Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grey Cars, Silver Linings and Korean Food

I had car trouble today, and my year-old grey VW Rabbit (his name is Peter) had to get towed to the dealership today. Some waiting ensued. The car miraculously fixed itself, I was charged ridiculous amounts for an oil and filter change, but I did get something out of all that: some better soon dubu (a Korean tofu stew). I've tried making soon dubu before, following a recipe I found online (I can't remember where), but although it satisfied my craving of the moment, the flavour just wasn't as complex and intense as I've had at Korean restaurants.
There is a Korean grocery store near the VW dealership, and I picked up some pantry items for the Korean kitchen: some chili soy bean paste, and salted shrimp. The recipe I had only called for the salted shrimp, but I figured some chili soy bean paste - to bump up the spiciness, and the flavour since I wasn't using beef or pork - wouldn't hurt.
Soon dubu is all about the tofu. I can never get enough of the extra soft, extra silken tofu you find in little tubes. I got these at the Korean grocery, too.
That zucchini/squash is from the CSA, but I think it is (or is very similar to) the type of squash I saw at the Korean grocery, and that I've eaten in Korean restaurants. It has a slightly softer texture and more delicate flavour than the darker green zucchini you can normally get.
I departed seriously from the recipe. What follows is what I did, and not necessarily what you should do for an "authentic" recipe. Instead of beef or pork, I had a seafood mix, which I marinated with ginger juice (I grated, then squeezed, a large piece of ginger), minced garlic, sesame oil, white pepper and soy sauce.
In addition to scallions, I added the squash, onions and daikon.I started out sauteing the onion and squash (I would have added the daikon at this point, but I forgot I had daikon until later in the cooking process), and adding chili powder, salt and a little bit of soy sauce. Then, I added water (you could also use beef broth) and kimchi (I added my daikon in at this point, too) and brought it to a boil. I used some of the cooking liquid to thin out a bit of the chili soybean paste, and added that back to the pot. The tofu is gently spooned in, then the seafood is added. After a couple of minutes, I stirred in some salted shrimp, chopped up hot peppers, and the scallions.

The recipe I based this all off of said to put a raw egg yolk and some sesame oil on top of a bowl of soon dubu for serving. I just cracked an egg into the bottom of a bowl and ladled some hot soon dubu on top. Soon dubu should be served very, very hot, with steamed rice.

Soon dubu is very quick to make, no long cooking times involved. This was a definite improvement on my previous attempts, but it still isn't as richly flavourful as I remember it ought to be. Next time, I may actually use beef, and see if that helps.

Small Packages

The best gifts really do come in small packages. Look what Kea sent me! The sweetest, most considerate gift because she remembered that, during my trip to Hong Kong earlier this summer, I looked for cute hair clips in vain.
Look at the cute goodies inside! It would be difficult to choose my favourite, they are all so pretty. Thank you, Kea! They're perfect!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Suddenly, a sweater

I have a finished sweater! I haven't been blogging for a while, so it must appear that I conjured it out of thin air, but the Green Gable pattern from Zephyr Style is such a quick, easy knit that I finished it in two weeks from knitting on the bus to and from work, with a little knitting time at home some evenings.

This top is knit from the top down, and is entirely seamless. I'm not a huge fan of finishing seams, so I enjoyed this construction method immensely. Knitting from the top down also allowed me to try on the sweater as I made it, to ensure a perfect fit. That's in theory. In practice, I only tried it on once before I finished. I transferred all the stitches to waste yarn so that the sweater would pull over my shoulders, and made sure that it fit correctly under the armpits after I had separated the sleeves from the rest of the body.

Pattern: Green Gable from Zephyr Style
Size: Small
Yarn: Brown Sheep Co. Cotton Fleece (80% Cotton, 20% Merino Wool; 215 yards/100g; 5 stitches per inch)
Colour: CW-550 Mariner Blue seconds (I got this at a discount, because it was a dye lot reject)
Purchased from: Little Knits
Start Date: 29 July, 2008
Finish Date: 12 August, 2008
Needles: Size 5 Denise interchangeables, and Size 3 KnitPicks classic circular needles
Yarn usage: I bought 3 skeins of Cotton Fleece, but only used a little more than 2 skeins.

New skills: Is knitting from the top down a new skill? It was so easy, I'm not sure if it counts. I did, however, use the magic loop method to finish the sleeves, because I didn't have two pairs of 16-inch size 3 circular needles, just one 32-inch needle. After seeing some pictures of it being done in books and on blogs, figuring out how to do it when circumstances demanded it was like learning to run after walking. It may have been easier with a longer circular needle.

Thoughts: I think that this is the perfect pattern for an advanced beginner, or even an adventurous one. There is some simple shaping, a little bit of a very simple lace pattern, and some ribbing, but otherwise it is all stockinette stitch, with no seaming to put you off from finishing. Therefore, it contains all the basics you need to go on to knit something more complicated. It's easy to ensure a great fit, and the finished product is so much more exciting than a scarf!

Scalloped Tomatoes

I've made scalloped potatoes before, but I didn't know that you could make scalloped tomatoes.
We got a lot of huge slicing tomatoes in the CSA, though, and a recipe in our newsletter for scalloped tomatoes, so I thought, "Why not?"

The recipe was very simple. Just saute some finely chopped celery, onion and hot peppers together. Add some whole wheat flour (I used a mix of all-purpose and cornmeal, because it was what I had on hand). Meanwhile, lightly toast and butter 3 slices of whole wheat toast and cut it into cubes. Add the tomato and half the toast cubes to the onion mixture and season it. Then, add some Dijon mustard and sugar. Pour everything into a baking dish, top with the rest of the toast cubes, and bake for about 50 minutes.
I didn't quite know what to expect for this dish, but it wasn't soggy at all. The other vegetables and toast give the tomatoes some texture, and I was surprised by how good it tasted, too. It may have been the Dijon mustard that saved it all from being bland.Here is a picture of my healthy and delicious meal that night, the chicken pot pie that I made, with scalloped tomatoes. How I'll miss farm-fresh vegetables after the CSA season this year!

My First Chicken Pot Pie

Did you know that I absolutely adore chicken pot pie? Even when they were a bit of a goopey mess in the college dining halls, or the pre-made frozen affairs you find in the supermarkets, I adored them just a bit. But I had never made my own chicken pot pie before. Recently, I was telling a coworker about the CSA pie that I had made, and he said it sounded a little like a chicken pot pie, without the chicken and the cream. And he went on to tell me how easy chicken pot pie is to make, and how his father makes a really delicious one. Well, how could I resist? I had most of the makings of a chicken pot pie already, I just needed some chicken. (Another bid at using up CSA vegetables.) Since it was my first attempt at this, I followed a recipe from Cooks Illustrated. First, you cook some chicken breasts in chicken broth. Then, you saute some vegetables (onion, celery and carrots) until tender-crisp. A sauce is made with butter, flour, the broth, and milk. Once that thickens, you mix in the chicken, vegetables, peas (I used cut up green beans) and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. It was late when I got home that day, so I didn't want to bother with making my own crust. Instead, I bought some pre-rolled crust from the supermarket. I wanted a double-crust chicken pot pie, so I followed the instructions on the box to blind bake the bottom crust. Bad idea.The instructions had said simply to prick the crust and bake it. I should have followed my instincts to line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with some pie weights (a.k.a. dried beans). With the crust so shrunken and inflated, I had to abandon it. Good thing I had the top crust left. I would just have to make a single-crust pie. So, the filling goes into a deep-dish pie plate (all of the filling filled the pie plate perfectly)
The pie crust goes on top, with vents cut in. I put the pie plate on a baking sheet before putting it into the oven, which was a good thing. The filling bubbled over and out the sides a bit, so the baking sheet saved me from a big mess in the oven. After the filling was bubbly and the crust golden brown, the pie was ready.

The filling tasted great, although I probably should have put a little more salt in. All the farm-fresh vegetables that went in, still ever the slightest bit crisp (instead of overcooked and soggy) gave the pie a wonderful texture. I shouldn't be lazy about the crust next time, though. I should definitely blind bake with pie weights. Also, the pre-made pie crust was sweeter than I liked. It could just be the brand that I purchased, but next time I may decide to make my own crust. Or, perhaps I'll just top it with biscuit dough. If I had enough ramekins, I could even make single-serving pot pies. Yum!


This year, as with last year, I am helping out at the Fox Creek Farm CSA, which entitles me to some free produce every week. At this time of year, the fresh vegetables are coming in in such abundance, it's a challenge to keep up. Moocow told me about a Farmland Vegetable Pie recipe on Epicurious.com that could make use of a lot of the produce that I am getting now. Tonnes of summer squash, tomatoes, scallions, garlic, corn and basil. With squash coming out of my ears, I settled in to make this CSA pie (about a week ago now) with something that felt like relief.
I made the crust using the instructions in the recipe, which uses a mix of all-purpose flour and cornmeal. This is a double crust pie, and the bottom crust is lined with slices of hard-boiled egg.
I cooked up a big pot of pie filling. Although I had red tomatoes, I decided to buy yellow tomatoes (which are used in the recipe), and I really liked the way they tasted and looked. The cut pie looked like a slice of sunshine.
The recipe also called for okra, but I didn't have any. I just put in more summer squash, and some onion. I think the okra would have helped to bind the filling together some more. However, since I cooked the filling first, before putting it into the pie, I was able to drain away a lot of the excess liquid. (Also, the recipe tells you to salt the squash and drain it, and press it dry, which helps.)
My medium-sized pot full of filling was more than enough to fill the pie. Leftovers are good by themselves, or in an omelette After adding the top crust and cutting some vents in the crust, it went into the oven.
The pie tasted delicious. The filling was light and full of the bright flavours of fresh summer produce; it makes for a pleasant change from cream based fillings (although there was cheese in the filling). I wasn't that impressed with the crust, however. It was dry, bland, and not very flaky at all. If you're thinking of making this pie, I would go with a different recipe for the crust.

The crust notwithstanding, I would consider this recipe a success. Just remember to read the instructions over carefully before you begin, to streamline the process. I think the recipe can be very versatile; you can use almost any vegetables that you may have lying around.

I would like to take some credit.....

My friend/coworker/boss Jane (that's not her real name, but oh, well) was the one who went with me to Eastside Weavers for our first spinning lessons on a wheel. We were both seriously hooked but, whereas I managed to keep spinning on my drop spindle, Jane came across a used spinning wheel for sale (it was ridiculously lowly priced) and snapped it up.

Click here to read her posts about the spinning that she has been doing, and the beautiful yarn that she has produced. I didn't do any of the hard work, and I probably don't deserve any credit, but I would like to take some credit all the same, for bringing Jane to Eastside Weavers. Of course, if I do so, and she goes into debt buying fibre and spinning equipment, I might get blamed for it......

Clearing Your Drain Naturally

Commercial drain cleaners, used to unblock your drains, are some of the nastiest, most toxic chemical cocktails you can keep in the house. When you consider it, anything that can dissolve away hair, as well as the grease that builds up from soaps, must be seriously corrosive.

If, however, you have long hair (as I do), every once in a while, something must be done to keep your drain working freely. Firstly, I use drain guards/hair traps religiously when I wash my hair, to keep most of the hair that I shed from going down into the drain in the first place.

Second, don't be lazy. You can probably clean out a good portion of any caught up hair from you drain fairly easily. No, it won't be the most pleasant of tasks, but mechanical removal is the most environmentally friendly option. If you want to take this one step further, you can buy a snake (a.k.a. an auger) that goes down into your drain/the pipes to clear blockages.

When you have tried to remove any easy to reach blockages, and your water is still draining sluggishly, you can use this recipe for an all-natural drain cleaner. I tried it about a week ago on my seriously slow bathtub drain, and it worked like a charm. A week later, and it's still draining perfectly.

You will need:

1/2 cup baking soda

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 pot of boiling water

Pour as much of the baking powder down into the drain as possible. Follow with some of the white vinegar. It should start to fizz and bubble. Mix together the rest of the baking soda and vinegar, and pour it slowly down into the drain. If you have a drain plug, cover the drain now. After 15 minutes, (remove your drain plug if you used one) pour the boiling water slowly down into the drain.

It's as simple as that. I did read somewhere that you shouldn't pour boiling water down your drain if you have plastic pipes because they might melt. Instead, just run hot water from your tap. Also, don't do this if you have just tried using a commercial drain opener, as the vinegar can react with the chemicals in the drain opener to create toxic fumes.