Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Urge to Sew

I've been experiencing a terrible urge to sew. Terrible, because I just don't have the time to do any sewing now. I'm still settling in, my new roommate is still moving in, and I just HAVE to finish that pair of Bayerische for my sock pal!

What, you might ask, brought on this sewing urge? Well, there was Moocow coming to visit and making cute lunch bags. There's the fact that some of my favourite knit bloggers, such as Grumperina and Elizabeth, have been blogging about sewing lately. There's the fact that I haven't sewn anything in a while. And there's the fact that I've been having window treatments running through my mind constantly, because I know that I want to sew curtains for the new place, and make a new slipcover for the couch that the previous tenants left behind. I. Want. To. Sew. The fact that I haven't gone shopping for clothes in months might also have something to do with it.

Well, with the excuse of looking at what kinds of home decorating fabrics are available at the local JoAnn's, I spent a couple of hours happily looking at everything. There was a Simplicity pattern sale, so what do I do? Find some other patterns that I want! As you can see from the picture above, I did end up getting two Simplicity patterns. I love sewing soft toys, and couldn't resist their new bear pattern. The very simple skirt/pants pattern is for a project that I will unveil at a later date.

I don't know why I noticed this Butterick blouse pattern. It isn't new, and I've probably seen it a dozen times before while I was browsing through the pattern catalogues. This time, however, it caught my eye because I realised that it looks almost exactly like my favourite Ann Taylor blouse (picture below)!!! It even has a side zipper. I can't wait until I have a little more time!
I went looking for the New Look dress pattern after seeing the absolutely irresistible dress made by Liesl. Seriously, take a look at it and I assure you, you'll fall in love.

So, no actual sewing has been accomplished. Just a whole lot of thinking about sewing.

Red Things

Here's a picture of the borscht I was making a little while back. I had such a huge pot of it, I froze some and am still eating away at it. The recipe I used from AllRecipes was very simple, but I think it was lacking in a little something. When I reheated some of the soup later, I tried adding a bit of dill. I think it might also taste better with a big of cider vinegar, as I've seen in other borscht recipes. I may also want to try adding caraway seeds to it at some point (also something I've seen in other recipes), although Moocow thinks it would taste weird. No harm in trying, though!

Also, can you see the salt pig to the right side of the picture? I've been wanting a salt pig for ages and ages. They're so cute (mine has ears and a curly tail on the back), and seem much more practical than a salt shaker for kitchen use. You can pinch out the exact amount of salt you want, or easily measure some out with a measuring spoon. The material (ceramic) and design keep the salt dry and clump free. Magical, isn't it? I found it for less than $5 at Marshalls!
I finally went out and bought a desk chair! Do you know what I had been using in the meantime? My rocking chair. Yup, my rocking chair. It wasn't too uncomfortable but, with my roommate about to arrive, I thought I should put the rocking chair back out in the living room so people other than myself could actually sit in it.

I went to Staples at sat in all their reasonably priced office chairs, multiple times. I thought about getting the least expensive one available, but I know I'll be spending a lot of time in this chair working. Having sat in some of the more expensive chairs, I knew how comfortable they could be. I finally settled on this chair, a Posturepedic, which was on sale.
You can pay Staples $5 to put it together for you, but I decided that I would put it together myself. Getting the box from my car up my winding staircase was no fun, though! Assembly was fairly simple, and now I am the proud owner of a comfortable desk chair.

Can I make it?

Can I possibly make it for the Sockapalooza 4 deadline? This is the second pair of socks I'm making for my sock pal, so I do have something to send off. But I wanted this to be done, too. However, with just a week to go, I've only just turned the heel on the first Bayerische sock.

So many things have been happening lately. I had six teeth taken out, my braces got put on, I moved, I had people visiting, I've been working, and my new roommate moved in. I just haven't had a whole lot of knitting time lately. I don't know if I can finish this pair of socks in time to mail out by August 6th! I will try my best, but I fear I will let my sock pal down.

Today's plan? Knit like a demon. I want to at least finish this first sock, because I'm afraid I may actually run out of yarn!! Eunny wasn't kidding when she said that this pattern consumes yarn at a "fearsome" rate. I thought I would be all right with two balls of Lang Jawoll because my sock pal doesn't like the legs of her socks too long (only 4" to the top of the heel flap). However, I am a bit nervous now that I've barely started on the foot, and the ball of Jawoll looks distressingly small.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cinnamon Cookies

Mmmm... cinnamon. I found a recipe online for cinnamon cookies that is as simple as it is good. And idiot proof.

I probably didn't cream the butter right. First I over-melted the butter in the microwave, beat it around a bit, realized something was wrong, and then put it back in the fridge to solidify. Then the instructions said you're supposed to beat it until it looks like whipped cream, but with a hand whisk, the best I could manage was light cream cheese. However, it doesn't seem to have had any ill effects on the cookies. They are well and truly awesome.

An additional advantage is that you can store the dough in the fridge for as long as you like, which comes in handy when your oven is so small you can only bake 6 cookies at a time.

And my Boyfriend is out of town visiting relatives, so I get to eat them all. Muahahahaha!

Fun With Stripes

I got myself some self-patterning yarn to play with (Lion Brand Magic Stripes), and decided to make some fingerless gloves for my boyfriend. The pattern is based on Marnie MacLean's Hooray For Me Gloves, but seeing that this is yet another episode of Kea Never Gets the Gauge Right, I had to do math to adjust the size. Ms. MacLean's yarn required size 2 needles; mine were about size 3. However, since my boyfriend has such large hands, I only had to reduce the number of stitches by 10. Simple enough.

Not so for the socks. I used the pattern that came with the yarn, and soon discovered that even though my needles were a bit smaller than recommended, my feet were still a whole lot smaller than an "adult size medium", whatever that means. (They were huge!) I also found that the tricky thing about gauging socks is the stretch. Rectangular gauge swatches weren't much help to me, I had to make a tube and try it on to see if it was tight enough to stay up, but not so tight it would cut off my circulation. I also wanted to extend the socks from mid-calf to the knee (what's the point of heavy duty wool winter socks if they don't keep your legs warm?) and so had to figure out how much to decrease from my calves down to my ankles. It took three tries, but I got it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Babka Walks Into a Brioche...

I practiced making brioche this weekend and made about 5lbs of dough. I did not, however, want 5 lbs worth of plain brioche. The original idea was to make pains au raisins (less-sweet versions of Cinnabuns), but that would've entailed a run to the grocery store for milk, raisins, apricot jam, rum, confectioner's sugar, and sliced almonds. And my brother and SO, who are expected to help consume my homework, don't even like raisins. So I improvised.

I made one plain 9x5 loaf for sandwiches this week (boy, is that gonna make a mean turkey sando!) With the rest, I took a chocolate babka recipe from Maggie Glezer's A Blessing of Bread that I picked up while visiting Lana during the spring. The photo of the beautiful undulating dough beribboned by swirls of chocolate completely seduced me, and I've been looking for an opportunity to bake it for months. I hadn't been planning on it but I had all the ingredients on hand and it seemed like a good fit for my excess dough, so I crossed my fingers and switched the challah with my brioche. A mix of cocoa, cinnamon, sugar and melted butter is slathered on brioche dough, then walnuts and chocolate chips sprinkled on top. The dough is rolled up into a long tube like so...
Two rolls are each draped over a stick (I used a chopstick of course!) at their mid-point (I had some help here) and twisted so that one end is fat and the other thin. They then are arranged like a yin and yang sign... voila! Chocolate walnut brioche. I winged it with the proofing and bake time/temp, but 30 minutes at 375 worked well. The shaped dough took about 1.5 hours to proof properly even in a warm kitchen because it was weighed down with all that filling. Our apartment now smells like good things and happy thoughts, and I can't wait to start my Sunday morning with a warm slice of it and some strong coffee. Talk about having sweet dreams tonight!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Experimenting with Beets

Since I had farm fresh beets, I decided that it was my best chance to try raw beets in a salad. I cobbled together a beet and apple salad from various recipes I saw over the internet. Grated beets, Granny Smith apples and carrots, in a dressing I mixed up with plain yogurt, mustard, lemon juice and seasoning. It was pretty good, although I think I'll use fewer carrots next time.
These are some of the different squashes I got from the CSA. Clockwise from the top: fresh basil, some of which I used to make fresh pesto (below), a green zucchini, a Lebanese Cous-Cous squash, an Eightball zucchini, and a Zephyr (that green and yellow!). I think I'm going to make ratatouille.
And, below, you see most of this week's beets cut up for a borsch (also spelled "borscht") that I made last night. I still need to snap a picture of that. But aren't the beets beautiful? White with red stripes, red with white stripes, white, and deep, dark red. I think they're one of the prettiest vegetables, don't you?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

But it looked so easy at school....

I attempted the warm chocolate tart with the sucree pastry base from class at home this weekend. It seemed straightforward enough. It wasn't like I'd never made sucree before, and it worked out well in class, so I began this recipe with nary a concern. At home though, it was a different story. To start with, I had no lemon, but I did have four limes, so I used lime zest instead. My fingers are still crossed about that one because the lime threw off a pretty distinctive aroma when I was rolling up the dough. Then, I rolled out the cold dough after our Friday night pizza dinner (we have been making pizza at home at least once a week, with increasing success, I might add. There will be a separate blog on that later), but that turned out to be unwise timing. The super-hot oven turned my dough into a floppy paste in no time and the tart shell had to be seriously patched. Next, it sat, raw, in the refrigerator until today. I had meant to bake the shell yesterday but I spent the whole day car shopping with my brother. Even though I had so much time between rolling and baking, it was only when I put the shell in the oven this morning that I realized that I had nothing to blind bake it with. So I took it back out, only I had forgotten to place the tart on a baking tray, and the removable bottom slid right off the rim, leaving me with a rim on my arm and another soggy mess to deal with on the floor. Luckily I had more dough in the fridge, so I rolled out another shell and stuck in the freezer this time, to make sure the dough set nice and hard. I bought beans and baked the shell this evening, and everything went smooth as a breeze. *Sigh* Chalk it up to a lesson in the importance of a properly executed mise on place. While the shell was baking I made the chocolate custard, and within two hours I had myself this lovely tart, plus a little pot au chocolat from the extra custard. The bowl pictured here is about the size of a golf ball.
It cooled just in time to follow the lovely bbq chicken salad that we had for dinner, with fresh corn cut off the cob and a bourbon bbq sauce.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Joys of a CSA

While I've been busy settling into my new place and working at my internship, Moocow has been baking up a storm! Now, I'm going to catch up on posting about my own food adventures. One of the first things I did upon moving in was to unpack all my kitchen items.

A while back, I started working at one of the distribution sites for a local CSA (community supported agriculture), so I have a free share this growing season, which I'm splitting with two classmates who help out, too. At first, it was small amounts of spring greens, such as mesclun mix, arugula and mizuna, and some radishes. Now, the varieties and quantities in each week's share are on the rise, and it's so exciting! Everything is farm fresh, locally grown and organic.

Here's one of the first things I cooked with the CSA produce. It was a simple recipe, provided in the CSA's weekly newsletter. I'd never eaten cooked arugula before (just raw, in salads) so I decided to give this tomato and arugula pasta a try. The simple tomato sauce was made from scratch. It was nice and light and simple. Unfortunately, at this point I'd already gotten the brackets of my braces on, and it took me forever to chew through it!

Here's a quick dinner I made for myself one evening. Garlic scallions in an egg scramble, some whole wheat toast, and a mesclun salad.
For a couple of weeks, I ate a whole lot of mesclun. When my friend Rico and Moocow came up to visit me and take care of me (after I got my 6 teeth taken out), they ate a lot of salad, too!
This is what Rico and I had for breakfast, before Moocow arrived and before my oral surgery. There were sage mashed potatoes from the night before, an egg scramble, and grape tomatoes.
Then, the week of July 4th, lots of people didn't show up to pick up their shares (they were probably out of town), so there was a whole lot of produce left. Some of it was donated to a local shelter, but I got to take home extra peas and garlic scapes! The garlic shapes are so decorative, and have such a nice, garlicky aroma. Raymond, the CSA farmer, said that such large quantities of garlic scapes meant that I could just stir-fry them by themselves. They're a pain to chop finely, though, because they're all curling any which-way.
So garlic scapes over rice became the first meal I cooked in my new apartment. The kitchen smelled heavenly as they were cooking. I think the flavour would be improved with a little bit of minced meat.

Here is this week's share. Well, actually, it's one-third of this week's share, since I split my share with two other people. That's quite a lot of food for me, though! My first taste of fresh beets, my all-time favourite lemon cucumbers, an interesting squash/zucchini, a turnip, more garlic scapes, and lettuce.
The beets are an heirloom Italian variety called choggia. They have beautiful white stripes in the red flesh. Here, I've already boiled the beets. I wonder if the white is brighter when the beet is raw!
I tried a recipe for a Peruvian beet salad provided by another CSA member. Cooked potatoes and beets, with fresh peas, in a mayonnaise-based dressing, served on a bed of lettuce and garnished with slices of hard-boiled egg. The sweetness of the beets and peas went well with the creaminess of the potatoes and dressing. And what they say is true! Fresh beets taste so much better than canned beets! I have one more beet left, and I think I'm going to try them raw in a beet slaw.
And tonight I tried another CSA newsletter recipe, Bird's Nest. It's an egg topped with cheddar cheese, baked in a well formed in a "nest" of cooked kale, onions and garlic. If I make this again, I'm going to try putting fennel seeds in the kale, which was a little bland. It was an interesting recipe, though. I'm never really sure what to do with kale!

So, I've been getting lots of veggies. It's been difficult, with the ramps on my back teeth making it impossible to chew properly and my still-healing wounds from the extractions. But life - and good eating - must go on!

Moving Along Now

I got my six teeth taken out on June 27th, and on July 1st I moved out of my old apartment into the new one. It was a bit of a circus. One of the guys who was going to help me move got appendicitis. My two cousins wanted to back out on me, but I convinced them that I needed their help and, thankfully, they came through. Then U-haul didn't have the moving truck that I'd reserved, because people from the previous day hadn't returned any trucks. We ended up getting two, small moving vans. But all's well that ends well. I'm moved in now, and am slowly settling in and unpacking.

Anyway, since a little before the move, and for two weeks after, I didn't do any knitting. One of the reasons was that I knew I should be working on the pair of Bayerische socks for my sock pal, but I'd made a mistake, and was putting off undoing those tiny stitches. I'm using size 00 needles!

But, on Wednesday, I took a break from housework and my internship and stopped by my LYS, The Yarn Depot, to show the ladies my Snowflake Lace socks (also for my sock pal), which I'd finished and they had expressed a desire to see. Then, I fixed my mistake on Bayerische and knit about an inch of the leg. I just hope I'll finish in time to send these off! The Clementine Shawlette is finished, too. It just needs to be blocked, and I'm waiting for the pins I ordered from PinKits before the move!! Oh, well. It's too hot to be worn right now anyway.

Remainder of the first week

Here is a classic French Apple tart, characterised by chunks of apple laid in a flaky shell and held in by custard. I don't think I tasted this one, but by the end of this first week, I don't think I mind too much! Look at what else we covered yesterday and today...

We were introduced to, in two traditional shapes. The recipe we had for brioche ws not very sweet, but it was perfect for munching on solo, or for French Toast. Yeah, our $16K tuition included a short lesson and quick two-bite breakfast on French Toast. The key takeaways? STRAIN your custard to get those nasty chalazea (the little bit that attaches the egg yolk to the white and gets gummy when cooked) and use clarified butter. The Nantere is the one with the eight bumps in the foreground, and the Parisienne, on the right, is composed of four logs.

Here are our extremely vibrant and au courant Gerbet macaroons cooling. Tomorrow is Bastille day, so the red, white, and blue ones are for an embassy event tomorrow. My partner Kell and I made the green ones. Traditionally they're supposed to be in pastel colors, but the food coloring squirted out faster than I thought it would. Oh well...apparantly vibrantly-colored gerbets are all the rage in France now. In case you don't know, Gerbet macaroons are those mysteriously smooth-looking little sandwiches of unidentified origins that you see in a rainbow of colors at French pastry shops. They are meringues with almond flour whipped in, and inside they hide a flavored buttercream middle. The greens were pistachio-flavored. We had blueberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee (AWESOME!), hazelnut (also excellent), vanilla, and lemon curd. They're a bit sweet, but they're not hard to eat at all. ;)

We also learned all about savarins, which are close to brioche in construction, but once it's baked, the bread-cake is left in a warm oven to dry out until it feels as rough and brittle as a brick. Then you soak the cake in a light syrup, spritz with rum or kirsch, glaze with apricot, and serve with creme chantilly and fruit salad. As you can see, all we had were apples and oranges, so the pictures don't do the cake justice. When made with raisins and rum, it's also known as baba au rhum, which is more commonly known than plain old savarin. It's really light and can be deliciously boozy. A perfect summer treat. See how open and almost custard-like the crumb is once it's been soaked?

Yesterday Chef showed us a classic meringue dessert - a sandwich of two meringue cookies with creme chantilly in the middle. The chocolate and cherry are more for color than flavor.

Oh, and here is my tiny classic French Apple tart, which had a frangipane base...I have yet to taste this one. We had so many things to taste, we ended up putting these in the freezer for next week. For some reason, we are not allowed to remove any food from the school, at all. I had a half-finished bite of caramel walnut tart yesterday and someone chastised me for wanting to wrap it up to nosh on later at home. Sheesh.

And here is Chef's 9" French Apple tart, with crushed pistachios on the edge. Pretty, huh?
Oh, and finally, a Danish black cherry tart. It's just frangipane (almond batter or almond cake) with Briotte cherries pressed in. After all the other things we tasted, this was rather blah. Briottes are soaked for a year in kirsch and syrup and they taste much better - they have more kick - before they are cooked and the alcohol bakes off.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tart tricks and critiques

My pate brisee (aka "flaky" or "pie" crust) turned out well in the form of our first savory item, a quiche. It was light, buttery, and flaky, and the custard set nicely thanks to Chef T who manned the ovens. It was the best quiche I've had since my summer in France 10 years ago. My only complaint was that the tart's double wall wasn't well defined or thick enough. Note to self: fold the crust over the edge thicker next time.

Here is one trick to keeping your lemon curd tart from getting soggy too fast - line the bottom with scraps of cake. We were fortunate to have sponge cake lying around that could be cut precisely, but crumbs will work just fine. Just make sure that the layer is thin enough so there's enough room for plenty of curd.

Here is my first attempt at torching meringue. As you can see, I had trouble guaging where the heat was coming out of the torch, and ended up burning the crown a bit. The piping job was okay for a first attempt, but one of the reasons why you pipe meringue on top of lemon curd is to seal the tart, which I didn't do too well, as you can see. Next time, I will fill and assemble the tart AFTER removing it from its tin, and use a little less curd so the meringue will cover it better. It was humid today so the meringue was rather weak, but my partner Kell and I were lucky. Two other teams' didn't even set, and it "wept" and dripped all over their tarts, looking rather like a wet icing. Don't get to taste it til tomorrow, thank goodness, because as you will see as you read on, we needed to pace ourselves today.

Chef's frangipane tart, which is kind of like a pound cake in that it contains a pound of flour, a pound of butter, and 10 eggs. The only difference is that it uses almond flour and the bottom of the tart is lined with raspberry jam and the top is glazed with apricot preserves, making the whole thing taste like a Linzertorte, but less sweet. As you can imagine, with 1 lb almond flour, this is a rather expensive tart to make.

And finally, a real Warm Chocolate Tart. Unlike the usual brownie-like ones you get in most restaurants, this is a custardy one set inside a shortbread-like sucree shell. There is no flour in the filling, just cream, milk, chocolate, and an egg to help the custard set. It was DEEE-licious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tarts and Meringues

Arrived at 6.20 this morning, to find half the class was already there buzzing about, getting together the mise en place for Chef's demonstrations today. I pitched in, measuring out butter and zesting lemons. As a bonus, I learned a new "best" way to zest them: hold lemon in one hand, microplane in another. Zest lemon with microplane ON TOP, so the zest accumulates on the "bottom" of the zester. This way, instead of trying to control zest flying off the microplane and into whichever bowl you've chosen, you turn the microplane, over a sheet of parchment paper (or foil, or whatever) every few seconds to collect the zest. No mess, no cleanup.

This is how those profiteroles and eclairs baked. As you can see, Nicole's were far more generous than mine. I advertised mine as "diet" petits fours as they were each less than the two-bite standard. Oh well. Note: squeeze pastry bag harder next time.

As promised, here is the filled, assembled and finished Paris-Brest. You can see the individual size Paris-Brest below the large one. As the pastry is huge, the hollow space inside is also substantial. To use Chef's turn of phrase, instead of killing the diner with a solid mouthful of pastry cream, you line the bottom of the interior with scraps of cake (usually sponge, ladyfingers in a pinch, and a good way to use leftover cake) drizzled with rum syrup before decoratively piping the traditional praline pastry cream on top. The cream must be high enough to show in between layers of chou, as it does here. The top ring is sliced into individual portion-sized pieces and reassembled on top of the pastry (for ease of slicing during service) before being dusted with confectioner's sugar, which will help hide the cuts. A bowl of chocolate is placed in the middle for drizzling with each slice, and there you have it. You can see the chou, cake, and pastry cream in the picture of the cut slice. The school is catering the Bastille Day celebrations at the French Embassy this weekend, and Chef has decided to serve one of these with a twist, to suit the occasion. In light of the heatwave, praline ice cream will be used to fill the chou, and chocolate sorbet will replace the chocolate sauce. As this is also peak Tour de France season and the French are following it closely, of course, he is also assembling little chocolate bicycles to garnish each serving. There was a moment of silence in the class after Chef finished describing his plans, only to be broken by a soft, "Wow!"

Before we left for the day, we were shown how to make lemon curd and were introduced to the three types of meringues today, and this was the result of Chef's demonstration. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the meringue made the room smell like roasted marshmallows when Chef torched it. I can wait till we get to try our hands at it tomorrow! Chef's blowtorch is the size of a fire extinguisher!