Category Archives: Cooking

Here & There: All-my-projects-are-secret edition

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It’s that time of year again (already) when pretty much everything I’m working on is a Christmas gift and thus, secret. I am knitting like crazy over here, and can’t really show you a thing. So, in lieu of lovely projects (they’re here on Rav, if you’re curious) here are some things I’ve been enjoying/reading in the last little while.

  • I knit a ton of stranded colour work at this time of year, and this tutorial, about how to quickly and easily catch long floats as you knit, is amazing. I definitely didn’t catch every second stitch, but there are some loooong floats in this pattern, and this technique made keeping them snug much, much easier.
  • I loved this Slate piece about Apple’s Notes app and all the weird things we use it for. I don’t actually use Apple Notes, but I do use my Android’s notes app, and Evernote, for all kinds of miscellaneous things, including stitch counts for my standard sock recipes (heel and toe counts, since I can never quite remember), tutorials, measurements, gauge, and shopping lists. I haven’t kept a diary in a very long time, but these accumulated lists and notes and bookmarks paint a very personal picture and, in some cases, remind me of something I thought was interesting months (or even years) ago. This story made me go back through my notes, and I was pretty entertained by what I found.
  • Women are just better at this stuff’ — This Guardian piece about emotional labour and feminism is fascinating and thought provoking. It’s not a new idea, and certainly something I’ve talked about with my friends, but reading it while in the midst of holiday knitting gave it a new significance. The time I spend planning gifts is not insignificant, and it’s something I’m happy to do for the people I love, but this article made me think of all of that in a different light. Not negatively, just differently.
  • L and I have been watching a ton of Poirot now that it’s on Netflix (in Canada, anyway), so this story about a man who read all of Agatha Christie’s 78 mysteries was quite a treat. I love a good mystery and can’t believe I haven’t actually read any of hers (I’ve certainly watched them). Time to do something about, and his handy Top 10 is probably where I’ll start.
  • Pesto Ramen! I haven’t tried this yet (though the Vegan Pho recipe I linked to last time has become a regular meal in our house), but I plan to. I will report back, but if you’ve made it, let me know what you thought!
  • Last but not least, McSweeney’s is usually pretty good for a laugh, and this satirical take on a knitting group is very, very funny (maybe even more so because it resembles no group of knitters I’ve ever met). Stitch and bitch, indeed.
  • Edited to add: One more, and a timely one at that. As we’re all reeling from last week’s attacks in Paris and Beirut, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about who/what ISIS/ISIL/IS is and where it came from. I work at a newspaper, so when something awful happens, it becomes my wall-to-wall world (working for the business section is no insulation). One of the best things I’ve read about ISIS is this story from the Aug. 13 issue of New York Review of Books — The Mystery of ISIS. Sometimes the answer to a crisis is to try to get away from it, because it is so, so overwhelming; other times, the answer is to dig in and read, and read, and read. My reaction tends to shift from one to the other, and if yours does too, and you’re in the digging stage, this is a great place to start.

Cold soba noodle salad

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Remember when I thought I wouldn’t have enough knitting to fill a blog, so I decided it would be about food and knitting? Yeah. I clearly forgot about that too. In my defence, that is at least partly because it has been so friggin’ hot here (we’re talking mid-40s Celcius with the humidex) that the very thought of turning on my stove makes me queasy. Also, we’ve been eating out far more often than is characteristic, and when we eat at home, well, there have been a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches (what can I say – I’m five-years-old at heart).

Last week, though, inspired partly by this tweet, I decided I finally wanted to use that package of soba noodles that had been sitting in my cupboard for months. I searched around on PunchFork (warning: you will lose hours on this site) and found the perfect blend of summer meal + veggies + soba noodles: Smitten Kitchen’s Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes.

It’s weird how the combination of soba noodles and shiitakes make it look like there’s seafood in there, but I assure you it was 100% vegetarian.

It was easy, delicious, and made for awesome leftovers, and has both L and I planning to make it weekly. Holy moly was it good. I modified the ingredients slightly, in that I used sambal oelek for the spicy part, and then misread the sauce ingredients, and thus used olive oil instead of water, and upon realizing my mistake (and that I’d finished all our soy sauce, so there was no starting over) just splashed some water in there. It turned out very well nonetheless. I also splashed in some sesame oil. I also used sweet potato buckwheat soba noodles, and while I’m not sure it makes a difference, they were really good and I will hunt them down to use again.

If you are looking for something delicious and easy to make on a hot summer night, I really can’t recommend this highly enough. Delicious!

A very Georgian wedding

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It still seems amazing to me that this happened at all, but this is one of the best things about travelling – you just never know what’s going to happen. I suppose I should say that we knew about the wedding two days before leaving, so I did have a suitable dress with me, but somehow my dad didn’t remember to bring either a tie or a jacket, so my mum and I spent that morning looking all over Tbilisi for a tie – apparently they aren’t big in Georgia. Anyway, when we arrived at the reception, not a single man there was wearing a tie (almost none of them even bothered to tuck in their shirts), so we were feeling reassured that it was a casual affair. Then we walked into the reception hall and saw this.

Every table was decked out like this. It was amazing.

The place was set for 250+ people, and the tables were already covered with food. And I do mean covered. There was salad, fish, bread, cheese, vegetable appetizers, jugs of amber wine (there are four colours of wine in Georgia: white, amber, red, and black), bottles of juice and water, and probably a bunch of other things besides. It was a feast. And then Irakli told us that this was just the cold dishes. Sure enough, we’d barely even started eating when more dishes were added to the table.

This was my favourite. It’s red pepper and seared eggplant stuffed with this walnut paste and pomegranate seeds. Oh my goodness it was delicious.

The funny thing, though, is that nothing is ever taken away. Instead, they just pile dishes on top of other dishes, and if you want what’s underneath, you just lift up the plate on top and get it. Basically, every table becomes its own buffet, which is amazing. It may have been the copious amount of wine I drank (you have to drink for every toast, and people just continuously fill your glass back up), but I found this very amusing.

Plates on plates.

Cake on top of chicken.

A disheveled table.

Anyway, the reception itself is really interesting. There is a toast master in charge of delivering long formal toasts throughout the evening (he had a microphone, and it took us a while to figure out where in the hall he was), and in between his toasts, these four divos would come out on stage and sing (very loudly). Mostly I think they sang traditional songs, but every once in a while it would be something more lively and people would get up to dance. The bride and groom also danced a traditional Georgian wedding dance, which was quite something, and by the end of the night my mum and I were being pulled onto the dance floor and being shown the traditional moves. I’m not sure we were very good at it, but it was fun.

By the end of the night we had eaten, drunk, and danced just about to our limit, and the next day started very slowly, to say the least. We’re in Yerevan, Armenia, now, but more about that later.

Georgia is amazing

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Maybe I should start with a clarification, since for most people the first Georgia they think of is the state, and actually I’m in Georgia the country, which is in the Caucuses. You may be most familiar with Georgia from its 2008 conflict with Russia, but that’s long over and it’s really entirely safe and also entirely lovely. I’m actually here with my parents, which is an added bonus since I don’t get to see them all that often. My dad was here already for work and my mum and I arrived Sunday night (local time, which is 8 hours ahead of Toronto), after 24 hours of travelling.

So, we’re at the end of our third day now and I swear we’ve only stopped walking long enough to eat since we got here, and we’re exhausted. Tomorrow, we have to get a 5 a.m. taxi to Yerevan, where we’ll spend another three days. The Internet is good, there, though, so even though I’m about to fall asleep, here’s a point-form tour of Tbilisi (with pictures).

1. They love statues here. Seriously, they are everywhere. Little, big, copper, gold, stone, whatever, they’ve got it all. My favourites, though, are the little ones that run along Rustavelli (one of the big main streets). These statues stand/sit every ten metres or so along both sides of the lovely wide sidewalks. They’re all different, but here are a couple of my favourites.

This statue has a little bottle of something. Beer or juice, you decide.

This little statue went hunting (his gun is just peaking out over his shoulder) and he got himself a duck.

2. Khachapuri is everywhere. Remember when I made it? Well, it turns out there are a ton of different ways to make it, and they have entire restaurants that serve it, and it’s considered a regular course in a traditional meal. Seriously, Georgians know how to do bread and cheese.

We watched them make it through the window.

Khachapuri with egg.

Khachapuri with cheese on top.

Khachapuri with cheese inside.

3. They also love walnuts here – I even had walnut ice cream the other day – and dried fruit. As a vegetarian, I was a little worried about what I might end up eating, but at least in Georgia, I have been eating as well as anyone (which is to say, very well indeed).

So that’s regular fruit in the middle, fruit leather on the shelves, and the things that look like dried sausages are actually a kind of fruit juice candy.

4. They’re also big on wool, and although I haven’t seen any knitting/crocheting or related shops, gauzy felted wool scarves and thick felted wool hats are everywhere, as are wool carpets.

Carpets for sale on a wall next to a (very narrow) street in the old city.

Repairing an old carpet.

Hats and scarves for sale.

5. Georgians are very religious (Georgian Orthodox, primarily) and churches are everywhere. Today was went to Mtskheta (pronounced Moo-stek-ah, more or less), which was the original capital of Georgia. The cathedral there was built in the 11th century and remains in use. Besides that, there are churches all over the place (you turn a corner and run into a church) and they are all built in more or less the same style. They’re quite beautiful, really.

Cathedral in Mtskheta.

6. They do weddings on a huge scale. We got to go to a Georgian wedding and we’re all still recovering. We were invited by my dad’s colleague Irakli (one of the nicest men ever) and it was a once in a lifetime experience. Needless to say, it was amazing, and merits its own post, as do many, many other things about Georgia, but maybe you should come visit to see for yourself? (I really will try to post on the wedding, though, it was amazing.)

7. Not about Georgia, really, but oh well. Colour Affection is zipping right along thanks to all of this travelling. I got a ton done on the plane and I’m one row shy of completing the two-colour striped section, which means I’ll be into the short rows during the drive tomorrow and I can’t wait. Here’s how it’s looking so far.

Stripes are so satisfying.

In season asparagus risotto

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Oh yeah, remember how a chunk of this blog is supposed to be dedicated to food? Yeah, apparently I forgot too. Well, that’s not totally true. I work five evenings/nights a week, and it just so happens that in the last few weeks, my two nights off have meant either going out for dinner or L cooking, and although I like cooking, I’m certainly not complaining about that. Anyway, asparagus are in season, and that is pretty much impossible to resist, so I put my foot down this week and said I was going to cook.

Ontario asparagus.

There are lots of delicious ways to eat asparagus, but one of my favourites is risotto. When I was home in the evenings more often, risotto was one of my go-to meals because, once you get comfortable with it, you realize how easy it is. Truly, risotto is not difficult, but it does require a little attention and comfort with free-form cooking. Once you get the basics, though, you can make it with just about anything, which is another plus, since it will carry you through the various local growing seasons without any trouble.

Anyway, here’s how I do it – this isn’t a typical recipe because, as I said, it’s kind of free-form, but I have numbered the steps and bolded the ingredients.

Asparagus Risotto (this will serve two or three as a meal, increase rice, etc. for more people)

Creamy and delicious.

1. In a saucepan, heat up some vegetable stock (well, if you eat meat, chicken stock is fine too). I try to keep some homemade stock on hand for this sort of thing, but if you don’t have any, the boxed stock from the grocery store is a good second. If you need to use bouillon cubes, in a pinch, that’s okay; I would use slightly less than recommended, though, because cubes tend to be more salty than other options. You will need slightly more than twice as many cups of stock as you use rice. So, for 1.5 cups of rice, heat up 3-4 cups of stock.
2. In a wok or high-sided frying pan, melt 1-2 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Add a little olive oil to keep the butter from burning and add a finely-diced onion. Cook for five minutes or so, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add three or so cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until you can smell the garlic, another two or three minutes.
3. Add 1.5 cups of arborio rice (yes, there are other risotto rices, but they’re generally more expensive and more difficult to find; arborio is fairly ubiquitous now – basmati or other similar rice will not work, so don’t bother). If the pan seems a little dry, add a bit more butter and toss the rice with the onion and garlic until it is well coated. Let it toast for a minute or two.
4. If you have some white wine kicking around, this is a good time to add a half cup. If not, don’t worry. Using a ladle, add enough stock to cover the rice/onion/garlic (about a cup). Let it bubble down to a simmer and give it a good stir. The more you stir, the creamier the risotto, so don’t shirk on the stirring. This is a good time to get the asparagus ready (by which I mean, wash it, snap off the ends, chop it into bite-sized pieces, and set aside).
5. When the liquid starts to diminish and the mixture starts to thicken, add more stock, adding it by about a ladleful at a time and remembering to stir. The idea is that by slowly cooking it, the rice will take on the flavours in the stock and release its starch into the liquid, thus creating a yummy, creamy meal. Adding stock by the ladleful allows you to control the amount of liquid in the pan, so you don’t end up with a really liquidy mess at the end.
6. Grate some cheese. With asparagus I like an extra-old white cheddar, but it’s up to you. I usually grate about 1 cup.
7. After you’ve added two or three ladlefuls of stock, taste the risotto. You’re mostly interested in its texture. It’ll start out hard and kind of crunchy, but when it gets to the point that it’s soft enough to eat, but undercooked enough to still feel a little grainy on your teeth, add a half ladleful of stock and the asparagus. Keep stirring and tasting. (Adding the asparagus late means it won’t overcook.)
8. When the liquid has receded, taste it again. If the rice isn’t soft all the way through, add a little bit more stock; if it is, add the cheese. Turn the heat down a little and stir the cheese through so it melts into everything. If it seems a bit liquidy, let it cook a little longer (but not too long, or the rice will overcook!). Bear in mind that the cheese will solidify a little as it cools on the plate.
9. Season with salt and pepper and serve!

This method will work for any risotto. Some veggies you may want to prepare beforehand (like roasting a squash) but by and large, you add them at the same time and pair them with a cheese you like.

Are you already a risotto fan? What are you favourite pairings?

Bread Check

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Remember how I said I was going to start making bread on the regular? Well, so far so good. I would guess that I make about 60% of our bread (this is an average because L eats way more bread than I do and buys bread to keep at the lab; I eat almost entirely homemade bread, unless I’m feeling lazy and then I just go to the bakery), which is not too bad.

Mostly I’ve been making the overnight, no-knead French loaf, which is a really easy staple as long as I’m on the ball enough to plan ahead.

I tried something a little different the last time I made this and substituted a half cup of flour for a half cup of flax meal. It added a really nice nutty sort of flavour and still rose beautifully.

But, because there are mornings when I get up to discover all the bread has disappeared overnight (or something), and I need bread for something before tomorrow, I’ve started trying some other recipes (as I said I would). I bought a very nice bread pan (tin?), and the first right-now loaf I made was Honey Wheat Bread, which is an easy and delicious loaf for sandwiches and whatever else you might use bread for.

Not bad for a first attempt, I thought. And not too sweet, either.

The recipe is for two loaves, but I only have one pan (for now), so I halved it thusly:
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
2-2.5 cups all-purpose flour (I actually ended up using just under 2 cups)

I followed all the other directions as-written, except, obviously, dividing the dough into two equal portions. The results were awesome, but I will have to work on my rolling technique in the future, as I ended up with a large air pocket just under the upper crust. Otherwise, though, I cannot recommend this recipe highly enough. Next up, I think, will be this Light Wheat Bread, which takes a little longer, so it will have to be made on a day when I’m kicking around the house.

After that, I’m not sure. What are your bread standbys? Any chance you have a great raisin bread recipe you wouldn’t mind sharing?

Bread Dilemma

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French bread

That’s what we’ve been having here in the last month or so. It all started because I work afternoons/evenings, and thus I pack a lunch dinner to eat at my desk. Because I’m a little lazy, this means I eat a lot of sandwiches at work. Don’t get me wrong – I love sandwiches. I love sandwiches so much (and especially grilled cheese sandwiches) that my sisters joke that I’m not a vegetarian, I’m a bread-and-cheese-atarian. I take exception to this, because I eat fewer grilled cheeses than people think. Anyway, that’s all an aside. Basically, I eat a sandwich for dinner almost every day and therefore, I like to at least have good ingredients, such as bakery bread, to use. There is only so many times you can use grocery store bread before you start dreading dinner.

So, I started buying bread from the bakery around the corner (there are are more bakeries within 30 seconds of us than is healthy). It was delicious bread, so we ate it quickly, so we bought more, so bread expenses went up. For me, this was okay, a sort of business expense, if you will. For L, it was extravagant (he eats dinners at home, after all). Anyway, we talked about it and I offered to start making bread, which would mean I still go nice bread for my sandwiches, but it would be far less expensive. I was raring to go and then L bought two loaves of bread in a row, so it was a bit of a false start.

French bread

I have not managed to take a picture of a full loaf. They just don't last long enough.

Nonetheless, we’re back on track now and I’ve made three loaves of bread this week. One was a housewarming gift for Wendy and her boyfriend (don’t worry, we don’t eat that much bread), but the other two were for us, and both turned out very well. I plan to experiment and try some new recipes, but for now my go-to is a no-knead, night-rising French bread that is too good not to share – I mean, this bread pretty much makes itself, you just have to plan ahead.

No-Knead French Bread
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1.25 tsp salt
1.5 cups water

Mix everything together in a big bowl until it resembles a wet, shaggy, sticky dough (you will know what I mean when you see it). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and  let it rise for 12 or so hours (I make it before bed, but you could just as easily make it before work in the morning).
Punch it down, cover it back up, and let it rise for another two hours or so.
About a half hour before baking, heat a dutch oven (that is, a solid – NOT glass – dish with a lid) at 425-450F until fully warm (I just leave it in there for a half hour because that’s easier). Turn dough into warm dish (no greasing or flouring necessary) and bake with the lid on for a half hour and then with the lid off for 15 minutes.
Bingo. Bread.

I am convinced that this recipe cannot be messed up. I’ve let the dough rise for 48 hours; I once had dough that didn’t rise properly (not enough water), so I punch it down and let it rise for another day and it was fine; I’ve baked it at 350 instead of 450 and even though it took a little longer, it was still fine. Seriously. If you have never made bread but are curious about it, this is your gateway bread.

Daffodil

The unfortunate quality of this photo is courtesy of my phone. Nonetheless, a daffodil! In full bloom! In March!

Also, there are daffodils out. In March. What the heck is going on here? I keep trying to not get my hopes up that winter is really and truly over (I’ve been disappointed by March before), but I don’t know. Daffodils. That’s really something.