Saturday, March 31, 2007

Week 1 of Painting Class (and other news, such as the Latest on America's Next Top Model)

I'm taking a painting class, and this was our first week's assignment - we had to paint a still life of a bunch of white, styrofoam shapes. Utterly uninspiring. But I got through it, and here it is.

On to America's Top Model - after hearing about the recent episode that had the "girls" posing as victims of violent murders, I turned to the internet to check out the pictures myself. I googled "America's Next Top Model", and expected to find tons of sites responding to this episode. Instead I had to dig through pages of speculation about who would win the show, etc, before finding any evidence of shock or disgust. Hmm.

I'm sure I could go on for hours about how disturbing I found the episode itself, but now I am distracted by the fact that there were so many people blogging about the show without seeming remotely startled by those pictures. When I finally got to the responses that I was looking (and hoping) for, I saw a few references to Jean Kilbourne's argument that the more images we see of violence against women in the media, the more we become desensitized to it. Then the images of violence lose their shock value for us. I guess we can see Jean Kilbourne's argument in action in the world of ANTP blogs.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cute Fish

I went to the aquarium today with moj momak. This fish is for real, and I wanted to take him home with me.


Moj momak and I went for a walk the other night. He dropped me off at home, and then showed up at my door about twenty minutes later with these zuti narcis. Then he turned around and went home for real. Flowers as a gift generally annoy me (requires no imagination, and yet I am supposed to get all swoony?), but I have been enjoying these way more than I would have expected. Part of it is due to my spring fever, but I think I was also pleased that he made a special trip back to bring them to me. Any-hoo, they are starting to wilt, but I still feel cheerful when I see them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Coconut-Pistachio Shortbread with Caramel and Chocolate

My co-worker, E, was eating a Girl Scout Cookie the other day (the kind with caramel and coconut), and I decided I had to come up with some sort of home made version. I came up with this shortbread awhile ago, and then saw the caramel and chocolate layers in a Donna Hay cookbook. In the end, these bear very little to resemblance to a Girl Scout Cookie, but they are still crunchy and coconutty mixed with chewy and chocolatey, so they managed to satisfy that particular sweet tooth for me.

The Shortbread:

- a generous 1/4 cup of salted pistachios
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted in the oven until golden
- 3/4 cup cold, salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Oven at 300 degrees. 9x9 pan, lightly buttered, and lined with parchment paper (leave overhang for removing bars later - see picture in Lemon Bars post).

Put pistachios into food processor with 1/2 cup of flour and process until the pistachios are finely ground. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix, then scatter butter cubes into mixture. Pulse until mixed and dough begins to come together. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for about 40-50 minutes, until beginning to brown. Cool in pan for at least 30 minutes.

The Caramel:

- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
- 1/2 cup salted butter
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- pinch of salt

Mix over medium heat, stirring non-stop until caramel is thick and smooth, about 10 minutes. Don't panic when it starts to look a little chunky - just keep stirring and eventually it will became smooth again. Pour over shortbread and quickly spread to cover. Cool, then chill in frig.

The Chocolate:

- 6 ounces chocolate
- 3 tsp vegetable oil

Mix over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Pour over caramel and quickly spread to cover. Cool, then chill in frig.
Lift bars out of pan with handles. Slice into squares and dispense to friends and co-workers.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Arm Warmers

I made these with one skein each of Smile yarn. I used double-pointed size 11 needles. I cast on 20 stitches, worked in K2 P2 ribbing for a few inches, then just knitted in the round for the rest. For the thumbs I put 4 stitches on a stitch holder, then on the next round added four stitches. The plan was to go back and knit the thumb, but for some reason I crocheted the thumbs instead. Looking back, I'm not sure what my reasoning for that was...but it still worked out.
I finished my lovely arm warmers just in time for spring, and have yet to wear them out of the house. But I suppose I have them to look forward to next year!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lemon Bars with Ginger Snap and Pistachio Crust

For some reason, it is refusing to warm up here in Seattle - the flowers have arrived, but you can't even smell them because it is so freakin' cold. This is all making my summer fever that much worse. I think that is where my hankering for citrus treats is coming from.

The original recipe for these bars uses lime and graham crackers, and came from Martha Stewart's Food magazine. They are quite fabulous done that way too.

For the crust:
-4 Tbsp salted butter, melted and cooled
-2/3 cup roasted and salted pistachios
-4 ounces VERY gingery ginger snaps
-1/4 cup sugar
-lemon zest from lemons used in your filling

Oven at 350 degrees, 8x8 pan lined greased and lined with parchment. Pulverize your gingersnaps in your food processor, then add everything else except the butter. Make a fine powder, then add the butter. Mix well, then press into the pan. Bake for about 7-10 minutes until it smells good and is beginning to brown. Cool on a rack for about thirty minutes.

For the filling:
-2 large egg yolks
-14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk
-1/2 cup lemon juice (about four small lemons)

Mix yolks and milk, then add juice. I found a fork works well for this. Pour the filling over the cooled crust, then bake until set, about 15 minutes, also at 350 degrees. Cool in pan on rack, then chill in refrigerator.

When it is time to snack, pull the entire slab out of the pan with parchment handles. Then slice and eat.

Yum. The filling is creamy - not rubbery like custard. The texture is what I always hope for with key lime pie. But the crust is truly the best part: spicy cookies and salty pistachios held together with butter...I'm not sure what else I can say.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Shortly after graduating from college, through a random turn of events I got to meet my long-time friend, Nina Roux, in Ireland. It was December, cold and rainy, and in less than two weeks we covered a lot of ground. It turned out to be a fabulous trip and it supplied me with many vivid memories:
1) Seeing Fungi the dolphin in Dingle.
2) Hearing Van Morrison 's "Into the Mystic" playing on a radio in an outdoor market while buying a knitted wool hat to keep me warm.
3) Coloring in a coloring book late into the night in a youth hostel in Galway while Nina Roux was busy at the mirror tweezing something-or-other in front of a wide-open window.
4) Eating Irish Soda Bread and cheese while sitting on a park bench looking out over Dingle Bay.

I have never been able to find anything that matched that bread. I don't suppose I ever will either, since I imagine the circumstances contributed to its greatness. And while this stuff I made was technically very good, it was probably doomed to be a disappointment from the beginning.

This recipe for Irish Soda Bread came from the book Baking Illustrated by Cook's Illustrated Magazine. It was like a really big scone - crusty and buttery on the outside and surprisingly rich and soft on the inside. The ingredients included a mix of all purpose flour and cake flour, two tablespoons of sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, buttermilk, and two tablespoons of butter. I think the buttermilk was very noticable - you could smell it while it was baking, and maybe that was what made this bread seem as though it were loaded with butter.

This bread would be good with vegetable soup. I ate three pieces and put the rest in the freezer.

Variations on a Fast Food Salad

It's official - I want a blog. So here I am. I imagine I will spend most of my time talking food and crafts, but the truth is that I have to find an outlet for a few other things too, so the rules are that anything goes.

That said, today is about salad. My emergency food, when I am tired enough to used processed food...

Variation #1: romaine with cherry tomatoes, shavings of whatever strong cheese I have around, a heated can of Trader Joe's cuban style black beans, and then a splash of seasoned rice vinegar over the entire thing.

Variation #2: replace black beans with panko breaded tilapia filet, also from Trader Joe's, and add some mustard on the side.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday I went to a beautiful Vietnamese restaurant, and had a very tasty, and rather large, lunch. Then I went home and took a nap. When I woke up, my lunch was exactly where I left it - sitting like a brick in my belly. I wasn't hungry again for the rest of the day, but for some bizarre reason I developed an ENORMOUS craving for these cookies. The craving was still there when I got up this morning, so as soon as I had my morning cup of Earl Grey, I pulled out my mixer.

Not only are these cookies whole wheat, but except for the chocolate chips, they are vegan. Also, they are sweetened with reduced fruit juice concentrate rather than refined sugar. There are a couple ways of acquiring reduced fruit juice concentrate. Method #1: buy a jar of Wax Orchards Fruit Sweet at a health food store. Method #2: buy a 12 ounce can of apple or white grape juice concentrate, and simmer on the stove until it reduces to 1 cup. I have used both and could not differentiate between the two in the end product.

Right out of the oven, these cookies taste like you forgot the sugar, but after they have cooled, they taste less like health food and more like kick-ass peanut butter cookies. I'm not super happy with the grain sweetened chocolate chips, but it seems like regular chocolate chips would be overwhelmingly sweet in the context of a fruit-sweetened cookie. These cookies have a satisfying chewy texture when you get them out of the oven in time; otherwise they are crispy.

I found the original recipe in Mani Niall's Sweet and Natural Baking: Sugar-Free, Flavorful Recipes from Mani's Bakery. The only changes I made this time were to add the chocolate chips, and to use salted peanut butter, rather than unsalted (I take every opportunity to add salt to my baked goods - I swear that it makes them better.) I also usually use almond butter rather than peanut butter when baking these cookies, but I am planning on gifting them to a peanut butter lover, so I figured I would try the traditional flavor this time.

To make the cookies:
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup natural style nut butter (I can attest to successful cookies with both almond and peanut, but have yet to try anything more exotic. I have been reading interesting things about cashew butter - I think that may be next) I prefer to use roasted and salted as opposed to raw, unsalted.
- 3/4 cup fruit juice sweetener of choice (see above)
- 1 generous tsp vanilla
- About 3/4 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

Oven to 350 degrees, parchment paper on two cookie sheets. Mix wet ingredients in mixer, add dry ingredients, beat until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Make balls with 1 Tbsp of dough, then squish with a wet fork to get the traditional pattern. Grain sweetened chocolate chips behave a little strangely; it is best to remove the chips at the edges of the cookies, and stick them in the middle of the cookie before baking, otherwise they burn. Bake 7-10 minutes (these are easy to overcook due to their color - watch closely, and take out when they are just barely browning on top.)

ps - With the leftover dough I made three jumbo cookies. Each cookie used about a quarter of a cup of dough, which I flattened to a half-inch thick disk. Definitely the way to go if you like your cookies chewy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Yeasted Sopaipillas

I love fried dough. Truly. I don't think I have ever met a version that I didn't like. Indian Fry Bread. Donuts. Beignets. Sopaipillas. But the reality of making these things at home has always been a deterrent - after spending that much time with a vat of spattering hot oil, the end product is always somewhat less appealing.

Therefore, I was very intrigued when I found this recipe for baked sopaipillas in Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible. I attempted to follow it to the letter. I still become nervous whenever yeast enters the baking picture, and this recipe contained plenty of tidbits to intimidate a novice bread-baker (for example: "the dough can stay at room temperature for up to 5 minutes..." So, does that mean you will have hockey pucks rather than sopaipillas if they get into the oven at 6 minutes?) I'm sure my dough spent at least 15 minutes at room temperature while I attempted to roll the dough correctly, and then slice it into sopaipillas. But in the end, my clock-watching caused me to frantically slice my dough into haphazard looking rectangles, rather than a more traditional shape.

Preparing the dough (nothing unusual in the ingredients - yeast, flour, salt, an egg, and a little milk, butter and sugar) was pretty straight-forward, but there was an emphasis to not over-knead, and to leave the dough soft. However, I believe that I over-kneaded, and left my dough too soft.

But as for the results: I ended up with tasty, soft, puffy squares of doughy bread, that were quite lovely when brushed with butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and served with honey. However, the thing that draws me to a sopaipilla in the first place is fact that it is FRIED DOUGH. These baked sopaipillas were more like tasty mini-dinner rolls, and even with all the additions I mentioned, my sweet tooth was never quite satisfied. I keep thinking they would make a good home replacement for naan, if left in larger pieces, then brushed with garlic and butter.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Raspberry and White Chocolate Goodness

I found the recipe for these cookies in a Martha Stewart magazine a year or so ago. I couldn't resist the colors - the beautiful pink middle with golden cookies was enough to make me overlook the fact that I don't like white chocolate. The cookie is buttery and chewy, and would be heavenly enough on its own. And it turns out that I DO like white chocolate when it is mixed with heavy cream and raspberries and stuck between two tasty cookies. The recipe calls for vanilla beans, but being a poor student, I left them out (like I said, the cookies were amazing anyways). The recipe also calls for fresh raspberries (I used frozen), and for straining the raspberry puree so that you are left with just the juice. I did not have a sieve, so I just used the puree. In the end, this resulted in a very tasty raspberry cream, but I had a difficult time determining quantities, and the filling turned out a little on the runny side. Next time I will strain.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbsp butter, softened (calls for unsalted, but I always use salted)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
(1 vanilla bean, halved, seeds scraped)

1 1/3 cups (fresh) raspberries (1/2 pint)
2 tsp sugar
7 1/2 ounces coarsely chopped white chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream

Make the cookies as you would expect - beat butter and sugar until fluffy, add egg, vanilla (and seeds), then add dry stuff. Use a 1 inch ice cream scoop and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and beautiful.
For the filling, puree raspberries and sugar in food processor, strain, set aside. Make a ganache with the cream and white chocolate, then add raspberry puree. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then assemble.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


My mom says it's in my genes. My grandma also had a tendency to trudge home from the library with her arms full of cookbooks. I got a late start, but sometime a few years ago I developed the same habit. Thinking back, I'm really not sure what got me started. I remember getting the bug to try making a cheesecake...or maybe it was the biscuits I made while visiting a friend in New Hampshire? But whatever it was that got me going, I believe nursing school solidified the habit. Baking was a fabulous form of procrastination, and during the busiest weeks at school, you could be certain that I would arrive at home with a new stack of cookbooks, only to show up at school with the product of my latest experiment.
Now that I am no longer in school and my free time is my own, I have only gotten more enthusiastic about food. Baking is what gets me truly excited (although every now and then I venture into the world of cooking "real food"), and I am usually drawn towards old fashioned comfort food - layer cakes, biscuits, pies, cookies, and bread. Sugar is usually involved in large quantities. My days off are spent offering diabetes-inducing treats to everyone in my path, then I go to work as a nurse and curse how rampant diabetes is becoming...I haven't quite figured out how to reconcile that, but the fact of the matter is that I can't stop baking. So there you have it.