Oh, Black Friday

Every year, Black Friday (the shopping day, not the stock market crash day, though the two do share a certain panicky nostalgia in the American consciousness, I guess) makes me incredibly cranky.  Who decided that it was truth, justice, and the American way to turn the day after, nay, the week surrounding, Thanksgiving into some hallowed consumerist free-for-all?  I dunno, but you, sir (or madam…whoever you are), deserve a swift kick in the shin.

I will not be shopping on Friday, anywhere.  I refuse to participate in the charade.  I won’t be part of the crowd that expects those who work retail, food service, and other supporting roles, etc. to work insanely early and long hours in dangerous conditions (just you try getting between a consumer and her deal), for little pay and less thanks.  I find it hypocritical and inconsiderate, to say the least.

I also will never be partaking in “Why Wait Wednesday”, “Small Business Saturday” (sponsored by a huge business who makes BANK on every swipe of their cards…isn’t that rich!?  I’ll support small businesses everyday, in cash, thankyouverymuch), or “Cyber Monday”.  I’m surprised no-one has coined “Spend More Sunday” yet.  Sheesh, people.  You couldn’t pay me to shop between now and mid-January.  I will buy the essentials, continue to support the local businesses that provide services I need, and you know, not act insane.

I understand not everyone agrees with me, and that’s fine (I’d love to say I will not judge those who disagree, but this is a very dear issue to me, so, yes, I will judge, despite my best efforts…I’m not perfect).  In any case, I will vote with my dollars by not spending any.  I’ll do something productive this weekend.  Make someone smile, burn a little creative energy, hang out with friends and family.

What’s your take on Black Friday? 

Advertisements

Gone Fishin’

Guess what?!  I’ve been on vacation/visiting family for most of the last two weeks in Montana, and I just got back yesterday.  So, eventually I’ll post some pics and whatnot, and the blog will get back to its regularly-scheduled-but-sometimes-erratic self soon enough…

But for now, my life consists of unpacking and laundry and convincing my cat that we did not, in fact, utterly abandon him (none of which are exciting enough to blog about!).

beef

Catch you later this week!

Pot Roast of Epic Awesomeness, or

Pot Roast meets Boeuf Bourguignon and happily drowns in Ommegang’s Art of Darkness.

beef

Is there anything better than a pot roast on a chilly fall day? I think not. (Or if there is, you need to send it to me, stat!) I was never a huge fan of potroast growing up (I believe I went so far as to call it “peasant food” at one point, which earned me a supper-less early bedtime…but, um, ahem, I’m sure I had my good points as a teenager, too!)

But these days, a good potroast is a luxury treat! (Though come to think of it, I’d still call it “peasant food”…but sans negative connotations). Pot roast means I have a choice chunk of meat (usually a nicely marbled chuck roast), a plethora of root vegetables (hello parsnips, carrots, turnip, and spuds!), a mess of mushrooms and onions, some tasty braising liquid, and 2-3 hours to laze around the house drinking the leftover tasty braising liquid as the potroasty perfume builds with very little interference from moi. Heaven.

And while I really do enjoy pot roast, I have a deep and abiding love for Boeuf Bourguignon. A la Julia Child, of course. Something you start with lardons just can’t go wrong, right? But making proper boeuf bourguignon is a giant pain in the ass. Not to mention, it looks like a dervish tore through the kitchen when I’m done, and all my pots and pans are dirty. Tasty, but so. much. work. But. so. tasty. You see my conundrum?!

Well, I’ve solved the conundrum. I’ve taken all the best bits of boeuf bourguignon and migrated them to the humble pot roast, which also lets me play up the awesome features of that dish! I win!

My culinary mad-scientist tendencies aside, this really did work out for the very best, and I think the beer should get a lot of credit. I used a bottle of Ommegang’s Art of Darkness (a limited edition release, but you could use any good Belgian strong dark ale, or Russian imperial stout or porter and get similar results…you’re looking for a beer with dark fruity plummy notes and hints of chocolate!). The beer gives you some acidity to your braise, and also imparts deep dark delicious flavors that go amazingly well with the caramelization that will happen to your root veggies. And the gravy! Oh, the gravy will make you tapdance around your kitchen in ecstasy.

If you, too, want to create a cross between classic French beef stew and the ease of potroasty awesomeness, give this recipe a try!

Pot Roast with Dark Belgian Ale and Root Veggies

Ingredients

  • 4 lb. chuck roast, nicely marbled, no visible gristle
  • 2 T. bacon grease (or olive oil or cooking fat of your choice)
  • 1 large onion, sliced vertically into eight wedges
  • 1/2 lb. baby carrots (or cut up regular carrots…I had a bag of baby ones that needed using!)
  • 1 lb. parsnips, cut to same size as carrots
  • 1 lb. mushrooms (cut to similar size as carrots, if small enough, just leave whole)
  • 1 lb. teeny tiny (i.e. bite sized) yukon or red potatoes (or cut regular potatoes to size)
  • 12 oz. GOOD dark beer
  • up to 1 c. beef broth (homemade is awesome here!)
  • salt, pepper, dried thyme, and dried sage to taste
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. water
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat bacon grease in a large dutch oven over medium flame (I use a 6-qt.cast iron dutch oven…be sure you have a lid). Pat roast dry with paper towels on all sides, then brown on all sides (will take about 15 minutes total).
  3. Remove meat from pan and set aside. Add vegetables (onion, carrots, snips, & shrooms) and cook for 8 minutes or so, stirring frequently, till softened and slightly browned on the edges. Remove veggies from pan and set aside.
  4. Return meat to the pan. Add beer and enough broth to come 2/3 of the way up the side of the meat. Season with salt, pepper, thyme, and sage to taste. Add about 1/3 of the vegetable mixture back around the sides of the roast, cover tightly with lid, and bring to a simmer over high heat.
  5. Once simmering, pop the roast in the oven and cook, undisturbed, for 90 minutes.
  6. After 90 minutes, add potatoes and remaining veggies to the roasting pan (it’s OK if they cover the meat at this point; they’ll cook down!). Cover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes to an hour, undisturbed.
  7. Test meat to make sure it’s done before removing from the oven. Once meat is cooked to your liking, carefully remove meat and veggies from the roasting pan, leaving as much of the juices as you possibly can in the pan. Tent meat & veggies with foil and keep warm.
  8. Set roasting pan back on the stovetop and bring juices to a slow simmer over low flame. Remember that your pan just came out of a 350 degree oven…it’s HOT!!  Use potholders!!  Whisk flour into a couple tablespoons of milk (to eliminate lumps!), then mix with remaining milk and water. Whisk milk mixture into simmering drippings and cook, stirring CONSTANTLY till thickened and no longer floury-tasting, about 8-10 minutes. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. To serve, slice roast with a serrated knife and serve along with a generous pile o’ veggies and a lovely dollop of gravy.

This hybrid pot roast pairs well with a good dark beer (and knitting!)…

Untitled

What’s the best thing you’ve ever cooked with beer?

Singlespeed!

Remember back in August how I was all, “I’m totally going to build up this bike frame that John nabbed on craigslist (instead of letting him have the cranks like he planned) so the hubby and I have matching his ‘n’ hers bikes”?  (If not, you can read all about it here.)

Anyhow, we finally got around to getting around to that (I say “we” because John did a lot of the building on this one, I’ve never built up a singlespeed before, and there are some…unique…considerations involved).

We built both wheels, which wasn’t bad, we’ve built wheels before!  (If you’re looking for a how-to, check out this site…I don’t know of many other wheel building resources out there, but this guy covers it well!)

Assembling the drivetrain was a bit trickier.  Singlespeeds don’t have the luxury of being able to shift into an easier gear when starting from a stop, which means all the force of starting from dead still (or, say, stomping the pedals up a hill) has to be borne by the drivetrain without pulling the rear axle forward in the dropouts.  So it’s really crucial that the rear wheel stays put exactly where you need it even when you’re exerting a ton more force on it (if it doesn’t, the axle slips forward in the dropouts and you end up throwing the chain off the cogs and probably scratching your pretty paint job, to boot…booo.)  Enter the chain tensioner…it puts solid steel between the rear axle and the front of the dropouts, but still lets you fine-tune the exact fit (you know, to account for varying chain lengths/dropout depths or chain stretch over time).  No space to wiggle equals no thrown chains!

Then it was just threading the cables through their bright red housing, popping the brake levers and grips onto the handlebars, and grabbing a saddle off one of the other bikes!

Untitled

Doesn’t this bike just beg to go exploring?  And!  The best part is that we have a coordinating pair of his ‘n’ hers 1x1s!!

bike 1

Do you pedal around?  What’s your bike like?

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Tiny Sweaters

kps288These are still missing their buttons and need blocking, but I think I may be in danger of becoming obsessed with tiny things. Specifically making tiny things… It’s, well, it’s just that they knit up so fast! I’ve been working on a me-sized sweater for 8 months or so and have a solid 12 inches done. Don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome, and all, but there is something so, so, so satisfying about actually finishing a garment.

It’s also pretty awesome not spending 3 hours of your life figuring out where you left off last time you worked on it, because you made it one sitting (or even a few sittings, but close enough to each other that you can actually remember where you put it down!). And let’s be honest, baby clothes are freaking adorable. So yeah.

And there is the very real bonus of being able to work an entire pattern from a partial ball of yarn, discover where the pattern is wrong, or where you have no idea what you’re doing, muddle through it, back track a few rows, muddle through it again, finish, evaluate whether what you did worked, and, oh, still be out a mere half-skein for your efforts. The ability to do a full on test garment really appeals! (And yes, there were some problems I ran into with this pattern…so this is the voice of experience!).

So for these two darling little sweaters, I used the Knitting Pure & Simple #288 pattern. I actually saw a sample knit up at my (soon to be closed and dearly missed! sniff!) local yarn shop and figured it looked really pretty straight forward and would be perfect for the youngest niece’s birthday (which is just after xmas, so perfect timing even!).

I used Plymouth’s Worsted Superwash (oh my gosh, it’s just soooo soft) in a nice cranberry for the red one, and some Galway Worsted wool leftover from a different baby project for the tan one. Both yarns were great for this, though superwash is probably a better choice from the parental point of view (yay for low-maintenance washable baby clothes, I’m told!)

So, the problems. Well, maybe it’s just me, but I followed the steps exactly, painstakingly, even (never knitted anything top-down before this, and while I quite like the method, I was a bit befuddled for a bit until I got the majority of it done and could see where everything really was). So somehow I missed the instructions that result in the garter stitch border on the front placket the first time ’round. I had it on one side, but after 4″ of knitting down from the collar, realized I didn’t have it on the other! Oopsies!? So I ripped it out and started over (and now that I had a handle on where the front placket really starts, I had a much easier time) and just made sure I worked in garter for the first and last stitches in version 2.0.

That was the major issue I had. I also apparently can’t count to 44 (ha!), so I split the sleeves off 3 rows prematurely (eek!). There was a bit of back tracking there, too. But that was totally my fault!

I had also originally envisioned doing green and red colorwork for the lace border (green on the diagonal stitches, which would have looked a bit like ivy leaves, I think), but I couldn’t figure out how to work it out in the end (even after knitting some test swatches)…the double decrease kept popping the red back under the green, and it looked rather wonky. I might try again using the intarsia style (I did the standard fair-isle floats method, and it got super bulky and I worried it would be too snaggy).

I made a few changes for the second (tan) sweater. The yellow stripe and edging turned out pretty awesome (I wanted some color mix going on!). I also much prefer the seed stitch edging over the garter stitch and ribbing mix (I don’t know why, but garter stitch looks “sloppy” to my eye…it absolutely isn’t but there you go…knitting biases at work!)

I’ll probably make a few more of these while I’m on vacation in November (what with holidays coming up, I’d be foolish not to!!). I also think they could be easily boy-ified by adding a couple other buttons down the front (instead of just the one at the top) and replacing the lace edging with a simple rib panel. Maybe I’ll try that out next?!

What’s your favorite quick project at the moment?

Nothing but Truffle

I like odd flavor combinations. Chocolate and chili powder. Lime and cranberries, tamarind and coffee, salty and spicy. I think part of it is that I’ve always been a bit of an adventurous eater, and part of it is that I was lucky enough to live in the Philippines for several months and experience the “odd” flavor combinations that are commonplace in southeast Asia (how’s that for a sweeping generalization!?). Things like soft-shell crab Pringles (to. die. for.), pandan in place of vanilla in baked goods, pork floss and vanilla custard (mmmm….BreadTalk).

It sort of reinforced my suspicion that common flavor combos are just that: things people commonly throw together, not so much out of critical analysis and careful plotting, but based more on what they’re used to pairing, and which ingredients they have easily to hand. Nothing wrong with that, but I love the challenge of taking an idea (let’s say, for the sake of argument, a chocolate truffle), and expanding on it an a carefully plotted, no holds barred, extravaganza.

So every so often, my soft spot for odd flavor combos meets my raging baking habit, and Frankenstein’s monster is born and they have beautiful babies.

It all started when I signed up for a treat contest at work for Halloween/Fall treats; we had to draw a theme out of a hat (boy did I ever have my fingers crossed for Pumpkin!) and I picked…Vampires. Oh boy. Just what the world needs, more Vampire shenanigans. I grumbled all the way back to my desk, but the wheels started rolling. I had really wanted to make pumpkin truffles, and I saw no reason I couldn’t stick with the truffle theme…but…how to tie it in to vampires? Make truffles with tiny chocolate capes? Fangs? Bat wings? Garlic? Why, yes! By golly, I’ll make them garlic!!!

Thus the genesis of my garlic truffles. No one would see them coming! They’d be the ultimate Trick or Treat Truffles (depending on how much my unsuspecting co-workers liked garlic!).

A test batch was in order, because I was torn whether to use roasted garlic (for its smooth mellow almost buttery flavor), or raw garlic (with its sharp, almost bitter, bite)…it’s hard to know what would taste best with the chocolate. So we made a batch of basic ganache, then split it into two test batches.*

ganache

The verdict? Roasted garlic was a bit too mellow. But the raw garlic had just the right bite to it! Add a pinch of salt, and it was amazing. A little bitter, a little salty, a tiny bit sweet (I used bittersweet chocolate for the most part), and garlicky!

If you want to make your own sneaky Trick or Treat Garlic Truffles, here’s what I did…

Trick or Treat Truffles

Ingredients
  • 8 oz. good bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 c. heavy cream
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2-4 cloves finely minced fresh garlic (OR 1 head roasted garlic, papery skins removed)
  • cocoa powder (for rolling)
Directions
  1. Combine chocolate and cream in the bowl of a double boiler (as you can see in the photo, my version of a double boiler is a clear glass bowl set over a 2qt. saucepan with a bit of water in the bottom…it doesn’t have to be fancy!).
  2. Heat the double boiler over a medium flame, stirring constantly once the water begins to simmer. Keep the water at a medium simmer (to cut down on steam eruptions) and stir till mixture is completely smooth and integrated. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the double boiler insert so the chocolate doesn’t scorch and stick.
  3. Remove ganache (yes, you just made ganache…aren’t you fancy!) from heat and stir in garlic. Use less if your garlic is very pungent. If using roasted garlic, be sure to smash the garlic into a paste so it is integrated smoothly.
  4. Wipe down the edges of the bowl with your garlic ganache, cover with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate till firm enough to work with (an hour or two).
  5. Scoop ganache out and roll into a ball, then roll in cocoa powder (so they don’t stick together). If ganache gets too soft to handle, pop it back into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes.
  6. Set completed truffles on a plate and refrigerate till ready to serve (they will hold up for 3-4 hours at room temp before becoming super soft). Leftovers (should you be so lucky!) will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

Just look how deceptively “normal” that truffle looks!

truffle

What’s your favorite “odd” flavor combination?

*It was at this point my husband started making Frankenstein’s Monster references. I thought it was a very scientific approach!