Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trip to Alexandria, VA (part deux)

For dinner, we originally were going out for happy hour oysters, but the restaurant was closed for a wedding rehearsal (with very little signage, so it took us a minute to figure out what was up), and so we decided to go back to Cafe Salsa for some happy hour munchies instead. Appetizers were half off, and drinks were cheap. I had a glass (okay, two glasses) of their Red Sangria, which was very good - not too sweet and with a good amount of fruit tossed in. Mr Llama had a mojito, obviously the overindulgance from the night before had little effect on him! We ordered their ceviche (raw seafood marinated in citrus juice), Papitas Rellanas (mashed potatoes around cuban meat and deep fried), and the Arepitas (cornmeal cakes topped with shredded pork). The ceviche was by far the best, tangy and a bit spicy, with noticible cumin and cilantro flavors. The seafood was firm and moist and very tasty. The cornmeal cakes with shredded pork were good but not outstanding, and I liked the papitas mostly because fried mashed potatoes are good in any form.

It was still early, so we decided to walk up and down King Street, where we spotted a sign for a wine and coffee bar called Grape + Bean. We sat down at the bar, I had a glass of Sauv Blanc, and Mr Llama tried a wine flight. Unfortunately, after mojitos and some wine, I forgot to write down any of the wines we tried. However, we did try a fabulous Muscatel paired with some artisanal chocolate. . . . While we were there, I pulled out my Pomatomus sock to work on, and ended up in a number of conversations with nearby patrons, two of which knit as well! We talked about the pattern, knitting while drinking, it was fabulous! We probably spent two hours in the wine bar, since it was dark by the time we left.

After more wandering, we finished the night at Mai Thai, where we shared an order of Scallion Rice Cakes, sticky rice shaped into patties, wrapped in scallions, and fried, served with a sweet Hoisin-based dipping sauce, and and order of vegetarian spring rolls, crunchy vegetables wrapped in rice paper. Neither dish was spicy, so we asked for hot sauce and got a tray of four different chili sauces - peppers in vinegar, a dry spice mix, a sambal-esque sauce, and a darker, milder combination that tasted almost like XO sauce. Full and happy, we headed back to the hotel.

Stopped at Candi's Candies and bought a big bag of taffy - they have more flavors than I've ever seen in one place! Even things like molasses and honey, which, although they're two of my favorites, could not be considered to be the most popular of flavors.

(I am posting this even though I didn't finish it because it needed to be done! --Llama 3-28-12)

Restarting the blog and cleaning out the freezer!

So, yeah, life happens and the first thing to go is the blog, of course. That and writing a dissertation for 10-12 hours a day makes writing in the down time exceptionally hard, but that's been over for more than a year, so I have no excuse not to start up again!

I've started to focus on cleaning out my freezers. They've now been reorganized and inventoried, and I've noticed two things:
1) I have WAY too much tomatillo sauce. As good as it is, there is no way I'm going to eat all that anytime soon, so there will be NO tomatillos in the garden this year!
2) I apparently buy frozen Brussels sprouts and spinach every time I go to the store. This is getting a bit silly.

So, tonight was getting rid of an (unlabeled, of course) Rubbermaid container of some-kind-of-pureed-winter-squash. Winter squashes go well with butter, bacon, onions, and sage. I had lasagna noodles in the pantry, bacon fat on the counter (in my bacon fat mug- doesn't everyone have one of those?!), half an onion in the fridge, and sage in the garden. And before you say it, yeah, I know, I was totally lazy and Sandra Lee'd it up with the "pre-grated cheese", but that's what I get for picking up cheese at Target. That was the only thing I needed to complete...

Some-kind-of-squash Lasagna
Serves 4-6; one 11"X7" pyrex dish

1.5 cups of some kind of roasted squash puree (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc)
12 lasagna noodles
2 Tbsp bacon fat (sub butter or oil if you need)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
8 oz grated Italian blend cheese 
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil water in a large pan. Add salt until the water tastes like sea water, then add the lasagna noodles and cook as indicated on whatever package you have. You could probably use the no-cook noodles but I would add extra water to the squash or make extra bechamel sauce. While the water boils/noodles cook, melt the bacon fat and butter together, then add the onions and saute until they start to brown. Add the chopped sage and saute until it turns bright green. Whisk in the flour to make a roux; cook for a couple minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Whisk in the milk, turn down the heat, and stir regularly until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the squash is unseasoned, you'll want to make the bechamel almost too salty to make the final lasagna palatable. Drain the pasta (I gave it a little rinse in cold water just so I could touch the noodles). Put a thin layer of bechamel on the bottom of your pan, cover with 4 noodles. Spread with half the squash, a fourth of the grated cheese, and a third of the bechamel. Repeat with noodles, squash, cheese, bechamel, noodles, bechamel, and the last half the cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cheese on top is browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes so it doesn't fall apart on you.

I had a salad with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it on the side.

Approximate nutrition information for 6 servings:  One serving has approximately 500 calories, 56g carbs, 22g fat, 26g protein.  (From's recipe calculator)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tomato Nation - DonorsChoose

Please help out Sars (of Television Without Pity fame) raise money for schools! The goal is high, the prizes are many, and the month is full of AWESOME!

Bet Red.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trip to Alexandria, VA (part 1)

I spent last weekend in Alexandria, VA on a much-needed vacation. As it coincided with Mr. Llama's business trip, we only had to pay for my ticket and one night in the hotel (more money left for food and yarn, I say!).

The flight in was quiet, uneventful, and productive for knitting - I'm currently knitting this sweater out of Cascade 220 100% wool, and managed to finish the body up to where the sleeves will be joined! There was another knitter in the same row, which was nice to see, and the in-flight movie was
Monsters vs Aliens, a movie I had been intending to see but never got around to. I really enjoyed the movie - good vs evil plus some girl-empowerment going on, I found it both funny and original. Plus, Stephen Colbert voices the POTUS!

After taking the Metro and a nice walk to the hotel, I spent a bit of time sitting before Mr. Llama returned and we walked down to King Street in Old Town Alexandria. The street is lined with restaurants, stores, and historical sites, and is extremely pedestrian-friendly though King Street can have heavy traffic at times. Dinner was at the Fish Market, a busy place with a raw bar and giant glasses of beer. We shared a full pound of their specialty, the "Hot" Spiced Shrimp. Basically, just unpeeled shrimp cooked in a combination of spices that included bay leaves, coriander, and red pepper flakes (among many others I couldn't identify, but I was about halfway through the bathtub of beer - Harpoon IPA if you're interested - so that probably had something to do with it!) The shrimp, two orders of Hush Puppies, and some bread made a good meal for a hot day. Their Hush Puppies are some of the best I've had - lots of garlic flavor kept them from being just fried sugary cornmeal.

After dinner, we made our way to Cafe Salsa for some mojitos - they were apparently on special that night, as we only paid about $40 for 14 drinks (we were with a group - really). No skimping on the mint here, and they weren't too sweet, either. I probably would have preferred mine to be made with a dark rum, but that wouldn't have been a standard mojito, either. That pretty much finished off the night for all of us, and we made our way back to the hotel and some sleep.

The next day I spent alone while Mr Llama was again at work. I wandered back to King St to find some breakfast and especially some coffee, and went into La Madeleine, one of a chain of French bistro-ish eateries, emerging with an almond croissant and a double espresso. Unfortunately, the croissant, while topped with crunchy toasted almonds, was filled with a too-sweet flavorless goo which made the pastry soggy and unappitizing, and the espresso, which lacked any semblance of crema, tasted only slightly better than the coffee I had on the airplane. I'd like to hope that the rest of their menu isn't so bad, but I didn't bother going back to find out! After the nauseating breakfast, I walked the shops. There's a definite French influence and a number of imported French furniture stores and French bistros. I found a place to try breakfast the next morning called Le Pain Quotidien, which I glanced into and looked less like a cafeteria than La Madeleine. The menu was also smaller, which was encouraging.

And then I found the yarn! Two stores were within walking distance, and one was having their grand opening as well! Fibre space (here they are on Facebook) had opened that morning - a nice airy space with lots of well-organized shelves, though they were only half-full since all the yarn hadn't come in yet. They did have samples of the yarns yet to come in, though, so people could touch and grope and fall in love! I bought a skein of 100% merino superwash sock yarn in a deep purple/green colorway called Iris and a set of #2 dpns to start the infamous Pomatomus socks - yay! I really loved the colors and, now that I've started the socks, love that it's not pooling strangely and the variagation doesn't lead to striping! The people there were very nice, fun, and excited, and I really enjoyed myself. I wished I had brought some knitting so I could have just spent some time on their couches! I also purchased a reusable bag with their logo - big enough for the sweater parts I've got in progress.

The second shop, though promising, was a bit disappointing. It was completely void of customers, and the only employee was very quiet and a little standoffish. I did buy a single skein of a locally-dyed yarn because 1) it was locally dyed and I wanted a souvenir yarn, 2) it was
so soft, a 50/50 blend of merino and silk, and 3) it was the only skein of a pretty varigated green - I'm a sucker for orphan skeins, they're like little lost kittens!

Since I hadn't brought any knitting with me, I planned to go back to the hotel - but first, a side trip to Trader Joe's! There aren't any Trader Joe's in Colorado, so I needed to get my fix. Tasted some wines, bought a lot of chocolates and freeze-dried fruit, and picked up some Bourbon Vanilla and Spanish Saffron for much better prices than I can get around my town. After that, it was back to the hotel, where I spent the rest of the afternoon winding my new sock yarn and starting the Pomatomus - got all the way through the cuff and into the pattern before Mr. Llama returned and we were off for dinner.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crockpot Beef Stew and Sandra Lee

So, I feel like since I've been giving this recipe out at least once a week to someone, I might as well just post the darn thing on here and then just reference my blog! More readers and less work on my part, heh.

I came up with this beef stew recipe after some great discussions with friends on the Television Without Pity Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee forum about crockpot cooking and how to make good meals without cooking like Sandra Lee.

I suppose I should explain further.

I am a self-proclaimed Shrike. I do not like Sandra Lee, I do not like what she stands for, and I really do not like her "recipes" (or arrrrussipees, if you like to use Sandra-speak). Many years ago, I happened upon her show as I walked through the room. This was back when Food Network focused mainly on actual cooking shows, and was great for having on as background noise, and since I was in the middle of writing for my comprehensive exam, I spent a lot of time at home. Anyway, she was making Tiramisu. With Mascarpone cheese (mars-capone, in Sandra-speak) mixed into pudding cups. Seriously? I am not going to spend money on good Mascarpone just to mix it with artificially-flavored paste, and I am especially not going to scrape out pudding cups. I started watching her show just to yell at the TV, and then eventually I found the community on TWoP. They are absolutely hilarious, smart, wonderful people, who never would have met if it wasn't for our shared dislike of this woman. Crazy, isn't it?

In any case, we tend to share a lot of recipes. Good recipes, many of which could be considered to follow the Semi-Ho philosophy, if it had ever been executed correctly in the first place. Lots of canned beans, tomatoes, etc, are fine. Using truffle oil with your RealLemon? Not so much. We like real food, with real ingredients, and NO seasoning packets.

This beef stew is easy, tastes good, and is inexpensive to make. I don't need to flavor it with a can of beef stew or a packet of beef gravy. The only seasoning is Emeril's Essence, and that's not even essential to the recipe - you can flavor with thyme alone if you want. Enjoy! I like to serve with cheesy grits, but it's also fine with egg noodles or your favorite starch. Or just by itself with a loaf of crusty bread and a pint of beer.

Crockpot Beef Stew

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ c flour

2 lbs lean stew beef

2 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence

1 onion, sliced against the grain

3 carrots, in ½” slices

½ lb mushrooms

1-2 lbs baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered

4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

2-3 Tbsp tomato paste

¾ can Murphy’s stout, or Guiness, or red wine, or beef broth

2 cups water



Bay leaf

2 Tbsp butter/margarine/oil

2-3 Tbsp flour

Season beef with salt, pepper, essence. Add flour and toss to coat. Heat oil in pan, brown beef in two batches and put into crockpot. While beef is cooking, cut up onion, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and carrots and put into crockpot. After beef is finished, add tomato paste to pan, cook a bit, then deglaze pan with beer, scraping up all the browned bits. (Drink the rest of the beer as a present to yourself, or add the whole can, I guess, but I'd rather drink it!) Add to crockpot along with water. Cook on high setting for 4 hours (or low for 6-8 hours). Make a roux of butter and flour, stir into stew, cook for 1 hour more. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve with green beans, bread, cheese grits.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My husband. My friend, My yarn enabler.

Yesterday, I took some time between work and fun to head over to the Lamb Shoppe, a lovely, well-organized, very friendly yarn store for some dpns (double-pointed needles for the uninitiated). I'm working on my very first sweater, and am almost done with the body, and didn't own #8 dpns with which to knit the sleeves. Of course, I brought the husband with me since we were on our way to dinner, and he didn't want to sit in the car. We went in, I headed right for the needles, intending an in-and-out stop. I did stop to fondle and ogle some yarns, and kind of went over the basics for Ray since he was interested in what you do with different weights/styles/fibers of yarn. Anyway, by the register was a basket containing some balls of gorgeous Louisa Harding Kimono Angora. Four balls, from the same dye lot, and 40% off.

And Ray told me to just buy them. So I did, disregarding my original plans to completely destash before I buy new yarn.

I'm a freaking yarn addict.

And now I have an enabler.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Knitting Post!

So I know you're all thinking "the blog is called The Knitting Llama, but there aren't any llamas, and there isn't any knitting - I want my money back!"

Besides the fact that you're not paying for this, and never will have to pay for this, it really is time to say something about knitting. I knit. I taught myself about 7 years ago, when I started grad school, because I decided I needed some sort of portable hobby. I started pretty much where most knitters start: a scarf. While not the ugliest scarf in the world, since it was just off-white, it was too short and inconsistent in width, plus I had knitted it in stockinette stitch, so it would constantly curl up. Worst. Scarf. Ever. I still have it somewhere, though I'll never wear it. It's a symbol of accomplishment now, nothing more.

I stopped knitting for a time after that, mostly because classes and working got in the way, but I eventually started again, armed with this book of dishcloths. If you're using them to wash dishes, who cares if they look bad, right? The book got me started again, gave me confidence in my knitting ability, and taught me new skills; I now give this book to anyone I know who wants to start knitting. Making a dishcloth is relatively quick and easy, the yarn needed is thick enough and not fuzzy so you can see your stitches, and this book even has some relatively intricate cabling patterns - great for learning how to cable without running the risk of ruining something expensive and large. Plus, they make fabulous gifts for anyone, and for relatively cheap (depending on how much your time is worth, I suppose). When else can you essentially give your practice swatches as gifts?

My first full afghan was a present to my husband's grandmother. Not knowing any better, I knitted it with very cheap, not very soft acrylic yarn (Red Heart, I believe). The pattern was simple, just a diagonal stripe. It seemed like it took forever, as I had been making tons of dishcloths for the last few months, and I realized that a boring afghan pattern makes it really hard to want to work on said afghan. I think the only reason I finished it was because it was a gift; it would have been easy to give up on something for myself, since I didn't really like the colors all that much in the first place, and it wasn't soft in any way.

Since then, I've knitted socks, hats, baby afghans, full size afghans, and baby booties. Unlike this post, my future knitting posts will focus on types of projects, ideas, things like that. I just wanted to get some of the history out there, and let other beginning knitters know that it does get better than that first oddly-shaped scarf we all have hidden in our closets!