Saturday, December 28, 2013

This should have peppers




I saw a short, annoying video about how to make shukshaka, which is a north african dish. The woman in the video had such irritating mannerisms that I'm not going to link to it. I'll just tell you about the food instead, which was just like this, but with bell peppers in the sauce. I have no peppers today and I don't have much else in the house either. This was quick and uses the kind of things that are left at the end of the week after I've eaten everything else, but before I go shopping.

1 onion
a generous amount of olive oil
a bunch of salt
lots of black pepper
some smoked paprika, maybe half a teaspoon?
a bay leaf
a sprig of rosemary

some garlic
1 /2 large can chopped tomatoes, or a whole small can if you have that.

a number of eggs

Pre heat the oven to 450.

Thinly slice the onion, and saute it in an oven safe skillet with the oil, salt, pepper, paprika and herbs. When the onions are a little brown and caramelized, chop up as many garlic cloves as you prefer. I used 2. Add those to the pan and let them cook for about a minute. Add the tomatoes, cover the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste for seasonings, give it a stir, and crack on some eggs. Mine is a 10 inch pan, and I used 4 eggs, but the number is up to you. Bake for 6 minutes, serve with some bread or something. If you put some greens on the plate, it will look a lot fancier.

notes:

1. Don't put the garlic in the pan at the beginning with the onions. It will just burn and taste bitter.
2. The original recipe says to saute some red bell peppers in with the onions, but I kinda like it this way. It's simple.
3. I made toast to go with it, but I bet it would be good over noodles too. Or rice.
4. When they come out of the oven, the whites will still be a little jiggly. If you like them that way, eat them at once, otherwise, let them stand for one minute. The sauce is so hot it will continue to cook the eggs for quite a while, just dish them up when they reach the stage you want.
5. In the summer when fresh tomatoes are cheaper, you could use those and I bet it would taste great. You might have to cook them a little longer before you add the eggs though.

I think the smoked paprika is key to making this recipe come out right, especially since there are no bell peppers in it. Smoked paprika is usually mildly spicy, but not cayenne level hot, and you can still distinctly taste the sweet pepper flavor too. You can be fairly generous without overpowering everything else in the dish. The smokiness of different batches varies somewhat, I've discovered, so you'll need to adjust the amount you use based on how much smoky flavor you want relative to how much spicy and how much bell pepper flavor. It's interesting stuff.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry %$#@#ing Blah Blah!


&%$#$!


I am bah humbug, but David really wanted a hermit crab. I will name it Hubert.

Seriously?!?!





Hubert expresses my mood, which, while not exactly disagreeable, is not at all festive.





Well this is just humiliating.







 I do not like this kind of sillyness, but I am willing to acknowledge that other people do enjoy such things.








C'mere an say that t'ma face, son!





I don't wish anybody ill of the season, I just want you to know that I find most of the usual ceremonial observances terribly off-putting.












Does this butt make my shell look big?


I offer to encourage you in your particular enjoyment, in exchange for being allowed to go on much as I do any other day of the year. With more sleep. And more cookies, probably more cookies.











this message approved by the admiral.









Happy Christmakwanzaakha.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Most Frustrating Project in the World


grrrrr....

Among other things that Mom sent me last year was a large piece of coral-peach colored silk chiffon. It's just the most lovely stuff ever. I have a pattern for a blouse that is probably from the mid 1960's, and I thought it would be perfect for that, what with the ruffles and all. The chiffon is super soft, and the shade of pink is flattering, I was all excited.

Yup. Sheer.
Then I decided the pattern needed fixing. I originally thought I'd be able to use a single layer of fabric, but I didn't like the idea of having all the seams show, because the material isn't just slightly sheer, it is totally transparent. So I thought that I'd use a double layer. So, twice as much cutting.

Then I decided that I don't like the straight ruffles that the pattern came with. I wanted circular ruffles. So, cutting bias shapes. Twice each.

Finally, I decided that if I was going to double layer the material, I might as well get rid of the button front and make it a pull over. That may well have been my only wise decision.

Cutting silk chiffon is a bitch. It wiggles around on the cutting board like a sea salp with palsy. It sticks to itself. It is so fine that it is nearly impossible to pick up. It takes static cling like you wouldn't believe. You have to iron it with extreme caution, or you will cook it to death. And the thing that made me want to wear it the most, the drapey, soft, squishy texture, makes it nearly impossible to be sure that when it's laying down, the grain of the cloth really is straight.

I think this vexed thing has been in pieces on my table since late July or early august, and it is only just now beginning to look like a shirt.

There is one thing that I am still pretty geeked about though. I figured out a method for making the bust darts in 2 layers of this most irritating material.

1. Using a fine, slippery thread, baste down the center line of the dart.

2. With the same kind of thread, baste across the width of the dart, making sure that each stitch is the same length on each side of the dart, as in the picture.

3. Grab both ends of the basting thread and pull it taut.

The description doesn't make a lot of sense, so here is a little video.

video


Ta Dah!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pellets! With Lemons and Leaves!


This summer, David and I had this approximate conversation.


Him: I'm interested in learning how to cook those...pellets. 

Me: (elipsis)

Him: You make indian food out of them... You boil them...They turn into soup...

Me (further elipsis)

Him: They're little, and round. I don't know what they are.

Me: You mean beans?

Him: No! They're flat.

Me: Lentils. (hysterical laughter) "Pellets"!

Him: Whatever. They come in different colors.


Now I tease him by saying I'm going to feed him pellets for dinner. This is a good recipe for soup made out of pellets which I made because there is a cafe downtown that serves something very similar to it. It's particularly nice on a rotten rainy day. I eat it with bread and butter.

1 cup of pellets, the orange kind
1 onion, cut up rather fine
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric, optional, but fun
1 small carrot, cut into 1/2 inch bits
1/2 cup user-defined* leaves
juice of a lemon


Put the pellets in a large-ish pot. Rinse them several times to get rid of any dust or foreign objects. Add about 8 cups of water, the onion, bay leaf, cumin, turmeric, and salt & pepper. If you want a slightly richer flavor, add a pat of butter or a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

Bring to a medium boil for about 20 minutes, or until the pellets start to dissolve, then add the carrots and leaves. Taste for salt. Boil until the pellets are totally dissolved, and the soup is as thick as you want it. If it starts getting too thick, just add a little more water. 

Right before serving, add the lemon juice.

*User-defined leaves: I have used frozen chopped spinach, and leftover "baby power greens", whatever those were. Spinach is usually what is found in lentil soup, but there is no reason you could not use kale, chard, baby bok choi, arugula, lambs quarters, purslane, or any number of other things, as long as you remember that some leaves take longer to cook and have slightly more pronounced flavors.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Chicken and Hominy Stew

  

  
I had something like this at a very fancy wedding reception. I was initially put off by the squash, because usually things with squash in them are made too sweet for my taste (except for pie, and sometimes even then). But I changed my mind, and here is my version.

1 butternut squash
salt, pepper, olive oil

1 onion
1 carrot
2 celery ribs
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1 large or 2 small chicken thighs

dash of salt & olive oil

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 pasilla pepper (less spicy) or 2 jalapeno peppers (more spicy)
1 chili in adobo

1 can hominy

More salt to taste

Peel, seed, and slice the squash into pieces about 1/2" thick. Toss with salt, pepper and olive oil, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 until a little brown around the edges. This will take a while, so in the meantime,

Chop the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Saute them on medium heat with a dash of oil and salt in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Mine is about a gallon size. When the onions are starting to go transparent, add the chicken. It's fine to use frozen, I always do. Poke the chicken to the bottom of the pan and let it brown a little, then fill the pot about 1/2 way up with water. Bring to a boil, then add the cumin, oregano, and chop the peppers and add them too. Cook until the chicken is done through, then drain and add the hominy. Boil gently until the chicken is starting to fall apart and you can mash it into bits with a wooden spoon.

By this time the squash is probably done. Take about 1/3 of the cooked squash and coarsely chop it. The rest can be used for something else. Add the chopped squash to the soup, taste for salt, and cook until the soup has thickened slightly and all the flavors have blended, about 15-20 minutes.

You should really eat this with tortillas and fresh cilantro, but I didn't have the energy to make tortillas today, and I was out of cilantro. More thoughts:

1. The original version of this used port rather than chicken, and I think I like that better. If you use pork, use a nice fatty cut.
2. You have to use enough salt. All the veggies add a lot of natural sugars, and the salt balances it out.
3. Skip the carrot? I ended up thinking it was unnecessary with the squash.
4. Consider using a different squash. Butternut is very easy to use, but it is quite sweet, which increases the need for salt. Kabocha or Hubbard squash might be a better fit.

I am still computerless, so I have no photos, but I got a message from Office Max saying my order has shipped, so I am excited.

*12/8/13 I now am have computer! So Excite. Picture enabled!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ok, ok, the hoopla is accurate.

I don't have a picture right now because my computer died and the process of trying to replace it so I can get a decent pic uploaded is unspeakably irritating.

But but but! It really is true that you can make amazing bread without kneading it. You stir it with a spoon for a minute then stick it in the fridge overnight. Recipe:

425 g bread flour
350 g water
4 g  yeast
7 g salt

Put everything in a biggish bowl and stir it up until all the flour is incorporated, maybe a minute. Cover bowl and stick it in the fridge until tomorrow some time. Or the next day or the next. It's not that important.

When you want to use it, pre-heat the oven to 465. Not a typo. That's about halfway between 450 and 475.

Dump a handful of flour onto a cutting board and spread it out a bit. Dump the dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Grab the edges of the sloppy dough puddle and fold them in to the middle in about 4 or 5 places, until it is vaguely loaf shaped. Should take 30 seconds. Grab the loaf and plop it onto a metal cookie sheet or a loaf pan with the folds on the bottom so they stay put. Wait about 45 minutes. Slash the top of the loaf if you feel fancy, bake it for 35 minutes.  Ta dah!

The internets are swarming with rave reviews of this recipe. I am always skeptical of anything that gets that much fuss, and I have encountered in person several purported 'no knead breads' that were not all that good. In fact they were pretty blah. Sheer laziness made me try this. I got my procedural advice from several  different sources. The one claiming it is easy enough that a 4 year old can do it gives me hope that I can make David do it, since he is the primary bread eater in the house at the moment.

I think all of the advice offered is valid, but I have some opinions of my own, of course.

1. Use bread flour. Duh. I have no idea why there are recipes out there that say to use all purpose.
2. You don't need a pizza stone, or anything else. Just use a thin metal pan. Not one of those insulated ones.
3. You don't need to put a pan of water in the oven to encourage the crust to get crispy either. If you really want crust, just leave it in 5 minutes longer.
4. Ignore all the fussy things about using parchment paper and pastry cloths, and damp towels and blah blah blah room temperature blah what. It just doesn't matter.
5. The only things that do seem to matter are that you need to make the dough very wet, almost like batter to start with, and then leave it to sit for a long time.
6. Don't bother washing the mixing bowl. You know you're going to want more bread in a couple days, just mix the next batch. So what if there's a little leftover dough in the bowl?
7. Ovens vary. If your bread is too dry, cook it 5 minutes less. If your bread is too gummy, cook it more. Simple!
8. I hate parchment paper. Totally unnecessary. Just another thing that gets thrown away.


But what does it taste like? It tastes like all those expensive $5.00 'artisan boules' you can get at 'boulangeries' and Whole Foods. But even fresher. No foolin'. Back when I was messing around with complicated procedures trying to get my baguettes to turn out like the ones that you buy from fancy bakeries, I should have been doing this instead. It's crunchy, and chewy, and the inside has the right amount of holes, and it's this beautiful slightly golden color.

I'm going to try mixing multiple batches of dough at once and keeping them in the fridge, apparently that's perfectly feasable.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Epic Sock Project


It took me a year and a half to knit these socks. Mostly, I am just really glad to be done with them.

The technical stuff:

They are made of wool that I unraveled from a sweater that was really well made but terribly unflattering. Gauge, about 9 stitches/inch. Needles are a 000 40" circular, which I chose because I knitted them 2 at a time toe-up.
























They are far from perfect, because I fall much closer to the "project knitter" side of things than the "process knitter" side.

Things I like about them:

The ribbing at the top looks nice. I learned a new bind-off technique that allows the top edge to stretch very easily.
The fit at the ankle is nice and snug. No wrinkles or sags.
They're toasty warm- 100% merino!



Things I don't like:

That lace pattern isn't very stretchy. The ankles stay snug, but the knees don't.
And I really could have thought out the calf increases better. They're a little clunky looking.



Naturally, even though I swore the whole time that I would never do such a thing again, I started thinking about how to make the next pair better the minute I got these off the needle.We'll just have to wait  and see if that really happens.






Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BWAHAHAH!





Last night David brought home this giant-ass pumpkin.

Me: Ohmigod. Is that China? And Taiwan?
Him: It's the 'One China'.
Me: HAHAHAHAHA!

Me: Who the hell puts China on a pumpkin?
Him: I dunno...Chinese People?
Me: No dude, not even Chinese people would China on a pumpkin.

Me: Is that the Korean peninsula?
Him: I was thinking about it then I was like, nah, that's too hard.
( It occurs to me that China probably thinks the same thing)

Him: I was paying tribute to your people!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Noodle Soup


I feel like crap today, as I have felt for about 6 days now. I'm getting right tired of it. Meanwhile, here is a bowl of soup. I did not eat this soup today; I did not eat much of anything in fact, due to the crap-feeling business, but looking at this picture of soup from some time ago makes me feel better, so here it is.

There is fried tofu, and greens, plus noodles in fish broth, and I decorated it with minced ginger, green onions, and mushroom fluff. There is nothing mysterious about it (except maybe the mushroom fluff), it's just soup. It only looks pretty for about 30 seconds before you stir it up in to a mess and slurp it up, but those are an important 30 seconds, I think.


Friday, October 4, 2013

the heck is that mess

 

 
That's my first and probably only attempt to spin my own yarn. I've been curious about spinning forever and thought I'd try it out. So I grabbed a little 1 ounce baggie of prepared wool when I was at the store the other day and spent some time trying out various home made contraptions for turning it into string. Some things I discovered are:

1. It takes more coordination than anything else. It isn't physically arduous, or complicated, but it reminded me of learning to pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time. Or rotate my arms in opposite directions.
2. There are some weird old men who like to do historical re-enactments having to do with spinning flax on youtube.
3. A drop spindle is about the most low tech thing you can get, but there are better ways to make them and worse ways. I found that a bent coathanger jammed into a rollerblade wheel was more effective than a thing made out of a CD and a chopstick. The important thing is weight. The rubber wheel had enough mass to keep the whole mess turning for a good while, whereas the CD was too flimsy and just stopped rotating.
4. Between the two iterations of drop spindle, I had the rollerblade wheel jammed under a belt that I operated with the treadle of one of my sewing machines. That was much faster, but was like learning to pat my head, rub my tummy, and rotate my arms in opposite directions all three at once.
5. One ounce of wool will not make enough yarn to make anything out of, at least not if you're a beginning spinner. I would knit a bunch of little aliens out of it, but it's so unevenly made that it would make some very misshapen creatures.

how it looks stretched out, before washing

At any rate, my curiosity is satisfied. I now know that making string is about as interesting as you'd expect it to be for about 2 hours, and then I'm pretty much done.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Actual Banana Bread

  

Now with picture! Looks like any other bread...
  
Unlike what is usually meant by the term banana bread, which is in fact a sort of very moist cake, this is a formula for yeast risen bread, using bananas.

460 grams over ripe bananas. This was 4 medium sized ones for me.
525 grams bread flour
30 grams butter
7 grams salt
7 grams yeast

Peel and smash the bananas and then put everything in a bread machine to knead for 2o minutes. Proof the dough for about 2 hours. Deflate the dough and gently shape it into a loaf. Put it in a loaf pan and let it rise until doubled, then bake at 375 for an hour.

Notes:

1. The variable nature of bananas as a unit of measure is somewhat irritating to me.
2. It means that either you will have to do some algebra to figure out how much flour to add, or just kinda eyeball it. I would hate to recommend using algebra. My 8th grade algebra teacher would probably laugh her ass off at me, sitting here trying to remember how to calculate ratios. Shut up, Anne Thomas!
3. Just eyeball it. Keep in mind that this dough should be quite sticky.
4. Because it is so sticky, you will need to flour your hands and work surface quite a bit in order to shape it into a nice loaf.
5. This dough rises quite slowly, but will poof dramatically in the oven. I think it's because there is so much sugar from the bananas.
6. Over ripe bananas means just that. Mine were almost totally black and I had started to worry about fruit flies and fermentation before I stuck them in the fridge to stabilize them until I could put them in the bread.

Dad used to make this bread regularly, there was also a version of it with raisins in it that I was very partial to. I didn't have enough raisins today, but maybe next time. I think this is the first time I've tried to make it and I'm really happy with how it came out. Mine is fluffier and chewier than Dad's banana bread, because he never used bread flour, only all purpose. It still smells the same though- kinda carameley and tropical. It smells like wellbeing to me.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fred Meyer Rolls

 
How Bread! Much Roll!


 
I got the recipe from the website of a domestic advice mogul who I think is not only an unpleasant person but they make enough money already that I don't feel obliged to link to the page. Besides, I had to do a lot of math to convert the recipe from volume to weight in order to re-size the recipe so it would fit in my bread machine. What kind of fancy domestic expert are you if your cooking website and doesn't even have a volume-to-weight button for measurements?* I mean jeez, there wasn't even a button for the print friendly version of the recipe.

In any case, the rolls came out amazing!!!!!

500 g all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk or 170 g water and 25 g dry milk which is what I did
5 or 6 tablespoons butter- technically 2/3 of a stick which I kinda eyeballed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
10 g yeast- this is a slightly skimpy tablespoon


The butter should be soft and the eggs at room temperature if you knead by hand, but since I kneaded everything in my bread machine for 20 minutes that's just a minor detail.

After kneading, let the dough rise until it has doubled in size or slightly more, then gently deflate it. That was about 2 hours for me.

Divide the dough into 20 pieces and put them on a buttered baking pan. To shape the rolls, first divide the dough in half. Gently roll each half into a rope, working the air out as you go, then pinch off bits. Don't worry if they're a bit lumpy, they will smooth themselves out. Let them rise until doubled. Pre-heat the oven to 375, then bake the rolls for 20 minutes.


Such Yum! Happy Cooke!
AAARRHHHGGGH! These are so goooooood. I have been trying to get my rolls to turn out like this ever since I started baking! They are just like the rolls you get at the grocery store, except butterier and fresher! I made them to take to David's folks' house for dinner and the car ride was torture because I wanted to snorf up the whole lot at once and I hadn't eaten enough lunch but that last part was my own fault so never mind. These rolls are mighty delicious. In case the picture is not convincing enough, let me extol the fluffiness, the tenderness of the crumb. I am overjoyed at the rich buttery mild sweetness, the thinness and crispiness of the crust. This is one of the rare things I have made where the pleasure of eating actually exceeds the expectations raised by the pleasure of looking.

To ensure that your rolls have similar quality of performance, please note the following technical points:

1. Rising time is very important. Don't let the dough over rise or it will start to taste fermented.
2. But don't rush it either. Once the rolls are formed, they need enough time to poof up or they won't be as light and squishy as they should be.
3. When shaping the rolls, make sure to work any air pockets out of the dough or there will be holes in your rolls.
4. If your oven heats as unevenly as mine does, turn the baking sheet around halfway through the cooking time or some rolls will be dried out and others will be pallid.
5. I used one of those insulated cookie sheets, which was probably a good idea because it made the bottoms of the rolls come out nearly as tender as the tops.

WOW!
As it turned out, I was not the only person to have brought rolls to dinner, which was great because it meant there were a bunch of mine left for me to take home. They are just as good toasted with butter for breakfast as they were last night. Mmmmmnomnomnom.

* King Arthur has conversion buttons. Two of 'em. One for imperial and one for metric! AND a print version button, so there!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let that be a lesson to you!





I should really pay more attention to what I'm doing.

I wanted to make a version of the cream cakes I'd done before, but not only did I change the recipe, I forgot a major ingredient. Fortunately, the result wasn't bad at all.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

melted butter and sugar for dunking

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Put cupcake papers in a 12-dish muffin pan.

Mix together all the dry ingredients, making sure the baking powder doesn't have any lumps left in it. Gently stir in the cream and mix just until it forms an even mass of dough. Divide into 12 parts. Roll each part in melted butter, then in sugar. Bake in the prepared muffin pan for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan immediately and cool on a wire rack. Serve with peaches, cream, and this butterscotch sauce which was the whole reason I made sweet biscuits anyway:

Fry half a dozen pieces of good-quality bacon in a heavy skillet. Use medium heat so that the bacon drippings don't burn. When the bacon is done, use it to make BLTs or something. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and add

2 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt or more, depending on taste
about 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Stir everything together, and simmer for about 2 or 3 minutes to condense it slightly. Taste for salt and vanilla, it requires a surprising amount of both. While you shouldn't be too worried about adding too much vanilla (it's very difficult to over-vanilla something) it is possible to over-salt it. If you taste the sauce and it's just a little not quite quite, add a little pinch of salt, and taste again. Different kinds of salt do vary in intensity, so start low and build up.

The sauce is phenomenal. The original recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, but as soon as I saw it I thought it would be even better if I made it with bacon fat. The smoke flavor is very subtle, it just shows up in the aftertaste as a kind of outdoorsy effect. Like smelling your neighbor's barbecue while you eat dessert.

That aside, as a method for eating butterscotch sauce, the biscuits could use some work. To wit:

1. I forgot to add the sugar in the dough. The proper recipe calls for 1/3 cup.
2. Because I forgot the sugar, the dough was more dry than I wanted. Sugar adds a lot more moisture than you'd think.
3. Because the dough was dry, it didn't poof up as much as I wanted.
4. Although it's possible that my baking powder is too old.
5. Overall, they were tasty but I wanted them more moist and tender.

I can think of 3 ways to fix the problem.

1. I can put the dang sugar in like the recipe says. I don't like this solution because I like the less-sweet biscuit.
2. I can add more cream. This is probably the best option, although it might make the cooking time a bit longer.
3. I could add a smidge more baking powder and cook them for a shorter time at a higher temperature. Risky. After all, what I wanted most was a less dry biscuit, although having them poofier would be nice too.

Probably the best fix would be to add more cream and to buy fresh baking powder. I still have more butterscotch sauce to use up, but I might put it on pancakes and bananas instead.

The peaches were just perfect of course. It is the time of year for peaches, after all.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nice Potato Salad

 

 
Not exactly a Nicoise salad, but still pretty nice. Har har. Moving right along...

I said I'd bring potato salad to Jej's picnic, and I'd had some little potato finger-food thingies that were 'nicoise inspired' which gave me this idea. Traditionally, Salad Nicoise has potatoes, green beans, olives, eggs, tuna and sometimes tomatoes on it. The hors d'oeuvres  were basically just tiny tuna-deviled potatoes with a green bean stabbed through the top and a sprinkle of "egg mimosa" which meant little crumbs of egg yolk to make it look fancy. The green bean was awkward to eat. But I liked the potato part, and as silly as it was, the green bean tasted really good. Still, what I wanted was potato salad, not tuna salad, so I came up with this.

1 lb tiny yellow potatoes
1/2 lb fresh green beans
a handful of parsley, chopped
a green onion, sliced fine
2 cold, hard boiled eggs, sliced
1/2 cup olives, coarsely chopped
zest of a lemon

dressing:

juice of a lemon, about 1/4 cup
2 T fish sauce
1 T sherry vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
pepper
2 T minced fresh thyme

Mix all the dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake them up. Set aside.

Boil the potatoes whole until you can stick a fork through them. Drain them, then let them cool completely. Meanwhile blanch the green beans. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil, then dump in the beans. Leave the beans in the water just until they turn translucent and bright green. Drain the beans then either dump them into a pot of ice water or run them under cold water until they are chilled.

When the potatoes are cold, cut them into bite sized bits. Cut the green beans on and angle to increase the area of cut surface (and to make them prettier). Put all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss with dressing. The orange things in the picture are nasturtium petals, they're just to make it look fancy.

Ok, this was a pretty good salad, but some things occurred to me later, namely

1. It would have been better if I'd roasted the bitty potatoes instead. I think little toasty parts would definitely add  a more complex and interesting flavor.

2. I might put in tiny red tomatoes. Both for color and because tomatoes.

3. Tuna in olive oil. Yes, the fish sauce is fine, but the fish itself is actually more important to the whole nicoise thing than just being a way to add a certain fishy something-something. I think partly it's texture, and partly because fish sauce is fermented, which gives a very different character to things.

4. It would look better if you just decorated the top with egg slices. The egg yolks get all smushed up if you stir them into the salad.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Gadget



AAAAAARRRGGGH!!! I want one of these SO BAD! I don't even drink coffee! I don't care! It takes 10 minutes to brew a cup of coffee! Irrelevant! I will set off my smoke alarms! A Mere Bagatelle!!!!! There is no room in my tiny kitchen! So what! I would keep it on my bedside table if I had to!




It's so Shiny!


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Better Tortilla Formula

    

The trick is to use boiling water, and to smash them as you are frying them.  Here's the recipe-

400 grams all purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put all the dry ingredients and the oil in the bowl of your bread machine and turn it on. Slowly dribble the water in as the beaters agitate the flour. Let the knead cycle finish, and you're ready to go.

Roll out the tortillas as seen in the video toward the end of this post. The process is exactly the same, just bigger. You should get 10-12, 11" tortillas. If you make them little, you'll get as many as 15.

Heat a heavy skillet to medium-high. Make sure it is completely dry, or the tortillas will stick.

Have a clean, damp towel ready to wrap the finished tortillas in.

When the skillet is hot, lay a tortilla in the pan. It should turn translucent in about 5 seconds, when you turn it over. Use a silicone spatula to quickly but gently smash the whole tortilla against the pan for about another 7 or 8 seconds, then scoop it out and put it under the damp towel. Repeat until you've cooked all the tortillas. 

 Here are a few more technical pointers:
1. Use enough flour when you roll them out, or they will stick to everything.

2. Roll all the tortillas before you start cooking them. They really do only take about 15 seconds in the pan.

3. I have one of those large, super flexible pancake spatulas to do the smashing with. The smashing is important, it prevents the tortilla from developing giant bubbles which make them cook unevenly.

4. You will need a bigger frying pan than mine, like a 14" one. I'm going to be looking for one at goodwill.

5. As you can see from the pictures, one side of the tortilla has more freckles. That's because when you first put them in the pan, you basically just show it to the heat before flipping it over. That way you don't overcook it by accident.

6. You could put the hot tortillas in  tupperware or a ziploc bag, but I find that a towel allows them to stay moist as they cool without developing slimy spots. Once they cool off you can put them in something airtight.

What makes this a better recipe? The boiling water. I find that if I use cold water, the dough is springier, and harder to roll out. That makes it harder to make a very thin tortilla. If they're too thick, they take longer to cook, which makes them dry out of you use a lower heat, or burn if you use higher heat.. If you don't cook them long enough, they just taste like raw dough. In either case the texture is a little stiff and papery.

On the other hand, using boiling water partially cooks the flour to begin with, which alters the elasticity of the dough. This recipe makes a very durable, forgiving dough that is easy to roll out, but difficult to accidentally poke holes in. They cook up tender but not gummy, delicately chewy, and substantial enough to make a good burrito even when they are very thin.
So, what's in the bowl? Tortilla soup of course. This is a 'cheating' recipe, because it uses a can of Trader Joe's Cuban Style black beans as a main ingredient.

David helped me make it. My instructions to him over the phone at about 3 o'clock were something like

"Get the big cooking pot with the silver handle sticking off it. Fill it half way with water. Put it on the big back burner on high. Put 3 frozen chicken pieces in it, 4 if they're small. Chop up an onion and put that in. Open the can of chilis in adobo and put 3 chilis in the pot. When it boils, turn it down to 5 and ignore it until I get home."

When I got home at 7, I added a bunch of cumin, garlic powder, a blob of tomato paste, a dash of salt and the aforementioned can of beans, cranked the heat back up to a boil, and waited until the soup had reduced enough that it looked tasty. It was, very. You tear up chunks of the fresh tortillas and put them in your soup and they get all dumpling-y. You can add fresh tomatoes and cilantro, but I was out of those things the day I took the picture, and it was still very good.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Success! Muahahaha!




 I made a yarn winder. It's ugly. Boy howdy is it ugly. But it works! Now all I need is a swift. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Everything Old is New Again

 

 
I really am trying to use up my stash of materials. These 3 projects sort of go together because they all had a previous life as other things. I showed you the scooter skirt already, but it's worth mentioning that I made it out of the skirt of a half finished dress Mom abandoned back in the late 60's or so.

Why didn't I just finish the dress? Because it was cut along very similar lines to the pink and white one in the picture below. As you can see, it is a terribly dumpy looking fit on me. Mom is nearly 4 inches shorter than I am, and all of it is torso. The waist line any dress made for Mom cuts me right across my 3rd rib from the bottom. So, no point in making up the dress as it was. The material is too stiff and coarse to make a good blouse, but it's just perfect for a short a-line skirt. I'm very happy with it.

Before...
But then there was still the pink and white dress. It's one of a pair, also from Mom, but made by Great Aunt Gatha. When I was little, Aunt Gatha's sewing was held to be an acme of durable clothing construction. And durable it was- although looking at it now what comes to mind is the bit by some comedian, maybe Jeff Foxworthy, where he was talking about his redneck relatives fixing something with duct tape: If one or two layers will fix it, then 40 or 50 layers will fix the hell out of it. These dresses are obsessively, if startlingly coarsely, assembled. The waistband had a piece of material tacked in as a stay, to which the bodice and skirt were affixed by machine, having first been basted in place with what looks like button hole twist. Both parts were previously gatherd by hand with the same coarse thread. All basting and gathering threads had been left in place. Each seam had been closely but unevenly overcast by hand, and the hem of the skirt as well as the facing of the bodice placket had been whip stitched in very small, closely spaced stitches of rather erratic appearance. The under arm seams hadn't even been clipped so as to allow the side seam to flex without puckering the armpit! Altogether, the construction was rather lumpy.


After!
These two dresses were neither in wearable nor collectable condition by the time they came to me. The shoulders were dry rotted, the collars stained, and there were serious mouse bites in various places. But they were made in the 50's, which means that there is a mile of fabric in the skirt. With a little scootching and fudging, there was exactly enough to cut a hawaiian shirt for David out of it. I have a nice vintage shirt pattern that suits the material perfectly.

The third thing is this wing collar shirt I made for myself. It's the second shirt I've made out of this pair of curtains, the first being a Halloween costume I made for Cynthia. It has the distinction of being made not only out of material from goodwill, but made out of something I actually used for its original purpose for some years. Eventually I moved out of places that had windows you could put normal curtains in, and I remembered that I had actually wanted to make clothing out of them in the first place. It took me a very long time to finish this shirt because I lost interest halfway through, for no reason that I can remember, especially as I am very excited about the finished result. I always thought that tuxedo shirts were the fanciest thing imaginable, and I really wanted one.

The thing that inspired me was the idea to merge the bust darts in the front of the shirt with the seam where the pleated section is inserted. The result is a fit that is very feminine and curvy, but clean and uncluttered the way a man's shirt is. Also, I finally managed to get the proportion of sleeve width, body width, size of arm hole and length of shirt tail worked out so that it looks right and feels comfortable. I feel very luxurious wearing it.

As David said about his pink and white shirt: "Yeah, this is a really good shirt. I feel like a badass wearing it."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hooray!

  

  
...hooray! My summer vacation starts today! Actually, it started last night with a very silly cocktail with dry ice in it.

Mix equal parts cheap white wine with decent quality sparkling apple juice drink. Add a chunk of dry ice (Chemical substance be shape like sugar cube. Prohibit to eat.) because you have some around, and because it's festive and makes these goofy boobling noises while you drink it. Very refreshing. Also makes you schnockered faster than you meant to be, which is fine because you're on vacation, Bitch!



I also made some more pants last week. Yes, more shorts pretending to be a skirt. The pattern envelope called this a 'scooter skirt', and it has a very hip looking group of young caucasian women in pigtails and knee socks on the front cover. In spite of the illustration depicting some inhumanly elongated beings, the pattern itself required essentially no alteration whatsoever to fit me. Wonder of wonders! I sewed it up in an afternoon.

It is the most comfortable thing imaginable, and the fact that it is shorts, not a skirt, just adds practicality to the whole arrangement.




Above all, it is Thursday in the last full weekend in July, in Portland. The taps begin to flow at 11:30!

Prost!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Another Bread Casserole

 

 
I still have chestnuts in my freezer. I didn't want a dessert, I don't know what else to make with chestnuts, and this recipe had a nice, attractive picture on the website I got it from. Then I thought the whole thing sounded too fiddly besides calling for sherry and celery root, things that no normal person just has lying around. This is perfectly good, and is much easier.

For the bread part:

4 cups bread cubes. I cut up some stale baguette slices.
1 1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 T fresh sage, chopped
3 T fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan
pepper

Beat everything but the bread until thoroughly mixed. Add the bread and stir. Set it aside until all the liquid is absorbed. Stir from time to time to make sure the bread gets evenly moistened.

For the veggie part:

1 large onion, diced
4 or 5 thick pieces of bacon cut into little bits
2 cups peeled chestnuts
3 ribs chopped celery
1 large green apple, peeled & cubed
1 cup prunes, chopped slightly
3 T minced fresh thyme

cup of water
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

Pre- heat the oven to 350.

Fry the bacon in a large sauce pan or skillet until the fat is rendered out. Add the onions and saute them until they start to get transparent, then add everything else except the water & vinegar. Continue to saute until everything is hot, then add the liquids. Salt & pepper generously, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 Put the veggie mix into a casserole dish, top with the bread, firmly press everything down. Bake 45-50 minutes or until the bread has poofed up and is nice and brown on top.

Notes:

1. If you use frozen or fresh chestnuts in their shells, shelling them will add about 30 minutes to the whole process. You can read my other chestnut post for some instructions on how to do it. Remember to allow a few extra because some of them will be no good and you won't be able to tell until you peel them.
2. Use a pretty cheap balsamic. One of the reasons to simmer the vegetable mix at the end is to cook off the acid in the vinegar so the casserole won't be too tart.
3. The original recipe says to use sherry instead of vinegar and stock instead of water, which I'm sure would be great, but whatever.
4. I bet using real parmesan would be a better idea too, but I used the stuff in the green can, and I have no complaints.
5. But on the other hand, I doubt I would use dry herbs instead of fresh. I draw the line there- I'd sooner do without them altogether and choose some other flavoring agent than use dry when the recipe calls for such a large amount of them.




Monday, July 15, 2013

Hey look, it's a pineapple!

 

 
This is a dinky version of the Big Damn Pineapple found on Knitty. I didn't have the commitment to make the whole version, so I cast on only half as many stitches as called for in the directions and ignored the stitch counts indicated in the rows. Instead of figuring out how many beads I was going to need, I just pulled up the loop of each stitch requiring a bead and slipped one on as I went along. It worked because I was using very fine crochet cotton that would fit through the beads when doubled. Needles were 00000 size.

I showed it to David. I said "Look at my knitting", and he said "Cool! it looks like a virus!" and I said "It's supposed  be a pineapple", and he said "Oh, right on, like Victorian clothing and stuff."

*sigh.*

He makes me so mushy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Purple Pie

 


 
It got too hot to bake frivolously, but I wanted pie. I saw a recipe for a refrigerator pie, and the idea of pie that requires no baking sounded good, but the ingredient list turned me off: oreo cookies, toasted sweetened coconut, coconut cream, whipped cream, cream cheese, fruit juice, and raspberries. I thought that sounded like a terrible thing to do to raspberries, so I streamlined the whole flavor/texture thing and came up with this.

for crust:

5 oz gingersnaps, I used Trader Joe's Tripple Ginger
4 T melted butter

filling:

8 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup blueberry jam
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup water + a couple tablespoons
1/4 oz envelope unflavored gelatin

1 additional cup heavy whipping cream
a pound of blueberries

Crush up the cookies and mix with melted butter.  Press firmly into the bottom of a pie pan and refrigerate until needed.

In a small dish, soften the gelatin in a couple tablespoons of cold water. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir to dissolve. Once the gelatin is completely dissolved and has cooled somewhat, put it together with the cream cheese, jam, condensed milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a blender and blend the heck out of it. Set aside.

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Gently mix in the jam blend then pour half of it into your pie dish. Add a layer of berries, then the rest of the filling. Refrigerate over night, then garnish with whatever you have lying about.

1. Do bother to soften the gelatin in cold water first. If you just throw it in the boiling water, it tends to clump up in this really annoying way.
2. I bet you could use any flavor of jam/fruit/cookie combo for this. Strawberries with a Nilla Wafer crust. Peaches with a pecan sandy crust. Cherries with crust made of almond biscotti. Orange marmalade with chocolate graham crackers.
3. I used a spring form pan. If you want to do that too, first cover inside of the ring with a layer of foil, then insert the bottom to hold the foil in place. When the pie sets up, remove the ring then peel the foil away from the pie.
4. The white stuff in the picture is about 2 oz cream cheese, with enough cream mixed in to make it act like frosting, and enough lemon juice to make it a little tart and enough powdered sugar to make it a little sweet. Dump it on the pie, push it around to make a circle and heap up any leftover berries in the middle.
5. Next time I think I'll use something else for crust. The gingersnaps taste good, but I think they overwhelm the berries. David disagrees, though, so use your best judgement.

Basically, this is just whipped cream with a little jello in it to keep it from going flat. There is a thing called fool which is almost exactly  like this, except without the cheese and gelatin, so it's very sloppy and you just eat it out of a bowl and there's no crust. Fool is nice, but there isn't much textural interest. A cookie crust definitely adds some thing to the whole business. Also, the concept of an icebox pie seems quintessentially American to me, which makes it an appropriate thing to eat for Independence Day, which is when I made this thing.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beet-za

  

  
So this is what you do after you put your beet greens in a pie. Again, not a 'real' pizza to my mind, but still good. I saw a picture in the paper a while back of a pizza with garlic tops, or scapes, on it. They had left the scapes whole which looks cool because they're all wiggly shaped, but the fact is that if you leave them like that, they are bloody awkward to eat. Plus, the blossoms themselves get all papery and unpleasant. My pizza doesn't have curly green ropes all over it, but it does have beet slices.

1/2 recipe of the pizza dough

2 smallish beets
6 or 8 good sized garlic scapes
3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
cheese is optional
salt & pepper
fresh rosemary

Pre heat the oven as hot as it will go without being on broil.

Peel the beets and slice them extremely thinly. Put them in a covered dish and microwave them until they are tender, toss them with a dash of olive oil and set them aside.

Put a generous splash of oil in a skillet, more than you actually need to cook the garlic tops. Snap the garlic into pieces and saute on medium low with plenty of salt and pepper until the stems are tender.

Stretch out the dough. Gently drain the oil out of the garlic onto the dough and brush it around to coat the surface completely. Add a sprinkle of cheese if you want it, then the beets, then the garlic, discarding the blooms. Mince the rosemary and sprinkle it on top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the dough is a little brown.

notes:

1. I altered the pizza dough recipe slightly for this by adding a couple tablespoons of olive oil to it, and I think the improvement is such that  I'll keep doing it. It makes the dough less all purpose and more focaccia or pizza specific, but what else do I really use it for?
2. I used a mandolin on the beets to keep the slices even. I have generally mixed feelings about that thing, because it is dangerous, and I'm scared of it, but also because it is a gadget and I disapprove of kitchen gadgets. But it has its uses.
3. If you use cheese, use something that has character. I used something gouda-like and a bit stinky. Parmesan or blue cheese would also be good.
4. Keep the heat somewhat low when cooking the garlic, it burns quite easily. It helps to add a splash of water to the pan and then cover it for about 2 minutes early in the cooking, the steam helps cook them quickly without toughening.
5. There is no reason you shouldn't use a whole recipe of pizza dough and make a bigger pizza. I just know that regardless of what I make, by the time I get it out of the oven David and I will be ravenous enough to eat the whole thing no matter how big it is. So I just make a pizza that is of a size that when we have eaten it all up, we have no regrets about doing it.
6. Garlic tops are also called Serpent Garlic, which is so cool it deserves capital letters!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beet Top and Potato Pie

  

  
This is a somewhat unimaginative picture of a thing I have posted about at least once before, but June is the season for using up random produce, because that is what there is. On the other hand, this pie was very tasty, and I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on several different days and it was equally good for all occasions. (I do wish I had remembered to add cheese. You can top it with some slices of brie if you want. Strongly recommended.)

 You will need:

1 recipe of crust for a 2 crust pie. I like a half whole wheat and half white flour recipe for savory pies. Mine is

1 cup AP flour
1 cup wheat flour
2/3 cup butter, cool but not freezing
3/4 tsp salt, or a bit more if you use unsalted butter
6 tablespoons cold water

Cut the butter together with the flour & salt until the butter is no bigger than peas. Add the water and mix gently just until it forms a raggedy ball, then refrigerate it until you need it.

Filling:

2 russet potatoes, medium sized
the tops off of 4 moderately small beets
a clove of garlic, crushed
a chopped onion
salt and pepper
plenty of butter

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Cube and boil the potatoes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the leaves. Start by thoroughly rinsing them. No matter how well the beets have been washed, little gritty things will have gotten stuck down in the stems near the beet crowns. Coarsely chop the leaves, keeping the stems separate from the leafy parts.

Saute the onion in butter until it's transparent. Then add the stems because they take somewhat longer to cook than the leaves. Add the leaves last and cook until tender. Mix everything together with the potatoes. Bash the potatoes up until they are not too big, but not totally obliterated either. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Roll the crust out into an 18" circle. If it's uneven and raggedy that's fine. Pile the filling up in the middle and flatten it out until there's about 5 or 6 inches of crust around the outside. Fold the extra crust loosely up around the filling and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is as brown as you like it. If you can stand to, let it get browner than the picture. The crust is fine if you don't, but I think it's even better if it has more crunch. I was impatient. As usual.

Beets are a twofer. You can think of them as just a variety of chard that you grow because they have this bonus knobby part on the bottom which you can eat later. Possibly the reverse is true- somebody didn't care for the knobs, so they just started growing the kind of leaves that doesn't make any knobs. I didn't know this about beets until I started cooking them regularly, and then the appearance of the leaves tipped me off. Then I started to wonder what made people stop eating the tops as a regular thing- one time a vendor asked me at the farmer's market if I wanted him to cut the tops off my beets and I said no, eating the tops is half the reason to buy them whole, wasn't it? He agreed, but said that some people still didn't want the leaves. Seems to me that if you're going to buy a mess of greens, you might as well just buy beets with tops on them, and get two dishes out of them for the money. At a guess, eating beets at their smaller, newer stage, is a thing that people have started to do again relatively recently. A lot of farmer's market shoppers probably had parents who never looked at a beet before it went into a can, and if you buy a large beet that has been allowed to grow for a full season, the leaves will be pretty tough and unappealing. So, yeah. New beets are tasty, and the tops are good for eating.

 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Agedashi Tofu

  

  
There is a cart at 10th and Alder that does a fantastic job of making this dish. I still haven't got the method right for the crunchy/chewy batter they do, but this is close.

I had to look up what agedashi is, and apparently, 'age' means fried, and 'dashi' is broth or stock. So, fried tofu in broth. Which doesn't explain what it tastes like at all. The brown sauce is indeed based on dashi, but it isn't the watery bland stuff the english word 'broth' leads you to expect. In this case, it is an intensely flavored sweet-salty-savory condiment.

1 lb tofu
glutinous rice flour
oil for deep frying

1 cup dashi
sesame seeds
fresh grated ginger

You may be able to buy dashi ready made, but I don't know. I went to Fubonn and got a box of these things that say they are 'katsuo dashi packs'. What they are is a thing that looks like an extra large tea bag full of dried fish and kelp flakes. The box has instructions for making the broth- in this case you throw a bag into 3 cups of boiling water and leave it for 5 minutes. Take out the bag, add 1/2 cup light soy sauce and a tablespoon of sugar. Simmer it for a couple more minutes and that's it.

Heat about 2" of oil in a pan until you can see the convection currents moving the oil around.

Cube the tofu and roll the pieces in the rice flour until they are thickly coated, then carefully drop them in the oil. Fry them until the outsides are crispy- they won't get very brown. Drain them briefly on paper towel, then serve them on rice  topped with a generous splash of dashi, grated ginger and sesame seeds.

What's about the beans? I just battered some green beans and fried them. I figured that if i was going to have an almighty mess in the kitchen with the frying oil, and the rice flour, and whatnot, I might as well make some tempura to go with my fake Japanese food. Mix about equal parts flour and cornstarch with enough water to make a very light batter, add a dash each of salt and pepper and dunk in the beans. Fry them until the batter is crunchy and as brown as you like.

You know, this turned out all right, and I'll probably make it again to see if I can improve it, but rather than fuss around with my sketchy instructions, you should just go to 10th and Alder get an order of it at the cart called Samurai. It's really quite amazing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mexican Wedding Cookies

  

  
I keep thinking that the name for these things is probably apocryphal. I don't have any reason to think that, but I do. I think it about Italian Wedding Soup too, but I don't like Italian Wedding Soup, so I don't care. These cookies are excellent though, so I worry that I am calling my delightful little cookie nubs something that an actual Mexican person might roll their eyes at and think 'Stupid gringos, what do they know from Mexican weddings, anyway?' Never mind.

It is a super easy recipe. I followed it exactly. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got it.

2/3 cup (65 grams) nuts
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 (30 grams) cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

more powdered sugar for rolling the cookies in

Toast the nuts lightly. Put them in a processor with a couple tablespoons of the flour and process them until they are finely ground, but haven't turned into paste.

Beat the butter and powdered sugar together. Beat in the vanilla and salt, add the nuts and remaining flour and beat until combined. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Pre heat oven to 350. make 1" balls of dough and place them 2" apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes. While they are still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. Place the sugared cookies on paper towel to cool. Ta da! Cookies.

Things to know:

1. Do use butter that is at room temperature. If it is too cold it will be hard to beat, and if its too warm, it will separate and the texture of the cookies will be hard.
2. Be gentle when rolling the cookies in sugar. They are very delicate and will crumble up if you bash them around.
3. I used walnuts. Some people don't like walnuts, because they have those slightly bitter papery husks, but these cookies are very bland by nature so I wanted the hint of astringency to balance it out. I bet hazelnuts would be good, or pecans and rosemary. Or pine nuts and orange zest. Hmmmm....
4. They will absorb a great deal of powdered sugar. Don't be shy, go ahead and smother them in it.
5. If you have a scale, do use it. The volume of powdered sugar in particular is highly variable, so the most accurate way of measuring it is by weight. 30 grams is 30 grams whether you cram it into a quarter of a cup or fluff it up to occupy a third.
6. The recipe says to use unsalted butter, so I did, because I actually had some. But next time I will probably like salted butter better, because once the cookies cool down, the savory contrast of the dough with the sugar coating flattens out a bit.

These are really lovely things. The dough is only mildly sweet, so the sugar coating isn't overpowering, and they are astonishingly delicate in texture for something that has such a high proportion of butter and nuts, and no leavening. I think this is partly due to the powdered sugar (which contains cornstarch) in the dough, but mostly to the behavior of butter itself. In the U.S., butter is legally required to have something like 83% milk fat in it. Which means that out of 1 cup of butter, a little less that 1/5 of it is actually water and milk protein and whatnot. That isn't enough to toughen the gluten in the flour, but it is enough to create a teensy bit of steam during cooking so that the starches fluff up a tad and the escaping water vapor creates a slight leavening effect. The result is a cookie that holds its shape just until you bite it and then dissolves with a slight crunch.

I think they're superb. I ate them instead of toast for breakfast today.

 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Yardlong Beans

 

 
I went to Fubonn on Memorial Day in spite of the weather. It makes a very nice bicycle adventure in good weather, and a slightly chancy but still enjoyable one in less nice weather. I got some of the usual stuff, but I also got a jar of powdered ginger drink, a box of dashi sachets, a very ordinary orange soda pop with the most remarkable Japanese packaging, a box of preserved plums that are too icky to eat, and because I am trying to branch out from the tofu and broccoli rut, I got a can of braised gluten and a pack of yardlong beans.

I was skeptical about the beans being actual beans. Once I cooked them and the beans popped out of the pods it became apparent that they really are just that, albeit a tad spooky looking. I like green beans in any case, but these are somehow particularly good. They are more tender than any western style of green bean I've eaten so far, and they have a more subtle bean flavor.

a handful of yardlong beans
half an onion, sliced quite thin
teaspoon minced fresh ginger
sesame oil
salt

can of gluten tidbits

oil for cooking

Remove any little stems left in the beans, then cut the beans into manageable lengths. Put a skillet on medium hot with some oil and a pinch of salt. When the oil starts shimmying in the pan, throw in the beans and stir them around to coat them with oil and get them good and hot. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover it to trap the steam. When the water is evaporated, add the onions and ginger, and a little more oil if needed. Stir until the onions are brown, then add the tidbits. Stir until heated through, serve with rice, and hot sauce if you like it.

Nothing special going on here as far as technique, but the ingredients are a change of pace for me. The beans are one thing, the gluten thingummies are another. Dad used to call them vegetarian abalone, and they are also called seitan. Whatever you call them, I called them disgusting when I was a kid. I'm not sure about them now. They are squishy and chewy, and I don't know if they actually have a taste of their own, because if you buy them in a can they are packed in broth and oil.They aren't precisely fibrous, or sticky, and they are a little spongy, hence their ability to absorb flavoring agents. But they do go very well with yardlong beans, so there's that.