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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Knitting Project #11 - The Husbands Beanie Hat

The Husband's first hat ended up with the Dad. I was under the impression the Husband wasn't wild about the hat (he wrinkled his nose when he tried it on) so I passed it along to the Dad, who was very enthusiastic about said hat. It was sometime later while I was working on either dishcloths or the Sister's scarf when he asked when he was going to get his. I guess he liked it after all!

I love the Regia London Beanie pattern - so super easy to make. If can easily make one in about two -three days in the evening while watching M*A*S*H re-runs.
So he got his beanie hat just after our incredibly frigid cold snap back in January.

Pattern: Regia London Beanie

Yarn: Regia 6ply self striping
Needles: #6 circular and dps

Currently on the needles: One dishcloth (#2 out of 6 for Sister1, by request) and one mitten -part of a scarf, hat and mitten combo for Sister2, also by request. I have the hat, scarf and one mitten nearly finished, and I have the cuff of the second mitten cast on. It is my goal to have all of these done by Easter so I may distribute them to their recipents and start learning how to make socks!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Recipe Review from 2/18/08

With help from the Husband, I have four recipes to review this week:

Quick Chicken Chili (Fine Cooking, Feb/Mar 08, pg 86) 3.5
This would indeed be quick if one followed the recipe as written. I...deviated, again...I used my own beans (which are almost gone!) and some of the leftover Crispy Roasted Chicken that the Husband made a couple weeks ago. No worries! It was frozen! Recipe also called for 1 cup of frozen corn, but I had a can of corn niblets from a different recipe that never was made so I happily moved that can off the counter.

A bit of onion is sauteed, spices are added and warmed, chicken and broth to that. Beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and the corn at the end just enough to warm without making mushy. I initially thought this was going to be a soupy dish, but after is sat overnight, it was perfectly creamy and chunky. We did have this for one dinner and lunches the remainder of the week. This would also freeze nicely.

Simple Italian Style Meat Sauce (Cooks Illustrated, Mar/Apr 08, pg 8) 4
Oh, this was so very good and easy to make. Once again, start out by sauteing onions (I eat a lot of onions this way) and mushrooms and then add six cloves of minced, crushed or grated garlic. It seems like a lot, but believe me, I could have easily added more. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste and the seasonings and saute till nicely brown. Add the ground meat (buffalo in this instance) and once slightly browned, add the diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes and cook until thick and bubbly.

This cooked up thick, creamy, and so very well seasoned. I served it over rigatoni with some grated Parmesan. This makes about six cups, and I froze about two. One cup is about one serving worth because it is so thick.

Cracked Wheat Bread (Duluth News Tribune, 2007) 4
(I'm bummed. I deleted the picture for this before I loaded it! Arrgh!) Anyway, the Husband was at it again and this time he converted this recipe to accommodate Harold, the sourdough starter. While I was away at work for most of the production, I do know that this conversion took a very long time. The sponge was started the night before, and flour added the next morning. Sometime between 7:00a and 7:00p there were risings and shapings. I did the final baking that evening. Recipe called for 35 minutes, but reality took a hour.

This baked up as a very hearty loaf, with whole wheat and cracked wheat giving it a dense but open crumb. I don’t know that he would do the conversion again, but I sure would like to try the bread as written and compare the two.

Stuffed Trout en Croute (Irish Pub Ckbk, pg 162) 4
In print, this wasn’t that difficult of a recipe. In reality, when under the clock, it becomes a challenge. The Husband has wanted to make this dish for a while now, and he finally had the opportunity this past Thursday. He hit a few...hiccups. He started assembling the dish a half hour later than intended, he inadvertently ate the bread for his crumb mixture during the day, and we found out that what I thought was two sheets of phyllo was indeed, only one. Oops.

Still, after getting a bit flustered and not only yelling at the dog for being underfoot (she gets underfoot) but myself (he thought I was going to take over but I was reading my mail! Really!) The dish was quickly halved and only two en Croute’s were made. The remaining two fillets were baked with the stuffing sprinkled over the top.

I don’t usually care for lake trout, but tonight, this dish was very good. The "packets" baked up golden brown and the fish and stuffing so nicely steamed on the inside. A liberal dose of lemon juice with the stuffing aided in cutting the potential richness of the trout and phyllo. I would make these again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Farthing by Jo Walton

This was a March book group selection. Again, it's one of those that succeeded in surviving our convoluted voting process. This is also an alternate history, set in England in 1949. What this isn't is science fiction.

The Farthing refers to a local in England and in particular are a group of English elite who helped persuade Hitler to come to some kind of peace agreement. Hitler rules the "Continent" and the English are still intact. The story is told from the point of view of two people: Mrs. Lucy Kahn, an Eversely heiress disowned because she married a Jew, and Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard investigator.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie, a murder has occured. Lady Eversley has thrown a grand party for the Farthing politicians. In the morning a high ranking politician and lord has been found murdered in his bed, his breast painted red and a Jewish star pinned to his chest with a dagger. Carmichael is called in to solve the murder and all the evidence points to Lady Lucy's husband, a Jew.

Jo Walton weaves an interesting tale, Jews are still being persecuted on the Continent while England says they are more open minded - but in reality they are only steps away from segregation themselves. Her writing drew me in and I honestly read this in a day. The subject was disquieting. I thought the alternate history part interesting, but she had a subtle underplot that discussed homosexuality. It was as if every other character had an alternate lover that was the same sex. It was a strange combination.

The strongest part of the book was the ending. It left the reader wondering and it wasn't, shall we say, a "stock" conclusion. I'm torn - I liked the authors style enough that I would read her again, but I'm not sure that I want to. It will be interesting to see what we have to say about it at book group.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recipe Review from 2/11/08

Another quiet week in the recipe department - only three. I think the recipes we've been chosing have been making a fair amount of leftovers - which is fantastic - but it definitely cuts down on how many new dishes get made. And I realized, I completely forgot to snap a shot of any of them, so you will have to use your foodie imaginations to envision what they looked like!

Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew (Cooks Illustrated, Mar/April 08, pg 14) 3.5
This looked good from the moment I opened the magazine: beans, tomatoes, kale, pancetta, what could be better? The interesting thing about this recipe was the method to prepare the beans: brining. Now everything I've read about preping beans says NO SALT! and now I'm being told to use salt. The beans are soaked in a salt solution for 8-24 hours, then drained and added to the cooking pot. Everything is brought to a simmer and then popped into the oven to bake. This is supposed to produce tender beans that don't split. I had tender beans -that split. I place the blame on myself - my beans are very fresh (from last years garden) and I soakd them for nearly 18 hours. Too long! I could have skipped the oven bit completely.

This soup was flavorful and colorful. The recipe suggested to mash a few beans along side the pot for a heartier stew but some of mine had alread done that. The kale was a nice counter point to the pancetta and sweet beans. This made plenty for not only dinner, but lunches for the week as well. I would make this again with modifications.

Buffalo Stew with veggies (Husband's version)
We have made a slight shift in some of our eating habits, which include now buying buffalo instead of beef. Just down the road from us is Shady Lane Bison and because we were local, they were willing to sell us some small quantities of pre-packaged meat. The Husband picked up a couple roasts and 2 lbs of ground.

He had slow cooked stew on his mind and this was his own creation using what I had on hand in the fridge: buffalo roast, carrots, turnips and onion all simmered slowly in beer and it's own juice. The result was good. He felt it needed more seasoning; I liked it for it's simplicity. Made 3 meals. I should add - he made this for us for Valentines Day! Lucky me!

Fettuccine with Clams (RR Every Day, Mar, pg 100) 4
I've had the inclination for a while now to try something using real live clams or mussels. There are several problems to this: I live no where near fresh clams or mussels and it is in the depths of winter in my corner of the world so getting the little buggers home alive is a bonefide challange.

I've been carefully watching the seafood shelves at my local Cub each Saturday, assessing and contemplating, while paruesing my cooking magazines for just the right recipe. The stars and moon and planets must have come into some kind of alignment because I found just the right recipe and the weather cooperated so I could get them home.

This was a pretty simple recipe: saute kielbasa (subbed for chorizo) in some olive oil (what is with all the "EVOO"? Regular olive oil is so much better for cooking!) then added sliced garlic and cook till golden. Add white wine, toss in those littleneck clams, cover and cook till shells open. Add can of diced tomato. Contine to simmer. Add cooked fettuccine and serve.

Good? Oh yes! I'm glad I halved the recipe. I would make this again with the following modifiations - slice kielbasa smaller, add wine then tomato and bring to a simmer, then add clams and cook till done. This made two hearty helpings and one serving for leftovers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Those Wiley Mice

I admit I don't use my grill a tremendous amount during the winter. I much prefer to use my oven and warm up the house with a bit of residual heat and great smells. So my grill sits outside, tucked under its protective cover waiting patiently, if not a bit frozen, for those lazy spring and summer evenings.

However, one evening recently as I was getting the hounds some much needed exercize, I noticed a plethora of many little footprints running between my beloved grill and the porch. Suspicious, I wrangled the stiff and cold cover off, took apart the grill rack, pulled out the flavor bars and confirmed my niggling doubts.


This is the guts of my grill. It's a Weber Genisis B. The nest was the size of a deflated volleyball.


This is the second time this has happened. I'm not surprised really, our grill resides in an ideal spot: just off a couple of flower gardens and a hop, skip and scamper from the supermarket of the bird feeders.

I apologized as I evicted the poor mices (3 of them). They were just too close to the house and may get ideas. Grill will get moved to our new garage and when I get a warm day, I will scrub and sanitize the heck out of it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Recipe Review from 2/4/08

Happy Valentines Day!

Just three recipes last week. We had quite a bit of leftovers and were out of town over the weekend. I have a three day weekend coming up so I plan on doing a bit of baking to warm up the house a bit. Plus I decided to make our Valentine's Dinner on Saturday. I don't know exactly what I'll be concocting, but it will have fresh mussles in it.

Banana Cake with Browned Butter Pecan Frosting (Culinary i/t Country Blog) 4As Rachel Ray would say, Yum-O! What elevated this from a standard banana cake to delicious was the frosting. Melt a partial stick of butter while stirring constantly (very important!) until it starts to turn brown and smells nice and nutty. It looks like it is burning, but that’s where that stirring comes in. And I didn’t screw it up! Mmm! What could be a basic cream cheese frosting is elevated to new levels of flavor. Usually I don’t like nuts on my baked goods, but there was something about the toasted pecans that really brought the fluffy cake and creamy frosting all together into one very harmonious dessert. I would definitely make this again.

Southwest Tomato and Pepper Soup (Fine Cooking, Feb/Mar 08, pg 57) 3.5I confess, I am used to canned tomato soup, even though I have been buying the Muir Glen or Amy’s varieties, so this was a bit of a departure for me to make my own. It turned out good enough that I would make another. A red pepper is toasted under the broiler until the skin is nice and black, then popped into a zippy to steam and cool for a while. A large onion is softened and combined with cumin, chili powder and corriander. To this is added large can of diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and the now peeled and diced red pepper and brought to a simmer. Near the end toss in one diced zucchini and simmer till softened. Serve with sour cream mixed with lime juice and zest and fresh cilantro. Very refreshing. I served with some of Duane’s sourdough bread and cheese slices.

Crisp Roast Chicken (Cooks Illustrated Mar/Apr 08, pg 7) 3.0This...was a good recipe but not one that we would necessarily bother to make again. A roasting chicken is cleaned and patted dry, then patted with a baking powder mixture and allowed to sit in the fridge overnight. The idea behind this is the baking powder will help make the skin nice and crispy. This is then baked, doing the breast-side down bit, until internal temp hits 175*. While the skin was indeed nice and crispy, it lacked flavor. We can get crispy skin with much better flavor using our grill, salt, pepper and olive oil. The bird itself was nice and moist. No complaints there.

Where the recipe lost points was in the baking - when I arrived home the house had a layer of smoke floating by the ceiling, the upstairs fire alarm was going off and the dogs refused to come inside. The grease from the bird was hitting the pan and smoking, causing all sorts of commotion. And to top it off, the Husband cut his finger trying to rip the battery out of the smoke alarm. No, he was not a happy camper.

So we might employ parts of this recipe in the future and cook the bird outside. My house might be aired out by that time too...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin

January’s book group selection.

This book is considered a classic science fiction book. In fact, on the cover it is touted as "The most influential science fiction novel of the 20th century". Up until we picked this for book group, I had never heard of this selection, keeping in mind that I’m sure there are many "classical scifi" books I have never heard of.

Welcome to the One State. The Great Benefactor sees all, controls all. D-503 rises when the bell rings, chews his breakfast exactly 50 times before swallowing, don’s his unif for the day and is the Builder of the spaceship Integral. He takes his exercise in his allotted time. He walks four abreast in step during the daily walks. When the bell rings, he lies down and sleeps a dreamless sleep. His world is one of logarithms and mathematical problems. His world is the One State.

Then he meets I-330 and falls madly in love. But there is no place in the One State for love. His pleasant feelings for the other two partners in his triumvirate evaporates as we watch D-503 shoves aside the pleasant O-90 and turn on his freind R-14. As D-503 discovers he has a "soul" he also feels the ravaging effects infatuation and intense jealousy. D-503 discovers there is more to life than the glass walls, the chiming of the bell, the marching four abreast during walks. D-503 discovers emotions and it is the inability to deal with these emotions that eventually bring about his, and the ones he loves, downfall.

This is a dark book. The prose and mental reasoning the main character move through is amazing. It is a look at a different kind of utopian society, where even happiness is dictated and defined by those in charge. I found it to be a fascinating tirade against communism and I wondered if most readers in another 20 years would even understand the passion and conflict that brought about such a story. I now feel and urge to go out and read Brave New World and 1984 - which I confess I have not yet read. Sometimes one just needs a little push to read some of the classics.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Recipes from 1/25/08

An extra recipe review posting this week. I somehow got a week behind and need to play catch up!

Well, the Husband was on a roll last week (ha! no pun intended!) Thanks to his efforts on the last day of the month, we ended January at 18 new recipes. What a great start to the year. The incredibly cold weather has kept us inside and what a better way to warm up a chilly house that to do a little baking. I know come July and August we certainly won’t be making anywhere near this many new recipes.

Low-Risk Sourdough Bread (The Bread Bible by Ruth Levy Beranbaum, pg 473) 4.5
The Husband really branched out into some artisan bread making with this recipe. It is a more "delicate" dough, in that you let it rise in a special basket called a banneton, then gently roll it onto the baking sheet. We do not have such a special basket, but the recipe noted a bowl lined with a flour dusted towel works as a good substitute. According to the Husband, not so much. The bread stuck to the towel where he had missed flouring it and when he rolled it out onto the cookie sheet, it oozed across the parchment like some living amoeba.

Then partway through baking one is supposed to remove the bread from the cookie sheet and place it directly on the baking stone. This was also reported to be easier said than done, as he was leaning over a 425* oven trying to get the bread to turn and slide off and somehow in the process he burned his bicep.

The bread didn’t poof up as much as he thought it should have (think back to the oozing amoeba) and we ended up with two disk shaped loaves of different sizes. Despite the bicep burn, losing a tuperware lid (still not sure how he did that), and thinking he had ruined my cookie sheet, he made two absolutely fantastic loaves of rustic sourdough bread. The smaller one of the two was eaten in one sitting. I think with some work on technique, he would make this again.

French Country Sourdough Bread ( The Bread Bible by Ruth Levy Beranbaum, pg 478) 3.5
After the near disaster of the aforementioned bread, he decided to make a second bread where he did a few thing differently. This produced a beautiful small boule with a nice crisp crust. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on how it tastes, as it will be given away to a co-worker of the Husbands. The Husband is already talking of making this one again, but for us.

Leek and Potato Soup (Irish Pub Cookbook) 3
And after all the bread was done, he turned his attention to soup! Pretty basic recipe: leeks, potatoes, butter, onions, half-n-half; cook, simmer and puree. He had a bit of trouble in the puree department, but I think it was because his potatoes chunks were too larger for the immersion blender. This wasn’t as flavorful as other leek and potato soups I’ve had and I’m not sure why. I even garnished our bowls with chopped parsley, salt and fresh ground pepper. I’m thinking for leftovers frying up some of the leftover pancetta I have in the fridge and serving that on top. Still, served with a bit of the sourdough bread, it was great supper.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Escape from Kathmandu by KS Robinson

If you’ve read any KSR (Mars Trilogy, Wild Shore series, Years of Rice and Salt), this is absolutely NOTHING like those. Nada. Not even close.

Escape from Kathmandu is a engaging romp through the bureaucracy, cities and world of Kathmandu and the Himalayas as seen through the eyes of three young fellows. The book is actually broken down into a four smaller novelettes. In book one we are introduced to our characters: Freds, George and Nathan. On a previous trip to Nepal, Nathan has discovered a Yeti while part of a graduate student scientific research team while in the mountains of Himals. He finds out that part of the team has now come back and they have kidnapped the yeti with the intent of revealing him to the world. With the help of his newfound freind George and old climbing partner Freds, they set off to save the Yeti from certain exploitation.

In book two, Freds meets back up with George while guiding hikers up various mountains out of Kathmandu. Freds is leading a couple of Brits and talks them into saving the now exposed body of Mallory. However, plans are being foiled by a earnest and doltish photographer in Georges group. George is forced to go after his missing hiker and suddenly finds himself hiking to the summit of Everest with Freds and the monk Kombu.

In book three, the point of view shifts from George to Freds, who now talks George into helping him save Shangri-La. Freds has found out about a project to build a road that would lead right into this famous valley. However, after his last two adventures with Freds, George is less than willing to believe or help Freds and Freds has his work cut out for him in enlisting his friend.

By book four, George wants nothing to do with Freds, but much to his surprise, Freds has shown up on George's threshold. Freds talks George into a "vacation" to the warmer climes of Nepal and a very reluctant George agrees to go why? What is Freds motivation for involving George this time?
The first two stories were definitely the stronger of the four. I found the third novelette was a bit slow to develop. With the POV change from George to Freds, it took some mental gymnastics to change the characters around and made moving into the story a bit more difficult. Robinson’s imagery was enough to pull into the reader into the plunging valleys and rocky heights of the Himalayan mountains. He added just enough splash of color to see the vivid greens of the vegetation and the bright blue of the sky...and the less pleasant side of country life in a third world country as well. By book four we are back to Georges POV.

The writing was quirky and the characters engaging and numerous. There were only a couple of times my subconscious went..."nah...not plausable..." but not enough to really pull me out of the story. And it is that, a fun, easy story...after all, yetis do exist....

Monday, February 4, 2008

Recipe review from 1/21/08

Sorry, not as many pictures this week! The camera battery died and I kept forgetting to put it on the charger. It was quite the chilly week: highs right about 0*, lows consistently hitting -30* then throw on the windchills at -35* and that combination just calls for warm, spicy food.

Squash Curry Soup (Co-worker Kate) 3.5Last fall a co-worker gave me a couple of great looking recipes. It took me a little while, but I’ve finally gotten around to making one of them. The need to use up my butternut squash was behind this recipe, and I’m glad I tried it. Pretty simple recipe, and I modified it a bit. Instead of boiling my squash with the sauteed onion, I decided to oven roast it with ½ of the curry powder, salt, pepper and splash of olive oil for about 20 minutes. With the exception of a few of the larger pieces of squash, it baked up nice and golden. I then sauteed the onion and tossed in the other ½ of the curry powder. To this I added to roasted squash, vegetable broth (instead of water) and milk and brought to a boil. I let is simmer for just a bit then removed from heat and pulled out my FAVORITE kitchen tool, my immersion blender. A few buzzes around and it was pureed nice and thick. Almost too thick. I have had to add some milk upon reheating. I also skipped added the cashews directly into the soup and blending with everything else, opting instead to add the cashews more as a condiment. Love the curry taste against the rich squash with a splash of salty nuts.

Roasted Onions and Grilled Tuna (Giada Family Dinners, 122) 3
This recipe was modified quite a bit. First, I decided to use up a slightly freezer burned bag of pearl onions rather than buying some cippolini onions. I would have preferred the cippolini's, but I'm still working on that pantry reduction project.

Next, I missed the bit where I was supposed to roast the onions in the oven for an hour before prepping the fish. With the Husband due home for dinner in a half an hour and it takes a half an hour just to get the oven up to temp an alternative was needed. I heated up a generous amount of olive oil and tossed them in a pan to caramelize with a bit of salt and pepper.

And with temps well below reasonable, there was no way I was going to try and fire up the grill. If it was 30* above 0*, yes. 30* way. I still marinated them in olive oil and tossed them in the pan with the onions.

All in all, this turned out pretty tasty. I over cooked my tuna just a tich so it ended up being well done rather than the medium well I prefer. Should have pulled them off the heat a bit sooner. I served roasted asparagus along side for a lovely green counterpoint. And I guess I would consider making this dish again, but perhaps waiting till I can grill again and doing everything outside.

Cranberry Scones (Everyday Food, Nov or Dec 2003) 4
I want to say I’ve made these before, but I can’t find when I did so. I know I’ve had them before because I got the recipe from the Mother. These are very tasty and so easy to make. Simply combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter and add half and half to make a moist, dough-like batter. Fold in the cranberry’s and form into a 1" thick disk. Bake for about 15 mintues. To me, these are the quintencential scone - a light, coarse crumb that is delicately sweet without being heavy on the tummy. I may have to make these again so I can start to use up the second bag of cranberries in my crisper drawer.

Photo from Pinterest via Food Network
Cheesy Baked Tortellini (Everyday Pasta by Giada Di Laurenttis, pg 171) 4This was a great dish. The reason it isn’t receiving a 5 is because of the chemicals in the packaged tortellini. Still, so very easy to make and incredibly tasty. Store bought tortellini (I used cheese) is cooked according to the directions on the package. Two cups of marinara are combined with 1/3 cup marscapone cheese and beaten till smooth. To this fresh thyme can be added, but as I was using homemade marinara that was already plenty seasoned I skipped the thyme. Add the sauce to the rinsed tortellini and put in a lightly greased 8x8 dish. Top with smoked cheese - recipe called for mozzarella but I couldn’t find any, so I subbed smoked gouda - and some grated parmesan. Bake covered for about 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes more. Honestly - that’s all there was to it! I served this with some roasted asparagus. This made a very generous 4 servings.

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