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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bookended

Today is both Muffin Day and Cherry Pie Day. Richard loves anything to do with cherries, but I most decidedly do not, and we really didn’t need me to make an entire pie for just one person, considering all the *other* baking I’ve been doing this month. So this morning I made muffins with pie filling inside them, in an effort to combine the two.

I used a pretty basic muffin recipe (from the red-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook I have on my shelf), but added about a tablespoon of filling to each. The cherry pie filling is from a can, because there are limits to how much time and effort I’m willing to spend on this challenge, especially for something only one of us is going to be eating. The apple pie filling, however, which I added to half the muffins instead of nasty cherry glop, was the last of a batch I canned a year or so back, so at least there’s that.

The muffins turned out about what one would expect for a straightforward muffin with nothing added but a dollop of pie filling. Richard reports that his cherry pie muffins were delicious, and I was quite happy with how the apple filling worked out in mine.

I had originally planned that just being the end of it, but there was a *lot* of filling leftover. So I pondered some more and eyed those tiny tart pans that have been so useful so far this month, and decided that I might as well do some tiny pies to try to use the stuff up.

So when I got home from work I threw together a pastry crust dough and I stuffed that in the fridge to cool, and then after dinner I made two tiny pies – one for Richard, with the cherries, and one for me with the apples.

And thus both National Food Days have been celebrated appropriately and deliciously (and we shall not discuss the fact that there’s *still* more pie filling lurking in the fridge for later).

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Didn’t we do this already?

Today is Chocolate Mint day which seems a bit redundant, since earlier this month there was also Peppermint Patty day. But then I guess there’s other things you can do with chocolate and mint, so eh, whatever.

It being a Monday, which means very limited time for me to make anything, what with work and rehearsal, I went for something quick. I used this recipe, since it makes only two, but instead of adding in chocolate chips, I chopped up the last of the peppermint patties and mix those in instead. I do not own tiny skillets (nor do I foresee a need for me to own tiny skillets), but I *do* own tiny tart pans, so I just baked the brownies in those.

Verdict: This is a very delicious brownie (although I question the ‘for two’ designation, since each one could easily have been shared between two people on its own), but alas, the mint flavor didn’t really come through. Ah well. I think at this point, we’re a bit minted out anyway, so it wasn’t any great loss.

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Circular

Today is Pluto Day, which left me a bit stumped as to what to do for it (I mean, besides play this a few times).

But then I remembered that earlier this month there was a food day I didn’t actually celebrate, and also, thanks to the Tim Tams, I now own a key ingredient, so today we are celebrating Bagel and Lox Day (which was February 9th), except without the lox because neither of us is a fan.

I have tried bagels a couple times before, with minimal success. In theory, they should not be difficult, because it’s really just a fairly basic yeast dough, only you boil it for a bit prior to baking it. But previous attempts have turned out sad, flat discs that only resembled bagels in color, but not much else.

However, King Arthur Flour has a recipe and over the past few years I’ve learned that if I want to try baking something new, I should check on their website first, since pretty much every one of their recipes I’ve tried has turned out delicious. This particular recipe calls for, you guessed it, malt powder. Gosh, what a lovely coincidence!

The dough is pretty straightforward. I mixed it up and stuck it into my usual winter proofing space (microwave, after heating up a couple of those rice-filled heating pads, so that the interior, once the door is closed, stays at a nice, cozy temperature that yeast really likes). The recipe calls for cutting the dough into 12-16 pieces, but I actually did 24, because we wanted slightly smaller bagels. Forming the bagels is kind of fun, because basically you stab a hole in the middle of the dough ball and then spin it around on your finger to open it up.

Next, the rings get a short water bath in a mix of boiling water, malt powder, and sugar. This is what gives bagels their characteristic chewy outer skin. And finally, once they’re boiled, they go into the oven, and a short time later, you have bagels!

Unlike previous attempts, these turned out fantastic. They are chewy on the outside and soft in the middle, just like they should be. Some of them did turn out a little flatter than they should have been, but that was totally my fault – pro tip, don’t boil your dough rings until right before you are ready to stick them in the oven, or else they’ll start to deflate!

I’ll definitely be adding this to the regular bread-making rotation, and malt powder is now going to be a pantry staple. Yum!

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Colonial

Today is Random Act of Kindness Day, so I hope you all were nice to other people for no reason at all. But that’s not a food, or a thing that I can make (and an act of kindness done deliberately for a blog post doesn’t seem like it should count anyway).

Luckily, today is also National Indian Pudding Day, so hooray, we have a food thing to try.

I’ve heard of this thing before, but have never, as far as I can recall, tried it. A quick query to Google suggests that it’s called Indian Pudding because it’s made with cornmeal which was made from what they were calling, at the time, Indian corn, and that the colonists who came over to America used that because that’s what was available, to make foods similar to what they were used to eating back in Britain, and not because it is a food made by Native Americans. It’s still a bit of an uncomfortable name, but I didn’t find any good alternatives out there, so….Pudding-With-Inappropriate-Name, it is!

Anyway. The recipe seemed fairly straightforward. You start by boiling 3 cups of milk, and then whisking in a *very* small amount of cornmeal until it’s thick. Then you stir in ginger and cinnamon and various sweeteners (the recipe I used called for both molasses and maple syrup). There was a small part of me that enjoyed the fact that I was making this using only ingredients that the colonists might have had on hand (okay, I don’t know if that’s accurate when it comes to the spices, but the rest of the stuff works). Next you pour it into a baking dish and you stick it into the oven and bake it for half an hour, and then here’s where things got really weird. You pour in another cup of cold milk, and stick it back into the oven and it bakes for 1 1/2 to 2 hours more, until it has turned into something that *isn’t* strangely molasses-scented soup.

We had friends over, who were all warned that they were going to be guinea pigs for this recipe (none of them had ever had it either), but thankfully they’re all the sort who are game for trying weird things. I kept checking it and checking it but the center never really seemed to set. When I pulled it out of the oven, finally, the top was browned, as per the recipe instructions, but the middle was still a bit on the soupy side, and I wasn’t really sure if it was ever going to change, since it had looked the same for the past half hour in the oven.

Nevertheless, we all gave it a try.

The flavor isn’t bad. The molasses comes through, which is good because I am a fan of molasses. But the texture is a bit like eating molasses-flavored polenta, except not necessarily in a good way. It was a bit gloopy. I began to wonder if maybe the recipe itself was the problem.

Mm. Doesn’t *that* look appetizing!

A quick Google search brought back lots of variations on the recipe, but in all of them, the ratio of cornmeal to liquid is roughly the same. In some it was clear that the pudding had cooked down to something more resembling a soft cake; in others, the pudding was a bit more on the ‘gloopy mess’ side of the equation, suggesting that I’m not the only one who’s had this same problem.

It’s possible that this should be only done using whole milk, or cream, as that might help bind things together more. It’s possible that a little more cornmeal is needed. It’s possible there’s other ways I could redo this recipe to make it less of lumpy soup, but eh, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Let’s just say that I’m glad we’ve come a long way from the time when this was what people had to look forward to for dessert, and leave it at that.

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