Friday, October 30, 2009

DIY vanilla extract!

I've been interested in making vanilla extract for a long time now. Those little bottles are expensive, the contents don't taste that good, and my sister has been making extract for ages. Therefore, I must do it!

The first hold-up was that I didn't have any vanilla beans. Well, I work about a mile from foodie Mecca in the form of the Berkeley Bowl, so I did some poking around. Not only do they have vanilla beans, they have screamingly fresh ones! First I found dried vanilla beans starting at eight bucks. That seemed steep, but I was resigned to it.. until I stumbled on a bag of FOUR beans for four bucks in the bulk section. (As a side note, they smelled a LOT like the super sweet body lotion/candles.. who knew they were so true in their scent?)

So... with four beans in hand, I started reading up on making extract. Wow, do the recipes vary. I wound up going with 1 bean (chopped & scraped) per 4 ounces vodka. I bought a bottle of 8-dollar vodka at Trader Joe's and used 12 ounces and three beans. I'm saving the final bean for.. something.

It's only been a few weeks but it already looks great. I did a taste test between MY extract and some store-bought and I think mine tastes better already. Just wait until it's properly aged! (The ubiquitous They say six months.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Almost to the month's finish line!

I decided to stop shopping this month, and it's been a very useful exercise! I've got a list of the things I want to purchase, and it's actually quite minimal. If those were the only things I would have bought, I would be in fine shape on a month-to-month basis.

However I've learned all too well that the $28-dollar face lotion turns into $100+ spent at the register whenever I go into Bliss or Sephora, and the $7 hand lotion becomes three-for-$20. Clearly those marketers know their business!

Here's the money I haven't spent - the specific list of things I would have otherwise purchased (so far!):

Replacement subscription for Entertainment Weekly: $20 for a year (or $35 for two years)
Subscription to Cook's Illustrated: $26.95
Knitting pattern: $5
Yarn for said pattern: I will have a credit for about $25 at the store, so probably "only" $15

CD from the concert I went to this weekend: $14.99

arguably needs:
Empty jars for food storage: $12-24 (because I'd probably crack and buy extras)
Facial moisturizer: $28
Hand lotion: $7, maybe? I don't know what this costs, really - it's been a while!

All that adds up to about $156. However when I run the numbers for the money I've spent this month, I have spent $623 less than I did on average in July-Sept. If I only look at September, I spent $854 less this month! Granted I still have to buy tires, gas, and possibly a grocery item or two, and I am going out for dinner on Thursday, so the savings won't be quite so extreme, but that is VERY interesting.

After I factor in what I intend to spend this month (tires/grocery/dinner out), this indicates that Stopping Shopping has saved me at least $350-550, which would have just been frittered away while picking up items that I specifically want. That's impressive (and horrifying, and embarrassing). Those savings are worth repeating. I think I'm going to purchase the items that I really want from the above list, and do this again in November.

I've felt a little mindful, but not too deprived. I think I spent a bit more than I would ordinarily at the grocery store, but my restaurant spending decreased, so they balance each other fairly well. All in all, this is worth doing again. I think I can, I think I can!

Tomato update

Earlier this summer I posted about trying to germinate tomato seeds for next summer's garden.  I took some more pictures but never added them here! (Or I can't find the post. Practically the same thing.)

As a reminder: here's the tomato whose seeds I harvested:

Then, according to this article, you put 'em in a jar and let them get moldy:

Then you rinse them off, dry them, and voila! Seeds for next summer's planting! I've got a lot... anyone want some?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Accidental genius

This weekend I made Pioneer Woman's cupcakes. For some mad reason, I thought I should double the recipe.
I shouldn't have - I was heading out in an hour and really had to fly around the kitchen to get it done!

But, I triumphed. Even though the recipe made more cake than I needed: I had two dozen cupcakes and a loaf pan of cake to show for my efforts! Yes, I know this isn't the worst thing that can happen, but I live alone and don't need that kind of yumminess calling to me. I foisted about half of the cupcakes off on my pumpkin-carving friends, and brought the loaf cake into work.

Only on the very last slice did I find out that the loaf cake is BRILLIANT: because I was running short of time, and the cake wasn't quite done, I turned off the oven and left it in there. It cracked a bit but was otherwise fine-looking when I got home. Well, when I poured the frosting on, it oozed into the cracks on the cake, much like pudding cake in the old days.

I'm totally doing this on purpose next time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I too like big bundts

I've been following the Food Librarian for a while now, and this month she's doing such a fun theme: a bundt cake per day until National Bundt Day (November 15th (who knew?)).

The end of October is approaching, and I'm having people over for a pumpkin carving party tomorrow, so it seems very fitting to choose a pumpkin-flavored snack to serve! Ergo, I have selected the pumpkin-apple spiced bundt cake.

Most of the ingredients (missing: two eggs, 10 T butter):

Note the glass jar: I'm making my own vanilla extract! It's probably not quite ready, but I used it anyway, and made sure to get some of the flecks of vanilla goodness.

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the butter/egg/pumpkin. Dice 2 cups of apples (a bit less than 2 apples). All ready to put together: At this point you combine the wet and dry ingredients, then fold in the apple.

Looks promising!

 Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then turn onto a plate. It smells SO GOOD.

Wow. I may have to sample this before tomorrow! 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

so what else am I up to?

Yep, I do things other than cook. I work, which I won't be talking about here (let's leave it in the office!). I also knit!

This spring I got SO lucky to go to see friends get married in a castle in Ireland:

well... guess what I'm working on now?

(I swear they're from the same ball of  yarn... the variegation didn't work in my favor and I do not think I can bring myself to work on a third one of these.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harvest stew

It's a rare rainy day here in the Bay Area, and the region was pleasantly gray. Tomorrow's my day for lunch group, so I'm pulling out a seasonal favorite - Locro: harvest stew with sofrito topping

I've made this a few times, and the recipe is pleasingly vague. It's been a little different each time I've made it, but delicious in every instance. And, as ever, it made a metric ton! I'll be sure to bring some to the new small family, but I do solemnly declare I'm going to freeze some for later, instead of eating the same thing for the next week!

Yesterday I threw 1/4 each white beans, barley, and wheat berries in a pot of water, to soak overnight (I understand this step for the beans, but not for the grains, but it certainly doesn't hurt). Today I got a bunch of fresh veggies:

Then, I simmered the beans & grains while I diced the sweet potato, regular potatoes, and then peeled, seeded, and diced the butternut squash. (My leftover Halloween scraper works well for that last job!) Finally, I chopped up the red pepper and tomatoes.

The last touch: cut the corn cob into wheels, and chuck into the stew:

The tomatoes and red pepper have been sauteed until soft with a bunch of paprika, and will make a striking topping later:

Yum! It's been a productive evening! 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roasted vegetable soup

I don't think I've talked about lunch group here. In April 2007 four coworkers and I resurrected something from before my time at work - each member of the group brings in lunch for the rest of the group one day per week. So when we had five members, every day we got a home-made mostly-vegetarian meal! (We're flexible on the vegetarian part.)

We've had some gains and losses - one lunch group member is on sabbatical from us because her two small kids and busy life leave her unable to commit to cooking on a regular basis; another member is out on maternity leave right now. But we're carrying on with three right now, and it's almost completely responsible for my revived interest in cooking (my interest in baking is another story for another post).

After 2+ years I've gotten pretty good at winging it. Here's what I did a couple of weeks ago:

Bought a bunch of veggies:

Roasted them:

Heated them in some homemade chicken stock, then pureed them:

I also cooked some wheat berries and mixed them into the puree. I love wheatberries for their amazing chewiness - they NEVER get soggy, and they have a great almost nutty taste.

As a final touch, I had a pretty and flavorful puree made of roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, and basil. Just a dab of that on top of the soup was enough to give it all a great flavor.

I sent a jar of the soup to my at-home-with-infant friends, and served the rest to lunch group. Yum!

Edited to add... haHAH! Librarians to the rescue, thanks Brian!


As I mentioned in my last post, baking is also a new interest of mine. I've always been somewhat into it, of course, but I was recently trying to pinpoint when I became so much more interested in it.

I remember that for my co-birthday party just over a year ago (August 2008), I was going to use a cake mix for the cupcakes. One of my friends (who is an excellent baker and cook) exclaimed "Step away from the cupcakes!" when she heard that, and brought three different flavors that she made herself, if memory serves.

So I wasn't big into baking as recently as 14 months ago. Yet 8 months ago, for the Oscars, I baked my heart out. Not only did I make nutella-filled sugar cookies:

but I also made an elaborate maple cake for a friend's birthday:

Clearly the turning point was between August and February. I think I can pinpoint it, actually. I bought a KitchenAid mixer in November (fantastic deal on a reconditioned one) and I've done more and more baking since then. I was already reading food blogs before then (one of those blogs alerted me to the deal!), but it was just too much work to do some of those recipes.

Once I had my mixer, first I wanted to break it in. Then I wanted to justify its purchase. Now I just enjoy the baking! I almost always foist the majority of my product onto others - mostly my coworkers - but no one's complained too loudly yet!

So, as I go on with this blog, I'll be sure to link to recipes I've tried and will post photos of the results. I have a few projects I did in the past that I can post about, and now that I've worked out the photo issues, I'll get right on it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

frustration, and cake!

I'm having trouble getting pictures to work with this software/blogging tool. If I don't mind going gray and dying a quiet death, I can upload pics one at a time and it usually works. If I want to, I don't know, use a picture from my web album, I appear to be out of luck. I've got some drafts going, but until I can figure this out, the blog will be more wordy than I want. I'm really aggravated.

But I will give you some of the pictures I managed to get uploaded, after waiting for thirty seconds for each one. Even though I'd already uploaded them to the same album!!! I am losing the war against bitterness!
Anyway: These are from the Smitten Kitchen recipe for Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear cake. Run, do not walk, to your kitchen to make it. I was worried because the commenters had problems with the cake coming out underdone. I should have put foil on it at the 45 minute mark and left it in for 10 more minutes; instead I pulled it out at 50 min so it's a bit brown on top and was a wee bit underdone in the middle - just softness instead of crumble.

But this cake is magic. First all you smell is the melting chocolate, then the cake puffs up around the chocolate and pear, and then you smell sweet vanilla cake baking. Wow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

smokey spicy goodness!!!!!

I hardly dared believe my eyes when I saw a small package in the mail.... but my nose was reporting the news: Anotheryarn sent me dried chipotle peppers!!!!!! Thank you thank you thank you, M! I'm very excited. I have to work through some of my chocolate sauce backlog (yes it is a hard life) but I will make some new chipotle-spiced sauce soon.

In fact, I recently bookmarked a recipe for truffles - these may come in handy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

more spending!

There's already one thing I may buy despite my no-shop month: garden materials for the building's garden.

I forgot I also need tires! And I'm driving to Yosemite at the end of the month, so I'll probably get them before we go. There are SOME things you just do.

Seems to me I thought of something else.. oh yeah, the subscription for my one fun magazine is almost up.. I need to order now so service isn't interrupted. hm. I'm annoyed that they want to charge me $50 to renew, or I can go to Amazon and get a NEW subscription for twenty bucks. Seriously, people.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

no-spending update

It's almost mid-October. I have spent plenty of money on food, including groceries for brunch for eight, and wine to bring to a party, but I haven't bought any things since I decided October would be a good time for stopping shopping.

I have a list of things I want to get, though! Which is probably partially the point: to think about what I want, mull it over, list it, and LATER decide if I was going to do it. Here's the list in my head at the moment:

  • Jars. Ever since developing a blog-crush on Food in Jars earlier this year, I've been buying and using jars in many ways. And right now I'm just about out of the 16-ounce wide mouths! They're being used to hold four types of uncooked beans, some food leftovers, and I don't know what else. But they're all in use right now. I started some vanilla extract last night and really had to dig for a suitable container. (I used a version of this page's Traditional Vanilla Recipe: three beans split, scraped, and chopped, in 12 ounces of vodka)
  • moisturizer - I'm running low! I have my travel bottle left, though, so I won't run out
  • hand lotion - only one small bottle left of good-smelling stuff at home. I have a good-sized bottle of plain stuff on my desk at work; I can bring that home if necessary
  • The bits and pieces to recreate an Ikea hack for vertical pot storage. That would free up a chunk of space. I'm not sure where I can cram it, and it'll only work if my ceiling is in fact 10 feet or less, so I can at least measure that when I get home.
  • oh yeah, and the usual things that have been on my list forever: crock pot, food processor.
  • oooh and there are a couple of paintings that a friend's daughter has listed on etsy. I'm not going to link to them to save them for myself, I hope, but they cost $180 and $280, so I'm not convinced I'll ever actually take the plunge and buy them. That's as much as I'll spend on a couple of plane tickets next year! But I do like real art and it would be great to support a friend. As a bonus, of course, I think they're gorgeous.
edited to add:
  • oooh: and this pattern for a gorgeous cowl for myself; of course, I'd need to buy yarn as well!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

update on that dessert!

Well, the dessert didn't merit the awesome name Fallen Ladies, but it WAS met with unanimous approval.

I'd intended to have individual fallen chocolate cakes, but then I realized those can't really sit around for 24 hours, and there was too much going on for me to leave work early to whip them up within a few hours of their intended consumption. SO, I changed my plan and instead found a recipe for flourless chocolate cake. But I still wanted individual serving sizes, so I fudged it and baked 12 ramekins of cakes instead of one big one. They came out okay, maybe a tiny bit more dry than I'd have liked, but I think that's partly the nature of that type of cake.

Then there was the spice-infused chocolate sauce. After reading a number of recipes, I decided to use David Lebovitz's recipe, which was a good call. My pastry chef consultant told me to heat the water with some spices in it: I doubled the recipe, so put in a whole cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, and half a dried ancho chili (after I failed to find a dried chipotle pepper).

After a few minutes of steeping, I strained the water (I ran it through a coffee filter balanced precariously in a sieve, over a bowl). I made sure I had the proper volume of water, and continued with David's recipe.

It came out okay, but the heat was SUPER subtle. I really wanted it to be more smoky and warm, so that was kind of disappointing. I suppose I'll keep my eye out for dried chipotles (which are just smoked then dried jalapenos, and may not exist, even!), but I could also try using chipotle powder, I suppose.

So, we'll see. There was room for improvement, but it went over FAR better than I feared. And I have a jar of it left in my fridge!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I get by

Ah, what a lovely weekend: two friends who I met in Portland in 1996 came to visit. We've got such a long and rich history and come together so easily. We didn't do a lot, really - hung out, drank coffee, ate a lot of great food. I brought them to a lovely foodfest hosted by local friends, and we even threw a brunch on Sunday that consisted mostly of Seattle people I didn't know - some visiting, some moved here.

As I dropped guest #1 off at the airport this morning, Joe Cocker played on the radio:

Do you need anybody
I just need someone to love
Could it be anybody
I want somebody to love.
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends.

Friday, October 9, 2009

blessed weekend

This is my second weekend in a row that feels so very badly needed. I hope my entire autumn doesn't feel like this! I'm pretty much out of sorts with the world.

BUT I have very good friends in town this weekend. AND I'm going to eat good food tonight (separate from my visitors, which puts it back in the not-so-perfect column). AND we don't have any major plans EXCEPT going to see some of my friends tomorrow and having what promises to be lots of yummy food.

So I shall try to buck up.
Ten minutes to go.
It'll be light-to-no posting this weekend, friends, and let's hope I'm in a better place next week!


Reader, I failed to find dried chipotles. Even at the Bowl.

I bought a dried ancho chile instead, and tried making a spice-infused take on David Lebovitz's chocolate sauce. I dunno. There's a ghost of some warmth, but it's not what I wanted.

I also made the cakes - I'd planned to make individual fallen chocolate cakes from Cooks' Illustrated, but then I realized they were supposed to be served within a half hour or so of baking, and I was going to be serving them 24 hours later.

I could've made the batter when I got home from work, but that would be pushing it, and I've got two guests to visit with, however briefly. (which is a whole 'nother story) So, I changed my plan and made individual flourless chocolate cakes, and .. meh. They look a bit dry and the sample I tried wasn't that flavorful.

Drat. I'm not even calling these Fallen Ladies - the only thing fallen is my hopes!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On the quest for dried chipotles

In order to make the Fallen Ladies I need a dried chipotle pepper - not powdered, but a chili.

In related news, tonight I confirmed what I long suspected - I'll do just about anything rather than clean! I have houseguests (apartment-guests, technically) this weekend, the first arriving tomorrow night, but did I clean? No, I did not. Did I hit THREE grocery stores in my quest for a dried chipotle pepper? Yes, yes I did.

Okay it's true that two of the shops are just down the street from my apartment. And the first had something like FOUR types of dried chiles, just not chipotle. The third though - I knew I was reaching when I went to the third. It's part of a big chain, and not that large a store, and it's about a mile from home, and it really is uphill both ways (downhill too, of course). Still, I tried, mostly so I could rest easy on my couch knowing I'd tried. Even if there's plenty of other things I could be doing.

I have a secret weapon, tomorrow. I'm going to walk to the famed and excellent Berkeley Bowl during lunch tomorrow. If they don't have a dried chipotle pepper, I'll punt and use something else.

Oh, did I mention I've changed the base recipe for the dessert? Yeah.. going with something a bit different than planned. Stay tuned for that not so interesting story!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fallen Ladies coming soon!

As I posted before, I want to invent a dessert called Fallen Ladies. I further mused about what to add to it to make it kinda sexy - it'll already be decadent! I think I'm closing in on it.

I've been talking about the dessert a lot, and I am embarrassed to say I can't remember if I had this idea, or if it was given to me, but I think I want to go with a spicy chocolate sauce. Fortunately one of my coworkers has a long-term partner who's a pastry chef and all-around whiz in the kitchen (from what my coworker has brought in for lunch, and shared with us). So I've been getting some advice from Elise and am pretty excited at how it's shaping up.

I just need to get my hands on a dried chipotle pepper. Stay tuned, kids!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Banana-Apple bread

I had two sad little bananas sitting on the counter, and a bag full of apples. I wanted to make something delicious, autumnal, and easy to transport to work in a backpack (since I was biking the next day). I decided to combine a traditional banana bread with some ideas gleaned from a recipe for Chai-Apple coffeecake.

I consulted some cookbooks before deciding to mostly wing it. My base recipe is from Cooks' Illustrated Baking Illustrated.

Banana-Apple bread

Sift together:
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 c slivered almonds (toasted briefly in the oven or in a skillet)

In a separate bowl, combine:
2 mashed bananas
1 apple diced small (I used a granny smith for its tartness)
2 large eggs
1/4 c plain yogurt
6 T melted butter
1/4 cup chai concentrate

Fold the wet ingredients into the dry; do not overmix.
Pour into a buttered/floured bread pan
Cook at 350 for about an hour - it's pretty dense bread! You want a knife or chopstick inserted into the bread to come out clean.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

oh my - photo technology

I've long been a user of Flickr. Well, "long" in computer years: I've been on Flickr for three years. When I moved to California, things were more and more digital, and I resolved to document my goings-on, so that's when I really got into digital photography and albums.

Now that I'm using this blog, I've found that my photos I'm uploading are being stored in a Picasa album for me. Also, I need to make an album accessible as part of a volunteer thing I'm doing, and everyone else is using Picasa.

So suddenly I'm checking out new technology. Picasa seems pretty slick, though I DO have a methodology going for flickr. It'll be interesting to see how things evolve. I hate to go all Google-products, all the time, but I sure seem to be tilting that way. I still have a yahoo mail account, but its search function is BEYOND crappy, so I'm probably going to give it up in a fit of rage. Some day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

stopping shopping

Since I've joined Holly's challenge for this month (technically, I've latched onto something she was doing independently), I wound up skipping this week's shop local evening bazaar. I wanted to just go look, but decided it was pretty pointless. Not only did I not have a shopping list for Christmas, I didn't really have any spare cash with me AND I was on my bike and wanted to ride home with two friends going my way - I'd prefer to have a friendly witness if I got hit by a car!

So that's all well and good. I realized I was almost out of hand lotion at home, but brought home a little bottle I have at my desk at work. There is one thing I may wind up buying - wood for the garden project. I will allow that since it's part of a bigger project!

Looking at my spending, this should save me as much as $500. Should be interesting!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Garden bounty

I performed a little kitchen magic.

Roast: some garden-fresh tomatoes, and garlic (at 375 for about 45 and 25 minutes, respectively):

Clean and pluck a whole bunch of basil leaves:

Puree the basil with some olive oil and a bit of salt. Plop most of the results into the bottoms of a muffin tin, and freeze. Once they're solid, combine them in a ziplock bag for later use.

Finally, puree the roasted tomato, roasted garlic, and the remnants of the basil (whatever was left in the food processor. Store the results in the fridge and meditate upon the best use of the delicious results.

Molasses bread, post 2

Remember that molasses bread I was making? It came out great. I probably should have cooked it a bit longer (it's rather dense inside) but- yum. As expected, it's great with plain yogurt!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My timing is not so great!

I've decided to join Holly in a short-term shopping ban. She's doing it for three months, but I'm aiming to get through October in one piece. She's a pro, after all, having Stopped Shopping for a whole year!

The rules - no purchasing the following items:
* Clothes
* Shoes
* Bags
* Jewelery/Accessories
* Books
* CDs
* DVDs
* Non-essential toiletries

To Holly's list, I add my big downfall:
* kitchen and household things
* knitting-related things - mostly yarn

I'm just going to try it out for October and see how it goes. It's true that my other big downfall is groceries and eating/drinking out, but this is a great place to start. I track my spending and I've gotten closer and closer to spending 100% of my take-home, which is Not Okay. So, this will help me recalibrate.

Too bad I'm going to an incredibly nifty full moon shop-local event tonight! That's okay, though: I'll learn about new artisans and vendors, and I'm sure I can purchase later if I choose.