Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Upcoming baking extravaganza

Some baking-related things of excitement will occur in the next couple weeks.

1. My dad's birthday is in one week. His party is Sunday. This is a big birthday, so a big party (relatively). I'm going to bake him a birthday cake. He's not really that big on cakes, but Mom's making a bourbon pie (Maker's Mark-themed party) so I'll make a cake. He loves lemon meringue pie, so I was thinking of a vanilla cake with lemon curd between the layers and frosted with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream, to simulate a lemon meringue pie (I could do a real meringue over frosting, but the cooking facilities where we're having the party are sub-par, and I'm not so sure about frosting it a day before and driving it out there).

My question is, is this a bad idea in the heat? We're having the party on Sunday afternoon in CT, so I'm not sure if it'll melt or anything. I made a very similar cake for Michelle's going away party last year (although with regular buttercream instead of the meringue buttercream, which I think would be sturdier) and it was a bit slippy in the car. Should I make a small amount of buttercream to dam the edges so the lemon curd doesn't leak out? Would the meringue buttercream be good enough for a dam? I think this'll be 3 or 4 layers, so leakage would cause a problem if it happens. However, I'm going to bake it Friday, make the curd and frosting Friday or Saturday morning, and assemble on Sunday, shortly before the party, so hopefully that will minimize any potential problems.

2. Peach pie! I made a peach pie one time last year (well, probably more than once), and I cut up all the peaches and I was going so slowly that I worried some would get a bit brown (but do peaches? I'm not entirely sure. Anyway...), but I was about out of lemon juice, so I tossed them with lime juice.

The pie was amazing.

So I have this peach-lime pie everyone loves, and I am going to enter it in a fair. I've never entered anything but quilts in a fair, so this is a little exciting (I'm also entering my duck sauce cookies, but that'll have its own post). I'm baking a peach lime pie tonight because I need practice before I deliver my beautiful award-winning pie on August 14th. I'm going to make everyone in our book club try it tomorrow and see what they think, and I also need some practice making beautiful pies. My pies are decent looking, but it's really the taste that's so good. However, to win a pie-prize, it needs to look and taste wonderful. So, hmm. I used to be able to make lovely pies with fancy crust edges and everything.

One drawback with this is that peaches certainly aren't cheap, so several trials are hard on my checking account.

I'm also on take 2 of the NY Times chocolate chip cookies. I made the dough last night and baked 9 cookies sans refrigeration, and they were a little on the crispy side. They're for my dad's birthday party, so I'll bake some tonight and probably some tomorrow night, and hopefully one night will yield lovely chewy cookies. I used twice as many chocolate chips, 2 12oz bags, one of semisweet and one of milk. But, um, some of the chips baked up weird, they got all hard and grainy instead of melty. It was very odd. I'd wanted to use chocolate chunks, but I couldn't find any.

Bakey bakey bakey.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Clap

I'm late jumping on the clapotis bandwagon, but I've finally done it. For those of you not in the knit-know, the clapotis is a scarf/shawl/wrap thing. It's all French and stuff. Last winter, our rotation student, who is a fellow knitter (but I didn't know it then), had a really interesting scarf, and I wanted to ask her where she got it, and if it was hand-made.... so I could make one of my own... but I never did. Then I joined ravelry, and found that everyone and their mother has made a clapotis.

So I finally decided I needed one, too. I bought some Atacama yarn, which is a super soft handpainted alpaca, and it's a delight to work with. Then I cast on.

Now, the clap has a lot of weird stitches, and everything is in knitting code, so it can be confusing. For example: one row is composed of k1 (knit 1, that's very common), k tbl (um... knit through back loop? perhaps- I wasn't sure.) As you can see in the website, there are columns of ladders (yarn that just goes straight across and doesn't have that knit stitch look- you can see what I mean on the bottom of the clapotis pattern page). So when I cast on and worked for a little bit on the increasing rows, I had this:
And there are no ladders and I wasn't sure k tbl was what I thought it was.

Then I went a bit further, and I discovered that I was indeed doing it right, and the ladders are caused by purposely dropping a stitch! oooh clever! k tbl go on either side of that dropped stitch, basically so the one dropped stitch keeps in its own column, and doesn't cause the stitches on either side of it to unravel- k tbl causes a twisted stitch that sort of locks into place. So I go on. And on and on, and I'm so thrilled with this. I'm going to have to knit another for my mom, if only for the sake of using this pattern and yarn again.
Note over there on the right all the ladders from the dropped stitches. As I saw in roton R's scarf, it curls up in a really neat way once it's all done- I'll post a photo once this is finished, which might be a while- I'm making it fairly long, at least 4'.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cookies, and consequences of a broken printer


I came across a chocolate chip cookie recipe on that everyone was raving about. I've recently been trying to obtain a recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies, and I made up my own recipe using honey and brown sugar, but they weren't much chewier than the Nestle's Tollhouse recipe I've been using since before I could say "cookie". I decided to try this recipe.

At first glance, this recipe, which was published in the New York Times at some point in the recent past, looks similar to Nestle's cookies. The egg:everything else ratio is low- 2 eggs, but everything else is bumped up. See:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

Sea salt.

Only.... our printer's broken, so I just jotted everything down. Only..... I didn't do such a good job.

Well, ok, I'll walk you through what happened. I combined the butter and sugars, beat for 5 min, added the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, and then I just dumped all the dry ingredients in there and mixed by hand. (I used all-purpose flour instead of cake and bread). Here's the funny part: I missed that whole part about 1-2/3cup cake flour. I added 2cups minus 2T of flour. And the dough was soft, more like batter. (Finally I added in 1 12-oz bag of chocolate chips- 1.5bags would have been better.)

Now, on ravelry with all the raving and recommendations for this recipe, there was a discussion of refrigerating the dough, and why and how necessary and how long, etc. I think they concluded it's so the flavors can combine and just make it yummier. Well, my practically flour-less batter definitely needed some hardening, so I thought, maybe that's why you fridge it.

But... me being me, I had to bake some! The dough was so tasty, I needed to eat the cookie, just one. So I baked 6 (1-T balls of dough/batter, 350 for 18-22 minutes, per the recipe).

After 15 minutes, I smelled over-done cookies. I went to investigate.
Um.... they're kinda spread out.

Um... they're kind flat.

Well, they never got refrigerated. That must be it. But the next morning, they came out exactly the same, as they did after 24 and 36 hours in the fridge. Hmm. How odd. They also seemed extremely greasy, and the butter:flour ratio was incredibly high. That seemed problematic- but everyone else was so impressed with the recipe! I did not understand.

Then.... I went back to the website. And discovered that I'd forgotten the part about 1-2/3 cup of cake flour (i.e. all-purpose in my kitchen- I would like to try this with part cake and part all-purpose, though). So, I added in more flour to the remaining batter, accounting for what I'd taken out to bake, and baked the cookies.
That's better. Cookie-shaped and chewy. These really are good cookies.

One thing, though- there's part about sprinkling these with sea salt, which seems like a cool concept. I actually think they're salty enough on their own (and I was using unsalted butter), and I like salty things. Try them and see what you think about that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vermont Brewer's Festival

This past weekend was the VT Beer Festival in Burlington, VT- right on Lake Champlain, which would have been beautiful, had it not been so hazy.

Now, I don't actually drink beer. I'm more of a wine and froofy girly drinks girl, myself. I went because I've heard so much about it, and some friends wanted to go. I'm also going to be moving before the next Beer Festival, so I thought I ought to go, just once.

The way it works: there are three sessions (Friday evening, and Saturday noon and evening). One buys a ticket (either there or pre-order) for $25, and for the money one is given a small pilsner glass (so cute!) and 10 beer tickets. There were 36 Vermont (ok, and a handful of New Hampshire) breweries set up in tents, each with probably between 3 and 8 types of beer on tap. One ticket, generally, was good for one glass (the small pilsner given at the entrance) of beer. In this way, one can sample 10 different types of beer. Some beers had higher alcohol content, so they could cost more tickets, but extra tickets were available for purchase.

I used 8 of my tickets, 3 on cider (Woodchuck, which I know I like, and Harpoon, which I know I'm iffy about) and the rest on beers, and I sampled many of fiance's beers and a few of D's, so I did try quite a few. I discovered that I tolerate Sam Adam's Blackberry Witbier and Forbidden Fruit (by..... .... I can't remember!) quite well- the former tasted like blackberry iced tea with beer aftertaste, and the latter like raspberry juice with beer aftertaste. One that was interesting and worth noting was by a Quebecois brewery (again, can't remember the name- I'll try to edit this later once I look this up in the pamphlet we picked up) and was called Aphrodite, and labeled as a "dessert beer". It was said to be mildly hoppy (so more likely I'd like it, hops are what promote the beer face- see my facebook photos for info on that) and have cocoa and vanilla. While I didn't exactly like it, I found it quite interesting, and definitely worth trying. Fiance thought it was quite awesome and was very happy to finish off my glass. Another interesting one was the summer gruit by American Flatbread (and something-or-other), which lacks hops. This was another I happily tolerated- so it's the hops that I don't like.

Aside from all the beer (check out the website for more info, if you like beer or would consider going next year- which I highly recommend!- ), there was food. Much of it seemed to be from local VT food places, such as VT Smoke house (serving bacon sandwiches- and no wishy-washy BLTs! Thick slabs of grilled bacon (which looked like a fatty slice of ham to me) on nice artisan-y white bread), a Burlington-based Kettle corn company, a local ice cream place, among many others. It was kind of like county fair food, but without the cotton candy and carnies. I think the best (i.e. most interesting) food I sampled was Long Trail Coffee Stout Ice Cream. I actually stopped and stared when I saw the sign (this may have been after several beers, though, can't quite remember), and fiance and I went back later to indulge. I've forgotten who made the ice cream (I know, I'm so useful), but the ice cream itself was wonderfully perfect. They were also making waffle cones right there in the tent (oh the smell of those waffle cones!!! >drool<). We unfortunately realized that after we asked for a cup, because it was easier to share. Anyway, the coffee stout ice cream. It was kind of like a beer float with coffee ice cream- amazing coffee ice cream. At first it was coffee-and-dairy sweet, with a hint of bitter, but then the beer taste developed after the ice cream coated your mouth. So at first, I thought it was amazingly good, but after several spoonfuls, the beer aftertaste became too much for me. We're iffy on whether we'd ever have it again, but definitely, definitely are glad we tried it. (plus the awesome ice cream! Maybe it was just becuase it was so hot and sunny, but I thought it topped Ben and Jerry's, and I've always thought they're the best).

Then (still more good eats!) we went to the Single Pebble, a chinese restaurant in Burlington. Now, I don't really like Chinese. In fact, I usually avoid it at all costs. But G said it's great, and I haven't had to force it down in a while, so I was fine. Well. This was actually quite good- nothing like your regular chinese restaurants. Everything was served family-style on a giant lazy susan in the middle of the table, so we shared: Spicy Three Rivers soup (coconut milk-based spicy soup with strips of mild white fish), peking duck, mock eel (shiitake mushrooms fried and doused in a teriyaki-type sauce), lemon crispy chicken (kind of like chicken strips in a lemony sauce), chow fun with all types of meats, and kung pao chicken. The soup and mock eel were SO GOOD omg. I would have been happy just eating those. The rest was all quite good, as well, the kung pao and chow fun were just what I'm used to from regular chinese restaurants, but less greasy and sad-looking. The kung pao was actually quite pretty, the colors of the sauce and veggies in it were quite striking.

To end the evening, we visited Lake Champlain Chocolates. Yum. I got white chocolate bark with cherries and apricots, and a caramel cashew turtle- type confection to take home. Fiance got a lemon ginger truffle that was disappointing (the lemon, ginger and chocolate flavors didn't marry well, we all think it should have just been a ginger truffle or a lemon truffle). I think the others got other basic chocolate goodies.

All in all, yum. And we were definitely stuffed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My long absence

I've been away for 11 days. Since I've been away, I've knitted a lot, eaten a lot, and cooked nothing. I don't have any photos, but some restaurant recommendations if you're in the Washington, DC area.
Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, VA. Their big thing is "George Washington ate here". Which he did. The food's really great, basic American fare (the pork chop is to diiiie for, although everything came with sauerkraut, which seemed weird and was new since we ate there in June 2007). They often have someone playing a dead white guy: James Madison or Benjamin Franklin have been the common ones.

Indigo Landing in Alexandria. This is at a yacht club, and is quite nice. I recommend getting the appetizer sampler (deep-fried dungeness crab, shrimp skewers and hummus with garlic naan) to split between two people, and the lump crab sliders. The chopped salad is also good- one of those half-a-head of iceburg with blue cheese dressing things, but lovely and fresh, and the dressing was up there with the best blue cheese dressings. Don't bother with the ahi tuna, it has no flavor. They say it has a sesame ginger marinade, but they're lying.

Old Ebbit's Grill on 15th Ave NW (I think) in DC. Get the crab cakes. Go back a second time and get more crab cakes. Also the cherry cobbler is delish- they use fresh cherries, something I don't see often (not that I dislike canned cherries, but I feel that's a tad lazy if the restaurant is a pricey, linen napkin type of restaurant).

Cartler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis, MD. THE best crab cake. This is a sit-on-picnic-tables-covered-with-paper kind of restaurant. Plastic cups, plastic baskets lined with waxed paper, you get the idea. People sit and smash whole crabs and pick at them to eat. But the crab cakes are seriously the best I'd had, and enormous- I saved half of mine for the next day's dinner. Also, get the crab dip, it's creamy and cheesey and warm and perfect.

We didn't go there this time, and it's a chain, but the Melting Pot is quite good, if you like fondue. Bf misunderstood fondue, so perhaps others do: fondue is not just melted cheese. Fondue is also boiling broth that you dip raw meat into and cook. It's also chocolate. Don't not go to the Melting Pot simply because you don't like cheese fondue.

The Corner Bakery for a casual boxed lunch. Yum. I used them for a catered lunch I put together for a tour another woman organized, and while the delivery guy was a pain in the #&* (he called me and said, I'm on the corner of 18th and C. So I ran out there and said, ok I'm here, but I don't see you. He says, oh I see you. And hangs up. So I wait about 5 minutes for my 70 sandwiches to come to me, and nothing. So I call him back and say, I don't see you, where are you? Him: 18th and C. I see you. *click*. ?!?!? I want my food!!! I called him back again and said, BRING ME MY SANDWICHES!!!. Well, he was on 18th and D. Which is actually where we needed to be to enter the building near the elevator to get the sandwiches downstairs. Ugh. I gave him a $6 tip for delivering 70 lunches. Idiot). Anyway, the lunches were great. Check out the website, but do it after you have lunch, or you'll start drooling all over the keyboard.

Finally, for lovely breakfasts we choose La Madeleine. A french-inspired counter-service small chain in the DC area. They have the best croissants in the US (in my opinion). They also have decent coffee, good breakfasts (eggs, egg sandwiches, quiches, fresh fruit) and good lunch/dinner sandwiches and salads. Also a nice selection of pretty pastries.

Now, knitting. I worked on the muscari socks from and finished them once I returned (yay! great socks, and great yarn- happy feet by plymouth yarns). Also: a cat bed for my cat, which still needs to be stuffed, using Lion Brand homespun with fun fur accents on the side, and the Lelah Top everyone's working on, which I have finished according to their directions, but I want to sit down and figure out how to best convert it to a sleeveless top. I used Knitpicks shine sport weight, which was nice to work with (except for all the fuzz it left on my hands and lap).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cupcakes in two parts

1. from Cupcakes Take the Cake: the question of pairing cupcakes with champagne.

cupcakes and champagne?

Um... YES. duh! Commenters suggested it for weddings or engagements parties. (files away that idea...)500 Cupcakes, and frosted them with the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream frosting (my favorite), and stuffed them with nutella. I'm uncertain about the number of flavors here, but I do think the buttercream is a lovely pairing for the chai cupcakes. I hope they go over well. I think the "chai powder" I used was not what was called for, but I'm not really sure what chai powder is. I ended up using the powdered instant chai that's the same as all those sweet instant coffees I was so fond on in college (roommate F's fault). Also, I'm uncertain about the recipe itself, and I may just add chai powder to my usual vanilla cupcake recipe.

Recipe issues:
it called for 2 cups of self-rising flour (for a dozen cupcakes- really 16). I consulted King Arthur to see how to make my own self-rising flour, since I just buy all-purpose. It said 1.5teaspoons of baking powder (and some amount of salt that I can't remember- the saltiness was fine) per1 cup of flour. So, 1T powder with 2cups flour. I tried very very hard not to overbeat, which is important when working with baking powder, but the cupcakes came out extremely dense... fine for a fibrous, healthy muffin, but not so much for a sweet and delicate cupcake. I feel that there was simply way too much powder, even with the assumption that I over beat. I've been trying to look around at other flour-to-powder ratios, but it seems normal. And now I can't remember which vanilla cupcake recipe I prefer! Oy.

I also frosted a few cupcakes with chocolate icing, to accomodate the tastes of the ladies who'll be eating them- I think the two specials (birthday girl and recent graduate girl) prefer chocolate to vanilla. I think technically I might be a special too (I'll explain later), but I got to lick the bowl after making the vanilla frosting :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Meme, unrelated to cooking or knitting.

Most people who read this know me, or else have access to some profile or other that I've set up elsewhere. But I'm procrastinating, as I am wont to do, so....

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?

I'd graduated from high school, and I was "studying" to be a tour guide at the Hillstead Museum in Farmington, CT. I was also sleeping a lot, and packing for college, getting ready to take some trips, and...... not all that much. Exactly 10 years ago, I was probably at the beach.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today?

1. Go to the gym
2. Bake cupcakes for Denise's craft night
3. Go to every single women's clothing store in Hanover in search of a white formal gown.
4. Have lunch with Mei
5. Finishing editing the results section of the darn paper.

(I've done 3 (which was unsuccessful) and 4, and a very small amount of 5. 1 and 2 will be done after I leave lab, so there's hope!)

3) Snacks I enjoy:

um, everything? There's a reason going to the gym is #1 on my to-do. I love cookies and nearly all jelly candies, I have a serious sweet tooth. Also, fruit. Any fruit, just put it near me and it'll be gone.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire (in no particular order):

Pay off my car (but not my condo, I get good tax breaks from a mortgage, apparently). Buy a vacation home on the CT shore. Buy some really expensive shoes. Throw an awesome wedding with all the bells and whistles anyone could ever want. Be completely frivolous, and then donate a ton of money to melanoma research.

5) Places I have lived:

West Hartford, Connecticut
Wellesley, Massachusetts
Lebanon, New Hampshire
and soon.... somewhere near Worcester, Massachusetts

6) Jobs I have had:

Lowly lab rat, Dr Barbarese's lab at UCONN Health Center
Lowly lab rat, CT State Health Department
Lowly lab rat, another lab at the CT State Health Department
Lowly lab rat and refrigerator defroster (because I was the female summer intern- no, I'm not still bitter- but I actually enjoy defrosting refrigerators), Metropolitcan District Commission (they're in charge of drinking water in the Hartford area)
Tour guide, Hillstead Museum in Farmington
Carillon teacher
Semi-important lab rat with real responsibilities, Dr Tanzer's lab at UCONN Health Center
Grad student and fashion adviser, Dr Barlowe's lab at Dartmouth

Yarn swap!

I meant to mention this earlier, but I think I forgot- I'm not surprised, June has been a busy and eventful month.

I joined a yarn swap! This is the Starbucks and Yarn Swap that I discovered on ravelry. I've never done a yarn swap before, so hopefully I won't commit any terrible faux pases (arg how to you pluralify French words? And what's the verb for "plural"?) in this swap. I think basically we're knitting something for our assigned swap buddy and buying them some Starbucks treasures, and mailing them in August. Yay! We'll see if I can start knitting before I go to DC this weekend, my dad's driving so I'll have lots of knitting time. As for Starbucks goodies... I'll have to specify coffee, since I don't actually have a proper Starbucks within an hour from me- gift cards would be pretty useless.

Yeah. So. I'm supposed to fill out a questionnaire either on ravelry or my blog, but I'm not sure I'll do it on my blog, unless I leave out the personal info.


Also, tonight I'm making cupcakes: chai cupcakes from 500 Cupcakes filled with nutella and frosted with Magnolia's vanilla buttercream frosting (which you can find somewhere on I'm hoping to find some small hazelnut candies for decoration. And, I hope to use my brand-new cupcake carrier! (courtesy of my mom, as a birthday present).