Baking


So I’m a member of two yarn clubs. I love yarn clubs. I get surprise yarn presents in the mail periodically, which just makes me really happy. Plus, in both I’m getting cool extras, like patterns and recipes. I already showed you my first shipment from the Cookie A Yarn Club. But I got my second shipment in the mail this week.

Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in Violet Hour

Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in Violet Hour. Cookie A picks some great yarn!

This time it’s Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in the colorway Violet Hour (which is exclusive to Cookie’s sock club). It’s a lovely purple color. The yarn is really soft; it’s 100% superwash merino. It’s an 8-ply too, which I think means it will wear really, really well as socks. The patterns that come with it (Tulip and Pirouette are both totally gorgeous. Plus the recipes this time around are for chocolate cookies and lavender shortbread, which both look crazy delicious!

Unique Sheep Yarn Club Shipment

Unique Sheep Yarn Club Shipment

I’m also a member of the Unique Sheep’s Gourmet Yarn Club. I got some lovely worsted weight yarn in some pretty spring/sage green and lemon yellow. I also got recipes for cookies (almond shortbread cookies and peanut butter cookies), a pattern for a potholder (which I likely won’t knit because I don’t need a potholder, but it’s really cute), and some adorable cookie cutters (a sheep and a chick). The yarns go great together. They aren’t terribly soft, so I’m not sure what I’ll make with it. Any suggestions?

I also really can’t wait for my life to calm down so I have to some time to bake some of these cookies and play with this yarn. But right now I’m consumed with a lot of other projects (some knitting, some not.) But I just love yarn clubs. Even though I pay for them, it feels like getting a gift every month, because I never know what to expect, but I always know it’ll be good.

It’s been somewhat colder than normal here this winter. I can hear all of the people who live in legitimately cold places laughing at me, but homes and people in Southern California beach cities really are not equipped to deal with weeks worth of nights when the temperature gets down to freezing. I get that it’s really not that cold, but it makes me chilly.

So I decided tonight was a winter comfort food night. I made Beef Stew and simple French Bread, both from Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything. (I link to Amazon because it’s an easy place to link the book, but I encourage you to support your local independent bookstore if you want to buy it.) This is one of my favorite books for simple recipes and techniques for all manner of different kinds of food. This book, and the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian book were especially lifesavers back when I was getting a CSA box. I often got vegetables that were either unfamiliar to me or were in such great quantities that I needed to find creative ways to use them up.

Usually when cooking, I use the recipe as a mere guideline, but it’s been so long since I’ve cooked more than simple sauteed or roasted veggies with pasta or polenta or bulgar wheat or quinoa or some other grain that I don’t feel like my cooking mojo is really working. So I followed the recipe pretty exactly, except I added some rosemary along with the other seasonings and a mix of red wine and beef stock.

The bread was a little more of an experiment. It’s been a long time since I’ve made bread that actually required yeast (as opposed to quick breads like zucchini bread or kumquat bread). It was really slow to rise because the house was so cold. I sped the process along by putting it in the oven set to the lowest temperature possible.

Homemade bread

Clearly I need to work on making the loaf actually be round.

It turned out really well. It was dense and rustic and chewy. It could have risen a tiny bit more (maybe an extra half an hour), but it was really delicious and went really well with the stew.

Beef stew with bread

The best dinner for a winter’s day

My roommates and I all ate well today. Everything was delicious. The recipe said it would make 4-6 servings, but it turned out as more like 10-12, which isn’t a terrible thing. It seems like it will freeze really well for another night’s dinner.

I’m back from the whirlwind Christmas trip up to my parents’ house. We drove up very early on Christmas Eve morning and came back yesterday, and it was a busy trip. It was raining like mad on the drive up, but we made pretty good time. There was a truck stop breakfast (yay horribly greasy food) and good music.

Ron so nicely drove the whole way so I was able to cast on a pair of Hunca Munca socks for the baby nephew. This is probably my favorite baby sock pattern. It’s quick, it’s cute, it’s easy, and they seem to totally stay on the tiny feet. I used the leftover yarn from his sweater, so he could be matching and cute. I finished one sock on the drive up (I didn’t knit the whole time–it was dark when we started, so I had to wait about an hour and a half to cast on and I took a little nap too).

When we got to my parents’ house (after we showered and stuff at the hotel), I decided that I really wanted to make cookies. I hadn’t done any Christmas baking this whole year. So I made Spritz Cookies with my grandmother’s vintage cookie press. (That isn’t my grandmother’s actual cookie press because I didn’t think to take a picture, but ours is exactly like that. Sorry siblings, I call dibs on it since I’m the only one who’ll use it.)

We watched a horrible Doctor Who movie starring Peter Cushing and I spent a little time knitting on the second baby sock. We had Chinese food for dinner (it’s sort of a tradition around my house), and then, tragedy struck.

Sad sock with a broken needle

My parents, Ron, one of my brothers, Ron, and I decided to go for a drink at this karaoke lounge a few blocks away from my parents’ house. I packed my knitting bag in the car, and somehow the sock fell out and was shut in the door. It was dragged behind the car, down the rain-soaked street all the way to the bar. The sock was all muddy and one of my needles broke. Tragedy. Lesson learned: Don’t drag your knitting behind your car.

Honestly, a washing will probably fix the sock and it’ll be fine. I’m ordering new needles, so that will be fine. It’s just such a sad waste. I was so sad I couldn’t look at them to finish on Christmas. But I have to suck it up and finish them though, because tiny feet grow quickly.

The next morning was Christmas. I was quite pleased with my gifts. I think all of us were. I got quite spoiled with knitting-related stuff. And all of my Christmas knitting got done! My sister-in-law loved the sweater for my nephew, and I finished the secret project.

Borough Mittens

It’s a pair of Borough Mittens from Knitty for my friend Jara. (Seriously, go read his blog. He doesn’t update much, but when he does, it’s pretty awesome. And he posts his songs.) He lives in New York, so he has use for mittens. Now that he has them on his hot little hands, I get to post about them. I really like the pattern. It’s really clever and I love the element of the buttons to keep the mittens closed or open. It’s a lovely detail.

I made them out of Twist Yarns Fluff, a worsted weight superwash. If you live near Manhattan Beach, I can’t emphasize enough how great Twist: Yarns of Intrigue is. Cathy, the owner, is really nice and personable; it’s a totally welcoming shop; and in addition to a great selection of commercial and indie yarns, she dyes her own stuff and it’s gorgeous.

I spent most of Christmas night with a tiny baby on my lap. My nephew is getting so big. At six weeks, he’s actually smiling and starting to do more than lie there staring at you. He’s absolutely adorable. It’s the cure for all sadness. And, you know, eating the really freaking delicious dinner my mom made. And I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special (which I’ll review in a later post).

And yesterday we drove back home. I spent most of the drive working on my Wispy Cardi, which is actually starting to look like a sweater!

Wispy Cardi

I’m so close to done with it. I’m (finally) getting to see The Hobbit tonight, so I plan to get a lot more work done on it tonight. This is one thing that will definitely be done by Stitches West, so I won’t have to be a sad knitter with no handknits to wear.

I hope you all had holidays as good as mine were. Let me know what awesome stuff you did. Did you give knitted gifts? Did you get knitted gifts? Did you get knitting tools? Or other crafty tools? Or totally geeky stuff? Talk about it in the comments!

Guiness Chocolate CupcakesSo it was my knitting guild’s birthday month, which meant that we have potluck for our meeting. I decided to make Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheese frosting as my treat. I used this recipe for the cupcakes. They turned out really well, very dense and chocolatey and people at the meeting really liked them. I would change one thing about the recipe next time though. I would probably add the sugar to eggs/sour cream/beer mixture, and then add rest of the dry ingredients. I feel like it might give a better texture. Maybe not though. It’s something I’d like to try.

I can’t stand butter cream frosting, so I decided to make cream cheese icing instead of using the icing on the website.

My standard cream cheese icing is really easy. I just take 8 ounces of cream cheese and beat it until it’s soft and creamy. Then I add powdered sugar to the appropriate taste and consistency. I also beat in 2 to 5 tablespoons for flavoring. I usually use vanilla extract for a standard icing, but I’ve used other extracts such as almond or lemon, lime juice, and, in this case, Bailey’s Irish Cream. You can add to taste, but the more liquid you use, the more sugar you’ll have to add to thicken the icing. That’s why, for colored frosting, I recommend using gel food colorings or powdered ones, instead of the liquid ones. I’ve found gel ones in the supermarket and the powdered ones are available at Jo-Ann’s craft stores (and probably anywhere that sells Wilton supplies).

You can also add solids to your icing such as cocoa powder for chocolate icing, citrus zest, or grated ginger for flavoring.

I don’t like my icing too sweet, so I don’t use too much sugar. But that does leave the icing fairly thin; if you want to pipe it you will have to use more sugar. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (okay, that’s a lie, but for some reason super sweet icing doesn’t sit well with me), so I usually don’t make frosting that’s thick enough to pipe. I also am pretty terrible at cake decorating, although at some point I want to learn. Maybe then I’ll have some use for that really thick, sweet icing.

I’ve recently become obsessed with baking little cakes in Mason Jars. I think it is the cutest thing ever. So when we had a bake sale at work to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I decided that one of the things I was going to make was something in a jar. I had rehearsal for Titanic though, so I knew I wouldn’t have time to do much that was time consuming. So I settled on no-bake Oreo cheesecakes. That’s more full of processed stuff than things I normally make, but time was not on my side. They turned out super cute, and delicious, so I was happy with them. The recipe was really easy too. Just mix together some cream cheese, whipped cream, sugar, and chopped up Oreos, put into jars, top with more crushed/chopped Oreos and chill. Completely delicious and totally cute individual servings of no-bake Oreo cheesecake.

Behold my adorable sweetness

Lemon Blueberry CookiesI also wanted to make something smaller and cheaper, so we could sell more of them, because the cheesecakes were a little more expensive. So I decided on cookies. It’s only April, but the weather has been mostly warm and summery (except for a little bit of rain on Tuesday night), so I was already feeling like berries were the way to go. Plus I prefer baking with berry and citrus flavors over anything else. After getting a really good batch of blueberries at the market, I decided to make lemon blueberry cookies. They turned out really well. They were really light and cakey, and not too sweet, with a delicious hint of citrus that really offset the blueberry well. They also had almond extract in them (instead of the usual vanilla extract), which added another level of flavor to them.

I haven’t baked in so long, it was so great to do it again. Someone give me an excuse to bake again, but not until after Titanic is over, so I have time to do it justice and don’t have to be up at 1 am doing it after rehearsal (like I had to with the cookies). Although, for me, baking > sleep any day.

I had one of those incredibly productive and domestic kind of days today. First I headed out to the farmer’s market for the week’s shopping. Then we all put away all of the Christmas decorations, which took forever.

After all that work and hoopla, I decided we needed some dessert tonight, so I made the world’s easiest key lime pie ever.

Recipe:

1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 c of key lime juice.

Mix these all together and then pour into a 9-inch graham cracker pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes, then put it in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream.

Dinner was shrimp tacos with black beans. I just cooked up some shrimp in a skillet with salt, pepper, chili powder, lemon juice, and lime juice. We ate the shrimp with fresh cabbage and mango salsa on corn tortillas. The black beans were easy–just heat a can heated on the stove with some salt and pepper. Yummy and easy.

I didn’t any take any pictures of dinner or dessert though; I was too busy.

Other things I did today:

Finished and blocked my socks
Cast on some matching wristlets of the leftover yarn from the blackrose socks
Laundry
Cleaned my bathroom
Made fried rice for tomorrow’s lunch.

Bento BoxFried rice is one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers. Day-old rice works best, so I usually only make it if we have leftover rice. It’s too much planning to make rice a day ahead. Tonight I used the leftover brown rice from the Chinese takeaway we had for dinner last night. I also used leftover veggies from last night, leftover cabbage from tonight’s dinner, leftover egg whites from the pie, and some carrots I bought today. I followed this basic recipe, but I only used egg whites instead of whole eggs, because that’s what I had. Then I packed them up in my bento box with some grapefruit slices, raspberries, and pomegranate seeds for lunch tomorrow.

The socks are blocking now, and once they’re dry, I’ll post pictures. I can’t wait to wear them.