Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fruit of Dragons

My roommate and I signed our lease renewal form, and as a thank you our landlord gave us a gift card to the grocery store. Since we had a gift card we decided to buy a few treats. Our eyes landed on the unusual fruits section of the produce area. We ended up buying a pepino melon and what we now know is a dragon fruit. When we bought it we were under the impression that it was a prickly pear that I had once had in Spanish class, and thought my roommate might like. Well, we were wrong prickly pears are smooth and red cactus fruit, dragon fruit are red cactus fruit with spiky leaves that kinda look like scales coming off of them.
Prickly Pear
Dragon Fruit

The mistake is somewhat easy to make if you only remember eating the prickly pear after it was cut up. Luckily searching Google images for red cactus fruit tells you what you have pretty quickly. Dragon fruit are supposed to be pretty good for you and show up in a lot of health smoothies and juices because they are mostly water and blend well.  We found a tutorial on how to prepare this thing and followed it.
I was not expecting it to be white on the inside. I'm also going to guess that the nutrients are found in all of the seeds (They're edible just like a kiwi.) In fact My roommate and I decided this whole thing is kinda like a white kiwi. Anyways according to the internet, once you cut it in half you scoop out the edible part with a spoon.
Then you cut it up, and if you want to be fancy looking you can put it all back in the rind for serving, just don't eat the rind it's bitter.
So we went ahead and tried it. It was not fantastic. It looks so pretty and colorful, but has nearly no taste.  It is extremely similar to kiwi in texture but not in taste. It really doesn't have one, there's a faint cactus undertone, but that's it really. It''s not sweet or tart or sour or anything. Just kinda cactus flavored water with seeds. We decided that if you wanted to be fancy you could mix this up with kiwi and serve it in the rinds, but other than that we wouldn't eat it again.
The rest of dinner on the other hand, was absolutely delicious.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

University Of Minnesota Hat

I go to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. School gear is pretty expensive, maroon and gold yarn however is not.  After trying my first stranded project in the only extra yarn I had sitting around, which happened to be maroon and gold I decided to try and make my own M chart. I spent about forty five minutes with a U of M logo a picture of grid lines and paint to make the chart. This is the third try and I think it turned out well. As soon as I finished, I showed it to my roommate who had just gotten home, she gave me this look and said 'you know there are websites that will do that for you right?' No, no I did not know that, but I think I did a good job anyways. So this chart is truly handmade and unlicensed by the U.  I did make it in maroon and gold because that's my school colors, but if you went to the University of Michigan for instance You could make the hat blue and yellow to be your school colors. Anyways, the pattern basically makes a nice warm hat with an M on it in whatever colors you want and the M can mean whatever you want.

University of Minnesota Hat
Size 6  circular needles
Worsted weight yarn 2 colors (maroon and gold)
Stitch markers
Using contrast color cast on 112 stitches. Knit one round k2 p2. Using main color knit 9 rounds of k2 p2.  Knit 8 rounds . Start chart. A word of warning in knitting the chart, make sure you leave your yarn loose enough when you switch colors or your hat will kinda bunch up. Mine looks a little crinkly, but it smooths out when you put it on. Place stitch markers inbetween repeats of the chart. Knit 3 rounds

Shape crown:
Round 1: [K14, K2Tog] 7 times= 105 sts
Round 2: Knit
Round 3: [K13, K2Tog] 7 times= 98 sts
Round 4: Knit
Round 5: [K12, K2Tog] 7 times= 91 sts
Round 6: Knit
Round 7: [K11, K2Tog] 7 times= 84 sts
Round 8: Knit
Round 9: [K10, K2Tog] 7 times= 77 sts
Round 10: Knit
Round 11: [K9, K2Tog] 7 times = 70 sts
Round 12: Knit
Round 13: [K8, K2Tog] 7 times= 63 sts
Round 14: [K7, K2Tog] 7 times= 56 sts
Round 15: [K6, K2Tog] 7 times= 49 sts
Round 16: [K5, K2Tog] 7 times= 42 sts
Round 17: [K4, K2Tog] 7 times= 35 sts
Round 18: [K3, K2Tog] 7 times= 28 sts
Round 19: [K2, K2Tog] 7 times= 21 sts
Round 20: [K1, K2Tog] 7 times= 14 sts
Round 21: [K2Tog] 7 times= 7 sts
Cut a long tail, draw it through the remaining sts to close top of hat. Bring tail to the wrong side and weave in your ends.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Easter Adventure

I didn't have plans for Easter until I was coming home from work on Good Friday.  I know a lot of schools give their students a short holiday for Easter that is long enough for a weekend at home.  The University of Minnesota doesn't do that, so every year since I've started college I've missed out on my family celebration and had a makeshift one with my friends. I say makeshift because half of my friends at college are Jewish, and Easter often coincides with passover. Traditional Easter food is ham, ham is not kosher so menu changes had to be implemented.  The first year the cooking club I was running had an Easter dinner, I can't recall if it was our formal Alfredo dinner or Anna's home raised/slaughtered steaks and venison. I have a hunch it was the second one because a lot of local people were in the formal photos and they would have had plans with their family. My second year of college I made dinner for twenty people out of my dorm room. This already difficult task was complicated by two sets of food allergies, celiac disease, and a vegetarian.  All told there could be no fish, pork, beef, or any other kind of meat thanks to the vegetarian, milk, eggs, wheat, or anything else that contained gluten. I bet you're looking at that list and wondering what in the world can be made in a dorm room without those things in it? Well, I made sushi. Unfortunately I was unaware that sushi rice is not gluten free so my celiac friend could only eat dessert, while the milk, eggs, pork beef friend could not have dessert because I made mousse in these tiny chocolate cups. In the end everyone was able to eat something, and I did manage to feed 20 people, so I think it went well. This year was much smaller with only two people. One of my Christian cooking club friends invited me over to his place for dinner I made squash rolls, apple cheesecake, and brought a bottle of Riesling, he made pork chops and mashed potatoes.

Squash rolls are a family standby recipe that is rolled out every Thanksgiving and whenever else the occasion seems appropriate. I've has some roasted butternut squash chilling in the freezer ever since my roommate's parents dumped four bags of extra CSA veggies on us in the fall. I defrosted some of that and made a half recipe of rolls in the cloverleaf roll style. My family usually makes these into crescent rolls, but I felt the clover leaf style was better for this meal.

Squash Rolls:
1 package/ 4 oz of yeast
2 tbs of warm water (110-115)
1 C mashed butternut squash
1/3 C warm milk (110-115)
1/4 C butter softened
1 egg
3 tbs brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3-31/2 C flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Combine squash, milk, butter, egg, brown sugar, and salt. Add yeast and 1 1/2 C flour, mix. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough, knead 6-8 minutes. Let rise until doubled in size. Punch down and shape into desired form. My family usually makes these as crescent rolls (roll out dough and cut into triangles and roll up) or a braided loaf. To make the clover rolls spray a muffin tin and divide each roll's worth of dough into 3 balls. Place three balls in each muffin hole. Cover and let rise for one hour. BAke at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.

The adventure came in with the Apple Cheesecake. I spent the whole day before Easter shopping at MOA and going to a play written by my roommate's friend. I didn't finalize the dessert recipe I was going to make until I got home around midnight. I decided on this one. I realized Sunday morning that I was missing three key ingredients: sweetened condensed milk, apples, and apple juice concentrate. I may have been able to fudge the apples ( I had some kinda mushy ones) and concentrate (apple kiwi strawberry, or apple passion mango? ...hmm) but I did not want to try to make my own sweetened condensed milk from dry milk and sugar.  Not thinking it's EASTER SUNDAY, my roommate and I ran to the store. The parking lot of Cub was deserted, Target's parking lot was deserted, Rainbow's parking lot was deserted, even Aldi's parking lot was deserted. The parking lot at Savers on the other hand, was hopping. Hoping it was a grocery store we went in. Nope, definitely not a grocery store, in fact is was basically a goodwill. We got sidetracked by donated prom dresses, and I actually ended up getting a skirt (If you know me, this is pretty weird because I am a major tomboy) that I wore to dinner. I also found some nice dress flats. The most amazing part of the Savers portion of the adventure was that we found some nice dressy sandals that actually fit my roommate. She is considerably taller than me and has proportionate feet. Most stores do not carry her shoe size at all, and shoe shopping for her can be incredibly frustrating. She usually ends up getting guy shoes because they're the only ones that fit, and they rarely go well with her skirts that she likes to wear; so dressy sandals for 6 bucks was a great find.  At the checkout at Savers we started asking around if anyone knew of a grocery store that was open on Easter Sunday. After some mulling the general consensus was that we should go to super Wal-Mart. We got directions to the nearest one which we happened to have passed on the bus between MOA and the play the day before and knew the general location of. We started driving down a main street of Minneapolis that is in a rather Hispanic community.  As we were going along I was reading the store signs and thought to myself, Supermercado, that means grocery store in Spanish. As we pulled even to the store I realized that the open sign was on. I got rather excited (hey, my dough was rising at home and I was getting worried it might explode, if we could be done soon it was all to the good)and yelled "Echo, pull over it's open!"
And this is how I ended up using my high school Spanish in a real situation for the first time. The store was one of those hole in the wall ethinic grocercy/money deposit/calling card/pharmacy/music stores that you wonder if you can even walk down that aisle with your shopping bag without knocking anything off the shelves. Everything in the store was in Spanish and the cashier only spoke Spanish.  We found the apples first in the tiny fresh produce section and got three lovely fuji apples. Then we started scanning the frozen section, but there was no juice concentrate. We decided to try some ethnic brand of apple nectar, though we could not figure out what made it nectar and not juice despite half the label being in English.  Then came the fun part, sweetened condensed milk, in Spanish only labels. I remember that milk is leche and sugar is azucar, so sweetened should be azucado or something close to that.  We started scanning the shelves, and after a bit I found leche evaporado, and I knew I was close, it turns out that sweetened condensed milk in Spanish, on the Nestle label is, La Lechera, leche condensada azucarada.  Feeling fairly triumphant that I found my milk, we got in line to listen to and understand about every fifth word of an argument between the cashier and a customer who was filling a money order and buying drinks for herself and her two boys who were running everywhere through the store drinking from their bear-shaped juice bottles. Once I got the gist that the cashier was telling her that the woman still needed to pay for the drinks after filling the money order, my attention and gaze wandered over to a cooler tucked out of sight from the rest of the frozen food section, but right across from the cramped cashier space.  As I looked at this cooler which was kinda like the ones gas stations have with ice cream cones I realized that I was looking directly at frozen apple juice concentrate, exactly what I had been searching for. Even more triumphant than finding the milk, we had now found the concentrate so we put back the nectar and gathered up everything we had been looking for and waited for the cashier and woman to finish their argument , get on the same page, and pay for the the drinks. Despite my roommate and I conversing in English while waiting in the line the cashier addressed us in the softest spoken Spanish that I have ever managed to hear. She told me Seis cincuenta y cuatro (6.54), but I handed her two fives before it really registered what she had said (hey I'm really rusty). I could have paid better, but over all, the shopping trip was an unexpected huge success. My roommate dropped me off at the door of our apartment and dashed off to her family's Easter event. Then the cooking began.
 Before I left I has assembled the squash dough and left it to rise.  When I got back I punched it down and divided it into 36 balls.  I sprayed my muffin tin and put three balls in each indent. I threw a towel over it and left it to rise again. Then I moved on to making the Apple cheesecake.  First you make the crust which is basically apple crisp topping.

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In small bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour, oats, walnuts and cinnamon; mix well. Press firmly on bottom and halfway up side of 9-inch springform pan. Bake 10 minutes.

While the crust was baking I started on the actual cheese part. I mostly followed the recipe, but made a few additions of my own.

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14 ounce) Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
  • I also added:
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Beat cream cheese until fluffy in large bowl. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth (do not overbeat). Add eggs and apple juice concentrate, also sour cream and cinnamon; mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched. Cool.

When reading these instructions I have no idea what do not overbeat means. Is it really possible to overbeat a cheesecake? It's not like pancakes that have a rising agent in  them, and if you over stir them a lot of the gas will escape leaving you with flat pancakes. Anyways I popped that in the oven at 325 as a compromise temperature between the rolls and the cheesecake. The cheesecake baked really slowly, I must have had it in there for nearly an hour before I called it done, and it still could have been slightly more cooked in the middle. When I ate it I decided about five more minutes would have been perfect, but then I would have been even more late than I already was.
While the cheesecake was baking I fried the fuji apples in butter and cinnamon for the top and made the apple glaze that gets drizzled on top.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In small saucepan, combine apple juice concentrate, cornstarch and ground cinnamon; mix well. Over low heat, cook and stir until thickened. (Makes about 1/4 cup)

Assembly of the Cheesecake:
First the fried apples are arranged on top
And then the glaze is drizzled over
I had a few lumpy problems with my cornstarch in my glaze because I rarely ever actually measure things and when in a hurry I tend to dump a bit too much
The final product released from the spring form pan

It didn't really matter that I was late because my friend had waited for me to start cooking. He fried up some pork chops and boiled some potatoes to make mashed potatoes and dinner was done in no time.  The cheese cake had still not cooled by the time we finished, so we decided to go on a walk by the Mississippi.  We ate dessert when we got back. The cheesecake was even more delicious than anticipated, but after eating it there are a few alterations I would make before making it again. First I would put a layer of the fried apples on top of the crust before pouring in the cheesecake, and secondly I would peel the apples that go on top because the apple peels caused quite a few problems in the consumption of the cheesecake, and a rather grumpy roommate.
Some pictures taken on our after dinner/pre-dessert walk:
Riverside Park
A shot downriver of the Mississippi
A shot of the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, mostly shows the University's medical center. You can really see the river moving around the barrel.
A shot of the unusual amount of swirling river foam
A duck that floated by on the river, he was quacking the whole time.
I pushed the shutter button on my camera before it registered that the duck was taking off, I was pretty excited to get this shot.
A nice panorama of the University's East bank, you can see more of the campus buildings in this one
One of my floral close-ups with the river and Washington Avenue bridge making a nice background
Another shot of the fuzzy things, just because they are cool, this pic might be my favorite.
A flock of geese that were not so thrilled to see us
The missing half of Washington Avenue bridge. They've taken out the whole right side deck to put in the Central Corridor, a light rail that will connect Minneapolis downtown to St. Paul downtown via the University Campus. Once this is done it'll be super convenient, for now though the construction just looks scary. My friend who is a civil engineering major told me that the construction planners were worried that when they took the deck out the whole bridge would tilt because the loads are balanced across the sides of the bridge.
A rabbit that posed very nicely for me and then nonchalantly hopped away, I guess he was my Easter bunny this year.