Thursday, February 25, 2010

A productive Ravelympics evening

I finished 2 of my Ravelympics projects! Now I have a total of 4 finishes: frogging the pink sweater, reknitting the pink sweater, and these two.

Baby sweater:

And neckwarmer for a swap:

A navy elbow-length sleeved sweater and a pair of socks for Clint still remain. I believe I stand a chance of finishing the sweater- if I knit fast.

Today I also baked more Swedish cardamom bread. Interesting discovery: if I wake up the yeast during breakfast, let the dough rise 8 hrs while I'm at work, and let the shaped loaves rise during dinner, I can have fresh-from-the-oven bread for dessert. This is extremely convenient- and probably means we'll never purchase bread again.

Now to calculate the cost efficiency of homemade bread- but I'm sure the taste is worth the money.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chili, and more bread

I woke up this morning and thought, what bread shall I make today? Then I joked to my husband that when I worked primarily on yeast for my research in grad school, I never made bread, and now I make it all the time- I think it's because I miss my yeast.

Today required a little more searching before I could get started. What to make? I made raisin cinnamon bread (which could be improved upon), cheesey sesame seed bread to get a break from all the nutella sweets, then rye bread, solely because we'd found some rye flour in the baking cabinet. But what about today?

As usual, I made a recipe from my King Arthur Flour cookbook. In flipping through the "yeast bread and rolls" section, I found a number of good looking recipes, but the Simple Sweet Bread page caught my eye. I ended up making Swedish Cardamom bread.

Step 1: in a medium-sized bowl, combine 1 cup lukewarm milk with 1 cup flour, whisk together, then add 1 heaping tablespoon yeast. Stir a bit, then leave alone for a little while- 45 minutes today.

Step 2: add 2 eggs, 6T softened butter, 1t cardamom, 1.5t salt. Then at 3.5-4 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Knead for 4 minutes, let rest for a few minutes, knead 4 more minutes (I kneaded all in the mixer, as usual), then place in a greased bowl, cover, and leave in a warm spot for about 2 hrs.

Step 3: punch down the dough, and divide into halves, then each half into thirds.
Roll each third into a snake, and braid each set of 3 dough snakes- for 2 braided loaves.

Step 4: let rise again, covered, for an hour. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350oF for about 30 minutes.

Then eat.

We also made more chili. This is the same recipe I used (with some minor alterations, frozen corn instead of canned, chipotle powder instead of cayenne pepper) on Super Bowl Sunday. I adapted Sunny Anderson's Interstate Chili recipe.

In a crock pot, combine:
2 red peppers, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 yellow onions, diced
3T cumin
2T oregano (dried)
1T cinnamon
1T chili powder
2t chipotle
3T worcestershire sauce
1T tabasco
2cups chicken broth
1 bottle dark beer (we used Long Trail Hibernator)
1 giant can kidney beans (or 2 regular cans)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 6oz can tomato paste
1 bag frozen corn kernels

While your husband's doing that, brown 1.25 (or so) lbs ground turkey and 6-8oz sausage (smushed into bite sizes bits, and we used some sort of smokey spicy delicious-smelling portuguese sausage) in a pan, then drain off the grease and add the meat to the crock pot.

Stir it all around. Cook- last time we cooked on low for 5hrs, this time we're trying it on high for an hour, and low for 2-3hrs, until we feel like eating.

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, and cornbread.

Cornbread: 1 full recipe, in an 8x8 dish.

1.25 cups flour
3/4cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/2t salt
2t baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup thawed frozen corn kernels

Whisk together first 5 ingredients, then beat together eggs, milk, oil, and add to the dry ingredients. Stir in corn. Bake at 325oF for 25 min in an 8x8 baking dish.

Knitting Olympics Update

I don't think I've really mentioned it much here, but I'm involved in the Ravelympics (knitting Olympics) this year. Basically, you enter projects (however many, and whatever type you choose) and you must start them no earlier than the beginning of the opening ceremonies, and finish them by the end of the closing ceremonies. I participated in the 2008 summer Olympics (knit my garter), but never officially finished. This year I actually joined a team and having the support of a group of people, even though it's all online, has been a lot more helpful- or maybe I've finally figured out how it all works.

Originally, I was going to focus on a pair of socks for Clint, for the "sock hockey" event. Then I discovered WIPs Dancing- finish all your unfinished "works in progress", as long as you haven't worked on them for a month prior to the opening ceremonies. Do you know how many unfinished sweaters I have in my yarn tubs?

Originally I was going to finish Dogwood Donna, a pink shortsleeved sweater I began in 2007, made the wrong size, "frogged" (ripped apart), knit again, screwed up the ribbing, and started over- then got too sick of it- it's actually a rather boring pattern. I was also going to work on what I call my "Stupid Berroco Sweater", a pattern by Berroco (a yarn brand) that sorely needed editing before they published it. I knit according to the directions, couldn't figure out why the shoulders were completely wrong (more like a halter top), but then someone told me what the fix was- only I was so disgusted I never bothered to do it.

So here's Donna, before and after.

I don't have a full picture of the stupid berroco sweater, because.... I can't find it! Another casualty of the move (note how heart-broken I am, ha)

But while digging around in my yarn tub, I found other forgotten WIPs:

Papillion (from Winter 2007 Knitescene), an elbow-length sleeved boatneck sweater- I knit the front, realized it was way too big, so reknit the front and knit maybe 2 rows of the back, before giving up (the smaller piece is the piece I'm taking apart, because it was too wide)

Baby sweater for baby P: started on the honeymoon, then when we got home, I finished the body of it, got excited by my new sock yarn, and kind of forgot to knit the sleeves and hat. I currently just need to knit the hat, and sew on 6 buttons.

I found a couple other things that technically are unfinished, but one is a sock using a pattern that is both annoying/confusing to follow, and horribly boring, and the other only has 4 rows knit, and uses a yarn that I can't easily buy (unless I go online) and will be rather expense to purchase right now.

And I also realized I need to knit something for a swap I'm in, and finally decided what to make this girl: a neckwarmer. So I have the ingredients for it, and will hopefully start tonight (once I finish the baby hat). I still haven't officially entered this project yet, but I will before I start it.
This leaves the pair of socks for Clint: originally my only Ravelympics project. I suppose you either think I don't sleep or am a knitting phenom, but really... I'm going to forfeit Clint's sock. I feel bad, but I knit for 4 or 5 hours yesterday (during a CTDAR state board meeting, and did not get in trouble, like I was sure I would) and got this much done, on the first sock.
I'm about halfway done with the leg. These are not speedy socks. The current plan is to finish everything above, then work solely on the socks, and just see how far I can get. Maybe I can get one done.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Macarons, take 2!

I posted about making french almond macarons (not coconut macaroons, although I made those too) recently. In a nutshell, it was a slightly different cooking technique, not too hard, had few ingredients.... but they didn't turn out so great.

They took forever to cook (about twice as long as the recipe said) and crinkled weirdly on top. And then I overcooked one batch and they were rock-hard. Well, they were all rock-hard.

My first thought was: my oven temperature's not accurate. So I bought an oven thermometer, made cupcakes at 375oF, and found that if anything, the oven temp was slightly higher than it should be. Hmm, weird.

But then, after making gelato with 8 egg yolks, I had a lot of white sitting around. And I heard that a friend of mine goes nuts for macarons and paid $1 EACH for some from a French Bakery in town. Well hello, I guess I need to make more.

And you know what? I followed the same recipe, did everything the same (except these egg whites had been in tupperware in the fridge for a week, not on the counter, loosely covered, for 1 day), and they came out perfectly.
Don't they look like something you'd buy?

So what the problem was: my oven temperature is slightly off- at higher temps, 375 and up, it's slightly higher than normal, but after preheating for 30 min to get it to 300oF, the thermometer read at only 260. So that's the problem. I fussed and got the temp up, baked, and they did great.

Clint voted for green macarons, and I used the lemon frosting from my previous post to fill them- buttercream would be better, this is a little gooey- but still tasty.

Maybe I should open up shop and sell these babies for $1 each. I think I got about 20-25 cookies from this batch- not including the 4 that "didn't survive" to the frosting stage, or the 2 I ate... or the ones that Clint ate without telling me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A weekend of cooking

I think I alluded to the massive amounts of cooking I did this past weekend. Let's just recap.
maple gelato
6 layer chocolate fudge cake
chicken roulades
veggie galette
king cake cupcakes

rye bread
lemon frosting for cupcakes
caramel fondue
chicken orange concoction in a crockpot
coconut macaroons

It was a lot. Fortunately, I've always preferred to clean as I go along, so the dirty dishes weren't horrifying, but the stack was pretty bad. Since then, I haven't cooked anything- I've reheated plenty, but haven't made anything new. I'm kind of cooked out.

(not for long)

Today I want to share 3 recipes.
Caramel Fondue (I keep forgetting to photograph this, because once it's ready, it's just too delicious to stop eating). This is a half recipe, which is plenty for a party of 8 people, with additional goodies to nibble on. If you have leftovers or want to make the full batch (just double everything), put it in a bowl in the fridge, and save it- it reheats perfectly.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine
12oz soft caramel candies- the kind you buy in the clear plastic wraps, or that same brand also has cooking caramel, little balls of the same stuff, ready to dump in a saucepan.
3oz apple cider (3/8 cup, just eyeball it)
Cook until the caramels are melted, about 10 min.

Add 1/4 cup cream or half&half (I used fat free half&half, and I can't imagine it could be improved with full-fat cream)
a dash of dark rum (or brandy, but I prefer dark rum- and a serious dash ;) )
1 cinnamon stick
dash of nutmeg
3 whole cloves

and continue to cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, and it'll bubble.

Transfer to a fondue pot on low heat or just a bowl (and be prepared to nuke the bowl for a few seconds every so often), and dip apple wedges in it. Delicious!

I'd also like to try this caramel fondue as an ice cream topping, but it's so good with tart apples that I can't bear to take any away.

Cupcakes.I finally used my cupcake tree! I've only had it for 14 months.

I used King Arthur Flour's King Cake Cupcakes, which makes a dense, tasty cupcake, almost like a pound cake. (and btw, this recipe uses a very different order of mixing than I'd ever seen before, but it makes it really easy. Go check it out, it's worth trying) Instead of their cream cheese lemony frosting, I tried Coconut & Lime's Ethereal Lemon Frosting, which caught my eye because it's FAT FREE. I've been told this is just a take on 7 minute frosting, but I'd never made that before. Anyway, this lemon frosting is basically like eating a lemonade marshmallow- really, really tasty, and I look forward to playing around with it (apple cider frosting, anyone?). In a nutshell, you beat egg whites until they form soft peaks, and cook sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until it reaches the soft ball stage (about 230 on a candy thermometer) and then stir the hot sugar into the eggs, which cooks the eggs and forms a meringue- like substance- which is actually pretty much how one makes marshmallows- only marshmallows use gelatin and not egg whites. And btw, the recipe I've linked is enough frosting for at least 2 dozen cupcakes, unless you're making high hat cupcakes (which... I should have done, that would have been really fun!)

Rye bread!

My love of/obsession with baking bread continues. I might just go through my King Arthur Flour cookbook, page by page soon.

This is another relatively simple bread. I don't have the step-by-step photos for this batch, but it's basically like the cheese bread- without the cheese, of course. My timing was exactly the same.

Step 1: combine 2cups of warm water (or milk, or a combination) and 1/4cup brown sugar (or molasses) in a bowl, then add 1T yeast. Let sit for a while (during which time I had breakfast).

Step 2: stir in 1cup of rye flour (available at the Coop foodstores or King Arthur Flour, and honestly, I have no idea where to get it outside of the upper valley- I'm sure Whole Foods would have it, and possibly regular grocery stores). Stir in 1/4 cup of caraway seeds and 1T salt. Stir in 2T softened butter. Stir in 3 cups of whole wheat, one cup at a time, and somewhere in here, transfer to your stand mixer- whenever you get tired of stirring. Then stir in 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour. Knead until elastic- and this dough's a little stickier than other bread doughs. I'm not sure why, but the recipe said it should be.

Step 3: place kneaded dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place, about 2-3 hours, until doubled. (Again with the rising on the radiator- apparently everyone's using this trick now) I worked a half day during this rising- very convenient!

Step 4: shape into 2 loaves, place in 2 greased loaf pans. Let rise another hour or 2.

Step 5: place in cold oven (not pre-heated), turn temp up to 400, then 15 minutes later, turn down to 350 and bake 25-30 minutes.

And voila, rye bread. Delicious toasted with strawberry jelly.

Now I have to think what bread to bake next. I'm out of whole wheat flour, so it'll have to be a 100% all purpose flour bread. I have a ton of nuts and dried fruits- any ideas? I'll have to shop around.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine's Day

After Sunday's detailed tutorial post, today's post will look really paltry- I'm only linking to the recipes and showing you photos of the finished dishes. But, all of the dishes were good, and I'd recommend clicking on the links and printing out a copy of your own.

For our first married Valentine's Day, since we went out to dinner with my parents the night before, and the Olympics were on, we opted to stay in. I cooked. We also cleaned the house to prepare for a small party I hosted yesterday, so we took some care into setting the table for dinner. We opened 2 bottles of wine from Canadian wineries (in honor of the Vancouver Olympics), and used our new silver, a recent gift from my parents.

Scallops and Leeks, an appetizer (note: I, um, burned the shallots- the men's moguls were on, I was distracted. This dish shouldn't look this dark)
Squash, apple, onion gallette (my favorite dish of the evening, I'm eating it as we speak)
(I used asiago instead of stilton)

Chicken roulades, with radicchio, shallot and shiitake mushrooms (I skipped the cippolini onions and the chicken liver)
The photo includes a piece of the galette. And note: cooking with marsala wine makes your house smell rather tasty. Also, the stuffing for the chicken roulades was enough for 3 chicken breasts, and I think would work for 4. We got 4 meals out of the chicken.

And dessert: 6 layer chocolate fudge cake, an abbreviated/for 2 (or 6) version of Alma Etheridge Wilson's 16 layer chocolate fudge cake from June 2001 Martha Stewart Living. I halved the recipe, baked in 8 and 10 inch cake pans (1/2cup and 3/4cup batter, respectively) or a jelly roll pan (1.5cups batter) at 350 until they were done (even the 8in cake took twice as long as the recipe said- 16 min instead of 8-10, the 10in pan was more like 20 min, adn the jelly roll pan was 35-40 min- I kept an eye on the baking cakes the entire time). Then I cut the layers with my 4 inch heart cookie cutter, got 12 hearts and a ton of tasty scraps, and assembled.

The cake was a success, as this recipe always is.

Ok side note: I can't find this recipe online anywhere. I have it in my 2002 annual recipes (a collection of all the MSL 2001 magazine recipes), and it's a seriously long recipe, so I won't type it in here.

Other recent foods include lemon king cake cupcakes, rye bread and caramel fondue- pictures and recipes coming soon! I also made a really easy and unfortunately bland chicken thighs with orange, potato, onion and butternut squash in the crock pot. it's kind of like how chicken soup always used to be- pointless. I didn't bother with a picture.

8 chicken thighs, skin removed. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine in a crockpot:
the chicken
1 orange, sliced in 1/4inch thick rounds
1lb potatoes, cut in big chunks
1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into big chucks
2 onions, cut into wedges (8 wedges per onion)
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1T honey
2 cups chicken stock, plus enough water to cover all the food
1T dried thyme

Cook on high for 2.5-3hrs, til the chicken is done. And... you're ready for dinner. It's ridiculously easy, but I think it needs some tweaking to actually be tasty. I was so disappointed by the blandness.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

I really love Valentine's Day, even when technically I hated it (i.e., being single and surrounded by couples), deep down, I still liked it. I mostly love Valentine's Day for the crafting and decorating that surrounds it. And like I said in an earlier post, it's almost like a crafting last hurrah after the Christmas season is over. hence, the glitter ball garland I made a while ago.

Today's craft was made as a gift, and a practice one to keep.

I got the idea and instructions from (who else?) Martha. And note, the hardest part of this project was finding all the ingredients.
I got the square glass vases from the candle section at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $5.99 each (also suitable vases can be found at Michael's, but were more expensive), glass round drinking glasses at BB&B for $1.99. I used nearly 2 8oz bags of conversation hearts, 3 7oz bags of red hots, and for the pink arrangement, 1 10 stem bouquet of short stem roses for $14.99, 1 bouquet of spray roses for $7.99, and the red arrangement was 2 bouquets of the $7.99 each spray roses.

1. hot glue the bottom of the drinking glass to the square vase, just to hold it. (Pansy likes to help)

2. Fill the area between the glass and vase with candy.
Note: I found it very easy to pour in the red hots, but then I discovered each bag has a lot of shards, which show up pretty clearly, so I ended up pouring the candy into a big bowl, and transferring it by small handful to the vase.

3. Make the bouquets:
I cut each stem to a bit longer than I'd need,
and arranged them in a circle from the center, with longer stems in the center, shorter stems on the edge. I wrapped the bouquets with a rubber band to hold the flowers in place,
and cut the stems to give the bouquet a wide, flat bottom that could kind of stand up.
4. Add water to glass of vase (don't get the candy wet!) and add flowers.
Voila! Not too hard- and I have very little experience in flower arranging.

I also had one nutella recipe that I made after Nutella Day- sugar cookie nutella buttercream sandwiches. I used Martha's sugar cookie recipe (from her cookie cookbook), which is a really easy recipe. I had run out of vanilla when making the nutella cupcakes, so I used almond extract. I also used my fondant decorating mat when rolling these out, to give them a pretty design- I'd planned to make them into sandwich cookies, so I wouldn't decorate them with frosting, but I still wanted them to be pretty. I got the idea from Martha's cardamom cookies, which she featured on her Christmas cookie episode this year- and which I watched last Saturday (thank you, DVR!)

I discovered these cookies are really good with coffee, so many mornings this past week (after mailing 3/4 of the batch to other people), I had the "should I eat a cookie with breakfast?" debate. I have no qualms about eating cookies for breakfast, unlike most people. My only issue is the calories of such a cookie. So the big question each day was, "is this cookie worth the calories?"

Yes, it is.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On baking bread

Again, a Saturday with no daytime plans. So of course, I started baking bread after I made my coffee. After a short bread conversation last week, I started thinking about what really goes into baking bread. I don't find it all that hard, mostly just time-consuming, yet others think it's one of the most challenging things to bake. So yesterday I really tried to see bread-baking from the eyes of someone who's never done it before. Which means, I took a lot more pictures, and tried to photograph each and every step. I hope new bakers might find this helpful.

I browsed a bit for a recipe, and came up with sesame cheese bread, from my King Arthur Flour Cookbook (which they don't seem to have online, unfortunately). I opted for a savory recipe, after getting my fill of nutella all last week.

In a medium-sized bowl, I combined 2 cups of warm water and 1/4 cup white sugar, stirred to dissolve the sugar. I added 2T yeast, stirred, and ignored it for about 30 min while I had breakfast. This is called "proofing", and you're basically waking the yeast up- they've been in the fridge for a long time, they're cold and sleepy. And yes, these are scientific terms. Trust me, I got my PhD in research on yeast (I'm not kidding, you can go to pubmed and search for me). Generally recipes say do this for 5 minutes, but I always end up doing other stuff and forgetting about the yeast. It's totally fine to let it go longer, like I do.

I also toasted 1/2cup of sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium-high heat for 7 min, stirring occasionally, until they started to turn golden brown.

And I ignored it all, like I said, for about half an hour. Maybe closer to 45 min, timing wasn't all that important.

I transferred the yeast mixture to my stand mixer.

And added 2 cups of flour, one cup at a time.

Then I beat 2 eggs and softened 2T butter in the microwave,
and threw that in, along with the toasted sesame seeds and 2cups grated sharp cheddar. I beat this "vigorously" (on medium) for 2 minutes.

Then I added 4 more cups of flour, 1 cup at a time

after 2 cups

after a 3rd cup

after the final cup
until I had a dough stiff enough to knead.

See? So far it's not that hard, there are just a lot of ingredients. I usually like to gather everything while I'm letting the yeast proof at the beginning.

Ok, now kneading. Kneading isn't technically hard, either, it's just a work out. If you have a stand mixer, you can use the dough hook attachment and let it go. If you don't, you can do it by hand, just fold the dough over and over, until it's kind of shiny and elastic (poke it hard, and watch it slowly pop back). I ended up kneading in my mixer for a few minutes and then finishing by hand.

Then, I greased the bowl (with Pam nonstick spray) and rolled the big ball of dough around once to coat, and covered with a damp dishtowel and let it rise.

The recipe said rise 1-1.5 hrs, until doubled, I left it for just over 2 hrs. I again used my radiator to keep the dough warm for the yeast to work.

Before rising

After rising

Then I plopped the dough onto a floured board,

pushed the dough out to about a 15in square, spread an additional cup of cheese on it (I used a blend of asiago, ermentaler and gruyere- I ran out of cheddar),

and rolled up the dough,

and kneaded it for another minute. Then I let it rest for a few minutes while I prepared the baking pans. I sprayed 1 loaf pan, 3 mini loaf pans, and 6 muffin tins (although a 4th mini loaf pan would have been good). I broke off pieces of dough and shaped them into ovals (or balls, for the muffin tin) and dropped them in- a piece that fits inside the pan without touching the edges is good, most of my muffin tin balls were too big after rising. I placed them back on the radiator to rise, and covered them with the dishtowl again.

They rose for 1 hr 15min (recipe suggested 45 minutes)

I popped them into a preheated 375oF oven, the muffin tin for 20 min, and the loaves for about 40 minutes, until the tops were golden brown.

And we ate them.

And we sliced the loaf for toast for breakfast.

And overall, it's really not that hard. Bread involves yeast, but yeast merely means wait, wait and wait. I think it's easier to bake bread if you have a vague idea what you're doing- which maybe now you do.

Oh and by the way, this was the best bread I've ever made. I highly recommend this recipe.