Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shank you very much

A while back I bought 2 lamb shanks at the farmers market.  Not knowing what to do with them, I did what any self-respecting person would do: put them into the freezer.  Out of sight, out of mind, you know.

Last weekend I peeked into the freezer and saw the forlorn packages of lamb, so I pulled them out to defrost them.  Then I started to research how to cook these things.

As I learned, lamb shanks are full of connective tissue.  See all those white bits?  And how do we treat meat with a lot of connective tissue?  All together now: we braise it.

I found this recipe and decided that it looks a lot like how I normally make beef pot roast.  Start by browning the shanks.  I only had 2 though the recipe calls for 6.

Fugly carrots from our yard, garlic hoarded from the summer markets, chicken stock from the pantry, bacon that I made, and rosemary from the spice rack.  Hey... my rosemary plant is outside.  Today's high was 20-colder-than-a-witch's-(ankle) degrees.  To heck with that "I'm going to run outside and grab some fresh rosemary" crap.  I'll use the old stuff.

After sauteeing the aromatics, I added several glugs of wine, a pint of chicken stock, and a handful of dried tomatoes.  Salt & pepper to taste, put the shanks back in, plunk on the lid, and throw it into the oven.

As an aside, I sure miss being able to photograph stuff in my kitchen in the daylight.  Look how much better the natural light pics are than the flash ones.  Ugh.

There's been quite the winter storm that's hit the Pacific Northwest, leaving Hubbie and me home for the day. A girlfriend called and invited us to go see the new Harry Potter with her, so I banged this together in about 20 minutes, threw it into a 300-degree oven, and left for 3 hours.

During the movie this...

Became this...

I'm really hoping G-man will clean that pot.

The wine, stock, and connective tissues reduced to a rich, salty sauce that went perfectly with polenta.  I wish everything I braised reduced this well - it was gorgeous and perfect.

I served it with Alton Brown's polenta, garlicy fava beans, and some of my fav red wine.  In the effort to try new veggies, the fava beans were another first for me.  More on them later this week.

By the way, if you like mushrooms this recipe would be great with them.  I don't like them but imagine that someone who did would think they'd died & gone to heaven were there mushrooms therein.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let's talk turkey

We're a relatively frugal household.  We pay for everything in cash and we're actively working on reducing our debt.  We got rid of cable a year ago and haven't looked back.  We live within our means but do allow for splurges like Starbucks coffees, expensive yarns, and nice cheese.

Hey, you gotta live a little, right??

I subscribe to an e-newsletter called "Everyday Cheapskate".  One of the recent posts suggested stocking up on cheap turkeys this time of year.  Since I always make a turkey for our household, buying a cheap turkey has always been on my to-do list.  This industrial turkey has a lot going for it: it's about the least expensive form of protein you can get and it goes a long way by lasting for a lot of meals.  Since it's already frozen, I would buy 2 and put one in my folks' freezer.

The problem for the last few years, however, has been a crisis of conscience.  How can I promote eating locally when I go out and buy industrially raised birds that were grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away?

Worse yet, how can I afford a locally grown bird?  At $4/pound, even a smallish bird costs a small fortune.

A trend I've noticed this year is a lower price-per-pound for these local birds.  Granted, many still cost in the $4 range but I've started to see them as low as $2/pound.  I hope it's because the farmers can raise the birds for that price not because they're forced to lower their prices.  I don't suspect the latter as the farmers I know sold out of birds well in advance of Halloween.

G-man and I have had milk delivered weekly, as have my parents, for several years from Smith Brothers Farms.  A few weeks ago I got an email from them with a special offer: a fresh, locally grown turkey delivered with our milk the week of Thanksgiving.  It was a reasonable price, albeit significantly more expensive than the $0.39/pound turkeys I've seen advertised locally from the grocery chains.

Ours is being delivered tomorrow. 

Because G-man and I are headed to my folks' for Thanksgiving, I'll cook the turkey on Friday.  I'm thrilled because not only is it locally raised, it's fresh.  I've never cooked a fresh turkey before and am looking forward to it.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving?  Are you hosting or being hosted?  Have you been squirreling away goodies to prepare for holiday meals?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finished my shawl

I've been a woman on a mission to finish this shawl, and did so very quickly. Cast-on to cast-off was just 10 days.  Of course, "conversation" with my husband during those 10 days was relegated to the realm of grunts and nods.  On Friday night we watched the Russell Crowe "Robin Hood".  Well, G-man watched it.  I, on the other hand, fixed a major screw-up discovered after I'd triumphantly exclaimed "last row!".  I think I may have seen 2 scenes and only sort of followed the movie's plot-line: something about bows and arrows, a dead king and his despot brother, and principal actors who were too old for the roles they were playing...

I made lots of mistakes, tinked (that's "knit" backwards) many rows, and learned several things in making this project.

First, I gained confidence. This was my first lace project and I'm now confident that I can make more - and more complicated - projects.

Second, I learned the wrap and turn technique for short rows. I'm glad the pattern maker included that link because I wouldn't have thought to do that.  It's an obvious step to take (now).  Along with this I discovered Tech Knitting, a fantastic blog about knitting techniques.

Third, I learned that I can make alterations to a pattern to suit my needs. This shawl was designed to be quite wide in the center and taper to the edges. Once I figured out how the short rows worked I decided to lengthen them, therefore making the shawl narrower. I really wanted this to be more scarf-like than shawl-esque and accomplished that goal.

Forth, and probably most importantly, I learned how to find and correct mistakes. A couple of times I had to undo several rows to correct my mistake, corrections that took me 2-4 hours. Another time I was able to undo the stitches above the mistake and reknit just that section. Still, it sucked.  Some nights the work consisted of 2 rows knitted, 3 rows tinked, several new swear words invented.

Finally, I learned how to do an i-cord bind-off. If you knit and don't know how to do this, check out this video.  It's where I learned.

This project has stretched my abilities more than anything I've made in a long time.  What a great project to have done.  I am like a kid with a new toy, and wore the shawl all day.  It's so pretty, so soft, and so luxurious.  I'm glad G-man made me get the yarn, and glad he picked this color for me.  It's not a color I would have selected for myself but I've already received compliments on how it goes with my coloring.

Thank you, honey.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Be a Maven of Marshmallows

My brother loves - LOVES - hot cocoa.  Every year for Christmas he gets a massive supply of cocoa mixes because a) he's hard to shop for and b) it's a can't-miss gift for him.

As you can imagine, when I saw this book on TV a couple of years ago I knew he had to have it.

When it arrived, I poured over it... and kept it.  Sorry, Jason.

I haven't made many of the recipes but I do have a few favorites.  This was when I tried my first homemade marshmallow.

When people find out that you've made homemade marshmallows, they usually have one of two reactions.  Some people will say, "Ugh, I can't stand marshmallows".  This recipe has converted many - though not all - a hater.  The rest of people fall into the second category of disbelief and amazement: "omg you can MAKE those at home?  You're incredible!"

I love the second group!

So, without further ado, here's a recipe that will bring you in the realm of domestic diva.  Start to finish it'll take about 30 minutes.  It's quasi-dangerous so I wouldn't allow children in the kitchen during the making of the marshmallow.  They'll love to help cut and coat the end product with powdered sugar, though.

Three 1/4-ounce envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla (see note at bottom)
Powered/confectioner's sugar

Cooking spray
8x8 or 9x9 glass pan
Large heatproof mixing bowl
Hand mixer
Heavy saucepan
Candy thermometer
Heat-proof rubber spoon
Plastic cutting board
Pizza cutter
Small bowl

1. Spray 8x8 or 9x9 dish liberally with cooking spray.  Don't be shy because the candy is VERY sticky.

2. In a large, heatproof mixing bowl, combine the gelatin and cold water, stirring to mix.

3. Heat the sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt in the sausepan over med-high heat, stirring until it comes to a boil.  Stop stirring, put in the candy thermometer, and heat to 240 degrees,

4, Pour mixture into the gelatin.  Using mixer, whip until mixture doubles in size.  It smells kind of wet-doggy at this phase.  Fold in vanilla extract when it's done.
(Side note: I didn't like how my Kitchen Aid mixed this and will go back to a hand-mixer next time.)

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Allow it to cool and set overnight, uncovered.
I made a double batch and did some pink peppermint marshmallows, too.  They turn plain old hot cocoa in holiday in a cup.

6. Powder the cutting board with confectioner's sugar and turn the marshmallow out onto the cutting board.  Using the pizza cutter, which you can coat in sugar as well, cut into squares and toss with powdered sugar.  store in air-tight container.

NOTE: Use a high quality vanilla because it's the only flavor these will have besides "sweet".  If you want to make peppermint marshmallows, which I love, use just 1 drop of the extract at the same time as the vanilla.  Believe me on this: any more than a drop of peppermint extract in these will have you running for the faucet.  I like to use red food coloring to make them pink so that I can tell them apart without opening the containers. 

If you cut with a round biscuit or cookie cutter, the marshmallows will turn out bell-shaped due to the way the  "dough" cuts.  It's a cool effect and is even prettier with chocolate drizzled over them.  I've also thought of rolling them in cocoa but never have.

I've found that these keep for quite a while, though they do get grainy eventually.  It doesn't bother me but some people might not like it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hoarders, Cheese Edition

Um, hi.

My name is Jenn.

And I have a cheese addiction.

My gateway cheese was Longhorn, which my grandparents gave all of us kids from an early age.

For many years I was able to deny my cravings for cheese. 

Then I studied in France for a year.  France, the home to over 600 kinds of cheese.  Where people eat cheese for dessert.  Where the ratio of Raclette cheese to guests is 500g per person.  Where cheese is lovingly sliced in gorgeous displays at the grocery stores and markets.  Where people eat triple-cream brie, rind and all.  Where you can visit a farmers market and know before seeing that you're approaching a stand that sells Roblechon, Roquefort, or Valencay

Last weekend I was at my favorite grocery store - whose cheese display always makes me hear angels sing - and they were giving out samples of Bonne Bouche, an ash-ripened goat cheese much like a Valencay.  The asking price was $10 per round, so I left it at the store.  But goat cheese of any kind is my favorite, especially the stinky ones like a Boucheron.

Here's a peek at my current stash.  There are no stinky cheese present.

This is what I had in my meat drawer last night, except for some cheapo Parmesan, some cream cheese, and some Laughing Cow.  Including those last 3 there are 13 kinds of cheese in my fridge even as I type this.

Wensleydale with cranberries - this will be awesome with crackers for the holidays.

Queso fresco is traditional cheese served with many Mexican dishes.  Feta-like in texture but more like a fresh Mozzarella in taste.

Speaking of Mozzarella, here's a fresh one for slicing (left) and a hard one for grating (right). 

These came from the farmers market last summer.  Both are goat cheeses.  The left one is plain and the right one is garlic & herb.

From the same dairy is a feta.  After the market closed I ran into the vendor at a street fair in another city and he recognized me, which made me feel good about having developed a relationship with him.

This is an incredible gouda called Parrano.  I had it once on my breakfast pizza and it knocked my socks off.  It's hard like a parmesan but nutty like a gouda. 

And my favorite store recently had some real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano on sale for an amazing price.  I bought the 2 biggest hunks I could find because it'll last for a long time.

I wish more of my cheeses were locally sourced.  Good, local cheese can be really hard to find, and when you do find it, it's expensive.  Last spring I bought a local bleu cheese that's the kind that beats you up every time you open the fridge.  Potent.  Whew.  That stuff was for hard-core bleu fans.

Here are some cheese resources:
Bon app├ętit!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November knitting

That's it.  I finished the afghan for my dad.  Of course, the next day I found some ends I'd missed weaving in.  I'll fix it soon.  In the meantime, I have a new obsession.

But first, my dad's afghan.  I started it in mid-September.  I bought the light blue yarn over 2 years ago.  When I promised my dad this afghan, I thought there would be enough of it.  Wrong. 

(Remember this... it's a apparently a new theme for me.)

Upon using up the first of my two skeins, I had to go buy more yarn otherwise my dad would have a lap runner instead of a lap blanket.

The second yarn is the same brand, same weight, but clearly not the same.  My dad's bedroom is these colors, so at least it'll go.  I would have preferred a beige, brown, or grey yarn that was heathered like the blue yarn but it wasn't meant to be.  I'm just going to pretend I meant it to have a border.

I knew when I decided to make an afghan with this yarn for my dad that it had to be a lattice weave pattern.  I just made it up as I went along and lattice really isn't hard.  The hardest part was figuring out the counting so that it came out right.  Well, mostly right, anyway.

The middle section is quite a bit larger than it appears.  The finished blanket size is fairly large and will easily cover an adult from the waist down with length to spare.

Do you know how many cables there are in this thing? Thousands!  Every single right-side (RS) row had 14 cables, except for the rows where the lattice crosses. With each lattice having about 30 RS rows, that's 400+ cable stitches per pattern repeat.  I think that there are roughly 62,000 stitches in it.  All told it took about 6 weeks of constant work to complete.  It wasn't hard but it did get pretty boring.

For those of you who aren't knitters or crafters, please lavish praise upon the person who gives you a hand-made item even if you don't like it. There's so much effort put into something like this that only someone who thinks you're pretty special would go to the trouble.

Suffice it to say that I don't want to cable another dang thing for a long time.  I'm d.o.n.e.  DONE.

It's Mira-approved.  Mira is a good knitting companion.  She likes to touch the yarn but generally doesn't play with it, even when it's draped all over her face.

Next up, my new obsession.

G-man bought 3 skeins of this yarn for me in Portland.  It's a baby alpaca/silk blend.  It's so soft and luxurious.

See how shiny it is?  That's the silk in it.

I'm making my first lace with it.  Here's how it looked as of Friday night.  These aren't blocked but you can start to see the pattern.

Can't wait to finish it!  The pattern, which can be found on http://www.ravelry.com/, is called Liliaceae and is by Angelika Luidl.

On Saturday I knitted up a silk storm, only to discover mid-afternoon that I'd screwed up somewhere along the line.  This former French major frogged futilely to find the f-up.  Eight rows dutifully tinked (tink = knit backwards), I'm back on track.  I learned some important lessons about counting, paying attention, how to read a pattern... and patience.  If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.  I can't knit up $60 of yarn and have glaring mistakes.

Now I have another problem.  I realized that I don't have enough yarn.  I called the knitting store in Portland and - hallelujah - they had more skeins of my dyelot. 

I know I'm going to hold my breath when I show it to my knitting muse, Margaret, for a quality check. She's an incredibly talented and prolific knitter whose work is gorgeous.  I want her to like it!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A whirlwind day in Portland

Last weekend's trip to Portland was a charmed one.  It just seemed like everything went right.  We did, however, have to cut the trip short by a day because Hubbie's work had told him he had to go in on Sunday.  They later changed their minds but didn't communicate it to him. 


We made the most of our abbreviated vacation and I have to say that we did a damn fine job of it.  Saturday started with our favorite restaurant in Portland, Mother's Bar.  Someone told us about this place a few visits ago and now we make a point to go every chance we get.

We walked from our hotel and arrived at 8:45, though the restaurant didn't open until 9.  There was already a line to get in.  They seated us at 8:50.  Every single seat behind G-man was filled within 15 minutes.  Every other time we've gone we've had a wait of 30+ minutes, so going first thing is obviously the trick.

They had me at "Eggs Benedict".  Hubbie ordered pumpkin pancakes with housemade sausage.  And we each got a mocha.  Our food was delivered so quickly that it beat our coffees to the table.  I was astounded.
And yes, Hubbie is already digging in.

From Mother's we walked to Powell's Books.  Powell's is a mecca for any bibliophile.  My undergrad was in French, so it's a given that I have to make a beeline for the Red Room.  This enormous aisle contains everything a francophile's heart could desire: dictionaries, pronunciation guides, children's books, young adult fiction (yes, Twilight was there in French), classic literature, poetry, and contemporary fiction.
I would have liked to spend another hour or so but the man was getting restless.  I grabbed 3 books in French, plus a couple more in English as gifts, and we continued our day.

On our way back toward the car, we stumbled across this funky little event space called "The Cleaners".  There were a ton of people in there and we decided to check it out.  We discovered that it was a handmade art sale.  There were gorgeous cards, scarfs, and beautiful various and sundry other items that cost way too much money.  It was fun to look.

G-man wanted to go to an electric car symposium.  I wanted to go to the Nordstrom Rack.  We went our separate ways and agreed to meet later.

I have been searching for a pair of colorful, comfy flats for over a year.  Black, brown, and grey are easy to find.  Teal and orange are not.  Born is a fantastic brand of shoes and about a year ago I saw a pair of orange flats that I liked a lot, but they were $90 + tax (9.2% where we live).  I held off.

Well, guess what I found at The Rack.  I was giddy with excitement and texted unenthusiastic friends: I found my orange flats I've been wanting and for $50 off!  I like them, dammit, and they're comfortable.  Since getting them, I've worn them 3 days in a row.  One of my coworkers admitted that they are growing on her.

Next I spent too much money on 2 products at Aveda.  Whew.  That's where Hubbie caught up with me. 

From there we got the car and sought out Stone Barn Brandyworks upon the recommendation from a friend.  We sampled 5-6 different spirits, including pear brandy, apple brandy, grappa, strawberry liqueur, and a coffee liqueur.  Yeah.  You might be able to go wine tasting to several places, but one distillery and we were done.  G-man bought some pear brandy to share with a friend.  As we left, Hubbie said to me, "I can only do that once.  Whoa."  He was right: that was a lot of booze for one stop... hic!
(photo from Stone Barn Brandyworks)

A fellow conference attendee had recommended that I go to a yarn store called Close Knit.  It's a nice little shop filled to the gills with gorgeous yarns.  I got my mitts on some baby alpaca-silk yarn and can't wait to use it.  I'll show you when I start that project.  Until then I'm going to fondle the heck out of that gloriously soft fiber.

A staff member at Close Knit recommended the Danner Factory Story to G-man, who was seeking new work boots.  We had planned on going to a little shop called "Hank's Work Boot Supply" but the Danner outlet was close to other stores we wanted to visit.

As we're driving along we were talking about Rejuvenation, which makes reproduction hardware and light fixtures.  I get their catalogs every quarter and redecorate the house with brand new fixtures in my imagination.  G-man jokingly said that we should go there... and then there was!  This place is a treasure trove of brand new items, furniture, and salvaged hardware.   Here are some of their salvaged doors:

Their clearance section of brand new light fixtures that still cost $200+:

And a hidden gem of a cafe, complete with a fantastic mosaic floor.  That little girl's dad bought her a chocolate crinkle cookie, which got sugar all over her face.  We shared a reuben sandwhich that was to die for.

After lunch in the lighting store (yeah, weird, I know), we got on our way to the Danner Store.  Suddenly, there's that Hank's store!  [screeech]  We pulled over and went in.  This place hasn't been updated in a long time and looked a bit run down.  Hubbie looked at the display and didn't see what he wanted.  I encouraged him to check out the clearance, just in case.  There, we found a pair of boots in his oddball size.  He tried them on and later told me that those boots are the most comfortable pair of shoes he's ever tried on.

New boots in hand, we got back into the car and were again headed toward the Danner Store.  Once there, Hubbie zeroed in on a pair of shoes only to find out that the store has just 2 more pairs in stock... one of which was his size.  The showroom looks onto the factory floor.

The shoes fit and Hubbie bought those, too.  I'm telling you, it was a good day for shoe karma.

From there our trip got less exciting.  G-man wanted some toys for his Droid and I just wanted to check out the Ross and a houseware store.  I took a tagine for a walk around the store and ultimely decided not to purchase it.  There will be another time for one.  G-man found his phone accessories, I got a large supply of my favorite orange-ginger  hand lotion, and the weather turned sour.

By this point it was nearly 6:30 p.m.  With 140 miles, empty stomachs, and lots of rain standing between us and home, we still had a long way to go.  We arrived home around 10:00 Saturday night and were glad to be there.

It was a fantastic trip.  Portland is hands-down one of my favorite cities in the US.  Don't tell anyone, but I like it better than Seattle.