Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

Chinese Lunar New Year was celebrated last Monday so I decided to have a few friends over this weekend to make siu mai, one of my favorite types of dim sum (along with sweet bean paste rolls).  For the siu mai, I used this recipe from Philadelphia chef Joseph Poon.

The siu mai filling is roughly equal amounts of ground pork and finely chopped shrimp with scallions and reconstituted shitake mushrooms.  I also added a bit of shredded carrots to make it pretty. I considered making my own wonton wrappers, but I'm just not that much of a glutton for punishment.  (I know, everyone has a line somewhere, mine is just a bit farther out than others.)

Once the filling was combined, I enlisted some assistance in stuffing the dumplings.  Four sets of hands made the work go quickly and I really enjoy the act of cooking with friends.

While the dumplings steamed, I made a quick dip from soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.   In addition to the siu mai, I made some vegetarian longevity noodles (a traditional New Year dish) as well as some (certainly not traditional) Hoisin-glazed chicken wings.

All of the dishes came together relatively quickly and were really tasty.  Several people said it was the best home-made Chinese food they had every had and better than a lot of take-out too.  Quite a compliment!

Truly great guests both help make their own dinner and then wash the dishes - with ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm.  Special thanks to Clarissa for taking pictures!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Foto Friday {42}

Saturday January 21: Hank says "Thanks for the Head Scratches"

Sunday January 22: Made Dosas with Geetha

Monday January 23: Finished my iPhone Case

Tuesday January 24: Only the Best Neighbors Show up with Lemon Bars

Wednesday January 25: My New Favorite Bread Recipe

Thursday January 26: New Slipper (Pre-Felting)

Friday January 27: Sliver of a Moon and a Planet

Feeding Friendship: Blood Orange Yogurt Cake with Blood Orange Curd

I totally lucked out when I picked winter citrus for this round of Feeding Friendship - this week is Citrus Fest at Central Market! That means I had access to sour oranges (mojo anyone?), limequats, Buddha's Hands, and all sorts of other great citrus. After sampling all of my options, I settled on blood oranges and decided to make a blood orange curd I found at Simple Math Bakery (love the name of that blog).

The curd took way longer than I was expecting to come up to temperature, but it is a pretty low maintenance recipe.  Mix together the sugar, eggs, zest, and juice and heat over a double boiler for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Don't freak out if you get a few egg bits, just strain it before you mix it into the butter.  Thanks to the sweet and slightly floral flavor of the blood orange, the resulting curd is complex and very sweet!  I'd recommend cutting back on the sugar and increasing the lemon juice.

I've had a yogurt cake from Clotilde Dusoulier's first book earmarked to make for the longest time.  Then I found Smitten Kitchen's yogurt cake recipe with lime zest and black berry sauce and marked that.  Well, the time had finally come to make a yogurt cake.  I followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe, but substituted blood orange zest and juice for lime.  The wonderful thing about this cake is it is all one bowl.

Once all the wet ingredients are blended, you sift in the dry ingredients and stir - done!  I love a batter that doesn't begin with creaming butter (mostly because I never remember to soften my butter ahead of time).  Evidently, I threw away my round cake pans before our last move (???).  Or at least I can't find them.  So I made cupcakes instead.

I cooked them at the same temperature for 25 minutes and they came out just right.  The yogurt creates a really moist, tender crumb and allows you to cut back the amount of fat used in the batter.  I'll definitely be making these again, but with extracts or more zest to bump up the flavor.

My pictures don't do it justice (I made this late last night), but the curd is a pretty salmon color and, due to the lower acidity of blood oranges, runnier than lemon curd you may have had.  I have about three cups of curd left, but don't worry, I have a plan for it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DIY Kid's Science Kit (with Download)

So I'm great at making gifts for babies and pretty good with adults, but I have absolutely no idea what anyone between the ages of about 5 and 21 would possibly want for Christmas. The worst, for me, is the "tween" (side note: when did that become a thing?  I'm pretty sure no one ever called me a tween when I was 11).  Since Geoff has a brother and sister who fall into that age group, it took be a while to come up with homemade present ideas.  Eventually, I just decided to make something I wanted to play with and hoped they would like it.  And what do I think is the most fun thing ever?  SCIENCE!  

There are a lot of so-called science kits out there, but you'd be surprised how many include fake microscopes.  I knew I could do better and include all the gee-whiz experiments I've encountered over the years.  After scouring the internet (I highly recommend Science Bob for all sorts of experiments you can do with stuff already around your house and Home Science Tools for more complex projects), I came up with 28 projects that I thought (hoped) were appropriate for supervised 8 and 11 year olds.  To me, science is all about making your own observations so I streamlined the instructions, added some questions and places for the kids to write their own observations, and a "What's Happening?" section to explain the science behind each experiment in a kid-friendly way.

Then I assembled as many of the necessary components as were safe to ship and would fit in my box and topped it with a personalized notebook for each child.  My kit included baking soda, balloons, bar magnet, borax, chocolate bars, clear plastic cups, coffee filters, compass, cork, corn starch, corn syrup, epsom salts, food coloring, glitter, index cards, iron nails, liquid soap, metal washers, needle, pennies, plastic stir sticks, salt, skittles, soy sauce packet, straws, string, tape, white glue, and wire.  You could include more or less, but I wanted to ensure that they would be able to do several of the experiments on Christmas day without having to go to the store.

If you want to make your own DIY science kit or just try out some of the experiments, you can download my workbook here: It contains directions for cabbage-based pH testing; making your own bubble solution, play dough, slime, bouncy ball, and invisible ink; turning a chicken bone into a rubber bone; using paper chromatography to separate out the dyes in candy; copper plating nuts and bolts; making a Cartesian diver; building a hoop plane, balloon rocket, oatmeal container camera, worm composter, compass, pinwheel turbine, solar oven, and mousetrap marshmallow catapult; determining the strength of chocolate bars; turning leaves into skeletons; testing for photosynthesis; dying carnations and carrots; making staltactites and stalagmites; and my very own at home DNA extraction that I do with students every year.

I hope you enjoy the PDF I put together and let me know if you have any other links to great home science projects!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The World's Coolest iPhone Case

Okay, I might be a bit biased, but I really think this is the greatest iPhone cover ever made.  Our phones had stopped reliable sending and receiving calls, so Geoff and I finally had to replace them.  We bought the last generation of iPhones (the 4, not the 4S) and while Geoff opted for a classic black case to protect his, I finally got to buy the cross stitch case I have been eyeing for more than a year.  I bought my case at Think Geek.  You can get them more cheaply at Amazon, but this case has more stitches per inch (so you can make a more detailed design).  As soon as I ordered it, I began working on a chart based on this picture.  I tried several sites that promise to make cross stitch patterns from photos, but I had the best luck just laying a piece of graph paper over the printed image and making my own chart.  The case arrived on Friday and I began stitching immediately, pulled away only to go to a James McMurtry show. I love the way it came out and I'll never get my phone confused with anyone else's!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Foto Friday {41}

Saturday January 14: New Neighborhood Restaurant
Sunday January 15: A Warm Heart
Monday January 16: New iPhone = More Self Portraits
Tuesday January 17: Waiting for an Oil Change
Wednesday January 18: Designing my Custom Phone Case
Thursday January 19: Felt Booties

Friday January 20: James McMurtry show

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gung Bao Chicken

When I came across this recipe for Gung Bao Chicken at Leite's Culinaria, I got really excited.  I love Kung Pao chicken, but the restaurant version tends to be too heavy with gelatinous sauce and not hot enough.  Ick.  This recipe, however, is awesome.  It comes together quickly and is (relatively) light.

The heat in this recipe comes from a combination of hot peppers and Szechuan peppercorns and it is completely worth tracking down the Szechuan peppercorns.  I was surprised to find them very cheaply at my (slightly bourgeois) grocery store.  The heat that comes from the peppercorns isn't an upfront heat like you get from most chili peppers nor the nasal-clearing hit of wasabi, but just hangs around on the soft palette.  I can't explain it, but you really should try it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

December Book Report: Make Bread, Buy Butter

Each of those flags is a recipe to try.

While I didn't technically finish this book in December, I read nearly the whole thing on the flight back from Pennsylvania.  This book was given to me by Laurel because it reminded her of my "Is It Worth It?" feature here on my blog.  The basic idea of the book it that the author makes her own versions of things we frequently purchase to see if the homemade version is better and/or cheaper.  The stories that go along with the recipes are easy to relate to and you'll be surprised what things are cheaper to make and which aren't worth the effort.

So now I have a list of new things to make: cream cheese, hot dog buns, granola, danish, hot sauce, truffles, blackberry vinegar, corn tortillas, graham crackers, Worcestershire sauce, berry mustard, mascarpone cheese, burrata, chevre, ginger ale, bitters, orange-apricot conserve, sweet-hot pickle relish, cheez-its, and vanilla extract.  I since "Is it Worth It?" making a comeback!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Carne Guisada + Tamales

Carne Guisada is something I hadn't heard of before moving to Texas and the incarnation that I find at most restaurants here is a very thick gravy and deliciously falling apart meat stuffed into tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.  I'm pretty much a sucker for anything in gravy so I was going to make it regardless, but I was curious about it's authenticity.  I had found a good-looking recipe at Homesick Texan, so I knew it was legit Tex-Mex, but did it really cross over from south of the Rio Grande?

According to my friend Clarissa, "my grandma made it, but it is a stew, she would never have put it in enchiladas."  So with that blessing, I seared off the meat, deglazed the pan, and dumped it all in my crockpot.  Then I went to teach some friends to knit while it cooked a solid six hours on low.  Because I cooked it in the crockpot, there was less evaporation than there would have been on the stovetop and I found that it needed the thickening power of a bit of flour at the end.  The chunks of beef were falling apart and fresh, warm tortillas were perfect for sopping up the gravy.

Eating it as a stew was fantastic.  But there was a lot left over.  A lot.  So, undoubtedly bringing shame to Clarissa's abuela, I made the leftovers into tamales.  And you know what, those were delicious too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Very Special Quilt


Over the last several years, my mom and I have started a tradition of working on a sewing project in the days after Christmas.  This year, I had the perfect project - a quilt more than two years in the making.  For my friend Sarah's baby shower, the attendees made hand-painted onesies.  That baby has since been born, celebrated two birthdays, and outgrown her onesies by several inches (she's so tall now!).

I took all of the onesies and quilt fabric with me to Kansas and my mom and I set up an assembly line to make each of the blocks.  I am so happy with the result!  Now instead of old clothes in the closet, Clara has a quilt which she loves!  When she is older, it will remind her of all the people who care about her.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Foto Friday {39-40}

Saturday December 31: Airplane!!
Sunday January 1: Wilcox Hotel last reunion show
Monday January 2: Topology of Geoff (thanks, Mark)
Tuesday January 3: Snow!
Wednesday January 4: Home Again!
Thursday January 5: Prepping for AGAR workshop
Friday January 6: 1000 organized photos
Saturday January 7: favorite curtain
Sunday January 8: Remembering the Alamo
Monday January 9: AGAR Workshop
Tuesday January 10: Relaxing
Wednesday January 11: Lunch al Fresco

Thursday January 12: Galette Complete

Friday January 13: Leek/Blue Cheese and Spinach/Mozzarella Pizzas
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