Friday, October 31, 2008

Now we're cooking!

Lilah's friends, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

I keep trying to find a time when I can get a photo of this sweater on Lilah, but she's not been cooperative. The only sweater she likes is her Baby Gap zip-up sweater. Maybe I can bribe her with a cookie when she wakes up. Anyway, here it is:

Details: Placket-Neck Pullover from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts (Duh, do I knit anything else?), size 2-3 years
Yarn: Rowan Baby Alpaca DK in Blossom
Needles: Size 6
Notes: You hear about this pattern from me all the time: easy, fun, cute. I LOVE this squooshy soft yarn. I love Kitchener stitch (weird, I know). I love the easy finishing. Unless, of course, you foolishly do a striped version...

Just for fun, since I haven't gifted the other two Placket-Neck Pullovers, here they are ensemble:

I just started a toddler blanket in Cascade 220 in GREEN. And I do mean GREEN! It's about an inch of seed stitch at the moment, so I'll save posting a photo. Despite my laments that I never learn that winging it doesn't work for me in knitting...yes, I'm winging it. I think it'll be Big Bad Baby Blanket-ish, but with more squares. Or something. We'll see.

Reading: I re-read all the Bunnicula books (actually, the most recent three I'd never read before), and thought they were great fun. I just finished the Ulysses Moore series, a fantasy series about 11-year-old twins who move into a strange house with a mysterious door. Enjoyed it. I'll have the review up soon. I'm now reading Death by Cashmere, the first in a new knitting-related mystery series by Sally Goldenbaum--I was actually contacted and asked if I'd like a review copy, which makes me feel special.

Writing: Nothing. Tomorrow is November 1, the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. The official goal is to begin and finish a novel in November. MY goal is to write SOMETHING every day in November, even if it's just a sentence. I have to get back into my groove of finding time for this.

Cooking: Here's where the content is this time!

If you've been to a southern California restaurant in recent memory, you know that all restaurants are required to display the grade they got from their inspection. This is not without controversy, since some traditional ethnic cooking/food storage methods fall outside what detractors call paranoid American standards of food safety. I'm told that lots of fantastic spots get Bs for this reason. But I like seeing on the window that the place I'm about to eat has conformed reasonably to cleanliness/food safety standards. At any rate, LA County had a neat promotion to build awareness about kitchen safety in your own home, so they offered an online food safety quiz. If you passed, you got one of these in the mail to put on your fridge:

I got an A! I'm such a food nerd, I immediately filled out the test and put this up on my fridge as soon as it left the envelope. Fun stuff!

Crockpot Peanut Stew (adapted from Cooking Light)

I had a couple of requests for this recipe. I don't normally reprint recipes from magazines or cookbooks, but I made so many changes to this, it's hardly recognizable. The recipe called for reduced-fat peanut butter, which I don't think of as food, so I used my standard natural peanut butter (The ingredients should say peanuts and salt. Period.), which adds so much more flavor the little increase in fat is worth it. Add to that--reduced fat peanut butter makes up for the loss of flavor with plenty of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, so I think it's a wash, nutrition-wise, and when in doubt, I go for the less processed option. The taste here is a HUGE difference, as is the mouth feel. Trust me, get natural peanut butter (I use Smuckers). The amount of salt you need depends entirely on your stock. I make my own vegetable stock (see below), with no added salt, so I need a bit more salt. If you use a canned full-sodium broth, you will need very little. Taste after a couple of hours and see. I doubled the recipe to feed a crowd, but didn't double the liquid. You need less in Crockpot cooking, anyway, but I wanted more of a stew than a soup. This is really nice in the winter, very warming!


8 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1 teaspoon salt (depending on your stock)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
mm1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Place all ingredients except for cilantro into Crockpot. Cook on high 4 hours, or on low 8 hours, or until squash is tender. Check seasonings and liquid level and adjust as needed. Yum! Serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro, to feed a crowd.

I made my annual fall vegetable stock. I make as much as will fit in my stockpots and freeze it in those ziploc containers. I made 11 quarts, which is a whole shelf in my freezer! I love homemade broth for the fat-free, salt-free flavor it adds to the soups and stews I make all winter. If you look to the template on the left, you'll see "My Recipes" under "My Stuff." Vegetable stock is actually the very first recipe I ever posted here. I usually make stock about the same way. This time, I used only the (well-washed) dark green parts of the leeks, because the white and light green parts are so good in other preparations. I used a bit more vegetables overall, because I added a 4-quart pot to the mix.

We had friends over, and I made Curried Butternut Squash Soup and Pumpkin Walnut Focaccia With Gruyere, both from the Cooking Light archives, along with a pesto vinaigrette for salad. I also made Cranberry-Apple Cobbler, also a Cooking Light recipe, and made Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream to go with it. I winged the recipe since I couldn't find one I liked. Those who find my ice milk recipes unsatisfying will be delighted that I caved and used egg in this one--not the NINE egg yolks called for in one recipe I found, but some. I love my ice milk, but it usually doesn't firm up right away, and when it does, it's pretty hard. For company, I wanted something easy to scoop, and this worked beautifully. I thought this was a great accompaniment to fall apple-based desserts. Insane cinnamon addicts might want to add even more--the cinnamon flavor was not exactly subtle, but it paired nicely with the vanilla.

Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream

3 cups whole milk, divided
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup cream

Beat eggs and set aside in a medium bowl in an ice bath. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk, with sugar and all cinnamon and vanilla until steamy. Whisk into eggs (work quickly so as not to scramble the eggs), then return to saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Return to ice bath, remove vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks, and add remaining milk and cream. Place mixture, ice bath and all, into the refrigerator to chill completely. Churn according to ice cream maker instructions.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Excessive coverage of rather dull FOs PLUS a pattern-type thingy

It must be the media influence; since I'm always seeing stories covered over and above their ability to interest, I'm doing the same with a newly finished set of FOs! Actually, it's more to do with the shiny new porch furniture that makes such a nice backdrop :) I made a simple scarf (embellished with garter stitch tapered ends and Zs at either end (for the recipient's name) and with a bit of yarn left over, I decided to do an impromptu bag. With no plan and not much yarn to work with, this took a couple of false starts. I ended up with a flat garter-stitch bottom for a little more stability than your usual drawstring bag, then joined for stockinette in the round. I did an eyelet row, then about an inch of stockinette, bound off, and hoped I'd have enough yarn left for a sufficient length of i-cord. I did, although I would have preferred two lengths. Ah, well. Anyway, the pictures. The bag is open:

The bag is closed (this is exciting, isn't it?!):

The bag is near the scarf:

The scarf is alone on the porch swing:

Details: Scarf and drawstring bag
Yarn: Plassard Ceruse Silver in hot pink, every bit of 2 balls (240 yards)
Needles: Size 9 for scarf; Size 6 dpns for bag
Notes: It's a nice quick gift. I really dislike this yarn. It's an acrylic-cotton blend, so it's squeaky. Even with a 4-stitch garter edging, it curls like mad. The silver stuff flaked all over my black shirt while I was knitting, so I can't imagine it'll hold up that well. And it was something ridiculous like $10 a ball. That said, it was perfect for my purposes--I needed a quick gift for a pre-teen, and I think the sparkles and hot-pink-ness will make her happy. I was bored by the time I'd done the garter end of the scarf, so I added the Z in purl stitches. I think it's okay, if a little more elongated than what I really intended. I should have put a Z on the bag, too.

The pattern-type thing:

The scarf: Cast on three stitches. On the next row, k1f&b, k1, k1f&b. Knit the next row even (5 stitches).
Row 1: k1, k1f&b, k1, k1f&b, k1
Row 2: k
Repeat these two rows, increasing the number of middle knit stitches, until you have 21 stitches or desired width.
Row 1: k
Row 2: k4, p13, k4
Repeat these two rows until desired length (I did 5' for the middle 21-stitch-wide section)
Row 1: k1, k2tog, k15, ssk, k1
Row 2: k
Repeat these two rows, decreasing the number of middle knit stitches, until you have 3 stitches. Bind off.

I started the bottom of my Z 12 rows into the stockinette portion of the scarf. I did a quick chart to determine the location of the purl bumps to form the letter. My Z was 7 stitches wide and 16 rows tall.

Drawstring bag: Cast on 20 stitches onto one dpn. Knit every row, slipping the first stitch on every row (for easy picking-up of stitches later) until there are 10 selvedge stitches. On the next row, using a second dpn, pick up and knit 10 stitches on the short side, on a third dpn, 20 stitches on the cast-on row, and on a fourth dpn, 10 stitches on the final side. Join for working in the round. Knit all rows until desired length (I did 3 1/2 inches).

Eyelet row: yo, sl1, k2tog, psso (repeat until all stitches are worked (30 stitches remain). Continue in stockinette for another inch. Bind off all stitches and weave in ends. I should have done a matching Z on the bag, but I didn't think of it.

Knit a 3-stitch i-cord to desired length (do two if you have enough yarn). Weave in ends. Thread through eyelets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finished Objects and Other Strange Tales

I finished (and almost finished) some stuff while on vacation! Lilah and I headed out to California for our pre-holidays trip to visit the family. We had a great time. When we got back, it was Highland Games time in our area, so we took Lilah. She LOVED the sheepdog trials and the falconry exhibition. Matt and I didn't get to do the kind of shopping we used to at these sorts of things--Lilah wanted to squat on a stump for about 15 minutes watching an ant, and she sees a field of grass and can't help running. It was really fun to watch her enjoying herself, though!

This is a long post, and I have finishing touches to put on Lilah's sweater and the bonus FO, so I will post this now and do FO pictures later in the week.

Reading: I just reviewed Shirley Damsgaard's Abby & Ophelia mysteries, a recent favorite series of mine. I also enjoyed Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, though I didn't like their first collaboration, Don't Look Down. And I read a plethora of cozy mysteries as well. I have Dewey: The Library Cat... to review (from the publisher! Isn't that fun?) and the new Kate Atkinson that I can hardly wait to read. As soon as I finish Murder Most Maine, the third Gray Whale Inn mystery by Karen MacInerney, I'll read those two. I really should take a picture of my To-Be-Read book piles to shock and horrify you, since it is the Halloween season.

Writing: Still at 12,294 words, and with a subplot to go back and fix. Lilah and I were visiting my parents in California, so I didn't get anything done. Hopefully, the jet lag will wear off soon and I can get us back on a good schedule that allows for writing. November is National Novel Writing Month, and though you're technically supposed to start AND finish a novel during the month, if I can use that to get a jump-start on my current project, so much the better.

Cooking: I am not a particularly good photographer, so I haven't gotten into food photography. That and the lighting in our house is awful and makes food look weird. If I find a way to take appetizing photos, though, I will! I am making apple butter this weekend (until I get my website set up, leave a comment with your email address if you'd like to place an order), so maybe I will try then.

I forgot to post two recipes last time, which is good, as I have not been cooking (traveling). One is for the magical whole wheat scones, and the other is for Spicy Cheese Rolls, a French roll with sharp cheddar and a bit of cayenne, inspired by Stella's Bakery in Madison, WI. Meanwhile, I helped Matt through hosting his coworkers for a dinner thing while I was out of town. We picked an African peanut stew and a pear crumble (both based on Cooking Light recipes). I helped him modify the peanut stew for the Crockpot so he wouldn't be babysitting the stove. And the crumble is nice and simple. I had him substitute cardamon for the cinnamon, which makes it a touch exotic and goes wonderfully with pears. He rounded out the meal with baguette, Brie and goat cheese (rolled in thyme and black pepper), and olives, and a salad with sliced almonds and dried cranberries. He's not very used to cooking, so I was really proud of him for pulling it off!

Amy, I use regular old whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and white whole wheat flour. Bread is tougher to substitute whole wheat flour in than pastries and such. You're generally not going to get the same light, airy results with whole wheat, no matter what kind. I've had great success in using white whole wheat flour in place of all or most of the white flour in cookies, but there's a slight "healthy" taste (as my husband would say). I usually use whole wheat pastry flour when I'm not trying to hide it as much--that's what I used in the scones, along with regular whole wheat flour (for the nuttier taste). With's been a while since I've done whole wheat bread. I personally like the taste of whole-wheat flour, so I would just use 100% whole wheat flour, though I used to make baguettes with half bread flour and half whole wheat (along with cracked wheat soaked in hot water and drained...yum). With bread, whole wheat pastry and white whole wheat flours are too low in gluten to make a good substitute in bread. But regular whole wheat flour (which is made from hard red wheat) is fine. But it's always going to be denser than regular old white bread. Oh, and my vegetable stock recipe is linked at the left (My Recipes), but you can throw whatever veggies you want (except very strong tasting ones like cabbage or broccoli) in a pot, cover with water and cook until you like the color :)

And I forgot to respond to you last time--I get a lot of recipes from Cooking Light. You can get a code for online use from one of their books or a newstand magazine (at least that's how you used to do it--it might be open now), or if you're a subscriber, you put in your number. I actually might not renew my subscription. Even though it's not a vegetarian magazine (and those are no fun, I've tried), it's always had vegetarian recipes well-represented. But they dropped their Inspired Vegetarian section this summer, and the last issue had 17 pork main dish recipes in the index and 3 vegetarian. I am a subscriber, and I buy the Annual Recipe collection every year (this is the previous year's recipes--every single one, but indexed, so it's easier to use than 11 magazines), and I'm a bit taken aback by the change. I actually wrote in to ask what was going on, but they're treating it as a letter to the editor submission, so no one's given me any answers. Getting my new Cooking Light used to be a highlight of the month, but the last two magazines, I haven't marked a single recipe as "must shop for ingredients now!" Anyway, enough of that...on to the recipes!

Whole Wheat Scones

4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
12 oz. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped (for vanilla version) or 2 tsp cinnamon (for cinnamon version)
1 1/2 to 2 cups whole milk (start with 1 1/2 and then add a tablespoon at a time)
additional sugar and cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray.

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter using a food processor, pastry cutter, or forks (I usually resort to my fingers, even though you're not supposed to). Add eggs, vanilla extract, and 1 1/2 cups milk). Stir to combine, adding more milk as needed. The dough should be a bit sticky. Divide into four balls. Sprinkle sugar on a flat surface. Place one of the dough balls on the sugar and turn to coat. Pat down into a round about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 6 wedges. Repeat with the other three balls. For cinnamon version, sprinkle tops of scones with cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Spicy Cheese Rolls

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 TBL active dry yeast
2 TBL sugar
2 TBL olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour
4 oz. extra sharp white cheddar, grated
cayenne pepper

I put everything except the cheese and pepper in the bread machine and put it on "dough." (I love the bread machine!) Divide into 16 equal pieces. Stretch each piece, top with cheese and a sprinkle of cayenne, then fold over. Cover and let rise an hour, until doubled. Bake at 400 until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.