Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tiny Christmas Sweater Ornaments

I have been looking for a simple and clear pattern for making these tiny little sweater ornaments.  I realized I had no knitting ornaments on my tree, so I had to knit up a few.

Then I realized how easy these were to knit and figured out why there aren't any instructions.  Basically you making a teeny top down raglan sweater, duh!

So, here are some written instructions, just in case you don't want to figure anything out!

I used leftover sock yarn, and  #2/40inch circular needles, and knit these using magic loop.

Cast on 24, connect.

Turtleneck: knit 1 row, purl 1 row, knit 1 more row. OR you can knit 3 rows (or more) in a 1 x1 rib.

Row 1 - Knit, placing markers on each needle as follows:  Knit 2, place marker, knit 8 place marker, knit 2.

On back needle, Knit 2 place marker, knit 8 place marker knit 2.  So you now have the front, back and arm sections marked.  (on each needle: the arm stitches are two, the front/back stitches are 8)

Row 2 - Knit until 1 before each marker then kfb (knit into front and back) slip marker, kfb, knit.

Row 3 - Knit

Repeat Rows 2 and 3 six times.

Taking waste yarn, slip arm stitches from front working needle onto waste yarn (8 stitches) now drop that waste yarn until a bit later.

Knit to next marker, taking another waste yarn, slip the next  8 arm stitches, and then slip the arm stitches from the back needle on to the waste yarn (you should have 16 arm stitches, 8 from the front, 8 from the back).

Now you will start knitting under the arm (connecting front piece to back piece) until you reach those last 8 arm stitches.  Pick up the first waste yarn that is holding the first 8 stitches, and slip those last 8 stitches onto the waste yarn.

Start knitting under the arm, connecting back to front, and continue knitting in the round until the sweater is long enough for you.  End with a 1 x 1 rib if you like.

Cast off.

Take arm stitches from waste yarn, careful not to twist any stitches.  Leave enough tail to sew up under arms and start knitting arms in the round until they are long enough to suit you, end with a 1 x 1 rib if you would like.  Cast off.  Repeat for other arm.

Weave in ends in the neck and bottom.  Sew up under arms and now you have tiny little sweater ornament.  This is a great use for those leftover sock yarns.  And you could probably do these two at a time just like you do socks!!

Christmas treat

This was a really easy somewhat quick treat.  Its basically sweetened peanut butter squashed between two pretzels and dipped in chocolate.  I think you could almost streamline this even more by using little Reese Cups, heating them then squashing a pretzel on top.  You probably have everything you need to make this in your cupboard right now.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Treats

1 c peanut butter
1c powdered sugar
1 c brown sugar
small twist pretzels
1 bag chocolate chips

Mix together the peanut butter and the sugars until smooth.  Grease hands and roll mixture into a ball.  Place ball on top of one pretzel twist, top with another twist and press gently.  Chill for about thirty minutes.  Melt chips in the microwave.  Dip one end of chilled pretzel sandwich in melted chocolate, set on waxed paper, chill until firm.


From one small jar of peanut butter, I was able to make over 80 little treats, so this will make quite a bit, and they are a decent mouthful.  You could use white chocolate or milk chocolate if you prefer.  I wonder what it would taste like with almond butter?

Monday, September 24, 2012


I really like my yoga class.  Its chair yoga, and that may sound like it should be really easy, but I have found some of the moves and stretches challenging, but my shoulders have much more mobility, I might avoid having to go to physical therapy for this shoulder that is freezing up!

We do focus on balance, and there is one move where we balance on one foot.   I tried it last week and it was a toughie!   My poor knees were screaming.  So before class today, I asked her what I could do instead, and she said she would show an alternate balance pose that used two feet.  When we came to the balance portion of class, she gave us a choice between one foot, or two?  Guess what?  Everyone chose two, not so much because it was hard, but because of the same reason, we are in pain and we know its not gonna get better.

So the lesson in all of this?  Speak up, chances are likely that you are not the only one having trouble!

I found a great chair yoga version of the Sun Salutation, love this, what a great total body stretch for after my  morning tai-chi.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Shawl

Happy Fall!

I finished a fun shawl this month, its Abyssal by Karen and Karyn.  It is basically a feather and fan border pattern, with the body knit in short rows.

I used Cascade Heritage Silk Paints, it is a 85% Merino superwash wool, and 15% mulberry silk, fingering weight.  This was a dream to knit with, so soft and cuddly, but no little stray fibers to get in your eyes.  My cat loved this yarn too!

If I ever knit this again, I would make one change, I would switch to one size smaller circulars when knitting the body.  It lays a bit flat, and I think a smaller needle size would take better advantage of the loft of this yarn.

Just might give this as a Christmas gift.....

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tai Chi for Arthritis and Pancakes

I struggle at times with my osteo-arthritis.  Certain movements and activities are not easy for me, or even achievable.  My goal has been knowing when to just take the shame and sit it out or declining an activity even though I really really want to participate.  Sometimes I say yes against my better judgement, and I learn my lesson.  It has taken most of the summer to recover physically and mentally from an activity in June, it took nearly a month alone just to recover from overloading my system with  the pain medication from it, I suffered a few losses from that, even more loss of mobility and the end of dear friendship, but that is my lesson learned.

I recently began a series of classes, Tai Chi for Arthritis.  It looks promising and I've enjoyed the first week.  I decided to practice taking the shame and sit down during part of the discussion of the moves.  I can't stand for extended periods of time, funnily enough, I can move slowly far longer than I can stand still!  So I took the shame and sat.  The instructors did look at me weird, and again I took this as an opportunity to NOT think negative thoughts, i.e. that they think I am lazy or a loser.  Soon, others followed my example and sat down during the movement discussions.  Lesson learned, if I have to sit then I have to sit.  I am impressed already, its almost subtle, but I can stand more comfortably, and have increased movement in my shoulders, its not great leaps, that will never happen with my joints, but even a little improvement is appreciated in my life.  I live each day in some sort of pain somewhere, whether its the constant pain of standing or walking, or its the pain I feel when I need to reach or hold something.  When I have a comfortable moment, its almost a surprise.  I wonder sometimes if that is why I throw myself into everything I do, if I am distracted enough, maybe I won't feel the pain as much.

Many people have claimed that once they make one healthy choice, they begin to make more of those choices in their life.  Its true.  Once making the decision to take this class, I decided to become a part-time vegetarian.  No, I haven't given up meat completely, I don't think I have the body type to do that.  If you took someone my height, and my size exactly and weighed us, I would weigh more, in spite of being the exact same size, its muscles I tell ya', muscles!  But on the days that Mark works and I don't have to cook a meal that includes him, I just eat vegetarian, truly vegetarian.  I know many people will claim the same thing, but eating a bag of Tostitos and salsa all day does not, in my opinion, constitute a veggie day.

I love to cook, so this has been a fun area of cooking to indulge, especially now since my food coop has so many great veggies to offer!  Oh, and its my excuse to eat cheese (note  the word vegetarian, not vegan, look it up, there is a difference).

One of the best things I have learned so far in my week of classes has been breathing.  This has helped so much in getting to sleep.  When you have severe arthritis, its hard to sleep, depending on where you are damaged, sleeping on your side hurts your shoulders, sleeping on your back can hurt your knees, even when you bolster them with pillows.  Sleeping on your face in impossible, so getting to sleep and staying there is tough!

But one thing they stress in class is concentrating on your breathing.  When you do that, you can't think about anything else, and its true.  So taking that advice, and a technique I learned from The Mentalist, of all things, I concentrate on:  breathing in ONE, breathing out TWO, and soon I am asleep.

So in my quest in making healthier choices, I offer you this quick, easy and surprisingly good Greek Yogurt Pancake recipe.  This is a small batch, the recipe says it will make 4 large or 8 small pancakes, for cats maybe, because it made 2 large, thick, fluffy pancakes for me!

I found this recipe here:  Everyday Belle and of course changed it slightly.

6 oz of your favorite Greek yogurt, I just used plain, but flavored or vanilla would be a great shortcut
1 egg, beaten
scant 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
one little slurp of vanilla (omit if using flavored greek yogurt)*

Stir the beaten egg and vanilla into the yogurt container until smooth and creamy.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda.

Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir well, it will be thick, real thick.  Don't panic.

Spoon the batter onto a sprayed griddle or pan, heated to med high.

Flip when they start to bubble and dry, just like a regular pancake, cook until golden brown on both sides.

I think these would be wonderful topped with a blueberry compote, or pancake topping of your choice.

*what is a slurp?  Probably about a capful, or just a tiny little slurp in the bowl :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sweet Roasted Peppers in Oil

I saw a neat post on preserving peppers in oil here , and thought hey why don't I do that to my extra peppers instead of freezing them this year?

I only had sweet peppers not hot ones, and I didn't have any smoked paprika only sweet, but I did it my way anyway, so this would be a milder version of the original recipe.  (Adapted from Diana Bauman, A Little Spain in Iowa, check out her beautiful blog!)

5-7 peppers, enough to fill a  pint jar
1 cup apple cider vinegar or white
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

Roast your peppers until soft and charred on the outside.  Place inside a bowl and cover tightly about 30 minutes to steam.

Pour oil into small pan with garlic slices and paprika, warm slowly, then strain.

Peel off the outer charred skin of your peppers and clean out the veins and seeds and tops, don't rinse with water it will wash off the flavor.  Slice into strips.

Dip strips in vinegar then place in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and toss with your hands.

Pour about 1/4 cup of vinegar  into bottom of pint jar, start stuffing peppers into the jar.

Cover with strained oil, using a knife, loosen any bubbles, then add more oil if needed.

Store in refrigerator, should keep one year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Small Batch Jam

Here in Iowa, we are having a very dry and hot summer, so a few of our summer fruits are not as plentiful.  So what do you do when you only 1 quart, or 4 cups of fruit and you want to make jam?  I found a small batch jam recipe from Canning Homemade that seemed ideal.  This seems to be a great general small batch jam recipe and I have used it with Peach and Rhubarb jam, and with fresh apricot jam, and so far they have both worked out well.  It will not be overly sweet, and it may be soft-set, but even the best jam makers have variances in their end result.  This makes about 3 cups of jam.

4 cups fruit - diced small
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp pectin (sure-jell powdered)  Use less if you have some young fruit, or less ripe fruit, more if the fruit is just ripe or a bit over ripe.

Cook fruit over medium heat until it starts to let go of its liquid - about 10-15 minutes.
Add sugar and lemon juice, and cook until it comes to a boil and the fruit has softened.
Add pectin, stir and bring to roiling boil.  Let boil 1 minute, do not stir.
Take off heat, pour into sterile jars, tighten lids and either process as you would for regular jam or refrigerate.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread

3 cups flour (I used bread flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp oil
1/2 stick butter softened
1 cup sugar
2-3 tsp cinnamon
powdered sugar

Mix together the first 6 ingredients for the dough.  Knead just like you would for a loaf of white bread, about 8-10 minutes.  Form into a ball, oil and let sit in a covered bowl until doubled in size.

Punch down, and roll out on an oiled board, to a 10x15 inch rectangle. Spread with softened butter, then mix the remaining cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle all over.

Using a sharp knife, or pizza cutter, cut into 2 x 10 inch strips.  Stack strips, then cut into 2 x 3 stacks or whatever size will fill up your bread pan.  Stand strips into your greased bread pan, try to pack it full enough so the strips don't fall over.  Or just stack them in, it doesn't matter, whatever way that will fill your bread pan works.  If you have any leftover cinnamon sugar, sprinkle on top.

Preheat your oven to 350, and let your cinnamon bread now risecovered for about 30 minutes.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Remove from oven and loosen sides, turn over onto platter.

Make a simple powdered sugar glaze, and drizzle over bread.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pickled Eggs

I love easy recipes, I really love easy made from scratch recipes!  I follow Serious Eats on my blog reader, and sometimes get great recipes and sometimes just great information.  The other day, Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars, shared a great pickled eggs recipe.  Growing up in Oklahoma, pickled eggs were a regular part of life.  Peanuts in your Dr. Pepper, a pickled egg for a quick snack, it was an everyday thing. 
This recipe is so easy, and if you raise your own eggs and pickle your own beets, then this is a fabulous made from scratch recipe to make.
How would you use these eggs?  I think they would be fabulous in a green salad, and so pretty!!  Or perhaps as an addition to a spring relish tray.

8 hardboiled eggs, peeled (I used 9)
1 cup canned pickled red beets, with their liquid (I used the whole jar - 16 oz)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick (I only had one left, so I added the cinnamon stick crumbs too)
4 cloves

Place peeled eggs in a quart sized mason jar (or any other heatproof container of similar size)

In a medium saucepan, combine beets, vinegar, water and brown sugar.  Heat until just comes to a boil. (I also threw in the cinnamon stick and cloves)

Place cinnamon stick and cloves into jar (if you haven't already put them in with the beets above)  Carefully pour the pickling liquid and beet slices into the jar with the eggs.   Tap the jar to loosen any air bubbles.  Place a lid on your jar, and let cool to room temperature.  Let eggs rest in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours before eating.

Monday, April 2, 2012

When to Plant What - Using Phenology in the Garden

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. Although, I guess technically we call this phenology, usually we consider this garden lore or folk lore.  Like planting corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse ear.  Have you ever gardened that way?  I did one year, and did manage to have a good garden in spite of a difficult weather year.  Even though we tend to think it is just garden folklore, there is a bit of common sense in this, the native americans notices certain things during the growing season, like the soil temperature being warm enough to keep seeds from rotting corresponding with clues from surrounding plants and animals.
I expanded my garden, and since I have no hard and fast plans for it, so I am going to plant by the phenology calendar this year!

I think this is most useful in the early planting season, when you are unsure of when the last frost will hit.  As with everything in nature, these are not hard and fast rules, Mother Nature is a willful creature and will do as she pleases!

When the crocus and forsythia bloom, prune your roses and plant the peas

When the lilac first leafs out, plant your beets, carrots lettuce and spinach

When the lilacs are in full bloom, plant beans, cucumbers and squash

Plant tomatoes when the lily of the valley blooms

Transplant eggplant, melons and peppers when the bearded iris blooms


Plant corn when the apple blossoms begin to fall and the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear

Put your perennials in when the maple leaves unfurl

I am going to go by the plants, trees and shrubs in my neighborhood, which would be best since they are right there!  So, when I walk my dog, I take note of what is leafing and blooming.  There is much much more information available online and in farmer's almanacs, even your own family.  What are some of the gardening sayings YOU plant by?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meyer Lemon Curd

My good friend and partner in crime, Amy, gifted me a small bag of Meyer lemons!  Now I know you all have heard about this sweet little lemon from California.  A cross between a mandarin orange and lemon, its deep yellow and more sweet than sour, truly it is!  It would make wondrous lemonade, but I chose to use if for some lemon curd.  Good choice if I must say so myself!  So I did a quick search and found this recipe, adapted just a bit, but well, hers is adapted from Alton Brown, so this really is a good recipe!

This recipe is very simple, and I mean simple and fast!!  It doesn't make alot, you might get 16 ounces if you scrape your pan really good, use extra large egg yolks, hold your tongue right and have a full moon!

You will need:

6 large egg yolks
3/4 c Meyer lemon juice (if you don't have enough, you could balance out with regular lemon, shhhh!  I won't tell!)
1 tbsp finely grated Meyer lemon zest  (less if you like it really smooth)
1 c sugar
1 stick of butter, cut into small cubes

Combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, zest and sugar in a saucepan, and whisk together until smooth.  Heat slowly on medium until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (8 minutes or so).  Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, one chunk at a time, waiting until each chunk is absorbed before adding each piece.

Pour the finished curd into clean containers, and cover with a layer of plastic wrap that will lay directly on the surface of the curd.  Serve on muffins, or scones or spread on a piece of toast like I did!  This should keep at least a week in the refrigerator.

I don't feel confident advising you to hot water process this recipe as you would a jam or jelly, as it does contain alot of butter.  But, I don't see this lasting long enough to be put away in a cupboard!  If you can keep it long enough to share, and don't eat it a spoonful at a time whenever you pass the fridge, then I will do a happy dance for you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preserved Lemons

It was a bit of a cultural shock the first time I really went grocery shopping after I moved to Iowa from southern California.  Meat was cheaper, everything in general was cheaper, but produce and citrus was expensive!  I was used to getting my lemons in abundance and at a good price, I was not used to paying nearly a dollar a piece for them! 

What is a preserved lemon?  Its basically a lemon that has been pickled in its own juice and salt, with or without the addition of oil or spices.
 How do you use it?  Pretty much anywhere you would like a bit of bright savory citrus punchiness.  Sometimes adding a bit of acid to a dish can perk it up, whether its lemon or lime juice or even a flavored vinegar.  You don't need to add alot, just a touch. The part you will add to the dish is the lemon rind, after you have scraped away the pulp and given it a slight rinse to take away some of the saltiness.  The spiced lemon juice in the jar can also be added, in tiny amounts, as it is quite salty.

Also  pickling lemons is a good way to preserve a big lemon crop if you have alot of lemons.  They will also keep a long while in your fridge pickled this way.

Many many many types and ways of pickling lemons are out there to be found, but I believe they all basically have in common two ingredients:  lemons and kosher or sea salt.  Some recipes add additional lemon juice or water, some add oil, many if not most will add spices and seasoning.  Many recipes will use Meyer lemons, but I think that a regular grocery store lemon will do just fine.  Use a clean jar, but with all the salt and acid in this recipe, if its not sterilized, I believe you will do just fine.  But, sterilize your jar if your good cook's common sense tells you to.  No matter what a recipe instructs you to do, use your good cook's common sense, the best expert in your kitchen is you!  I used a quart jar, but this can be done in any size jar, just make sure you push the lemons so that they cover themselves in their own juice.

You will need:

6-8 lemons (if using quart jar)
sea salt, kosher salt (but not iodized salt)
clean quart jar (use a widemouth jar if you have it, if not, obviously use what you have)
1 tsp each of the spices and seasonings of  your choice:  black, green or pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, allspice seeds, bayleaf, crushed cinnamon stick (I used green peppercorns, coriander and cinnamon stick)

Scrub your lemons with a fine brush under hot water to take off any wax and to clean the rind, as this will be the part you will use in any recipe.  You can tell when its clean because it will feel squeaky clean.

Cut off the tips from both ends, and cut the lemons into quarters almost, but not all the way through.  Unfortunately, I only had a small mouth quart jar available, so I just quartered mine all the way through, I feel certain this will not affect the end result.

Pour a nice layer of salt into your jar, then sprinkle about 1 tbsp of salt into each lemon 'blossom', and push it into your jar.  Keep cutting, salting, and pushing your lemons, occasionally adding a layer of salt,  and sprinkling in your seasonings, until your jar is very very full.  Then push those lemons down until they release enough juice to cover everything.  If you really press hard, your lemons should release enough juice.  Top off with a small layer of salt and seal tightly.  Leave out on your counter for a few days, or a week, (some recipes have advised to keep it on your counter for the whole pickling time) shaking everyday to distribute the salt around.  Then keep in your refrigerator for about 4 weeks before using.

To use:  take a section of lemon out, rinse well and scrape the pulp.  You can keep the pulp and press through a strainer and add this to your recipe as well if you would like.  Take your pickled rind and slice thinly, then add to your recipes.  This works well in middle eastern or moroccan recipes, but, I know many people who will add lemon to their soups and stews and this would be a perfect application for your pickled rind.  Slow simmering and stewing will really bring out the brightness.  I think a small amount of minced rind, mixed with olive oil and minced garlic, would make a great seasoning for grilled fish or shrimp, and this would where you could use a bit of the juice of the pulp.  Oh, and a twist of preserved lemon rind would be a most impressive addition to your Bloody Mary!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


The only crumpets I had ever had before were from the grocery store and honestly, I wasn't impressed.  Moreover, I couldn't understand why anyone would make such a fuss over this gummy, tasteless, round of bread.  Then, I made my own, NOW I understand what all the fuss is about.  If you have never met a crumpet you liked, make your own, you will fall in love!

The recipe I used was from the cookbook The Bread Book by Sara Lewis. I like the whole book as a matter of fact.  It contains recipes for both handmade and bread machine breads, and its great because most recipes are geared for just one loaf, which is all my two person family needs.   It was one of the easier recipes for crumpets that I found overall, that didn't require additional leavening or leaving to rise overnight in the fridge.  It actually fit in well with my morning routine as I need about an hour after I wake up before I can eat or drink anything.  Also, the cooked crumpets stayed nice and fresh even after refrigeration.  I am thinking these will freeze well also.

I did choose to invest in a pair of silicone rings with nifty handles thinking I could also use them for pancakes and eggs.  You could also use small tuna cans, with both ends cut out, or biscuit cutters.  3 1/2 inches is good, although mine were a bit bigger.

The only thing I would try next time is to use all purpose flour instead of bread flour, as my dough was not batter like, it was very loose dough like, making it tough to portion out the right amount into my rings.  Not impossible, but I did end up making quite robust crumpets.


1 1/4 cups milk (I used whole, since I had some to use up)
1 1/4 cups water
3 3/4 cups flour (I used bread flour)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast

Warm milk and water in a small pan.  In a large bowl put the flour, then stir in the yeast and salt.  Gradually stir in the milk and water mixture to make a smooth thick batter.

Cover bowl with oiled plastic then with a tea towel and leave in warm place for 1 hour or until the batter is well risen and bubbling.

Brush the insides of your rings with oil, and keep an oiled paper towel handy to re-oil your pan occasionally.  Using a non-stick pan or griddle, arrange your rings and spoon enough batter into your rings to make a depth of about 1/2 inch. (mine were 1 inch deep)

Cook gently, until the tops have bubbled and look dry.  Loosen rings and remove, then turn over and cook the other side until pale golden.

To keep warm, wrap the cooked crumpets in a clean tea towl set on a plate.  Cook the rest of your crumpets the same way, greasing the rings and pan with oil as needed, until all the batter is used up.

So I needed to split mine because they were so big, but I do believe that traditionally they are not eaten split apart, but they are toasted on the tops only.  Toast them, and enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Raised Pork Pie

I tend to honor my asian roots and my southern roots in my cooking, and I have a strong cultural connection to England, but have never really paid much attention to it.  Lately I have been paying alot of attention to it, obsessively much attention to it.  I love BBC America, I love Doctor Who,  so it was totally appropriate that it was on in the background as I was making this english pork pie recipe.  I had been a little afraid to make these pies, the hot water lard crust was intimidating, and I think, shaping the pies.  But as with anything, by the time you do the tenth one, its pretty easy!

This pie is constructed in three parts:  the savory jelly, the filling and the crust.  It helps to make the savory jelly a day or two in advance, as it needs alot of simmering time, then chill time.  Don't be afraid to work the dough, its quite forgiving, but be gentle when working with it, its not bread dough, its a short crust, but having your warm hands on it will keep the lard soft so that it is easy to work with, like play dough.
Yes, the anchovy essence or paste is somewhat important as it adds umami, that savoryness that rounds out the flavors.  Only a tsp is used so you won't taste fishiness, just do it, trust me.  I've shown two methods of construction, the one using a form is traditional-ish.  The one not using a form is easier.  You can also make this into one big pie using a spring form pan, or many little ones using a jumbo muffin pan.  But, I wanted the experience of making these by hand because I like a challenge.
If your crust develops a hole or tear, just take a piece of dough, wet it and paste it over the hole like a patch.  Look over your pie carefully before baking for any holes, you don't want the jelly to leak out.  The purpose of the jelly is to fill the gaps after cooking, between the crust and filling, and it adds an authenticness to the dish, as does the anchovy essence, don't frown, just do it, trust me.  Traditionally, pork trotters were used for the jelly, but I used pork soup bones, and cooked them down.

Read through the directions thoroughly, and write down an outline of your plan of attack, trust me, you won't forget anything that way.  Using my recipe takes alot of trust doesn't it?

Jelly Ingredients:
Pork soup bones
garlic clove
1 tsp salt
bay leaf
bouquet garni (I used a 1/2 tsp of italian seasoning)
6 cups water or more to cover the soup bones

Filling Ingredients:
1 lb boneless pork country ribs
1 lb pork shoulder roast
1 tsp sage
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of alspice
pinch of pepper
1/2 tsp anchovy essence or paste (just do it!)
1 tsp salt

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup lard
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered sugar

A beaten egg for brushing onto the pastry pies
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

boneless ribs

The Process:

The day before, or even two days before, simmer the all the jelly ingredients for at least 2 hours.  Strain the stock through a fine sieve, return to the pan and boil rapdily until reduced to about 3 cups or less.  The stock should be slightly silky and thicker than just plain liquid.  Chill in the fridge, and when solid, skim the fat off the top.  Leave covered in the fridge until after the pies are cooked and cooled.

Process the boneless ribs to rough chunks with a food processor, dump into large mixing bowl.  Process the pork shoulder a bit finer, but NOT to mush, just a little finer than the ribs.  Mix both meats with the rest of the ingredients.  Keep in the fridge until you are ready to use.

Heat slowly, the milk and lard to a boil.  While waiting, put the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, make a well in middle, and add the boiling milk and lard.   Mix until the pastry is smooth.  Dump out onto work surface and begin making your pie cases before the pastry cools.

Bottom of pie over jar, and using the jar as a cutter for the top
 Method One - using a form

Knead your pastry until its smooth like play dough, then divide it into fourths, take one fourth away and cut that piece into four pieces, these will be the tops.  Mush the leftover three fourths together and again divide into four pieces.  Take one piece to work with, cover the rest with a towel until you are ready.  Have a little bowl of water nearby.

Roll out the piece into a circle, drape it over the bottom of  a floured16oz peanut butter jar, or something about that size or even a bit larger, slowly and gently mold the sides.  While the bottom is draped over the jar, roll out one of your small bits of pastry and use the jar as a cutter for the top.  Just apply gentle pressure and rotate back and forth.  Turn the jar upright and gently prise off the pastry cup, it will stick and be stubborn, but the pastry is forgiving and any tears and holes can be patched.

Place a small handful of the filling into the case, then moistening the sides, and the top piece of pastry, put the lid on it, and start pressing the two firmly together.  The lid will attach from the inside, creating structure for the cup so that it will keep its shape. 

Method Two - without using a form (my preferred method)

Roll pastry out into a large circle, place a small handful of filling in center, then begin pulling up the sides of the pastry around the filling like cinching the top of a sack.

Pull or cut off the excess dough around the top, and start pinching the sides at the top to form the cup like shape.

Moisten the inside top of the pastry cup and the top piece and place the top just inside the pastry cup and begin pressing together.

After firmly attaching the top and pressing together, begin crimping the edge, just like you would a pie crust, I think it looks cute that way.  If you look at the pictures on the internet, you can tell the man-made pies, and the lady-made pies, ours are WAY prettier :)

Place all your pies on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and brush the tops with a beaten egg. 

The large crimped pies are the form raised, and the smaller crimped pies are the ones I made without the form.  I liked not using a form, I felt as though I had more control over the dough.  Also, its one less thing to wrestle around.

Bake at a preheated 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake 55 minutes more.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.  After they have cooled to at least room temp.  Gently reheat your jelly, not until its hot, but just until its liquid.

I used a cupcake filling tip as my funnel, and added spoon by spoon of my liquid jelly into each pie.  I just kept going around the tray to each one and added a spoonful of jelly until each pie could not hold anymore jelly.  If you have a pie that sprung a leak, just add jelly until you see it seeping out. 

Refrigerate, then eat!!  Traditionally these were served cool or room temp with a side of english mustard.  Ankeny, Iowa doesn't have english mustard!  So I decided maybe a spicy brown mustard would suffice.

Would I make this recipe again!  Emphatically yes.  These will freeze beautifully and I believe my husband will love them as a quick lunch.  After going through the process, its not nearly as daunting as it seemed, just like most things in life.  I had plenty of jelly left, and I froze it, to use when I make these again.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year - Merry Style!

I love chinese dumplings and potstickers, or my personal name for them: lazy sui mai.  Why lazy?  Because I use a dumpling mold instead of mucking about with forming it by hand!  But the funny part is that, I will start out making sui mai traditionally, then get fed up with my ugly attempts and pull out my dumpling maker.  Sad, sad, sad, and lazy!  See, that is where the lazy comes in.  But, it does make pretty dumplings, and makes me look far more proficient than I really am. 

You can find these dumpling makers everywhere, but I like JapanBargain on Ebay.  Free shipping on just about everything, and every japanese kitchen utensil I ever need can be found in their store.  The dumpling maker comes with a handy little spatula, to deposit just right amount of filling.

Before starting, set your steamer up.  Basically, you need something to hold the dumplings up and out of the simmering water.  You could set a plate on top of a cup inside a covered pot of simmering water.  Or buy a steamer plate, again Japan Bargain has these, or use the steamer insert that came with your pan set.  Line the steamer with cabbage leaves, these keeps them from sticking and I also feel it adds an authenticness, but that just maybe my imagination.  Put the heat on low-med to start the water heating, by the time you are done pressing the dumplings, it should be simmering.

Merry's Dumpling Filling

1 lb of skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 lb of shrimp, peeled, cleaned and tails off
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 can of water chestnuts, chopped small
4 tbsp or more of soy sauce
2 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

You will also need: savoy cabbage leaves for the steamer

Dipping Sauce
Sweet Chili Sauce
Soy Sauce
Peanut Butter (optional)

Process the chicken and shrimp until minced thoroughly.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well mixed.

Add about tsp or so of filling on top of a gyoza dumpling skin on top of the dumpling press.  Push the filling down a bit, then squeeze the maker shut firmly, to seal the filling in.  Look at my fat little fingers, they look dumpling like too!!

Proceed as above until all your filling is gone, I was able to make quite a bit, I used about 55 or so dumpling skins.  If you don't have the round skins, you can use square wonton wrappers, just cut them into circles with a cookie cutter, or heck keep them square, just set them on the diagonal in the press.

Place them in your cabbage leaf lined steamer inset, cover and steam for about 12 - 15 minutes, break one open at the end of the first batch to see if you have steamed them long enough.

Take them out, and let them cool a bit, before storing them and freezing them.  What?  Yes, freeze these lovelies so when you have a craving, you can pull a container out and micro them for a few minutes, and soothe that craving!

I mix a few tablespoons of sweet chili sauce with some soy sauce, and that is my dipping sauce.  If you want to kick it up a notch, add a spoon of peanut butter and smooth it all together.