Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Breaktime

I've been slowing down with my posts because I simply haven't had the head for either writing nor my projects recently. I'm preparing to go in for surgery in a couple of weeks. I'll be donating a kidney to my mother in early March. I've decided to take a break from the blog until after the surgery.

Oddly, I'm kind of looking forward to the time off... perhaps I will feel a bit more inclined to play with my projects then. If anything, they are a great comfort to me in moments of stillness and contemplation. Rascal knows all about that kind of stuff.


I'll be back sometime in March. See you then!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Inspiration Mondays: Kitchen Konfidence

I get a deep sense of satisfaction from making things. For a long time, I could not understand people who did not make things by hand. The older I get, the more I have realized that one of the reasons people don't like to make things by hand is that they are afraid they are going to screw it up. They lack confidence that what they are making will turn out right.

I grew up in a cooking family. I've been chopping onions for as long as I can remember. If you come to my house, my mom will feed you. She has been known to send repairmen home with packed meals. My brother is a chef. My dad can roast a whole pig on a fire on a spit.

So, I know my way around a kitchen.

And because I know my way around a kitchen, that has helped me to feel confident with other creative endeavours as well. It's not that much of a stretch to take experiments from the kitchen into experiments with my knitting, with my writing, and with my work.

I had a day off today. At lunch time, I found myself in the kitchen, about to start making soup, looking at these:


I had no recipe: I was just going to wing it. Inspired by my ingredients, I was going to put together what I knew would work. And it was then that I thought that I should share some of the stuff that is stored in my brain, because maybe that will help someone be a little less afraid to make something themselves. It's not hard, but a little bit of a boost in confidence never hurts.

So here are a few tips to keep up your sleeve for when you feel like experimenting in the kitchen. I hope they inspire you!
  • Never try a recipe for the first time on a weekday. Always do it on a day off to give yourself lots of time to get over the panic and to prepare your stuff.
  • Never try a recipe for the first time for guests. It's not worth the stress.
  • Read your recipe thoroughly from start to finish. Do it at least twice, and envision how you're going to do it, where you will put your bowls, your chopping board, your knives, your dirty dishes, etc. I've burned many things because I've been standing in the kitchen reading a recipe because I didn't know what was coming next. (Same thing applies to knitting patterns. Read them and picture each step in your head so you know what you're doing and what will come next.)
  • Preheat your oven. Don't just throw stuff into a cold oven and think it'll cook properly. You'll either get salmonella or soggy cake.
  • It's true what they say about bacon.
  • Use a timer. Don't just rely on thinking you'll notice when 30 minutes has passed, because likely the only other reminder that you'll get is the burning smell later.
  • When in doubt, check the stuff in your oven 5 minutes before you're supposed to take them out. It only takes two minutes to really burn something.
  • When opening the oven, never stick your head in right as you open it. That's a good way to cook your eyeballs. Step back for a couple of seconds, then look in.
  • When opening a dish that has tinfoil on top that has just come out of the oven, always open the corner furthest away from you first. That also prevents cooked eyeballs.
  • To continue with eyeballs: so far, the only thing that keeps me from crying while chopping onions is to do it under a fume hood/extractor fan.
  • Every single pasta sauce or soup I make starts out by sautéeing onions in a tablespoon of oil. If you can do that, you're already ahead.
  • If you're going to sautée garlic, add them about 10 seconds before you're going to add water or some other liquid. That way, they won't burn, and you'll still get their flavour.
  • Sautéed onions in butter and olive oil + garlic + celery + sage + stale bread cut into cubes in a deep pan = instant stuffing. Toss them in the juices from your roasted turkey or chicken and put it in the oven for 25 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to do it all traditional-like.
  • Keep lots of liquid soap next to the kitchen sink with lots of paper towels. Wash your hands often. You can use your hand knit tea towels instead, but change them every day. That will keep the bacteria out and give you lots of excuses to knit more!
  • If you're boiling potatoes, you know they're tender when the water turns cloudy.
  • If you're roasting potatoes, boil them until they're tender (as above), then drain them, toss them in oil/butter, then put them in a hot, hot oven (at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit). They're done when they look done, usually about 25 minutes.
  • French Toast = two eggs + a cup of milk beaten together + a teaspoon of cinnamon + about six slices of stale bread dipped into it. Heat a pan with butter until it melts at medium heat, put the soggy bread on it and turn it after 4 or 5 minutes on each side. Cinnamon + powdered sugar sprinkled over top makes it perfect.
  • Cut some bananas and put it into the pan after you take out the French toast and brown them. That makes the French toast even perfect-er.
  • Take the same recipe as above, but chop the bread into cubes and put it into a buttered dish with the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over top (and the bananas, too, if you want. Or raisins. Or dried cranberries with grated lemon peel). Put it into a preheated oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. That makes bread pudding. I made it tonight. It looks like this:
  • If you decide to substitute half the milk for Bailey's, I will not be held responsible for the outcome.
  • If it sounds good together, it probably will taste good together. Just try it. Peanut butter and Nutella on a cake? Jam on a cookie? Chicken and gravy and bread? Whack them together and put them in the oven. Remember what Joey said? Check out 2:38:

And one last thing:

Good food is one thing, but good meals are made when people are relaxed and happy and sharing with each other, either with shared recipes or shared stories. Stressed out cooks are no fun to be around. Relax, and it'll all work out fine...

... especially if you keep the peanut butter and Nutella on standby. It's a winner, man. Just sayin'.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dreaming of Yarn, Covered in Flour

In my Couchworld, life plods along, marked occasionally by little trips to new places, visits to cafes, knitting, crochet, sewing, and baking.

Sometimes, anyway.

In the real world, I wake up early, I work out at the gym for an hour, I go to work, I come home and walk the dog, cook the dinner, do some yoga, pack my bags for the next day, and go to bed. It's a busy day, seldom tedious, but... busy.

This week, I've made sure I spent at least a couple of evenings working on my current crochet project. It's slowly coming together, but I wish I had a finished object to share... maybe next week...

But let us not lament, for I have baking photos to share! Hurray for the baking!

My KitchenAid mixer is still sitting broken and gutted on my dining room table. I have the gear for it, but I'm waiting for some food-grade grease to arrive so that it can all be put together with some fresh grease. I dithered about just getting some regular motor grease, but frankly, the thought of it potentially dripping down into my batter was not that appealing.

So for now, I make bread the old-fashioned way, with good ol' muscle power, kneading by hand until I get sick of it it reaches the proper elasticity before I set it to rise. In a recent wander through town, I picked up this little do-hickey for making bread:


That, friends, is a dough whisk. It looks like an instrument of torture, but I actually got it for when I make my Dutch oven bread that doesn't require kneading. I've found that it comes in handy for my day-to-day bread, as it really does a good job of mixing the ingredients thoroughly until it comes together enough to knead.

So, I made bread last Sunday, but while I was at it, I decided to use some of the rising time to make another recipe I've been slowly collecting ingredients for: Skinny Cranberry Bliss Bars. They're less than half the calories of the original Starbucks ones, AND they have chunks of white chocolate in them. They are punch-the-air-good. Mine aren't as pretty as they are on the recipe page. I think I was supposed to wait until the topping set before I cut them, but well... you know. And mine don't have the white chocolate drizzled over top because, well... you know...



So, I made those, and they were fabulous, but the recipe uses two egg whites. I hate wasting egg yolks, so I wondered if I could make crème brulée with them. Crème brulée is like custard made with double cream, but I had three problems there:
  1. I had no double cream.
  2. I was too lazy to walk to the store to get some.
  3. I didn't want to leave the Cranberry Bliss Bars. I just couldn't do it.

I did, however, have half a can of evaporated milk in the freezer, so my brain started pondering if I could make it work with that. And, one Google search later, I found this recipe. And an hour later, I had these:


Here they are, posing with their bread buddies:



I didn't brulée them i.e. I didn't melt sugar over top of them, because I've never been able to do that properly without a blowtorch. Yes, I used to have a blowtorch. Yes, it was for cooking. No, it wasn't taken away from me, I just couldn't take it with me when I moved from the UK. It's hard to explain that kind of thing in your luggage.

I suppose I could have used all that kitchen time to actually work on my yarn projects, but when the baking calls, the baking calls. The house was nicely warmed by the oven. My clothes smelled like freshly baked bread and Cranberry Bliss Bars. I also made some tomato soup for lunch sometime during all this baking, and I think I made dinner, too, but I can't remember what we ate. So, by the evening, I was kinda tired.

And friends don't let tired friends knit, right?

This weekend, though, I am determined to get this project off the hook and ready to wear. I shall not be distracted by the Cranberry Bliss Bars. Or the coffee cake I've been thinking about making. Or the sorbet recipe. I can't promise about the French toast.

Sigh.