Friday, October 30, 2009

Palate Cleansers

My saffron is here! So far, I have 9 stamens from three flowers. A paella's worth of saffron it is not, but hopefully more of the crocuses will flower soon.

This is one of two measly garlic bulbs that we planted who knows how long ago - it never separated into multiple cloves. The garlic bulb has been curing on my counter for the past 3 weeks, and I chopped it up last night to add with some Marin Sun Farm chuck roast. Next time, we'll buy garlic intended for planting in this climate. I'm pretty sure that the boy just stuck two cloves of garlic into a pot after I told him about how envious I was of Pam Pierce growing a 6 pounds of garlic on a small 3x3' plot.

Since I'm between sweaters right now and I want to reduce my yarn stash of single balls, I'm knocking out some small projects as palate cleansers. The hats featured above, true color being the brownish red in the second picture, are for a friend and his son who recently moved to Chicago. The pattern is The Boyfriend Hat from Stephanie Likes to Knit.

And since I'm actually posting about knitting, let's revisit an old topic: Irish Cottage Knitting. I am exclusively knitting lever-action style now, and it has improved my pace and reduced wrist pain. To switch, I had to go cold turkey and not knit in my old English style, which pained me since I had so many big projects I wanted to start but couldn't due to lack of reliable gauge. Purling was a challenge, and what I finally figured out was that I had to keep the angle needles obtuse (wider than 90 degrees) when I purl, and acute (smaller than 90 degrees) when I knit. If you take a look at this video, she actually does change the angle of her needles for a knit and purl stitches. Wider for purl, narrower for knit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Squeeeee! Cardigan Accomplished!

Do you ever finish knitting something, step back, and think to yourself, did I seriously just make this? I am crazy in love with this Tangled Yoke Cardigan from Interweave Knit's Fall 2007 issue, and if it wasn't still oddly warm here, I'd be sleeping in it.

Since I'm a shorty, knitting sweaters for myself involves a lot of math because I can never knit the patterns as written. Even more calculations were needed because this was stash yarn, GGH Wollywasch, with a different weight than the Rowan Felted Tweed specified in the pattern. I had about a page of calculations, and even though I knew my math was sound (math is awesome!), I still was second guessing myself as I plugged away.

Knitting sweaters is like baking. In baking, I make tweaks all the time before I throw the concoction into the oven, and I never know if my changes are good or not until my finished product is cooled down and ready to eat. For sweaters, I am holding my breath until I can try on my garment after blocking. Relief washed over me when I wore the sweater and was able to fasten all the buttons - my main concern was that I designed too much negative ease in the waist shaping, but I was aggressive in my shaping because past sweaters had been too baggy around my middle.

Speaking of buttons, I was able to use the vintage buttons from my grandmother's stash! My aunts and mom gave me some of grandma's knitting notions and yarn stash since they thought she'd want me to have them. Unfortunately, all the yarn had icky poopy carpet beetles in them, resulting in me vacuuming the house about 10 times that day. Luckily, the buttons were immune to the icky poopy carpet beetles, and the buttons are fabulous, so I was waiting for the right project to come along to honor her memory. I'm so happy I got to use them.

Project details are on my Ravelry project page (rav link).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Local Saffron? I Haz It!

After nurturing (or ignoring, depending on who you ask) these saffron crocuses for 2 years, we're getting flowers! Each flower will yield three measly stamens of the revered saffron.

Someone tried to burst my bubble the other day, telling me that I could buy a huge bag of saffron for $3 at a Persian grocery market, but he failed to quell my excitement. I've never claimed that my hobbies save me money or time. I could buy a $15 sweater at Old Navy or a $2 loaf of bread, but would it have soul?

Near the bottom of the picture, you'll see some little gem lettuce growing. Huh? Little Jonny Salad Seed thinks that any empty pot needs a sprinkling of lettuce greens, and he must have forgotten that the "empty" planters actually held my revered crocuses.

My other exciting crop is some mystery choy from my grandmother's seed collection. No one knows exactly what type of choy it will yield. Choy sum? Bok choy? Who knows? Who cares? We eat it all over here. Since my grandmother passed earlier this year, one of my aunt took it upon herself to divide up my grandmother's seed collection - all harvested old school from plants she let go to seed - so we could all try our hand at growing some of her wonderful vegetables in her memory. I'm going to try to cultivate the seeds from these plants, too.

PSA: If you live in or around Berkeley, it is a great time to grow salad greens, parsley, cilantro... We had a great yield last year that lasted us all through winter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Pumpkin Pulp Goodness

The blogosphere is ripe with fall pumpkin recipes, and I got sucked into it. This week, I've started my mornings off with pumpkin spice coffee, which I've tweaked so it is a one mug recipe. What I do is put 2 T pumpkin pulp, 1 tsp agave syrup, and a shake or two of pumpkin spice into my mug, add hot coffee, give it a mix, and top it off with some milk. Another idea floating in my head is to put a shake or two of pumpkin spice mix into the French press before I add the water, but I share my morning joe with the boy, and I am positive he wouldn't like it.

The strange, but true, added benefit of this is that the fiber in the pumpkin is filling, so I don't want to immediately gnaw off my hand in the mornings. Yes, I eat breakfast most mornings, but I always, always have a cup of coffee in the AM. It's the second thing I ingest every day, the first being my allergy pill and a little bit of water. ( My fiber obsessed friend would scold me if I forgot to mention that fiber is good for your digestive health!)

Another pumpkin recipe I scarfed down was this creamy pumpkin pasta. Instead of Italian sausage, I tossed in chopped, precooked chicken apple sausage while I was sauteing the garlic. The amounts of pumpkin pulp, chicken broth, and cream can be adjusted to make this recipe more healthy. For example, even though I omitted all of the cheese, sour cream, and reduced the heavy cream to 2 tablespoons, the pumpkin pulp gave the sauce a silky texture resulting in decadence. Next time I make this, I'll deglaze the saucepan with a bit of white wine or add some apple cider vinegar. The sauce was really sweet, and some acidity would have made it more balanced. Oh, and for you busy people, I made this dish last night in 15 minutes. The longest lead time was the pasta.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend Canning Report

The red sauerkraut we started about two months ago was ready to can. Since we had the hot water canner all set up, we also decided to make guava jam, something I had been intending to do for the past week with a bagful of pineapple guavas generously given to us by friends. All of this started around 9 PM on a Sunday, so it was a late night canning extravaganza!

The boy and I have a good canning rhythm now. One person can lift the jars while the other one readies the funnel. One person fills the cans as the other person digs into the simmering water for the lids. Our first attempts were miserable because even with two of us we felt like we needed a more hands. Getting more thermometers has helped, too.

The pineapple guava jam is delicious! I had my doubts as it seemed to take forever to get to the gelling point and I was worried that the long cooking time would dilute the fruit taste and result in guava caramel, but I dipped a spoon into some of the uncanned jam this morning and my worries went down as easy as the jam. Washing, cutting, and scooping out the flesh was such a chore that I would have choked down the jam even if it was nasty, but thankfully no forcing down the gullet is necessary.

Now, my crock is empty and I am trying to figure out what will inhabit it next. Kim chi sounds awfully appealing, except for the fact that I'm entirely sketched out by the addition of seafood to the cabbage mixture. Plus, I'm worried that subsequent batches of sauerkraut will taste like kim chi many generations later.

I made a few Internet inspired recipes this weekend, too. These baked sweet potato fries were good, but definitely not as good as their deep friend or skillet fried cousins. I thought that the 20 additional minutes on a low oven temperature sounded like a promising way to achieve a crispy outside, but my fries were still soggy. I also tried this "just like Starbucks" pumpkin spice latte, and while it wasn't just like Starbucks, it was good. It would have been better if I didn't run out of vanilla extract. Surprisingly, the pumpkin pulp did not make for a grainy coffee, even though I was using a whisk and not a blender to assemble my drink. Adding a couple tablespoons of pumpkin pulp also made me really full after drinking my cup of joe. I guess that's one way to get fiber into your diet!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Behold the Amoeba Pizzas!

The amoeba pizzas were last night's solution to "what do I feed to three kids under the age of 12?" I was stuck on this problem for a few days, deluded into thinking that coq au vin would be a kid pleaser. When I asked a gal during knitting night, she reflexively replied "Why, pizza!"

The pizza dough recipe is from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food, and I doubled it, yielding much more than the 4 10-inch pizzas I was expecting. The pizza dough was good and the rye flour gave the crust a little complexity, but making pain au levains has made me a bread product snob. If I had more time, and as it was we ate dinner at 9 PM, I would have used the sourdough pizza dough recipe from The Cheeseboard Collective's cookbook. I learned to make that dough when I was so in love with their pizza crust but disgusted by what was, in my opinion, an onion pie. (Realize that I have a low tolerance for onions, and the thin onion layer that lurked beneath seemingly every daily pizza made me gag. The boy thought their pizzas were just fine.)

I added some of my ever present mushroom medly to the pizzas, skim milk mozzarella, and magic cheese, otherwise known as Trader Joe's English Cheddar with caramelized onions (and, no, this cheese does not make me gag). Some pizzas had sliced salami, not pepperoni since we just grabbed the first cured, tube shaped meat product we could find at Berkeley Bowl West.

Overall, the great pizza experiment of October 2009 was a success. The kids ate it, the adults ate it, and the dogs enjoyed the crusts.

On a totally different topic, the Scary-Go-Round was truly creepy. Antique carousels are creepy on their own, but add skeletons with long, flowing hair and glowing hearts, and you have yourself the stuff of nightmares. Go when it is dark for the scariest time!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hope Realized

My 100% whole wheat bread, made from flour I ground last night, is a grainy thing of beauty. If I wasn't in a hurry (the boy is trying to teach Mingus to eat whipped cream from a spray can, and this isn't a habit I'd like that dog to develop), I'd write you a little poem to convey just how chewy and flavorful this bread is. It rates right up there with my pain au levains, which is a huge feat since I love that bread fiercely.

I named this loaf Peter, in honor of Peter Reinhart. I would have never of thought to make this bread in such an unconventional manner. Sure, I tweaked his hearth bread recipe a bit, the biggest change being using my whole wheat starter instead of a biga, but the results are all due to Reinhart's instructions and research on what makes a good whole wheat loaf. After Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor returns to the library, I am going to buy a copy for myself. In fact, I'll order it now so there won't be a time that this book is not in my possession.

Take a look at the crumb structure! Tears are coming to my eyes... I have been after this type of crumb in a whole wheat bread for a long time!

This is What Hope Looks Like

The whole wheat adventure continues. Although my previous attempts at making a 100% whole wheat loaf were successful, in the sense that the boy and guests ate it and liked it, I still was unsatisfied with the results. Part of my discontent stemmed from comparing my loaves to my homemade white wheat pain au levains - it's my showstopper bread. These dense, crumbly whole wheat breads were not inspiring or breathtaking. They were simply OK.

Some research showed that Peter Reinhart has already taking whole wheat bread to task, his motto being that first and foremost, whole wheat bread needs to taste good. Sure, there are a reasons, that we should be incorporating whole grains into our diets, but if it doesn't taste good, these grains won't effortlessly slip into our everyday eating habits. I checked out Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor from my library, and my first attempt with these new techniques is pictured at the top of this post. It's hope in the form of a wet, sticky mass of dough. Dough that was put together in a way completely different from my pain au levains. While kneading it, I could tell that the gluten was developing better than my previous attempts, which is making me wish I added the instant yeast Reinhart recommended. However, I wanted only use my sourdough starter as a leavener, so I have another 4 hours to hurry up and wait.

This dough is so wet in comparison to my other bread doughs - all the water for this dough was added the night before in the form of a starter and a soaker. I had to keep a bowl of water next to me while kneading, so I could dip my hands in and prevent the kneaded dough from sticking to me like glue.

Reinhart's book is not for the bread novice. You need to read three chapters explaining his techniques, discussing the chemical reactions in bread and the anatomy of a wheat kernel, before you get to the recipes. If you can do it, he promises whole wheat bread with full flavor and a chewy crumb. Here's hoping!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chanterelles, Shitakes, and Buttons! Oh My!

The mystery mushroom grab bags at Monterey Market are full of win. For around $1.50 a pound, I get a grab bag of prepackaged mushrooms that are a little past their prime. When these bags consist of mainly boring button mushrooms, I don't bother buying them, but sometimes they are full of chanterelles, shitakes, candy caps, or whatever else was looking a like it needed a quick ride out that day.

Since these mushrooms aren't lookers, I take them home, rinse them off (I can hear the collective gasp of fungi fanatics because they should be wiped clean), and roughly chop them. Into the hot pan they go, with a knob of butter and a sprinkle of salt. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll make duxelles with the mushroom melange, but I rarely am feeling fancy.

Once their mushroomy goodness is concentrated, meaning that no more liquid is coming from them and they are cooked through with a little caramelized action on the outside, the mixture is cooled down and put into the refrigerator. I take it out for my morning omelets, lunchtime pasta, or anywhere else that a little mushroom decadence can make a difference. They get dressed up with garlic and sometimes shallots, depending on the final dish. If you're an average person who will not consume 3 pounds of mushrooms a week, you can also freeze the finished product. It reheats well, so I've been told.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Left My Stomach in NYC

Being in a place with good food makes me wish I could pack an extra stomach or three with me. My stomach completely thwarted my attempts to have a banner eating day of cheap eats on my last full day in NYC. I was going to start with a bagel with lox, have a slice of thin crust pizza, go to a rice pudding bar, consume cupcakes, and have a pastrami on rye. I ended up 2 for 5. It didn't help that I had to eat an emergency BLT, which was mediocre, because my blood sugar was crashing down and I was going to transform into a raging bitch if I didn't eat something NOW. (There was a long lag time, filled with walking, between the first and second meals - logistical error.)

I did start my day off with a bagel from Ess-a-Bagel. The line was long, and the guy taking my order alternated between flirtatious and insulting. "Hi, Pumpkin! Want a drink? A drink with me after work? You don't want your lox spread with tomatoes and onions? Why bother! You shouldn't even get lox!" He also made me repeat my order several times, and he claimed that I spoke too fast, too loud, too soft, and he made the guy next to me move over a foot so he could see me better because he said he needed to read my lips. I suppose it is all part of the experience here.

Thankfully, after all that, my bagel with lox schmear was fantastic! In hindsight, however, I should have ordered what my friend got: a bagel with Nova lox, cream cheese, and a tomato. We learned that day that Nova lox, short for Nova Scotia lox, is a lot less salty than the regular lox.

My other tourist food trap, a trap that I would willingly walk into over and over again, was Katz's Delicatessen. Remember "When Harry Met Sally" and Sally is sitting in a deli really (ahem) enjoying her food? Yeah, that scene. Well, that was here. The pastrami here was a revelation. Before Katz, my idea of a good pastrami sandwich had thinly sliced pastrami from a hunk of meat that was probably wrapped in plastic. No more! The hunks of meat on my sandwich were juicy with crisped bits and studded with chunks of black pepper, and they were cut in front of me from a brisket that was still steaming. I am so making pastrami at home because the stuff I can get at the store is a mere shadow of what I ate at Katz.

Also, half sour pickles were a revelation. They were lightly brined, reminiscent of the cucumbers you get at any decent Korean BBQ restaurant. A little recipe sleuthing showed that they're made just like regular refrigerator pickles, but you take them out only after a week versus the 4-6 weeks for full sour pickles.

I also frequented a couple of fancy NYC eateries: Eleven Madison Park and Aquavit. Eleven Madison Park was like going to a spa and getting the full treatment. Not only was the food mind blowing, but the experience was sumptuous due to the attention to detail. My favorite example of this is that when I sat down on the bench seat, the hostess pushed the table towards me so I would be the perfect distance away from the table so I would not have to perch at the end of my seat like a little kid. Unfortunately, I didn't take any food pictures since I was enjoying myself far too much and didn't want to break the flow. However, this article sums up my experience well, compete with pictures. My main course was a suckling pig, and I agree that the chef, Daniel Humm, is a pig whisperer.

The most striking difference between the high end eateries in San Francisco/Bay Area (at least the ones I've been to) and NYC is that SF focuses on local ingredients. High end NYC restaurants get the best from all over the world, while SF focuses on ingredients within a 150-mile radius, give or take a few miles. The reasoning behind the 150-mile food radius is that the best ingredients are going to be the ones that are the freshest, and the freshest ingredients are the ones farmed naturally in your own "backyard". There is also a whole environmental aspect to SF's food scene that I am glossing over, which is explained well in The Omnivore's Dilemma. However, as a friend pointed out, what you can grow in the northeast versus what we can grow out in California makes the whole locavore eating thing easy for us west coasters. I don't know if I can do what my friend in Boston does, making herself winter squash smoothies in an effort to eat local.

Is it lunch time yet? I'm hungry...


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