Knot worth it

What’s that, you say, you’ve been missing all my rambles on baking since the end of this year’s Thingadailies? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another #BakingSisters bake!

This weekend my parents were up in Seattle in order to visit with my sister and also see my niece play a mermaid in her last high school play (because somehow she is now a senior, even though I can’t figure out how that happened because the rest of us certainly haven’t aged that much since she was born, right? Oh, wait….

Anyway, because they were visiting and because things were going to be busy with the play, this month we decided to do cookies – specifically Tudor Jumbles. These were a recent Technical Challenge recipe on the Great British Bake Off, should the name sound familiar.

The dough itself is pretty basic – flour, sugar, butter, some flavorings, and an egg. Where it gets complicated is with the shaping, because you can’t just plop a lump of dough onto a sheet pan and call it done. No, these had to be carefully knotted into complicated shapes, then brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sugar before baking.

My sister (with my mom joining in) made the dough in that recipe above. I, however, do not like either caraway seeds or anise (licorice) flavoring, so I went a bit off script. I made two half-batches of dough – one with ginger, and one with some almond flour (primarily because I had some that needed using up) and almond extract.

The first shape is a circular knot. The dough I flavored with ginger was really, really dry and it was actually pretty hard to ‘knot’ the rope of dough without it cracking into a million little pieces.

The second shape is a triangle ‘knot’. I know that technically I should have figure out a way to do it all with one single continuous rope of dough, but this one was a nightmare to shape to begin with (the almond dough was a lot softer than the ginger dough, to the point where I actually ended up kneading in a whole lot more flour prior to shaping, just so it would be firm enough to work with), and any attempts to weave the circle through the triangle points just ended up with broken dough and a lot of under-the-breath swearing.

Shaping these cookies was not a quick process, and it seems rather anticlimactic that for all that work, you only end up with 12 cookies in total. They’re also *big* cookies – each one is a couple inches across.

Verdict: Eh. The flavor’s not bad, but it certainly wasn’t worth all the effort of making the knots for just an okay cookie. My sister did comment that it might be fun to try the knots again with a different type of dough – perhaps a gingerbread – that had a little more pliability, and a lot more flavor. So we’ll see – maybe come Christmas time I’ll feel the urge to wrap dough into stupid little knots again. Or maybe….not.

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A brief tutorial

How to photograph a finished knitted item, without cats:

  1. Lay out your knitted item on a flat surface, preferably with a solid color sheet of cloth or paper underneath.
  2. Stand on stool, or chair, so as to be able to best photograph the item from above.
  3. Take the picture.

How to photograph a finished knitted item, with cats:

  1. Lay out the background sheet, carefully smoothing out the surface so as to minimize any wrinkles or lumps.
  2. Remove the cat who has come out of nowhere to tunnel underneath the sheet.
  3. Re-smooth the sheet with one hand, while flinging a toy with the other so as to distract the cat.
  4. Lay out your knitted item, smoothing it out carefully.
  5. Remove the cat who has flopped on top of the knitted item because if it’s there, it *must* be a thing for cats.
  6. Re-smooth the knitted item.
  7. Climb up on top of a stool or chair to take the picture.
  8. Climb back down to rescue the item from cat who reached up with one paw and stealthily snagged a corner of the knitted item, which is now rapidly disappearing underneath the table.
  9. Try to distract cats with toys, empty boxes, packing paper.
  10. Repeat steps 1 through 9 several times more.
  11. Give up and take a picture that includes the cats and call it artsy.
  12. Eventually manage to snap hasty shot of item once cats get bored and wander off to wreak havoc somewhere else. 

 

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Light as air

Do you know what today is? It is February 28th! That means it’s the last day of Thingadailies.

We started the month with chocolate, in the form of baked Alaska, so I suppose it’s only fitting that we end the month with chocolate as well. Conveniently, today is National Chocolate Souffle Day. I hope you all pulled out the whisks and celebrated appropriately.

Souffle is one of those fussy sort of recipes that I’ve tried in the past (in both sweet and savory forms) with varying levels of success. If you’re not careful, you end up with something that tastes overly eggy, or lumpy with bits of cooked egg. It’s also not a food that I get excited about in general, so it’s not like I’ve spent much time trying to perfect it. Nevertheless, I figured I’d give it a shot. Considering that chocolate souffles were a Technical Challenge on one season of Great British Bake-off, I went into this with a bit of trepidation.

I used this recipe. It calls for two six-ounce souffle dishes but we’re not that fancy around here, so I used two tiny little Pyrex bowls that are 5 ounces each, and hoped for the best.

It’s a recipe with several fiddly steps – melting chocolate and then stirring in butter, whipping egg whites, and then carefully combining the two mixtures together in such a way that you minimize the loss of any volume you just whipped into the egg whites. The dishes are buttered and then sugared, and then filled to the brim, and then they get stuck into the oven on the lowest rack for fifteen minutes.

We kept careful watch on the oven as the souffles cooked and both of us gave a little cheer when it started to puff up over the sides of the bowl. When the timer went off I pulled them out, and then hurriedly poured the creme anglais over the top so I could take a picture.

It’s not very impressive-looking, I know, but it turned out really, really well. Shockingly, I managed to make two perfect little souffles. The inside was smooth and literally just melted in the mouth, with no little bits of egg, or graininess from the chocolate. I even managed to do justice to the creme anglaise, which was smooth and sweet and a nice accompaniment to the chocolate.

Definitely nice to end this year’s Thingadailies on a high note.

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Fit for a polar bear

Today is, among many other things, National Strawberry Day, National Polar Bear Day, and yet another National Pancake Day (there are so very many of them!). However, I decided I really didn’t want to do yet more pancakes or pancake-type items for this challenge, plus I do not like berries (no, I am not kidding, yes, I have tried all of them many times and I don’t like *any* of them), and we live in the wrong place for polar bears. Luckily today is also National Kahlua Day. So I decided to celebrate that by making some ice cream. Because when *isn’t* it a good time for ice cream?

Years and years ago, Ben & Jerry’s brought out a Dublin Mudslide ice cream, which had a delicious mix of Kahlua, Irish Cream, and chocolate all swirled inside, much like the drink by the same name. I loved it, but as is often the case, they eventually stopped carrying it, and also there are no more Ben & Jerry’s stores anywhere near us, so even if they brought it back, there’s no way for me to know. So I haven’t had that in a very long time.

However, that was before I picked my challenge for this Thingadailies month. I asked Google what it could do for me, and Google very nicely supplied this recipe. Conveniently, we have both Kahlua and Irish Cream in the fridge (the remains of the single batch of each that I make every winter), so this morning I whipped some heavy cream in the stand mixer, and then folded in some sweetened condensed milk, and some chopped up chocolate, and a couple tablespoons each of the Kahlua and the Irish Cream. Then that got poured into a container and stashed in the freezer, because this is a no-churn recipe.

Ice cream is good, but it’s even better if it’s alongside something else. Plus I still had some Kahlua and some Irish Cream that needed using up. So I cast out my question to the internets, and lo, the Googles, they did offer back this recipe. And thus it was that I made both ice cream and cake for the occasion.

The ice cream is a bit on the sweet side – I think if i were to make this again, I’d use a bittersweet chocolate to help counteract that. The cake, however, is delicious and moist. Trust the recipe – I know the batter looks super thin after you stir in the Kahlua, but it totally works. Also I may or may not have used Irish Cream instead of the milk in order to use that all up. And also we may or may not have had this for dinner instead of the not-very-exciting leftover clam chowder from yesterday as planned.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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From the briny deep

There aren’t any food-related Days to celebrate today, although today *is* Tell a Fairy Tale day, so maybe gather around with your nearest and dearest and read them something from the Grimm brothers. Meanwhile, I still have a can of clams to use up, so today we’re doing what I intended to do yesterday, which is to tackle Clam Chowder Day.

Apparently there are different versions of clam chowder out there – red and white – but the only kind I’ve ever had is the white kind, so that’s what I made. I used this recipe, because it seemed pretty straightforward.

It’s pretty simple to throw together. You cook bacon, onion, and celery in a little bit of butter until the vegetables are soft, and then you stir in all the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Because it’s Monday, which means I have rehearsal in the evening, I actually put this together this morning, and then reheated it for dinner. I think that was a wise, move, as the potatoes helped to thicken up the soup as it sat. Also I added a dash of half and half, because I felt like it needed a bit of extra ‘oomph’.

Could I make this bowl of chowder look any *less* exciting?

We ate them with some faintly-tuna-flavored ‘crackers‘ sprinkled on top (because the cats seriously aren’t interested, so we might as well use them up somehow. Eh, they’re not oyster crackers, but they worked the same, so it was fine.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Posted in Kitchen Adventures, Life | 2 Comments

Phoning it in

It’s been a very long couple days, what with being sick, and also having two performances to get through. This whatever-it-is hit me on Wednesday, and the worst was, thankfully, Thursday, but still, I sang the concerts through the power of cough drops and magic (although at least one bonus of being sick when one is already a low Alto, is that one can then sing the low notes with *way* more power, so….yay?), and pretty much tried to rest and recuperate at home when I wasn’t singing. Ah, fun times.

Today, however, was the last day of Stitches West, and I had a couple really good reasons for wanting to go this year. When I woke up this morning I felt like the worst was over (except for some residual hoarseness of the voice), so I bundled up all my stuff for the day and drove down to Santa Clara and spent the whole day there, hanging out with lots of friendly knitters and surrounded by so much yarn. I kept my willpower firmly in check and only bought one skein of yarn (in my defense, it’s a gorgeous shade of purple, and was only $16.50 for 1000 yards of a bamboo-cotton blend laceweight. I am not made of stone, people!).

I hung out at the Lacey Knitters Guild booth and got to chat with a number of fellow guild members, some of whom I only get to see once a year. I got to finally meet in person the awesome lady at Knit Picks with whom I’ve been working for the past six years, and I also got to finally meet in person someone I’ve known via an online community for probably close to 15 years.

I had grand plans for dinner tonight, as it’s Clam Chowder Day. But by the time I got home, my head was killing me, and I couldn’t handle the thought of trying to put *anything* together. So instead I dosed myself with ibuprofin and Richard ordered pizza, and later on, after I’d started to feel a bit more human, I made Chocolate Covered Peanuts. Because today is also Chocolate Covered Peanut Day.

There is no specific recipe for this. Basically I took the remains of a bag of chocolate chips and the remains of a bag of butterscotch chips and dumped them into a bowl and heated that in the microwave until they were all melted. And then I dumped in the remains of a jar of peanuts and stirred those around until they were all well-coated, and I poured it out onto a sheet of waxed paper and stuck that in the fridge to chill. After about an hour or so – I wasn’t really timing it – they were firm enough, so I broke the whole mess apart into chunks, and voila, chocolate-covered peanuts.

Ta da. Or something. I dunno. They’re chocolate covered peanuts. What more is there to say?

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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A satisfying crunch

Today is Tortilla Chip Day. Obviously the quickest way to make tortilla chips is to go buy some tortillas, cut them into wedges, and cook them. But you all know me well enough by now to know that that just wasn’t going to cut it – at least not on a weekend day when I actually have time to do more.

So first thing this morning, when I got up, I made some tortillas. I know that technically tortillas are either flour *or* corn, and this recipe combines them, but it sounded interesting, so I figured why not.

You mix up the dough and then divide it into 10 balls and let them sit for half an hour to rest. This gives the cornmeal time to soak up some of the moisture.

Then you roll each little ball into a roughly 8 inch circle. My circle-rolling skills are not fantastic, but I did my best to get them reasonably well shaped.

They are, by the way, rolled *extremely* thin, as you can see.

Next you cook them in a hot, ungreased frying pan for about 45 seconds per side. Of course, then while putting them into the pan, they had a tendency to wrinkle up, and lose their shape, so my inability to roll things into a perfect circle didn’t really have much bearing in the grand scheme of things anyway.

A pile of finished tortillas.

These aren’t a flexible tortilla (I’ve made flour tortillas before, which turned out soft and pliable); they’re more a bit stiff and slightly rubbery. I suspect if I’d cooked them a little less per side they’d still have been soft, but that’s okay, because soft isn’t the ultimate goal for today.

Once the tortillas were all done, the next step was to turn them into chips. I cut each into 8 wedges, then spread those out on a baking sheet, gave them a quick spritz with some nonstick spray, and a liberal shake of salt, and tossed those into the oven to bake until crispy.

And what better way to enjoy my slightly lopsided homemade tortilla chips, than with some nachos! We pulled a bag of pulled pork out of the freezer and topped it with some cheese and salsa and sour cream, and then dug in.

Verdict: These were absolutely delightful. They’re a bit more fragile than the ones you buy at the store, possibly because they’re baked and not fried. The chips were crispy, but still had that slight grit that you expect from a corn tortilla chip, while crumbling nicely in the mouth.

Would I make them again? Maybe. It’s a bit of work to do all the steps, and we don’t actually eat chips all that often, but I’m not ruling this out, next time I have a couple hours to spare and we have the urge for something with a bit of crunch.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Not fur me

Today is National Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. I’m not entirely sure why we’re supposed to appreciate them, but whatever, I’m just here for the baking of weird things.

Since I don’t have dogs, but I *do* have cats, I decided to fudge it a bit and instead of making dog biscuits, I made cat treats instead.

There’s lots of recipes online for how to make treats for your particular variety of furry companion, but I used this one. The ingredients list is short – a can of tuna, an egg, some flour, and for some bizarre reason, parsley (I skipped that one). You whisk it all together in a food processor or a blender, then roll it out, cut it into tiny little shapes, and bake them.

Richard provided assistance for this one, in the form of distracting the cats, first with the juice from the can of tuna as it was drained, and then while I was rolling out the dough, in case any of the cats came over to investigate. Luckily the cats were sated enough with the tuna juice to leave me and my dough alone.

One recipe makes a *lot* of tiny little treats, by the way. A *lot*.

Some of the cats were interested, at first.

From left to right, Sherman, Azzie, Rupert.

But Azzie was the only one who actually ate the treat and yelled for more. Nutmeg, naturally, wasn’t interested because in her eyes, anything that isn’t kibble is Not Food (weird cat). Sherman and Ruby just nibbled on theirs and then left the slightly gummy mess on the floor and looked at me as if to say ‘why should we care?’ Ingrid sniffed it and then gave the cat equivalent of a shrug and walked away, while Rupert ate one but slowly, and without much enthusiasm.

The recipe didn’t call for the size of tuna can, and I wonder if I was supposed to use the larger one, and not the smaller one, because I had to add a bunch more flour to make the dough stiff enough to roll. Richard and I tried them (because why not?) and they’re kind of….bland. Sort of like a cracker with the barest hint of tuna flavor, and not much else.

Ah well. The cats will just have to settle for all the other treats in the house. Poor neglected things.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Comfort food

After all the sweet stuff the last week or so, it was a bit of a relief to check the calendar and see that today is both Chili Day and Cook a Sweet Potato Day (hey, I don’t name these things; I just cook ’em).

I love sweet potatoes, in almost any form, so I was happy to see this day on the calendar. Plus, chili is a delightfully versatile vehicle for a whole lot of different things, so I knew it wasn’t going to be hard to find a good recipe that combined the two.

Luckily I found this recipe, which combines sweet potato and black beans into something that sounded delightful. You start off by chopping up an onion and a sweet potato and throwing them into a pan to cook. Next you stir in some garlic, and a bunch of spices. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chili powder, which sounds like a lot, except that you have to remember that sweet potato is, well, sweet, and the extra spice is necessary to help keep that sweetness from overpowering the rest of the dish.

Next you add some water and let everything simmer until the sweet potato chunks are cooked through, and finally you add in a can of diced tomatoes and a couple cans of black beans, heat that up, and then serve.

With a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese on top, this was a delicious, homey bowl of goodness, which is something I really needed on a day like today when I’m battling a winter cold (ugh). We’ll definitely be making this one again, especially since all the ingredients are pantry staples.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Sugar bomb

Today is both Pancake Day, and Sticky Bun Day.

What, you say, but wasn’t Pancake Day earlier?

Yes, but that was religious pancake day. And also there is yet *another* pancake day coming up later this month, on the 27th, because 2 Pancake Days apparently weren’t enough. Clearly all these National / International food day calendars need to coordinate better. Or maybe I wrote this one down wrong when I was making out the plan for the month. Who knows! Who cares! We’re doing pancakes again!

But I digress. These are two foods that are easy to combine, if one goes by not only the recipes on the internet (all hail the repository of all information no matter how obscure or weird), but also the fact that several restaurant chains actually have a Sticky Bun Pancake on their menus.

The concept is pretty simple. You make up a basic pancake batter and pour some onto a heated, prepared skillet. Then you squeeze a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon on the top, in a swirl.

That cooks for a bit, and then you flip it over and try to avoid making a giant mess, since the swirl mixture, as it heats up, gets all liquidy and is highly prone to splattering everywhere.

When it is done you have a giant pancake that sort of vaguely resembles a cinnamon roll.

And when I say ‘giant’, I mean that one pancake takes up most of the plate. I’m used to making much smaller pancakes, but this recipe only makes four of them, which should give you some idea of how big they are.

But wait, this can’t possibly be the end, can it? No, no it cannot! It’s not remotely over-the-top sweet enough yet! Because once the pancake is on the plate, then you add the final touch, which is a generous drizzle of cream cheese glaze.

There. Now it looks more like a (strangely flattened) sticky bun.

Verdict: They were tasty, for a ginormous cinnamon roll/pancake sugar bomb, but we both agreed they were far too big, and much too sweet. In fact, I didn’t even bother making the remaining two pancakes in the recipe, to save for later, because we really weren’t interesting in having them again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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