Sunday, April 28, 2013

The United Nations Convenes at Mirkwood!

Ciao and guten tag!

Today it is as if we are hosting a convention of the United Nations at Mirkwood!

I am making Italian Wedding Soup tomorrow, so I decided to make a batch of homemade Italian sausage for the meatballs today. I am so in love with making my own sausage! The book I use is Sausage: Recipes for Making and Cooking With Homemade Sausage by Victoria Wise. I am hoping to buy a smoker to be able to smoke sausages, specifically smoked kielbasa.

Also today I was inspired to make traditional German soft pretzels. When I was little I enjoyed getting soft pretzels from Hot Sam, a kiosk in our local mall. I slathered mine with mustard. Today I used my own homemade sweet-hot mustard!

The pretzel recipe is from my go-to recipe resource, Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. And here is my mustard recipe:

Mirkwood's Sweet-Hot Mustard

  • 1 cup mustard seed (I use a combination of yellow and brown seeds)
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

  1. Mix the mustard seed and vinegar in a glass bowl. Refrigerate for one day.
  2. Add mustard seed/vinegar and remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend to desired consistency.
  3. Store mustard in glass jars in the refrigerator. This mustard improves in flavor the longer you store it!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Recipe Testing for America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated

Hi, everyone!

I sometimes get to be a recipe tester for America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. Recently they asked whether I would like to test gluten-free recipes for an upcoming cookbook, so I said sure. I have no gluten problems, but I think it is a good idea to know how to cook/bake for someone with food sensitivities. Also, I think the goal here is to come up with a gluten-free product that is pleasing to people without sensitivities, too, so everyone can enjoy it.

One of the issues with gluten-free flours is that they tend to make a crumbly baked good that just falls apart, so bakers need to enhance the flour with a tiny amount of xanthan gum, a substance produced by bacterial fermentation and used in foods as a gelling agent and thickener. (Other natural thickeners are guar gum, agar, and carageenan. Now when you see those on your food labels you know what they do!)

This week I received a test recipe for gluten-free coffee cake. I cannot share the recipe per my agreement with ATK/CI, but I can share my comments and photos.

Baking gluten-free is a different process from regular baking, mostly in how and when the ingredients are mixed. The flour I used is Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour and contains garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, and fava flour. It has a slightly different smell from wheat flour. I also used Bob's Red Mill Xanthan Gum. Everything else was "normal" -- eggs, butter, vanilla (although the recipe called for a LOT of vanilla, maybe to enhance/mask the flavor?), etc.

When I mixed the batter it smelled remarkably different from typical wheat flour batters. I am a raw batter taster, so I gave it a try. The taste was a bit funky -- sort of metallic and bitter, and I was really worried that the resulting coffee cake would taste terrible. Thankfully, the aroma of the baking cake was quite good, so my fears were allayed somewhat.

The cake turned out beautifully -- the consistency was perfect, nice and spongy and springy, not crumbly whatsoever. As you can see, the recipe called for a simple confectioner's sugar/milk glaze and then a pecan streusel topping (admittedly my favorite part!). As for the taste, well, I can definitely tell there is SOMETHING different, but it is not unpleasant. And, frankly, I think if I didn't know it was gluten-free, I probably wouldn't perceive the difference.

I generally don't eat sweets, but my husband enjoys them so he is my official sweets tester and he will be eating the rest of this coffee cake!
 The center of the cake has a pretty swirl made by mixing a bit of the batter with spices and vanilla and swirling it in with a butter knife.
Ciao for now!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Et voilà! Le tourtière!

And here is the tourtière fresh from the oven! (Those are supposed to be maple leaves in honor of the pie's Canadian origin, but they really don't look like maple leaves!) We are having this for dinner, along with wilted lettuce salad.

À bientôt!

P.S. Thanks to Wikipedia for the French, a language I sadly do not actually know...

Something's Cookin'!

Happy Monday!

Yesterday and today I ventured into the fine art of sausage making. Yesterday I ground my first Italian sausage, and today I put it in a casing. This would have been easier if I had done it all at once, but I didn't have casing on hand.

[Side note: I always grind all of my own meat, and I try to buy my meats locally. Today's pork tenderlon was from a local farm where the free-range pigs are grass fed and treated humanely.]

Making sausage is enormously satisfying -- and incredibly easy. You do need some sort of food grinder (you can buy hand crank ones at many hardware stores, and probably at thrift shops). I am happy to have a KitchenAid professional mixer with a grinding attachment and a sausage stuffer. My Italian sausage is a combination of mostly pork tenderloin with added fat from a small amount of salt pork, to which I added many spices and herbs. I used natural casing, which is easier to find in a market than you might think.

The recipe is from the book Sausage: Recipes for Making and Cooking With Homemade Sausage by Victoria Wise (click to see the book on Amazon), which I downloaded to my iPad Nook app. This book has a wide variety of sausages from pork, beef, and lamb, to poultry and vegetarian. And, no, you don't need to use casings -- she explains how to use cheese cloth to shape links instead.

And here is my beautiful Italian sausage!

At this moment I am also making a traditional Quebecois meat pie called Tourtière, which is also made from ground pork, along with potatoes, onions, and a variety of sweeter spices (allspice and nutmeg, for example. This recipe is from The Original King Arthur Flour Cookbook (click to check out the book), which was a gift from my sister-in-law Michelle. I promise to share a photo of the pie when it is finished!

Later, gator!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Someone's in the Kitchen (and at a concert!)

Happy Sunday!

Last night was Teddy's fifth spring concert with the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club. He sings bass. He is one of only three graduate students (out of 100 members) in Club. The concert was, as usual, spectacular. The men sang several new pieces specifically commissioned for UMMGC. Here is a photo of The Teds and me afterward!

Today after Mass I went grocery shopping to get some basic items, and while in the produce department I saw a horseradish root, which reminded me of a family story.

Many years ago my dad decided to make ground horseradish using roots from my late brother David's garden. He went through the process of peeling and dicing the root, and then put it in the blender along with vinegar. When he decided it was done, he opened the lid and took a huge whiff -- his head nearly exploded! Boy, that sure cleared out his sinuses! (Today my eyes were watering just putting my batch into a glass jar today -- I know better than to take a huge whiff!)

Here is a photo of my freshly ground horseradish. (The container below is tiny -- maybe 2 inches across, so this is NOT a huge bowl as it may appear!)

And here is the VERY BASIC recipe!

Fresh Ground Horseradish
  • Fresh horseradish root
  • White vinegar (1 cup vinegar to 2 cups diced horseradish root)
  • Special tool: Blender or food processor
  1. Peel the horseradish and dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. Measure the amount and then place in blender or food processor.
  2. Add the correct amount of white vinegar. (My root yielded exactly 2 cups diced, so I added 1 cup of white vinegar.)
  3. Process until it is completely pureed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.
  4. Carefully open the blender/processor (remember, do NOT take a big whiff!), and put into glass jars and refrigerate.
I love horseradish in dressings, dips, cocktail sauce, homemade mustard, and on roast beef and ham. YUM!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee Redwork Stitched!


Yesterday I drafted the redwork pattern for Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and this afternoon I stitched it. I think it turned out well, and is a nice addition to my Alice in Wonderland redwork design set. You can find the entire set of FREE Alice in Wonderland redwork designs BY CLICKING HERE. (Scroll down the page for the AIW patterns.) The link is to my Mirkwood Designs Projects page and there are a lot of other free and fun projects.
 Happy redworking!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep!"

I keep promising to begin recording podcasts again, but I keep making excuses to avoid the microphone. So I am not promising anything -- just hoping that I finally get back to it.

Meanwhile, today I received an email from Deb asking whether I knew of a Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee redwork pattern. My "fans" may recall that I designed several Alice in Wonderland redwork patterns a couple of years ago, but never included the Tweedles. Today I drafted a matching pattern. I haven't had time to stitch it yet, but didn't want to wait to share the pattern. Thank you, Deb, for the inspiration!

CLICK HERE for the free Alice in Wonderland Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee redwork pattern!
So what have I been up to? Well, I finally finished the 25 blocks of the beautiful Edyta Sitar quilt called "Elegant Garden." I did raw-edge applique with hand blanket stitch around the zillions of pieces. I still have to make the borders, which are pieced stars.

I have also been cooking like crazy -- trying many new techniques and recipes, and developing a few along the way. I have fallen in love with serious bread baking and have begun ordering King Arthur Flour in 25-pound bags! YIKES, I hope I use it before the mice find it! (Don't worry, I have everything completely mouse-proof!)

And there is more, but mostly I just wanted to post this while I have a burst of creative energy!