Feb 28, 2010

The Big Chill

We awoke yesterday morning to over two feet of heavy wet snow smothering the neighborhood.  Trees that had cracked under the weight of it littered roofs and yards and obstructed our narrow dirt road.   

The electricity had gone out the night before.  Central Hudson predicted a four to six day break in service.  Our next door neighbor, a long time resident of the area, assured us it would be at least a week before anyone would be able to clear the roads enough for us to drive outta there.  Putnam county had declared a state of emergency. 

My husband had booked a job for American Express in manhattan that same day.  When you land a job doing the voice for an american express commercial, you don't flake because of a few feet of snow!  We decided to hike down the mountain and try to hitch a ride into town, where we hoped to get a train into the city.  And since we were flying to the Caribbean in a few days, we loaded our backpacks for the trip. 

And off we set for a potential five mile hike in the snow.  Did I mention we were bare foot?  We didn’t make it too far, because along our walk we encountered a crew that was clearing the roads of fallen trees.  They expected to be able to plow in a couple hours.  And mike had made some calls and was able to reschedule the American express job for monday.  So we hiked back up the mountain with a new intent to dig our car out of the snow. 

We spent a couple hours shoveling, and with some help from a neighbor with a snow blower, liberated the cr-v.  It was getting nice out, and I was awfully jazzed about shoveling snow, so we walked around the neighborhood to see if anyone else needed help excavating their vehicles.  We met some neighbors and I took some photos of the ridiculously cute cabin community in which we own a crappy but cute little house that sometimes loses heat, electricity, and water in the middle of winter.   

We were too tired after all the shoveling to evacuate, so we spent another night under one hundred pounds of blankets, sleeping next to the fireplace.  We drove to new york city today.  

Feb 23, 2010

Not Everything I Do Works Out Perfectly

I probably should have done more testing before I began in earnest on these earrings.  I can be a bit impatient, a quality that’s a real detriment to a jeweler.  I could have taken the time to try some enamels in my kiln to figure out the proper temperature and time, and to see how the various colors would turn out.  I would have gone with a different color had I known the red enamel would come out so dark.  I guess if I’d done sufficient testing, I might have learned how to fire the enamel properly and it wouldn’t have come out dark!  Oh well, the last eight hours haven’t been a waste.  The earrings aren’t a total disaster, and I learned a lot. 

There are a number of things I will do differently next time:  I’ll solder posts on the earrings rather than attaching with PMC paste.  The posts I attached with paste broke off and I had to epoxy them onto the finished earrings.  I wouldn’t sell you a pair of earrings with a part glued on any more than I’d twenty-three skidoo you a song!  The second thing I’d do differently is to file the filigree flat before adding enamel, because as it turns out, I like the look of the slightly domed enamel better than the flattened enamel.  The problem with that approach is that I’d have to apply the enamel perfectly, without getting a single grain of it outside of the filigreed areas…oh man, forget it!  A couple stray grains of enamel so small I couldn’t even see them is what caused the ugly discoloration on one of today’s earrings.  Filing the enamel and filigree flat at the same time serves to ‘clean up’ some of the enamel that isn’t perfectly inside the filigreed spaces, and it’s also what gives the earrings the look I was going for.   

Then again, I get excited when I look at the photo of the earrings after the enamel has been fired but before I filed them down.  Maybe that’s where I should have gone with today’s project.  I could have simply oxidized and polished the earrings at that point.  The resulting look would be fairly different from my original concept, but it would be less work and I might end up with prettier earrings than those I made today.

Today’s project had me tense and made my stomach hurt.  A little lemon ice made it all better!  

To see the full photo album of me making these earrings and some lemon ice, go to:  enameled earrings on frankie's facebook  

Feb 22, 2010

Today’s Challenge: I did not make these beautiful earrings, but I’m going to!

A friend recently left me a pair of earrings to do a minor repair on.  The longer they were in my possession, the more I grew attached to them.  Before I returned the earrings, I took a couple photos with the intention of making a similar pair for myself one day.  Today is the day. 

The original earrings appear to be fabricated in silver and turquoise. I’m wondering if I can make something similar out of PMC (precious metal clay) and enamel, so here I go…check back tomorrow to see how I did. 

ps:  I consider it a clear indication of my progression towards middle age that I’m interested in post earrings.  

Feb 18, 2010

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Tortilla Press!

I’ve been meaning to try making corn tortillas at home; they’d be perfecto with my Mexican stew.  I’ve also been meaning to learn to play the piano, scuba dive, oar a drift boat and hunt ducks.  I decided to ramp up cautiously and make the tortillas first.  As it turns out, they’re super easy to make, almost totally forgiving, and a hundred times better than store bought tortillas.  I may never buy a packaged corn tortilla again! 

I used a Goya product called Masarica ‘instant corn dough mix’.  I did not have success with the recipe on the bag – way too wet.  So I browsed the innernet and found formulas that included baking soda and others that didn’t. The baking soda was supposed to aid in ‘lift’ – the formation of air pockets during cooking.  I didn’t know if lift was necessary for a good tortilla, so I made batches of dough with and without baking soda to find out.  A curious thing happened:  there was no obvious difference in lift between the two doughs, but there did seem to be a noticeable shift in color and flavor.  While the tortillas made without baking soda were basically white in color, the tortillas made with baking soda were yellow, and seemed more fragrant and flavorful.  Was I imagining the improvement in flavor based on the deeper color?  I performed a blind taste test.  I could still tell the difference.  So could my husband.  And just so you know how rigorous a researcher I am, I made two new batches of dough and repeated the experiment the next day with the same results.  I can only imagine that the baking soda is reacting with something in the Masarica mix.  That’s what baking soda does, after all.  So even though I didn’t get a lot of lift in my tortillas, those with baking soda in the dough came out looking, smelling, and tasting great.

Do you really need a tortilla press?  I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of space for kitchen gadgets and I’m cheap, too, so I’d rather not buy another piece of equipment that only gets used once a month.  As I demonstrate in the pics, you truly don’t need a tortilla press. 

to see the full instructional photo album, go to:  frankie makes corn tortillas on facebook 

Here’s how I made 6 six inch corn tortillas:
1 cup Masarica instant corn dough mix (or any masa harina flour)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
about 3/4 cup of hot tap water

For pressing the tortillas:
a large Ziploc bag
a small cutting board, piece of wood, or anything flat
some wax paper for stacking the tortillas

Measure the corn flour, salt and baking soda into a medium bowl.  Add 3/4 cup of hot tap water and mix.  Ball up the dough and knead it a few times to fully blend the ingredients.  It will be about the consistency of play-doh.  Add some water if it’s too dry. 

Break off a piece and roll it into a sphere about the size of a golf ball.  Continue making golf balls with the rest of the dough.  Cover the balls with a damp cloth to keep them moist while you press them into tortillas. 

Here’s the fun part:  cut open a large Ziploc bag (wax paper doesn’t work!) and place one of your golf balls between the layers of plastic.  Put it on the floor.  Place your small cutting board on top.  Center the ball of your foot over the dough ball (you can sort of see it through a plastic cutting board) and step on it!  I wasted plenty of time shaping wonky tortillas with a rolling pin before I developed the step-on-it technique. 

Peel the Ziploc away from one side of the tortilla, lay the bare side of the tortilla across your palm, and peel the other layer of plastic away from the tortilla.  Don’t try to peel the tortilla away from the plastic, you’ll mess it up. 

Place your beautiful tortilla on a piece of wax paper, cover with more wax paper, and continue pressing and stacking tortillas.

When you’re ready to cook the tortillas, use a dry pan close to high heat.  I tested both a cast iron skillet and a non stick pan.  The cast iron was a pain because if the temperature wasn’t exact the tortillas would scorch, leaving char in the pan and sullying subsequent tortillas cooked in it.  Don’t even bother!  Use a non stick pan.  At the right temperature, the tortillas took about a minute for each side.   

Stack the tortillas on a towel or in a warm oven until you’re ready to party.


Feb 16, 2010

Blow your friends’ and family’s minds with this fabulously rich and hearty Mexican stew!

A few months ago I spent a wild weekend with a bunch of friends in a big house on the Oregon coast.  Among other culinary delights, I was treated to an awesome Mexican stew called Posole.  The spicy soup was rich and flavorful, with juicy tender falling apart hunks of pork and nuggets of golden hominy slow cooked in a complex mélange of chili peppers and oregano.  It was served with a huge plate of all kinds of wonderful garnishes and warm corn tortillas.  Did we have beer?  I think there was tequila.  Oh man, doesn’t matter ‘cause I loved that stew and couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.   

I have attempted to make posole at home several times since.  This is my current bastardization of the dish.  I doubt it resembles a traditional Mexican posole (I’ve never had it so I wouldn’t know) so I’m calling it a Mexican Stew.  I hope you love it as much as I do! 

to see the full instructional photo album, go to:  frankie's Mexican stew on facebook 

You will need:
1 cup of garlic chili paste.  See my “smoky garlic chili paste” album for directions.
Pork.  I used a 3 1/2 pound shoulder, but any inexpensive hunk o’ meat will do.
1 medium onion
at least 5 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups beef or chicken stock
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano.  Yes, it’s different.
1 tablespoon cumin
1 20 oz can of hominy
1 12 oz can of black beans

Make the garlic chili paste and set aside.  Make it the day before if you like.  See my album “smoky garlic chili paste” for the recipe and directions. 

Cut the pork into large hunks and set aside. 

Dice the onion and garlic and sauté with a couple tablespoons of oil in a large pot on medium heat until the onions are transparent.

Add the pork to the pot.  Add about 4 cups of stock.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  [This would be a good time to make the garlic chili paste if you aren’t able to make it ahead of time.]

Add 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, 1 tablespoon cumin, and about a cup of garlic chili paste and stir.  Drain the can of hominy and add. 

Cover and simmer for 1/2 to 1 hour longer.  You want the meat to be ever so tender…just starting to fall apart.  When you reach that stage, turn off the heat and finish up the stew by adding a can pureed black beans. 

Garnishing the stew is fun!  Prepare a big platter of garnishes such as:
Diced onions or scallions, sliced radishes and jalapenos, lime wedges, cilantro, avocado, cotija or cheddar cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, whatever you like!

And don’t forget the home made corn tortillas (yeah, I’m workin’ on it…)

Smokin' Garlic Chili Paste

This smoky garlic chili paste is the basis for many an awesome dish.  My brother makes the best taco sauce ever by combining it with tomatillos.  I’ll show you how to make an incredible (or so I think) Mexican stew with it tomorrow. 

To see my full instructional photo album, go to:  frankie's smokin' garlic chili paste on facebook 

This recipe makes about one cup of chili paste – enough to season a large pot of Mexican stew.

You will need:
Dried mild chilies, such as Ancho, Anaheim or Guadjillo - about 10 chilies. 
Dried hot chilies, such as Japones, Arbol or Thai chilies – about 3 for a medium hot paste.
One small onion
3 to 6 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
Use scissors to cut the tops off the large chilies. Open and remove seeds.  Don’t worry about getting every last one.  Toast the chilies in a dry pan on medium high heat, turning once to achieve some blackening on both sides.  They’ll be smokin’ so I hope you’ve got a good hood over your stove!  Remove the toasted chilies from pan and set aside.

Toast a few of the small chilies (don’t remove the seeds).  I toast them separately, because the smoke coming off these babies is not something you want to get in your eyes or lungs.  I don’t recommend toasting hot chilies in your kitchen if you don’t have proper ventilation.

Put all your toasted chilies together in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over the chilies to cover them.  Place a bowl or plate over the chilies to keep them submerged while they soften.  Let the chilies soak for at least 20 minutes.

In the meantime, chop a small onion and a few cloves of garlic.

Once the soaking chilies have softened, remove them from the water and transfer to a blender or food processor.  Add your chopped onion, garlic and some salt.  Add about ¼ to 1/3 cup of the soaking water to the blender and puree.  I bet you can think of lots of great ways to use this wonderful sauce - let me know!

Feb 13, 2010

Oh My Darlin, Oh My Darlin

Winter. Too. Long.  Motivation level low.  Morning activator in the form of Stumptown deemed off limits by recent allergy report.  Evening gladdener in the form of Merlot deemed off limits by said report.  The single food I would request as a last meal, Oysters, off limits due to that freakin’ report!  The good news is that I can still have oysters before I die…right before. 

To be perfectly honest, I’m not gonna to be able to stick to eating right for my particular immune system composition.  I love stumptown coffee.  I love red wine.  And although I rarely experience the joy of consuming them, I love oysters above and beyond.  I’m glad to have the information concerning the foods my body is reacting to; I could tell something was up and had been trying unsuccessfully to deduce exactly what for months.  But it’s a cruel irony that out of four foods my allergy report recommends I avoid, three of them are important to my sense of enjoyment in life (the fourth no-no is blueberries, which I can manage without).  It could be worse.  A lot worse.  I could be allergic to wheat.  I am deeply thankful to my immune system for that small mercy. 

Here’s a little something that momentarily lifted my spirits on this frigid grey winter day - Clementines.  So pretty, so juicy, and oh the citrussy aroma!  It’s almost as therapeutic as the smell of coffee L

Feb 12, 2010

New! Improved Super Healthy Muffin Recipe!

This is basically the same recipe as the banana bran muffins I posted a couple days ago, using pumpkin puree instead of mashed bananas.  I added a little sugar because pumpkin isn’t sweet like bananas.  The real improvement is in the technique:  I used large foil baking cups to line my muffin tin and made 6 muffins instead of 9.  The larger volume muffins have a nicely puffed and cracked top – they look perfectomundo!  The foil baking cups seem to make a huge difference:  the muffins are perfectly cooked, with no dark browning on the bottom.  And the cups peel away as clean as a dream.  I mean the dream you had about angels and butterflies. 

to see more photos, go to: frankie's pumpkin spice muffins on facebook 

You will need:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cups bran
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
a pinch of salt

2 eggs
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup raisins

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Line 6 wells of a muffin tin with “jumbo” size foil baking cups.   

Into a large bowl, measure flour, bran, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and mix. 

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs.  Add yogurt, pumpkin puree, raisins and mix. 

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and fold together just enough to blend the batter.

Fill foil baking cups.    

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes (since there is no added fat in this recipe, the best way to ensure a moist muffin is to not over bake them).

This recipe makes 6 muffins.  One muffin contains:  219 calories, 2.3 grams of fat, and more than 10 grams of fiber.