Saturday, April 23, 2011

* Dream Car *

I love Mini Coopers.
I have loved them ever since I was a little girl.
I have several toy/model Mini Coopers, in fact. My favorite one has a British flag on the roof.
I have a goal to own a Mini Cooper at least once in my life, if only for a year or so.
The problem with the Mini Cooper is that it's not extremely practical.
It only has two doors, a very cramped back seat, and minimal luggage space.
It's also very low to the ground, and I like to be higher off the ground when I drive. It makes me feel safer.
Despite all that, I was still determined to own a Mini Cooper at some point, even if it was only briefly.
Preferably a red one, with little Union Jacks on the side mirrors.
And maybe some racing stripes.

And THEN, I discovered that Mini Cooper had solved all of the problems I mentioned above, just for me (or so I like to think).
This year they came out with the Mini Cooper Countryman.
A 4-door SUV/crossover higher ground clearance Mini Cooper.
And it's perfect.

Yes, it's a little bigger than the original Mini Cooper. But I love it.

The interior

2012 Mini Countryman Interior

The back seats. With the awesome center console rail that you can clip different accessories into (cupholders etc.).

Fortunately, Thomas loves Mini Coopers too, otherwise this could be a major point of contention in our marriage.
But he is just as excited by the Mini Cooper Countryman as I am.
[Ok, maybe I'm a little bit more excited.]
Excuse me while I go drool over more pictures.
Oh, and you can also build your own custom Mini Cooper Countryman on their website. 
I'll probably do that too *cough* again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strawberries. Lots of strawberries.

I've always wanted to go strawberry picking... for as long as I can remember.
For some reason, I've never had the chance to do so....
... until Saturday, when I dragged Thomas on an hour and a half drive out of Dallas, because I found this awesome farm online that lets you pick your own strawberries.
[Apparently I suck at looking for things online, because today Thomas found a strawberry picking farm that is a mere 15 minutes away from us. Ah well.]

Anyhoo... when we finally got there, it was lots of fun.
We picked lots of strawberries. 17 pounds of strawberries, to be exact.

When we got them home... we had some washing to do, one box at a time.

Drying them on paper towels on the kitchen counter...

... and in the living room.

The is what our fridge looked like after Operation Strawberry. And that's not all of them. More are in the freezer.

I set the slightly mushier ones aside to make strawberry pies, which are super easy to make.
I bought some frozen pie crusts, and baked them empty. Using about a quart of strawberries per pie, I fit as many as I could into each pie crust, and mashed up the remaining strawberries.
[And when I say "I", I really mean "we" because Thomas did a lot of the work too, since I came down with a lovely little cold on Saturday night.]

I mixed the mashed strawberries with about one and a third cups of light agave nectar and heated it on the stove until it began to boil.
I mixed one and a half cups of water with 6 tablespoons of cornstarch separately, and added it slowly to the strawberry mixture after reducing the heat. Once the cornstarch and water mixture was added, I stirred it until it thickened.

And finally, I poured the mixture over the strawberries in the pie crusts.

They take several hours to set in the fridge, but Thomas and I were a little impatient and tried to eat a slice after two hours or so... it was still quite runny... but delicious. We let it set for a few more hours, and since then, we've almost demolished a whole pie between us. With fresh whipped cream, of course, because you can't eat strawberries without whipped cream.

I froze a lot of the strawberries, so I'll have plenty to make smoothies with/bake with/make jam with in the future.
And we've been munching on some that I left in the fridge.
The frozen ones have actually been great for me to eat... the coldness feels wonderful on my raging sore throat. Stupid cold.

So if you're ever in need of strawberries, you know where to come. And if you want to try the strawberry pies, you'd better get here quickly. They're disappearing fast.

Friday, April 15, 2011

{adventures in pasta}

I have this unofficial rule in my mind that I can cook one "unhealthy" meal a week.

Last weekend that meal was macaroni & cheese... the ultimate comfort food... full of carbohydrates and dairy.
So I went all out with this mac 'n cheese...
I made a roux with butter and flour, adding milk slowly until I had a white sauce.
I had some leftover vintage English cheddar, and some gorgonzola, so I threw those in with some regular cheddar cheese and monterey jack cheese. I also added about 1/2 a cup of white wine to deepen the flavor. I seasoned it with some mustard powder, salt and freshly ground pepper.
I mixed the cheese sauce in with the pasta shells and put it in a casserole dish, sliced some tomatoes on top of it and sprinkled some more cheese over the whole thing.
I put it in the oven for 15 minutes to heat through, and then browned the top under the broiler for about a minute.

And it was delicious in all its cheesy glory.

I really like pasta, so I've been looking for healthier ways to cook it [in my last post, I discovered a really good pasta substitute]. Earlier this week I found this recipe for non-dairy fettuccini alfredo with broccoli and sautéed portabello mushrooms and I tried it last night. It turned out to be so good.
The white alfredo sauce is made with a base of pureed cauliflower instead of the usual [delicious but incredibly unhealthy] butter & flour roux with cream, parmesan cheese and cream cheese. It sounds weird, but once you add the basil, oregano, garlic, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and nutritional yeast... the pureed cauliflower sauce tastes really good.
The fettuccini noodles and the broccoli are cooked together and drained, then tossed in the cauliflower sauce, and topped with portabello mushrooms that were sautéed with red wine. Incidentally that's the only part of the recipe that I really did differently.. I used red wine instead of white wine for the mushrooms for a more robust flavor.

Everything just went together so well... the lighter flavors of the pasta, broccoli, and cauliflower alfredo sauce with the deeper flavor mushrooms in red wine sauce.

[And sure, the pasta is basically carbohydrates, but once you cut out the butter, cream, parmesan, and cream cheese that go into a normal fettuccini alfredo sauce... you're left with a far healthier meal.]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

{spaghetti squash primavera}

I made spaghetti squash primavera for dinner last night.
Spaghetti squash is such a fun vegetable.
It looks quite normal on the outside, and when it's uncooked and cut in half.

But after you bake it in the oven for an hour...

It turns into this.

It comes right out of the skin and looks just like strands of spaghetti!
So cool.

The primavera sauce was easy.
Onion, garlic, zucchini, yellow squash, orange bell pepper.

Diced/crushed tomatoes.

And the first harvest form my little garden.
Basil and oregano.

Spaghetti squash primavera.
[I got the idea for it here, but changed a few things]
It was very good... and much healthier than pasta.

[Oh, and tonight I made Ethiopian lentil stew.]

[These are some of the spices that go into it... there are 12 in all]

It was really good.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

{a little patio garden}

It's basically summer here in Dallas already. Or rather, the current temperatures (80's F) are what summer feels like in normal places. Spring in Texas = summer everywhere else. Summer in Texas = hell on earth.

So while the temperatures are still below 100 F, I decided to plant a little patio garden this weekend.

It all started when Thomas's mom sent me these cute little containers and some flower seeds...
[ Thanks! :) ]

And that just got me started... I went to Lowe's and picked up some more containers, potting mix, garden lime, and some plants.
I was going to just buy seeds and grow them from scratch... but apparently that's hard to do unless you have a green thumb. [Which I don't know if I have. I guess I'll find out.]. Also, it's a little late in the year to start from seeds. So mostly, I bought little seedlings of the plants I wanted to grow.

The large brown container in the back of the above picture is a "city pickers" vegetable growing kit. 
It has a water reservoir in the bottom, then an aeration screen, on top of which the soil goes.
And it has wheels so you can roll it around to wherever the sun is. Genius.

So we filled it up halfway with soil...

Added some garden lime to neutralize the soil pH...

It was getting dark as we did this, hence the flash in the next picture.
After filling it to the top with soil, we put the mulch cover on... it prevents the soil from going dry from evaporation.

The next day, I planted some of the seedlings in the city picker... [you cut holes in the mulch cover and sink the seedlings into the soil.]
The little spout in the corner is how you fill the water reservoir... the water then wicks up into the soil.
I think it's quite clever.
Left to right, in a semicircle: two jalapeno pepper plants, two tomato plants, two cucumber plants, and one yellow bell pepper plant.
I'm going to put a couple more vegetable plants around the outside and maybe some herbs in the center. I also need to leave space to put in wooden stakes for the plants to climb up on as they get bigger.

Some extra jalapeno pepper and cucumber seedlings that I'm trying to decide where to put...

I planted herbs in these window boxes
Thyme, thai basil, and sweet basil. [I left a space for more sweet basil].

Greek oregano, tarragon, and rosemary.

I also planted some herb & vegetable seeds in these little containers to start off. When the seedlings are big enough I'll transplant them to window boxes or the city picker. Then I'll plant pretty flowers in the containers :)
Left to right: cilantro, spring onions, green beans, chives.

I really have no clue about gardening. I did some research on the plants that I got, but we'll see how it all turns out. I'm kind of afraid that the hellish heat during the summer will just kill them all off!
I just wanted to try growing some of my own vegetables and herbs...
Workin' in my [little tiny] garden :)

Grow, little plants, grow!


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