Monday, March 30, 2009

The Beginning of Hammock Season

Personally, I do not find hammocks relaxing at all. Hammock zen eludes me because they make my knees feel like they want to bend the wrong way. However, hammock zen was achieved with the boy and Mingus.

Even Greaseball joined in on the fun.

Folks, do not try this at home, especially the last bit involving the grumpy cat with very sharp claws.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bacon and Asparagus Gnocchi

On days where I work from home, I am loathe to leave the house to grab lunch. OK, so part of the reason I do not want to leave is because I am usually working in my pajamas... Also, if I muster up enough activation energy to leave, I'd rather do something like play outside with the dogs or feather toy a cat than drive to get lunch. (Yes, "feather toy" is a verb.)

Now that the first stalks of asparagus are coming to California, I've made it my mission to buy as many bunches as I can and to incorporate them into every meal. Last week, I think I ate a couple of bunches by myself, prepared simply by blanching. I relished each and every stalk with nothing more than a dollop of homemade, garlicky aioli. Winter squashes and chard still hold a soft spot in my heart and my stomach, but I am ready, oh so ready, to move onto to Spring's bounty.

I try to stock the refrigerator with whole foods that can be assembled with little fuss into a meal, although I do have some pantry items that really come to the rescue if I want to take a shortcut. Pre-made gnocchi is one of those items. Sure, it's not as good as the homemade stuff, but if you find some that are only made with potatoes, flour, eggs, and salt, they're not so horrible for you, either, as far as processed food goes.

Once you already have some gnocchi on hand, whether it be of the homemade, shelf stable vacuum packed, or the frozen variety, this bacon and asparagus gnocchi is assembled in minutes. If you want it to be more Italian, swap out pancetta for the bacon. It took me all of 5 minutes to prepare the ingredients, and another 10 to cook them.

The recipe can easily be multiplied. I just wrote out what I did for little old me.

Bacon and Asparagus Gnocchi
Serves 1 hungry person

1-2 slices of bacon, chopped
10 stalks of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 cup gnocchi

Heat a pot of water for the gnocchi. While your gnocchi water is boiling, saute the bacon in a skillet over medium heat. When the bacon starts to brown, add the asparagus and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Once the water is boiling, throw in the gnocchi. The gnocchi is done when it floats to the top. This only takes a couple of minutes, so don't stray too far from the pot! Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and add it to your skillet with all the goodies. If you want, you can turn the heat back on the skillet to high and pan fry the gnocchi before serving. Add parm, pepper, and salt (go easy, because the cheese and bacon are already salty) to taste.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mug Cake Verdict

Last night, I was thinking about cupcakes a friend made for me last Valentine's Day. She used her grandmother's German chocolate cake recipe* and piped the top with a peppermint buttercream frosting. It was music with every bite, and I made sure I enjoyed a symphony.

We had no cake in sight, but we did have cake ingredients. Here was the problem: I have a short attention span with food, and I didn't want to make a whole sheet of cake when I knew that only a piece or two would suffice. Then, I remembered LeannIAm's recent microwaved mug cake binge. You can find the recipe here. Cake on demand? How brilliant!

The boy read off the ingredients as I measured and mixed. We popped the mug into the microwave, and watched it for 3 minutes. The cake rose above the mug and we were ready to rochambeau over who had to clean the microwave.

As soon as the three minutes were up, the "cake" deflated back to a reasonable size.

It was OK. The cake was dense and eggy, but not as dense as a chocolate decadent. I also added less sugar and used olive oil to try to make it more gourmet, but let's face it: it's a cake you make in 3 minutes using a microwave.

I ate a few bites, and then hit my cake limit. The boy happily gobbled the rest of it down.

Will I make it again? Probably not, but I am glad I did it once. It was a neat kitchen experiment.

*So, an odd fact about me is that I sometimes hate chocolate and most of the time I hate cake. Yes, hate. The boy and I were very close to having French macaroons as the celebratory dessert when we got married until Masse's Pastries came to the rescue. I have to be in the right mood to eat the stuff, so the fact that these cupcakes made me gaga shows that a lovingly made dessert can transcend my food aversions, because the odds of me liking them were slim. I almost let the boy eat all of the cupcakes, but I became suspicious that they were delicious when he overdid it on the "oh, these suck!" It's hard to convey that something sucks when you can barely stop chewing to properly pronounce words.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Irish Cottage Knitting

Last week, I watched this video featuring the Yarn Harlot knitting. Yes, she's like the wind! Since I'm working on a project right now that is just oodles and oodles of garter stitch (it's a super secret project, which is why there hasn't been much knitting content posted), I needed to do something to make my garter stitch time seem less like detention. So, I thought, why not learn a new technique? It wouldn't hurt for me to speed up my needles, plus, this seems like something an English knitter like myself can pick up easier than Continental because the yarn is held in the right hand.

Easier said than done. My tension is atrocious as if I am a fumbly beginning knitter. I had to switch off of the super secret project and start a practice swatch because my garter stitch looked wonky.

My biggest obstacle is that I normally tension my yarn by winding it around my right pinky twice, and then drape it off of my index finger. If I string my yarn the same way on my right hand as I try to lever action knit, my tension is too loose. I need to find a new way to hold my yarn. Also, I usually use circular needles for everything, but I had to switch to straights so I could hold the needle in my right hand like a pencil. I am so irritated now that I have to beat this! Thankfully (or unfortunately), being stubborn is a wildtomato specialty.

A little bit o' Internet time showed that "Irish cottage knitting" is also known as "Peruvian knitting" and "lever action knitting." So using these search terms, I found this video with a very clear explanation. The video is more than 9 minutes long, and the camera is focused on her hands the whole time. I also found pictures of lever action knitting here. The pictures are useful, but the videos are helping me more.

If anyone has mastered Irish cottage knitting and can point me to more tutorials or has tidbits of knowledge for a struggling newbie, please do share!


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Sun Spot Magnet

Fifty-Fifty knows the time and location of the house's sunny spots. When the spot arrives, she guards it from Greaseball and the dogs. Sometimes, Greaseball prevails, but oftentimes she keeps the most coveted of spots.

Once there is no question that the spot is her's and only her's, she begins the sun spot dance.

See the crazy in her eyes?

"What are you looking at? Don't judge me!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ginger Milk Pudding

Ginger is one of my favorite spices, and Chinese dishes featuring this humble root take both savory and sweet forms. Today's kitchen experiment was ginger milk pudding, a Cantonese dessert that lets you do some cool kitchen chemistry!

Like many Chinese dishes, this one is also touted for its medicinal qualities. It is supposed to help relieve menstrual cramps and nausea, although I am going to leave that part out if I serve it at a dinner party. For that matter, I'll probably leave that tidbit of information out when I serve it to the boy tonight. Of course, I will take great joy in telling him about it after he polishes off his bowl. "Hey, good news! No PMS cramps for you!"

The allure of this recipe, for me, is that it is best made in a single serving portion. If I want ginger pudding, I make a cup of ginger pudding, not a lake of ginger pudding. It is also versatile. You can serve it warm (traditional) or chilled, much like dofu fa, a Cantonese dessert made from the leftover whey from the tofu making process. In fact, ginger pudding and dofu fa have a similar consistency, which is that of a soft custard.

A note on the ginger for this recipe: you must use old ginger, not galangal or young ginger. Older ginger has more of the protease, the milk curdling agent. Also, the ginger taste is strong! I like the strong ginger flavor, but if you are not expecting it, consider yourself warned.

To make the ginger juice, I used a Japanese ginger grater. As much as I hate one trick ponies, this grater is worth the counter space it takes up because it quickly grates ginger and does not clog up like microplanes and regular graters.

To extract the juice from the pulp, I scooped up the pulp and squeezed it with my hands. Before adding it to the recipe, I also strained the juice since a lot of pulp escaped through my fingers. I grated about an inch of ginger to yield 4 teaspoons of juice, but your results will vary.


1 cup of whole milk
1 T honey, or to taste
3-5 tsp fresh ginger juice

Combine the milk and the honey in a microwave safe glass. Heat the solution to roughly 140-170 °F (there should be a ring of bubbles around he glass and you can comfortable dip your finger into the milk without burning yourself). Using my 1400 W microwave on full power, this was 1:10 minutes.

Pour the ginger juice into a serving bowl. Pour the heated milk and honey solution into the bowl and DO NOT STIR. Wait 10 minutes, and then enjoy! If you prefer, you can make this ahead of time and serve it chilled.

In the picture below, you can see how the pudding pulls away from the sides of the bowl and how solid it is on the spoon. Like I mentioned before, this has the consistency of a soft custard.

If you experiment with different milks and sweeteners, please report back so I can try, too! I read that traditionally this is made with buffalo milk, but I'm not sure where I can get some of that around here.

3/27/09 Update: Through feedback from others who have tried this and my own experience, the amount of ginger juice needed for this to set varies. Start with 3 teaspoons (1 T) of ginger juice, and if your milk still is not setting after a minute or so, add another teaspoon of juice and mix briefly. Also, this will not work with ultra pasteurized milk.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Day of Roast

The kitchen has been chilly, so again I turned to my oven to warm things up. This time, I made sure not to burn my arm (ouch).

To get the party started, I heated the oven to 425 deg F. Then, once the oven had reached the set point and stayed there awhile, I popped in some bread. Since there are only 4 ingredients for the levain, the type of flour you use makes a huge difference. I used 8 oz of organic whole wheat flour (from bulk bin) and 2 oz of organic dark rye flour (Bob's Red Mill) for this bread, and the results were phenominal! Happily, I can find both flours at Monterey Market.

Next up were some delicata squashes and beets. The roasted squash pulp will be a soup, and the beets will probably be eaten with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

The beauregard yams were next in line.

Doing a bulk roasting of all these vegetables is necessary for making sure the boy and I don't eat junk. It is easy for us to avoid junk foods for dinner since we're used to home cooked meals, but snacks are a problem since we associate them with granola bars, chips, and cookies. Redefining snack as whole foods has meant making sure the fridge is stocked with fruits and vegetables that are already in an easy to eat form (peeled citrus, dried fruit, roasted veggies, nuts, and salads).

I'm avoiding processed foods because the more I learn, the more convinced I am that loads of health problems stem from the disconnect between farm/ranch to table, so convenience foods like chips and crackers are a no go over here. Be forewarned that if you eat chips or candy in front of me, I will snatch them from your hands, run as fast as I can, and eat them myself since I am in severe withdrawal. (Those of you who have dined with me know that I am not exaggerating.)

This week's salad was an easy to make celeriac remoulade. Ceriac is such an ugly root vegetable, but it makes the best raw salad.

I made a sauce out of nonfat yogurt, crushed garlic, salt, freshly cracked pepper, honey, and some homemade mustard. This sauce was mixed with grated celeriac and sat for over 24 hours in the fridge to let the flavors develop. It has been helping to quell my cravings for salty chips, since this salad stays crunchy.

I am happy that Spring is knocking on my door, because the green garlic, asparagus, and artichokes showing up at the market are a welcome break from the winter vegetables. I'm ready for change.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pigs and Chickens

I found these fabulous, folding shopping bags at my favorite Target alternative, Ichiban Kan. My friend, (Jen who remains blogless), showed me her fabu bags, and I just had to get some for myself. The problem was that by the time I made it to Ichiban Kan, only one boring floral print was left. So, I stalked the store every week, sometimes even twice a week, until the bags were back. Last week, I hit the motherlode and I bought 9 bags. For $2 each, they are a steal! And the best part is that they fold up into nothing and I can fit them into my purse. My boring floral bag has been so handy!

My favorite prints, by far, are the ones featuring Mr. Pig and his sidekick, Ms. Chicken. Or is it Ms. Chicken and her sidekick Mr. Pig? Regardless, the idea of barnyard animals baking and serving tea makes me very, very happy.

I brought a friend new to the Japanese dollar store scene with me and she also bought a ton of bags. She says that the French on these bags is kind of funky, but I wouldn't expect anything less. My favorite project bag, also from this place, has an awesome poem on it that reads, "Lunch time will make everyone happy." Indeed, lunch time does make everyone happy!

Because I am a knitter, I could not pass up the sheep bag. Sorry, folks, I took the last one! It was the display, but I lurved it and had to have it.

I'm finally getting around to photographing some of my finished objects from the Christmas knitting frenzy of 2008. This is a hat I made for the boy, a bigger version of a hat I made for Baby RoRo.

The boy, however unlike a baby, has lots of feedback on this hat. He has been begging for a grown up version of the Aviator Hat since last May because he wanted it to fit underneath his snowboarding helmet. Well, it turns out that his snowboarding helmet fits too snugly to accomodate anything other than his giant nugget, so he mostly wears this hat out and about and underneath his bicycling helmet. His complaint, however, is that he does not like the flaps flopping around when he is off of his bike. The traditional solution to this, a long cord at the end of each flap, was deemed "dumb looking." At this point, though, my job was done. I know that the customer is always right, but this customer can sew, so I told him he can attach some buttons to the earflaps and sew a couple of buttonholes into the top of his hat. So, if he does the modifications and likes it, perhaps we'll write a joint pattern.

Mingus has decided that, despite the weather, he's all done with his winter coat. I have been gathering large amounts of fur from this dog on a daily basis. I thought that these pictures made Mingus look like he's floating on a cloud. Except, as you can see, he's actually lying on the floor.

He likes to lay in his fur after I brush it off. I always let him have this moment of silence before I toss it in the dumpster. I used to spin the stuff, but I have a huge fiber stash that needs to be spun up first. In the spirit of recycling, I also tossed a bunch of fur in out backyard since someone told me that birds like to use it for nesting material. Well, his fur just stayed out there in the backyard, and then it rained, so I ended up having to pick up soggy fur. I guess our local birds do not want their nests to smell like dog, especially wet dog.


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