Monday, January 26, 2009

My atomic print aspirations.

Next up in my rotation is this lovely full skirted shirt dress of sorts, made out of this fun and happy red, white, and blue cloth. I love the fabric. It is an old duvet cover I picked up at the thrift store for $5, so I am using it for the muslin, in secret hopes that it can double as a real dress upon completion. I think the print might count as a "1950's atomic print" although I have to confess that I honestly do not know what that means. From what I can tell, "atomic print" means a semi-busy, smallish, colorful, geometrically inspired print that must in some way look futuristic to a 1950's mindset. I think the futuristic part is important...that's the best I can come up with, as I imagine the 1950's seamstress to believe anything seeming nuclear related was futuristic.

I really lucked out on this pattern, it is a size 46, bust 48 inches, and exactly my size in its original form. Plus, it is vintage, has a circle skirt, and doesn't involve set in sleeves or a sewn-on collar. I am in heaven! All of my 1950's day dress fantasies may come true with this garment. I am excited for the skirt. As you can see from the photo it is constructed with panels at the hips and a center panel that angles in down the center. I hope it is simultaneously slimming AND gives the illusion that I have fuller hips and an hour glass shape.

Starting this dress comes with the price of abandoning an older project. After careful though and quite a bit of time in front of a mirror, I am going to abandon my early 1960's dress with the pleated gathers from earlier this fall. It was my first full bust adjustment, and I did work incredibly hard to achieve the soft gathers at the shoulders and bust, but the more I try on the muslin, the more I feel like I am dressing as a Mormon fundamentalist's polygamous wife, and that is NEVER the look I am going for. So, for now the project is scrapped. It is a shame to waste so many hours on a project that will not reach fruition, but it is an even bigger shame to waste $70 and five yards of beautiful fabric. I hope to recycle the fabric originally purchased for this dress into the atomic print's pattern. I think it will be a good summertime dress.

As you can see below I already conducted a full bust adjustment on the bodice front, and after adding a few inches to the skirt I think I will be in business and ready to sew. All I need is to get my hands on a cutting table and a rolling blade, and consider this dress as good as finished. I think I will use french seem binding, even though this is only a muslin. I feel that good about the pattern.

I should not get too excited, as I have become superstitious that the level of my excitement somehow correlates to the difficulty of the dress. The more excited I am, the less likely the garment will work out on my body or with my skills. However, this just has lots of promise. Think positive thoughts for me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The power of suggestion.

This January's Bon Appetit magazine featured "Trends of the Year" and noted "anything with an egg on top" as the dish of the year, saying "Fried or poached, the incredible, affordable egg is topping all kinds of dishes, from fettuccine carbonara to pizza to frisée salad with hollandaise." In my house it's no different. I love a good something with an egg on top. I have been known to eat them on asparagus, on my burgers, and on their own. A a young woman with borderline high cholesterol, I should probably cut back on this indulgence, but they are just so good. And every time I see a recipe with a fried egg I can hardly resist. That is what brings you the photo above and the recipe below.

Eggs, well they are wonderful. I knew that already. So when I saw a recipe online a few months ago featuring a fried egg on top, I was intrigued. But the recipe also called for kale. Unlike eggs, kale is brand new to me. However after trying it, I am pleased to say that just like eggs, kale is wonderful. And it seems to be popular too. Either I am becoming more aware of the green, or it is receiving more attention lately. I first became aware of it thanks to the recipe feature in the photo above. This photo features boiled kale with a fried egg, a recipe that seemed to spread through the internet like wildfire when one outstanding food blogger, Orangette, posted a recipe, which was then referenced and expanded on by New York Times food blogger Bitten. Bon Appetit featured kale as a prime ingredient this February, and its uses and recipes continue to pop up on line here, here, and here (yes, the blog is indeed named after kale). I am especially pleased by this article on kale describing how to make it one of your refrigerator staples.

It took a lot of convincing to open Sam up to the idea of boiled kale and egg on toast, but my insistence finally won and we made the dish this Monday to much satisfaction. Kale is quickly becoming a new favorite in our lives, and as our winter CSA subscription starts this month I hope kale will be abundant in the bundle.

I'm not sure it is appropriate for me to offer the boiled kale with fried egg recipe here, as it was most decidedly NOT my own volition and creativity that inspired its manifestation in my kitchen (however I do encourage you to follow some links and find the recipe for yourself). So instead, I will offer you a recently enjoyed fried egg recipe and encourage you to pursue the boiled kale through its deserving proponents, both Orangette and Bitten of the New York Times.

Fettuccine Carbonara with Fried Eggs
By Jill Silverman Hough in Bon Appetit, January 2009
4 servings

As the recipe author notes "The fried eggs add extra unctuousness to a clever carbonara." If you, like me, are unsure of what "unctuousness" means, let me share. Unctuousness means, literally, "of the nature of or characteristic of an unguent or salve; oily; greasy." Alternatively, unctuousness can mean "excessively smooth, suave, or smug." I am not sure I agree with either definition in regard to this egg, as I found the egg to be rich, creamy, and very comforting. I rarely like to imagine my food as a salve. However, I can buy into the suave descriptor, as the egg was indeed "smoothly agreeable and polite." It played well with the other elements of the dish. The moral of this story, the carbonara is amazing, the lofty adjective's a professional writer used to describe it are not. Make the dish and forget the word unctuousness.

8 large eggs
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 oz thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped
12 oz egg fettuccine
1 medium bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Whisk 4 eggs, both cheeses, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl; set aside. Cook pancetta in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to small bowl. Reserve skillet with drippings.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender (about 3 minutes less than package directions); add broccoli rabe. Cook just until broccoli rabe is crisp-tender and pasta is tender, about 3 minutes longer. Drain pasta-broccoli rabe mixture, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Return hot pasta-broccoli rabe mixture to pot (off heat). Immediately add egg-cheese mixture, pancetta, and 1/4 cup hot cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls to moisten as needed. Season to taste with salt and more pepper, if desired. Cover to keep warm.

Heat skillet with drippings over medium heat. Crack remaining 4 eggs into skillet; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until whites are opaque, about 2 minutes. Carefully turn eggs over; cook just until whites are set but yolks are still soft, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat.

Top pasta with eggs and serve.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 65 degree oeuf.

Oeuf is French for egg, and when an egg tastes like this, you will think you are eating the finest in complicated French cooking. But really, this egg is perhaps one of the simplest culinary masterpieces you will ever achieve in your own kitchen. It's the 65 degree egg.

What is it about the egg that makes it so special? From a chef's standpoint, it can be hard to define. Eggs are inexpensive, simple, satisfying, full of protein, and fundamental to so many complex dishes. And that is where the science comes in. From the scientist's perspective, the fat and protein structure of the egg makes possible culinary magic in all types of dishes. The proteins in the whites help to raise a batter in baking, the yolk acts as an emulsifier in dressing. Together, the proteins help give texture, firmness, and structure to dishes. And better yet, on their own or dressed up with a few other ingredients, eggs can create an entire meal. Best of all, the egg is spectacular on its own with nothing more than seasoning. Especially when it is a 65 degree egg (or 149 degrees, in Fahrenheit).

This is little miracle arrived courtesy of a small aside in The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper cookbook. To my delight, the cookbook features an entire section on eggs. Sam and I were flipping through it yesterday afternoon looking for dinner recipes. I came across a sidebar describing the 65 degree egg. The dish was described so beautifully. As Lynn Rosetta Casper and Sally Swift describe, "It is like nothing you have ever tasted. The white is custard-y and the yolk is soft and yielding, basically melting in your mouth...You will be enchanted."

Credit for the creation goes to chemist and self-proclaimed molecular gastronomer Hervé This, who spent time researching hard boiled eggs. During his studies, he hearkened back to an old Jewish dish involving an egg baked for hours in a dying fire. This dish became the precursor to his 65 degree (Celsius) egg.

It sounded so special, and the instructions were so simple, we made it right then and there. We weren't even hungry... yet. We made our egg in the toaster oven. Our old gas oven won't hold a light below 250 degrees, and this recipe calls for only 149 degrees. It turns out the 150 is the minimum our toaster oven demands to remain powered, anything less and my little red light clicks off with the heat. But luckily, 150 degrees is just perfect for these divine little eggs. It's good to remember that Salmonella bites the dust at 140 degrees, so you will be safe with this egg, even if the texture is softer and silkier than any other egg you have tasted.

As you can see from the photo, I don't think our little oeufs came of of the shell as perfectly as the recipe intended, but it was our first try after all. And while it may not look entirely flawless, the taste was almost near perfection. It was as though we had done something complicated and difficult to the egg to achieve the texture. Truly, the whites were a custard, absolutely like what you would expect from a pots de creme or creme brule, but without the sugar. The yolk was pure silk, very smooth and lacking any graininess or stickiness. It was amazing, truly amazing.

The only downside to these eggs is that they are not quick enough for a simple breakfast. To enjoy this delight you must be thinking in advance, as they require a good two hours or more in the oven. But, the wait is worth it. The book suggests serving these next to a salad or with a bundle of asparagus. We ate ours alone, but I can also see it spread on toast with a sprinkle of chives and a bit of course chopped and fried panchetta for lunch, or served with a pasta that calls for a fried egg.

Any way you serve it, you will be amazed. And with such a simple, affordable ingredient, you can even stand to make it right now for snack in a few hours. Go ahead, be impulsive like we were and make the egg right now.

The 65 degree Egg
from the Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
adapted from Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor

Ingredients: Eggs, as many as you would like to eat or serve immediately.

Instructions: Put a thermometer in the oven . Set the oven at just below 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally the oven will be at 149 degrees, but not lower. Give the oven 20 minutes to preheat. Put your eggs on the oven rack. Go do something else fun for a few hours. If the oven goes a few degrees over the temperature, don't worry. They can handle up to 10 degrees over 150, but they loose the custard-like texture with every degree over 150. After a few hours, take out the eggs. Gently crack the shell and ease out the egg, taking care not to puncture it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oh my puddin'.

“The proof of an idea is not to be sought in the soundness of the man fathering it, but in the soundness of the idea itself. One asks of a pudding, not if the cook who offers it is a good woman, but if the pudding itself is good.” Henry Louis Mencken
In this case, I believe both the goodness of the woman and the goodness of the pudding to be sound. I am indeed a good woman, and more important still, my pudding was very, VERY good. The proof is in the pudding, you might say. And the proof that this pudding is delicious is the fact that we made the recipe for guests not once, but twice this weekend. It is that good. In fact I think this pudding has initiate a a new phase of good, henceforth to be known as twice-in-one-weekend-good.

The pudding is good for two reasons. Well, really its good for three if you count the obvious reason that it involves peanut butter and chocolate. But I will assume you all already knew that was part of what made it good, so we will just focus on the two reasons. First, preparation is Simple, with a capital S. Simpler than boxed cake even. Just mix dry ingredients into milk and cream, boil on a stove briefly, add the main ingredient of either peanut butter or chocolate, and serve. No egg yolks, no complicated measurements or fancy techniques, just quick and simple preparation. Secondly, the pudding is rich, thick, and firm almost instantly. For a well-planned dinner party last Friday we made the pudding the night before to set overnight and it was great. Then, for an impromptu dinner party on Saturday I made the pudding on a whim with only two hours to set and it was still great. I even licked the bowl still warm from the stove and it was set.

The only thing to note, in regard to setting, is that the pudding lumps quickly once it starts to set. If you have it served while still liquid, it sets silky smooth. But, if you let it start to set as you are still serving and stirring, expect some lumps. But do not fret, if you dish up your pudding with speed and alacrity after removing from heat, you will be just fine.

I think I am now a pudding addict. This week alone I have started stockpiling pudding recipes with the intention of making pudding every weekend. How about this lemon pudding served in a unique presentation? It would be so cute for a Easter brunch or a baby shower. Or what about this orange tapioca pudding feature orange flavor in four different incarnations: zest, juice, liqueur, and fresh pieces of the fruit? Or this watermelon pudding feature so much fresh fruit and perfect for the summertime?

So many puddings, so few weekends. At least there are only two and a half more days until Friday.

Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Pudding
from Bon Appetite December 2008

The recipe suggest that you serve the puddings in clear dishes to show off the distinct layers, and I agree. I didn't have any beautiful clear dishes in my china cabinet, so I purchased a dozen half-pint mason jars at the grocery store for $5.39 and it made the most adorable presentation. Also, the second time through I decreased the sugar in the milk chocolate pudding by half (only 3 tablespoons) because I like a deep chocolate flavor, and the sugar was diluting the cocoa. You can top with fresh whipped cream, but it does not add much to a dish. I recomend skipping it. And if Kate, the queen of homemade whipped cream, is the one suggesting you omit whipped cream, you better believe it does not add much.

Peanut butter pudding:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup creamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate pudding:
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 ounces imported milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Peanut butter pudding:
Whisk first 3 ingredients in large saucepan to blend. Gradually whisk in milk, then cream. Whisk over medium heat until mixture comes to boil. Then boil until thick, whisking constantly, about 30 seconds. Whisk in peanut butter; boil until thick again, whisking often, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla. Divide pudding among six 1-cup glasses or dishes (generous 1/3 cup each). Chill uncovered while preparing chocolate pudding.

For chocolate pudding:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk, then cream. Whisk over medium heat until mixture comes to boil. Boil until thick, whisking constantly, about 30 seconds. Add chopped chocolate. Boil until chocolate melts and pudding is thick again, whisking often, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla. Cool pudding 5 minutes. Spoon atop peanut butter pudding, dividing equally (about 1/3 cup each). Chill puddings uncovered until cold, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One little sock dog.

This little sock dock is a hand-made toy, and so very cute. The project is from Sock and Glove: Creating Charming Softy Friends from Cast-off Socks and Gloves by Miyako Kanamori. The book includes instructions for making thirteen wonderful sock and glove toys, including a monkey, dog, cat, pony, piglet, elephant and bunny. This year the Trinity University Women's Club Sewing Group (TUWCSG, for short), of which I am a member, created handmade stuffed toys to donate to the local children's shelter. This guy was one, and he is so cute he was hard to give up, even to very deserving and needy child.

I LOVE this little sock dog, and I am also a big fan of the sock monkeys featured in the book. But you must be careful with sock monkeys, I have learned, because sock monkeys with bad eyebrows look just plain mean. Its something about the furrowing eyebrows. The monkey ends up looking less like a friendly Curious George and more like an angry chimp kept cooped up too long in an unregulated Mexican zoo. If you are interested in creating your own sock monkey look no farther than some instrucitons here, and keep an light hand on those eyebrows.

This year the Sewing Group wasn't very sophisticated or efficient in our toy-making plan. A few women in the group worked on the toys project by project, and an even fewer number of us took care of all the finishing work. I personally embroidered the faces on about ten felt teddy bears, and the experience clarified why we outsource so much labor to China. It's hard (and not much fun) to embroidered little smiling mouths assembly line style.

It is fun, however, to complete a project like a sock dog from start to finish. That is why next year I would like to spearhead this great idea to host an open house sock monkey project to create toys for the shelter. I will seek sock donations from a generous company, perhaps SmartWool out of Boulder Colorado (since I know they make fun, quality socks and have a history of corporate generousity), and then invite the entire Trinity community to attend the Monkey Party. I think I will serve banana bread and coffee. Guests will arrive for the two hour event and pick out a pair of socks and an instructions packet. I will have experienced sock moneky sewers available to oversee and help. Then over the course of two hours every guest will make their own monkey from start until finish, and I will photograph every attendee with their finished product. Anything not completed by the end of the party will be finished by the "experts." If all goes accourding to plan, we will have a at least two dozen or more sock monkeys completed by the end of the party, ready for little arms in need. I love it, I can hardly wait until next holiday season!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things that feel good.

Eating comfort food is a lot like curling up with a good read on a cozy bed in the warm afternoon sunshine. It is certainly an indulgent behavior, but it is not exactly wasteful or greedy, and it comes with a feeling of warmness that almost radiates from within. Thus, I feel good about ringing in the New Year with a meal of classic comfort food as I sat in my cozy apartment with my dear husband and good friend, drinking wine and enjoying upscale macaroni and cheese that warmed us from within.

If what we eat is compared to self-indulgent activities, than flourless chocolate cake is to pedicures in the wintertime what macaroni and cheese is to reading on a sunny Sunday afternoon. One is delicious yet over-indulgent, and a bit too extravagant for anything except special occasions. The other is a tiny bit excessive but very wholesome, and more acceptable to intersperse into daily routine on a non-special-occasion occasion, like the first weekend of the New Year. The day didn't really call for a notable celebratory feast, but it felt important enough to give it a little more than canned soup and a grilled cheese. It felt just right to experiment with homemade macaoni and cheese.

The macaroni and blue cheese with chives tasted amazing, creamy, rich, warm, and definitely blue. It looked like a classic macaroni and cheese, but with an extra oomph of sophistication thanks to the cheese that helped eradicate some of the guilt that comes with eating pasta smothered in cheese and cream. It is a definite winner of a recipe, both for its comfort food qualities and for the ease of preparation. In the next few months, in the lingering chill and darkness of winter, I strongly suggest you each pull out this recipe on a cold night that deserves a little something extra. Serve it with a crisp salad bright with the acidity of a homemade vinaigrette, and enjoy the blissful indulgence of comfort food. Just don't finish the night with the flourless chocolate cake, or you might burst of overindulgence.

Macaroni and Blue Cheese with Chives
by chef Scott Simpson of Blue Onion Bistro (2003)

  • 1 pound spiral tube-shaped pasta
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly (do not allow to brown).

Gradually whisk in milk and cream. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, whisking occasionally, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add grated cheddar cheese and 1 cup crumbled blue cheese. Whisk until cheese melts, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Add cooked pasta to sauce; stir to coat. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup blue cheese. Bake until sauce begins to bubble, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve