[sticky entry] Sticky: Excellent adventures!

Apr. 11th, 2010 11:34 am
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This is something I have been meaning to do for a long time: consolidate all of my crafty bits, recipes, and various other DIY-type stuff.

This is a family-friendly blog. I will block, freeze or delete any inappropriate or hateful comments (not, of course, to be confused with healthy discourse). Respect, peeps!

Any questions, please feel free to email.

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Comments are now all unscreened by default! I realized it was curtailing the conversation a little, especially since I keep...forgetting...to unscreen. *facepalms*

Thank you for your patience!
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Since I last posted on soapmaking, I have refined my methods and am pretty darned pro at it. Part of the confusion in the last soap post was that I was still relying heavily on someone else's directions. This is my method now. It's cheaper, less complicated, and I have had rave reviews. Try it. It's fun and really a lot easier than it looks.  )
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Back when we were more broke than we are these days (not to say we aren't still broke to some degree, and isn't everyone?), my job was to research the ultra-cheap. Alas, that's not always the ultra-convenient, though your mileage may vary when it comes to that. It was a self-given profession. I had the internet, I had kids, and I had a duty to keep myself from packing the diaper bag whenever I could avoid it. I made mayonnaise from scratch one time just to avoid packing both kids and the bag into the car to drive a mile to the grocery store. I made tortillas for the same reason. That, kids, was a disaster. But let me tell you, I learned a lot in those years about creating things I couldn't have before. Hell, I learned how to make paper out of dryer lint.

That was probably the line.

But since I've lost my own original links to those pages, those recipes, I am going to present to you, wholesale, this great web page dedicated to homemade cake mix and variations. The mix makes several cakes, and that's what I'd shoot for. If you have to pull ingredients out every time, then just make cake from scratch right? So here you go:

Cake mix and variations.
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This is so good. If you make your own gnocchi, you could probably incorporate some spinach into it. Otherwise...

For this one, a stick blender is nice.

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 2-3 cloves)
1 cup milk
4 oz cream cheese, cubed
2 cups rinsed baby spinach
salt to taste
1/4-1/2 cup fresh-shredded parmesan cheese
1 pkg prepared gnocchi (12 oz to 1 lb)

Bring 4 qts salted water to a boil.

Saute the garlic in butter. Add the milk. Bring to a boil.

Stir in spinach. Mix in cream cheese. You will have lumps.

Allow to thicken and reduce. When it tastes the way you want it to, put the stick blender to it and get it creamy.

Boil gnocchi for about 4-5 min according to package directions.

Add parmesan to sauce.

Serve immediately. I defy you not to eat the whole mess while dunking your bread in the sauce.
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Not quite a white pizza. Pictures to come later. This is a no-frills method for an AMAZING pizza.

Green Pizza )
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It just screams pretentious, doesn't it? But oh. My goodness.

The original concept came from this recipe, but some of the things in the sauce, I didn't care to do to my asparagus. So I simplified it.

1 onion, diced small
1/2 large or 1 small, sweet apple (Red Delicious, Gala, etc.--no Granny Smiths here, please), diced small
4 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz of your favorite sweetish Chardonnay.

Sweat the onions and apple--that means no browning! Low and slow is the key. Once they've rendered up most of their water and the onions are clear, add the garlic and stir to combine. When that gorgeous fragrance hits you, add the wine. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, or until it tastes rich enough for you.

I'm serving mine with asparagus and roast chicken.

eta: and it is AMAZING.
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I say cheating because I'm supposed to be presenting you with my ideas. However, this is something I dug up because it's the best-looking of the bacon-maple-muffin variety. It has oatmeal in it, which will make it more substantial (and the oats maybe ameliorate some of the bacon? Maybe?) I will skinny this up later, have no fear. Right now I'm thinking good, honest-to-goodness uncured turkey bacon, maple sugar and whole wheat flour, maybe some whole, raw sugar as well. As it is, I think Rob's chef might say that it's everything that's wrong with American cuisine. We have no restraint. But damn, it tastes good.

Maple Bacon Oatmeal Muffins

I will share with you a conglomeration of the ways to make candied bacon. This one worked pretty well for me. I only had thin bacon on hand, though, so watch your cook time if that's the case. These came out black but still surprisingly tasty. You want them to be more of a coffee brown.

Now that I've said all that? Here we go. Get as much thick-sliced bacon as you want to use. Get a pan of brown sugar. Less is best to start with, so you don't contaminate a whole bag and only end up using half. I suppose you could use the brown sugar, though, to make the muffins? Anyway. You have to mash the bacon down into the sugar. Really cake it on there, then give it a light wiggle when you pull it out. Lay the bacon strips on a wire rack. Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, less if it's thin-cut. They will still be floppy when you pull them out; it's okay. They turn into solid sticks of bacony goodness soon enough.

Let cool. If you eat this straight out of the oven, it's like licking a volcano. You WILL hurt yourself. There, that's your bacon safety PSA for the day. If desired, crumble when cool and sprinkle atop the uncooked batter with a little maple sugar before you bake your muffins.
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My husband and I are fascinated with Asian cuisine. We love specialty items, and I especially love finding something I've never used or prepared and deciding that's for dinner tonight. While I would have liked to go whole-hog, hardcore homemade on this, I was hungry and lazy and I didn't feel like it. Besides, everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't we use instant Chinese bouillion mix? I'll be a stock snob later; this was good. And very diet-friendly.

Alas, my non-American and/or rural friends, some of these items may not be found in your area, but most of them, if you have a big grocery store and any kind of Asian population in your area, can be found in the specialty section.

Asian/Fusion Geek Soup )
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You'll be seeing a lot of muffins out of me for a while. I'm experimenting. This particular one is a result of that: a gooey, cakey muffin that doesn't look or feel like any I've tried. It isn't even like a cupcake. Want to know the secret?

Tortilla mix.

That's right. In my husband's culinary endeavors, he has developed a need to keep cake flour on hand. Alas, cake flour is beastly expensive next to regular flour, and I just resent the extra packaging. Well, when he was shopping last night, he started checking the protein content per serving of tortilla flour against other flours (he'd read that tortillas have to be made with a super-low protein flour or you end up with rubber pucks).

He brought some home only to find that it was mezcla, not flour. It already had fat, salt, and leavening in it. When we really got to thinking about it, we decided there really couldn't be much wrong with that, right, with the exception of the added fat. The last muffins I made were a bit dense, a bit chewy, so I thought maybe this mix would ameliorate that chewiness without adding too many calories.

Um. Not so much on point number two, there.

This one is made up out of whole cloth. I mean, I have adapted tons of recipes, but never just made a baked good out of nowhere. This is an incredibly tender, surprisingly rich muffin. I'm stunned at how good these are. Good thing the recipe makes a super large batch...

Double Chocolate Peanut Muffins )
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In my efforts to find food that everyone can eat but that won't put me over my calorie goals as I count like a counting thing (15 lb down, woo!), I have modified several recipes. Here's a good recipe for muffins that hubby proclaims "won't last long."

Chocolate chip banana muffins )

These clock in at just under 150 calories a piece and are very low fat. You could replace some of the chips with nuts or change what kind of chips you use. You could use whole-wheat flour. You could use Splenda (but why would you, yech). Go wild. They're muffins, not rocket science. Just remember to do the dry ingredients separate from the wet ones and ONLY mix until moistened or you'll end up with tough, bitter little pucks.
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Tastes just like fried:

Marinate chicken pieces in buttermilk overnight. Salt and pepper, then dredge in panko bread crumbs. Bake at about 400 until done, about 45 min depending on the size of the pieces.

This is HALF the calories of fried chicken. HALF. Even less if you use breast meat and pull the skins off, but for me the skins are love and unicorns wrapped in cotton candy.
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This needs no alterations, so I'm just going to post the link. What I did instead, though, because I was out of panko, was cheat and sautee onions with the mushrooms, and then for the topping I used the canned fried onions. Even with my lazy method, this was still the finest green-bean casserole I've ever eaten. I figure it bears posting, because green bean casserole is such a holiday staple--and nary a can of soup in sight. Awesome.

It could easily be made vegan by replacing the butter, chicken stock and cream with olive oil, veg stock and rice- or soy-based dairy-ish product.
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I'm stepping outside the boundaries of Geek Soup again to post something I literally tripped on. It's so good, though, and it would make an excellent holiday-time dish.

It sounds a little odd, even to me; I think of butternut as being creamy and sweet, not complimentary to wine at all, and generally speaking, I don't like sweet with meat. But I bought a butternut squash, and it ended up so big that hubby conconcted a risotto with it in addition to the pork loin dish and finally smearing the other half of the squash with butter, brown sugar and Chinese five-spice powder.

Here's the meat dish. )
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Blogs are great. I don't follow my favorites as closely as I should, but I'm very fond of Angry Chicken.

Today, I happened to StumbleUpon her Cheat Sheet, which is baked goods. Just ingredients, cooking times and temperatures for basic baked goods. They assume some foreknowledge, but you guys are a savvy group.  )
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So I've been planning burgers for a few days now. I had to wait until I felt better (I have an upper respiratory infection and was apparently on the beginnings of a sinus infection). Tonight, I felt pretty good, so I thought I'd do it.

Now, when we do burgers around here, we don't really do anything like a fast-food thing. If we're going to this thing, I do chuck, angus or, when we can afford it, bison. If you've never had bison and can swing it, DO IT. It's lovely. It tastes like hamburgers used to taste, mostly because it's primarily free-range and antibiotic- and growth hormone-free. Anyway. Bison good.

For the veggies in the house, there are portobello mushrooms.

The next rule about my burgers is I avoid regular buns for the most part. The plainest I've been known to use is a big wheat bun or a bollilo-style roll, though I prefer onion rolls or sourdough, or best of all, ciabatta. Yum, ciabatta.

Condiments for these burgers are as widely varied as there are people eating them. I've used horseradish, brown mustard, aioli, homemade barbecue sauce...it almost doesn't matter. You can grill the buns if you like (aioli makes a lovely spread if so, or garlic butter). A panini press would work if you want the inside toasty and the outside soft; you just put the buns with their backs to each other, buttered/spreaded side to the grill, and gently close the press without pushing down.

ETA: I left out greens! If you need salad on your burger, don't do iceberg lettuce. Please. Use butter lettuce, spinach, alfalfa/radish/broccoli sprouts, arugula, spring greens...anything but iceberg.

One of our favorite things is caramelized onions. )

When you're done, you will have a thick, lovely substance you can practically spread. Goes gorgeously with a creamy, melty swiss cheese. Would mix well with sliced, sauteed mushrooms.

Nngh. Enjoy.
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Okay, this stemmed from hubby's love and adoration for spendy soap. Sometimes I really do think he has a gay man (or a girl) in there trying to get out. He doesn't like chemical smells, and to be fair certain things irritate his skin, so he gets picky about soap. The idea of making my own soap always intimidated me. It just seemed so involved and technical and potentially dangerous. But seriously, $3-4 a bar?  )

This seems like such a complicated mess, but once you've done it, it gets easy. It's no more anxiety-ridden than a good, complicated dish, and the end result is a lovely, fragrant bar that is excellent for your skin and completely natural. No parabens, no crazy smells, no weird colorants. Have fun and enjoy your new hobby. I dare you to try to quit doing it.
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I got so caught up in the wakame that I forgot to talk about the black garlic! Its expense is due to the length of time and intense conditions under which it is fermented. I have seen different methods, but the prevailing one seems to be storing the garlic at between 120 and 140 degrees F for just over a month.

What happens is the cloves turn soft and chewy and very, very black. The skin has, by this point, turned more like parchment and less like paper and peels away easily. The cloves slice like butter and have a sweet, savory, only slightly garlicky taste. They're incredibly sticky (which is why I tossed them with the chive slices because otherwise you'd have a clump of garlic pieces rather than a sprinkling). I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to ferment something in heat and call it edible, but you know, as many times as it's been done, I don't know why I question anymore.
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Okay, I know you all didn't sign on to go with every single new recipe I find. But this is incredible. It's weird to invent something and call it good; it sounds conceited. Apparently I'd make a lousy Heidi Swanson ;)

Wakame is a seaweed plant. In the package, dried, it is a hard, leathery substance that is more black than green. If you pop a piece in your mouth, it's salty and rich, probably the definition of umame. Apparently it's a good source of B vitamins, folate, iron. I need to find a cheap source of this, because it would be excellent to keep on hand.

I tend to go a little nuts when exposed to exotic Asian items, if you haven't noticed. They are a serious weakness, whether we're talking soup spoons or sweets or something like uncommon soy sauce. If you can find (and afford, omg) black garlic ($8.99 for two cloves at Whole Foods) and wakame (also WF, around $7), try this out. You end up with a complex, rich soup full of smooth, soft noodles and a tangy, savory, slightly sweet broth.

Black Soup )



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