Prelude

We put up the tree today.

There are currently two extremely energetic foster kittens rampaging around the house, plus the usual tree-climbing suspects.

I am sure this will all work out *just* fine.

Mmm hmm.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Cheestasticity

A thing that I may or may not have mentioned here about Richard and I is that we take great delight in watching really bad made-for-TV movies. In the past, it’s primarily been the made-for-SyFy movies that we would watch and gleefully mock, but as it’s the holiday season, we’ve decided to expand our repertoire to include cheesy holiday romances in our ‘watch and gleefully mock’ queue. I freely admit this is being driven primarily by the fact that we saw that Netflix had made a sequel to last year’s so-bad-it-was funny The Christmas Prince (which we watched last year with horrified laughter and much mocking).

So far this month we’ve seen How Sara Got Her Wings, The Christmas Wedding Planner, The Princess Switch, and The Holiday Calendar. Of all of these, only The Princess Switch was remotely redeemable, primarily because Vanessa Hudgens’ acting skills were the sole thing that saved it from the travesty it otherwise would have been. Also so far I think How Sara Got Her Wings is the clear winner in the ‘how awful can one cheesy holiday romance be’ category, but it’s early days yet!

So, my readers, and fellow fans of holiday cheese, tell me, what else should we watch? Right now it’s specifically stupid holiday romances we’re after, although if you manage to also dredge up any holiday equivalents of the made-for-SyFy movies we used to watch and gleefully mock, that would also be SO AWESOME.

(And don’t worry, we’ll definitely be watching the sequel to The Christmas Prince, but I think that one is going to have be saved for later, like maybe even Christmas Day!)

Cats also like cheese. The eating kind, though, not the movie kind.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Crisp

Hooray, it’s December 1st, which means it’s time once again for me to make an effort to post daily for an entire month, for Holidailies. How convenient I have a whole bunch of stuff stored up to talk about because I have been ever so lax in updating this thing (oops).

But instead of updating on all the stuff that’s been going on the last couple months, instead I’m just going to talk about baking. Because this morning, on a whim, I decided that I really needed to spend several hours tied to the kitchen, and so along with several other things, I made croissants, from scratch.

I’ve worked with laminated dough before – you have to follow the directions and not chill the butter too much, or let the dough or butter get too warm – but the primary reason why this isn’t something one does on a regular basis is just time. The actual hands-on time isn’t all that much, but you have to pay attention to the clock, because with the folding and the rolling and the resting, the whole process took about four hours from start to finish.

I used the King Arthur Flour recipe because they’ve never steered me wrong yet when it comes to baking, and this time was no different. An interesting twist in this recipe I haven’t seen in other laminated dough recipes is that you mix the butter up with a little flour, which keeps it a little bit more pliable for the lamination process.

The recipe makes two dozen croissants. I stashed half the dough in the freezer for later, uncut. The remaining dozen I rolled, but stashed half of *those* into the freezer for later, leaving six croissants, plus the scraps from the edges that I just spiraled into a little bun.

When they baked, a couple lost their ‘curl’, and also I forgot to eggwash the tops, but no matter, they still browned up nicely.

Clearly my croissant shaping skills need some work, but they turned out *quite* delicious. The top layers crumbled messily, as a good croissant should, and when I cut one open I was quite excited to see lots and lots of layers, which is exactly what one should see. They are smaller than the ones you might find at your local (good) bakery, so the leftovers made the perfect accompaniment to the soup we had for dinner. Yum.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Light as air

Oh that’s right, I have this here blog I keep forgetting to update. There’s been a lot going on the last several months, and I will get to it all eventually – likely as blog fodder for the annual December post blitz that is Holidailies, but for now, let’s just talk about meringues.

October’s theme for #BakingSisters was meringues, although technically it ought to have been ‘playing with egg whites’ since of two things we made, one of them wasn’t actually a meringue at all, but whatever, the point is, this month’s baking session / video chat was filled with a lot of ‘I’m going to mute because this stuff has to be whipped at top speed for a long while and we won’t be able to chat over it anyway’.

We’ve done things involving meringue before, of course – there’s oodles of ways to use them (this absolutely amazing multi-layered cake that I still can’t pronounce had a layer of soft, chewy meringue, and this one had a layer of meringue mixed with crushed peanuts), but this time we decided to make meringue the primary focus.

My sister made meringue bones, which she used to create a Graveyard Cake, but since Richard and I were going to be heading down to the in-laws’ house for a very early Thanksgiving dinner later that day, I decided to go with something a bit more suited to that, so I made chocolate-bottomed pavlovas with pumpkin chiffon.

Here’s where I note (likely again, since I’d be shocked if I hadn’t said this before at *some* point on this blog) that while I like pumpkin in things like bread or scones, and I adore the combination of the ‘pumpkin pie’ spices, I cannot stand pumpkin pie itself – the texture of the filling is just (to me) absolutely revolting. So I am always keen to find some other pumpkin-type dessert that might fulfill that pumpkin pie need, yet not gross me out.

The recipe, while time consuming, because that is the way of meringue, was actually pretty easy. First you whip up your egg whites with some sugar and a little vinegar to help stabilize them, and then you scoop them out onto a cookie sheet. The recipe said to make 8 pavlovas, but I decided to make smaller ones, so I ended up with twice that.

Then with the back of a spoon you create a little cup inside each, since you need a place for the filling to sit.

And then those go into the oven for an hour on very low heat to bake, plus after they’re done baking, you leave them in the oven and turn it off and give them another half hour to cool.

This gave us plenty of time to do other things while waiting for the meringues to bake. I whipped up the pumpkin chiffon, which is nothing more than some pureed pumpkin with spices, folded into whipped cream, and I also made a batch of these scones to use up the rest of the pumpkin, and all the egg yolks left over from making the meringue, because one should never waste the remains of a can of perfectly good pumpkin puree, and what else was I going to do with those yolks? I added 1 cup of cinnamon chips and 1 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger to the mix, because I crystallized a pound of ginger a while back (it’s shockingly easy to do as long as you’ve got an hour or so to babysit a pot of caramel and minced ginger root), and have been eagerly finding ways to use it up ever since.

While I was doing the scones, my sister was making the cake part of her graveyard cake. And then since we still had time on our hands while waiting for the meringues, we also made marshmallow fluff.

For these, you need a candy thermometer because, since you’re not baking the egg whites, you need some way to cook them, so you use extremely hot sugar syrup instead. You have to bring your syrup to exactly the right temperature first, without letting it burn, meanwhile whipping up a bunch of egg whites into soft peaks. Then, when the syrup reaches the right temperature you slowly pour it into the bowl while still whipping the egg whites, and then it’s just a waiting game as you keep on whipping the whole concoction until the resulting mix is smooth and glossy and looks exactly like marshmallow goo. This takes longer than you think it might, but you just have to be patient.

I was originally going to make just plain fluff, but as I was sitting there, waiting for the stuff to finish mixing, I idly glanced at the bottom of the recipe, where it had some suggestions for ways to flavor your fluff, and I thought wait, what? Flavored marshmallow fluff? This is brilliant! So right near the end of the final whipping stage, I added in half a cup of cocoa powder, and voila, chocolate marshmallow fluff was born.

It is delightful when consumed just off a spoon, but if you have ever had fluffernut sandwiches (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff together), I am here to tell you that fluffernut sandwiches made with *chocolate* marshmallow fluff are even better. And if you make them on thinly sliced homemade whole wheat bread, you can pretend that it’s almost healthy (cough cough).

But anyway, back to those meringues! After my little pavlova cups had cooled, the final step was to melt some chocolate and paint the bottom of each cup.

Then after *that* dried, then you top each with a generous dollop of the pumpkin chiffon and ta da, you have a lovely little dessert.

These turned out surprisingly delicious, and I am glad I made them half-sized, because one little cup was plenty for a dessert. You get the light flavor of the pumpkin and spice, combined with the crispy/chewy texture of the meringue, and then just a little hit from the dark chocolate at the end. This is a recipe I would definitely make again.

Here we are at the end of our #BakingSisters session, my sister with her bones, and me, looking weirdly crazed, with two little pavlova cups. Yum.

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Smooth

Do you know what time it is?

If you guessed Tour de Sock time, you’d be correct! My friend and I had so much fun with it last year we decided to do it again, because knitting(!) and socks(!), and also why not!

I made sure my sock yarn stash was completely stocked up, and have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first pattern. Luckily it was scheduled to drop at 6 am on a weekend day on which I had nothing whatsoever planned.

So I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 this morning, to give myself enough time to get up, get coffee, get the computer going, and do all the other regular morning chores prior to getting started. Then at 6 am on the nose, the instant the pattern appeared, I printed it, grabbed the first ball of sock yarn I saw in my stash, and then cast on and started knitting.

Aside from a couple breaks to inhale some food, I knit pretty much nonstop for roughly 10 hours straight. At just a couple minutes after 4pm, I had a brand new, completed pair of handknit socks.

The pattern is Plan A, and it has a couple interesting features. The cuff is actually twisted, in that you cast on all the stitches, knit them straight for a couple rows, then twist every few stitches, before joining.

In addition, while it uses the very familiar heel flap construction, the heel gusset decreases take place in on the bottom, not on the sides.

I came in third for this heat (out of probably around a thousand or so, assuming everyone who signed up this year actually takes part), which is actually far better than I was expecting, considering there’s a whole mess of incredible knitters in Finland who routinely sweep all the top spots for this on a yearly basis. Phew!

Since knitting for 10 solid hours is a wee bit hard on the wrists, I didn’t do much else productive the rest of the day. Luckily, however, I’d had the foresight to recognize I’d want something with which to celebrate, and made a batch of these peanut butter pots de creme the night before.

‘Pots de creme,’ by the way, is just a fancy name for a baked custard. If you sprinkle sugar on the top and hit it with a kitchen torch, it then magically transforms into creme brulee, which is what we did last night for the first two servings (the recipe makes four), but this evening I decided to stick to the script for the remaining two , and topped them with a thin layer of chocolate ganache, which turned out to be a most excellent and delicious decision.

Oh, and completely unrelated, we’ve got a new batch of kittens in our foster room. You can follow the antics of these 8 adorable purrballs here.

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Baking Sisters – the unofficial version

A while ago I found this recipe, and I sent it to my sister in an email with the subject line that said ‘We need to make this.’

She agreed, and we did toy with the idea of trying to make it while I was up there for Operation Kitten Delivery. But then we took a closer look at the recipe and realized that it would take a lot of time, since there’s a lot of ‘make this piece and then let it sit for several hours’ steps, and also it was unseasonably warm, so instead we made a no-bake layered dessert consisting of crushed Oreos and two different layers of mousse – a cream cheese and peanut butter one and a chocolate one – and also mini peanut butter cups because why not.

(It was just as delicious as it looks)

But it was still at the back of my mind so I decided I was going to make it this weekend. And then she decided she’d make it too, so even if we weren’t doing an official #BakingSisters video chat, we’d still end up with roughly the same thing at the end.

Overall, the recipe is actually not difficult – it’s just time consuming. First you make the layers of meringue, which includes peanuts, and you let them set for a while.

Then you make a lovely peanut butter mousse, and you stash that in the fridge because that also has to set for a couple hours.

Next you make a chocolate glaze, and once that cools a bit, you glaze two of the layers of meringue and then you let them set for a while to allow the glaze to firm up.

And then, finally, you stack everything – a layer of glazed meringue, half the mousse, another layer of glazed meringue, the rest of the mousse, and then the third layer of meringue, which then gets glazed as well.

The recipe actually calls for glazing the sides as well, but I was worried that might end up being too much chocolate, and it would overwhelm the peanut butter flavors. So I skipped that step (which is why my completed dessert looks a wee bit more…uh…rustic…than it should).

After the entire thing is assembled and allowed to, you guessed it, set for a while, then you can finally cut it into pieces and consume.

Verdict – this is absolutely delicious and something I would definitely make again, despite how long it takes to come together. The peanuts in the meringue layers give it a nice texture, and leaving off the glaze on the sides was a good decision, since the peanut butter mousse could then shine through. Yum!

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Operation Kitten Delivery

So as I’ve mentioned here before, we recently took up kitten fostering, and we had a very adorable little kitten – Fern – and her very sweet mom. I set up the House of Floof page as a way for us to share pictures and updates on the fuzzballs, since I figured maybe not everyone wants to be constantly spammed with pictures of kittens (instead I just spam them with pictures of our resident cats). I also did it with the hope that someone might catch sight of those pictures and updates and decide they wanted to adopt one.

Well that worked, really well, amusingly, in that my sister up in Washington (the one with whom I do Baking Sisters things) started asking me a lot of questions about Fern, and then I got a phone call asking about the procedures for adoptions, and then there was a flurry of emails and messages back and forth between me and the adoption coordinators with the group with which we rescue, and to make a long story short, it turns out we weren’t going to have to take Fern out to any adoption placement days once she was ready to go, and all we were waiting for was for her to grow big enough that she could get fixed.

The second I got confirmation of her spay date, I sent a note to my sister, asking what her schedule looked like the following week, and then we made plans. She sent me a carrier that would meet all the airline regulations and I made sure to get all the required health records, and very (very, VERY) early Wednesday morning, Fern and I set off to the airport. She had a lot to say on the drive there, but once we got to the airport, she quieted down, and she didn’t make a peep for the rest of the trip.

Clearly no one was excited to finally meet her at *all*.

I got to spend two days hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law and niece, and playing with the resident kitties, and also giving Fern lots of goodbye cuddles and scritches. And then I flew home (arriving in the very wee hours of this morning), very happy to know that had Fern had found herself a most excellent home.

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Baking Sisters – The Russian edition

Why look, it’s time for another Baking Sisters adventure! This time, inspired by the fact that one of us stumbled across this Pirozhki recipe, we decided to do a vaguely Russian theme. By which I meant I Googled ‘Russian desserts’ and looked at what came up.

We both decided to make the pirozhki because those looked super tasty (and it’s nice to do something savory once in a while), and we both decided to make Zefir, which is a marshmallow sort of thing, although she made this version, while I decided to go the more traditional route and made these, which start with (no, really, I am not kidding) pureed apples. We both decided we had to make these Shokoladnaia Kartoshka (chocolate potatoes), because how could we pass *that* up? Also, I also made Ptichye Moloko (aka Birds Milk Cake) because it looked delicious, and she made some kind of candy that starts with actual mashed potato, for which I don’t have a recipe link but from reports on the other side of the webcam, you really, *really* don’t want to know anyway.

I kicked things off by making the dough for the pirozhki because that was going to take the longest in terms of rising, etc. My sister had already made her dough so she got started setting those up while I worked on the sponge layer for the Birds Milk Cake, since that would need to cool before I could add the mousse layer. And next we moved on to our respective zefir recipes.

I only made half a recipe (which is good because it still made a LOT of them), so it started with just one egg white – an amount I discovered is too small for my Kitchen Aid to be able to recognize for beating. So I whisked it up by hand, and then dumped the foam into the bowl with the apple puree and kept on going, and shockingly, despite the fact that there was apple puree, it actually doubled in volume and turned into something light and airy, even after adding the agar agar and sugar syrup, which was itself a bit of a pain to put together.

I….clearly lack piping skills, but I did manage to pipe out some vaguely decoratively shaped lumps all over sheets of parchment paper.

My sister’s were much, much prettier, likely due to the fact that they had raspberry jello in them so they were a delicate pink color, and also she’s got actual training in pastry and knows how to pipe things that look nice, instead of like random blobs.

Next it was time to make the mousse for the Birds Milk Cake, since by then my sponge had cooled. The mousse is actually what made me want to try this recipe, since it’s made with sour cream and sweetened condensed milk. I poured that over the cake and popped it into the fridge to chill and moved on to mixing up the chocolate ‘potatoes’.

These were…interesting. They’re basically a mix of cocoa, sugar, crushed cookies and nuts, butter, and hey, look, yet more sweetened condensed milk. This all gets mixed together and then formed into roughly potato-shaped lumps, which are then rolled in powdered sugar and cocoa, so that they look vaguely like potatoes.

These are tasty, but very, very rich, and if I were to ever make them again (which I probably won’t), I’d make them at least half the size the recipe called for (or even smaller).

Once those were all chilling in the fridge, I made the ganache for the top of the Birds Milk Cake, and filled my pirozhki. Then I sat and chatted with my sister via webcam for a while, waiting for the pirozhki to rise, and didn’t even think to check on the dough, until it was too late. Clearly these are very, very overproofed.

Ah well, they were still tasty! The dough is soft, even after being baked. I had some turkey sausage that needed using up so I used that instead of ground beef for the filling, which added a nice flavor. Aside from the long rise times required, these were pretty simple to put together, so I might try making them again at some point, if only to prove to myself that I can.

As for the other two things, the zefir are…..interesting. The recipe I used said to let them sit for 24 hours, which seemed excessive, except that it turns out they really weren’t kidding. At first, they didn’t have much flavor except a light sweetneess, and they were super sticky, but after an entire day of sitting, the skin finally dried, and the apple flavor started to come through. The final step was to stick two together and then roll the assembled sweets in powdered sugar, which made them look even more ugly when one has very poor piping skills.

I ate a few – they’re sort of like a sweet, apple-flavored puff of air, which I didn’t mind, although and we brought them with us to a family gathering later in the weekend and reviews were a bit more mixed. But they were an awful lot of effort for a thing that I’m still not entirely sure I’d want to eat again. As for the version my sister made – they might have been prettier than mine, but they set a bit too firm, to the point where they were more like rubber, and were very unappealing.

Of all four of the things I made for this month, the one we liked the most was the Birds Milk Cake. We had friends over later that day, so they got to be our guinea pigs for the tasting.

Look at all those pretty layers!

Aside from the one who isn’t a fan of sour cream, the rest of us all agreed it was pretty yummy, and this is definitely something I’d make again. Plus, one small slice goes a long way, so guess what we’ll be eating for dessert pretty much all the rest of this week.

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In the kitchen with a kitten

How regular people bake, who don’t have a foot-attacking Godzilla wannabe foster kitten careening around the house: move around kitchen with ease, never having to double-check cabinets or extricate anything small and fuzzy from drawers.

How I currently have to bake: move around in an abbreviated hobble because there is a small critter launching herself gleefully at my ankles and I am trying very hard to avoid stepping on her; double-check every cabinet I open to make sure she hasn’t dashed inside (in a way, having her attached to my ankle makes it easier for me to know where she is); be super careful not to drop anything because while this little fuzz turns up her adorable little nose at canned food, she LOVES her some carbs and she will be RIGHT THERE, a little one-kitten cleanup crew, if you, say, drop a tiny tart shell on the floor while making these, to hoover that up before you ever have a chance to react.

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Tracking

A while back, we decided that, being nerds and all, that we would get ourselves a wireless bathroom scale – the sort which syncs itself to our Fitbit accounts, and lets us track things online. Each of us set up our profile, so that when we step onto the scale, it knows who we are, and then stores that weight into the appropriate account. However, if someone it doesn’t recognize steps onto the scale, then it records the weight under the name ‘Guest’.

The other day, I was going through the list of weights to make sure it had assigned everything appropriately (sometimes it doesn’t) and I noticed a series of Guest weigh-ins. What was odd about these, however, is that they were all pretty consistently for someone about 11 and a half pounds.

So…in other words, apparently at least one of the cats has been hanging out on the scale, and it’s been dutifully capturing the weight each time. Based on who insists on being in the bathroom with us any time one of us is using the facilities, I’m going to guess it’s one of the grey boys (Sherman and Rupert both weigh roughly the same).

* * * * *

In other news, hey, look, I made another pair of socks. The pattern is Lorentz, which I picked firstly because of the interesting texture pattern, and secondly because it’s yet another version of a toe-up sock that, unlike the others I’ve tried, actually seems to account for the fact that one’s foot tends to widen around the ankle, and one’s sock should reflect that.

Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get a picture that shows the texture clearly, so click the pattern link above to see what they really look like.

(Oh, and by the way, I can now share two more pairs of socks I’ve made – as test knits – since the patterns have been released. Both of these were done in November of last year.

Transversal socks – I really like the texture patterning on these.

Swirl Sampler Socks – these incorporate lace and texture, and are mirror images of each other.

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