BRB

I have a whole list of things to bake and new recipes to try, but it has been over 105 degrees here for the past 4 days and the thought of turning on the oven above 300…just…I can’t.

So stay tuned…it’s only supposed to be in the 70s this weekend and I promise something delicious.  Just as delicious as this guy thought our jalapeno plants were…

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Open Kitchen Shelving

I have been obsessing about open shelves for the past few days.  It all started with this picture that I found while searching apartments on Craigslist:

Something about it just looks so beautiful to me.  Like beautiful chaos?  I don’t know.  But I think it’s a great look.  Here are some others I love:

I would love to have everything at-hand like this.

I love the green and white color palate of this kitchen.  Also love the mix of dishes and food storage on the shelves.

I think this one is my favorite.  Love how bright this kitchen is and I love the pops of color that the dishes provide (recognize a lot of those from Anthro, too!).

I know open shelving would mean having to keep everything really organized, but I am a pretty organized person, so I don’t think that would be a problem.  Unfortunately, we’re renting at the moment and I wouldn’t feel right about taking the doors off the cabinets — the very few of them that we have!  I will have to do a kitchen tour at some point, but we have a very tiny kitchen at our place!

How does your garden grow?

I have always wanted to have a garden at my house. When I was little, my mom had this amazing terraced garden on the side of our house. She grew all kinds of vegetables and I remember it being really incredible. Since I’ve grown up and moved away – going on 7 years now – I have never lived in a place that was large enough to grow anything more than some potted herbs.

Finally, in our new place, we have a yard! It’s a shared space and it’s not very private, but it’s a yard nonetheless. At the beginning of June, David and his dad built a garden box and we planted our first seedlings. We started with a cucumber, zucchini, bush beans (green beans), jalapenos, bell pepper, anaheim chile, habanero chile, a row of swiss chard, basil and parsley, and a tomato. Since then we’ve added 3 heirloom tomato plants that David’s sister gave us and a pumpkin. It’s been just about 6 weeks since we put everything in and we are starting to get some veggies! We’ve had a few tomatoes, cucumbers, and of course, zucchini (I actually made some zucchini bread today to use some of it up! So good – I will share this recipe soon).

Here’s the progress. It’s pretty amazing how fast it all grows!

Here’s the box with nothing in it:

Laying everything out…

Planted!

Stupid caterpillar that ate all the leaves off of one jalapeno plant overnight! I felt bad about killing it, so I just relocated it to another plant elsewhere in the yard.

This is about 3 weeks in. And yes, I put my tomato basket in upside down. I’m learning!

And this is it as of yesterday. Sort of like a miniature jungle! I am still amazed that I’ve managed to keep it all alive – with the exception of the green bean, which does not look so hot and will probably come out in the next couple days.

The thing I’m most excited about is this:

A baby pumpkin! The people at the nursery told me that it should be ready by October. So excited!

I am looking forward to planting some fall veggies in the coming months (after it cools down a bit – it was almost 100 here today!)

Do any of you have gardens? Any advice for a novice?

Easy Lemon Yogurt Cake

I hosted my first official dinner party at our new apartment yesterday. I am happy to report that it was a success!

That’s our table, all set up. I realized last week that I only had a set of 4 placemats and 4 fancy (read: cloth) napkins and we were having 5 total for dinner, so I bought that tablecloth at Cost Plus on the way home one day last week. You can’t really tell in the picture, but it’s a really pretty blue and brown Indian pattern. I love it!

I am definitely still getting used to the fact that I have a blog because I kept forgetting to take pictures of everything I made! Gah! Luckily, this blog is intended to be about more than just cooking, but I am definitely making a concerted effort to remember from now on!

On the bright side, I did remember to take pictures of this amazing lemon yogurt cake I made for dessert.

It comes together so easily – you don’t even need a mixer! Just a whisk and a spatula and you’re good to go! I hadn’t made this before yesterday and normally I wouldn’t try out a new recipe for company, but this is an Ina Garten recipe and she has never steered me wrong, although I will say that I didn’t like this cake as well as her basic lemon cake. However, using yogurt and vegetable oil instead of butter makes it a bit healthier – at least that’s what we were all telling ourselves last night!

Lemon Yogurt Cake (Ina Garten)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 eggs
2 tsp. lemon zest (about 2 lemons worth)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the pan.

Disclaimer: I will admit here that when recipes call for mixing the dry ingredients ahead of time, I don’t always do it. If I’m making a special occasion cake or something really complicated with a lot of steps, then I’ll do it. But I figured for such a simple everyday cake, it wasn’t necessary. I thought it turned out excellently!

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla.

Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and whisk until just combined.

Fold in the oil with a rubber spatula until it is well combined – make sure it’s really all mixed in! You don’t want a greasy cake!

Pour into pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. (I always, always set my timer for 10-15 minutes ahead to check, just in case it’s going more quickly than the recipe says. Even if you have a good oven thermometer, the time can still be different than the recipe. So check early!)

After you take the cake out, let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile, combine the 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of lemon juice in a small saucepan and simmer gently, whisking, until the sugar is dissolved. It will be very clear when it’s ready. Pour over the semi-cooled cake to soak in. (Don’t wait until the cake is too cool, or it won’t soak in as well!)

Now, cool the cake completely. If you’re serving it that day, go ahead and make the glaze – just whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth and pour over the top of the cake. If you’re waiting a day or two to serve (like I did), cover your cake tightly – I put mine under the dome of my cake plate – and make the glaze the day you serve. Otherwise, your glaze will dry out slightly and won’t be as fresh looking.

Enjoy! This is a really easy recipe and the cake keeps well for a few days, if kept tightly wrapped. If anything, it only gets more moist and the lemon flavor deepens if you wait a day to serve. Yum.


The Beginning

Hello, world! I feel like the first blog post needs some kind of special introductory feel to it. So, hello. And welcome!

I have been reading blogs for a couple of years now, but this is my first foray at one of my own. As a grad student, I write a lot, so why not add something more self-designed into the mix?

I am Christa. Currently in school for library science. With an M.A. in musicology already under my belt, I am hoping to combine the two fields and become a music librarian in a couple of years. I live in Pasadena, a town just outside of Los Angeles, with my boyfriend, David. We both love to cook and go to restaurants, and I spend a lot of time “homemaking,” or at least my version of it.

My hope is that my blog will serve as a cache for favorite recipes, photography, decorating and organization ideas, and just kind of things that come up in life in general. We will just have to see where it takes me!

First and foremost, though, I want to tell you guys about this soup:

Tom kha is a Thai soup and it also happens to be David’s favorite. We made it for the first time last night and it was so good. I used a recipe from Sunset magazine and while I’m sure it’s not the most authentic recipe, it is super easy and comes together really quickly – perfect for a weeknight.

So here you go: Tom kha soup and welcome to my blog!

Tom Kha Soup (Sunset Magazine, December 2008)

1 14 oz. can coconut milk (I used light)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth (I had some homemade stock in the freezer, which I defrosted and just poured into the empty coconut milk can to measure 14 oz.)
6 quarter size slices fresh ginger
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
1 lb. chicken breast or thighs, boned, skinned, and cut into 1 in. pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce – see below)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. chili paste

In a medium saucepan (we used the Le Creuset) combine coconut milk and chicken broth. Add the ginger and lemongrass and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add the chicken and mushrooms, lime and fish sauce. Or, if you’re us, Google “fish sauce substitutes” because I thought that fish sauce and oyster sauce were the same thing and we already had oyster sauce – but nope! Turns out an equal amount of soy sauce works and you can’t tell the difference.

We added the lime rinds after we squeezed the juice out.

Then you add the sugar and the chili paste (or garlic chili sauce, which is what we had) and reduce the heat until the soup simmers. Cook for 10 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through. Dish into bowls and garnish with cilantro and/or basil, being sure to take out the lemongrass, ginger, and limes if you put them in. Serves 4.