Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I made some little elephants. The pattern is by Ysolda Teague, and the directions are just delightful to use. I used smaller yarn than called for, and smaller needles, but other than that I pretty much followed the directions exactly for the first elephant, and only made the ears different for the second, smaller one.

The bigger one looks pretty much like an elephant, so I added a tail, which the directions don't call for. I also didn't have enough yarn to make a whole elephant in gray, so I switched to red for the body so he looks like he's wearing a little onesie. I added a butt flap to complete the impression. He's stuffed with Poly fill. This makes him quite lightweight, and very squishy, which is nice, but his arms and legs are a bit stiff or something.

I made the next one on even smaller needles, but with the same yarn, resulting in a much denser knitted fabric. Partly I just thought the miniaturization would be cute, and partly I wanted to fill it with beans and thus needed to make sure the knitting was tight enough that the beans wouldn't work their way out. That aspect was perfectly successful: the beans gave it a nice weight and the arms and legs are appealingly floppy, and slightly poseable. On the other hand, the ears turned out a little unexpectedly. I think they look more elfin than elephantine. I like the construction of the alternate ears; they are flatter at the edges than the originals, but the proportions are a bit whimsical. I now have a strange little house gnome rather than an elephant. I think it needs a tail, but I'm not sure what kind, I'll have to think about it.

Here are more pictures.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I always have to say it like Timmy from the Simpsons says Timmy!


It looks boring as hell. I can't remember what made me look up a recipe, and once I made some I didn't even want to take a picture of it. It has such a loyal following that I thought well whattahell, it can't be all that great.

But it kinda is. It's like if a Kit Kat bar was really as good as the TV ads say it is. But more like the graham cracker pie crust of the gods. With chocolate. It's definitely not cake, or a cookie, and you wouldn't say it was candy either.

8 oz TJ's lemon wafer cookies, the ones with chocolate drizzles
1/3 cup yellow raisins, optional. If you do without, add another handful of cookies.
1/3 cup butter
4 T cocoa powder
3 T syrup
2 T sugar

about 4 or 5 oz of chocolate

Smash up the cookies. Don't totally powder them, there ought to be a few pea-sized bits left. Add the cocoa powder and raisins.

In a small sauce pan, heat the butter, sugar, & syrup. Bring to a gentle boil for about 5 minutes, then pour over the rest of the ingredients. Toss everything together until thoroughly combined, then press the mix into a cake pan. Melt the chocolate. Pour it over the mix and swirl the pan around to create an even layer on top. Cool the tiffin in the fridge, then break or cut it into candy bar sized pieces.


1. Traditionally, you are supposed to use a mild, dry, not very rich cookie for this. But i really like those lemon things.
2. Also, authentic recipes will call for 'golden syrup' which I think is very similar to pancake syrup, but I've never had any so I don't know. I used some scandinavian baking syrup I got at ikea.
3. Lastly, the recipe I based this on called for half dark and half milk chocolate, melted and mixed together. So I just used semi sweet baking chips.

Dang this stuff was good. The lemon cookies are very crispy, but not hard, and the raisins make little tart, chewy fruity spots that bring out the lemon flavor. I used only one kind of chocolate, but it now occurs to me that if I had used half dark and half milk chocolate, I could have given it a marbled top instead of mixing the two together. It would have looked fancier, and maybe I'd have taken a picture.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Improved Tamales

The first time I made tamales, I fell into the trap of thinking that it had to be difficult to make them, because they are delicious, and mysterious, and somewhat exotic to me. In hindsight, this was a pretty silly thing to assume, because like all really good comfort food, tamales are what poor people with few resources in terms of time or equipment make to feed themselves with. I'm sure the procedure outlined in my first attempt is just fine, if you want to make things hard on yourself, but this is easier, and comes out better. You do not need a mixer, just a big bowl and a spoon or spatula. You don't need to whip the shortening first, and then add little bits of this and little bits of that, just whack it all together. And for crying out loud, just use baking powder. No one in their right mind is going to turn their nose up at your tamale because it is too fluffy and delicious!

Start by putting half a package of corn husks in very hot water to soak. Weight them down with something so they stay submerged. This will make 10 to 15 tamales depending on how big you want them.

Then take

3 1/2 cups masa for tamales
2 1/2 cups nearly boiling water

Mix these 2 ingredients thoroughly, until the masa is evenly moistened. Cover and set aside for about 45 minutes to hydrate while you assemble whatever you want to put inside them. I used little sticks of cheddar and a half jar of roasted green peppers that was in the freezer. When you're ready to assemble things you will need:

More warm water
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2/3 cups shortening- I used about half butter and half bacon fat.
Aluminum foil

Break up the hydrated masa and mix in the shortening and baking powder.. A wooden spoon or something else firm is good for this. When the shortening is well incorporated, gradually add enough water to give the mix a soft play-doh consistency. Salt to taste.

Take about half a cup of dough and squish it onto the center of a corn husk. Form it into a square about 4" across and put few bits of filling down the center. Roll the whole business up, fold over the narrow end of the husk and leave the other end open. Tear a off rectangle of aluminum foil and firmly wrap the tamale with it.

To cook, fill a stock pot or other deep cooking vessel with about 4" of water. Put the tamales in the pot so that the open ends of the tamales are pointing upwards. Boil for about 45 minutes or until the cheese explodes out of the wrapper and makes a mess.


1. Remember to keep track of which end is the open end of the tamale! I folded the foil wrappers so the ends were easily distinguishable.
2. Use fresh masa. Mine was rather old, and while the texture is great, the taste is a little disappointing.
3. You can use any type of shortening, even cooking oil, I bet.
4. Likewise, you could use stock instead of water. I was just trying to keep things simple.
5. Use enough salt. Tamales don't even have to have fillings, it's really about the steamed masa, so make sure that stuff is well seasoned.
6. Try to keep the filings well encased in the masa. Tamales expand significantly during cooking, which puts a lot of pressure on the insides. 

Expansion is why you leave one end of the tamale open in the first place. If you wrap the whole thing up as tight as possible, you're just setting yourself up to have the husks rupture and make a giant gloppy mess in the cooking pot. It's better to leave one end open to give it a little extra room at the outset. Foil wrapping helps too. It eliminates the need to use little strings to tie up the husks, and keeps excess water out of the tamales while they're boiling.

This recipe is so much simpler than the previous one that I am again considering making my own tamales regularly.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jam Tart


The filling is just a layer of store bought jam, so there's nothing amazing about that, but the crust is quite remarkable.

3/4 cups butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (about 200 grams)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
sliced almonds

optional: 1/3 cup marzipan

Pre heat the oven to 350.

Cream the butter & sugar with the salt & almond extract until the mixture is fluffy and light colored and the sugar grains are dissolved. Gently mix in the flour. Put 1/2 cup of the dough in a bowl in the freezer to stiffen up. Press the rest of the pastry into a tart pan; be sure to make the crust as even a thickness as possible. Spread a thin layer of jam over the crust. Take the reserved crust out of the freezer. If you're using marzipan, use a pastry cutter to combine it slightly with the reserved dough. Break the mixture into crumbs and sprinkle it over the jam, then add a few almond slices. Bake until the crust is lightly browned, 40 to 50 minutes.

1. I over cooked mine. I didn't want it as brown as the picture. It was also a smidge tough.
2. The original recipe says to use a 9" pan. Mine is bigger than that, which is why I decided to use a little marzipan in the topping to spread it out a little.
3. Real butter. Not margarine. Not shortening.
4. Do not skimp during the part about 'cream butter & sugar until fluffy'. This is all-important!
5. I used blackberry jam, but I bet it would be really good with marmalade, or figs, or plum jam.

This crust is both amazing and very strange. Essentially what you do is make a buttercream frosting, then mix in enough flour to make a kind of heavy spackle which you then coat the inside of your pan with. Conventional pastry has a tendency to shrink and toughen when it is cooked, but this stuff does not shrink, and at least when it isn't overcooked, stays tender and shortbready. I suspect that the reason for the lack of shrinkage is the fact that when you cream the butter & sugar, what you're doing is whipping minute bubbles into the fat. It takes quite a long time if you do this by hand, but the result is unlike anything else. The air bubbles expand in the oven, and since there is no added liquid in the recipe to evaporate out and cause shrinking, the crust retains its size and shape as it solidifies.

I used this crust recipe for a quarkkuchen a little later, with a little vanilla and lemon zest, and it was fantastic.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chocolate Cheese Cake


Jej mades a mighty delicious chocolate cheesecake. This is not exactly the recipe she used, because she has an even harder time following a recipe than I do, but we started with the same source material, and I added cocoa powder the same as she did. You will need a springform baking pan.

Pre heat the oven to 325.


2 cups peanut butter cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter

Grind the cookies to a powder and put them in a microwavable bowl with the butter. Zap it for about 30 seconds, then mix the butter and crumbs thoroughly.  Press the mixture into the bottom of your pan and up the sides about an inch. Set aside.


2, 8-oz things of cream cheese
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups greek yogurt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
teaspoon vanilla extract

If you have a food processor that is big enough to do the whole recipe at once, put everything in it and process it until it's smooth. (I don't have such a thing, but I do have a blender, which worked but was not too happy about it. ) Pour the filling into the crust and bake for an hour. See note #1! It will be still a little jiggly when it comes out of the oven, that's ok. Let it cool at room temperature for an hour, then stick it in the fridge over night and it will set up.

1. My oven is known to cook very unevenly. To compensate for this, I baked mine for 25 minutes, turned it around, and baked it for another 25 minutes. Remember, every time you open the oven, your cooking time increases by a few minutes so take that into account if you need to do the same.
2. Heating the cookie crumbs as well as the butter softens the crumbs. You need less butter to hold them together than you would if you were using crackers because cookies already have a high fat content.
3. Use full fat yogurt if you can get it. The original recipe calls for sour cream, so stop worrying about the fat content. It's a cheesecake for crissakes.

So why do I keep putting greek yogurt in things if I'm not worried about the fat content? Because sour cream is not a multi-tasking ingredient. I make my own yogurt because it's cheap that way, so that's always what there is in the fridge. In most recipes, you can use greek yogurt and sour cream interchangeably, but I can't eat a bowl of sour cream and cereal for my breakfast. Blerg. Yogurt is more tart than sour cream (which I like), and you have to be careful adding it to hot dishes because it can curdle, but mostly it's easier for me to use that than planning ahead and buying a whole other thing that doesn't go in anything else. I'm lazy, basically.