Thursday, March 29, 2007
The fuzzy melon was easy - we just turned it into a soup with some chicken bones, a few spare ribs, a couple of pieces of dried scallop, and some snow fungus to add some crunch. Here's a picture of the final product, which we took from the soup to eat separately. With the fish, we usually either steam it with ginger and scallions or broil it in the toaster oven, but we were both getting a little tired of them. Last week I had borrowed a copy of Elizabeth Andoh's new book Washoku, and remembered salivating over this yummy-looking simmered snapper recipe. It seemed like cheapo frozen fillets would do here, too.
We had all the ingredients on hand except for sake, but you can always substitute white cooking wine in a pinch. The recipe was for a snapper to be poached in water and sake on top of some konbu (sea kelp - the stuff that grows 7 feet in a day), then to have a mix of sugar, sake, ginger and soy sauce poured over it and simmered till reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Simple enough! I just had to get mom on board to try out a newfangled Japanese recipe that had 1/4 cup of soy sauce in it. I pointed out that the recipe didn't have a single drop of oil in it, and it was given the go-ahead. The konbu keeps the fish from sticking to the pan, thus eliminating the need for oil.
For all that it was a straightforward recipe, we ran into a couple of minor hiccups. When Mom asked how much konbu to measure out, I told her two pieces the length of the fish. My bad, I forgot how deceptive dried konbu is. The stuff is all packed together, and as soon as it touches water it unfolds to quadruple its size. By the time I turned back to the kitchen, two WHOLE pieces of konbu, about 2.5 feet in length each, had been rehydrated and washed. Needless to say we will be having konbu for the next couple weeks. Recipes, anyone?
The other thing to remember when making Japanese food is that Japanese soy sauce is less salty, but more flavorful, than Chinese soy. Unfortunately I remembered this after I had poured 1/8 cup into the sauce, so I compensated by putting in two generous tbsp of Japanese soy into the mix and making up the rest with water. Here's our fish happily bathing in its soy mix. The black stuff around it is the konbu.
I have to say, despite the mishaps, it turned out really well, tasting much like we'd cooked the fish in teryaki sauce. Yes, the fish was a tad salty, but it was only on the outside; the inside was still mild and tender, and every morsel was perfectly balanced when eaten with rice. Simple, quick, healthy.
Posted By MooCow to Bumbling Bees - Food at 3/29/2007 09:46:00 PM
I went and bought a box of Chardonnay. I don't drink, so what on earth am I going to do with 5 litres of white wine? Well, I have a whole bunch of recipes I want to experiment with in the near future, soups (slow-cooker and otherwise) and risottos especially. Moocow sent me an article, and I read on Cook's Illustrated, that you don't have to cook with wines that you would be happy to drink; you're still likely to end up with similar, delicious results cooking with an inexpensive wine.
That's good news for me, because I don't drink in general, and definitely have been unable to acquire a taste for wine the times I've tried. So, I'm never likely to invest in a really good bottle of wine. Cook's Illustrated also tested boxed wines, and found them to be great for cooking with. Not to mention that they keep a lot longer without refrigeration, especially the white wines. Again, ideal for my cooking purposes. I share the fridge with my roommate, and there just isn't room to refrigerate a bottle of wine. And, as I mentioned before, I haven't particularly liked the taste of red wine in my food, so I probably won't cook with it as much. The red, I will buy by the bottle, as and when needed.
Why does boxed wine last longer? It's because it's vacuum packed, and the inner plastic bag collapses as you draw the wine out, so that what is left is not exposed to bacteria in the air. You draw the wine out of the handy spigot that takes only a minute to pull out and set up.
And last night's dinner, made with the Chardonnay, was risotto with leeks, yellow capsicums and sun-dried tomatoes. It looks a little dry in the picture because I didn't eat it right away, as I should have (I was washing up my pan), but it was exactly what I had been craving.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I even used the double griddle I had bought for the housewarming and hadn't used since! Yes, the first batch (peeking from beneath the top two pancakes in the photo) turned out a little brown, but still very edible. I enjoyed them with some Gyokuro, and started out my day on the right foot. Since breakfast, I have finished my GIS labs, checked all my e-mail accounts, and done some banking. The question now is, do I want fennel and sun-dried tomato risotto for dinner tonight? Possibly not, since I have class at 7:15, but perhaps tomorrow.....
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I almost missed this event. I certainly didn't know about it until I went to my bank on Friday afternoon to make a deposit. Just as I was turning away from the teller desk, I saw a little information card and picked it up. It just so happened that that card was also a $1 admission coupon. I almost didn't go this morning, but I was curious to see what I could learn there.
There were flower displays with various design themes, submitted by professionals, people from the local garden society, and amateurs. I only took pictures of the ones I liked the best. The one above was designed with a theme of repeating containers. It was very dramatic (the containers looked black in reality), and I found the combination of roses and bird-of-paradise very fresh and unusual.
This next, impressive arrangement (the design theme was Roadsidia, meaning things you can find on roadsides - natural materials such as rocks, twigs, moss, etc.) also looked much nicer in reality. Some of those twigs are flowering quince, and just beginning to bud and bloom. There is also a small bird's nest in the centre of the arrangement.
This next, asymmetrical arrangement, was much nicer in reality, too. I tried fiddling with my camera settings, but I couldn't prevent the overexposure. The flowers are arranged in a conch shell, and the delicate pinks and peaches of the tulips and orchids echo its tones.
Finally, I found my gaze continually drawn back to this "vignette". Out of all the different coloured vignettes there today (white, pink, purple, blue), I found this one the most striking, and not just because of its colour. There are interesting objects included in the scene, and some unusual flowers were included as well. And it is so cheerful, on a cold, overcast day.
I went around all the displays and stalls and gathered information on community gardens (which will be useful for a green space project I am doing with a group in one of my classes; see, I got some work done!); I found out about a new food co-op they want to start in Troy (just across the river from me); I attended seminars on flower arrangement, caring for a propagating African violets, and general gardening, and I managed to do a shameful amount of shopping as well.
I found a gem of a stall, the Apothecary Rose Shed, that sells quality organic herbs and spices. At the moment, they're a mail-order business operating out of Latham, NY (about 10 minutes away), but they will be opening a brick-and-mortar shop in Rensselaer (next county over) soon. The owners were very friendly and knowledgeable. I bought some lavender (for baking, and tea), rose hips (also for tea; I've never tried them before, but they're very high in vitamin C), and some American saffron.
They opened up their huge container of saffron and let me smell it, and it was divine! They had two types of Spanish saffron as well, but they were both around $10 for a very small amount, whereas I bought 1/4 cup of the American saffron for $1.50. Yes, the lady told me, the colour and flavour aren't as intense. But, since I've never cooked with saffron before, and would like to experiment, and since I don't have a Spanish-saffron budget, I thought this stuff would do nicely.
I bought some raspberry jam from Gypsy Wind. She also had some very interesting, spicy blueberry jam (when I mean spicy, I mean with the addition of chili peppers), which was nice, but I wasn't sure I would eat an entire jar full. Then, I bought two flavoured honeys from Traphagen's; hazelnut and lemon. Yum!
I also couldn't resist these soaps, from Simple Scents Australia (an Australian company, but with a distributor in Massachusetts). I can never buy enough nice soaps, since I'm always giving them away to people, or using them up myself. From the top down, I have frangipani, jasmine, lavender blossom, chamomile & calendula, and honeysuckle.
And so here I am, back at home again, but having enjoyed myself immensely and having garnered more gardening knowledge. I was surprised at how many non-garden related booths there were, and was a little disappointed we didn't have more of the local nurseries and garden centres represented, but it was definitely worth a visit.
Moocow suggested that I only puree a portion of the soup next time, to give it some texture. Having tried the soup (and finding that I probably pinched in more cayenne pepper than I had planned to), I think a little bit of texture would not be unpleasant. I think it could do with a bit more fennel flavour, though. And a bit of garlic probably wouldn't go amiss. The recipes in Beth Hensperger's "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two" could definitely do with a bit of tweaking. I wonder if I'll ever get comfortable enough with my slow cooker to skip a recipe entirely.
To serve the pureed soup, I reheated it, and then stirred in some butter and soymilk (both suggested in the original recipe, although milk can certainly substitute for the soymilk). Then, just to dress it up for its photoshoot, I put some fennel fronds on top.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
A few weeks ago though, I happened to be on the Upper West Side and saw a new wine shop, Pour, that one of my classmates works at. Curious of course, I went in and decided to buy a bottle of wine from the region we were studying that week - the Loire Valley. There were only two white Loires (I was in a white mood) in the shop, and only one under $20, from Touraine. It was a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine Bellevue that cost $12, and it came home with me. With so much wine to bring home every week from tastings, it sat in a corner for a month before I cracked it open, and....well, all I can say is Oh, My, Goodness.
I've been drinking it for five days, and it's held up pretty darned well. Although it's definitely oaky, the aroma of white flowers, sweet pineapple and crisp minerals seduces you every time you come within three feet of it, seriously. I sat next to an empty glass last night for an hour and just enjoyed its perfume wafting over me. On the palate it was just as brisk and dry, the hint of residual sugar nicely balanced with a not-too-aggressive acidity, with an elegantly loooong finish. It's the loveliest wine I've tasted in a while. Ahhhhh.....this is my ideal Sauvignon Blanc!
But, I don't know if you've ever noticed, almost all the recipes with leeks that I've come across say, "White parts only." So what are you to do with the green part? Is it inedible? I think not! They have a mild, oniony flavour. When I was in Virginia, I seem to remember baking the greens with some salmon. I thought it was time I improved on that simple, improvised recipe. My own, thrown together recipe for Lemon Cod Fillets with Leek Greens follows below. I didn't measure anything as I was putting this together, so everything is approximate, but that just means that you can experiment and make it to your liking.
Green part of one medium/large-sized leek, sliced finely
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup chicken/seafood broth
2 cod (or some other fish, preferably white) fillets
white and black pepper, and salt, to taste
1/2 lemon, sliced into rounds
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the green part of one leek finely. You may wish you discard the outermost layer of leaves, if they look particularly fibrous and tough.
2. Heat the butter in a frying pan until it melted. Add the fennel seeds, give it a quick stir, and then immediately add the leek greens and saute until they are wilted. Pour in just one or two tablespoons of the broth to deglaze the pan.
3. Transfer the cooked leek to an aluminium-lined baking dish (for 2 fillets, I used a 9 x 9-inch dish).
4. Season the fillets with the peppers and salt. Lay them them on top of the bed of leeks. Layer the slices of lemon on top of the fillets. Pour the rest of the broth over the fish. Cover the top of the baking dish with aluminium foil and place in the preheated oven. Bake until the fish is cooked through, ~ 20-25 minutes (this depends on the thickness of your fillets, and also how you like your fish cooked). Serve hot, with rice.
If you ever want to try leek greens (really, I can't understand why people don't cook them), I say just use them as you would onions, or spring onions. And, if you try my recipe, let me know what you think.
I also baked some cider cake yesterday, using a recipe from The Shaker Cookbook. I think, however, that that will be it's own post. Also, my fennel, leek and potato soup may have finished cooking, but the recipe calls for it to be pureed into a creamy soup. If only I had an immersion blender!!!! It would be so simple to stick the blender into the pot, et voila! But, since I don't have one, I let the soup cool overnight so I wouldn't risk burning myself, and I'm going to puree it in my roommate's old-fashioned blender, in batches, today.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
However, Darjeeling - whether first flush (leaves picked in the early spring) or second flush (picked in early summer) - is usually very lively and distinctive, with the perfect amount of astringency and a heady, muscatel aroma. The first time I tried a good, loose leaf first flush Darjeeling, I remember thinking, "This is why they call it the champagne of teas." One could almost become intoxicated by the taste and aroma.
So, Moocow suggested I contact In Pursuit of Tea, which I did. A very nice gentleman named Sebastien returned my call after a day or two (I'd left a message) and listened to my concerns. I admitted that I hadn't opened the tea right away, and first flushes don't keep as long. But it had been sealed in its original packaging. And I had enjoyed the Gyokuro.
He said that it could be that I didn't like their particular first flush (a possibility), and said that he would send me another 1/4-pound bag of their Darjeeling Second Flush, as well as a small, sample pack of the Darjeeling First Flush, which I promised to open and drink the moment I got it.
I received the package yesterday, before I had to go to my evening class. However, I made good my promise the moment I got home. There, on the left, you see the newly arrived teas (the little, silver pouch is a new sample of the Darjeeling First Flush) and, on the right, the previously opened bag of Darjeeling First Flush. The first thing I did was to smell the teas, comparing the previous bag of first flush to the new bag. To me, the old bag smelled stronger and more astringent, although that could just be because the bag contained more tea.
Then, I compared the tea leaves. I'm fairly certain it isn't a result of the lighting, since I looked at the actual leaves, but you might notice that the newer first flush leaves look a little darker than the older ones (on the left).
Then it was on to a taste test. I didn't feel a great need to try the old batch of first flush again; it had hardly had any flavour or aroma to distinguish itself. I used filtered water, heated to just below boiling point, and steeped the tea leaves for almost 3 minutes. I love to watch the leaves unfurl!
Below, you can see the lovely, light, golden honey colour of the liquor. The tea produced was very mild. Not as flat as the older leaves, but not what I could call lively, and still without a discernible bouquet.
First flush teas are, I believe, normally more delicate in flavour and aroma than second flush. I thought, perhaps, the second flush would be an improvement on the first flush. I tried the Darjeeling Second Flush this morning. Unfortunately, I could not recommend that tea, either. I will try with both teas once more, giving them a little longer steeping time (although I don't want to oversteep) and hoping for a slightly better taste.
At the moment, though, I can only recommend In Pursuit of Tea for their Gyokuro and their customer service. They may have other nice teas, too, but I fear that their Darjeelings are not for me.
Monday, March 19, 2007
While I was away, my roommate tells me, the Watervliet Police drove around the neighbourhood, blasting with their megaphones, to get people to move their cars so that the ploughs could remove the snow next to the curb. Thankfully, that meant that, by the time I came home around midnight, I didn't have to dig a parking spot for myself, unlike the last time. If you're a snow bunny, and your heart thumps at the thought/sight of more fluffy white stuff, here's an extra, gratuitous shot of mounds of snow.
I had finished cooking the corned beef and cabbage on Friday night. It was really easy, since I didn't corn the beef myself (I bought it corned from the supermarket). I just simmered the corned beef for 2 1/2 hours with some herbs and spices, and then added cabbage, carrots, boiling onions and potatoes. Next year, though, I may start a week beforehand and try corning my own beef.
So, last night Andrea and I sat down to succulent slices of corned beef, vegetables......
....and Irish Soda Bread. I'm not sure what to make of it. I've never had Irish Soda Bread before (and certainly never made it) but the recipe was simple. However, I was supposed to have let it cool for half an hour before eating it, but we were hungry and therefore in a hurry. It looks all right, though, doesn't it? It didn't taste too bad, either, but the inside seemed a little damp and doughy. That may be because we didn't wait, so I'm going to try another piece later today. And, to top it off, Andrea had a bottle out Guinness Stout. Why do I have stout in my house? Because I make chocolate stout cake with it, of course. Although I did try a sip of a leftover bottle once, and thought it tasted better than lighter beers. I wonder what that means about my taste in alcohol....
And, to sweeten the reading that I had to do for class, something that I've been craving for a couple of weeks. Key lime pie! I'd never made that before, either, but Moocow was right; it's really, really simple. I'd been craving key lime pie since I learned that Andrea's favourite Vietnamese restaurant in the area (that served killer key lime pie) had closed down.
And, last but not least, my progress on the sock I'm knitting on two circular needles. Another advantage of knitting with two circulars is that you can try the sock on as you go, since the plastic cable between the needle ends is flexible.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Really, though, I think cooking can be like a well-choreographed dance. When I was much younger, and just starting to cook actual meals, I remember my aunt telling me that you can't be a good cook if you leave your kitchen a mess. I really took those words to heart. And so cooking involves a certain amount of planning, to make things in the right sequence so that your whole meal comes to the table at the same time, the hot items hot, the cold items cold. You plan so you use the minimum number of utensils and wash up as you go in the lulls that occur, so you don't clutter up your work area. Economy of motion, smooth transitions, bursts of speed and activity, moments for contemplation. Is it a wonder that many people find cooking and/or baking therapeutic?
The first recipe I tried for lemon poppy seed muffins didn't turn out very well, and ever since I've been on the lookout for another recipe to try. I found one in the Williams-Sonoma Muffins book by Beth Hensperger, and I got up early this morning just to test it out. This time I had lemons for lemon zest (organic lemons, actually), which I didn't have for the last recipe. There's also buttermilk, and I used powdered buttermilk, which keeps a long time and works (according to Cooks Illustrated) just about as well. When using powdered buttermilk, add the powder to your dry ingredients, and then add the appropriate volume of water (for example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of buttermilk, you use one cup of water) when it's time to add your liquids.
I mixed together the dry ingredients. Then I creamed the butter and sugar together. At this point, I should have added egg yolks to the butter mixture, but I forgot. Instead, I mixed the dry ingredients, the liquids (water instead of liquid buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla extract) and the butter mixture together, then added the egg yolks. After that, I whipped the egg whites into soft peaks and folded that into the batter.
The batter went into the muffin tin, and then into the oven until they were golden brown. They didn't rise as much as I wanted them to; maybe I'm still over-mixing. However, the flavour was much improved from the previous recipe (both in lemony-ness and sweetness), the crumb was good and the muffins were moist. Next time, I'll be just a little more careful with my mixing, and perhaps they'll turn out as beautifully as they look in the book.
And, at the end, 8 minutes of washing up left this (and the muffins) as the only evidence of my activity.
Right now, I'm working on another new recipe. Something that I've never made before, and haven't often had the chance to eat. Corned beef! It is going to be St. Patrick's Day, and I really liked homemade corned beef the first (and last) time I had it. I also managed to snatch up a Chefmate enameled dutch oven/casserole from Target for just $40! This is the dutch oven that Cook's Illustrated touted as excellent performance for your money (dutch ovens can often be over $100). So I bought the smallest piece of corned beef from the supermarket that I could find, and am following a recipe from the AllRecipes website. This first time, I decided to go the old-fashioned route and do it on the stove top, instead of using the slow cooker. There's something infinitely satisfying about that. The house smell heavenly. Come back later for a look at the finished product.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
But I realised that I couldn't continue doing this. Being out all day and away from home meant that I had to buy my drinks and meals (which can add up very quickly) and, if I needed to go to the restroom, I had to pack up all my books and take everything in with me. So, the next day I went in search of a bed tray/bed desk so I might study in my bedroom. You would think that it would be easy, but I went to Target, K-mart, Walmart, Staples and Linens n' Things before I finally tracked one down at Bed Bath & Beyond. Once I bought it, though, I spent practically the entire weekend - as well as Monday and Tuesday - holed up in my room, apart from time in class, at work, and one instance of fun. And what, you might ask, would that single instance of fun be? I got a call on Friday night from the owner of my LYS. I had expressed interest in learning how to knit on two circular needles, and Pat was having a class the next day at 2:30. Since I had to be at work in the evening, anyway, I figured an hour taken beforehand to unwind, get out of the house, and learn something new wasn't uncalled for.
I have to say, I really like this technique! It allows you to knit small tubes (think socks, mittens and sleeves; things with a small circumference) without using double-pointed needles. This means that you don't have to juggle 4 or 5 needles, with points sticking in all directions, and you only have two seam points rather than 3 or 4. It more comfortable, and a lot faster. However, you do need two sets of circular needles (I bought these two bamboo circulars from Pat), which tend to be more expensive than sets of double-pointed needles.
Time did not stop, of course, while I was studying. I received my order from KnitPicks, which included two of their circular knitting needles (I wanted to try out their needles, and I needed two in a specific size that I didn't have), the much-coveted Victorian Lace Today, a sweater stone (it doesn't seem to work very well, but I'll take a picture of it for next time) and my chart keeper! There's the Peacock Feathers shawl pattern from Fiddlesticks Knitting that I've been working on for Moocow. Those bars are magnets, used to hold the pattern in place. Unfortunately, the magnets aren't terribly strong and are likely to fall of if I move the chart keeper around, which kind of defeats its purpose. But, when I'm working, as long as I don't shift it around too much, it should help me keep track of where I am in the pattern.
The KnitPicks circular knitting needles that I ordered were so that I could finally start the Victoria Tank (by Veronik Avery, in IK Summer 2004), which I had swatched for ages ago. Actually, I've re-started/ripped back and re-knit this three times now. The first time, I managed to introduce a twist before I joined to start knitting in the round, so I had to cast on from the beginning. Then, I managed to drop a stitch that unravelled quite a way down through k2tog, ssk and yarnovers. I couldn't figure out how to fix that without frogging, so frog I did. Then, I managed to mess up the lace pattern somehow, and had to rip back about 8 rows. However, today (after turning in my take-home exam and some housecleaning) I fixed it and got back on track.
But I had a lovely surprise for a stressful week! Greenwithenv and Puri-chan went to Japan and mailed me a little pouch of goodies!
Everything is so cute! I particularly love the owl, because it has a beanie-bottom. Something about the weight and utter pat-ability of a beanie-bottom gets me every time; I really think that stuffed animals are incomplete without them. And see the beautiful ladybug book clip? Thank you!! I don't know what I did to deserve such a bountiful gift, but thank you!
Thursday, March 08, 2007
We thought there would be more leftovers, but here were the only two. We had fun decorating them, though! A green-tinted-sunglass-wearing bear, and a butterfly. All the other sugar cookies are spoken for, and are blank awaiting hours of fun at the party.
Now, he's a gimpy bear.....
And now, he is no more.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
This was her (very rapid) reply:
"I'd probably take the whole thing apart, and crochet around each and every exposed edge, smoothing the jagged steps you mention in the process. Then I'd put it back together, allowing no more than a width of a stitch to stick to the outside."
Doesn't that make beautiful sense? Isn't she wonderful? So that is what I will do, before I give up on the idea of having exposed seams. It's been busy - my parents and Moocow came up to visit - but I did manage to finish one sleevecap.
This just might work! An added benefit is that the slip stitch I did to neaten the edge also has the effect of making the sleevecap ever so slightly smaller, so it should match the armhole much better this time around. Ahh, but I probably won't be able to work on it for a while. I have two midterms early next week, and half of this week is gone already, what with my family visiting. But it was so nice having them here.....now it's quiet (except for my roommate) again.