Sunday, April 25, 2010

Recent Evidence of Craftiness

So I was scrolling back through old posts and saw one bemoaning how taking the job at Brown was going to end my crafting days. Found evidence in iPhoto to the contrary and thought I'd share. The ambition, quality and frequency of the projects may be suffering from competing demands on my time, but there's a wide variety of stuff here-- architecture, baking, gardening, sculpture-- and I'm keeping my creative hopes alive in some interesting (and occasionally tasty) ways.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kitchen Essentials: the Dirty Dozen

I'm spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately-- it's one of the few pleasures in an otherwise difficult time. (Digging trenches is another, but that's another story entirely.) As in many things, I have developed strong opinions about the required implements for a well-designed and stocked cook space.  My youngest sister is settling in Tulsa, and since she was kind enough to help me out with a childcare emergency while visiting recently, I wanted to hook her up with the basics. I'll be sending her a care package full of my top dozen or so cooking tools to set up house properly, and I now share that list with you, gentle readers:

1. Tongs: for tossing salads, not burning the crap out of your hands flipping hot stuff, pulling pasta out of hot water, endless uses. These are indispenable. How did I ever live without them, I think to myself every time I use them. That good, I swear.

2. Magnetic measuring cups and spoons. Magnetic ones don't have that goofy ring that you have to remove to avoid getting the whole set dirty when you use just one; they stack neatly in a drawer; and besides, I'm a sucker for all things magnetic (e.g., knife storage-- not essential, but keeps knives within easy reach while avoiding dulling and potentially hazardous drawer storage).

3. Set of stacking mixing bowls. Glass, plastic, metal- material is a matter of personal preference. Actually, two sets is helpful if you find yourself doing a lot of cooking. (This is true of the tongs and measuring cups/spoons as well-- nothing worse than having to wash something mid-recipe.) I just bought 2 big cheap-o metal bowls and have used the hell out of them, proving that stuff doesn't need to be expensive to be useful. (Just look at the stuff that professional restaurant kitchens use.) I will contradict myself shortly with an admonition about buying good stuff, but it really depends on the item in question.

4. Knives. A large chef's or Santoku knife, paring knife and bread knife (great for tomatoes and other soft-fleshed fruit/vegs) are all you need. Buy good ones and they'll last a lifetime. (Mine were a gift to my now-husband before we were married: a sign of confidence and investment in the relationship. It's worked out well.) Get a sharpener, too, while you're at it. 

5. Stock pot or Dutch oven. Soups, stews, braises, boiling water for pasta. Go for maximum volume and sturdiness. Dutch ovens are freakin' heavy, and if that will deter you from using it, buy a cheap aluminum pot-- it boils water just as well and you can always step up to something swankier later.

6. Sauce pan.  Good for boiling eggs, heating up a can of soup, or more ambitious projects.

7. Cast iron or enamel frying pan(s). I have a few-- different sizes and materials. My cast iron skillet was my grandmother's-- a gift from my grandfather early in their long and happy marriage, I believe. They lived a simple but rich life together-- the pan has a humble functionality that reflects that life.  My two smaller Le Creuset pans are a kooky orange and were a wedding gift to my mom when she married my dad. The pans outlived the marriage by a long shot, look somewhat dated (some shades of orange can't help but shout "70s" at you) and are permanently stained from use (mine, not my mom's-- she never ever used them-- too fancy, heavy and impractical for her).   All three of these pans are in heavy rotation in my kitchen and illustrate the importance of buying good stuff-- you'll be saving your kids money in the long run. Unless a) your kids are brats who insist on having the latest gadget, in which case they don't deserve your "heirloom" pots and pans, or b) you don't have kids, in which case you'll make some lucky bastard at the Goodwill insanely happy when he finds your culinary treasures in the bargain bin. 

8. Pyrex baking dish (~9x13). For lasagna, cakes, marinating, etc. Love that you can see through the bottom to gauge how quickly things are browning (or sometimes in my case, burning). It's like a super-power of cooking. 

9. Vegetable peeler. You can use your paring knife, but why be a martyr?

10. Instant-read thermometer. Essential to determining "doneness" of meat until you learn how to judge by touch. If you're a vegetarian, I've recently learned that an instant-read thermometer is one of the best ways to tell when bread is fully baked.  I haven't found a great one that is truly instant read, making for slightly more guess work than I am comfortable with re: internal meat temp (this coming from someone who likes medium-rare hamburgers and steak tartare in restaurants, but is not likely to feed same to her family or self at home).

11. Strainer. For draining pasta, washing vegetables, wearing on your head like a hat (if you're almost 3 years old like lil' P.).

12. Mandoline. Not strictly necessary, but if you find yourself doing a lot of fine slicing, especially of onions, this will make quick work of something that otherwise is a chore. Just watch your fingers and save yourself a trip to the emergency room.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bonus... Bean Dip!

This hardly counts as a recipe, but in keeping with our cracker-based meals (10 Ritz crackers = well-balanced dinner for lil P.), I whipped up some white bean dip on Sunday. I got sick of hummus... too much lemon, too sharp tasting, when what I really want is smooth/creamy/garlicky/salty. (There was an exceptional hummus brand available at the Pittsburgh Whole Foods that was super-garlicky and delicious. I can't find it here in Rhode Island, and don't remember the brand name to ask them to order it--- anyone in PA know what I'm talking about???) The bean dip/spread was exactly what I wanted... and isn't that the beauty of home cooking?

Here's the "recipe": two cans of cannelinni beans (drained and rinsed) + 1 bulb roasted garlic + 3 T chopped fresh rosemary. Throw all ingredients into the food processor, pulse/puree while slowly adding olive oil til you get a creamy consistency. Add salt to taste.

August's Pickle of the Month: Red Onion

I love pickles. I ate so many pickles when I was pregnant with P. that I was afraid he was marinating-- in utero-- in brine rather than amniotic fluid. I still dream about a jar of Amish pickled green tomatoes that B. brought me back from Philly's Reading market. (I polished the whole thing off in about 2 days.) High time to explore the wide wonderful world of preserved vegetables...

Last night I made red onion pickles from a recipe posted on Orangette (originally based on a Zuni Cafe recipe). Lots of steps, but easy ones and relaxing in a repetitive, mindless kind of way. They smelled up the house a bit, but we opened the windows and ran the exhaust fan, so there were no lingering vinegary fumes this morning.

The pickles are a lovely hot pink color. I like the idea of making some pickled carrots and combining the two on a plate for a hot pink/bright orange color combo that would be pretty. They look especially nice in the turquoise Mason jars that P. gave me once.

The flavor is unusually complex for a pickle--- it's sweet, tart, smoky, hot/spicy, peppery. The vinegar is not the first thing you taste, but just heightens the mouth-watering sharpness.

The recipe says these pickles are super-versatile--- good on grilled meats, cheeses (esp. goat or cheddar), and straight-up on a cracker. It also says they're best after marinating together with the brine in the jar for about 48 hours, so I'm trying to restrain myself from eating them all before they reach their peak flavor.

Still I'm going to go out on a limb and based on my preliminary tastings, give the verdict: 9 out of 10. An excellent introductory pickling experience and a terrific addition to the refrigerator condiment crowd.

Monday, May 25, 2009

May's Cookie of the Month: Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread

One of the things I find most annoying about blogs is the incessantly recycled content.  Maybe I'm not diversified enough in the blogs I follow, but the same cute nursery designs and delicious-sounding pickled ramp recipes get posted on multiple blogs I follow, getting progressively less cute and delicious-sounding with each post.  [Now that a student explained it to me (thanks Pat!), I understand that "RT" in twitter parlance is a "re-tweet": essentially forwarding someone else's tweet like an email to your followers.]  

So it is now with some shame that I join the ranks of the lazy bloggers and re-hash a decent cookie recipe I found on Lottie + Doof.  Good blog (excellent food photography, solid recipe selection)... so-so cookie.  Not hard to make exactly, but lots of refrigeration time between mixing and baking, and I'm not sure shortbread is worth the wait.  They look pretty, though, and could be customized with your cookie cutter collection or you could go crazy with some freehand designs.  The verdict: 6 out of 10.  Eh.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Big Brother in Baltimore

Check out this article on Baltimore's network of surveillance cameras in Governing magazine. Comparisons to "The Wire" are too easy, but since I've been away from the blog for three months now, I'll swing at the softball: a real-life Lester Freamon, an "after hours club" called Lil's Place, a Lil' Wayne concert (one wonders if he partied after hours at Lil's Place...).  I hear the last line growled in Slim Charles' inimitable voice: "Well, it do's and it don't."
Anyone troubled by the civil liberties aspects of this?  I'm not sure you have a right to privacy if you shoot someone on a city sidewalk.  Should you shoot them in the comfort of your own home, now that's another story...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Crafty Days of Yore...

Now that I'm employed, I miss the radical freedom of unemployment and all of the fun artsy-craftsy projects that I was able to do.  Some turned out better than others (Peter's pillow), some are yet to be fully implemented (my scissor lino block printing, destined for t-shirts large and small), and some just turned out wonky (the sweater dog).  Hopefully it's wonky in a "I love my mom for trying" sort-of way... see for yourself above.

In other art news, my nifty Brown ID got me in to the RISD Museum (for free!) at lunchtime yesterday to catch the Harry Callahan show before it closes tomorrow.  The Museum is 3 blocks form my office and will be a regular stop on my lunch hour as I explore their collection.  Callahan actually established the photo department at RISD, but there were not too many pictures in the exhibit from their time in Providence.  Chicago is featured prominently, to the point that the city is almost like a family member in the photos.  Callahan's photos of his wife Eleanor (and later, daughter Barbara) are so technically brilliant and tender/intimate at the same time.  A remarkable talent to combine those two aspects.  You may have seen the one where Eleanor is emerging from the water of Lake Michigan looking like something out of a Botticelli painting.