Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Crock Pot Chronicles

Haha! Not really. But you may recall that I bought a Crock Pot and used it to augment my vegetable broth making capacity. And I have done NOTHING with it since. I didn't have time to assemble recipes in the morning, and a helpful commenter suggested assembling the night before and plugging it in in the morning. Brilliant! I used it to make Black Bean Chili, a Cooking Light archive staple in our house. And it was BETTER than on the stove top. The onions got much softer and the liquid absorbed better, making it thicker and yummier. So I decided to try it for a lunchtime soup for me. Scroll down for the recipe and comments on my Split Pea Soup.

Knitting: The beginning of my gift Branching Out:

Yeah, that's it for knitting news.

Reading: Re-reading Suzann Ledbetter's Hannah Garvey mysteries. I'm on the fourth, West of Bliss. These are really fun.

Writing: I picked out a desk that will fit in the tiny space I have available (the dormer in the guest room). I am very excited about it. Here it is if you're interested. I just need to find a good chair to replace my boring rolling office chair that's not all that comfy.

Cooking: Yesterday was a rough day. With my parents coming in the following evening, the house was still a disaster. Lilah declined to take her afternoon nap, which plays havoc with my sanity, and prevents me from getting anything done. I realized that I had to have rice pudding. Right now. This hardly ever happens--generally, chocolate is my stress-reducing food (Matt starts to worry about me when he notices I'm stockpiling chocolate in the pantry). And so I couldn't find my recipe. Searching just made me mad (which is strange; I usually find something there that will work or can be adapted). So I broadened to a Google search. After looking at one recipe, I whined, "But I don't WANT to bake it! I want to make it on the stove!" At another, "I don't WANNA cook the rice first!" And another, "I don't WANT eggs in it!" Seriously, I was whiny yesterday. I knew I wanted cardamom. I knew I wanted it on the stove. I knew I wanted no eggs, and no pre-cooking the rice. I wanted almonds and I wanted raisins. So here's what I made. And it was AWESOME. Exactly what I needed!

Rice Pudding My Way

4 cups vanilla soy milk
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine soy milk, rice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cook until thickened (about 20-30 minutes), then add remaining ingredients. Cook until desired consistency is reached. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Crock Pot Split Pea Soup

This is based on assorted vegetables I had in the fridge and needed to use up. If I'd had any that weren't well past their prime, I would have used leeks, celery, spinach, and potatoes and left out the green beans. And dialed down the turnip a bit. And I'm not sure I'd use parsnip. But I'm glad I didn't have those things, because this was fantastic as written. Even my husband, who secretly wishes I'd throw in a ham hock, loved this soup. Very, very thick, and it filled my big Crock Pot to capacity. The flavor was earthy and subtle, and it was just excellent.

2 cups chopped parsnip
3 cups chopped turnip
3 cups chopped carrot
3 cups chopped onion
2 cups frozen green beans
1 lb yellow split peas
2 TBL chopped rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 TBL olive oil
2 tsp sea salt

Combine in Crock Pot and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours+. Puree using an immersion blender.* Adjust salt and add black pepper.
* I love my immersion blender. I think mine cost $10 in 1999 and is still kicking. It has a little attachment for whipped cream, too.
+ I put this in the fridge overnight and plugged it in at 8:00 am. At noon, it was nowhere near done, and I think using hot broth and water would have made it do-able for lunch, but starting from cold, it took 8 hours on high. I did add between 1-2 cups of boiling water in the morning because the split peas had absorbed so much liquid overnight that the liquid wasn't covering.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Feet!

I have made many pairs of Fuzzy Feet, and I finally have a pair of my own! One Christmas, I knit gifts for everyone (everyone!) and the only thing I could come up with for my uncles and male cousins was Fuzzy Feet. I had my husband sort of block them for me after felting (my feet were too small), and he loved them so much, I made him a pair. He wore those out, so I made him another. This all started two years ago, and I have just now made my own. They are fantastic! So comfy and warm.

The details:
Pattern: Fuzzy Feet from Knitty
Yarn: Cascade 220 in a light grey
Needles: Size 10.5 circs and dpns (for guys, I went up to a size 11 and knit the foot longer and that worked perfectly)

I love, love, love this pattern. It is quick, easy, and fun. And the end result is wonderful. Everyone loves these. Now I just have to make a third pair for my husband, who has worn through his pair from last winter.

And a happy story! Our next-door neighbor had asked us early last week if we had seen her cat, who hadn't come home the night before. She's an outdoor cat who comes inside every night. (This is why we're indoor cat people. But lots of people around here have roaming cats.) It's a credit to Matt's love for animals that he was really worried because Natasha is sort of his nemesis because she prefers our landscaping as her litterbox. We were thinking the worst for over a week, when my neighbor came knocking on our door and said, "I think Natasha's stuck in your shed!" I found the key and opened the door and we waited, and waited, and waited (for about 20 minutes) and Natasha came tearing out of the shed and ran to her front door. Our neighbor told us she ate and drank quite a bit and then wanted back out, but she's an indoor kitty for now. What's weird is she went missing on a Tuesday, but my husband was in the shed getting gardening gloves to carry in the Christmas tree on Sunday and she didn't come out. She is really skittish, though, since even with her mom calling her she waited and waited before bolting out. It was Friday when we found her in the shed. So, yay! Kitty's back home where she belongs.

Other knitting: I am making a Branching Out for my brother's girlfriend as a last-minute Christmas present. This is another Knitty classic that I make over and over. These make excellent gift scarves and are fun to knit. For this one, I'm using RYC Cashcotton 4Ply in Pretty, which is a pale blue that will be perfect for the recipient, who is elegant and blonde and now lives in San Francisco where it can get chilly enough for a scarf. I've done a smidge more on my cardigan, but when it got cold here, the Fuzzy Feet took top priority and now I want to get the scarf done before my brother's Christmas visit so he can bring it to his girlfriend.

Reading: I have been in another re-reading rut. I suspect the reason for this is twofold. First, I finished a pretty huge literary novel and I usually need some downtime. Second, re-reading is a de-stresser for me, like a bubble bath or chocolate. It's very comforting to re-read my favorites. It's been mysteries recently, the Donna Andrews series about Meg Langslow, the Dorothy Cannells, and now Suzann Ledbetter's Hannah Garvey series (starts with East of Peculiar), which I've recommended recently to friends and realized I'd like to read again. Hannah is the manager of a retirement community and gets mixed up with an elderly Mod Squad. Delbert and the other senior detectives are a hoot and these are very fun, good-natured mysteries. There's a newish one out, Halfway to Half Way, but the older four are out of print. Easy to find used and cheap on amazon and bn, though. I really want to re-read the Harry Potter series again and also the Thursday Next series.

Writing: No time :( So many ideas that my "Mystery Novel Notes" file is getting LONG. But I think I have a lot of good stuff when I get the time to re-write. You know, when Lilah's 18 or something.

Cooking; I mentioned the bake sale for my Playground Revival Committee over Labor Day weekend. It was a huge hit, so we decided to offer some of our high-volume sellers for pre-order so people could have them last weekend as holiday gifts or just to enjoy around the holidays. It went quite well and I had six pans of gingerbread and four loaves of rosemary focaccia to make. Wow. So dinner for us lately has been, "Honey, what do you want from the Chinese place?" and "How about veggie burgers again?". I did healthy up a banana bread recipe from Cooking Light (the Molasses Oat Banana Bread) for my neighbor with chemical sensitivities (she looked after our guys over Thanksgiving, and she actually comes over and spends time with them, which is wonderful). Basically, the less processed, the better, for her (and she can't have dairy either). So I used raw honey instead of sugar, white whole wheat flour, canola oil instead of butter, organic bananas, and such. It came out really welll. (For those who want to try it, subbing honey for sugar has some tricks--lower the oven temp by 25 degrees, use 3/4 cup honey per 1 cup of sugar in the recipe and reduce other liquid ingredients by 2 TBL).

Molasses Oat Banana Bread (Chemically Sensitive Version)
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup regular oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
2 TBL canola oil
1/3 cup dark molasses
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 bananas)
1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine flours, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

Place honey, oil, and molasses in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, soy milk, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan lightly coated with canola oil. Bake at 325° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (check starting at 45 minutes). Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.