Archive for the ‘HowTo’ Category

Making scones is a weekend tradition for us. I’m a big fan of the British scone. Cooks Illustrated has the nerve to say this:

The British original is lean, dry, and barely sweetened. Spoonfuls of jam and clotted cream are a must.

Bollocks! I know I’ve mentioned before how Cooks Illustrated recipes annoy me with their ridiculous obsessive compulsive details. Here they ask us to freeze the butter then grate it. Screw that!

And the Cooks Illustrated recipe has blueberries. Blueberries (insert shocked reaction). What is it with Americans and their fear of raisins? I know so many people who don’t like raisins. Or if they do they only like them alone but not cooked in stuff. I remember being a kid in kindergarten and having little boxes of Sun Maid raisins as a treat. When did everyone develop a complex about raisins?

We pulled out Jake’s British Good Housekeeping cookbook and here is my slight modification to the recipe.

1. First we make our own cultured butter. The culture is added to some heavy whipping cream (double cream) then sits in a dark cabinet for a few days. We then take a sample to freeze and shake the jar until butter forms. Afterwards you get cultured buttermilk and cultured butter. Making your own butter is obviously not part of either recipe but this is part of our weekend tradition.

2. Thank god for my John Lewis scale. It weighs grams and ounces and the top part doubles as a liquid measurer with millilitres. So I put 225 grams of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl and mix it up. I’m adding a half teaspoon of baking powder than in the British recipe because they use self-raising flour. And the two tablespoons of sugar is my addition too. I do light a slightly sweeter scone.

3. I cut in 40 grams of my newly made cultured butter with a pastry blender. Then I add about a 1/2 to 3/4 cups of raisins to that.

Next is 150ml plus of the newly created cultured buttermilk even though the British recipe asks for just plain milk. Stir it into the flour mixture until it starts to pull together. Add more buttermilk if needed.

4. Here’s where Cooks Illustrated has me. I drop the scones onto a baking sheet into amorphous blobs. I just don’t care enough to roll them into pretty uniform circles. And another American touch is to top them with a little sprinkle of raw sugar.

Finally bake at 425 degrees(220 C) for 12-15 minutes.

5. Cut open and eat with the newly made butter, which ahem, Cooks Illustrated, is the whole point. And cultured butter is the best. Yum.

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Emily Post Table Manners

You know you want to know.

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Jake and I made cheese curds out of some raw goat milk yesterday. What better excuse to make poutine? I made a herb gravy with butter, fresh herbs and wine. I then added sauteed morels (thank you Ballard Farmer’s market) and voila. Oven fries topped with cheese curds and with some herb and morel gravy poured over the top. I don’t think I’ve ever made anything more decadent and homely at the same time.

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Right now in Seattle, Italian pizzas are all the rage. If you’ve had an Italian pizza, you know that the crust is very very thin and is portioned for one person.

1. Roll out the pizza dough very very thin. Almost every pizza dough recipe is virtually the same. So choose your favorite. Each batch should make 3-4 pizzas. 4 for very thin pizzas. 3 for slightly less thin. I found out that DiLaurenti in Seattle is owned by the same people who own Pagliacci pizza. So I buy my dough from DiLaurenti to save time.

And I definitely roll the dough. I’m not an expert on stretching and I find that I just get holes. As you can tell, I don’t worry about making it round, but you certainly can.

2. Heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then I heat my propane barbecue to as hot as it will go. I’m only going to flash cook the pizza dough on the barbecue to make the dough stiff. I find that if I cook the whole pizza on the barbecue then the bottom cooks before the top.

Use your pizza peel to get the dough on the barbecue completely flat. This takes practice. Close the lid and wait for a one minute tops. The dough will puff up. You can either deflate bubbles or just let them deflate on their own. (more…)

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As I’ve said before, I love the removable-bottom tart pan. You get such good results without a lot of fuss. I’m definitely more of a tart person than a cake person. The tart has a orange zest crust with jam baked onto it. Then it’s topped with a marscapone filling and raspberries.

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Here is my second segment in my “screw that” cooking advice series. Why “screw that?” Because sometimes you just read something so ridiculously outlandish in a recipe that you just have to curse.

Chicken Savoyarde by Tamasin Day Lewis.

1 4 1/2 lb chicken

2 onions, peeled, and one of them stuck with 2 cloves

2 carrots, peeled and sliced in half lengthways

3 sticks of celery, chopped in half

2 leeks, trimmed and well washed

2 bay leaves and 2 springs thyme

Put the chicken in a large pot, add the vegetables and herbs and salt. Poach very gently for an hour and a half, skimming off any scum that comes to the surface. Once cooked, lift out the bird and allow to cool. Strain the stock through a fine sieve and discard all solids.

WTF! Just what do you think you’re playing at? Discard all the f—ing solids! You mean I just did that song and dance for freaking vegetable stock? You know Tamasin, I’m sure it’s difficult for you to understand since you’re probably spending the whole day reading your mother’s poetry and helping Daniel with his method-acting and all, but some of us don’t have the time or monetary resources to throw a couple pounds of vegetables in the garbage when we could just use some semi-classy store-bought vegetable stock.

Photo and similar recipe at A Year From Oak Cottage.

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As you know, I love to cook. I’m quite fond of it. Occasionally while happily perusing a recipe, I’ll think to myself: screw that. No really, I’ll think f— that. Because sometimes you just read something so ridiculously outlandish in a recipe that you just have to curse.

So here is my first in a new series called “screw that” cooking advice.

The leek. I really like leeks. The recipes I’ve used leeks in range from potato and leek soup, cock-a-leekie soup, leek gratin, and risotto with butternut squash and leeks. In all of the recipes you are told to cut off and discard the tough dark green part of the leek. Well screw that.

I find the dark green part every bit as delicious as the pale green and white parts. I also have never found them to be tough. Yes, I make sure to slice them thinly. Yes, my recipes fully cook the leek, but how many recipes use raw leeks. What sort of terrible thing is supposed to happen. You would think it would be like eating the outer leaves of the artichoke the way the recipe authors go on about it. By the way, I did eat the outer leaves of an artichoke the first time I had it. Big mistake.

Cutting off the dark green part of the leek is wasteful to say the least and so far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with eating it. So screw that.

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Day one with the Roomba

We ended up purchasing a Roomba 410. This is an older model which was cheaper. The amazon reviews suggest that the latest models in the 500 series are problematic. As the 500 series were nearly double the price, we both thought the Roobma 410 was a good place to start. Many reviews on any Roomba model suggest that Roombas don’t last too long. A year being optimal.

Reviews also suggest the Roomba is like a bad dishwasher. Just like you need to “clean” dishes before putting them in a bad dishwasher, you need to “clean” before using the Roomba. If you want it to last. The Roomba arrived on Wednesday. Saturday we spent all day cleaning the house and sweeping the floors. Yes, it is a little ironic but I’d rather this Roomba last than over-tax it on its first day. Yes, I am laughing as I write this.

So far the Roomba seems very good at coverage. He (seems masculine, I don’t know) seems to have gone over every room on the first floor quite thoroughly. He can get himself out of most jams and he definitely knows how to get on and off of carpet. He went behind our TV which caused us some worry and we were amazed when he actually went underneath the TV cabinet. I can’t say when that was last swept. He has missed some dirt spots nonetheless. The bastard!

I hope he didn’t hear that…I was just kidding after all..I was kidding!

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. Hopefully, he’ll still be working 3 months from now.

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Making tamales

I’ve been experimenting with food photography to no avail. I love to cook and I love to take pictures, but the low-light problems as well as my lack of talent suggests I need to take more photos of sceneries.

In any case, every year for Christmas I make my dad a batch of tamales and Fedex them over to him in California.

1. A good tamale starts with lard. The first year I gave these a try I used shortening. They were great I thought. Then the next year I tried lard and I’ve never looked back. Lard is better. It is on the other hand extremely difficult to clean dishes and hands that have lard on them.

More after the jump. (more…)

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It wasn’t too long ago that just the sight of a Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker would sting me instantly with sadness. Why, why I thought haven’t these people removed that sticker. Well now there is no excuse. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune via the Seattle Times:

Q: The election is over. How do I remove a bumper sticker without damaging my car?

A: Try using a blow dryer to soften the adhesive, then pull off the sticker. A petroleum-based solvent such as Goo-Gone, available at many discount and hardware stores, also may work. After saturating the stickers with the solvent, wait a couple of minutes for the adhesive to soften. Then use a plastic spoon or ice scraper to remove the stickers. Another suggestion is to saturate the area or remaining sticker with any oil — baby oil, vegetable oil — to remove the residue. Remove the remaining oil spot with a standard carwash.

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We are conducting interviews at work for a position that I used to hold. Sitting through a question and answer session for three different people has given me some interview tips that have a lot of crossover with the Vice Presidential candidates’ ability to answer questions.

1. Be specific. Interviewers often ask for specific examples of work. This is not for the purpose of stumping an applicant. It’s a way for the interviewer to see what role the applicant had in their work experience and what thought processes they used to come about a resolution.

It’s very noticeable when an applicant is not specific. All three applicants had moments where they generalized their experience. If an applicant never delves into specifics it’s a red flag that perhaps the person’s experience isn’t what s/he would have us believe. That could be a problem.

2. People want to work with someone they like. When you have applicants with similar qualifications, personality could be the deciding factor. We had one applicant who was extremely lighthearted and cheerful. She told us a couple things about her personal life which allowed us to relate to her. I think this is why the hockey mom factor of Sarah Palin is so powerful. An applicant also shouldn’t diss his/her competition or past employers. It’s uncomfortable for the interviewers and again it’s unlikable. A likable person is a strong trait.

3. If you don’t know the answer to a question don’t fake it. As long as you haven’t faked your resume, you are at the interview because you are qualified for the position. If you are asked about something that you don’t know it is better to answer honestly that you don’t know the answer. Give a comparable example of something else that you do know. Honesty goes a long way. A rambling lie goes a long way into diminishing your credibility.

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aka, the need to buy products. I went to the barber shop the other day to get a trim. For the past two years I have not used any conditioner after I wash my hair. You see I have extremely baby fine hair and I have more than enough natural oils to condition the hair that I have. So much so that my hair gets greasy very easily. I used to dye my hair which would give my hair a bit of texture — a common need of people with baby fine hair. One day I hit upon the idea that I would just not use conditioner.

And it’s been great ever since. My hair has texture, it doesn’t get oily so easily and my skin is also in much better condition. I felt like doing a commercial for this lackof product.

But the stylist at the barber shop was horrified. No you can’t do that, he said. I told him that I like how my hair has texture now. He whipped out a bottle of the latest texturizer and said with this you’ll have all the texture you need. Why should I use conditioner just so I have to use another product like texturizer, I said. Besides not using conditioner is all natural and organic.

I also think of all the years I used conditioner and all the money I poured into a product that I didn’t need. And all my teen years, where I had the worst skin imaginable and I poured all this money into acne prevention products.

Sometimes you just need to step back and reassess your reality.

Photo via gas13. A neat web site which shows you have to photoshop hair.

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Beware Coreflood

I’ve largely been offline today due to complications arising from the Coreflood virus. For info on that nasty thing, click here. It’s not pretty.

The system infects PCs with a program known as Coreflood that records keystrokes and steals other information. The network of infected computers collected as much as 500 gigabytes of data in a little more than a year and sent it back to the Wisconsin computer center, Mr. Stewart said.

One of the unique aspects of the malicious software is that it captures screen information in addition to passwords, according to Mark Seiden, a veteran computer security engineer. That makes it possible for gang members to see information like bank balances without having to log in to stolen accounts.

What to do? I have McAffee Virus Scan 8.5.0.i but hopefully your virus software can help you also.

1. Update your virus definitions.

2. Run an On Demand Scan.

3. I can confirm in three cases that McAfee found the virus after running an On Demand Scan, so it appears to be working. What to do if you find it? The only 100% solution is to re-image the machine and start from scratch. Reset any online banking information on a clean machine. One that is not infected. Or just call your bank and stop your online banking. Good luck.

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No I haven’t yet gone to Glacier National Park on Amtrak, but I did just notice some interesting details on Amtrak’s site.

First of all my accommodation is much better than I had originally thought. Apparently getting a roomette means I’m traveling first class. Having never traveled first class on a plane, this is very exciting.

On this page you can take a virtual tour of the roomette. Weary plane travelers, get a load of this:

Two-Piece Limit: Each passenger may bring aboard no more than two pieces of carry-on baggage. Not included in this limit are personal items such as briefcases, purses, laptops, and infant paraphernalia such as strollers, diaper bags and car seats.

50-Pound Limit: Each carry-on bag may weigh no more than 50 lbs.

Three-Piece Limit: Each ticketed passenger may check up to three pieces of luggage at no charge. Up to three additional pieces may be checked upon payment of $10.00 per piece.

50-Pound Limit: Each checked bag may weigh no more than 50 lbs. We will not accept heavier pieces.

Ski equipment, snowboards, golf clubs and bicycles may generally only be handled as checked baggage on Amtrak trains, and not as carry-ons. Items are permitted onboard when they can be safely stowed in the exterior lockers of Superliner equipment, or onboard equipment that is specifically designed to safely and securely accommodate the storage of the items.

Just at time where the airlines are starting to charge for each checked bag, Amtrak lets you have three checked bags and you can even bring your bicycle and put it on their bicycle rack. Perhaps I currently have a rosy outlook. Part III in late August will tell all.

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Oh the joys of Amtrak in America. Amtrak is the company which manages U.S. rail travel. It’s completely underfunded and never gets any of the lobby money that air travel companies get. Trips on Amtrak are often costlier and are exponentially longer than car trips. Take for instance a drive from Seattle to Portland which can take about 3 hours. The same trip on an Amtrak train can take an average of 5 hours and sometimes more.

My husband and I have decided to take a car-less vacation for our summer. Our decision came about because it just doesn’t feel like a proper vacation if your destination is too close to you, and we chose Glacier National Park in Montana because it is directly on the Amtrak Empire Builder rail line (unlike Yellowstone.) I’ve never done extensive rail travel in America and this would give me the opportunity to see some lovely countryside as well as going to what is considered a beautiful National Park in a state I have never been to.

You would think that the expense and hassle of plane travel and the contemporary fear of a terrorism would drive people to re-embrace rail travel in this country. You would think wrong, but what has started a surge in rail travel is the price of gas. Here’s an article about how Amtrak is having difficulty accommodating all of their new customers.

Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.

And they are good news, up to a point.

Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.

But the railroad and its suppliers have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.

Many long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer.

The whole article is a very good read for anyone interested in learning the history of how Amtrak operates in this country.

The following details perhaps explain why rail travel has yet to really take off in America.

The journey from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is 16 hours long. A flight from Seattle to Kalispell Montana is roughly 2 hours long. Of course add extra time for getting to and from the airport, and certainly the nice thing about taking the train is that we will be dropped off right at the entrance to the park.

The price for two tickets to and from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is $302.40. Because the journey is 16 hours, we are also purchasing what is called a roomette. The roomette isn’t a room, but it is two seats next to a window that can be reclined into a sleeping position. Meals are also included. To get a roomette you can add to the return journey $484.00 making the total cost of the journey $786.00.

A return trip by Horizon air from Seattle to Kalispell is $534.00. Once again, you’ll need to add some expense to getting to and from Kalispell, but as of right now you’re comparing a $786 rail journey with a $534 plane journey. So as you can see it is more expensive to travel by train and more time consuming.

We decided to go ahead and go for it. Maybe it’ll be a blast and we’ll never know unless we give it a shot. Our trip is in August.

But going back to the joys of rail travel in America… Within 5 minutes of purchasing our Amtrak tickets online, we got a call from our credit card company’s fraud department. We just noticed you charged a large amount to Amtrak, they said. We wanted to make sure that someone hasn’t stolen your card and is using it, they said. You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m thinking. Is rail travel so rare in America that it is considered a fraud warning if you purchase a ticket? Perhaps our credit card company just couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would spend over $200 more to travel by rail for a journey that will take 8 times as long as it would than by plane.

Picture courtesy of BritainByRail.

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I wouldn’t call myself an avid sports fan (with the exception of tennis) but I do nonetheless end up watching a lot of sports. More for the symbolic significance of sports than for anything else. For instance, I support Celtic instead of Rangers (I like Catholics), and in the English Premier League I support Tottenham because the Hotspurs make me think of Henry V.

Today being the Champions League Final, I set out to find a place to watch the game in downtown Seattle where I work. Migliore is bar far your best bet. It’s an Italian café that resides where Torefazzione used to be before Torefazzione got bought out by Starbucks. They only bring out the TV for soccer, and the great thing about Migliore is that since it’s a café, you’re not tempted to order a beer. Which could in turn be a bad thing.

But Migliore does not have wireless internet, and in a ridiculous attempt to get some work done, I decided to try somewhere else. I called Tap House Grill, an interesting fancy pants tavern in a basement location where once Planet Hollywood used to reside. Yes, we have wireless internet they said. But upon arriving and once again confirming that they had wireless internet I ordered food only to find out that it the internet didn’t work. We tried to tell you when you called but you hung up, they said. Oh really. Did you try and tell me when I arrived and asked again. It’s sometimes spotty, they said. Spotty as in it doesn’t work? That’s not really spotty is it? As anyone who has a home wireless internet knows, unplug it and re-plug it. Sheesh.

So I headed over to World Sports Grille. Don’t you love that e on the end of Grille? Must be a classy place. When the server asked if I wanted something to drink, I asked her if I could first check to see if I could get any internet. She had no problem with that, but the restaurant itself had no internet. As I was checking, she asked again if I wanted anything. I told her I didn’t want to order and then find out I had to leave. She said that she could get me water or something, and that she didn’t mind. So kudos to Lynda at World Sports Grille. Her kindness went a long way and I decided to stay even though sadly I could not connect. I can’t say much for the Asian chicken salad though.

Probably the cheapest place to watch soccer in downtown Seattle is your local gym. These days soccer is shown on basic cable, so as long as you don’t find yourself sharing the gym with a rabid As the World Turns fan, you should be okay.

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