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I have been craving caramel popcorn for weeks, ever since I visited [ profile] gretchening and we went to Chicago, and I got caramel popcorn at Union Station. (After seeing my 10th Empires show! \o/ They were amazing, by the way, I really recommend seeing them live if you get the chance.)

Anyway, caramel popcorn. I tried a bunch of different recipes I found on the internet, but they were all really flawed. So eventually I did what I should have done in the first place: I made popcorn the way I always make it, and I made caramel the way I always make it, and I combined them.

1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1-1/2 c brown sugar

I use salted butter these days, but if you don't, you can add 1/2 tsp or 1 tsp salt, to taste.

Melt these ingredients together over low heat until it starts to boil. Let it boil for about a minute, then pull it off the heat. Don't stir. You can swirl the pan around if you're like me and have to touch it.

2/3 c kernels
2 tbsp veg oil

Put a couple of kernels into the pot, clamp on the lid, and put the heat on medium. When you hear the kernels pop, it's time for the rest of them. Put them in, put the lid on, shake the pot to coat them with oil. Back on medium heat. Shake the pot every few seconds until they start to pop. Let them pop until they slow down, then pull the pot off the heat and set it to the side. I use a pot that has vents for the steam -- if you don't, you might want to tilt the lid a little so the popcorn doesn't get soggy.

Mix the two ingredients together (be careful to remove the unpopped kernels of corn!), spread on a cookie tin (I recommend lining it with parchment paper), and bake at 250F for 10-15 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like your caramel corn.

I added a couple of handfuls of broken pretzels to mine (um, caramel-covered pretzels? YES PLEASE), but my sister said it needed peanuts. Make your own choices!

here's a picture of mine. Nom nom nom.
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Well, I have finally perfected a recipe for pizza that my entire family and the kids next door will all eat. It doubles and triples wonderfully, and bakes just as nicely on a half-sheet pan as it does in a cast iron skillet. Now you too can make my pizza! If you just want to look at the pictures, they are at this tag on my Flickr. Otherwise, let us continue...

Pizza! )

Not illustrated recipe:

1 tsp honey or other sweetener (do not use Splenda or Equal, though)
1 tsp yeast
1 cup warm water
1 heaping tsp kosher salt (or 1 scant tsp table salt)
1-3/4 - 2 cups flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
about 1/2 cup marinara sauce
9 oz shredded cheese, any blend (I use 8 oz mozzarella & 1 oz romano; people swap out the romano for things like pepperjack, cheddar, or ricotta)
some kind of filling (optional)

Mix the honey, yeast, and water. Add salt and flour. While stirring the flour into the mixture, stream in the olive oil. Knead for about a minute to bring the dough together. Oil the bowl and roll the dough in the oil. Cover with a damp towel (or some cling film) and set in a warm place to rise for about 90 minutes. It won't double in size or anything -- it will just swell slightly.

Knead the air out of the dough, then set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. Oil your pan (even if it is a cast iron skillet). Roll out the dough (or press it out with your knuckles). Dock the dough with a fork. If you're baking in a dish with sides and you've pressed the dough up the sides, be sure to dock the sides!

Spread out the first layer of cheese. It should only be about an ounce. Sauce goes over that. You can use more than 1/2 cup sauce, but be careful -- there's not really a place for the water in the sauce to go, so it will make your pizza soggy. If you like a lot of sauce, I suggest cooking it down first, to make it thick and evaporate a lot of the liquid. Add your fillings (I usually use veggie sausage, or whatever leftover vegetables are in the fridge, like sauteed spinach or fried mushrooms or caramelized onions or roasted peppers). The rest of the cheese goes on top.

Bake at 450F for 20 minutes. If the cheese isn't browned sufficiently to your liking after that, you can leave it in for another 5 or 10 minutes without burning the crust, but it's deliciously golden after 20 minutes, so I usually just put it under the broiler for a minute or two to finish browning the cheese.

Make sure you let it rest for 3 - 5 minutes. Then mangia!
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Happy new year!! Shana tova!

Yesterday, strawberries were on sale. I'd just been complaining that they were at $6/quart for the crappy strawberries, so it was like fate. I bought five quarts, and used two last night. To make JAM!

Ever since [ profile] doll_revolution sent me rhubarb for my birthday cake, I've been planning to make jam, and then a few weeks ago the grocery store finally had rhubarb, so I have even more for jam. A while ago, I'd had my friend Val's mom's strawberry-rhubarb jam, which had seemed to me to be the perfect strawberry-rhubarh jam -- sweet, tart, flavorful, and it sort of tasted like a fruit roll-up, without sticking to my teeth.

So armed with Val's mom's recipe last night, I made some jam. First of all, what is the deal with the pectin package making everything three times as hard as it needs to be? I found the procedural explanations really obnoxiously overcomplicated in some parts, and not detailed enough in others. So I wrote out my own instructions before I started -- much easier!

The very first thing I did was sterilize the jars and set them out, and soak the lids. According to everything I've read, there's no need to sterilize jars if the jam is going to be boiled for longer than ten minutes -- but I didn't want to risk it. I probably did a crappy job of sterilizing, but better safe than sorry.

Next: crush the strawberries! That part was fun. Then I added the rhubarb straight from the freezer to the strawberries put it on the stove to boil together, while still crushing away. I really like using that potato masher, okay? It was my great-grandmother's!

Once the strawberry and rhubarb mixture had come to a boil -- easier than it sounds, since they both gave off a lot of juice -- I added the whole packet of pectin. Now, I'd ordered regular pectin instead of low-sugar pectin, even though the recipe calls for low-sugar pectin, because it made me nervous to get the low-sugar stuff. (I'm not sure why. Maybe I was afraid the pectin had splenda in it?) So I had to double the sugar. The sugar all needs to go in at once, so while the mixture was coming back to a rolling boil (which took longer than I thought it would!), I measured the sugar into a separate bowl. 5-1/2 cups! Actually, it didn't look like that much sugar at all.

Once the mixture was at a rolling boil, I dumped all the sugar in, stirred vigorously (with the potato masher, still; I wasn't giving that sucker up a moment before I had to), and left the mixture to come back to a boil, stirring occasionally. The recipe wanted me to stir all the time, but I was not interested in doing that.

After it came back to the boil, I let it go for one minute (timed it and everything), then turned off the heat and started filling the jars and sealing them. That took a while, since I had to grab a paper towel and dip it in the boiling water to wipe the jam spills off the mouths of the jars. I skimmed off some of the foam before I started filling jars, but I definitely didn't get it all, since there's some floating in one of the jars. I'll keep that jar for myself and make sure not to give it away!

Then: boil the jars for ten minutes! I did it in three batches. Partially that was because the recipe ended up making more jam than expected, so I had to find other mason jars. I found one that I hadn't used last winter, complete with lid and everything -- and then I just ate some of the rest of the jam out of the pot. Whatever, it was delicious. I don't know that I'd want it on ice cream, but I'd happily eat it as pie filling. Or on toast or a muffin. Mmmm delightful.

I'm thinking about possibly trying to strain the strawberry seeds out of the next batch. Have fine mesh sieve, will make jelly.

click to embiggen

So here is my recipe, slightly modified from Val's mom's:
2 cups of crushed strawberries (slightly less than 2 quarts)
2-1/2 cups of finely chopped rhubarb (around 3/4 lb)
5-1/2 cups of white sugar
1 packet of regular pectin

Bring the fruit to a boil. Add the pectin. Bring it back to a boil. Add the sugar all in one lump and stir quickly. Let boil for one minute, then skim off the foam (seriously, do this) and fill jars. Then drop into boiling water for ten minutes, and let sit for 24 hours. If the top pops on any of the jars, put them in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. The jars that keep their seals can be kept on a shelf indefinitely, although probably under 24 months is best.
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Here's my mother's father's mother's recipe for luchen kugel -- basically, Jewish noodle pudding.

1 lb egg noodles (medium width), cooked
6 - 8 eggs (6 extra-large, 8 large)
3/4 white sugar (more if you like it sweet)
1 - 2 apples, diced
a handful of raisins (or more)
2 tsps cinnamon

Mix everything together except the cinnamon. We do 1 - 1-1/2 tsps cinnamon mixed in, and the rest sprinkled on the top.

Bake in a well-greased 9x13 pan (we use a Pyrex) at 325F for 40 minutes, but check it -- you might need an hour. When it's done, the noodles on top will be crisp and the whole thing will be set.

(It looks like I'm going to have to alter my plans for pumpkin cinnamon caramel sticky buns, since I can't seem to get canned pumpkin anywhere! Not far enough in the fall season, I guess. How disappointing. What should I make instead? Regular caramel sticky buns? We'll see...)
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Last night for supper, I made a macaroni salad chock full of deliciousness. I wanted macaroni, but not mayonnaise or cheese; I wanted vegetables, but not salad or crudités. I wanted a vinaigrette salad dressing, but I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it. So here's what I made.

  • 2 med sized tomatoes
  • 1 med sized lemon
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4 crowns of broccoli
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni (or whatever; smallish is best)

Seed and dice the tomatoes, and throw them into a large bowl. Squeeze the juice from the lemons, grate the cloves of garlic on a microplane, add the olive oil, and mix all together.

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces. My family is a family of bigmouths, so I just cut the heads off the broccoli and leave them. Throw them into the water you've boiled for the pasta, and let them blanch. Well, I actually cook them for a few minutes (usually four). Scoop out the broccoli with a slotted spoon and put it, still hot, on top of the vinaigrette.

Boil the pasta until it's how you like it. My family is not an al dente family, so I boil it for eight minutes. Then drain and toss with the broccoli and vinaigrette.

Now, I like the way broccoli and pasta will absorb the flavors of the vinaigrette as they cool, but that's not for everyone, so you can always make all this stuff in advance and let it cool before you mix it together.

Optional: a couple of poached or grilled chicken breasts, diced and tossed in; some diced ham; other types of vegetables (bell pepper, maybe? carrots?); or, you can go the route my family and I went and fry up some Italian-style veggie sausage (we like Smart brand) to toss in, and then grate some parmesan cheese over the top of it all.

Mmmm delicious. It's also really good at three a.m., eaten straight out of the tupperware whilst standing in front of the fridge.

More on food: Rosh Hashanah is coming up, but we're not going to celebrate properly until Sunday, when my sister and brother-in-law can come over. A friend of mine is Stateside right now, too, and she's never had a Rosh Hashanah supper before! My family is not exactly full of the most religious Jews in the world (being super relaxed Reform), but we throw a nice High Holiday spread. For the night of the 8th, we'll have a nice supper, plus a red velvet cake. Sweet things for a sweet year! Then, for the big table on Sunday, here's what I'm making:
  • challah, braided and baked into rounds instead of long loaves
  • luchen kugel
  • matzo ball vegetable soup
  • green bean casserole
  • pot roast
  • caramel pumpkin cinnamon sticky buns
  • leftover red velvet cake with cream cheese icing
  • honey cake

I'm on the fence about making honey cake, though. Apples and honey is a traditional dish -- but no one in my family ever eats it. A honey cake would be a nice nod to tradition, but I just don't think anyone would eat it. Then what would we do with the leftovers? Give it away to neighbors who probably wouldn't eat it, I guess. That seems ridiculous. I'm thinking we'll put apples into the luchen kugel, and call it a night.

Oh, and even though I am making everything else? My mom is making pot roast. Yuck! If that's your thing, though, non-vegetarians, here's her recipe that she graciously typed up for the "Sally's Diner" portion of the Anna Katherine website.
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I know I am the latest, but this morning I started watching the first season of Highlander, thanks to the Netflix "instant play" option. (This afternoon, the disc came in the mail that allows me to stream Netflix to my TV through my Wii's wireless card. Holy crap, y'all, we are living in the future!!!!) My younger sister is a huge Highlander fan, but this is the first time I've ever seen an episode all the way through. And I have a bunch of questions! Like: How did Richie and Duncan get to be BFF between episode 1 and episode 2? If a human cuts the head off an immortal, does the immortal not die? (Something Tessa said in episode 5 seemed to imply that a human can't cut the head off an immortal; I was confused.) Who invented this "game" and what the heck good is it? I mean, can't they all just leave each other alone? Why do they have to be hunting each other down and cutting off heads all the time?

While watching, I am snacking on cheesecake cookies. This is seriously amazing. A few months ago, I found (on delicious, I think, or maybe I was watching Food TV?) this recipe for Savannah Cheesecake Cookies by Paula Deen. I've made them several times now -- but I've seriously altered the recipe. Now they are Brooklyn Cheesecake Cookies! Recipe under the cut. )
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Tonight's supper is matzo ball soup and fresh bread. I make matzo ball soup about once a month in the winter (twice in months with holidays!). For those who don't know, matzo balls are sort of like dumplings, but instead of using regular flour, we use matzo meal, which is flour made from crushed matzo -- unleavened bread. It usually has the texture of medium grind stone-ground cornmeal when it is dry, although there are many different options, including a "cake flour" made from matzo.

Apparently one can use matzo meal to do things like bread meats or in place of flour in potato pancakes. I've only ever used it for matzo balls, though, because my family doesn't keep kosher. This means that during Passover, when Jews are not supposed to eat leavened breads or several other foods, matzo products are supposed to sub in for leavened bread products, but my family doesn't stick to that, and so you'll sometimes find us eating challah (and soy and rice and other "forbidden" foods) during the ten days of Passover. Oh well!

Matzo balls can be made in many different ways. I like mine to be slightly heavier, but I'm including a way to make them much lighter for those who prefer them fluffy.

I also have to say that the best matzo ball soup I ever had was made by an old roommate of mine who was as goyish (non-Jewish) as they come! So if you're worried that you can't make good matzo ball soup because you aren't Jewish, put that thought out of your head! I guarantee you, there is no magical Jewish matzo ball dust required for delicious soup.

Matzo Ball Soup )

I like to serve my matzo ball soup with this no-knead bread. I tend to mix the bread dough up in the morning, and let it rise for a long time, because my family likes a more sourdough flavor. (Today, for example, I mixed up the dough at 5:45 am, put it on the pan for the second rise around 1:15 pm, and then baked the bread around 2 pm.)

Here is a picture of what my bread looked like when I pulled it out of the oven after 35 minutes.

Here's a picture of the delicious inside of the bread.

I've made this bread a lot of different ways. My best tips:
  • Use 7 cups of flour instead of 6-1/2 if you live in a damp environment (which I do)
  • Don't sub in more than 3 cups of whole wheat flour
  • Always use kosher or otherwise coarse salt; if using regular table salt, cut the amount of salt in half
  • Instead of using a knife to slash the loaf, use a scissor to snip it. I don't form the dough into separate loaves, but instead usually leave all the dough in one lump. Then I cut 4 - 5 Xs with my kitchen shears. I have found this works much better than slashing with a knife, and lets my dough rise and bake higher.
  • Let the bread rise its full amount the second time. The recipe says you can put it in the oven after 20 minutes, but I do not recommend that; the loaf baked up pretty flat when I did that.
  • Use 2 cups of water in a pan on the bottom of the oven -- if you only use one, and your bread needs more than 30 minutes, you'll run out of water before the bread is finished cooking.

Happy cooking!
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As I've mentioned before (or as you know if you follow my Twitter), I cook supper every night. It took a while to figure out what I could make that everyone in my family would eat -- we're all very picky, although I am by far the pickiest.

Every Friday during supper, we talk about what we're going to eat for suppers and lunches the upcoming week. We make a menu and we make a grocery list based around it. There are several really reliable recipes that we all enjoy the heck out of, but, of course, I have some rules that I try not to deviate from. For example, I don't make more than one pasta dish per week. That dish rotates -- usually it's either baked ziti, stuffed shells, or mac and cheese.

Another example is there must be two fruits or vegetables with every meal. If we're having baked ziti, the tomatoes in the sauce count, but we'll usually also have salad or crudite. Another example is tonight: we had a frittata with onions and mushrooms, and a side dish of steamed broccoli with Mornay (cheese) sauce on top. Supper on Friday is going to be Morningstar Farms chicken patties on sandwiches (with lettuce and tomatoes and pickles), with roasted cauliflower as a side dish.

The exception to the 2 fruits/veg rule is soup, since usually we're having some kind of vegetable-based soup.

I almost never use vegetable broth out of a box. For one thing, it's extremely salty. For another, it's just... well, I find it personally unappealing. And I have the privilege of having the time and the vegetables to make broth from scratch. It's actually extremely easy.

Delicious Vegetable Broth )

...Now that you've made broth, it's time to use it in soup! My favorite soup right now is a pasta fagioli (say it like you're from Brooklyn: pasta fazool) based on a recipe from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein. I can't recommend this cookbook enough -- the basic recipes are awesome, and I've really enjoyed adapting them to my family's tastes.

Pasta Fagioli )
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Actually, it wasn't hard at all. New York is doing this thing where we can file our taxes using H&R Block's efiling system for free. I used H&R Block last year (and they were great), and I was planning to use them again this year -- so I did! But for free this time! Amazing. It only took two hours; that is the benefit of staying organized all year. (Okay, mostly I just tape receipts and invoices and anything I think I'll need for my taxes into a composition notebook. Whatever, that is totally organized.)

Anyway, remember how I was talking about how I sometimes make simple meals and other times complicated ones? Today the meal is veggie burgers and mashed potatoes. But instead of buying the 2 for a dollar burger buns at the grocery store (full of high fructose corn syrup, salt, and partially-hydrogenated soybean oil), I made burger buns. From scratch. (Using this recipe.)

I've made these buns before, and they come out pretty amazing. I find, though, that for hot dogs/veggie dogs and veggie burger patties, dividing the dough into 8 means the buns come out with too much bread. Now, I love bread, and I love a bready bun, but the big, thick burger buns this recipe makes is far more suited to those 1-1/2" thick, juicy, dripping beef patties people who like that kind of thing are always grilling out.

So today I've split the dough into 12 burger buns. I guess we'll see how they come out. (After the second rising, they are huge.) I figure that we'll eat three of them tonight with our veggie burgers (um, because there are three of us), and then we'll have 9 left for sandwiches or garlic bread.

When I do things like make brioche burger buns, I feel incredibly grateful. Grateful that we have the money to buy whole ingredients so that I'm not (often) feeding my family high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Grateful that I have the time to mix up and knead bread dough. Grateful that I have the ability to stand and move around and move my fingers and wrists to knead the dough (though, granted, I do generally pick the dough up and knead it in my hands instead of on a flat surface). Grateful that we're all healthy enough to eat this kind of food.

Grateful that I can put all that love and gratefulness into the food I make for my family to eat!

(Please note my very fashionable blue plaid bathrobe!)

Oh, and if you don't follow me on Twitter, here's the link I posted last night: The Book of Esther retold using pictures of Adam Lambert by [personal profile] roga! Slightly NSFW, but worth taking a look at. Happy belated Purim!
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On average, I spend a pretty good portion of my week cooking and thinking about cooking. Part of that is because I love cooking and have always loved cooking, and part of that is because I cook supper every night, and sometimes do lunches and snacks during the day as well. Meals range from the complicated to the very simple; sometimes I feel like cooking a four course extravaganza, and sometimes I make soup and sandwiches.

I also really like to bake -- breads, mostly, although I've been known to make brownies, cookies, and cakes, too. Today I made banana bread this morning for breakfast (I swapped out the cocoa for an extra heaping tablespoon of flour, and left out the chocolate chips), and pretzels with cheddar cheese baked on top for lunch (note that the recipe calls for two inches of water for boiling the pretzels -- when I tried that, it gave my pretzels an awful, metallic, baking soda taste; I find that four cups of water + 1/2 c baking soda + 1/4 c sugar is best, and they need to be poached for two minutes per side, not one).

Supper is going to be a Sicilian version of panzanella, but it's a soup instead of a salad (it's a recipe I've made before, from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein, which is an amazing cookbook). I'm using leftover bread from this recipe for the croutons in the soup; I baked the bread on Friday for supper (we were having baked ziti, which is incomplete without crusty bread dipped in olive oil or spread with butter), and it's still soft and delicious today, so I cut it into croutons and left it out to dry all day.

Yum yum yum!

And while I am on the subject of crafting, I can't show pictures of my latest knitting projects, because they are all gifts that have not been given yet, but. My sewing machine arrived! It is so beautiful! And it works amazingly well. I tested it out by making the ugliest skirt ever. If anyone has doubted that I suck at garment construction, there is proof!

However, my friend Yvette (she of the costume designer and college professor fame) took pity on me and sent me a list of books that should help. I know a lot of you are also interested in sewing and garment construction, so I am going to link you to her recommended books.

Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
Yvette says: "The BEST sewing book ever. ... It will teach you everything and has lots of good illustrations. You want the old out-of-print one, not the new edition."

The edition I bought is from 1981. I'll let you know how I like it.

Sew What! Skirts: for the sewer who visualizes instead of using premade patterns. The skirt I linked to above I made without a pattern, but without knowledge of how garments should be put together... well, you saw how it came out!

Yvette says: "This is the book I use when I want to draft a basic skirt pattern to my measurements. It has style ideas in it too. You need big paper (I tape together newspaper), scissors, pens/pencils, and a tape measure to measure yourself. It explains the basics of drafting a pattern and how to put stuff together."

This is the book I am looking forward to the most, because even though I can use patterns and have nothing in particular against them, I do find visualizing a garment and then creating it to be really cool and fun. (Well, it was cool and fun when I was nine years old and hand-sewing doll clothes. We'll see how it is now that I'm a lot older and making clothes for myself!)

And, finally: The Costume Technician's Handbook: A Complete Guide for Amateur and Professional Costume Technicians

Yvette says this is a more advanced book than the other two, but that it is very easy to understand. I think it's very important to have a range of books available, so I ordered this one too. After all, eventually I will be a more advanced garment-maker! Might as well be prepared, right?

My next step is to find a good fabric store in my area (obviously there's Mood and a few other places in Manhattan, but I'd rather not pay Manhattan prices -- Project Runway is not financing this!) so that I can make stuff that has the potential to be wearable, instead of stuff constructed out of my mom's old bedsheets.

Of course, the first garment I ever made for myself was a pencil skirt made out of a purple plaid pillowcase, so don't think I'm disparaging wearing linens as clothes!


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anna genoese

November 2015

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