Aug 26, 2013

Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookie Fudge

Fluff: Marshmallow Cream
Disclaimer: This is not a healthy recipe; and considering that it's full of peanut butter, it is probably considered a dangerous weapon and banned in most schools in the United States.  I find this funny, considering that I was introduced to the original recipe for the (unadulterated) peanut butter fudge through every school bake sale.  

Several years later I scoured the internet to find a recipe close to that of the cracklike fudge I grew up with.  All I knew was that the secret ingredient was Fluff, and it included no chocolate whatsoever.  I finally found it!  You can find the original recipe here, and it's as good as I remember.

Are there ways to make it "healthier"?  I suppose that you could use freshly ground, low salt peanut butter (or other fancy types of nut butters), or make your own marshmallows to use instead of the fluff, but let's be realistic.  Part of the appeal of fudge (especially this fudge) is the fact that it is NOT good for you. It is a delightful comfort food. It falls into the same category for me as Devil Dogs.  They are not high quality cakes, but they are perfect for what they are, and trying to "improve" them kind of ruins that balance. My advice?  Accept that what you are going to eat is delightful, yet bad for you, and let that thought help limit how much of it you eat.

To Purchase:
In a swag bag at an event recently I got a jar of Biscoff cookie spread.  It is like a cookie, but in peanut butter form. I suppose, like with Nutella, there are people who consider this the greatest thing ever. I am not one of them.  To me it is a little disturbing on it's own. But I saw potential for candy making. Adding this to the peanut butter fudge produces a flavor more in line with cookies like Nutter Butters.

Peanut Butter Cookie Fudge

2 1/2 c. sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 can (5 oz) Evaporated Milk
1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
6 oz Creamy Peanut Butter* 

4 Oz Biscoff Cookie Spread

* The peanut butter provides the bulk of the flavor in this recipe.  If you would not want to eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon, you probably want to use a better quality peanut butter.  Also, as it is a fudge, I recommend not using a no-salt peanut butter.

1. Prepare the container for the fudge to set. Either
  • A 9 inch square pan, either well greased or lined with parchment paper for simple rectangular pieces.
  • Silicone baking/ice cube tray for individually molded pieces 
2. Combine the sugar, butter, evaporated milk, marshmallow fluff, and salt in a large saucepan.  Use a pot larger than you think that you will need, because the mixture will bubble up quite a bit.  You do not want to let it bubble over, as molten marshmallow can cause serious burns (and a huge mess).  Heat on low until the butter melts, and the ingredients are well incorporated.

3. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot, and increase the heat to medium. Stir continuously, scraping the bottom, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (235-245 degrees F).  If the mixture burns to the bottom it will affect not only the flavor, but the texture of the resulting fudge.

Easy recipe, and super tasty!
Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Portal Fudge
4. Remove from heat, and mix in the peanut butter and the cookie spread. Continue stirring until all of the peanut butter and cookie butter are incorporated, and then pour into the container to let the fudge cool and set.  If you choose to use silicone molds, the fudge must cool completely before being removed from the molds. In the picture to the right I did not follow my own advice (as I was testing out some new theories) and the shapes did not come out as cleanly as I would have liked.

Aug 20, 2013

Know Your Ingredients: The building blocks of Baked Goods

When it comes to making food, I've found that there tend to be three potential peaks of interest.  There is interest in cooking, interest in baking, and interest in ignoring the whole thing and getting take out.  For the sake of a shorter post today, we're going to leave the third category to their own devices.

There is definitely a divide between cooks and bakers though.  Many people can do both, but they usually will have a strong preference.  I know several people who love to cook who are intimidated by baking.  One an item goes into the oven, you can no longer tweak it and fiddle with it.  It is completely transformed in the oven with some form of magic.  And if the magic fails, there is no salvaging the result.

Baking is chemistry. And I think we could get more kids excited about chemistry if we taught it that way. Whether it's a cookie, cake, pie, bread, souffle or muffins, there is a balance between things that strengthen and toughen, and things that soften and tenderize.  Flour, egg whites, and milk solids are some of the most common proteins that make up the tougheners.  Fats such as butter, shortening, and oil are tenderizers, along with egg yolks, sugar, and leaveners (such as yeast, baking powder, and baking soda).

Why is this balance important?  Well, a baked good made only with tougheners would have the texture of something approximating a brick. A baked good with no tougheners in it wouldn't hold together, and would end up nothing but goop.  But a well balanced baked good will be like a well built building.  Enough structure to keep it solid, but with plenty of open space and windows.  Of course the combination of baking and building reminds me of this scene from Charlie and the Chocolate factory (If you don't remember the scene, I put the clip to the right).  What we're looking for is a balance between flaky and tender. Something that is structurally sound, but is also fun to eat. No broken teeth, no strained jaw, no disturbing and unexpected textures.

It's all well and good to say that we need a balance, but what is it, and how can I find it?  That's the real question, right?  First of all, it is really helpful to use a scale, because the ratios that we want to use are weight based, not volume based. There can be a significant difference in the amount of flour that is in 1 cup, depending on how it is measured, who measured it, etc. So measuring by weight is a much better way to go.

Shirley Corriher, in Bakewise, walks through how to make a poundcake using only ratios.  If you want a taste of her writing before trying to track down a giant tome (although the giant tome is TOTALLY WORTH IT), you can check out an article that she wrote on this topic here.  Michael Ruhlman also has a book entitled Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.  I must admit, I have not had a chance to check out his book yet.  However, there is also an app called Ratio, which provides the ratio of 28 different applications, from bread and pasta dough to cake batter, to stock and roux.  The app I have found rather useful, and has me intrigued to check out the book.

The image from the recipe itself.
With that said, this is the first of a set of posts on zucchini bread.  I started writing it as one single post, and realized that it would be way too long, and way too much information to put in one post.  With the torrent on squash that I get from my CSA, I decided to make some zuchhini bread. I have very few stand by recipes, and zucchini bread has never been a complicated application.  So I went online to find a nice, simple recipe that I could mindlessly throw together. This recipe from Paula Deen looked like it would fit the bill nicely (and surprisingly for a Paula Deen recipe, it has no butter in it at all!).

I mixed up the batter, doing a little bit of a double take on the amount of sugar, but following the recipe exactly, up until the point of adding nuts, which I don't do. I put my pans in the oven, having noticed that the batter looked a bit thin.  Then, as the bread began to bake, I watched in horror as my precious air bubbles were popping on the surface of the loaves. When I saw those air bubbles popping, I was really afraid that this meant that my recipe was over-leavened, and that my zucchini bread was going to be dense and chewy.  Luckily, it came out ok.  Very sweet, but ok.  It took a long time to finish baking, and the resulting loaves felt a little greasy on the sides and on the bottom, but the general flavor profile was still quite tasty.

Question 1. Were the problems with the loaf due to my error, or flaws in the recipe?
Question 2. If it's the recipe, can it be fixed? How?
Question 3. By just using ratios, can we make more than one successful recipe?  If not, how would those changes affect the finished product?

Hopefully this will help show that looking carefully at a recipe isn't that scary, and will help teach you how to look at a recipe that failed.  If it does, it's not necessarily your fault.

Aug 15, 2013

Quick Tip: Charge Mobile Devices Faster

I have a bad habit of forgetting to plug in my phone, and therefore I often have a dead or close to dead battery.  To get more of a charge in a shorter amount of time, turn on "Airplane Mode". It disables phone calls and data/wifi usage, but is perfect for when you realize that your battery is at 10% just as you're getting dressed to leave the house.

What tricks do you use for longer battery life?

Aug 12, 2013

Who Needs a Pattern to Make Socks?

*** Update***

People have requested this in inches as well as centimeters, so I have tried to add that math as well.  Honestly, I find centimeters easier to deal with on projects where I have to do math.  If the measurement is 1 centimeter and 1 millimeter, it is simply 1.1.  On the other hand, 1 7/8 inches I have to convert to 1.875 inches (and have to use my calculator).  Thus, if I can avoid fractions, I will.

As a resource so that you don't necessarily have to do math with fractions, here are the corresponding decimals for the "inches" measures.
1/8= .125
1/4= .25
3/8= .375
1/2= .5
5/8= .625
3/4= .75
7/8= .875


I've been on a bit of a math/science kick recently, and I figured that I would run with it.  After seeing this video on knitting two socks at a time, I decided to try breaking in a circular needle that I got for Christmas, and try to put a dent (ok, who are we kidding, a tiny nick) into my yarn stash.  If you have never knit a sock before, you might not want this to be your first attempt.  Also, if you are unfamiliar with the magic loop method, you might want to look into that as well.

So, here are what you will need to make 2 socks at the same time:
2 skeins of yarn
1 long circular needle (the one I'm using is 32 inches long)
stitch holders (I just use safety pins)
measuring tape
a spot to take notes

Step 1: Make a test swatch. 

I know, it's the least fun part of any knitting project.  But it's important.  Make a swatch with the yarn, needles, and stitch pattern you're using, make it a reasonable size, bind it off, wash it, see how it reacts and if you like it.  Because honestly, if you're going to spend several hours making something, it's always better to know you're going to like it, and avoid being sad with the results.
You can always work on your swatch while doing something more enjoyable, like getting a pedicure.
In this case, I know my yarn.  I've used this yarn before, and I know how it behaves.  I still did a swatch.  Not as big as I would normally make (as I partially did it just to get to the same point in the striping as the other skein), but I still did it.
See?  Mini swatch (in the round, so it's twice as wide), but I did one!

Step 2: Measurements

I have my swatch, and I've calculated my gauge.  For my yarn, with a size 2 needle, I have 30 stitches for 11 cm (4 1/3 inches), and 3 cm (1 1/8 inches) for 11 rows.  So now I need to figure out what I will be covering with it.  I figured that the easiest way to demonstrate this next part was on paper.  You do not have to trace your foot, but for the purposes of this post, it was easy to demonstrate.  So, I give you my foot:
 There are a few measurements that we're going to mark down on our foot (you notice that I left some space on the side of my paper for notes?  Ha ha, there was a reason for that!  First, I measure what I want the toe of my sock to be.  Looking at my drawing, it looks like a good width for the toe is about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inches) (measuring across the big toe and second toe).  I have learned over the course of time that usually the width of the heel is about the same as the width of the toe.  In this case, we don't have to make assumptions, as we have it right there, and we can measure it!

And yes, the width of my heel is also about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inches), so I'm going to call that good.  I note that down on my foot drawing as well.  The total length of my foot is 24 cm (about 9 1/2 inches).  I break that measurement up into two measurements.  There is the length of the sock that I will work straight from the toe, and then there is the length over which I will decrease to get to the heel.  For this case, I will go with a general rule that you start working the heel about an inch and a half (or 3.8 cm) before the edge of the heel.  So I will work straight for 20.2 cm (8 inches), and then work the heel over the last 3.8 cm (1 1/2 inches).  The last two measurements I can't do with the sheet of paper.  The circumference of my foot, and the circumference of my calf.  My foot is 21 cm around (8 1/4 inches), and my calf (at the thickest part that the sock will cover) is 24 cm (9 1/2 inches).  That's it.  Confused?  Let me break it down for you this way, to hopefully be clearer:
Foot Length: 24 cm (20.2 cm+ 3.8 cm) or 9 1/2 inches
Toe Width: 4.5 cm or 1 3/4 inches
Heel Width: 4.5 cm or 1 3/4 inches
Foot Circumference: 21 cm or 8 1/4 inches
*Calf Circumference: 23 cm or 9 inches

* I am planning to finish my sock below my calf itself.  This measurement is for the thickest area that the sock will cover on the leg, so I know how wide to knit the leg.

Step 3: Math

Wait, no, don't run away!  It's really not bad, I promise.  What we are going to do is calculate how many stitches to cast on, how many stitches to increase to, and about how many rows it will take until you start working on the heel.  So we go back to our test swatch, and look at our gauge. I want to cast on enough stitches so that I will start out with 4.5 cm.  So to phrase the question: If I have 30 stitches for 11 cm (4 1/3 inches), how many stitches do I need for 4.5 cm ( 1 3/4 inches) on each side?

4.5 cm X 30 stitches/11 cm= 12.272 stitches
1 3/4 inches X 30 stitches/4 1/3 inches= 12.209 stitches

Ok, so I'm casting on 12 stitches (I'll just round the stitch count) for the top of the foot, and 12 stitches for the bottom of the foot, meaning 24 stitches (but don't forget the 12!). So where do I want to be once I finish increasing for my foot?  This measurement was for the entire way around the foot, so there will be no need to double it.

21 cm X 30 stitches/11 cm= 57.272 stitches.
8 1/4 inches X 30 stitches/ 4 1/3 inches= 57.558 stitches

Considering the negative ease of a knit garment, and the mental ease of keeping with round numbers, I am going to try to go with either 56 or 58.  As I know that I will be increasing by 4 stitches every other round, 56 will probably be easier.  But, as I'm making this sock from the toe up, I will have plenty of opportunity to try it on as I go.  As long as I keep my increases the same on the left and right side of the sock, I will be able to fake it.

Personally, I don't really care about rows.  I know the length that I will have to knit to though.  But, just for a little more practice with the math, let's just see about how many rows I'll be knitting before I start on the heel.

20.2 cm *11 rows/3 cm= 74.06 rows
8 inches *11 rows/1 1/8 inches= 78.22 rows (This is one of the reasons I prefer working with centimeters.  Not only is the math easier because I can work in decimals, but millimeters are smaller than 1/8 of an inch.  So the way in which you round your measurements can have an impact on your math.)

So, starting right here, if we know a little bit about how to make a sock, we can start writing our own pattern. kfb means to knit once in the front of the stitch, and then once in the back of the same stitch, which adds a stitch.

Cast on 24 stitches using magic loop knitting method.
Round 1:knit.
Round 2: (knit 1, kfb, knit to last two stitches on needle, kfb, knit 1) twice.
Round 3: knit.
Repeat rounds two and three seven times: 56 stitches total.

Round 1: knit.
Repeat round 1 74 times, or until the sock is 20.2 cm long.

Wow, this looks like it could be an actual knitting pattern, doesn't it?

Step 4: Cast On

After all that, I am finally ready to cast on.  This is the first time I am trying to make both socks at the same time.  I have seen methods where you can make one sock inside the other one, which will work with either the magic loop or using double pointed needles, but that requires way more focus than I tend to have.  With that method, I could see myself knitting them together and not even noticing for multiple rows.  Knitting the socks side by side makes it much more obvious if I have knit them together, and also makes it easier to try them on as I go.  So let's get started.

  1. With the first ball of yarn, tie a slip knot, and slide it on to one needle.
  2. Hold the two needles parallel, with both needles pointing to the right. The slipknot should be on the bottom needle.
  3. Bring the yarn behind both needles, and wrap the yarn up and over the needles, coming down in front.  Remember when I said to not forget the 12 stitches? I am going to wrap the yarn around my needles 12 times.  Each loop is casting on a stitch for the top needle and for the bottom needle.
  4. After the 12th loop, bring the yarn over the top of both needles, and bring it in between both needles, basically to hold it in place.
  5. I slide my stitches to the left just a little, so that I have space to cast on my second sock.  This is done the exact same way that the first one is.
  6. So we have 48 stitches on the needles, and it's time to start knitting.  If you need a tutorial on how to use the magic loop method, you can find one here.  Essentially what I'm doing is this: I'm keeping the stitches for the top of the sock and the bottom of the sock separate, so that they can lie flat.  I pull some slack from the bottom needle, bend it, and knit off of the top needle.  For this first round, I pull the yarn out from between the two needles, and knit 12 stitches across the top with the second ball of yarn (which is the same ball that I cast on with). When I finish the stitches for sock 2, I drop the yarn, and pick up the yarn for sock 1, being careful to not entangle the two. Then, using that yarn, I knit across the 12 stitches on that sock.
  7. Now that I've finished the first 12 stitches on both socks, it's time to do the other side.  I flip the knitting so that the stitches that I just finished are the bottom needle, and the stitches that I need to do are on top.  I slide the needle on top down so that the stitches are easily accessible, and pull out slack on the bottom needle. There are 12 stitches on this side, plus the slip knot that I started with.  I slide the slip knot off, as that was just there to keep the yarn in place.  I knit the 12 stitches for this sock, drop that yarn, pick up the yarn for the other sock, and do the same thing.  I drop the slip knot, and knit 12 stitches across.
    Close up of Cast On Stitches
    Cast On Finished
Now I have completed the first row of my socks!

Step 5: The Toe and Foot

I've now completed my first round on both of my socks. Now it is time to start increasing (otherwise I won't be able to fit my foot inside!) I decided to do a very simple toe. I knit the first stitch, increase by one stitch (I often opt to do a kfb), and then knit to the last two stitches on the needle (for this sock). I have added one stitch to the right side, and now one stitch to the left side. This will mean that my sock will end up coming to a nice point, and not just slant off to the side. Also, for the toe, any increases I do on the top, I will mirror on the bottom, because I want the side seams to stay on the sides, and not wander underneath my foot or anywhere else.  If a wandering seam is a feature that you want to incorporate into your design, go for it! Just remember to do the same thing on each sock.

Why am I doing the exact same thing on each sock?  Because I want the socks to match. I am doing them at the same time so that I don't have to think about how many rows went into the sock I just finished before I turned the heel, and that sort of thing. This method ensures that, as long as you do the same thing to each sock, they will turn out the same size and shape.

After I finish the round, I have increased each sock by 4 stitches, two on the front, and two on the bottom.  This gives me a total of 56 stitches on my needles (28 per each sock). I knit a round, and then increase again.  I keep up this pattern until I have 112 stitches on my needles, 56 stitches for each sock.

When I did my math before, it indicated that I should have 57 stitches for each sock, but I was going to try it with 56. Do you see why now? It wouldn't require any odd increases! But I am not one hundred percent sure if that will work. Conveniently enough, I am making them from the bottom up, so it's super easy to just try them on. Thus, that is exactly what I do.
One wonderful thing about knitting small projects is that you can do it anywhere, like the park I'm in!
Conveniently, 56 stitches works beautifully, and this gives me a nice hint of how the self striping yarn will work for these socks, as well as how they will feel on my feet. I am quite happy with all of this. Now, as I'm letting the yarn create the pattern for me, I just keep knitting in the round until I reach 20 cm (7 7/8 inches).

Step 6: Turning the Heel

I know it looks a little short, but that's just because it rolled up while I was photographing it.
I have knit and knit and knit, and I am finally ready to start on the heel! Now, before I start explaining the heel, first I want to talk a little bit about customization.  One of the reasons to make your own socks is that you can make them fit you perfectly. I am fortunate, in that my feet are a fairly average shape. Therefore I know that my heel will be about an inch an a half before I turn it, I will be decreasing to the same number of stitches that I used for my toes, and that my ankle isn't that much wider than my foot.  Your feet may not be the same.  Just like with any other clothing, the problem isn't with you, the problem is with your pattern.  By multiplying the width of the area the sock needs to cover by your gauge, you can calculate increases or decreases however you need to, in order to make your perfect sock.

With that said, let's move on.

As with socks that are worked from the cuff downwards, there are many different ways to do the heel.  For this pair, I opted to go with the method that was used in the video I referenced at the beginning of this post. It uses short rows, but there are no wrapped stitches.  Now, before I show you any pictures, I have two confessions to make.  First, I'm lazy.  I'm not going to do something if I don't see a logical reason for it (and even then it's 50/50). Second, I'm not a big one for gadgets.  I tend to do so many different crafts and such that I have neither space nor money to have every tool for everything.  Therefore I tend to take the Alton Brown approach and apply it to crafts.  All about the multitaskers!

To knit the heel, we're going to go from knitting in the round to knitting flat.  Why? Because we only need to add length to the bottom part of the sock. In the video, it looks to me as if the woman demonstrating puts all the stitches from the front of the foot on a separate needle/stitch holder. I didn't do this.  As I'm using one long circular needle, all the stitches seem pretty secure where they are.  It may have caused a minor hassle while knitting and purling back and forth, but I don't think it added up to what I would consider the hassle of putting aside the stitches and then picking them back up.  Also, as the knitting method itself provides a break between the front and the back of the sock, the stitches used for the heel were already separated.

The pattern for the decreases goes like this:
row 1: knit to the last stitch, place that stitch on a stitch holder (I just used a safety pin). Go to second sock, and with the appropriate yarn, knit to the last stitch, and place the stitch on a stitch holder (safety pin number 2).

row 2: slip one stitch, purl to the last stitch, place on a stitch holder (safety pin number 3). Change socks, and with the appropriate yarn, purl to the last stitch, and, you guessed it, place it on a stitch holder (and safety pin number 4).

row 3: slip one stitch, knit to the last stitch, place on a stitch holder, change socks, knit to the last stitch, and place on stitch holder.

I am going to repeat rows 2 and 3 until I have 12 stitches left on my needle. Now, remember before when I said that I am lazy? If I was being really proper, I would have each of those stitches on their own stitch holder, so that I wouldn't risk dropping stitches, it was easy to count how many stitches I'd taken off, etc.  I didn't do that.  I used four safety pins, that were each about one inch long.  You know what? It worked just fine.
One sock after all the stitches had been put onto my "stitch holders"

Now that I've finished adding my extra length for my heel, now I need to work all those safety pin stitches back in, to finish the ankle for my sock.  So after I have done all of my decreases, I knit to the last stitch, again, but this time I remove a stitch from my safety pin, and knit the two together, for the purpose of minimizing gaps in the finished sock.  But I don't actually want to get rid of any stitches, so I also knit one more in between the gap from the last stitch and where the next stitch sits on the safety pin.  Repeat on the other sock, and then do the same thing on the purl side of the heel. I repeat this process until I have all of my stitches worked back in, and I can just continue working in the round.
Yup, seems to fit to the heel pretty well.

Step 7: The Leg

The leg is pretty straight forward, now that I have all of my stitches back onto my needles.  I just knit in the round until the sock is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) shorter than I want it to be.  That is about how long that I've decided that I want my cuff to be.

A note about sock length.  There is a great variety of lengths that you can make a sock.  I had a friend, who saw me doing both socks simultaneously, ask if I could just make tights this way.  You know what?  I could, if I so desired, had taken the proper measurements, and had enough yarn.  They would be pretty thick tights, but it could be done.  The one guideline that I would give is this: the minimum length of your sock should be long enough that the sock will not start slipping off of your foot when you wear it in shoes.  As a shot in the dark, I would say that it should at least reach the Achilles tendon.  Other than that, feel free to go wild!  

If you know that you have thick ankles, very curvy legs, or any other fit challenges, keep that in mind, but remember, one of the reasons that you are making your own socks is so that it will fit like a glove, er, sock! It is the same process: measure, calculate, and make your increases/decreases.  Just make sure that, if you make a very curvy sock, your foot and heel will still fit into it. Knitting Daily has some tips on this very topic.

For the socks that I'm making, I decide to stay pretty standard.  I am going to knit the leg to be about the same length as the foot. I consider that a good basic sock length.  The widest area that the sock will cover is only 2 cm wider than that of my foot.  As that is also the area that will be the ribbing, the stretch in the knit should be just fine, and I don't think that I will have to add any stitches. The negative ease here should help to keep my socks up.

Step 8: Ribbing

I finished the leg, and am ready to start my ribbing. Oh. I didn't consider the ribbing pattern earlier.  That's no problem, it just means a little more math! So let's see. I have 56 stitches, and the knit/purl of the ribbing needs to repeat.  Therefore, what I am going to do is calculate what stitch patterns would work evenly into the stitches that I have.

56/2 (knit 1 purl 1)= 28 whole number, so it would work!
56/3 (knit 2 purl 1 for example)= 18.666.  Ooh, that would not work, it's not a whole number.
56/4 = 14 That would work!
56/5= 11.2 Nope.
56/6= 9.333 Nope.

Without adding any stitches, it looks like my options are a ribbing in a set of 2 (knit 1 purl 1), or a set of 4.
ribbing for a set of 4 would be any of these:
knit 1 purl 3
knit 2 purl 2
knit 3 purl 1

I choose to just go with a simple knit 2 purl 2 as my ribbing.  It's easy to remember, it's stretchy, and I like the look of it. So I'm going to repeat this for about 3 cm.

Step 9: Binding Off

Let's do a quick recap.  We dutifully did our test swatch, we measured, we calculated, we knit, we did more calculations, we tested along the way, and we have something that perfectly fits that we've spent a whole lot of time working on.  There is one thing that we can do at this point to make these beautiful, wonderful socks into something that we don't ever want to wear.  Bind them off too tightly.  If I bind off too tightly, I could make the socks uncomfortable, as they cut into my calf, and essentially ruin the point of the nice stretchy ribbing I just finished.  Even worse, I could make it so that I can't get my foot into the sock properly.  Do you doubt me?  Go ahead, take the swatch that you made and probably just did a basic bind off for.  Notice how the bound off edge is nowhere near as stretchy as your ribbing?  I rest my case.

I know for a fact that I tend to bind off tightly.  Therefore, I am not going to do the standard bind off that I learned when I was about 7.  I am going to use this one, which is entitled "miraculous elastic bind off".  I can get behind that.

Wow, the socks are done!  Both of them!  Now all I need to do is weave in the ends.


With a few measurements, a few techniques, and a little math, it is possible to create just about any perfectly fitted knit garment without a pre-written pattern.  In this case, it was a pair of socks.  This would also work for a hat, gloves, a sweater... Pretty much anything you can think of.  As long as you are diligent (and honest) with measurements, know your gauge, know your material, and calculate your stitches, you can make just about anything.

Aug 9, 2013

Quick Tip of the Day

If you worry about rings being lost or knocked off a nightstand, just slip it onto the earpiece of a pair of glasses (or sunglasses).  This way, even if the glasses are knocked off  by children, pets, or anything else, the glasses will still be easier to find than a small ring.

Aug 8, 2013

How Healthy are Things Cooked in a Microwave? (Also, a Super Quick way to Husk Corn)

The other day during my perusals of the internet, I found a discussion of a super quick way to husk corn.  In an attempt to find out the veracity of the method, I did the thing that you should never do on the internet.  I read the comments section.  As the method includes cooking it in the microwave, there were several people who said that they would never cook corn in the microwave, because it destroys nutrients.  Boiling was much better.  My first reaction was a giant "Seriously? No, just... no". But I have been known to be wrong before.  Therefore, instead of just making assumptions and moving on, I decided to look into it just to make sure.

These days I think most people know how a microwave works.  The waves, similar to radio waves, are pointed at the food in the microwave, and interact with polar molecules.  Polar molecules are ones that have a positive and a negative end, kind of like a battery.  Water is a good example of a polar molecule, and is also found in most of our food.  So the microwaves will make the polar molecules vibrate and heat up, heating up the food.  This is why water will boil in a microwave.  So does this process damage the nutritional value of the food?  Yes, but only to the same extent that adding any form of heat would.  Steaming is often considered the best form of heating, although even then it's not 100% clear.  As I had thought, however, boiling a vegetable will remove more nutrients than microwaving it.  The water will leech some of the nutrients during the boiling process.  Therefore, if the water is thrown away, those nutrients are thrown away with it.

Ok, on the fun part!

When I was a kid, we used to cook corn in the microwave.  It was fast, easy, and tasty.  Not to mention that it got my sister and I out of her hair for a little bit when we were sent outside to husk the corn. But once the corn was husked, it was wrapped in wax paper and thrown into the microwave.  After learning the trick that I'm about to share (I can tell, you're super excited... or just want me to get to the point) the wax paper is just extra waste.

Step 1: Get your ear (or ears) of corn

Step 2: Cook the corn in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes per ear, with the husk on.  I have been told that this works if you cook the ears in the oven as well, but I have not tried it.

Step 3: Cut off the end. Ensure that you have a clean cut.  If the leaves are still attached to the cob, this method will not work.

Step 4: Grab the top of the ear by the leaves/silk. Careful, as the corn will be HOT!
Step 5: Give the corn a solid sharp shake. The corn cob will come out of the husk, clean, and free of silk.

You may want to use a glove or dishtowel for this part.
Nice clean ear!

All the silk left in the husk
Observations: If the corn is not fully cooked through, some of the silk will still stick to the cob.  I like my corn a little crunchy, so this will occasionally happen to me.  I have also found that precooking the corn before putting it on a grill is a good way to get both the caramelization from the grill and have the corn cooked all the way through.

As a final treat:  My favorite corn ever comes from Toro, in Boston.  It's grilled with cotija cheese, aioli, lime and cayenne.  It seems to be, I'm sorry to say, impossible to recreate at home.  However, with my heat gun, I can come somewhat close.  This recipe provides a reasonable combination of ingredients, especially for faking an aioli.  The preparation method, however, is a bit different. Both because I don't have a grill, and the recipe does not include adding a little bit of char to the kernels.

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 medium garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese (about 4 ounces)
6 ears corn, husks on
1 medium lime, cut into 6 wedges

Mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, salt and cayenne in a small bowl.  If you have any concerns about how spicy the corn will turn out, start with less cayenne and then mix to taste.

Microwave the corn, in the husk, until just cooked (you want it to be a little crunchy still, but not raw).

Remove the husk, and cut each ear in half.  Place the corn on a metal sheet pan, and use the heat gun to give the corn a little bit of grilled char.  Sorry, in this case, the broiler on your oven is not enough.  It will only dry out the corn.  The heat gun produces heat of either 750 degrees or 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drizzle the corn with a little bit of the mayo recipe, a little extra cayenne, and a squeeze of lime.

You're welcome.

"Electromagnetic Fields & Public Health: Microwave Ovens." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Is Microwave Cooking Healthy?" LIVESTRONG.COM. Live Strong, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Microwave Cooking and Nutrition." Microwave Cooking and Nutrition. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Shucking Corn--Clean Ears Everytime." YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.

Aug 1, 2013

Drowning in Squash?

If you are the sort who gardens, belongs to a CSA, shops farmers markets, or just shops local grocery store sales, there is a good chance that you have ended up with a lot of squash (at least in New England).  When you still have squash coming out your ears after roasting, sauteing, making zucchini bread, crudites, and any other application you can think of, you might start looking for other ideas.

If you haven't made a "pasta" out of squash before, you're definitely missing out.  Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, peel the squash into thin strips.  put the strips into a colander, place the colander in the sink, coat them with a bit of salt, and wait for about twenty to thirty minutes. Do not skip the salt, or this will not work.  I will explain why.

*Warning, Science Ahead*

Salt is hygroscopic, meaning that it will pull moisture from the surrounding environment.  Kind of like why we get really thirsty if we eat a bunch of potato chips.  With the squash, this means that the salt will penetrate the cell membrane, and pull out the water stored inside.  When that happens, similar to popping bubble wrap, the squash will go from being turgid to being floppy, like a pasta noodle.  By doing this in a colander, all the excess water will drain away. Alton Brown explains this in an episode that you can find here, and using props.

*Science Bit Complete*

Once squash noodles have been made, they can be used in a lot of different ways. Trying to feed someone who is gluten free?  I've made lasagna with eggplant and zucchini instead of noodles, and had it turn out really tasty.  Pasta salad?  Done. Pretty much anywhere you can use pasta, you can substitute squash.  But as the noodles were already salted, remember to cut back on any more added salt.

The recipe that I made recently also came from the Alton Brown episode listed above, and can be found here. It was perfect for what I had from my CSA.  I used zucchini, lettuce, spring onions, and hakurei turnip (which was more like a radish).  The dressing consists of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and black pepper.  I did not have any basil on hand, so I substituted the olive oil with a fantastic basil infused olive oil from the Boston Olive Oil Company. All I had were whole almonds, so I threw them into the spice grinder for a minute or two to chop them up, and topped it with that and some manchego cheese.  Manchego is a spanish varietal of cheese from La Mancha, and if you've never had it, I highly recommend it.

Zucchini Pasta Salad- You can see the manchego in the lower left on top of my mandolin.
It's a really easy, fast recipe that was super tasty.  Since I was using one of the largest zucchini I had ever seen for the salad, I had plenty for a couple of days, and it stayed cool and refreshing for that whole time.

One final note on recipes from Good Eats/Alton Brown.  I find Alton Brown fantastic in regards to technique and science.  His recipes, however, are not always as transcendent as I would like them to be.  By sticking with the science, but tweaking the flavors, I always end up with a good final product. From what I understand about his philosophy, I'd like to think that he'd approve of this perspective.