soon be taking off to Never Never Land for people in their 20's. Whoops, this isn't supposed to be about me.

What I was getting at is that Mr. Man seems to be handling it pretty well. And so, even though it is a day later, I want to wish him happy birthday again and let him know how much I love him. Thank you for being a part of my life.

You can all now go vomit after that display of gushy emotion. I'll give you a moment and meet you right back here.

Mamacita has been making this cheescake for special occasions for quite some time now. The recipe below reflects her changes over the years to the original. It is quite good. So dream up some reason to make it. You only live once, you know.

Chocolate Rum Cheesecake
adapted from Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
serves 12-14

I like to really taste the rum, so I use more than Anna Thomas calls for. I use a half cup. Use less if you don't really like to taste the alcohol. Or if you are using really good quality highly flavorful rum, you might want to use less than half a cup too. Oh, who am I kidding? If you have really good rum laying around you probably want to taste it. Use the half cup. Take a risk.

1 1/2 packages graham crackers (about 15), crushed
1/4-1/2 c. almonds, pecans, or walnuts, finely ground or chopped (optional, but if you don't include them, reduce the butter)
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 c. plus 3 Tbs. sugar
1.2 c. plus 2 Tbs. butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese (3 packages), softened to room temperature
3 eggs
1/2 lbs. semi-sweet chocolate
3 Tbs. heavy cream
2 c. sour cream
1/4-1/2 c. dark rum
3/4 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
1 c. confectioners' sugar
1 c. fresh fruit such as strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Mash the graham cracker by hand (using a potato masher) or give them a quick whirl in your food processor until most of the crackers are a fine dust. Grind the almonds or other nut in a coffee grinder and then mix them in with the graham crackers in a medium sized bowl. Add in 3 Tbs. of sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg and mix well. Then add in the butter and mix it together with your hands. Once it is well blended press it lightly into the bottom of a cheese cake pan and set it aside.

Put the cream cheese into a large bowl and beat it with an electric mixer until it is fluffy. Then slowly add in the rest of the sugar, 2 c. and the three eggs. Continue to mix at a medium high speed until the mixture is smooth and no clumps of cream cheese remain. Set this aside.

Put the chocolate into a small saucepan along with the heavy cream and heat it, while stirring continuously, over low heat. Once the chocolate has completely melted add it into the cream cheese mixture and beat it well. Them add the sour cream and beat again. Them add the rum, vanilla or almond extract, and cinnamon and give it one more whirl under the mixer for a few minutes.

Pour the entire thing into the cheesecake pan and bake it in the oven for 55 minutes to an hour.

While the cake bakes go ahead and mix the remaining cup of sour cream with the cup of confectioners sugar and set it aside (just not in the refrigerator). Also, go ahead and rinse your berries. Cut them in half, if you are using strawberries.

Once it is done, allow the cake to cool completely, either on the counter or in the refrigerator (if you are impatient like me). Once it is cool, carefully remove the sides of the pan.

You can easily remove any tough, over-cooked parts along the top outer edge (and eat them) and smooth the top so it is flat if you like. I didn't bother with the smoothing part. You will be adding the sour cream mixture over the top next anyway so that kind of evens it out for you.

Once you have the sour cream mixture spread over the top, but not the sides of the cake, go ahead and arrange your fruit on the top in any manner you see fit.

Enjoy. And don't feel guilty about it.

Experiment complete. Results indicate positive correlation between Mr. Man, Errin, and camping.

Phew! I am finally back from a camping trip sandwiched between two trips to California to conduct field work. I can finally breath. I am sorry I left all of you for so long. I missed you, did you miss me?

Oh, you didn't notice I was gone? Well, don't I feel sheepish for making such a big deal of that apology and assuming that you have been pining away for me for the last three weeks!

Seriously though, I have missed being on A Shared Mile and I have lots to tell you about.

As you know, when I last posted I mentioned a camping trip in Montana. Glacier National Park to be specific. I had no idea the magnitude of the beauty I was about to witness. It was breathtaking. Mountains, crystal clear lakes, flowers blooming everywhere, and most importantly, I did not get eaten by a bear.

We had a great time and Mr. Man camped for the most nights in a row consecutively and loved every minute of it (almost).

I wish that I had taken more pictures. There were so many flowers and views I wish I could share with you. Instead, you will just have to go there and see if for yourself. You can thank me later for the push to do it.

We had really good weather (especially compared to the heat wave the northwest got while we were gone) with the exception of the first night. When we arrived we rushed to the very first campground.

We knew the torrential downpour/thunderstorm we had just driven through was on its way. We had pretty much gotten the poles in the ground by the time the rain started to really get going. And by "get going" I mean it felt like someone had a shower head turned on to the "massage" setting.

We ran around trying to get the fly on tent and our bed inside with minimal wetness. Then we realized the tent was leaking faster than we could have bail it. So, we Magyvered the shit out of that thing and pulled the tarp out from underneath and strapped it down over the top of the tent and secured it with bungees, straps, and sticks. Yeah, we might have looked like we were in a homeless encampment, but we were relatively dry that night.

The rest of trip we spent taking a nine mile hike (note: the hiking guide lists the one way mileage, not round trip),

cooking delicious food over our camp stove by day and our fire by night (remind me to tell you about the burritos),

being visited by our neighbor, Deer

and hanging out by some of the most beautiful lakes ever.

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