Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2017 All-Pumpkin Dinner

The tradition continues.  This year’s dinner excludes an appetizer, because … gnocchi and brownies. 

Without further ado, here’s the menu for our (mostly) annual all-pumpkin dinner.



 
 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Thinking Outside the Jar: Roasted Red Pepper Spread to Red Pepper Pesto


What do you do when you pick a peck of red bell peppers?  You can freeze them, dehydrate them, or make pickles.  I sometimes do all of things, but mostly I like to make something a bit different:  Roasted Red Pepper Spread.  It’s a delicious condiment that pairs beautifully with goat cheese crostini and can be used for many other appetizers.  And of course it’s a great sandwich spread.  But while I can eat more than my fair share of crostini, there’s only so many appetizers a small household can handle -- so I like to put my condiment to good meal use. 
Roasted Red Pepper Spread is made with roasted sweet red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic.   There’s some vinegar in there – all these vegetables are low in acid and thus require acidification in order to be safely water bath canned at home.  All these ingredients cook up into a rich and savory concoction that makes the house smell divine.  While I admit that peeling peppers is not my favorite activity, it’s easy enough and worth the small extra effort. 
spoonful of the spread will perk up couscous (and let’s face it, couscous can always use some perking up), and I like it topped on polenta with poached or coddled eggs and maybe some steamed greens.  One of my favorite uses is to transform it into pesto for a quick and delicious dinner.  A quick whirl in the blender, along with some parmesan, olive oil, and a bit more garlic and salt is all you need.  Well, and some cooked pasta, of course. 
Another benefit:  Roasted Red Pepper Spread can make a nice host/hostess or holiday gift.  It’s beautiful orangey-red color looks great in the jar.  Simply add a ribbon and card with suggested uses, or include it in a gift basket with some fancy dried pasta and a great wooden spoon.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Watermelon Jerky

Can't get enough watermelon?  Are you getting twitchy because watermelon season is coming to a close?  Then preserve some melon by dehydrating it so you can savor the sweetness well into fall.  If it lasts that long. 


The flavor of watermelon jerky (aka watermelon leather) is really intense -- it's like watermelon on steroids. It's a great snack on its own, but you can add sea salt or spices to perk it up if you like. It's generally dried to a leather-like texture, but if the thought of watermelon chips sounds like it's right up your alley, then you can dry the melon until it's crisp. 

Cantaloupes and honeydews can be dehydrated too, by the way. 

Dehydrating melon is easy.  First, rinse the melon and scrub really well with a vegetable brush.  You are washing your melons before cutting into them, right?  If not, do so.  Melons have been associated with cases of foodborne illness.  Cutting into the melon can introduce pathogens into the flesh.  So yes, wash your melons (and all fruits and vegetables).

Cut the melon, remove the rinds, and place on drying trays.  Dry at 135F for 18-24 hours.  Yeah, I know.  It takes forever. 

Watermelon jerky is done when it's dry and leathery, but still a bit flexible.  You shouldn't see any visible signs of moisture.  Store it in air-tight containers or freezer bags.  For long-term storage, store in the freezer. 

Eat it plain, or snip it into little pieces to top yogurt, oatmeal, or ice cream (maybe don't do that if you've put cayenne pepper on it).  Or try pieces on top of cream cheese for an unusual appetizer.  However you enjoy it, savor the taste of summer just a little bit longer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lady Cuffs


Introducing The Lady Cuffs!  This pattern is a collection of 3 cuffs inspired by ladies from various Arthurian legends. 

 
They’re the perfect accessory for dressing up a sweater or jacket, and they can be made as simple or as fancy as you like.  The samples are shown in hand-dyed Cormo Fingering yarn by Elemental Affects.  I love Cormo – it’s soft and sproingy and stretchy and simply yummy.  Elemental Affects’ Cormo has a good amount of twist so it shows off the stitches well. 

Choose a neutral color that will complement most any garment, and you have a go-to accessory that will add a little something extra to an outfit.  Or choose a bold color and really perk things up!  The cuffs are lovely unadorned, but you can play with embellishments and make each pair unique.  Beads, crystals, tiny flowers, sequins, knitted flowers, buttons – your creativity is your only limit.

For an fancier version, consider Elemental Affects’ Civility yarn.  It’s a luscious merino-silk blend that also has a good deal of twist, making the yarn pill-resistant.  The silk provides a bit of sheen which will dress the cuffs up a bit.  And maybe run with a thin sparkly metallic filament…oh, the possibilities!

Cuffs have the added benefit of keeping your wrists warm and your hands free.  Look stylish and keep comfortable as you have lunch or cocktails on the outdoor patio!  When the weather turns chilly and damp, I will often wear them in the house, especially when I’m knitting or doing other handwork.  The cuffs cover just enough of the lower hand to keep my thumb joints warm and flexible (definitely a help with my tendinitis), but they don’t get in the way.

The Lady Cuffs are appropriate for a range of knitting experience.  The set of 3 patterns provides variety for the experienced knitter, and beginners can think of the motifs as little samplers and explore simple twisted and crossed stitches, cables, and lace.

Lady of the Fountain has a central diamond motif with rivulets of twisted stitches bordered by cabled stitches.  The cuff on the left is embellished with tiny 3mm Swarovski crystals.

 

Lady of the Lake features a textured triangular motif surrounded by crossed stitches.  The texture is provided by alternating directions of twisted stitches, proving that simple patterns can have great results.  The cuff on the left is embellished with little Venetian glass disc beads.  I chose a pale watery blue bead, but was really torn because the black beads looked fabulous and made the cuff look quite dramatic.  (Which just goes to show that a simple change can make a big impact.)


 
Lady of Shalott features a central lace motif.  The cuff on the left is embellished with knitted flowers and little pearls.  The pattern includes instructions for the knitted flowers, which require just a wee amount of laceweight yarn. 


 
The cuffs knit up quickly, and one skein of the featured yarn will make several pairs of cuffs (at least 3 to 5!!).  Make a pair (or two or three) for yourself, and still have yarn left to make a set for your favorite lady – they make a great gift item.  

The e-book collection has complete written and charted instructions for all three cuffs, and it includes a document with full-page charts for those knitters who want “just the charts and nothing but the charts!”  You can get the pattern here http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/sources/the-lady-cuffs/patterns.
 
Now, about those Arthurian ladies.  Many will be familiar with the ballad, The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  Originally published in 1833 and loosely based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat, the poem describes a cursed lady living in isolation in a high tower.  Set in the world of Camelot, there’s knights and Sir Lancelot and weaving and that famous statement, “I am half sick of shadows.”  (And also the word daffodilly, which I’m going to have to work into something.)  If you’re not familiar with the poem, you may have heard the beautiful song of the same name by Loreena McKennitt.

“The Lady of the Lake” is the ruler of Avalon and appears in many Arthurian stories.  She’s responsible for giving the sword Excalibur to King Arthur, of enchanting Merlin, and raising Lancelot.  The Lady of the Lake is also a well-known narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott.  The action takes place in Scotland, with rivalries over a woman, the feuds of kings, and wars between highlanders and lowlanders – oh, those Scots!   The poem was highly popular in its day, and influenced many other artistic works.
 
The Lady of the Fountain is one of three tales known as the Three Welsh Romances that are contained within a Middle Welsh collection of prose known as the Mabinogion.  This compilation came from two manuscripts from the late-medieval period, the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rydderch, although the stories likely date back to much older Celtic sources passed down through oral tradition.  More than you ever wanted to know, right?  As for the story itself, it’s a tale of love found and lost and found again. 

All of these poems are fun reading, if you’re into that sort of thing.  And if you’re not, well fortunately they’re not required for making these pretty (dare I say romantic?) cuffs.  Just knit, and enjoy!

 

 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Freezing Eggs

Have you been tempted by those 24-packs of organic eggs at Costco or the like but have hesitated, fearing your ability to use them all before they go bad?  Don't hesitate!  If you can score a great deal on fresh eggs (or better yet, get them from a friend with an excess of eggs from their home flock), don't pass it up.  Use what you need, and then freeze what you can't use in the short term.

Yes, you can freeze eggs!  Here's how.

Break each egg into a bowl, and then gently with a fork or whisk mix the yoke and white together, taking care not to whip the egg -- you don't want to incorporate air. If you'd like, you can strain the eggs through a sieve for a more uniform consistency, but I don't bother.  Once you have all of your eggs blended, pour them into a freezer safe container.  If using a jar, allow 1/2 inch headspace between the top of the eggs and the bottom of the lid to allow for expansion. 

I use something a little easier than jars:  a jumbo sized ice cube tray.  Each well holds 2 eggs, a good portion size for baking or for measuring out for making frittatas, quiches, and such.  The tray is made from flexible silicone, so once the eggs are frozen they can be easily popped right out.  You can also use regular sized ice cube trays; each well will hold one egg.  Making individual portions is very convenient:  no having to defrost an entire jar and measure out eggs by the spoonful. 

Once the eggs are frozen, remove them from the tray and put the egg cubes into a vacuum seal bag or a ziplock bag (from which as much air as possible has been removed) and then put the bag into the freezer for storage.  You can then remove however many cubes you need for baking and cooking.  Easy peasy! 


To help prevent graininess of the yolks, you can add 1.5 tbsp. of sugar OR 1.5 tbsp. of corn syrup OR 1/2 tsp of salt per cup of whole eggs.  The yolks and whites can also be frozen separately; simply follow the same process (egg whites alone do not need added sugar or salt). 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Baking In Canning Jars: The Recurring "Thing" That Shouldn't Be a Thing

They seem to be all the rage lately.  You may have seen them at your local farmers’ market or in a bakery’s display case.  Little pies, heavenly smelling zucchini breads, scrumptious cakes baked in small mason jars that besides looking delicious look so cute! 

Or you may have seen that recently published book about baking in jars, or that article in a swanky baking magazine complete with a gorgeously styled photo depicting a cake baked in a jar, or one of the many recipes on the Internet that say that “Yes! Yes you can bake in canning jars!  And you can even seal the jars and then store them in the pantry!”

But can you?  Surely if there are people selling these items, publishing books and articles about this practice, posting YouTube ™ videos even – then you can do it too, right?

No, you can’t.  Or at least you shouldn’t.  Here’s why.

First, canning jars (aka mason jars) are not designed for oven use.  Canning jar glass (made from lime, soda, and other materials) is annealed, and annealed glass is not as strong as tempered glass.  Oven heat, which differs from the heat produced in a water bath or pressure canner, can create stress on the jar, causing it to break into sharp pieces.  (And no, putting a pan of water in the oven along with the jars does not replicate the environment of a water bath canner.)  Canning jar manufacturers, such as Ball/Kerr, specifically recommend against using their jars in the oven (and in the microwave as well) .  Knowing that jars have the potential to shatter, why risk your time, money, or even potential injury?  Keep your canning jars out of the oven, and use an appropriate oven-safe vessel for all of your baking needs. 

Second, and most important, is that canning breads and cakes in mason jars and storing them at room temperature is unsafe.  Cake and quick bread recipes are usually low in acid and high in moisture, and together with the process of creating a vacuum seal by putting a lid on a hot jar (thus removing most oxygen), a perfect environment is created for many microorganisms to grow – including C. botulinum, the organism responsible for forming the toxin that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease. 

Putting a lid on a jar of baked goods after it comes out of the oven is not a true canning process, and while a vacuum seal may be formed as the contents cool, it may not be a good seal and not all of the oxygen may be removed.  Any remaining oxygen in the jar would be would allow oxygen-dependent microorganisms – such as mold – to grow.  This also goes for the process of putting a lid on the jar after the contents have cooled:   air gets trapped in the jar, allowing microorganisms to grow.

Much research has been done at various universities to determine if canning cakes and breads can be done safely at home.  To date, researchers have been unable to formulate a recipe for a palatable, safe product for home use.  If you’ve seen commercial cakes or breads in jars available for sale and wonder why you can’t replicate this at home, it’s because reputable companies who make these products conduct safety tests for each specific recipe, have processing controls not available to home consumers, and often use additives and preservatives to keep the product safe. 

So, please, no home canning of breads and cakes in jars!  Use oven-safe bakeware, and refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.  Do not eat any home-canned baked products that are given to you, nor purchase home-canned breads or cakes unless they contain anti-microbial additives and have been labelled in accordance commercial food requirements.
 
Be food safe, not sorry.