Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Used To Be About Knitting

Things knitters frequently have in common, besides knitting:
Crocheting, spinning and/or weaving (duh)
Or both
Cooking and/or eating

We are, by and large, crafty pet-loving foodies. Would you say that's relatively accurate? I think a love of animals is innate in one who loves fiber, and love of food is innate in one whose natural proclivities tend toward the handmade. Makes absolute sense.

Since I haven't knit anything I can show off but I really want to post again before the new year, and I figure an off-topic post would be somehow preferable to disappearing from the blog for weeks on end YET AGAIN...and also so I can say happy new year and thanks to the folks who have hung around and read this blog despite my waning presence...I wanted to post another recipe, this one pretty simple and just good winter (spring summer fall) comfort food. I whacked together this soup last night and have eaten it three times since then, and it's only just after lunch. You do the math.

(Also, if this food stuff interests you at all, I stumbled onto a wicked food blog, Alinea At Home, which is based around this woman who's cooking every recipe from the somewhat-imposing Alinea cookbook at home. I got this cookbook for Christmas and am anxiously awaiting a surprise trip to Chicago to hit Alinea - it's coming any day now, I'm sure, someone's just waiting for the right moment to send me plane tickets and my reservation confirmation for the Four Seasons - so this blog is a wonderful read for me. She's also FRIGGING HILARIOUS and I'm going to find out where she lives, show up on her front door, give her a big hug, and then plop myself down at her kitchen table and wait to be served. Oh, she did the French Laundry cookbook too.

Without further ado, something much less impressive than Alinea or French Laundry but tasty nonetheless:

Smoky Creamy Tomato Soup

2 big honkin' cans of whole tomatoes (32 oz?), undrained*
1/2 - 1 tbsp smoked paprika, depending on your love of smoke/spice**
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sherry or sweet vermouth, or a few tablespoons of olive oil***
1/4 - 1/2 cup heavy cream (depending on how creamy you like your soup - and cream is optional)
sea salt****
fresh ground pepper

I am incapable of not adding too much unnecessary narrative to my recipes, so here's stuff on all those asterisks:

* My favorite canned tomatoes to use are the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Organic Tomatoes. That fire roasted thing adds a whole other dimension of flavor, they're amazing.

** Smoked paprika = not regular paprika. Regular paprika does little other than add color, and remind me of that Ramona Quimby book I read when I was little, in which paprika was heavily in play when the girls made dinner for their parents and disaster ensued and ever since I've been wary of paprika. I digress....smoked paprika is my New Most Favorite Thing and can be found at specialty stores for an ungodly amount of money, and then subsequently on every shelf you pass in every grocery store every time you go, once you've paid said ungodly amount of money. Lesson from me: check the spanish/mexican food section in your grocery store, the stuff's like two bucks. Also can sometimes be found, incredibly, sandwiched between some washcloths at a Home Goods. Seriously, the cheap smoked paprika is now just mocking me. Smoked paprika comes in varying levels of hotness - I like the hot, Travis would prefer the mild. Meh. Don't like smoky flavors? Screw it, leave out the paprika, it's still a good quick and easy soup.

*** It's for cooking the garlic. I, for one, enjoy cooking with booze. I also like cooking, with booze. So I used the vermouth for cooking, with some vermouth reserved for the cook (wink wink). If you're not a fan of cooking with alcohol, you can use a bit of olive oil to cook your garlic.

**** For added smokiness, I used smoked sea salt. Travis probably wishes I hadn't, but he doesn't care so much for smoky stuff. Use regular salt if you want. I won't give you a hard time. I probably won't even eat your soup. Unless you want me to. I'll send you my address just in case.

Okay, food:

Puree the tomatoes (with the juice from the can) in a blender until smooth and rich in texture. (Learn from me: You may need to do this one can of tomatoes at a time. Shut up, I was really tired, okay?) Pour puree into a large-ish saucepan and heat over medium-high, adding the seasonings (paprika, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper).

While this is cooking, peel three garlic cloves and either mince finely or shmoosh with a garlic press. Heat the olive oil in a small saute pan, or warm a dry pan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the olive oil, or add the garlic to the dry pan and immediately add the sherry or vermouth. Allow to cook, moving the pan constantly so the garlic doesn't burn, for about a minute in the oil or until the sherry/vermouth has reduced by about half. (Lesson from me: don't lean over the pan and inhale all the alcohol. Wooziness ensues.) Add the garlic mixture to the tomato mixture.

Let the soup simmer for a while over medium to medium-low heat, for about ten minutes. Return the soup to a blender and puree again. (Same lesson from me, when will I figure this out: maybe do this in two batches too. What do you expect, I was now tired AND woozy.) Alternatively, if you have a handheld immersion blender, jam that in the pot and hit it.

Now, while the soup is pureeing, I like to add the heavy cream to the empty pot and let it warm a bit. I've found that sometimes when I add the cold cream to warm soup, the soup gets grainy on me. But it's fine to just add the cream. Or don't add it at all, if you're not a creamy soup person. This soup would be good without it, too. Combine the soup and cream, stirring to blend. (Or get going with that immersion blender again. You gotta wash it now anyway, might as well use it twice.)

Serve with crusty bread and some cheddar and apples (and bacon! everything goes with bacon!), and again like that tomorrow, when it'll be even better. Nom nom nom!

Have a very safe and blissfully happy new year, my friends!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Upon Request: A Winter Meal

Here's the info on that dinner of flank steak with truffled maytag blue cheese sauce I mentioned in an earlier post. It's worth noting that I didn't use recipes and didn't measure anything I did, so these results may vary slightly; however, there wasn't anything especially fancy about what I did, so it's pretty easy and straightforward. I tried to lay everything out in order so you'll have everything done at about the same time (my Achilles heel is roasted veggies - I never account for how long they take and everything is done well before my vegetables can be plated.)

Roasted Winter Vegetables
Set oven to 375. Combine in baking dish: one small butternut squash, peeled and cubed; two medium-to-large parsnips, peeled and chopped; one large sweet potato, peeled and cubed; about one pound of carrots (either peeled and chopped regular carrots or baby carrots - I use baby carrots). Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper - roast in the oven until they begin to brown and crisp a bit on the outsides (about 30 minutes, depending on size - larger dice takes longer.)

Port Balsamic Reduction
Combine 1/4 c. of port with 3/4 c. of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer rapidly until sauce has reduced to about 1/4 - 1/3 of a cup and nicely coats the back of a spoon. Do not bring to a rapid boil or let the reduction get too hot, or it will scorch.

This reduction can be made at any time and stored in the fridge in a squeeze bottle - bring to room temperature for use. It's tangy-sweet and great for drizzling on meats or hearty soups. Keep your face away from the saucepan, though - a snort of this stuff while it's simmering will clear out your sinuses but good! Heat it on the back burner. :-)

Flank Steak
One pound flank or skirt steak (if necessary, pound to 1/2" - 3/4" thickness). Season with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook evenly over medium high heat on a flat or grill pan to desired doneness, turning only once.

Truffled Maytag Blue Cheese Sauce
Combine 1/3 c. Maytag (or other high quality blue cheese) with 1/2 c. heavy cream. Blend or process until smooth. (You want a rich consistency, not too fluid but not too thick - the sauce should pour easily but stay in place without running much. Add more blue cheese if necessary.) Warm over the stove - you don't want to cook so much as just heat it for service. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a small amount (about 1/2 tbsp) of white truffle oil.

(White truffle oil can be found at specialty food stores and some supermarkets. It's pricy, but here's a secret - check the specialty food aisles at places like Marshall's, Home Goods, and TJ Maxx. You'd be amazed the gourmet options you can get on the cheap - I get white truffle oil, which can run up to $20, for about $5.99. If this isn't something you're interested in having on hand, don't fret: the oil isn't a necessity - the sauce will be tasty without it. And finally, make sure to only use truffle oil as a finishing touch - it's not meant to be cooked with.)

Fried Sage Leaves
Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a saute pan - add fresh whole sage leaves (washed and thoroughly dried) and cook over medium high heat, keeping the pan in motion, until crisp. (This only takes maybe a few minutes - keep an eye on it, they can burn somewhat easily.)

For service:
Slice the steak on the bias and transfer to a warmed plate. Ladle the Maytag sauce over the steak, then drizzle with a small amount of the port-balsamic reduction and garnish with fried sage leaves. Serve the roasted vegetables as a side. This should serve three to four.

If you still have about half of the vegetables left over, you can make a great soup - combine the remaining vegetables in a blender with one of those cardboard containers of vegetable or chicken broth (or homemade broth, if you're that type) and puree. Heat in a saucepan with a few pinches of dried sage stirred in. Serve with some balsamic-port reduction drizzled on top and a slice of warm crusty bread.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Hath Padma Wrought

I carefully and diligently avoided Top Chef for three or four seasons. But Marcie and Steve had to mention it at dinner once (you guys suck) and then of course I had to watch it, because I want to be Marcie and Steve when I grow up (not one or the other of them, but both, at the same time.) And turns out I was avoiding it for good reason. See, if I wasn't a whatever-it-is-I-am, I'd want to be a chef. Or a political aide. Or a dolphin. But right now, totally chef. (Maybe a political aide's chef. Or a chef's dolphin... But in all seriousness, my absolute dream died-and-gone-to-heaven job would probably be White House chef.)

So yeah, basically I looove to cook. I didn't need Top Chef so I could copy it or anything, but it does inspire me to get back in the kitchen and try stuff. I'm allowing myself to experiment more with flavors, not work with recipes but try to create my own dishes using what I know about food, which means I'm making it a priority to learn more about technique and flavor combinations and pairings and knife skills and allll of that. My Christmas list this year was loaded with culinary technique bibles like The Professional Chef and Larousse Gastronomique, and I somehow ended up with three salt mills in my stocking. (I have a thing for different salts. Having only one mill would make me crazy.) The area that I most need work in, unsurprisingly, is meat. Funny how almost 20 years as a vegetarian will dull one's skills. I'm having such fun, though, and it would seem Travis is not opposed to these new experiments of mine, even if it does mean the grocery budget has inflated a bit.

Some of my more successful recent dishes?

Pan-grilled flank steak with truffled Maytag blue cheese sauce, a port-balsamic reduction, fried sage leaves, and roasted winter vegetables. (Swap the steak with scallops for me, and puree the leftover vegetables with some spices for an awesome soup.)

Sauteed organic chicken breasts with oyster mushrooms in a white wine beurre blanc, roasted carrots, and cauliflower puree (a new favorite side dish).

And Christmas Eve's dinner: roasted cornish hens with rosemary citrus butter, cauliflower puree (yes, again), roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, fresh baked artisan bread (thank you, Adelle!) and cranberry-corn relish spiked with thai chili and shallots. Oh, and of course, because what's Christmas without the decadence, chocolate mousse with minted creme fraiche.

When I feel like taking up a new hobby, I don't screw around.

Friday, December 26, 2008

News of the Stuff:

I have some little goodies I've acquired

sundara artist collection

My Artist's Collection arrived from Sundara. I'm pretty thrilled with all the colorways, and it's neat to add a little more to my Sundara stash. I've barely made any contributions to the stash lately - which is a happy side effect of dyeing. Well, happy in that it's saving us money at a time we reeeeally need to be saving money. But yeah, when it seems like you're drowning in yarn all the time, it sort of becomes a lower priority to amass more.

Speaking of dyeing:

Wait Wait swag

It's related to dyeing, really. See, I've been doing these NPR Series yarns, to raise a little coin for NPR programming donations, and I found that the surprise colorway one, for the program Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, seems to do really well. (We knitters love a good surprise in our mailbox, and that show rocks.) So anyway, long story short (you're welcome) it turns out that there are a couple of knitters who work at Wait Wait (!!! - we're everywhere!), and eventually it got back to them that their show had a corresponding yarn. I'd sold out at the time they contacted me, so when I did another run I sent a few skeins off to them and they reciprocated with this amazing box full of Wait Wait swag, just in time for Christmas! I got two mugs (one of which I literally came *thisclose* to purchasing on the same day this box hit my front porch), a t-shirt, and two Wait Wait magnets. Since I freaking LOVE. THIS. SHOW, it totally made my night. NPR is awesome.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FOs and WIPs

Reposted to fix all the stupid broken links and photos. Rawr.

First up, how's this little guy for an FO?

Amber and Nathan made a person!!

My good good friend Amber had a baby last Tuesday (wow, he's a week old already?!) and we went to visit when he was just a few hours old. I look kinda psycho here, huh? Yeah, beaming with pride - this isn't even my baby. Everyone's very well and healthy and exhausted, which is all as it should be.

As for knitting stuffs:

Done Ones:

Ilene Bag - Stuffed

The Ilene Bag, knit for my mom for Christmas. She’s been spending more time checking books out of the library, so I made her this as a book bag. Great pattern – I’m planning to make many more of these.

Baby Boleros

Baby Boleros (from One Skein by Leigh Radford) for twin girls recently born to a coworker, knit from Blue Sky Organic Cotton. Quick knits, tons of finishing (I suck at seaming.) Cute.

Another tea cosy

A tea cosy for the M-I-L's new teapot (also a Christmas gift.) I have no idea where on earth I got this pattern, which is horrible of me because it was free and the designer, at the very least, deserves credit. I'll dig it up, I swear. It's modified somewhat, but the idea was still hers....

Tea Cosy #1

And I'm failing to give her credit not once, but TWICE. Same pattern, different yarn (this is my handspun, from a Traveling Rhinos batt) for my mom, who requested a tea cosy from my dad but I doubt he'll remember that one. Makes a cute hat too:

Tea Cosy #1

Un-done Ones:

Silken Scabbard

Silken Scabbard, as yet still sleeveless. Well, pictured sleeveless. It now possesses one sleeve. I’m getting there.

Silver (Ecru) Belle

I’ve started Silver Belle, by Debbie Bliss. It doesn’t look like a lot of progress yet, but that’s 428 stitches. Four hundred. Twenty eight. Stitches. If it doesn’t suck the life out of me, it’s going to be beautiful.

Happy holidays to all! I'll be back after Christmas, really I will!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Let's Just Dive Right In

Dudes. I'm sorry. No excuses for my missing month - how many "I haven't blogged lately 'cuz..." posts have you read just this week alone? So yeah, let me just try to dig out. I don't even know where to start. I have my news, other people's news, news that affects me and news that doesn't affect me but I pretend it does, knitting FOs....oh, and this just in: I'm going to the Loopy Ewe Spring Fling in April! That oughta be fun. Should I pretend to be a blogger? Okay, so let's do news and updates and fun stuff:

Uno: Let me do this one first, because it's freakin' awesome. In news of the other-people's-stuff-related-to-me: Kristi designed this wicked incredible pattern with my yarn inspired by my yarn. (How's that for an ego boost?) Have you seen the YoYo Mittens? I'm having a brain fart on figuring out how to steal show a photo....but please to go look at them, because they are frickin' amazing. You can get the pattern from Ravelry. I'm itching to knit mine!

Dos: What next? In news of The YoYo: How about The Sweet Sheep carrying my yarn now?! Yep, Michelle's got a batch in stock right
- yay!

Tres: In news of the barely-adjacent-to-me-but-I'm-totally-making-it-about-me: Cookie's new book is being released on April 1, which I've mentioned before. I knit a sample pair of socks for the book, which I also mentioned before, and we already know that I've somehow deluded myself into thinking these are MY socks. That's an important detail, because the latest news is that MY SOCKS ARE ON THE MOTHERF***ING COVER, WHAT UP. See that? Yeah, I'm kind of excited about that. No one will know that I knit those specific socks if I don't scream it from the rooftops, so that's exactly what I plan to do. I may even do a signing at the local Borders. "Hi! Do you want me to sign your book?" "Oh, did you write this??" "No. Here, let me sign it." "Get the hell offa my book, psycho! You're ruining my book! Help! Somebody call the manager! SECURITY!!!"

Quatre: In news of the where-are-my-photographic-priorities: We went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving to see my parents, and we took Travis' mom and sister with us. It was a blast, and the only photos I took were of the felted snowpeople we made on Family Craft Night (which was so much fun I can't even stand it, and I'm being dead serious here, it really was the most fun I've had in a long time.) Here's our group, and there was a whole back story on all these characters and we really should write a picture book about the drama surrounding these snowpeople:

Thanksgiving Craft Nite!

Cinq: In news of the somewhat-related-to-that-trip: An unexpectedly long return drive of 14 hours (it should take nine) in a Toyota Prius with four people, two dogs, and a LOT of stuff resulted in the immediate decision that the following step was necessary:

Meet Jean Grey

Behold, a comfortable family vehicle. (Yes, an SUV. I sold my soul. It still gets better gas mileage than Travis' truck, which has been retired to inactive duty in the side yard, to be retrieved when necessary for hauling stuff.) Yes, folks, we bought a Volvo. Are we suburbanites or what? (Allow me to add the statement that goes along with all married women pushing thirty who procure a Volvo: I'm not pregnant.)

Sixth: In news of the I-still-kinda-knit: Finished objects and works in progress, I has them. This is a knitting blog. So let me talk about those later and not in this post. (Seriously.) I'll schedule another post for tomorrow - this is getting out of hand already and I have this final, vital addition to this post:

Embarrassing: In news of the I-just-don't-give-a-damn-anymore: A new Britney Spears album dropped and, since I'm pushing thirty and becoming more comfortable with what a loser who I am, I bought it proudly and have been wearing it out, loudly, with the windows and moonroof open. Blessedly, the new car has a six-disc changer in-dash. So I can get all my Britney albums in there. (How in hell did I end up with ALL THE BRITNEY ALBUMS?) I'm not sure when I became that person, but hell with it - I love crappy pop music and I'm FINE WITH THAT. I don't pretend it's good music, mind you. I would never do such a thing....but I love it. I don't care if you just lost all respect for me. Okay, I care a little. But it's a risk I'm willing to take for gems like "I Got That Boom Boom".