Sunday, February 28, 2010

DIY sock club project one

I recently posted about making a sock club for myself.

Well, I've started the first pair! I'm doing the one I dubbed Sleepy Vanilla Sox - using a plain vanilla sock pattern + the heel from Sleepy Hollow Socks + yarn called Berrocco Sox, color Kingston.

The heel construction was very cool! I learned about the pattern from the Yarn Harlot, who writes about the heel construction with far more knitterly charm than I can summon. And I haven't made so many pairs of socks that I know what all heels are like, but I've really liked not having to fuss with picking up stitches. Highly recommend this heel construction, and I may try to work it into other socks I do. Probably not, really, as I tend to be a slave to directions - but I'll think about it!

I finished the foot and did the decreases, only to find I'd jumped the gun, and the foot was too short. So, I had to rip back. sigh. I'll get that sock finished soon!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

another dinner

After my lovely visit to Rhode Island, I had one day off before returning to work. I guess I wasn't ready to let go of the vacation feeling - I decided to have some friends over for dinner, after the triumph of wine night!

I set the table for five:

and paused to get a picture of the hillside behind my apartment, which is blooming like crazy right now:

It was super rainy out, so I spent a nice couple of hours making my apartment smell great by producing a huge vat of applesauce, and also a big pot of chicken & dumplings:
 The recipe is from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook - I got it for Christmas (well... I got my sister's 2nd copy in exchange for giving her another cookbook at a later date), and the very first time I flipped through it, I fell for that recipe. I vowed to get a Dutch oven and make it, and I knew I'd have to have guests, as it serves 6-8 and I don't think dumplings would keep very well. I still don't know the answer to that, as we scarfed every last dumpling down. Note to self: next time make them smaller so I have hopes of having leftovers! 

It was a lovely way to spend a rainy evening before heading back to work. Now that I've taken the plunge and had people over for dinner, I hope I do more of it. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Calling in the librarian super powers!

I went to Rhode Island for five days to hang out with my parents & siblings. Since 1996, my sister and younger brother and I have cooked an elaborate feast on Christmas Eve; since John missed Christmas this year, we planned to do one of our sessions during this visit. We chose a greatest hits theme, picking some of our favorites from the last 13 menus (most of which I have, at least the names of the menu items).

In 1996, Mary made an amazing roasted eggplant & red pepper soup. We knew that had to be on the menu, but when she got to RI, she realized she'd forgotten to bring the recipe, the book was out of print, and she couldn't find a similar-looking recipe online.. Librarians to the rescue! We knew the title of the book (Healthy First Courses) and author (Diane Rossen Worthington), and I used Worldcat to see what libraries still have the book. As it happens, it's in the closed stacks at Multnomah County Public Library, and one of my friends from grad school works in their Central branch. A quick Facebook message and we were on our way! She found the book, transcribed the recipe, and sent it to me via Facebook. How modern!

So here, for posterity, is the recipe for  
Roasted Red Pepper, Eggplant, and Garlic soup

2 red bell peppers
1 eggplant, halved length wise
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cups poultry stock
4 tablespoons fresh basil

  1. Preheat broiler. Place the poppers on a broiling pan under the broiler about 4 inches from the heat source. Roast, turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and slightly charred on all sides, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to paper bag, close tight, let rest for ten minutes. Remove from bag, peel charred skin. Halve peppers, remove the stems, seeds, and ribs. [we cheated and used jarred roasted red peppers]
  2. Preheat oven to 400. Coat a roasting pan with nonstick spray. Sprinkle the eggplant halves with salt and pepper. Place them, cut side up, with the garlic in the pan and bake, turning once, until brown and tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes.
  3. Halve the eggplant again, place in food processor. Add the garlic and puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until smooth, but with a little texture remaining, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. [we used an immersion blender]
  4. Clean processor bowl and add the bell peppers and cayenne pepper. Puree, scraping down the sides halfway through, until very smooth, about 1 minute. [again, we used the immersion blender, being sure to clean it between batches to keep the flavors separate]
  5. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and saute, stirring, until very tender, 10-12 minutes. Cover and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the eggplant puree and the poultry stock, stir to mix well and bring to a simmer. Stir until well blended.
  6. To serve, ladle into individual bowls. Stir an equal amount of red pepper puree into each serving, without mixing it in completely. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon basil atop each bowl.
It was as delicious as we remembered - definitely a Greatest Hit!

The whole menu:
Roasted eggplant soup
veggie sushi rolls
Vietnamese shaking beef salad
individual baked alaskas (cut an orange in half, hollow it out, fill with vanilla ice cream, cover with meringue, and cook at 500 for 5 minutes. easy and delicious!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Daytrip to parts North

On Sunday I took a little drive... THROUGH some fog
And into some serious bucolic splendor.

I did a little cheese tasting (but JUST a little - they didn't have a noon tour despite the web page's schedule)

And a fair amount of sitting in the sunshine under some wild-looking trees.

Now I'm off to Rhode Island where it shall NOT be so spring-like! 

Monday, February 15, 2010

About wine group

I've been meaning to write about wine group anyway, and having hosted this month, and posted about that, this seems like a good time to explain. This is SUPER long. Sorry, but I guess it is a little complicated!

We've been meeting since the summer of 2008; nine of us are coworkers and the tenth member is a spouse. We also have two regular guests who are tapped to fill in if one of the main members can't make it. Sometimes we have gaps at the very last minute, but usually we manage to have between 8 and 10 participants each month.

A couple of weeks in advance, we confirm what wine we're going to taste, and that at least one person is willing to research & purchase them. This month we chose blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, and two people did the selecting. I think they divided the globe by hemisphere; one selected three wines from the Northern, and the other brought from the Southern hemisphere. I've never been a wine selector and don't feel nearly informed enough to do so, though I suppose I'd apply myself and figure something out - you're just supposed to represent some aspect of the chosen grape.

Once we have the wine settled, people volunteer for various parts of the meal. Here are the categories, and what we had this month:
  • Someone always brings a bottle of Yay It's The Weekend sparkling wine. This month that person was the very last to arrive, so we've agreed that in future, I'll make sure to take custody of the bubbly bottle at least a day before we have our wine night. I am pathologically on-time to events, and I will promise to ensure that the late-comers still get a glass of wine, without making us wait to get started! 
  • An appetizer - as mentioned, I made brie-stuffed mushrooms. Someone else brought three types of olives. Usually we mill around having the bubbly and snacks while the people responsible for the meal do the final touches. We also use that time to get all the wine glasses organized on the table!
  • Main course - Unbelievable Eye of Round. It was smeared in mustard, coated in kosher salt, and baked at high temperature (475) for about an hour.
  • Salad - a delicious pea/prosciutto deli salad on a bed of greens. garnished with blood oranges.
  • Side dish, veg - Cooked greens & onions - I think it was just a bag of mixed greens (collard, mustard, etc.) & onion cooked over low heat for a while. I was pretty tuned out of the kitchen by then, but it was delicious! 
  • Side dish, starch - amazing bistro-style gratin.Those only had to be heated in the oven, so we put them in while the meat was resting.
  • After the main courses are done, we do a cheese course, with slices of baguette. We had stilton, something like Manchego but called by a different name, and a triple-cream brie.
  • THEN we had dessert - a ridiculously dense and rich chocolate/cherry torte. 
  • THEN I was able to offer some digestifs to the crowd, since I'd picked up little 2-ounce glasses at Crate & Barrel that very day. I had Zwack, B & B, and Drambuie on offer.
As you can see, it's quite a production - and all that food is beside the point! During all this we're supposed to be tasting and rating the six glasses of wine!!!!

We always wrap the six bottles of wine in brown paper, and label them A through E. Everyone brings six glasses, which are labeled or arranged in some set order. Then every glass gets about 2 ounces of wine. On the nights there are 8 of us, we can be a bit lax, but if we have 10, we have to be really careful that everyone gets some of the wine!

After the Yay It's The Weekend bottle of bubbly wine, and before dinner is served, we all sit down and start examining and tasting the wine. I'm not very good at this part. I'm trying to get better at labeling what I smell and taste, but it's hard. After we've examined and tasted for a while, we have our dinner, and after we've eaten we have to sort the wines by our personal preference, 1-6. I'm *terrible* at this. This month especially I felt like all six wines were pretty much the same to me, so my rating system was a bit arbitrary. (For that very reason, we're talking about changing to a points system, so I could give all of mine an 8 out of 10 if that felt right to me.)

Once we've done our rating, we go around the table and log what everyone gave each wine. Then someone figures out how each wine fared in the ranking, and THEN we unwrap the wines, and THEN we get another sheet of paper describing them.

This month's wines ranged from a low of $13.99 to a high of $46.99. They came from South Africa, France, Washington State, Chile, California, and Argentina. A couple of the wines were 100% cab, while the rest were blends of such grapes as merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, syrah, and carmenere. (I'm cribbing from the notes, here - it's already gone from my head for sure.)

The week after the event we all add up what we spent, and then divide the total cost by the number of participants. Usually the entire evening runs around $35 per person - what a deal!!!! And it's a really nice monthly event.

I've been exposed to a lot of great food and wine in the last almost-two years, and I know that a little bit of it has stuck with me, but not a ton. Food-wise, I tend to offer to bring dessert, now that I think about it. I definitely haven't been brave enough to do the main course. I've done apps a couple of times, and salad a couple as well. I should probably get brave and do the main course, but hey! At least I finally hosted!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


When last I wrote, I was getting ready to host dinner for 8 in my apartment. It came off beautifully! Borrowing 2 chairs, 8 plates, and assorted table knives worked fine. We fit pretty well at the table (as well as we've fit anywhere), and the social milling around bit before dinner was a little cozy, since we were hemmed in by the table on one side and couch on the other, but it was fine. Phew. It helped that others cooked various parts of the meal, so I was only responsible for the appetizer. I made the Pioneer Woman's mushrooms stuffed with brie, and they were amazing.

I got a picture of the room ready to go:

And some morning-after shots:


Whew! I'm headed north for the day, to visit a cheese place or two and then to volunteer at a small-town cafe, as part of the San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival.Should be fun!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

hostess with the mostess?

I'm part of a wine group that meets monthly - the second Friday of each month. We plan the evening a week or two in advance, by selecting the varietal of wine that will be featured, and then the members volunteer to make food to go with the wine. We have up to 10 attendees on any month, and usually get at least 8.

This month I'm hosting! Agh! Dinner for 8 in my apartment! My living room is big enough, and I even have an extendable table, but - I don't have a dishwasher. I have 5 plates. I have 6 chairs. Somehow I haven't gotten all the stuff that I'd have been SURE I'd have had by now. Some of this is because I never got married (no swag!) and a lot of it is that I've moved a fair amount post-college: 3 years in Boston, 10 in Portland, 3-and-counting in the Bay Area. And for 5 of the 10 Portland years, my kitchen stuff was in a friend's basement. So really, I'm actually behind the crowd for collecting kitchen/hosting stuff. Or whatever.

Anyway, I'm going to borrow 8 plates, 2 chairs, 4 table knives, and 8 steak knives. Thank goodness everyone has to bring their own wine glasses, because we need 6 each.

So yeah - 8 people at my table I can imagine and have done (once). 8 people with 6 wine glasses and a water glass each = 56 glasses on the table at once. And food. And napkins. And maybe a couple of festive candles!

Should be exciting. I'll try to get a picture of the Befores and Afters.

Friday, February 5, 2010

DIY Sock club

I've been knitting for a couple of years now, and the obsession has perhaps waned a bit. I still love it lots and lots, but have been doing more baking as creative expression.

However there's a thing called Sock Club which I think is way cool. Some clever knitters dreamed it up - usually you join a sock club that is offered by a yarn company, such as the outstanding Blue Moon Fiber Arts. You pay them money (the one at Blue Moon runs about $250), and they send you patterns and yarn on a regular basis. You can blog and email with other sock club members, and all in all it's pretty awesome.

I've been stashing more and more yarn, and decided to lay out a plan for using some of this stuff - a sock club of my own! Here's what's on tap for 2010, in no particular order:

Smoosh Angee. The pattern: Angee.
The yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy, color: Deep Sea Flower.

The Sanguine Snake. The pattern: Snake River Socks.
The yarn: The Sanguine Gryphon Kypria, color: Thetis.

Pool Diversion. The pattern: Diversion (my fourth attempt! more on that later).
The yarn: Schachenmayr nomotta Regia Design Line Kaffe Fassett - color Exotic Pool.

Sleepy Tosh. The pattern: Sleepy Hollow.
The yarn: Tosh Sock, color: terrarium.

Sleepy Vanilla Sox. The pattern: plain vanilla sock pattern + the heel from Sleepy Hollow Socks.
The yarn: Berrocco Sox, color Kingston.

Right now I'm doing a scarf for a friend, a hat for a baby, and have ends to work in on a sweater & a scarf. I figure I'll get started on the sock club sometime later this month. I might bring the plain vanilla one on my trip to RI later this month. We'll see - should be fun. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recipe: Rosemary shortbread cookies

Allow me a moment of immodesty: these cookies were amazing! I'm particularly pleased because the recipe is an amalgam of several, including (but perhaps not limited to) Cooks' Illustrated, 101 Cookbooks, and Tartelette. So I was quite pleased when my recipe came out great!

2 sticks butter (room temperature)
1/4 tsp salt (only if using unsalted butter)
1/2 c sugar (or even less - somewhere between 1/3 c and 1/2)
1 3/4 c all purpose flour (consider toasting it!)
1/4 c corn starch
2 T snipped fresh rosemary
optional brainstorm added Feb 2011: salt for sprinkling just before baking

Preheat oven to 350

Cream together the butter, salt, and sugar.
Stir in the flour, corn starch, and rosemary.

Refrigerate the dough for about 20 minutes. Break off about 1/4 of it and roll it out on a floured surface. Cut out and transfer to a cookie sheet (sprinkle with salt if desired), and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven while the cookies are still pale.

Hint: they're amazing with lemon curd.