Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Favoritest Product Ever

10:44 PM 2 Comments
Earlier today I was thinking about the facebook phenomenon and how it has transformed marketing, as suddenly there is a venue for friends to publicly announce their devotion to products/places/things/businesses at absolutely no cost to the products/places/things/businesses themselves.  And I was thinking how interesting it would be to me if everyone shared their one all-time favorite thing. I'm not talking about the raindrops on roses variety (why is that considered a Christmas song, anyway?) nor am I thinking of big ticket items...rather, I'm interested in that one product that in some small way makes your life a teeny tiny bit happier. 

Here's mine.

The Thermos Nissan 12-ounce Stainless Steel Tumbler, available at amazon.com.

In the last decade, I think Sean and I have each owned two or three of these. We've given them as gifts. We've raved about them to friends. We have carried them up mountains and across national borders. This is simply a wonderful travel mug. Here's why:
  • It's stainless steel, so it doesn't make your coffee taste like plastic.
  • It's skinny enough to fit in the cup holder of your car.
  • It's short enough to stand in the cup holder of your car without tipping over.
  • It can take a tumble and not break. It may dent, but it won't break.
  • But most importantly...it comes with a screw-on lid that seals SO TIGHTLY that you can pour your coffee early in the morning and still drink piping hot coffee up through lunchtime. And it is truly leak-proof - toss it in your computer bag, in your purse, shake it wildly up and down...no leaks.
I seriously love this mug. 

In the interest of full disclosure, the mug does have one downside, which is its capacity.  It claims to be a 12 ounce mug, but it actually holds a little more than 10. I deeply wish it were just a little bigger.

One other detail I did not mention is that the mug comes with a tea infuser. This doesn't matter to me at all as I don't drink tea, so I simply do not insert the infuser (I recently found four or five tea infusers in the back of a kitchen drawer). If you do drink loose tea, however, I think this would be a nice perk (and the tea drinkers that posted reviews on Amazon had great things to say).

So there you have it. My favoritest product ever.

So what's yours???

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can't. Stop. Baking.

1:10 PM 3 Comments
In a variation on the words of Michael Jackson, I'm a cooker, not a baker. Okay, I bake sometimes, but generally with a great deal of hesitancy and a limited amount of confidence. That said, I have no idea what has gotten into me this week - I literally cannot stop baking, and I am loving every minute of it (as is my husband, I might add). An overview of my efforts: 

A perfect loaf of whole wheat bread - I got this recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book, which is a classic in the world of bread baking and has been a wholly inspiring read thus far. It was on display at the library last week, and the title caught my eye (I'm fairly certain I checked it out from a different library about fifteen years ago). Anyway, it includes the most fantastic step-by-step guide to making whole wheat bread. I followed it diligently and the results were amazing. The recipe that follows is the shortened version of the detailed recipe, which covers every step of the process over thirteen illustrated pages. Please note that there are three risings, so give yourself plenty of time to make this. The recipe calls for whole wheat flour but notes that you can substitute some white flour to make the bread a bit more "cohesive." I used about 25% white/75% whole wheat.

    Tassajara Yeasted Bread
    (adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book)

    Makes 2 loaves


    3 cups lukewarm water                               
    1 1/2 tbsp. yeast (2 packets)                       
    1/4 cup brown sugar                                   
    4 cups whole wheat flour
    4 tsp. salt
    1/3 cup oil
    4 cups whole wheat flour

    1. Dissolve the yeast in water.
    2. Stir in brown sugar.
    3. Stir in the first four cups of whole wheat flour to form a thick batter.
    4. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes).
    5. Let rise 45 minutes.
    6. Fold in the salt and oil.
    7. Fold in an additional 3 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
    8. Knead on a floured board, using more flour (about 1 cup) as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board, about 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.
    9. Let rise 50 to 60 minutes until doubled in size.
    10. Punch down.
    11. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubled in size.
    12. Shape into loaves and place in pans.
    13. Let rise 20 to 25 minutes.
    14. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown.

    Corn bread - I recently discovered that making corn bread from scratch (rather than from the Jiffy mix) is not that much more difficult than making corn bread from the Jiffy mix, and the bread is a whole lot tastier. Most notably, it doesn't crumble into a bajillion pieces. It also doesn't stick to the pan. I used the recipe on the side of the canister of corn meal - nothing fancy but quite good

      Easy Corn Bread
      (adapted from the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal canister)

      PRINT ME!

      1 1/4 cups flour
      3/4 cup corn meal
      1/4 cup sugar
      2 tsp. baking powder
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1 cup skim milk
      1/4 cup oil
      1 egg, beaten

      Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8 or 9 inch pan. Combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

      Pumpkin cream cheese muffins - I printed this recipe out from AllRecipes a few weeks ago and have been meaning to make it every weekend since. It's a very moist pumpkin muffin with a dollop of sweetened cream cheese in the center and a crumbly streusel topping over that. So good! I'm kind of a sucker for all things pumpkin, so I was super happy with this recipe.

        Whole wheat pizza crust - I am constantly searching for the perfect pizza crust recipe. This one, which I adapted from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook, was pretty darn close:

        Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

        PRINT ME!

        1 cup lukewarm water
        1 tbsp. olive oil
        1 cup whole wheat flour
        2 cups white flour
        1 packet active dry yeast
        1 tbsp. sugar
        1 tsp. salt

        In a mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm water and 1 cup of the white flour. Add the yeast, sugar, salt, and oil. Whisk together to make a spongy dough. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

        Add the remaining 2 cups flour and stir with a wooden spoon (I used the dough hook on my stand mixer). When the dough becomes thick enough, knead it by hand for 6 to 8 minutes (again, with the dough hook) until it reaches the consistency of soft baby skin. Place in a floured bowl and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

        Once the dough has risen and doubled in size, the dough is ready to be formed. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle flour over the dough and on the rolling pin. Roll out the dough to the desired size.

        Bake the crust for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and load with toppings. Bake the full pizza for another 8 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

        German Apple Pie - Pie is one of those things that I generally leave to people who are really good at making pie (I am not one of those people). I really like pie, however, and I like the idea of being good at making pie, so I'm always willing to try a new recipe. Oh my goodness, this was delicious. I made it for our friend Mace's birthday, upon his request, and over the course of the weekend we ate every crumb. As far as I can tell, the thing that makes this a German apple pie is that, as a final step, you dump a cup of heavy cream over the apples, so that after baking the apples are set in a rich, creamy, sweet sauce. Yum. Not only was the pie insanely good, I also FINALLY found a crust recipe that I love; it's from Ina Garten and can be found here. I found the pie recipe at cpsop.com (which stands for "cooking by the seat of our pants"). As a finishing touch, I cut out a letter "M" from the extra pie crust and baked it alongside the pie to put on top. Cute, right?

          So that's all from here. Here's hoping that some of my baking madness rubs off on some of you!

          Thursday, November 10, 2011

          On the Needles: Iona Needed a Hat

          4:10 PM 2 Comments
          This fall, Sean and I have had the joy of hosting our oldest niece, Iona, in our home. Iona is from Strasbourg, France, where she has lived all of her thirteen years. This semester, Iona is living here as an exchange student,  attending an American middle school and having all kinds of American middle school fun. We have loved having her here and are already sad to think about her leaving just before Christmas.

          When you are used to having two little boys, it's a big change to suddenly have a teenaged girl in the house. Someone to watch Glee with me! Someone who loves going grocery shopping with me! Someone who wants to find broadway soundtracks at the library with me! Imagine my delight when, a few weeks ago, she mentioned to me, "Auntie Hopie, I need a winter hat. Do you think you could make me one?"

          This is by no means the first thing I've knit for Iona. I've got eight nieces and nephews in my family and three more nieces in Sean's, so over the years I've made all kinds of hats/scarves/mittens/sweaters/booties/etc. for the lot of them. I've even got little customized labels that say "Hand Knit by Auntie Hopie." The first piece I remember knitting for Iona was a yellow and red sweater vest with her name across the front that I made while living in Mongolia; she was three at the time:

          Iona and Me, Christmas 2001

          As far as I can recall, this is the first project I've knit where the recipient was privy to the pending gift. I let her pick the yarn from the stash, and she checked in on the progress frequently.

          The pattern is The Rosa Hat from the amazing Amanda Blake Soule. As written the pattern calls for wool, but as Iona is sensitive to wool, I went with a super soft acrylic instead. Honestly, I'm not positive what it is as I didn't have the label with the ball of yarn, but it's fuzzy and pink and it is what she wanted. I absolutely loved this pattern and will make it many more times in the future. It's knit on small needles so it's very warm, and the miniature cabling pattern on the rim adds a lot of visual interest:

          I finished the hat last night, and my pink-loving temporary daughter is ready to face the dark days of winter. She looks adorable, and I can rest knowing she will be warm on the walk to school. No one told me how hard it was to convince a teenager to dress appropriately for the weather!

          Monday, November 7, 2011

          To Market...

          8:21 PM 1 Comments
          Saturday marked the last farmer's market of the season, and I had my camera with me to take a few pictures of the bountiful harvest on hand. Herein follows a brief photographic tribute to our beloved Market at the Square, with deep gratitude for another wonderful season spent wandering your stands.

          Saturday, November 5, 2011

          Recipe Reference: Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Recipes

          1:12 PM 0 Comments
          So I returned from the farmer's market this beautiful Saturday morning to a voicemail from my dad. "Hey, I've got a question for you. A friend of mine is having a dinner party and three of the guests are vegetarian and one is gluten-free. Do you have any suggestions?"

          Oh boy! Recipe reference? It's a librarian-who-loves-to-cook's dream come true! I put Emmett down for a nap and tuckered down with a pile of cookbooks and my laptop to write up a response to my father.

          First off, my father thinks I have a lot of experience with gluten-free cooking. I don't. My father-in-law has a bizarre allergy to white flour, but it isn't a gluten allergy as he is able to eat whole wheat flour without any problems. So in the process of preparing a list of recipes, I found myself having to do a little research. I found that typing "Is ________ gluten-free" in the Google search box brought me the answers I needed in my quest. Ain't the Internet grand? One particularly useful website I came across was www.celiac.com, which included an entire list of safe foods for easy reference.

          Listed below are the recipes that I shared with my father so that he could share them with his friend so that he could choose one to share with his guests. Hooray for passing on food love. The first four are recipes I have tried and loved. The last few are links to recipes that I haven't tried, but I happen to think Mexican food is always fun for a dinner party so I added them in.

          If anyone out there has any recipe reference queries, please pass them on! Might as well get some use out of that M.L.S., right?

          Maggie's Divine Thick Peanut Sauce
          (We make this ALL the time around here - served over rice or pasta, sometimes with diced tofu, sometimes with diced chicken, sometimes with diced fake chicken, like the Quorn brand. I must give full credit here to my college roommate Maggie, who came up with the recipe many moons ago.)

          2 tbs. oil
          1 onion, chopped
          1 tbs. garlic
          4 green onions, chopped
          1 c. water
          1 tbs. minced ginger
          1 tbs. soy sauce
          1/2 c. peanut butter (preferably natural)
          1 1/2 tbs. lime juice
          2 tbs. brown sugar
          1/2 tsp cayenne
          1/2 tsp. salt
          1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

          1) Heat oil. Add garlic, onions, and green onions and saute 5-6 minutes
          2) Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Stir until smooth.
          3) Add mixture to veggies. Mix well. Simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Stir constantly.
          4) Serve over rice (or pasta, if gluten isn't an issue)

          ** If you opt to add in chicken or tofu, dice it and saute it for a few minutes at the beginning, then put it aside, then add it back in at the end to heat up in the sauce.

          Moroccan Stew
          1 tsp. oil
          2 c. chopped onion
          5 cloves garlic, minced
          1 c. carrots, sliced thin
          1 green pepper, 1/2 inch strips
          1 tsp. cumin
          1/2 tsp. allspice, ginger, turmeric
          1/4 tsp. salt, cayenne, cinnamon
          3/4 c. water
          4 c. cubed eggplant
          3 c. chopped tomatoes (I used 2 cans diced tomatoes)
          1/2 c. raisins
          1 can chickpeans, drained and rinsed

          1) Heat oil. Add onion and garlic.
          2) Add carrots, peppers, spices, 1/4 c. water. Cook, stirring, for five minutes.
          3) Add rest. Cover and simmer over medium low for 30 minutes or until tender. Stir occasionally.
          4) Serve over rice (or couscous, which does have gluten).

          Ratatouille (adapted from Everyday Foods Issue #76)
          1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
          6 tbs. olive oil
          1 large eggplant, cut into 1" pieces
          salt and pepper
          2 large yellow onions, diced large
          1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
          2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced large
          2 large zucchini, diced large
          1 bay leaf
          1 tsp. oregano
          2-3 tbs. red wine vinegar

          1) Preheat oven to 350. Place tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking dish and use your hands to break tomatoes into 3/4 inch pieces. Drizzle with 2 tbs. oil and bake until thickened, 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
          2) Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid.
          3) In a large pot, heat 4 tbs. oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
          4) Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, and oregano to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until veggies are tender but not mushy, 15 minutes. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper.
          5) Serve over rice. Pass crusty bread for those able to eat it.

          South American Quinoa and Corn Soup - included in this earlier entry

          I learned today that quinoa is a gluten free grain - see here. Who knew?


          Corn tortillas should be gluten-free, but check the label just to be sure that no flour was added. Serve with beans and Spanish rice to fill out the meal. Here are a few yummy sounding recipes (that I have not tried).

          Spinach Enchiladas Verde

          Vegetarian Enchiladas

          Portabella Mushroom Enchiladas