December 15, 2011

Classic Case of Givers Remorse

Have you ever knit something for someone and so badly wanted to keep it for yourself?  Well, I just did with the Stockholm Scarf.  I knit this in the round so it had a total of 252 stitches.  The pattern itself is pretty easy to follow, but god forbid I make one mistake, and I end up taking out the 252 stitches plus the additional ones to get to my screw up.  I did this about 5 or 6 times.  This scarf was a labor of love and it took forever.  But it came out absolutely stunning in the end.

I guess the good thing about it is that I still have 2 skeins of the Cascade 220 that I used still leftover, so I'm going to make myself one after the holidays!

The rest of my Christmas knitting is finally starting to wrap up.  I only have to finish one sleeve and the cowl neck for the Derry Raglan I'm making for Julie, one sock for Tom, one pair of socks for Kenny and the fingerless mittens for Judy.   Geez, that sounds like alot now that I'm writing it down.

The last two I'm saving for the end since they are for my in-laws who we will be visiting over New Years.  This weekend I have made plans to have no plans to ensure that this stuff finally gets wrapped up.  Literally!  How is your holiday knitting coming along?

Since my hubby and I are hosting Christmas Eve this year, I am going to be a busy busy bee until after the holidays are over so please be patient with my sporadic posts.  But I do have a fun one coming up about my adventures in soap making so stay tuned!  It'll be a doozy!

November 23, 2011

I Did It!!!!

Turns out I won't need to change the name of my blog after all.  It must be some sort of Thanksgiving miracle!  For the first time ever I have a loaf of bread and I have no idea what I could do to make it better.  It's big and fluffy and soft.  It's perfection!   Hello day after Thanksgiving sammies.  Now that I finally have this bread baking thing figured out, I would like to impart some of the knowledge that I have learned over the months to help clear some myths.  Maybe it's just me but I feel like there are certain things about this process that a person is just supposed to know and I was too blonde to figure them out.  So here goes:

  • When "proofing" the yeast, it is important to do this with water that has a temperature of about 105 degrees.  Adding some sugar to this process is important too.  I find that using superfine sugar works best.  
  • After the yeast has finished proofing for 5 minutes, if it doesn't look like the photo below than odds are you won't be baking bread.  You'll be making croutons .

  • Since the proofing process only requires about a 1/2 cup of water, when you add the remaining amount required for your recipe make sure it is the same temp of around 105 degrees.
  • Unless specified by the recipe you are using, the butter should be room temperature.
  • Unless specified by the recipe, sift your flour
  • Don't skimp on the salt to be health conscious.  You'll only be hurting your bread!
  • Make sure you have a large enough bowl to accommodate the rising process. It should be at least 3 times the size of your dough.
Hopefully by following these simple rules you'll be baking your own perfect loaf of bread on your first try.  If you are able to pull off this miraculous feat, know that I will be incredibly jealous.

Not only was yesterday a great day in the kitchen, it was also a great day for knitting.  Look what the yarn faeries from Webs sent to me.

Perfect timing too, considering we leave in one week for our trip to Tennessee and I really need to get started on Julies sweater.  But for now it's off to the gym so I am able to eat large quantities of food tomorrow and not feel bad about it.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

November 21, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Not being able to bake a decent loaf of bread is really starting to bug me.  So much so that I should probably switch the name of this blog to The Trials and Tribulations of a Chick That Can't Bake Bread to Save Her Life. Catchy, no?  I'm sorry if I've been absent from the blogging world for a few weeks as I haven't had much blog-worthy material to write about. I've tried baking a few more loaves of bread which have been pretty big disappointments so I finally watched (at my husbands asking) an old Good Eats episode about bread baking. As it turns out that in an effort to be a low sodium household, I am only hindering my bread. Apparently salt is one of the necessities of bread baking and I have been leaving it out. It's not just for flavor, but it helps in the baking process. I'm still a little confused as to why since it's a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, but it's muy importante none the less. So I went back to square one and followed the recipe to a T and what do ya know? The bread was perfect. Sort of. Size has been an issue with my previous loaves, so over the weekend Josh and I made a stop to our local Bed Bath & Beyond to buy some new bread pans that were larger. I'm unsure what my thought process was as to why buying bigger pans when making the same size loaves would yield bigger bread. In the end I wound up with some darn tasty Italian bread in the shape of a small bread loaf. Hopefully all I need to change for next time is instead of making 2 loaves, I will just make one large one. I'm going to test this theory on Tuesday night.  I really hope this goes well.  There is nothing like failure after failure in the kitchen to really take the wind out of my sails.

On a happier note, to accompany my bread I made a delicious Bean with Bacon soup.

I altered the recipe a bit by using navy beans instead of lima beans.  I also added my homemade chicken stock, a re-hydrated cayenne pepper, some frozen corn and 1 lb of cooked bacon.  The great thing about this recipe is that I made it for under $10 and I still have at least 6 more meals worth with all the leftovers.  As a dessert, I whipped up some Irish Cream to sip on while we watched Sunday Night Football.

This recipe is so easy and delicious that it will be a must for any holiday party you attend this season.  Here's what you need:


1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk (Eagle brand preferred)
1 Pint Non Dairy Creamer (Coffee-mate works great)
1 Cup Brandy
1/4 tsp Coconut Extract
2 T Chocolate Syrup

Mix all ingredients together and chill for 1 hour.  Good for up to one month.

On the knitting front, I've been making some progress with all the Christmas projects that I have lined up.  I say some because the book for this months book club is The Hunger Games and I have been having a difficult time putting it down.  I need to get my butt in gear though since I have a large order from Webs that should be here tomorrow.  The contents will be everything I need to finish up.  Here's where I'm at with everything:

Mom - Sweater - DONE!
Tom - 2 Pairs of Socks - 1 down 1 to go!
Kenny - 5 Pairs of Socks - 3 Down 2 to go!

Caroline - Cowl - Half way done

Judy - Fingerless Mittens - Need to buy yarn
Julie - Sweater - Yarn will be in tomorrow.

In case I don't blog in the next few days, I would like to wish you and your family a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

November 07, 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some

I'm a planner.  As much as I wish I could fly by the seat of my pants in life, I just can't do it.  I need to know what's going to happen and when.  It drives my husband crazy and more often than not, it drives me crazy too.  With that said, I had this past weekend planned fairly early in the week.  On Saturday, I was going to clean the house and then catch up on my shows whilst waiting for Josh to return home from his fishing trip.  Sunday was reserved for baking bread, making french onion soup, fleece lining the mittens I'd just knit for myself and starting the cowl I need to make my dads fiance for Christmas. 

Saturday came and I got the house cleaned like I planned, but instead of waiting for the hubby to come home, he beat me to it and showed up at 4:00.  Watching my shows didn't happen and we ended up watching some college football game.  How did that happen?  Grrr.

Sunday.  Oh, Sunday.  We used to be so good together.  I woke up unusually early (probably because of the time change), and ran to the grocery store.  Once back home, I started baking the bread.  I should have known it would be doomed from the start.  My yeast didn't foam up like it was supposed to, the recipe said I should be using the kneading attachment on my mixer instead of my hands which I did, but for some reason, the mixer got jammed because there was so much dough.  So I get to kneading on my countertop and the bread was incredibly stiff and unworkable.  But I power through and set it aside to rise for 3 hours.  During which I thought would be a good time to work on my fleece lining project.  I've been doing some reading on how to properly do this and I found a great tutorial courtesy of the TechKnitter.  First, I started by outlining the mitten and added about 1/2" to the edge to allow my hand to fit comfortably.  I found out the hard way that it's helpful to cut out the first mitten and sew it together to make sure it's the proper size to fit your hand and the mitten it will be living in. 

Then, once it's the right size, trace the second one and do the exact same thing.  Now would probably be a good time to point out that I never said I could sew.  I own a sewing machine and I know how to make the little needle go up and down but from there it gets a little dicey.   Case in point with the photo below. 

From there I positioned the fleece insert into the mitten, folded down the cuff and added some pins so I could hand sew the lining to the mitten cuff. 

Doing all this took much longer than I expected but it was the only successful part of my day.  I absolutely love the mittens and my hands will be thanking me when I'm shoveling endless amounts of snow this winter.

From there it was one failure after another.  The dough didn't rise as much as it should have which in turn made for some pretty weak bread.  Needless to say, I will be making croutons out of it when I get home tonight.  Then there's the soup.  The "plan" was to have french onion soup and sammies made with my wonderful wheat bread.  I've made french onion soup about a half dozen times before so what's the problem?  I wish I could tell you because whatever I made was inedible.  The whole batch got thrown out.  What a waste.  Thank the lord for Josh's salad making skills to save dinner.  It wasn't as hearty as I would have liked, but at that point I was defeated and I didn't care anymore. To top it all off, I was so annoyed/pooped from the day that I didn't even get to start on the cowl.  Some days I wish I could have a re-do.

November 03, 2011

The Garden That Keeps On Giving

It's been getting colder up here in Minnesota and it has been for a while.  My garden has been dead for about a month now and it looks like it.  So you can imagine my astonishment when I was picking up the doggie doo today and took a gander at my long deceased tomatoes and found these little gems. 

They are still very green, but so was this guy up until 2 days ago. 

Is it possible that these might still ripen and we'll be eating garden fresh tomatoes in November?  Only time will tell I suppose and I have no problem waiting it out.

October 31, 2011

Stocking Up for Winter

I love Sundays.  Especially during the colder months.  For me it means that my husband and I are usually both home for the entire day.  Him watching football and me doing stuff around the house.  This past weekend was no exception as I spent the majority of the day in the kitchen making chicken stock, soup and fresh bread.  Due to health reasons we have recently had to make the change to a low sodium diet.  I don't know if you've done any research on the topic, but it doesn't take much for an average person to go over their daily sodium allowance of 2300mg.  That's only 1 teaspoon people.  I've learned the harsh reality that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, so that means making what ever I can from scratch.  Don't get me wrong, this is something I love to do anyway, so now I just have a little added incentive.  Making stock is easy, cheap and very rewarding in the end.  All it takes is a few ingredients and some time and you'll be making some of the best soups you've ever had.  The total cooking time is around 4-5 hours but the time you actually spend in the kitchen is around 45 minutes.  I would like to start by saying that this is not exactly the traditional way to make it, but it's how I do it and it turns out delicious.  To start you need a whole chicken, about 3-4 lbs.  Rinse the inside and outside with water and put in a large stock pot (don't forget the neck and gizzard!).  Next, you want to add water until the chicken is covered by about 2-3 inches. Move the stockpot to the stove over medium-high heat so you can start adding the veggies.

From this point, the recipe is pretty forgiving so if you don't have exact amounts it's no biggie.  Roughly chop carrots, celery, onions, garlic and green onions.  When I say garlic, I mean the whole bulb, cut in half lengthwise, skin and all.  I know this sounds weird, but I like to think of it as my secret ingredient. 

Everybody in the pool!
Put all the veggies in the pot with the chicken and add palm full of whole peppercorns, several sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Don't forget those bay leaves!  As I said before, we are on a no salt diet around here so I don't add any to the stock, but if this isn't an issue to you than feel free to add some here. Or, you can leave it unsalted and when you decide to use the stock for something, add it then.  Depending on what you're making, it may already have a high salt content.

Cover the pot and let the bird do it's thing for about 30-45 minutes until it's fully cooked.  A good way to tell the chicken is cooked is when the bird floats from the bottom to the top of the pot.  Remove the chicken and move to a cookie sheet to let cool. 

Lower the heat on the stove to medium-low and cover.  When the chicken is cool enough to touch, you need to start breaking it down.  I put the meat in a tupperware for later use in a soup, the bones go back in the pot to continue simmering and the skin goes to the doggies.  They love when momma makes soup! 

Continue simmering the stock for 2-3 hours.  When the stock is done, remove it from the heat and start removing as much of the bones and veggies that you can using a tong.  From here, there are a couple methods of straining you can do.  One is if you have another large pot, you can take a strainer and pour all the stock over it in to the other pot.  The other option that I like to use is to take a strainer and a large measuring cup and strain into individual containers for freezing. 

Depending on the size of the chicken you use, the amount of stock you get varies.  With this particular batch, I was able to freeze 5 quarts, plus use about 2 more for the soup I made later that night.  For fun, I'm adding a cost break down so you can see the affects this has on your wallet.

Whole Chicken - $3.43 on sale for $.89/lb
Onions - $1.89
Carrots - $1.09
Celery - $1.09
Garlic - $0.40
Green Onions - $0.59
Peppercorns - $0.50
Thyme - $2.00
Rosemary - $2.00
Bay Leaves - $0.50

Total cost for about 7 quarts of stock is $13.49 compared to if you purchase the boxed stocks at the grocery store for $4.25 each (totaling $29.75).  That's a savings of $16.26 which is over half the cost!  The pride you take in making your own stock is amazing, but when you add in the money you save, it's a win-win! I hope you enjoy making this recipe for your family as much as I do. 


1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs)
4-5 medium onions - quartered
5-6 carrots - roughly chopped
5-6 stalks of celery roughly chopped
1 whole garlic - sliced lengthwise
1 bunch green onion - cut in half
2-3 T whole peppercorns
2-3 large bay leaves 
10-12 sprigs thyme
1-2 sprigs rosemary
25 C water (give or take a few)

Rinse chicken under faucet and remove the innards.  Place the chicken and innards in a large stockpot and fill with water until the chicken is covered by about 2-3 inches.  Move to stove over medium high heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, green onion, peppercorns and bay leaves.  Using kitchen twine, tie the thyme and rosemary sprigs together and add to pot.  Cover and bring to a low rolling boil for about 30-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken and place on a cookie sheet to cool.  Lower heat to medium low and replace cover.  When the chicken is cool enough to touch, separate it  and place the bones back in the stock and reserving the meat for later use.  Simmer for another 2-3 hours.  Remove as much of the bones and veggies that  you can and skim the fat off the top.  Strain the remaining stock into a large pot or individual containers to freeze for later use.  Makes roughly 7 quarts.

October 24, 2011

Just Bakin' Some Bread

Over the weekend, I tried my hand at baking bread from scratch, kneading it with my bare hands and everything.  I'm happy to inform you all that it was a success!!  When I added the yeast to the sugar water it foamed up like it was supposed to.  After kneading the initial 10 minutes I let it rise for 2-3 hours until it doubled in size.

After kneading for 10 minutes

After 2 hours

Then gave it the ol' 1, 2 punch and kneaded it another 3 minutes.

Next I shaped them into 2 loaves and let them rise another 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes

Tossed them in the oven for about 40 minutes and VIOLA!  Fresh baked bread!

Whoops, forgot to take a pic before I dug in!!

I'm not sure what I was so afraid of all these years, it was pretty easy peasy.  Since it turned out slightly denser than I would have liked, there are a couple things I will change for the next time, like letting it rise in a larger bowl for a little while longer, and doing the initial kneading a little bit longer.  I was flipping through my Blue Ribbon Baking book and the always lovely Marjorie Johnson was kind enough to offer me a few tips for next time:
  • She likes to let the dough sit in the microwave oven while it's rising.  Close the oven door, but never have the microwave on while its raising.  It's the perfect place to raise dough, no drafts and you can get the temp to 80-85 degrees (the perfect temp) by heating water for 3 minutes and leaving it in the microwave while the dough rises.
  • After the dough has sat for 2-3 hours and doubled in bulk you can test to see if it is ready by poking 2 fingers into the dough.  If the dough has risen enough, it will leave two holes where your fingers have been.  If it closed, than you need to leave it a while longer.
  • The bread is done baking when it reaches an internal temp of 190 degrees.
Smart lady, that Marjorie.  It's no wonder she's won over a thousand blue ribbons with her baking.  This weekend I think I'll give her wheat bread a try.  Mmmmm.

On the knitting front, I was able to complete a sock for my mom's beau, Tom. 

I'm hoping to have the other one done by mid-week.  The nice thing about having this blog is that I can easily keep track of what I've already made and what I still have to do.

Mom - Sweater - DONE!
Tom - 2 Pairs of Socks - .5 down 1.5 to go!
Kenny - 5 Pairs of Socks - 1.75 Down 3.25 to go!
Caroline - Cowl - Have yarn, need to knit
Judy - Fingerless Mittens - Need to buy yarn
Julie - Sweater - Need to buy yarn

Sheesh.  Lots to do!  Good thing there is a 14 hour car ride each way to Tennessee in the very near future for me...

October 20, 2011

Changing It Up

I've been pretty absent from the blogging world and I'm going to make a solid effort to change that.  You may notice a new title for this little blog of mine.  Since I find myself with a lot of extra time on my hands due to my hubbys bustling fishing career, I've decided that instead of focusing on knitting, I'd like to start covering all aspects of the things that interest me.  I LOVE to bake and this weekend I'm going to try my hand at baking my first loaf of bread.  I'm not using a bread machine or even the fun dough hook that comes with my mixer.  Just some good old fashioned manual labor.   Yup, I'm going to knead it all with my bare hands.  This could turn out to be an epic failure, but if you don't try than you don't know where your going wrong and how to fix it.  So stay tuned for all those shenanigans....

On the knitting side of life, Christmas presents are in full swing!  So far I've only made a sweater for my beautiful momma!  Would love to post some pics, but she may be reading this and it would ruin the surprise.  Since she picked out the pattern and yarn, I can tell you it's the Lore Hoodie by Cirilia Rose.  It is a great pattern and a fun project for my first sweater.  On deck is another sweater for my amazing mother-in-law, a cowl for my stepmom-to-be, some fingerless mitts for my other fabulous mother-in-law and about 10 pairs of socks going to various members of the fam.  Let's hope my hands don't get carpal tunnel by the time Christmas rolls around.

Hmmm, what else can I update you on?  Some girlfriends and I have started a book club.  Our first meeting is on Nov. 2 and we have chosen to read In Leah's Wake.  I'm only about 80 pages in, but so far it's a pretty good read. 

Gotta run for now, I'll try to post an update on my bread baking skills this weekend.  Wish me luck!!