Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brown Rice "Risotto" with Shiitakes and Pea Pods

I'm with Benjamin Franklin--the turkey was a great candidate for the national bird.  We had a beautiful turkey from Harr Farms for Thanksgiving and I froze the bones and uneaten portions of dark meat for stock.  My poor husband called yesterday to tell me he was coming home from work early because he was sick and he asked if I could make him some soup, so I hauled the turkey out and set to work on a stock.  I love homemade chicken stock, but I think turkey stock has an even richer flavor and deeper color.  Even after a full pot of soup, I had about 6 or 7 cups of stock left.  Time to make something delicious for me!  I had never thought of making risotto with brown rice until I read Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Coookbook.  In Bittman's Lemony Zucchini Risotto, he parboils the rice because brown rice absorbs more water than white rice and takes longer to cook.  I think, though, that part of the satisfaction of making risotto is the time it takes to stir the rice while it absorbs small additions of liquid.  That effort makes the dish mean more.  This is by no means a traditional risotto.  No arborio rice means that the final product is not quite as creamy, not quite as rich as usual.  I love the slightly chewy texture of the short grain brown rice and the homemade turkey stock made this risotto rich in a different way.  Here's my recipe/method:

1 Tbsp. butter, drizzle of olive oil
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced and stems removed (saved for vegetable stock)
2-4 oz. pea pods
2/3 c. short grain brown rice
Splash white wine (I used leftover Champagne--waste not, want not, right?)
4 c. stock, heated
Shredded Parmesan Cheese

First I prepped the shiitakes and pea pods for cooking by cleaning and slicing them.  I love asparagus in this recipe in place of the pea pods, but the asparagus at the market looked terrible today.  So, this sort of became a stir-fry inspired risotto.  I put about 1/2 Tbsp. butter and a little olive oil in the pan over medium heat and sauteed the mushrooms.  When they started to turn brown, I added the pea pods and cooked them until they were heated through but still crisp.
I transferred the mushrooms and pea pods to a bowl, added some leftover roasted chicken, then returned the pan to the burner over medium, medium low heat (I did not wipe it out.)  I added the second 1/2 Tbsp. butter and, once it was melted, poured in the rice.  I stirred the rice, letting it cook until it was coated with fat and beginning to turn translucent around the edges.  I poured in a healthy dose of wine, scraping the fond from the vegetables from the bottom of the pan. 
Once the wine cooked down, I began adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently.  I also added a generous sprinkle of salt because I don't salt my stock when I make it.  If using storebought stock, you may not need to add any salt here.  Once one addition of liquid was absorbed, I added the next (see photo to left, ready for more stock).  After 4 cups of stock, I started checking the rice for doneness.  It should be chewy on the outside with a firm center.  Once the stock was gone, I began adding hot water 1/2 cup at a time until the rice was done.  If the rice is soft all the way through, it has cooked too long.  As soon as the rice was done, I pulled it from the heat and stirred the vegetables back in.  A dab more butter and a little sprinkle of shredded parm finished the risotto.  This makes a super generous bowl of risotto (read too much) for one person; with enough extra veggies and maybe more meat this could probably be a light meal for two.  Also, feel free to adjust the amount of rice (maybe 1 1/4 c. for two people).  You'll just need to adjust the amount of liquid.

Like I said, this isn't a typical risotto.  Not super creamy, not terribly rich.  But flavorful and with a more interesting texture than the classic version.  I enjoy the chewiness of brown rice, it's food that requires a little energy to eat.  I like that.  You could easily substitute your favorite flavors and additions to this dish.  Mark Bittman uses lemon juice and zucchini.  I might have added small-diced winter squash in place of the mushrooms and pea pods and allowed it to cook in the stock with the rice.  In the spring, I look forward to making this with in-season asparagus and fresh, shelled peas.  Risotto is one of those dishes that seems intimidating, but is actually really easy (pour, stir, eat).  I hope you'll give it a try.  Be creative and enjoy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Healthier Homemade Chicken Strips with Almond and Barley Coating

For most of my academic career I felt like I was treading water -- maintaining until I encountered some worthwhile pursuit that actually appealed to me.  Now, with law school graduation looming large on the horizon, I have finally found something I care about: food policy.  Whether I will be able to apply this interest to any real-world, salary-earning career is less clear, but I have been relieved to find that I have the enthusiasm to read books, scholarly articles, popular media pieces, and even legislative acts about food without losing interest.  Inevitably, my growing passion for responsibly produced food has had a pretty dramatic impact on our diet.  I've become especially selective about the meat, poultry, and eggs we buy; I usually purchase chicken from Harr Farms at the Soulard Farmer's Market (antibiotic-free, cage-free, and reasonably priced, yay!).  Part of what has allowed us to improve our eating is finding better ways to prepare at-home versions of the processed foods we would normally eat, like chicken tenders.

Unfortunately, I tend not to measure the ingredients for dishes like this; I pretty much just dump items into the bowl of my food processor until it looks right.  Here's the list of what I included, but any of the seasonings could be substituted or omitted, according to taste:

Sliced Almonds (a generous handful)
Rolled Barley Flakes (about the same amount as the almonds)
Kosher Salt (I was pretty generous with the salt because my fresh chicken is not injected at all)
Italian Seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
Ancho Chili Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Ground Mustard

I did not toast the almonds or barley flakes before grinding them.  I put all of the ingredients in the food processor and pulsed them together until the coating was the consistency I wanted (mostly fine with a few larger pieces of almond left).  Then I poured the coating in a shallow bowl.  In a second bowl, I whisked an egg, a splash of water, and a few dashes of  hot sauce.  From two large chicken breasts I cut 12 chicken fingers.  I preheated the oven to 375 and lined a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Then I placed a wire rack over the baking sheet.  When all of the prep work was done, I coated the strips with the egg mixture first, then with the crumb coating.  When they were thoroughly coated, I placed the chicken pieces on the wire rack.  I put the smallest dab of butter on each strip before sliding the sheet pan into the oven, but you could certainly skip the butter altogether.  The strips baked for about 25 minutes, but the time would ultimately depend on the thickness of the chicken pieces.

Cooking the chicken tenders on a rack avoids the gummy, soggy crust that sometimes forms on breaded items while they bake.  It also ensures that you don't leave half of that yummy coating behind on the pan.  When the strips were done, I piled them up on a plate with our favorite barbeque sauce from a local restaurant (no high fructose corn syrup) and dinner was served!  The crust was well-seasoned and a bit chewy from the barley flakes.  The variations here could be endless.  In lieu of barley, I'm sure you could use oats, or pecans instead of almonds; the seasonings could be adjusted to suit individual tastes.  Serve them with homemade honey-mustard or ketchup.  Also, I made chicken strips but this would be a great way to make smaller chicken nuggets for kids.  You could even make them in advance to freeze (but only if the chicken has not been frozen previously).  I hope you will give these easy strips a try.  They are significantly cheaper (I figured about $6.75 for 12 strips) than the restaurant equivalent and I would guess that they are also significantly more healthy.  If you come up with any interesting coating combinations, feel free to comment.  Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Leather Cuff: Eight-Strand Flat Braid

My great-grandfather recently passed away.  He was an avid hunter during his lifetime and among his belongings my parents found a box of tanned deer hides.  There was a piece of the paper packaging left from the taxidermist who processed the hides; it was postmarked May 23, 1956.  I'm not sure what my great-grandparents intended to do with the buckskins (although it couldn't have been very urgent since the hides weren't used for more than 50 years).  When my dad called to ask if I could use the skins, I immediately told him yes although I had no idea what I would do with them.  For my first project, I decided on something small, just so I could get the feel of cutting and working with the leather.  I have always liked chunky bracelets and, although they may be a bit masculine, I decided to make a cuff.  I was leafing through the book Quick to Make from the editors of Threads Magazine and saw instructions for braided belts.  I loved the idea of an eight-strand braided bracelet but the instructions seemed sort of . . . complicated.  After perusing countless websites on the subject, I decided to go with good old trial and error and work out an easier method.

4 strands, folded in half

5 over 4
2 under 3, over 4, under 5
My wrist is about 5 1/2" around.  The 8 strands are actually 4 lengths of cord folded in half.  The strands braid to a little over half of their length.  So, I cut four lengths of leather, each 1/8" wide and 22" long (5 1/2 doubled, then doubled again).  I folded the strands in half then pinned them to my upright ironing board, as pictured.  From left to right, the strands are numbered 1-8.  Every time a strand is moved, the lengths are renumbered 1-8.  First, I crossed 5 over 4 (making 5 the new 4).  Then cross 2 under 3, over 4, under 5.  Next, 8 under 7, over 6, under 5, over 4.  Then 1 over 2, under 3, over 4.  At this point, I tightened all of the strands as much as possible without pulling out the pins.  I should say, for illustrative purposes, I used yarn in the photos because it was easier to see than the strips of leather.

8 under 7, over 6, under 5, over 4

After several more rounds, I pulled out the pins and tightened the slack at the top (sort of like tightening shoelaces), then I repinned the bracelet to the board.  I continued the pattern for the length of the braid: 8 under 7, over 6, under 5, over 4.  Then 1 over 2, under 3, over 4.  Essentially, starting from the left the pattern is over, under, over.  From the right it is under, over, under, over.    I continued to tighten the braid as I went.  Once I reached the ends of the strands, I tightened the braid one last time and stitched across the loose ends.  I pulled, stretched, tightened the braid until it was even and straight.  I stitched a cuff of leather (about 3/4" long) over the loose ends.  Into the other end of this small leather endpiece I inserted a loop for a button closure and stitched it in (I first hot glued the loop into place, though, to make it more manageable to stitch across).  On the other end of the bracelet, where the braid began, I sewed a button in the appropriate place (see the photo below).  Finished!

I'm sure this is the first of many buckskin projects to come.  The leather cut beautifully and was so easy to work with.  This braid could easily translate into a cute belt or purse straps.  It could be done in lengths of fine cord and used as trim or straps for a summer dress.  The eight-strand braid is a lot easier than it seems and pretty impressive-looking when it is done.  I hope you'll give it a try.  Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Washable/Reusable, Mesh Produce Bags

I'm not sure who first said that the third year of law school is the easy one (I think the phrase I heard was 'lots of volleyball and beer . . .') but that person was a liar.  There is still plenty of classwork (and a 30 page supervised research paper) to add to the mounting stress of finding a legal job in a dismal economic climate; I think America is about to be home to the most over-educated group of restaurant servers and retail salespeople ever.  So, given my increasingly heavy -- but seemingly futile -- workload, I haven't had much time to do the things I love (like, er, blogging about crafts).  One of the last enjoyable activities in my life I have tried desperately to cling to, though, is a weekly trip to the Soulard Farmer's Market in St. Louis.  I love the market.  I love being able to talk to a farmer about the diet and living conditions of the hens that lay my eggs.  Or what a hard season it has been for my favorite honeycrisp apples.  Or how happy the goats are in the herd that produces the milk for those creamy, tangy farmstead cheeses.  One thing I am not crazy about, however, is the amount of plastic and paper I end up bringing home.  Although I have "green" shopping bags, much of the produce I buy needs to be weighed, so I always end up loading three pounds of new potatoes into a disposable plastic bag so they can be easily scaled and handled.  I inevitably come home with several "green" bags full of five times as many "ungreen" bags.  Sort of defeats the purpose.  So I decided to make myself some reusable produce bags.

I wanted the material I selected for the bags to be lightweight; I want to pay for produce, not packaging.  I thought it would be helpful if the bags were mesh, or somehow see-through to make it easier for the sellers.  I also wanted them to be machine washable and sturdy enough to hold several pounds of produce without tearing.  Initially I was looking for cotton mesh but it proved nearly impossible to find in my area.  I settled on a white, polyester mesh for the bulk of the bags and some leftover cotton yarn for the drawstrings.

I started by cutting a rectangle out of the mesh along a fold.  I opened the fabric up, creating a long rectangle with four raw edges.  Because the cut mesh creates an uneven edge, I folded about 1/4" of each side over, then folded it again before sewing it, hiding the raw edge.  I stitched the two longest edges, then repeated the process on the two shorter edges.  I was initially concerned with how my sewing machine would handle stitching through mesh, but it was not a problem.  Next I refolded the rectangle along the original fold (in the center of the longest edges) and stitched along the two longer sides, leaving the edge opposite the fold unsewn -- like a pillowcase.  Once the body of the bag was sewn, I flipped it rightside out, turning the seams inside.  Now for the drawstrings.

I cut two lengths of yarn, each a little longer than the circumfrence of the top of the bag.  This part is a little confusing, sorry, but the pictures should help.  Taking one length of string, I threaded one end through the mesh on one side of the seam, about 3/4" down from the top of the bag,  I did the same with the second end of the yarn on the other side of the seam, bridging the seam with a length of thread and leaving the loose ends inside the bag.  Then I tied the loose ends together securely with a knot.  I repeated this process with the second length or yarn on the opposite seam of the bag.  Essentially, this will leave only a short length of yarn visible on the outside of the bag at each seam and the rest of the yarn on the inside of the bag.  I straightened each loop of thread and held them along the inside of the top edge of the bag.  Then I folded the top edge of the bag inward over the yarn, creating a pocket/tube to enclose the strings.  I stitched along this edge, being careful not to stitch over the strings themselves, otherwise the drawstring would not pull closed.  Once the strings were encased in their pocket, I pulled the small loops left on the exterior of the bag on each side; pulling the strings cinched the top of the bag inward -- my drawstrings worked!

The bag I made was rather small; it will hold about five large apples.  I plan to make bags in a variety of shapes and sizes (longer, narrower bags for carrots, celery, and green onions).  I think these lightweight, washable bags would also be ideal for collecting wild mushrooms (morels!) because the mesh would allow the spores to filter out and fall back to the ground.  They would probably make good laundry bags for hosiery, too.  If you are tired of the amount of disposable rubbish that accompanies a trip to the grocery store or farmer's market, I hope you'll give these bags a try.  Be creative and enjoy!

Note:  The bag I made weighs about 1/4 of an ounce.  Maybe not as light as plastic, but I'm willing to pay the extra cent (give or take) that it will cost me to use it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Canvas Dough-Proofing Sheets and Baguettes

I hope my regular readers will forgive me yet another post about bread and baking paraphernalia.  Jim Lahey's bread recipe, the subject of an earlier post, requires a floured, non-terrycloth dish towel for the dough to proof in.  Since I have been making bread about two times a week, I decided (for the sake of my kitchen towels) that it was time to make some heavier duty canvas sheets, to be used solely for proofing dough.  I bought 3/4 of a yard of 100% cotton canvas.  First, I pressed the fabric and evened up all of the edges.  I cut the sheet in half, width-wise, making two slightly rectangular pieces of cloth.

With the first piece, I cut a 1" square from each corner.  Then I folded the edges of the squares down to form right triangles (see photo).  Once all of the triangles had been created (eight total, two at each corner), I folded the entire length of each side down 1/2" and pressed these folds.  Once all four edges were folded down 1/2," I folded the edges down another 1/2."  This creates mitered corners and hides all of the raw edges.  Essentially, you are making a giant canvas dinner napkin.  I stitched down all of the edges and corners.  Once I had completed the second sheet exactly like the first, I washed them both and pressed them again.

I baked bread today using the no-knead method.  When the dough had gone through a first rise overnight, I divided it and placed each piece on my well-floured canvas sheet to rise again.  Also, after I realized how obsessed I was becoming with his recipe, I followed Lahey's lead and purchased several Romertopf bakers.  Essentially, they are pieces of unglazed terra cotta (lead-free and cadmium-free, of course) that help food retain moisture as it cooks.  Like the cast iron dutch oven in the basic recipe, the terra cotta bakers help mimic a steam-injected professional oven.  The bakers are soaked in water for 10 minutes before they are heated.  Because they are sensitive to dramatic changes in temperature, the bakers are placed in a cold oven and allowed to heat with it.  Once my dough had risen (the canvas sheet worked like a charm), I baked two baguettes using the Romertopf French/Italian bread bakers on a pizza stone base.

I plan on using my canvas sheets whenever I am proofing dough.  This  method could also be used to make table linens, such as napkins and tablecloths.  I hope you will consider purchasing fabric and tailoring your own linens for your kitchen and dining needs.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Print On an Old T-Shirt

I've been thinking about block printing and stamping for some time, but during the school year, it's hard to justify spending the time and money to take up such a hobby. Now that it's summer, though . . . . I read a great book about stamp carving called Art Stamping Workshop by Gloria Page and I was really inspired by the idea of using inexpensive objects to create unique prints. It took me a while to decide on a design that was interesting but simple enough for my first effort; it took me even longer to decide how to bring it to fruition. I decided to purchase black screen-printing ink and a small soft-rubber brayer to roll the ink on my stamp. Since these items were a little pricey (and I had no idea if this would even work), I decided not to buy carving supplies and a rubber block to create a stamp on. Instead, I decided on a 12" x 18" sheet of craft foam to cut my stamp shapes out of (at 99 cents apiece it's hard to go wrong) and a rectangle of corrugated cardboard to mount the foam on. I also bought clear adhesive-backed vinyl (like contact paper) to create a stencil of sorts.

I decided to make my first print on a gray, cotton t-shirt I bought at the Salvation Army. I measured the shirt and cut out an appropriately sized rectangle from the paper-backed vinyl. I drew my design on the paper backing, keeping in mind that the sections that I cut out would allow ink through (the open sections would create the printed design). Also, the drawn design is a mirror image of what will actually be printed (since the paper backing will be peeled off and the vinyl will be flipped onto the fabric). I kept my design simple, cutting out rectangles of varying heights. When my stencil was complete, I peeled the paper backing off and placed it on my clean t-shirt. I put newspapers inside the shirt to prevent the ink from bleeding through to the back layer of fabric. Once the stencil was complete, I started creating the actual stamp.

I cut a piece of cardboard to the necessary size to cover my stencil. Then I cut my desired shapes (basically just tapered lines) out of the craft foam and mounted them on the cardboard using spray adhesive (see photo to left). I put a dollop of printing ink on a painter's palette and inked my brayer. Then I rolled ink on my stamp. The foam seemed to absorb quite a bit of ink, so I was pretty generous. When the stamp was inked, I lined it up as carefully as I possibly could over my stencil and lowered it into place. Obviously, once it's down, it's down and there is no readjusting the placement of the stamp. I was sure to thoroughly press and rub the back of the stamp to make sure ink transferred onto every portion of my design. Then I held my breath and pulled the stamp off, taking care not to accidentally drop the stamp onto my just-inked design (see photo to right of inked design before stencil was removed).

I was really happy with the way my print turned out. Once the design was dry, I followed the instructions on my bottle of ink to heat set the design with an iron (I spread some scrap muslin over the design and pressed it for about four minutes per side). Now that I have a little more confidence with printing, I would like to try carving a reusable stamp out of a block (almost like a giant eraser designed specifically for this purpose). I may look for some sort of medium to add to the fabric ink to get a little smoother print next time. I am excited to try new designs with new materials, and hope maybe you will too. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Martha Stewart's Air-Dry Clay Flowers

I recently flipped through Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts: An A-to-Z Guide with Detailed Instructions and Endless Inspiration.  It is a beautiful book with plenty of inspiring color photos of the projects.  I was especially intrigued by the air-dry clay flowers the encyclopedia details; the extremely lightweight clay is perfect for hair accessories, especially to be worn in fine hair like mine.  Because the book is in encyclopedia form, however, the techniques are arranged alphabetically (as in 'C is for Clay') and some of the projects did not receive as much attention as others.  The section on clay describes how to recreate several varieties of flowers in the clay but the photos weren't quite large enough to clearly convey the shape of each type of petal and how to arrange them.  Below, I have posted the photos from my attempt to make a gardenia hair pin.  Granted, I took a little creative license with the flower, especially with the number of petals; the instructional text does not include a specific number of petals for the gardenia, but in photos it looks like they have eight.  Mine has six.  I was more concerned with the look than with creating a perfectly realistic flower.

I formed each petal out of a ball of clay about the size of a large marble.  I pressed it into shape using my finger tips, then tried to smooth away any clearly visible fingerprints (see photo to the right).  Although I didn't have any on hand, I think cake fondant-shaping tools would be particularly useful for working with this type of clay.  When the first petal was formed, I folded it in half, forming the center.  I folded the second petal around it is pictured.  I built the flower up, petal by petal, slightly folding the petals downward to give the flower a more open appearance.  Once the flower was the size and shape I wanted, I rolled the base into a rope and pinched it off about 1/2 or 3/4 of an inch from the underside of the petals.  I flattened the remaining stud, then inserted an aluminum knitting needle through the base.  I suspended the knitting needles between two overturned glasses and allowed it to dry for the requisite amount of time (the clay packaging will tell you exactly how long it takes for the clay to dry completely).  When the flower was dry, I removed it from the needle.  This left a hole through the base of the flower through which I threaded the top bar of a large bobby pin.  I filled the remaining void with hot glue, ensuring that the flower would stay in place on the pin.

This hair accessory is perfect for dressing up a sloppy bun (which I pretty much sport on a daily basis during the summer, especially in the St. Louis heat!).  It is so incredibly light that I forget it is in my hair until I lean my head on something.  The clay is also surprisingly durable -- I spent a day driving around with it in my hair, inadvertently crushing it against the head rest and it didn't break or crack.  These flowers are also versatile; as Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia illustrates, there are many applications for them (gift toppers, headbands, etc.).  I hope you'll give these flowers a try, and be sure to check out the Encyclopedia of Crafts -- it's worth it.  Be creative and enjoy!

P.S.: Thank you to my beautiful sister for modeling the flower in the first picture of the post.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread and Prepping Le Creuset for High-Heat Baking

I love bread.  In all honesty, I love most forms that starch takes, but good artisan bread holds a special place in my heart.  Crispy, crackling crust; chewy, open crumb; deep, complex flavor.  I love it.  And, as any good do-it-yourselfer would, I have, on occasion, attempted to replicate my favorite bakery breads at home.  Unfortunately, my attempts were largely unsuccessful.  Don't get me wrong, I have baked many respectable, sturdy, and even tasty loaves of bread.  The aforementioned qualities that make artisan bread so appealing, however, have always eluded me.  A few days ago, though, I ran across the book My Bread by Jim Lahey.  He is the founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and emphasizes high-quality, Italian-style breads.  On November 8, 2006, Mark Bittman of the New York Times published a piece about Jim Lahey's no-knead breadmaking method and it proved quite popular (article available through NY Times website).  Essentially, in Lahey's bread, the all-important gluten is developed during a long fermentation period, rather than through traditional kneading.  The dough prep is only the first simple step in this amazing recipe.

Then comes the real magic.  The bread is baked in a preheated, covered cast iron (or ceramic) vessel which approximates the enviornment created by professional steam-injected ovens.  Partway through baking, the lid is removed to allow the crust to darken.  This covered vessel aspect of the method produces that beautiful, elusive, crackling crust in your own oven.  Seriously, once my bread had cooled and I sliced it, I almost cried with joy when I saw the crumb.  It was gorgeous, thanks to this virtually foolproof recipe and method (it certainly was not the result of any special breadmaking talent on my part).  Before I could achieve this near-miracle, though, there was a certain preliminary matter to deal with.  I have several cast iron Dutch ovens for the baking, so that wasn't a problem, but the recipe requires an oven temperature of 475 degrees F and the standard black Le Creuset handles are only rated for 375 degrees.  Le Creuset produces stainless steel replacement knobs that retail for $14, but can be purchased for $10 through Amazon.  I am frugal, however, and more importantly I am annoyed by the notion of paying hundreds of dollars for a pot and then having to shell out more money for a fully functioning handle.  America's Test Kitchen suggested drawer pulls as replacements for the plastic knobs, so my husband and I went off to the hardware store.  They are way less expensive than the Le Creuset handles and provide an excellent opportunity to add a little flair to your cookware.

I suggest a few key criteria when shopping for knobs: stainless steel (or a similarly heat-resistant metal), a base wide enough that it will not slip through the hole in the lid, enough space between the base of the pull and the head so that it can be comfortably gripped, a well-sized knob (can you grab it with an oven mitt on?), and I tried to find something that wouldn't look completely out of place sitting on top of a Dutch oven.  I selected one of the more expensive styles of pull, but at $3 apiece, the handles were still incredibly well-priced compared to Le Creuset's knob.  The screw that comes with the drawer pull will probably be too long (the lid being much thinner than a drawerfront).  You could purchase a shorter screw, making sure that the head of the screw will not slip through the hole in the lid and, of course, that it is the correct size for your drawer pull.  If you are lucky enough, the original screw from the Le Creuset plastic knob may fit your new handle.  Alternatively, if you have the means to do so, you can cut the drawer pull's screw to the correct length (this is what we did, worked like a charm).

I should say, Jim Lahey's recipe does not require a Le Creuset Dutch oven.  I highly recommend baking his bread recipe in whatever suitable vessel you can find because it is so outrageously good.  For example, I read numerous stories online about people baking bread, with great success, in presoaked terra cotta pots (althouh I would try to be sure that the terra cotta was lead-free before using it for high-heat baking).  If you do have Le Creuset cast iron, though, you may consider replacing your standard knobs with something a little more durable for high-heat cooking.  Be creative and enjoy!

*Note: Jim Lahey's basic recipe calls for bread flour because it generally has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour.  However, King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour has a higher protein content than other brands of flour (roughly 11.7%) (see Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible), so I substituted it for the bread flour.  It produced a great loaf.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Washable Wet/Dry Mop Cover

After four hellish exams and one ridiculously time-consuming law review edit, I finally finished my 2L year.  I didn't get much time to relax, however, as my in-laws came for a visit the week after my semester ended.  Whenever we are expecting company, I am reminded of how many housekeeping tasks I don't keep up with during the school-year.  I rarely dust, I've never washed the windows, and we didn't even own a mop until last week.  In my defense, the total area of noncarpeted floor in our apartment is probably 50 square feet, so paper towels and disinfectant spray worked fine.  I decided, though, that our floors should get a proper mopping before my husband's parents visited.  I bought an inexpensive mop that is intended to be used in conjunction with disposable wet or dry wipes; however, I am generally too cheap to buy refills of any sort and I find them wasteful, anyway.  I've seen knitting patterns before for washable mop covers -- I looked through several available patterns on, but they seemed rather complicated to me.  I wanted something simple to knit (i.e. rectangular) and something with a ridged surface for scrubbing.  I eyeballed the size of my cover, but this four-row stitch pattern could easily be modified to fit any size/brand of mop.  A word of warning: these instructions are probably best conveyed visually, so note the pictures.

I cast on 68 stitches.  This would give me ample length to cover the scrubbing surface of the mop and several inches to fold over either end to secure it.  If you need to modify the size, try to keep the number of stitches divisible by 4.  Here's the basic pattern:

Row 1: Knit across
Row 2: *Knit 4, Purl 4,* repeat until end
Row 3: Knit across
Row 4: *Purl 4, Knit 4,* repeat until end

My mop head has little slits on the top where the disposable cloths would be tucked in.  I added bobbles to the wrong side of my mop cover to tuck into these slits, ensuring that it would stay in place during use.  After knitting about 3/4" in pattern, beginning with the next row, I knit two stitches then added a bobble.  I knit across the row in pattern, adding a bobble on the third to last stitch.  I measured the distance between slits on the top of my mop head (about 2 3/4") and knit that distance according to the pattern.  On the next row, I added two more bobbles as described above.  I knit another 3/4" in pattern before binding off.  I placed the rectangle right side (mostly knit with purl ridges) facing up and folded the ends in so the bobbles faced up on either end (see picture below).  I placed my mop head on top to mark exactly how far in the edges should be folded.  I also marked along the top and bottom of the mop head.  I seamed along these top and bottom marks across the width of the folded-over flaps.  Essentially, you are creating a pocket at either end of the rectangle that will fit over the ends of the mop head once they are flipped right-side out.  The bobbles will be situated directly over the four slits (hopefully).

I used Lily Sugar n' Cream organic cotton yarn for this project (leftover from baby Kellan's sweater).  It is machine washable, so cleaning the dirty mop cover will be super easy (and therefore I will be more likely to do it) and at less than $2/ball it is cheaper than the wet wipes made for the mop.  The pattern is extemely simple to knit, and the clear ridges make it easy to find your place in the pattern if your mind wanders (as mine does . . . every row).  I might use the remainder of this ball of yarn to make a couple of washcloths in this pattern; I think it would make a good dish-scrubbing surface.  For those with wet/dry mops, this is a great project for those who are economically and environmentally concerned: by replacing disposable mop covers, it saves money and reduces the amount of waste we produce.  Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Pie (or Tart)

We've had beautiful weather in the city this week and summer finally seems to be on its way.  Every year, when the temperatures start to rise, my mind (and belly) turn toward fresh, simple food.  Corn on the cob, grilled chicken, and, of course, fresh fruit.  I've been craving some sort of summery dessert, something with plenty of berries.  Our local farmer's market had a fantastic price on 1 lb. strawberry packages this week, so I bought a couple of clamshells and went home to make a strawberry tart.  I used the same pastry recipe that I described in my Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart post.  For the filling of the tart, I used my great grandmother's recipe.  The one main difference between my tart and the original recipe was the quantity of strawberries; the recipe called for 1 quart of berries, but I used an additional 1 cup because the tart pan is a bit larger than a standard pie plate.  The following is the original recipe, as written by my great grandmother, for a pie:

Strawberry Pie:
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and trimmed
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Single pie crust, blind baked and cooled

After the whole berries were washed and the stems removed, I measured out a generous cup and quartered them.  I put this cup of berries in a small saucepan over med-low heat and cooked them until they softened and released their juices.  I mashed them with the tines of a fork (although a potato masher would work well) to help them cook down faster.  After about 3-5 minutes of simmering, I strained the berries through a fine sieve into a measuring cup, really pressing to extract all of the strawberry juice.  I added enough water to this juice to total 1 cup of liquid, then added it back to the now empty saucepan.

I heated the juice over medium heat.  I mixed the sugar, salt, and cornstarch together and slowly whisked it into the juice, making sure that no clumps formed.  I cooked this glaze for several minutes until it was thickened and began to clear, then I removed it from the heat and let it cool while I assembled the rest of the pie.  I placed the remaining whole berries, pointy tips up, in the cooled pie shell.  Then I spooned the glaze over the berries, making sure to coat each one.  Once the shell was filled, the whole pie went into the refrigerator to chill.

I was so happy with this recipe.  No gelatin, no jam, no food coloring -- just everday ingredients that I already had in my kitchen.  Note: you should use a really sharp knife to cut this pie so the berries are easily (and attractively) sliced.  My one regret is that I didn't have any whipped cream to serve with this beautitul dessert.  I'm sure that this recipe could easily be modified to accommodate any type of summer berry you happen to come across.  I hope you will consider welcoming summer with a fruit pie of your own.  Be creative and enjoy!