Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 2011... more sweets...

Candied orange peel. I love how it makes something of what would otherwise be tossed out--and a very tasty treat indeed!

So simple to boot. I have found that a smaller batch is easier to manage so I only do 4 oranges at a time, but you can probably do 6 or 8 with the same amount of sugar. Cut them in half and squeeze the juice out of them (save for breakfast), place in large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Cover again with cold water and boil. Drain. Boil them 5 times like this. Drain for a last time and let them cool a bit. Scoop out the pulp, flatten them and scape as much pulp off as you like. Slice into strips. I happen to have some small cookie cutters so I use these to add a few shapes to the lot. The peel is now ready to be candied.

Spread 2 cups of sugar on a parchment lined cookie sheet. (I run my sugar through the processor to make it finer, but I imagine that if you obtain superfine sugar you won't need this step.)

Add 1 cup of boiling water to 2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the peel and bring to a boil on medium heat. Boil for 30 minutes, stirring now and then to begin with but after 15 minutes attention is required. When the syrup thickens they must be stirred continually or they will scorch.

Using tongs, pick the strips out of the pan and toss into the sugar. I find it best to pick the strips out singly or just a few at a time otherwise you can end up with a big glob of stuck together peels. Keep adding the peels to the sugar, and toss all around till coated with sugar.

For a truly luxurious treat, melt some chocolate and dip the peels half way in the chocolate. Oh-la-la.

Soap... A Rescue Operation...

Before I molded the last batch of soap, I divided it in three and put grapefruit and bergamot EOs (essential oils) in one portion, sweet orange EO in another, and lavender buds in the third. The grapefruit and orange came out lovely, but the longer the lavender bud soap cured the more the buds bled and the bars ended up looking like they were infested with bugs. Not a pretty sight!

Poking around the web last week I stumbled upon a great solution: milled soap. So yesterday I took the 3 bars of "bug infested" soap and grated them up. My Kitchen Aid mixer with the attachments made easy work of that:

I melted this grated soap down with 7 oz. of water. To that I added 2 oz. of coco butter, 2 oz. lanolin and 1 oz. of glycerin and remolded it.

Ah... it looks much better now. Darker in color, as the buds got ground up, but still speckled. Speckles that are too small to look like bugs!

It did not mold as well this time around and methinks I will have to do more research on milling soap. I didn't do too much investigation into different methods but basically used the first I came upon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011... the flavors of the season

Merry Christmas, everyone!

More than anything, the celebration of Christmas is defined for me by it's smells and flavors. The sights and lights are beautiful for certain but a whiff of tourtiere pie awakens memories of Christmases past in a flash. There are certain foods that we only ever had at Christmas. These include tourtiere pie, grapefruit, big fat purple grapes with seeds, salami with cream cheese, highballs and a no-cook fudge that my mother always made. Nothing fancy, but very very special. And of course the enjoyment thereof is made extra special by the romance of lights, decorations and the smell of evergreen in the house. Continuing these traditions is my pleasure in Christmases present.

As I have done for several years now, I spent Christmas with music (today it was Bach for a couple hours) and cookery: tourtiere, fudge and caramels (which I scorched so I'll have to redo that one tomorrow!).

Tourtiere is a traditional French Canadian meat pie. I made mine differently this year. Instead of a large pie, I mixed up a quick and easy, light and flaky pastry made very simply of butter, cream cheese, flour and pinch of salt. Cream the butter (2 sticks) with the cream cheese (8 oz.) with a mixer till blended, add 2 cups of flour and a pinch of salt and mix just till it forms a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for a while (I let mine rest for a couple hours). This makes a very flaky pastry for small turnovers, rolled 1/8" thick and cut into 3" circles. I placed a good tablespoon of tourtierre in the center, folded over and wet the edges of the circle with water before pinching into half moon shapes. Brushed with egg and milk whipped together then baked at 350 (I adjust down to 325 since I use a toaster oven for these) for 20 to 25 minutes.

It was a success beyond my dreams! Oh, they were so good. Their devouring was accompanied with moans of ecstasy. These are the ones I made this afternoon for Christmas supper:

I have a container of tourtierre filling and a good sized pat of pastry in the fridge so I can make several more tomorrow.

We always had tourtiere for Christmas breakfast. We'd open gifts to the smell of tourtiere wafting from the kitchen. At the kitchen table, each place was set with half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar. This was really special. It was one of 2 days (New Years was the other) in the year that we tasted grapefruit. Lovely how special something becomes when it's enjoyed just once or twice a year.

It is said that everyone has their own tourtiere recipe. Mine is based on my mothers. Ground pork and beef (1 lb. of each--humanely raised, free range from the farmer's market), potato and onion (1 large of each, the former grated, the latter chopped), allspice (an absolute must in my book and I used about 2 tablespoons), pepper (lots of it, I probably used a tablespoon), salt to taste. I also put in a bit of ground sage. A touch of clove is a nice addition. I've seen some recipes that call for many more ingredients including cognac! But what I've just described is the tourtiere of my childhood. And I love it.

The fudge is also simple: 1 packet of graham crackers crushed with a rolling pin until slightly coarser than cornmeal, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 package of chocolate morsels and 1 tsp. vanilla. Heat the chocolate with the milk in the top of a double boiler until chocolate is melted, stir to blend, add vanilla and pour over cracker crumbs. Mix well and pour (more like plop) into a buttered 9x9 pan. Cool. It's really quite good for non-cooked fudge. To me it means Christmas.

I won't write about the caramel. :) Tomorrow will be better for that!

I'll also make some candied orange peel and if I have time I'll make another batch of praline candy. I made some last weekend and took it to work to share around. They're also quite easy and very very good. Cook 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar (light) with 1 cup half-and-half and 8 large marshmallows over medium heat until soft ball stage (~234-240). Without stirring or scraping the pan, pour into another pan and add 2 cups chopped pecans, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir vigorously until thickens then quickly drop into rounds on cookie sheet (lined with parchment or waxed paper). Flatten (if you can) with spoon. Need to work quickly when it starts to thicken as it sets up quickly. Delicious!

The salami and cream cheese: spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a thin slice of hard salami. Top with another slice of salami and spread that with a thin layer of cream cheese. Continue to build layers until 3/8" high or so. Wrap well and put in refrigerator over night. It needs the time for the cream cheese to absorb the salami flavors. Cut into small squares. Serve with highballs. Yum. Our traditional holiday drink was highballs made with Four Roses whiskey and ginger ale. Still tastes like Christmas to me!

Here's a candid admission: One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one The Partridge Family made. I just love it. It's cheery and happy and the arrangements are really quite nice. And yes, I do love Christmas carols. Seems to be going out of fashion, but not for me. I went carolling last night at the tree at the arch in Washington Square. I met up with a friend from our Knit & Schmooze group and sang our hearts out for an hour with at least 200 other revellers. Singing with hundreds of other voices... Special indeed.

Merry Christmas!!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Projects... A picture is worth a thousand words...

This picture is the sum of what I've been up to. Several "half-done"s. Each project is a joy, so the finishing of each is anticipated with eagerness. From the right, going clockwise. An old (quite old!) macrame instruction booklet from D.M.C. and 2 past issues of "Wild Fibers" magazine (one from 2006 and 2008 each). The story... I stopped by Brooklyn General this afternoon after my cello lesson and found these treasures in a box of giveaways. Yes! Free! Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, there they are. The owner is rearranging the store and clearing out unwanted items. Lucky me (us)! The stars must be lining up. In fact I saw some of the meteor shower last night (it was in the morning hours really) when I got up to visit the powder room.

If you do not yet subscribe to Wild Fibers magazine, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that it is one of the most beautiful, interesting and awesome magazines you can subscribe to. It is, as a friend of mine says, the National Geographic of the fiber world. Every issue is 100% fascinating and gorgeously illustrated. It's an absolute treasure.

Just to the left of the magazines is my first hank of Wellington Fibers "mystery roving". 62 yards, 3 ply. Oh. Oh! OH! This fiber is so fabul-o-u-s-! Wool, mohair and alpaca. I am so well pleased with the result and so look forward to working with the yarn. My current plan is to spin enough to weave some cloth with it.

Continuing along the bottom of the picture is the progress I've made on a pair of slippers. The pattern is a recent issue from Kriskrafter. I have one slipper completed. The other sole and top are finished knitting and remain to be joined. It's always exciting to stumble upon a perfect recipe -- this is one of them. An instant classic in my opinion. It will be in my book of essential and favorite recipes. It's simple, quick and easy. The results: fabulous! Just what I want in a pair of slippers. Aren't they exciting?!

To the left of the slippers are the fingerless gloves I was working on. As you can see they're musically themed. The left is done except for weaving in the ends. The right is getting there, albeit on hold until next week most probably. I am using these to practice holding a color in the left hand and another in the right. Left: Continental, Right: English. It is pretty nifty when it works, and it works really well when there is a row of alternating color on every stitch. It also makes carrying the dormant color on long stretches wonderfully facile. It's a bit of a challenge using such short needles, I have to admit that. How many times have I taken this knitting out of my bag to find fallen stiches?! Discovering fallen stitches on stranded knitting unnerves me somewhat, but I'm getting practice putting them back on the rails. I'm getting conditioned to it.

In the top left corner is Intergrated Practice by Pedro de Alcantara. I'm about half way through it. One of the best books on making music I've ever read. If you're a musician this book is not one you want to miss. My only grievance is that at the moment it is difficult to find the time to do all the exercises described and written about in the book. I would love to take 6 months off just to immerse myself in these methods. I will manage it... over time, since taking 6 months off is not a luxury I can afford.

And at the top of the picture are 2 skeins of new wool for another pair of slippers! :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Still here...

Just a quickie post so people won't think I've dropped off the edge of the world! Been very busy... a whirlwind trip to NH... a party for my students... holiday knitting...

I will post about all these soon.

The soap I made end of October is ready and f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s-! Really smooth and refreshing.

Facecloths are finished. To go with soaps as gifts.

Musical motif stranded knitting hand warmers are 2/3 done but on hold while I knit up a pair of slippers, then knit up 2 more pair as gifts.

Took Wellington Fiber's mystery roving on my trip to NH and got some relaxing spinning in. ... I MUST, just absolutely must give them a call very soon. My ideas for this yarn have expanded and now I'm thinking I'd like to weave with it.

Details (and pics) soon.... :)


Pedro de Alcantara's Integrated Practice is brilliant! Go get it. You won't regret it.

4th position on the cello is a blast! (Even though I haven't done much of it yet.)

I'm spending much time with Bach these days. So much to learn there. Sublime music.