Thursday, June 26, 2008

I finished my gloves! I'm so glad they're done so I have them for the winter. However, making fingers is a huge pain! I don't want to make any more for a long long time...

Here's a peek at a new project--a hedgehog! Paul wanted to get a real hedgehog as a pet, but this one will have to do. I've finished the head/body and an ear so far.

I don't have a lot of knitting to show because I've been working on knitting Paul's birthday present. Shhh!

I've also started learning Italian because I'd like to go to Venice, Florence, and Rome and possibly Pompeii and Herculaneum (if I can get over my fear of Mount Vesuvius--the scientists on Secrets of the Dead said that it could very likely erupt again just as catastrophically*). I also need to start reviewing my German because I'm going to lose it. Thankfully, I'm not in danger of losing my French because Watermark Books (a local Wichita bookstore with a yummy cafe, too) has a monthly French book club (reading and discussing in French). I'm about half-way through the book for July, Marguerite Duras' L'Amant de la Chine du Nord.** I've read both and La Douleur and L'Amant by Duras and have seen Hiroshima mon amour (she wrote the screen play) but I'm still not sure that I like anything she's written and L'Amant de la Chine du Nord is not very different from L'Amant. Of course, I do like my French novels to be set in France. I wanted to study French because of Paris, not because of the language itself. To be fair, I like my English novels to be set in England as well and thankfully, being a native speaker has eliminated a desperate desire to learn the language.

Watermark Books also has a Classic Book Club that is reading War and Peace for the next three months. I happen to have a copy I've never read, so I'm going to go to that book club as well. Unfortunately, the info on the book club specifies that they will be reading the new translation, but I don't think I should be expected to run out and buy another copy of the book. Besides, the individual chapters are only 5-7 pages each, so it won't be too hard for me to figure out where everything is if the group leader will just give me a book and chapter number. There were always several editions of the same book in my French classes and we all managed just fine.

In the spirit of reading War and Peace (and because it's the only dish Paul will ever suggest) I made Beef Stroganoff (even though it's summer), which, in its present incarnation, is probably not very Russian at all. I will maintain it is the thought that counts. Besides the Martha Stewart Macaroni and Cheese recipe, Beef Stroganoff is Paul's favorite dinner and I am quite proud of it if I do say so myself. It started out as a Betty Crocker recipe, but I think I've made enough changes to call it my own.

Beef Stroganoff (serves 4, but is easily doubled)
1 lb hamburger (I use 93% lean; it's ok because there is a lot of butter in this recipe)
1 medium onion, chopped
Fresh thyme sprigs, generous amount
1/4 c butter
2T flour
1t kosher salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 t freshly-ground pepper
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, cut in thick slices
1 can cream of mushroom soup (can use 98% fat free if you want)
Beef broth (a few tablespoons)
1 cup sour cream (you can use low-fat but not fat-free)
Cooked egg noodles

1. Melt the butter in a large skillet and then add beef, onion, and thyme leaves and cook over medium-high heat until the hamburger is no longer pink.
2. Add the flour, salt, garlic, pepper, and mushrooms and cook, stirring (almost) constantly for 5 minutes.
3. Add a few splashes of beef broth to deglaze the pan a bit.
4. Add the soup and stir while bringing to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in sour cream and sprinkle generously with paprika and heat through.
7. Serve over egg noodles.

I made another dish with egg noodles as well: Blanquette de veau from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The meat alone was $45, so we're lucky that the dish turned out so well. It's like a luxe combination of Beef Stroganoff (the egg noodles mostly) and chicken and dumplings (no dumplings). Since I hadn't bargained on veal stew meat being quite that expensive (how much for the whole baby cow?) and I had already special ordered it, I was determined to stretch it as far as possible. I did succeed in getting 8 servings out of the recipe instead of the suggested 6 and everything else that is in the dish is pretty cheap (onions, carrots, white mushrooms, pearl onions, chicken stock, egg noodles, parsley and thyme that I grow myself) so I did not feel bad since we can't eat for $7 per person in a restaurant and we certainly couldn't get veal for that.

*The entire episode "Herculaneum Uncovered" is online at the Secrets of the Dead website.
**Interesting Times article about the Saigon of Marguerite Duras here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Hit from Nigella Express, Adventures in Waste Yarn, New Knitting Thingy, Italy

Chicken Schnitzel from Nigella Express

I was just talking to Erika on the phone (hi Erika!) and told her I was going to update my blog, so here goes. Unfortunately, I had to return Nigella Express to the library, but I was able to print out the recipe for Chicken Schnitzel with Bacon and White Wine here. (The photo is below.) The only change I made was instead of using garlic oil, I used olive oil and then threw in some minced garlic when I deglazed the pan at the end. I didn't want to put the garlic in with the oil at the beginning, because since the bacon fat gets so hot, the garlic would burn and get all nasty. The green beans are Haricots verts au maître d'hôtel and the wine is a 2006 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, which was only $8.98 at our friendly neighborhood liquor store. The chicken schnitzel is actually very very good. Besides, how could anything pan-fried in bacon fat be bad?

All I have to do for my left glove is the hand and fingers and then I'm ready for the elastic and then I am finished! Before I made the right glove, I had never done a project that required waste yarn and I had no idea what it did or anything but now I know and it is really cool.

Do you see these red stitches? (The yarn is from my socks.) This is the exact spot where the thumb will go!
Below are my new knitting gadgets. They are like little pieces of telephone cord (does anyone even have telephone cords any more?) and they wrap around my needles to keep them together and keep my project from slipping off in my bag. I was using rubber bands, but these are much easier and cuter. Plus, they don't snap off and hit me in the eye.
A (Mental) Trip to Italy
Unfortunately, I don't get to go to Italy in the near future and I've never been there, but I have gotten to spend some time in Venice and Rome thanks to the biography of Lucia Mocenigo by Andrea di Robilant and the film Artemisia. I picked up Lucia at the library last week and have really enjoyed it. It's the kind of history book I would have like to have written had I stayed in history--it has a narrative and I could actually feel the time period. Turns out, this kind of history is not written by "real" historians. I don't care because before I read this book I had not given Italy during the Napoleonic era much thought. Now I know a lot more about it and I enjoyed the trip.

Yesterday I watched Artemisia, a French film about the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I took a summer art history class in 2005 and the professor suggested this film and I have just now gotten around to watching it. The things I liked the most about the film were the colors and the costumes. Almost all the colors were beautifully muted (like the Sistine ceiling before it was cleaned) but the costumes were very intricate. The movie was worth watching but I probably wouldn't watch it again and again.
Judith and Holofernes, Around 1620 by Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith and Holofernes, Around 1620

This beautiful (and, admittedly, gruesome) work played an integral part in the movie. This is the version of Judith and Holofernes that we had to memorize for our Renaissance/Baroque/Rococo test. I hope your day is better than his.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

French Food (Study in Beige and Green)

Above: Suprêmes de Volailles à Blanc and Haricots Verts au maître d’hôtel; Below: Fontina and Mushroom Omelet and Steamed Asparagus
The Suprêmes and Haricots Verts are from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (even though it's "Haricots Verts à la Maître de l'Hôtel" which is horribly incorrect and I can't bring myself to call them that). The Suprêmes (and I don't mean Diana Ross et aliae) are a favorite quick-fix meal because it takes ten minutes tops. The super-thin chicken escalopes are seasoned, sprinkled with lemon juice and then placed in a pan of hot butter and then put in the oven for 6 minutes and the sauce is a reduction of stock, vermouth, and cream. It's very yummy and goes well with Haricots Verts which are cooked in butter and lemon and a nice coupe of champagne (which I prefer over a flute and I don't care what any wine expert says).

The Fontina and mushroom omelet is my own recipe and is simply a two-egg omelet filled with 2 oz. of crimini mushrooms that have been sautéed in butter with a sprig of thyme (from my own thyme plant!) and 1/4 c. grated fontina. This was also a quick and easy dinner and, I believe, perfectly appropriate for very late spring and a glass of Riesling.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pirates of Penzance and Magnolia Cupcakes, Part 1

After waiting twenty minutes in line at the concert hall (all the musical theater season ticket holders had to exchange their tickets) Paul and I finally got up to the window and I told the guy that we wanted the best two cheap seats they had for Pirates of Penzance. He then stated, "We don't sell opera tickets here. There should be a sign but there isn't." Well ok, silly me thinking that I could buy theater tickets at a box office. We had to wander up to the second floor to the actual opera office where one of the employees said we had to go up to the third floor to actually buy tickets and he would take us himself. As we were getting in the elevator, the company director was exiting at the second floor and, in his thick Eastern Bloc accent gestured at the guy we were with to "come come come come come." Our new friend gave the opera director a look of exasperation, gestured toward us and condescendingly said, "Tickets!" then got in the elevator with us and confided, "Sometimes life is difficult."

We did get tickets and yes, they were cheap but we could see well. The opera was fun (of course it was it's Gilbert & Sullivan for goodness sake) and if it wasn't sold out was close to it. We saw all kinds of people: people in jeans, people in cocktail dresses and suits (like us), and one particularly interesting couple comprised of a female in a prom dress and tiara and a male in a SARS mask.

From contagious disease to baking...
I finally made the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes I mentioned earlier. I thought it was pretty amazing that all of them came out of the oven with such flat tops. It makes icing them so much easier. The cake itself is really very good. The recipe is here, but I made a substitution. Instead of the 1 1/2 cups of self-rising flour, I used 1 1/2 cups cake flour + 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder + 3/4 t salt. I don't see any point in buying self-rising flour when I have salt and baking powder. Seems like one more thing to clutter up my pantry!
The cake flour substitution was for the texture of the cake. I had read comments that some people thought Magnolia cupcakes were too dry or too cornbread-y. I didn't find the ones I made to be dry in the least.

I did, however, have a slight problem with the buttercream. I don't think there was enough butter in it because it just tastes like sugar. I'm really glad I only made a quarter recipe because I need to find one that has more depth of flavor. I'll let you know when I find another one to try.