666 is the number of the entree

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I have a very mixed history with food pretending to be other food – or, at least, non-meat pretending to be meat. Historically, I’ve disdained it. It’s like the bread and cereal and other items that appear around Passover so that you can still have your Cheerios for breakfast without eating chametz. If you’re going to give something up – especially for a non-medical, non-required reason – then give it up and stop weaseling with technicalities.

But that was a position staked out largely before I gave up pig products, which explains why I have a vegan chorizo recipe photocopied and waiting to be tried. Also, it explains this post.

This is technically my second experiment with seitan, the first being the little curds I picked up the other month and tried to figure out how to use without any sort of directions or suggestions on the package. In my vegetarian Thai cookbook, there is a recipe for making seitan from scratch, the end steps being to either deep fry (preferred) or bake the results. I got something edible out of toasting the store-bought version, so I figured I’d try again.

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These may put anyone on the path to carnivorous behavior. They felt exactly the way they look – like rubber.

Thankfully, they look a little more like food and less like mistakes from the tire factory after toasting, even though I believe this type is supposed to be steamed:

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As for what to do with them, I opted to go for a Chinese-Thai mishmash (it’s not elegant enough to be called a fusion): a Thai green curry stir-fry.

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This is my new-ish wok, by the way. It’s one of those flat-bottomed types for western stovetops. I actually have a proper Chinese wok, complete with a crown that rests on the burner grate, but this is easier to work with. It was originally a bright, shiny stainless steel, but while my seasoning has been irregular, the important part – the bottom – is well done. It’s gigantic, though, and one of the reasons my next home cannot have a tiny stove.

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Food that looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be. More or less; the coconut milk is reconstituted from powder.

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This is a lot of food and yes, I was eating it all week.

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I didn’t make it as soupy as a Thai curry that you get in a restaurant would be – I love that style, but that’s an awful lot of coconut milk to be consuming. It was saucy enough, though, and very tasty.

Dessert was from the other end of the globe: a poppy cake made with the remainder of the mun filling from the Purim hamantaschen. 

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adventures in canning

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This was one of my projects back when I rebooted the blog.

In anticipation, I got myself a book, got some small (8 oz) jars, dug the big stock pot out of the basement, and opted for the minimum of toys – a widemouth funnel and a jar lifter.

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My jar lifter and my home-made lid lifter. I didn’t want to spend $15 on a piece of plastic with a magnet on the end, so I made one myself. It’s one of my fridge magnets plus my ancient citrus peeler.

The funnel, shown later on, would have a cost-per-use of pennies even if I’d never canned once. I use it almost every day – it’s perfect for getting food into my lunch thermos. I also use it for getting spices and powders into jars. I love it and cannot imagine how I functioned without it.

 

Of course, I assembled all of my canning supplies in the dead of winter, where there’s precious little in the way of fruit to make jam with or, well, much of anything you want to put in jars. But by March, there were at least some early cheap strawberries to be found. And since they weren’t awesome enough to eat raw, jam they became.

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This is that jam. I opted to make my first attempt without added pectin; there were recipes for that. However, the recipe made a base so sweet – even after I reduced the sugar – that I ended up adding cranberries to cut it. Cranberries are also high in pectin, for the record, so they are always good in a jam. (Pun intended.)

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Warming the jars. I was taking no chances and used my nifty electronic candy thermometer even for this phase. The jars just have to hit 180F for a bit. You can see them resting on the rack I use when I’m roasting chickens and Dad used to use when roasting turkeys. It’s not quite level – possibly from supporting 8+-lb birds for a couple of decades – and the jars migrated to the middle of the pot like a couple of sleepers on an old mattress.

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The Corningware pot is perfect for warming the lids.

 

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Funneling in the jam. After this, I dutifully used one of my little baby spatulas to chase air pockets, but you’ll have to take my word on that.

IMG_2920 Applying the lid. It’s a little lot ghetto, but it worked.

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With the band attached.

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Back in for processing, which is just boiling them for fifteen minutes, letting them sit in the water for a bit, and then taking them out. You hear the vacuum seal during the last part, somewhere between the pot and the countertop. Where they sit quietly for twenty-four hours before you take off the band, check the seal, and replace the band. And then congratulate yourself on needing a whole bunch of toys and guidance for a project that the average 18th century ten-year-old could do unsupervised.

But it still felt good.

new and old additions

“There’s no need to replace it if it still works.”

Common sense and thriftiness both. Which explains why my television still relies on its rabbit ears in this age of digital broadcasting – nothing wrong with it, it’s just old. In the kitchen, it explains my fifty-year-old cake pans and griddle, my skillet with the handle broken off, and my dishwasher with the soap holder that doesn’t close and the ever-growing number of broken prongs.

But sometimes there’s a good reason for something new and shiny. Introducing my latest acquisitions:

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I treated myself to a new bread knife. I’d been wanting to for a while – the one on top is a little short for some of my regular tasks and the wooden handle is warped and splintered from decades of washing (it hasn’t seen a dishwasher in the last twenty years, but the damage is done). Also, and I hadn’t really realized this until I got the new one, it’s not nearly as sharp as it had once been.

Tired of having to pause mid-slice to go pull splinters out of my hand, I splurged for this Victorinox, which as you can see is longer and does not have a wooden handle. This is my third Victorinox, after my chef’s knife and my paring knife, and I am quite happy with them. They’re inexpensive for the most part (I think the paring knife cost as much as the other two put together) and, hey, they’re Swiss army knives. And I’m not going to be able to afford an MKS blade any time soon.

As an aside, Amazon needs to investigate a wider selection of shipping boxes, since, well:

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My other new purchase was less dramatic and less essential to my personal safety:

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My two-cup measure is scratched-up plastic and has a lip around the pour spout, making a smooth pour difficult. I was comfortable going bigger because I am often measuring out larger amounts – 1.5 cups for pancakes, 2 2/3 cups for bread, and for all the soup that I make, 4-7 cups is common. I’d like to replace my cup measure eventually, too, but this is a good start.

 

The last new addition is really an old (old) recovery.

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I used to love this pot when I was a kid.

IMG_2932 And it had nothing to do with the pot itself, which is basic Corningware of an unknown vintage. It’s the handle, which is detachable:

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Twist the base and the handle unlocks and detaches. I don’t know why this fascinated me, but it did. And now it’s back in the kitchen, ready to boil eggs or, as it was used this past weekend, jar lids.

(I canned! Post forthcoming.)

And, finally, a bonus new addition, although to to the cookbook shelf and not the kitchen proper:

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A belated birthday gift from S, a Calcutta native. I will find something (not brains with funugreek, though) to make from it soon.

Propping up the economy

… or, hey, toys.

Going in to places like Zabar’s (upstairs) or NY Cake Supply or Macy’s Cellar is an invite to temptation – lots of decently-priced items that would be fun to have, but aren’t strictly necessary. (As opposed to, say, Williams-Sonoma, where everything is hideously expensive and, for the most part, not awesomely useful.) I am also my father’s daughter and have made do just fine without a proper frying pan or a garlic press or having a lot of bakeware from the last half-century. I have enough trouble putting what I have away and my kitchens are only going to get smaller as I get older, so single-use items are just not an option.

Which doesn’t mean that it’s not okay to cut loose once in a while. Or that I don’t lust after certain items that I’ll live perfectly well without (but would be kind of cool to have anyway). Post-Christmas sales are the perfect time to splurge, and, so, the toys:

knife

I don’t really have a knife fetish. I might have a knife beyond my price point that I would buy if my salary had an extra digit at the end of it, but I’ll work with whatever’s to hand. I’m still excited by having a paring knife with an actual tip (every knife in the family has been used as a pry-bar once too many times) and it’s arguably more important that I brush up on my sharpening skills than I conduct some search for the mythical best knife.

As such, picking up a new chef’s knife wasn’t super-high on my list, especially since the upgrade isn’t huge in size or style features, but this one was very reasonably priced and, wow, sharp. I’ve nicked myself on the fingernail a few times because a (relatively) dullish knife is far more forgiving of sloppiness since you can’t actually cut your fingers off. So not only does this Victorianox slice and dice, but it also improves technique.

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I don’t own a frying pan – the Club with the missing handle makes due (as well as serving as my smaller roasting and broiling pan). But there are times when cast iron is desired and using the dutch oven isn’t practical. And so, this. (It was cheaper when I got it.)

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I was going to break it in with a steak, but the pan arrived on the day when I had been without heat for eighteen hours and I was not in the mood to wait for the meat to warm up to a room temperature that was still quite chilly. So I broke it in with an onion, which is far less dramatic. I made the steak later on, enjoying the handles as I shifted the pan between stove and oven.

I’m still on the learning curve for cast iron ownership – the care part is easy; after keeping a wok seasoned, this is nothing – but learning how to cook with it is slower going if I want to do more than just use it as a heavy surface to brown.

rack_open This is my new baby. It would’ve been awesomely timed if I’d gotten it for myself before all of the Christmas baking, but it’s still been put to good use.

My normal modus operandi when baking is to leave the hot baking sheets on whatever surface they can balance on without melting what’s below, which is at best limited and at worst next to impossible (especially if I want to actually cool something). But now I have something where everything can hang out while flat and out of the way.

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You can actually unfold just the rungs you need – I could have left that middle one closed and just used the top and bottom, for instance.

(For the record, that’s my oven flashlight, which appears like Hirschfeld’s ‘Nina’ in most of my photos. My oven light, like its clock, doesn’t work. Or maybe it’s just the bulb. I don’t know. I like the flashlight.)

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The rack stores nicely, too. The one quirk I have with it so far is that it’s an effort to get the bottom balancing leg closed – those pointy tabs on the left click into slots and you’re supposed to squeeze the bottom run to get them out. But I can’t get it to do that without using a screwdriver as a crowbar and the metal is simply too sturdy to just warp it differently. But it’s not a crisis; the toolbox is nearby.

weekend random

Two unconnected items I’ve been meaning to share:

Thermos My new thermos. It’s a 10 oz food container (currently out of stock at Amazon, but I got mine for less at Zabar’s) from Thermos. It’s a little bigger than the warm-food container in my bento kit, plus it’s all metal and seals completely, so it’s pretty perfect for the entree part of lunch at work. The metal stays cool to the touch even with boiling water inside.

 

pomegranate The second item is a link to Jaden Hair’s demonstration of how to open a pomegranate, since they are still reasonably cheap in the market (or at least the one I go to after work is still selling them 3/$5). The video’s from her appearance on local morning television and the takeaway point is to work under water. I don’t remove the tops and bottoms, usually just quarter the thing, but it’s a fantastically neat and fast way to get yourself a bowl of pomegranate seeds.

party plates

bowls!

bowls!

In the winter, I live on soup (consider that a warning for what this blog will feature in colder weather) and have been meaning to pick up a few oversized bowls to supplement the two I own, since I still have a dishwasher and don’t run it often enough to avoid re-washing. And I’m lazy.

A Labor Day sale at Macy’s, a $10 coupon, and a discount for using my card later, I am the proud owner of half a dozen Fiestaware bowls. What’s on display here: two Chili Bowls (the peacock and scarlet), one Chowder Bowl (the stunning cobalt), two Gusto Bowls (turquoise and cinnabar, which are larger than the chowder bowl, although it’s hard to tell), and one Medium Bowl in evergreen. The smallest holds 18 ounces, the largest 24, which is more than enough to contain a pint of soup without worrying that some of it’s going to spill from kitchen to table.

I’ve wanted to get some Fiesta stuff for a while — it’s colorful, it’s pretty, it’s nicely shaped, and I have white Corelle dinnerware and so any color is a nice complement. Fiestaware comes in forty colors, some retired, most gorgeous, and, since you don’t have to buy whole place settings or sets, you can mix and match. I think that’s part of the point, even. Macy’s probably had about a dozen or so colors, but I didn’t need that many bowls — I didn’t really even need six — and there was no way I was carrying home more than what I had. For, you see, Fiestaware is heavy. Heavy enough to be IBA insert plates.

That’s in ounces, by the way.

Coming from any color of Corelle, this is quite a change.

But it’s a short walk from the kitchen to the dining room table (three feet), so I’m not worried. Nor do I anticipate it replacing any weightlifting regimen. But it does make for a pretty presentation.