Saturday, September 26, 2009

Salat Olivie, or Russian Potato Salad

Sorry for the radio silence, it's been a tough couple of days around here. The Pit got sick, and this necessitated me making chicken soup by the bucketful. That man sure loves his soup. Of course, he was feeling mostly better as of yesterday, and while the liquid portion of the soup was devoured to the last drop, I had some left-over boiled chicken that I needed to use up.

In any self-respecting Russian household (or even mine), one of the first thoughts when you have left-over chicken is to make Salat Olivie (or Salade Olivier, according to Wikipedia*). For the non-Russian speakers in the audience, Olivie is the Russian version of potato salad. As the Russians love their protein along with their potatoes, the salad typically includes a hefty portion of left-over meat and hard boiled eggs.

However, since I can't stand eggs in any recognizable form, the versions made in my mother's and grandmother's houses were always egg-free, and that is the recipe I'm going to share with you today. If you love eggs and want to add a diced hard boiled egg to the mix, be my guest.

What you'll need for 4-6 side-dish size portions:
  • 2 large potatoes, boiled and diced
  • 2 carrots, boiled and diced
  • 1-2 cups cooked chicken, diced**
  • 4-6 dill pickles, diced
  • 1/2 small white onion, diced
  • 1 can peas, drained
  • 2-3 heaping tablespoons mayo
  • several dashes of salt

1) Boil the potatoes and carrots in lightly salted water. The traditional method is to boil the veggies with skins on, and then to let them cool slightly and peel. I used to ignore this advice and peel everything first, but after doing a taste comparison, I realized that potatoes boiled in their own skins really did taste significantly better. However, I couldn't really detect a huge difference in the taste of the carrots, and those are horribly to difficult to peel when cooked, so I usually peel the carrots but not the potatoes. That does mean you can't cut the potatoes into quarters to speed cooking time, so if you're in a rush just peel everything, quarter, and toss in the pot. Remember that the carrots will be cooked before the potatoes regardless, and pull those out earlier.

2) While the potatoes and carrots are cooking, dice the chicken (if it's boiled, this actually ends up more like shredding), pickles, and onion, and mix them with the drained peas in a large bowl.

Note: I almost always use left-over boiled chicken from chicken soup for this dish, but there's no reason you can't use roasted, grilled, or even canned chicken. In fact, you don't need to use chicken at all...I'm super picky, so I like the chicken, but I've been to other Russian households where this recipe is made with ham, bologna, or sausage. You can also modify the amounts of the meat, pickles, onion, and peas for your particular tastes. As an example, we love pickles, so I always add extra, but The Pit hates canned peas, so when he's watching me make this, I only use about half a can. I'm also not a big fan of raw onion, so I either leave it out altogether, or only use a tiny amount.

3) When the potatoes and carrots are done, dice them and add to the bowl.

4) Mix in two tablespoons of mayo, and give it a taste. I usually add another tablespoon and a sprinkling of salt at this point, but it might not be necessary for everyone.

* I didn't expect to learn a huge amount of salad history from this wiki page, and was pleasantly surprised...somebody did a good job there.
** You can also use other types of meat, or leave it out altogether for a vegetarian version.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Per Cat's Request

It was quite the nail-biting trivia event yesterday, and eventually came down to a tie breaking question between our 3-person team and another 5-person team.

The tie-breaker asked each team to most closely guess the number of visitors to Yosemite National Park in 2000. Our considered answer? 3,125,000. The correct answer? 3,400,000ish. The other team's guess? 300,000. SPORKS WIN AGAIN!

As far as moments of glory go, mine could have been more significant, but I'm proud to say that I was certain Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were fraternal (and not identical) twins. A staked his trivia rep on Cynthia McKinney, and correctly identified her as belonging to the fair state of Georgia (whether they want her or not is a whole other issue). The Pitt, as always, correctly answered the majority of the questions all on his own.

However, happy as we were by yet another $25 gift certificate to pay for our dinners, we couldn't help but notice that our margin of victory has steadily decreased each time we've played. This leaves us a little concerned about next week, as we've gotten quite used to drinking for free. Guess we'll just have to step it up, since I think the other teams are getting rather annoyed by our winning streak.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nothing to Report

It's been a quiet couple of days around here, so I don't have much to talk about. The Pit and I waited for the day to cool down a little on Saturday, and then went running in the evening. This was our third time going in about two weeks, and I don't know if it was the cooler weather or the practice, but I found the experience less intolerable than usual. As a reward, The Pit took me to an all cheese dinner at Cheesetique. Mmm, delicious delicious cheese.

We also ordered pizza on Sunday, while watching the Chargers screw themselves yet again. The pizza improved the game-watching experience, but I fear that our weekend dining is only going to reinforce the need for more evil running. Actually, scratch that 'weekend' part... I don't see our diet improving significantly today. It's another Monday, and you all know that means Pub Trivia! I'm pretty excited to try our hand at a third consecutive victory, but I'll let you know how it went tomorrow. In the meanwhile, I hope you all enjoy survive your Monday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quilting Update

A month and a half later, I've finished sewing together the top of the quilt:

I realize that with the exception of borders, this pictures looks almost identical to the one I posted on August 5th, however, the back has now been filled with what feel like thousands of tiny stitches. Tiny stiches I put in by hand while OL laughed and told me what a miracle it would be for me to finish this thing.

Here is an example around one square:

Sadly, the blanket is still very far from completed, as I have yet to do the actual quilting part and sew together the three layers. For the uninitiated, those layers would be the quilt top, the soft batting in the middle, and the quilt backing material. Here's the super cute print I'm using for the back of the quilt:

Yesterday I spent an excruciating hour ironing out the wrinkles from all three layers, and positioning the fabrics carefully on the floor. Then it turned out that I needed The Pit's assistance to hold up the fabrics while I pinned. And all this for a baby blanket...I can't imagine the work that goes into something bigger.

However, after much sweating and cursing,* the whole thing is now marked with masking tape for quilting:

At the moment, I can only bear the thought of doing the stitches diagonally in one direction. When I finish those, I suppose I can re-evaluate and think about going in the opposite direction...however, I suspect the baby will be close to due by that point, and we'll just call it good.

Now if only I could figure out how to hand-quilt this without using one super long thread for each of those diagonal lines. Anyone know how to effectively hide the stopping and starting points if I use reasonable lengths of thread?**

* You know, love the baby will really feel.
** Dina who is not related to me, I'm looking at you here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's a Monday Ma'am

I woke up with a blinding headache this morning, which meant one of two things: it was either going to be an awful Monday, or the day could only improve from that point. First things first, I headed over to Costco to save some money on birth control pills.* The parking lot around the Costco is rather expensive, and only validates if you have a member card, so I parked at a meter on the street, wandered over to the store, and snuck in by standing close to a fat lady with a member card.**

While waiting for the prescription to be filled, I took a quick survey of the empty food court, and then decided that I didn't care that it was only 10 AM. A cheap hot dog, some Excedrin, and huge savings on pharmaceuticals later, the day was starting to look up. That's when I got back to my car and saw a cop circling around it.

I still had 6 minutes on the meter, so I couldn't figure out what he was so concerned about. When I walked up to him, he turned to me and said that my registration was expired. Now, I've driven around half my life with expired tags, but I happened to know for a fact that my registration was current. Nevertheless, the nice man lead me to the back of the car, pointed at the license plate, and said "See ma'am, your registration expired in December of 2009!"

I still had a bit of a headache and cops make everyone a little nervous, so I took some extra seconds to study the license plate and formulate my answer. "But that means the registration doesn't expire until December." The cop stared at me, stared at the license plate, and then a look of comprehension dawned. "I'm so sorry ma'am, I don't know what I was's a Monday ma'am."

Once I reassured him that it was a Monday, and that I didn't take a offense, I was allowed to drive off to my lunch date with OL. Happily, she was in chipper mood, further improving my Monday by giving me fresh grapes instead of offering esoteric gifts from her closet. A day without used toe-nail clippers is a good day indeed!

My steadily improving Monday did hit a slight bump in the road when The Pit came home and suggested we go running again, but I demonstrated marginal improvements in my performance, so I suppose the excruciating agony was worth it. (Although talk to me again tomorrow, when I'm pretty sure I won't be able to walk.)

However, the best was yet to come. A non-holiday Monday means Trivia Night! We reconvened our winning team at McGinty's, and then proceeded to look around a bit apprehensively. There was a bigger crowd than last time, and all the opposing teams had at least three or four members, so it was going to be a real competition.

It was an interesting evening. The moderator kept calling us the Furious Sparks, and I took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand up in a crowded bar and yell "SPORKS!" at the top of my lungs, which was rather satisfying. Then some Bud Light salesgirls in tube tops and short shorts wandered into the bar, and proceeded to be roundly ignored by patrons concentrating intensely on trivia. This was also quite satisfying. However, the most satisfying moment of the night came after some intense competition, and our team moving constantly between 2nd and 1st in the rankings. After the final round, the moderator got our team name correct when he announced that the Furious Sporks were once again Trivia winners. Ahhh yessss...sweet sweet gift certificate, you are ours!

* Oh insurance-less masses, listen to me: you don't need to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy, and medications are significantly cheaper pills were about twice as expensive when I was getting them at Rite Aid.
** The sneaking in might not have been necessary, but at the time I wasn't sure that my information about the pharmacy was correct.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tomato Pie

The Pit likes to make fun of me for adding tomatoes to practically every dish we eat, so it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that when I saw this recipe for something called Tomato Pie, it was on our table almost immediately.

It was easy to make, as delicious as it looks, and The Pit and I each had half for dinner. I made it almost exactly as instructed, but I can think of a few changes I'd like to try next time.

What you'll need for 1 pie (2 servings if you're starving or that's all you have for dinner, or more like 4 servings if you have side dishes):
  • 1 frozen pie shell (I used a cheap Richfood Deep Dish Pie Shell, and it was amazingly good)
  • 1 red or yellow onion (or a mix of the two types), sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 small tomatoes (or 3 bigger ones)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1/4 cup sliced basil leaves (about 6-8 leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

1) I caramelized the onions in this recipe, and I think that made a big difference in the taste. I happened to have half a red and half a yellow onion on hand, so that's what I used. To caramelize: slice the onions, heat up some olive oil in a medium skillet, and dump the onions in on a low heat. Basically let them sit there and stir occasionally while you assemble the rest of the pie ingredients, adding a sprinkling of salt and the sliced garlic after about 10 minutes. If you are a super efficient pie assembler, start the onions on a higher heat for a couple minutes, then lower. Don't freak out if it looks like there is an awful lot of onion to start with, they cook down quite a bit:

2) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Take your frozen pie shell out of the freezer, and note that it probably came in a pack of two. Separate out one shell (this might require leaving it on the counter for a couple minutes to defrost first), poke some holes in it with a fork, and then stick it in the oven for 15 minutes.

3) De-juice the tomatoes. You want the tomatoes as dry as possible, so that the crust of the pie doesn't get too soggy. I quartered the tomatoes and drained the inside juice and seeds into a small bowl. Because I love tomatoes so, I set the insides aside for a salad later. I wiped the now-dejuiced tomato quarters with paper towels, and diced them into another bowl. If you aren't sick of drying tomatoes at this point, you can pat them dry with more paper towels. I decided this is as dry as they were getting, and moved on.

4) Mix together the cheeses, mayo, and hot sauce. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You will have a sort of gooey ball of cheese at this point.

5) Chiffonade the basil.

6) By this time the pie crust will probably be about done pre-baking. Take it out of the oven, and assemble the pie. The original instructions say to first add the onions, then the tomatoes, then the basil, and finally the cheese mixture, like so:

These are the steps I followed when I made the pie, but as we were eating, The Pit and I both decided a little cheese mixed into the other layers would have been a good idea. I think you can put some between the onions and tomatoes, or mix some in with the tomatoes in a bowl, and either would help the pie be more cohesive. Either way, make sure you still have some to go on top.

7) Bake the pie for 40-45 minutes, until the cheese on top is golden brown and bubbly.

A couple notes:

I made the pie with the mozzarella-asiago-parmesan combo because those are the cheeses I always have on hand. I think this would also work with a variety of other combinations, as long as you use at least one flavorful and one mild cheese. Elise @ Simply Recipes suggests a Sharp Cheddar/Monterey Jack combo as a possible alternative.

Also, if you look closely at the picture, you can see that I put the foil-covered pie crust in a pie dish for baking. I'm not sure that it was necessary, but it made taking the pie out of the oven easier. If you don't have a pie dish, I would stick the pie on a cookie sheet.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another Gift from OL

So today OL offered to give me what I think was possibly a bedpan.

I quote: "I gots so many of these at the hospital, want one?"

Now, I'm not 100% positive this was a bedpan...however, it was plastic, rectangular, and about the size of small shoebox. And she got it at the hospital. She currently uses these things to hand-wash her delicates, so it's possible they trays of some sort? Used for foot baths? ... I'm pretty much drawing a blank on what this object could have been used for at the hospital. Med school friends, feel free to chime in.

ETA: Okay, I got curious and wikied bedpans, and the plastic thing she offered me did not look like any of these. However, check it out, the future is here: ergonomic bedpans!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Horror!

I am somewhat ashamed to report this development, but The Pit convinced me to go running tonight. Well, he went running, and I did an endlessly repeating loop of jogging/dying/walking. Afterwards he made me do sit-ups. I repeat, SIT-UPS AFTER RUNNING. How could this ridiculousness have possibly come about, you ask?

Well,The Pit has always gone running a couple times a week, and last week decided to get more consistent about it. Naturally, as running-type people are prone to do, he then got it in his head to follow a marathon-training schedule. So he announced this great idea, and asked if I wanted to train with him. Being a sane, normal person, I immediately started hysterically laughing. Seriously, that sounded like pretty much the worst idea ever.

However, as I contemplated the horror of marathon training the following night, it occurred to me that I haven't actually been to the gym in weeks. Weeks in which OL had frequently insisted that I snack on delicious delicious Milano cookies with her.* And yes, while training for a marathon is clearly for the crazies among us, perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to accompany The Pit at a more sedate pace. Say, like a quick walk.

I mean, on the one hand, the gym and my favorite elliptical machine provide better exercise, but on the other hand, I'm much more likely to actually work out if I have company. Especially the company of someone a little insane about exercise.** So went my train of thought, and never one to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, I decided to put my walking plan into action.

Except when we left the house today, The Pit suggested a little bit of a jog to warm up, followed by some stretching, followed by the actual run. And of course by the time we got to his usual stretching spot, I was panting from the effort of our warm-up jog, and already had the beginnings of a cramp. Clearly, further running was going to be detrimental to my health, so as The Pit took off running, I settled into a nice walking pace.

However, my clever plan was disrupted by the presence of other joggers on the same street. All of them were putting forth so much effort, and I felt just a wee bit judged. So very reluctantly, I did my best imitation of The Pit and started actually jogging. This lasted about two minutes, and I was instantly winded again. At that point I waited until there were no other joggers in sight, and then walked for a bit. This rigmarole was then repeated several times over the rest of the route.

All in all, it very much reminded me of middle school PE classes, when we were forced to run the mile in large circles around the baseball field. 'Run' being a rather generous description of what I did, since I would slow down and walk the minute our teacher got distracted. Apparently things haven't changed much in the intervening fifteen or so years... except that now I'm volunteering for this torture instead of being forced into it by the state of California.

Dina had it right in her last comment...first prosciutto, and now this. The world really has turned upside down since I moved to the East Coast.

* It didn't take much persuasion.
** Hi Nikole! I miss our gym/In-N-Out/Top Model routine.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ricotta, Spinach, and Prosciutto Lasagna Rolls

The Pit and I had a little dinner party last, and I made these Lasagna Rolls, which everyone seemed to enjoy. They were a little bit of a hassle, but not as much as real lasagna, and the results were worth it. I don't even normally eat prosciutto, but thought that it really worked in this recipe. The following picture was stolen from the Food Network site, and thus is a much more appetizing-looking version than the one I took:

I made a few small changes to the recipe, doubling the sauce and using fresh spinach instead of frozen.

What you'll need for 12 rolls, or about 4-6 servings (2 rolls is just about a perfect portion, unless you've skipped lunch, in which case 3 is the way to go).
  • 1 15 oz container of ricotta (whole milk or part skim, it doesn't matter)
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bag of fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • 3 oz of thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
B├ęchamel Sauce:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 teaspoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
  • 2 pinches ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Noodles & Topping:
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt for noodle water
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (I like to use Francesco Rinaldi sauce, it's good and is usually on sale at the grocery store)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1) Mix together the ricotta, shredded parmesan, spinach, prosciutto, egg, salt and pepper, like so:

2) Set out a large pot of water to boil the noodles. Salt the water and add a tablespoon of oil, so that the noodles don't stick together during cooking. While the noodle water heats up and the noodles cook, make the B├ęchamel sauce.

3) Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Add the milk, turn the heat up to medium-high, and continuously whisk until the sauce is thick, smooth, and simmering. This may take 3 minutes if you used whole milk, or longer with 2 boils over really fast if you stop whisking, so pay attention. While you whisk, keep an eye on the noodles, and stir them occasionally. When the sauce is the desired consistency, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

4) The noodles and the sauce should be done at about the same time. Pour the sauce into the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish, and drain the noodles.

5) Preheat the oven to 450°F.

6) On a cutting board, lay out the noodles 3 at a time, and spoon some filling on each one, as pictured below.

7) Roll the noodles and place them seam side down in the sauce in the baking dish.

8) After the noodles are all placed in the dish, spoon half the marinara sauce over them, and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

9) Cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 20 minutes, until the sauce is hot and bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the cheese on top is golden. If desired, broil for a few minutes to finish it off. I may have overdone the broiling slightly here, but they were delicious nonetheless.

10) The rolls come out very hot, so I would let them stand for another 10 minutes to cool down a little. Then serve with the remaining marinara sauce to spoon over the top.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Furious Sporks Reign Again

During our recent adventures on the left coast, The Pit and I attended a pub trivia night in the middle of Oakland, as accessories to my sister's team, the aptly named Jews and Tokens. Thanks to a series of unfortunate football questions, our team gradually sank in the rankings, although between the booze and the company, a good time was had by all.

The Pit and I decided to search nearby pubs for a trivia night to attend when we got home, as his mind is filled with all sorts of otherwise useless knowledge, which might as well be winning us gift certificates for beer. Yesterday, we put this plan into action, and accompanied by A, ventured forth to our first pub trivia at McGinty's, a brand-spanking new establishement just down the street from our apartment.

In fact, it was so brand-spanking new, that when we walked in there were about six other people there. We had originally planned to call some other friends to reinforce our team, but held off as it looked like trivia wasn't going to happen at all. However, in the next half hour or so people drifted into the bar in ones and twos, and eventually there were enough there to form six teams, ranging from one to four individuals per team.

The next order of business was to choose a name for our trio, and being nothing but predictable, I declared us The Furious Sporks.* For the next two hours, we answered a series of questions on commercial slogans, popular beverages, musicals, and a wide variety of general knowledge questions. While A and I each had our moments to shine, the night really belonged to The Pit, as he rolled through the competition and took our team to first place. Here he is, artfully hidden behind our $25 gift certificate prize:

I think it's safe to say that we'll be back to McGinty's. Our gift certificate brings the food prices to very reasonable levels, and the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. Although clearly galled by our victory, the other teams seemed quite nice, with the possible exception of one loud-mouth in the corner, who kept heckling the lady running the trivia night. As a bonus to the evening, he strutted out of the bar with an 'I like men' sign taped to his back. I salute the anonymous prankster who managed to find supplies for this coup in a bar.

* I have come up with exactly one amusing team name in my life, and that was it. My group of college friends used it as our guild name in WoW.
** If you don't know what WoW is already, my future in-laws, please continue to hold me in the highest esteem and don't look it up.