Still Life, With Cats

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Kitchen Adventures

Don’t blink

Somehow it is nearly Halloween, a fact which didn’t quite hit me until a day or two ago. Yes, yes, people have been decorating their yards with various graveyard paraphernalia, and giant spiders have been popping up all over the place, and there are pumpkins everywhere we go, but still, wow. Almost Halloween. Where did October go?

Halloween means parties – the neighborhood one, and then the ones at work – and parties means I have to come up with some kind of appropriately themed food. In years past we’ve done Litter Box Cake for Richard’s work party, but it’s kind of a pain to make and one recipe makes a LOT of cake, so we always have a ton of it leftover. I’ve also done ‘finger’ cookies (cute and tasty) and cat poop cookies (disturbingly realistic, and not really tasty enough for the effort) and so on, but this year I was pondering ideas and then remembered that I now possessed a set of food color pens, and then I figured out immediately what I was going to make: Monster Eyes.

I started with a basic almond cookie. I have been making almond cookies for years and years (it’s something my mom used to make). If you do a Google search for ‘Chinese almond cookie’ you’ll find a bazillion versions of the recipe so I’m not going to bother posting all the details here (although if you really want to know, I used this recipe primarily because the recipe I normally use uses shortening and I didn’t have any in the house). Also, although most of the recipes online don’t call for it, I rolled the dough into logs and tossed them into the fridge to chill for a couple hours, because it is then *so* much easier to slice them evenly so you end up with exactly the number of cookies you need.

Usually I do not bother to use blanched almonds because we pretty much always have a giant bag of raw almonds in the freezer (handy for baking / snacking), but if one is to decorate cookies, one needs blanched almonds. After consulting Google (all hail Google), I discovered that it is stupidly easy to blanch almonds yourself, so armed with 120 almonds (because yes, that’s how many cookies I churned out in one day – three dozen per party, plus a couple extra for….uh…quality control testing), and some boiling water, and two huge batches of cookie dough, I baked up a huge batch of Monster Eyes.

I am quite pleased with how they turned out. Decorating them was extremely simple (which is good because my artistic skills when it comes to food decorating are pretty much nonexistent), and consisted of waiting for the cookies to cool and then drawing a little black oval ‘pupil’ onto the middle of the almond. Poof. Monster Eye.

MonsterEyeCookies

In retrospect, I could have really had fun and stirred in some food coloring, but I didn’t actually think about that until after the third batch was in the oven, so ah well, maybe next time.

Posting for Horrordailies. Boo.



N is for Noodles

Most of the time no one ever comments on anyone else’s lunch at work. People just tend to prep and stir and microwave whatever they’ve brought or picked up at a local shop, and eat without even noticing what anyone else has. But today as I pulled my lunch out of the fridge, a couple coworkers stopped what they were doing commented. Ooh, that’s so pretty. What is it?

That’s because my lunch was one of these, which we prepped yesterday afternoon. Layered all together in a jar, especially if you try to pick the more colorful veggies, it’s definitely an eyecatching lunch. And more importantly, it’s extremely tasty.

We’ve made them a number of times before – or perhaps I should say that we’ve made something similar to them. Pretty much the only part of the recipe we follow consistently is the peanut sauce (except for the sesame seeds because those just seem unnecessarily fussy). The rest – eh. Totally up to interpretation. Whole wheat noodles instead of soba. A sprinkle of peanuts instead of the edamame or the crunchy noodles. Skip the raw onions because neither of us is a fan. Whatever’s in season at the farmer’s market, instead of sticking to just the veggies listed in the actual recipe.

This week’s version includes shredded carrots, peanuts, chopped yellow bell pepper, and chunks of sugar snap peas. During the winter, sometimes I add shredded cabbage, or even some lightly steamed broccoli, and then heat it up before eating. But when the temperature is soaring over 90 degrees outside, and the farmers market has new things popping up on the tables every weekend, I prefer to eat it cold.

The letter N is brought to you by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.



W is for Waylaid

I often make a lot of plans for what I am going to accomplish in an evening after work, or on a weekend.

And then I come home and I sit down at the computer to do a quick catch-up on my email, or on the couch to do a few rows of knitting and…I am waylaid.

Sometimes it is only one cat.Waylaid5

Usually it is two.
2015-04-25 Waylaid1
2015-04-25 Waylaid2
Waylaid4

And every so often, it is three.

2015-Waylaid3

The letter W is brought to you by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.



Soup weather

We are, according to the media, right smack dab in the middle of one of the worst winter storms to hit our area in a long time. Dire warnings have been popping up all over the news over the past few days, and I have received countless emails from various city departments and sites reminding me to avoid downed power lines, telling me where I might be able to purchase sand bags (yes, really), and imploring me to please stay off the road and avoid the deluge.

Alas, Stormageddon, as I have affectionately nicknamed this particular burst of weather, has so far been a big bust in my city. There’s been rain, yes, and wind, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing at all like what we were expecting.  Although to be fair, it has wreaked havoc all over the San Francisco region, so I suppose there was reason for *some* people to have a teensy amount of panic. Just…not as much as the media would really, really like us to believe. Yes, I know.

Lack of actual storminess of the storm aside, it’s definitely been a cold and dreary day – the perfect day for soup. Potato Cheese Soup, to be exact.

This is not a complicated recipe. Really, it’s more of a rough guideline to making soup, suitable for tweaking to meet anyone’s specific palette.

You start with a bunch of potatoes. The number depends on how many people you’re trying to feed, and/or how much soup you want to have as leftovers (it reheats well, so we always, always aim for leftovers). Peel them and chop them into large chunks and toss them into a big pot. Then do the same with some carrots. Again, the number is up to you, although the dominant focus of this soup is the specific texture and flavor of the potato, so you don’t want your non-potato parts to overwhelm the potato parts.

Toss in one onion (peeled and cut into quarters). No matter how big a batch, I always use only one onion, although if  you’ve a mind to, feel free to use more.

At this point I usually stop, although now would be a good time to also throw in any other random root vegetables of the sort that are not going to overwhelm the soup. This is a perfect place to hide leftover sweet potatoes, or turnips, or rutabagas. You can also add celery, but I recommend chopping it up small, as no one wants to be pulling nasty celery strings from their teeth. I add it, or not, depending on whether there’s any in the fridge.

Add in some water – not enough to cover all the chopped up veggies, but enough so that they won’t burn. I usually start with 2 cups and then add more depending on how full my pot is. If you prefer broth, you can use that instead, but it’ll taste just fine with plain water if you’ve no broth at hand.

Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer about half an hour, or until everything is nice and soft.  Remove it from the heat, and then blend everything together until it’s silky smooth. If it’s too thick, feel free to add a little additional water to thin things out.

Now comes the fun part. Stir in some cheddar cheese. This is where, if you are a parent with picky children, you can get sneaky, and blame the orange color of the soup on the cheese and not on the carrots (since once it’s all blended up, you shouldn’t be able to taste the carrots anyway). Start with 2-4 ounces of cheese, but feel free to add as much or as little as you want. I suppose you could also have fun with different varieties of cheese, should you so desire. We are purists, however, and stick to the cheddar.

Stir the soup until the cheese is completely melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Scoop up a big bowl and eat it while curled up on the sofa under a blanket, listening to the rain outside.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



The scent of ginger; the screams of the damned

Today, according to the days-of-the-year calendar I found when I was, once again, scrambling to throw together enough prompts for Holidailies for the whole month of December, is Cookie Day. I have no idea who designated it Cookie Day, but hey, I’m not going to fuss. This is a yearly event I think we all can stand behind. Especially based on the nifty little present Richard’s mom got for him and his two sisters this past weekend.

She says, when she saw this in the store, that she thought immediately of her children. I cannot imagine why.

WalkingGingerDead

Okay, maybe I can imagine why. Just a teensy weensy bit.

Anyway. In honor of it being Cookie Day, we decided to make ourselves a tiny little army of Walking Gingerdead cookies. The first thing I noticed, upon turning the box over to read the instructions, is the chirpy, happy little box of text at the top of the box (click the picture to make it larger). Clearly this is something they probably put on every single box of cookie mix, but it seemed a wee bit more amusing considering that we were about to whip up some zombies.

WGD-back panel

We mixed up the dough and rolled them out and tossed them into the oven to bake. Then later, once they had cooled sufficiently, we decorated them. Or perhaps I should say we tried to decorate them. Let’s just say that there’s a reason neither of us has ever attempted a career in the bakery arts.

So here are our Walking Gingerdead cookies. The 3 in the middle are from a regular gingerbread man cookie cutter. When one has a zombie horde, it is crucial that one also provide them with victims.

WGD-done

Shortly after this picture was taken, two of the zombies were promptly eaten. Because even gingerbread victims need to have a fighting chance when faced with the gingerdead.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies!



As one does

Here is what you do when you come home from a very long of day work, followed by a an intense rehearsal, and your feet are killing you and there is something disturbingly sticky on the kitchen counters that has been there since the previous night, and the collection of ‘rescued’ jingle bell ornaments underneath the sofa is significantly larger than it was when you left the house, and you really ought to be spending every single extra waking moment doing more productive things.

You make fudge. You go get a can of sweetened condensed milk and some peanut butter and a bag of chocolate chips and a slug of corn syrup and then you dump it all into a pan and turn the heat on low and stir it all around until everything is nicely melted together. And then you take it off the heat and you stir in some vanilla extract and then you pour the whole mess into a greased pan and you cover that up and stick it in the fridge to cool, and then. Then.

Then you get to lick the spoon, because it is late and no one else is awake to see you, and most importantly, because it has been a very, very long day.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Cookie math

Cookie swap and upcoming charity thing at work for which we are to bring cookies.

Calculation: six cookies + one dozen people + extra cookies for nibbling beforehand / after + cookies for charity thing at work later this week = bazillion cookies.

Butter + sugar + sour cream + molasses + ginger + baking powder + flour + more flour + even more flour + dump more flour on counter and roll them out + cutting out a bazillion cookies + inhale dinner + raisins  + red hots + baking + huh, these aren’t turning out quite like I remember them.

Subtotal cookies (not quite enough)

Subtotal cookies – subtotal cookies after discovery I used baking powder instead of baking soda in first batch and that’s why they are all dense and look kind of weird.

Sigh.

Butter + sugar + sour cream + molasses + ginger + baking soda + flour + more flour + even more flour + dump more flour on counter and roll them out + cutting out a bazillion cookies + cat for the love of all that is holy, please STOP WHINING I cannot hold you right now + raisins  + red hots  – red hots because what do you MEAN they are out of them at the store how can they be out of red hots? is this the end times?  + tiny little flower things as poor nose substitutes but at this point I no longer care + Sherman get OFF the counter right now + this is insane next year I am making drop cookies + baking.

Cookies + bags + containers= done.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

 



Frogged

I got up this morning and was full of plans for being super productive. But then I got sidetracked by Plants vs Zombies 2, which sort of killed most of the morning. So really, all I managed to do today was scrub down the shower stall (because hoo boy did it need it), go to the library to turn in books and pay my fine (the result of being sick / too busy to go drop stuff off or pick stuff up), and swing by the grocery store to get sour cream and elbow noodles. And then I came home and I spent a couple hours knitting, all the while telling myself that this wasn’t going to work, this really wasn’t going to work. But we knitters, we are a perverse bunch and sometimes it takes a while for us to finally grasp reality. Eventually, though, I finally hit that point where I accepted the inevitable with no small amount of muttered swearing under my breath, so I set it down in disgust and distracted myself by making this Carroty Mac & Cheese for dinner (primarily because we seem to have acquired a rather startlingly large volume of carrots over the past few weekend trips to the farmers market), and oh by the way, you should go to your kitchen right now and make it and then do your best to avoid standing at the counter and shoveling the entire pot into your mouth with a spoon because it is really that good.

Thus fortified with cheese and noodles and enough carrots to surely counteract the rest of it (shut up, leave me my delusions) and having postponed the inevitable as long as I could, I finally sat down and proceeded to rip out exactly 15,680 stitches (yes, that really is an accurate number) and started over again from scratch.

Thankfully there was leftover lemon cake and ice cream to tide me over. Leftover cake and ice cream can soothe a lot of ills, especially when it involves ripping out vast quantities of knitting.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Long proof

Nothing much happened today beyond going to work and knitting. So instead I shall tell you about this year’s Sisters Only Weekend, which actually happened back in July.

For those of you who are new to my little corner of the internet, my two sisters and I have been going away for a weekend (just us, no husbands and no kids) for 11 years now. We started it because we all live relatively far apart (one sister lives in a completely different state, and one sister lives a few hours’ drive away from me) and are all busy with our own lives and it was hard to try to keep in contact and maintain some sort of connection. Now, each year, the emails start flying back and forth in January, and we find something fun to do that is within a short drive or plane flight, and that can be done over a weekend. In years past, we’ve gone to Vegas,  rappelled into a cavern, wandered through pitch-black lava tunnels near Mount Saint Helen, and explored Sacramento on Segways. Each year we try to do something different, with the added caveat that the weekend has to include something a little out of the ordinary – a mandate which was started the first year, when on a whim the three of us did kareoke (something none of us had ever done before).

This year, my older sister and I flew up to Washington, my younger sister picked us up at the airport, and we all headed off to spend the entire weekend baking.

The baking part is not necessarily something new for all of us. My younger sister is actually a trained baker, and I do a lot of baking just because I really, really enjoy it. My older sister, however, hasn’t played with yeast quite as much as us (although we all grew up learning how to make bread from my mom), and we all figured whatever our initial skill level, it would be a lot of fun (and also delicious).

We got there a bit later than expected, since traffic on the freeway was all manner of rush-hour exciting, so we missed the first round of mixing up sponges for a lot of the doughs we’d be working with over the weekend. But we didn’t miss everything – once we’d dropped our suitcases off upstairs, we came immediately back down to the kitchen and were put to work mixing up whole wheat dough, and working on bagels, because we had a *lot* to get through over the weekend. The bread was baked that night, but we put all the bagels onto trays and then played refrigerator Tetris trying to get them all tucked away for the night.

I was really excited about doing the bagels, because I have tried them several times at home and they always turn out flat and disappointing. Alas, these ended up over-rising, and even though we boiled and baked them in a wood-fired oven the next afternoon, they just didn’t quite work out. They were still quite tasty, though.

Saturday was pretty much a crazy whirlwind of baking. We got up, ate breakfast, and then immediately set to work. First up was white bread with cranberries and walnuts (although I opted for only walnuts in mine because I am not a fan of cranberries). We also made foccacia dough, which is an involved process involving a bazillion turns in an oil-filled container. In fact, most of the breads involved a whole lot of turning and resting, turning and resting, and the majority of them started out a much stickier, softer dough than I’m used to using. The lady who runs the place trained under German bakers, so it was definitely fun to learn some new techniques.

Here is where we also inadvertently got to do a thing we’d never done before. Friday night we’d been talking about how we do this weekend every year and mentioned some of the crazy stuff we’ve done, and somehow the possibility of taking rides in the bucket truck came up (there just so happened to be a bucket truck on the property because they were doing some work to one of the barns). I thought we were all just joking around, but Saturday morning, the handyman showed up and then before I knew it, we were all standing around outside, taking turns going up in the air in the bucket truck. I suspect the older gentleman who was also part of our class had never imagined that a 3-day course in baking would include a side trip up into the air in a bucket truck, but he jumped right in and had a blast.

After that was done, though, it was right back into the kitchen, mixing up even more dough for the next day, as well as for that night’s dinner. Perhaps the easiest of the yeast doughs we made the entire weekend was the one we used for the pizzas we made for dinner, shaping the dough and then rolling it out onto peels and sliding those into the wood burning brick oven she had on the back patio. Dinner was eaten outside, at a table set up in a gorgeous field, where we could see alpacas in the distance and enjoy the breeze.

Sunday was a rushed day. We tackled scones pretty much as soon as we got up. I’ve done scones before, and learned early on that the key to avoiding a tough, chewy scone is to work the butter in by hand, and then just barely mix in the rest of the ingredients. Her recipe was even lighter than the ones I’ve made – in part, I suspect, because of the inclusion of heavy cream. Everyone got to pick what type of scones they wanted to make, so there was quite an assortment of flavors to nibble for breakfast and the rest of the morning. Then we immediately tackled sweet breads, twisting dough that had been started the day before into complicated shapes filled with cinnamon sugar. And finally, we made beignets, starting with a sweet brioche dough and ending up with a maple and pecan glaze.

This is when it occurred, belatedly, to my older sister and I that we had no clue how we were going to get all this bread home with us (note to self – when attending a baking weekend, bring an extra suitcase next time). So they somehow scrounged up a huge box, and she and I fit every single bit of our baked goodies into it (there was a LOT), and then it was time to head back to the airport and catch a plane home.

I don’t know how long everything lasted at my sisters’ houses, but I stashed most of what I brought home in the freezer and then Richard and I worked our way through it for more than a week after. And also, the following weekend, using the recipe she’d given us, I finally managed to make perfect bagels.

BucketSisters

My sisters on the left, me on the right, and the poor guy who was in the class with us (I think he was a bit overwhelmed – my sisters and I tend to do a lot of being goofy when we’re off on our Sisters Weekends).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



That time of year

It’s getting colder out there, and there are huge piles of leaves lined up along the roads, with thousands more still falling from the trees, or strewn across lawns. It is the sort of weather where I am very glad I had the forethought to knit up a huge selection of afghans to snuggle under, and where I start to dream wistfully of hot tea,  and cocoa with a drop of peppermint stirred in, and oh yes, soup. It is soup weather out there, and tonight I finally did something about it.

We’ve been talking soup for a few weeks now, during trips to the farmers market, but the timing has never really been right. Nanowrimo is one of those things that just sort of sucks all your free time away, and November is a month where home cooking takes a back seat to cranking out words in a novel. But November is over now, and I am recovering (slowly) from being sick, and after the most recent trip to the year-round farmers market under the freeway, we had everything I needed to make soup.

Potato cheese soup is one of those comfort foods I remember from my childhood. There is something very soothing about dipping your spoon into a bowl of creamy potato soup and then slowly eating it, bite by bite. It is also remarkably easy to make, and has the bonus of being almost virtuous, for all of its creaminess. Basically you take four or five potatoes (white, brown, or red-skinned variety – steer clear of the purple, only because it will result in an extremely unappetizing looking dish, although I’m sure it would still taste just fine), peel them, cut them into quarters, and toss them into a big pot. Peel and chunk up a few carrots – 2 big ones, or a whole bunch of the little ones if you’re lucky enough to find them at your local farmers market. Peel and quarter an onion and toss that in as well, and then pour in about 3 or 4 cups of water. Then stick a lid on the pot, turn the heat onto medium, and walk away for about half an hour. This would be a good time to make some biscuits, by the way, since it’s nice to have some kind of bread to go along side, or alternatively, to go check Facebook and Twitter and then get startled when the timer goes off because seriously, it’s been 30 minutes already?

When the vegetables are all soft, puree the whole mess together until it’s perfectly smooth. You’ll notice that it’s got a lovely pale orange color, thanks to the carrots.  The next step is to stir in about half a cup of grated cheddar cheese, then stir the whole thing until the cheese has completely melted. Final step – salt and pepper to taste.

We had big bowls of this tonight for dinner, with homemade rolls slathered with homemade spiced apple pear butter.

Ah, I’ve really missed you, soup weather. You’re quite delicious.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.




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