Saturday, March 28, 2009

Poached Pears

My wife went grocery shopping today right after her workout, which is good and bad. It's good because she got a lot of great food, and bad...for our budget. To make a long story short, as I looked over our comestible wealth, I spied a cluster of pears. I recalled having seen an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown poached pears, but he poached them in a bottle of wine. My family and I neither cook with nor otherwise consume alcohol, making AB's recipe a no-go. Virtually every other recipe I found also poached pears in wine, with one exception of a rather vague recipe I found at I have tweaked the directions a bit to clarify the process.

The pears turned out delicious, by the way!

Poached Pears

Peel and core pears from blossom end leaving stems intact. Using the smallest spoon you can find may help.

6 ripe Bartlett, Anjou, or Bosc pears
4 cups water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks

In a pan wide enough to hold all 6 pears, combine water, orange juice and sugar. Bring to boil. Add pears; poach gently 10-15 minutes or until tender. Remove pears and reserve 1/2 cup liquid.

Beat butter with powdered sugar until light. Blend in reserved liquid. Cook and stir over low heat 8-10 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks. Temper yolks by adding a few tablespoons of the sauce to the eggs while stirring constantly. Add a few more tablespoons of sauce to the eggs, still stirring constantly. Add the egg mixture into the remaining sauce and cook for 2-3 more minutes until thick. Serve warm or cold over pears.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dad's Casserole

I remember my dad making this casserole (or something similar) when I was a boy, and I've made it myself a number of times for my family. It's a simple recipe that we usually have all the ingredients for, so it's great for end-of-the-week-no-groceries-left-what-can-I-make-for-dinner nights.

Now, I don't usually measure these ingredients--it's a "shoot from the hip" kind of recipe--but I'll give you the basic idea:

2 lbs ground beef
Seasonings to taste
3 cups mashed potatoes
1 10oz can corn, drained
1 1/2 c shredded cheddar

Brown the ground beef and season to taste. I usually go with a subtle Italian flavor since that's what my family likes. A little "Italian Seasoning" mix, some garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

In a large casserole, mix the ground beef and 1 cup of the mashed potatoes. This step makes it easier to scoop out the meat in one piece and not have it crumble. Top with the corn. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the corn. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until the casserole is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Astle's Tortillas

Whenever I make Mexican food, I make up a batch of Melissa Astle's world-famous tortillas. Little Mike calls them "yum yum bread." And she is correct when she claims that they are way better than store-bought!

I have used flour ranging from 100% white to 100% freshly-ground whole wheat in this recipe with good results. I always use butter-flavored Crisco.

I weigh each tortilla at 2 oz (plus or minus .1 oz), for consistency in size. I roll using either a traditional or a French rolling pin, and a silicone baking mat.

I cook two to three at a time using an electric griddle set at 375F, and store them in a heavy plastic tortilla warmer until its time to eat.

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

When the Scouts were planning the campout this weekend, I offered to cook one meal. They picked dinner, so I flipped through my copy of The Scout's Outdoor Cookbook and settled on "Two-Can Jambalaya." I had never made jambalaya before, but I strongly suspected that the Scouts would like it. And I was right--it was a hit!

The recipe says that it serves 6-8 people, and we had 11 people, so I used three cans of everything, which turned out to be just a bit too much. But everyone ate until they were full and there were still leftovers, so I guess that's good.

Two-Can Jambalaya
About all you can do beforehand is to cube the sausage.

2 cans (10-ounce each) tomatoes
2 cans (10 1/2-ounce each) condensed French onion soup
2 cans (10 1/2-ounce each) concentrated beef consomme
2 cans (about 1 pound) white rice (measure using empty soup can)
2 cans (about 1 pound) kielbasa sausage (measure using empty soup can)
1/2 cup (1 standard stick) butter, cut into cubes

Combine all ingredients in Dutch oven. Bake using 8 coals under the oven and 17 coals on the lid. Cook for about 1 hour or until rice is tender, refreshing coals as required to maintain heat.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Netted Rope Hammock - Making Progress

After making a hundred or so feet of rope out of plastic grocery bags, I wondered to myself what I would do with it. A few ideas came to mind: use it for knot and lashing practice with the Scouts or make a coiled-rope rug were two of the most notable. But then I wondered if I could use it to make a rope hammock.

After a bit of web research, I found that there are two main ways of making a rope hammock--basically a net that you lay in. The first way is to have multiple pairs of cords running the width of the hammock, then knotting alternating pairs of cords to form the mesh. This seemed to be an easier concept, and perhaps easier to execute; however, very few of the hammocks I saw were knotted this way and I wondered why, if it seemed so easy.

The second way is to use one continuous cord (or several shorter cords knotted together) hammock. (The PDF I used to learn this technique can be found at the new URL of

This is the way I chose to go for a few reasons. First, it would be a challenge to learn a new knotting technique. Second, it seemed like a nifty skill to have. I can see it now...

Friend: "Here we are on our week long camping trip and I forgot my net! I wish I knew someone who could make a fishing net."
Me: "Have no fear! I can whip one up in no time at all. I just need to strip the inner bark fibers of that tree over there, twist them in to rope, and it'll be done in a jiffy!"

So here are a few pics of the hammock in progress. I figure I need about 30-40 more Meijer bags to get the job done. (So get shopping, Kara!) ;) Why am I insisting on using only Meijer bags? It's probably an OCD thing, but I don't want to have brown bags mixed in with the white ones. Or black Wal-Mart lettering mixed in with the red and white Meijer lettering. So it's purely cosmetic. However, if I had my way, I'd use 100% Target bags. They're larger (so I could use fewer), and they're a bit more rubbery than the regular plasticky grocery bags (so they'll be a bit more flexible, I think).

I doubt that this will be the world's most comfortable hammock, but that's not really why I'm making it. I'm making it to see if it can be done. And I really do think that it'll be able to hold me--but I'm testing it out with my 9 year-old first, just in case.