15 March 2017

Pi Day Cookery

Many geeky people celebrate March 14th as "Pi Day", because the number begins 3.14.  Many of my friends talked about the pies they were making for lunch or supper, ranging from simple names or descriptions to photos of pies with "π" cut into the top crust, or with the number cut or stamped around the border.

Because we were having a bit of weather here (Blizzard Stella, or whatever it was called), I continued my pantry cooking plans.  Having given up gluten for Lent meant I could not do my usual quick pie crust and bake something yummy.  I didn't think to pick up potatoes, or a Shepherd's Pie would be the easy answer.  Then I realized I've had some spaghetti squash waiting to be used, so a Spaghetti Squash Pie it would be!

First. baking the squash.  Into the oven in a baking tray with some water in it at 350°F.  Then a colleague needed help and it was almost two hours before I got back to them, which was more time than needed but luckily they didn't explode or get mushy.  This was on Monday, and I had some with a quick tomato sauce and the last couple slices of provolone from an Italian cheese tray.  Not bad.  The rest I seeded and fluffed and put into the refrigerator for Tuesday, along with a package of tomatoes from the freezer, so they would have time to thaw.  It happened to be the package from which I have taken tomatoes for other recipes, so was a bit under two cups of roasted tomatoes.

There seemed to be a pinhole in the bag, because when it thawed some of the juice ran out.  I didn't mind because this left the pulp and saved me having to simmer it to concentrate the sauce.

Before cooking, I did a quick bit of research for vegetarian spaghetti pies, to get some idea of the proportions of egg and so forth.  Most agree on two eggs although some say you can use more.  This was my starting point for the dish:
The cheese is a local product, a hard, aged cheese that I thought would sub well for Parmesan: Niantic Abbey from Sankow's Beaver Brook Farm.  It has been in the 'fridge since I bought it at a farmers' market last summer, and I decided to use it so I can get some fresh this year.  I had to carve off the rind, which had gotten a bit moldy, but the cheese was fine.
I grated it on the shreds side of my new(ish) box grater.  When I was almost moving last year, I bought it (on sale for $4.99!) for my temporary apartment.  After I returned, I decided it was time to retire (recycle) my old box grater, which was not stainless steel and hard to clean.  This one is a treat!

First I shredded about a quarter cup of cheese to go into the crust, then finished the rest and set it aside for later.  I guessed at how much spaghetti squash would be equivalent to the pasta used in the recipes.  Then I mixed these with my hands, patted and spread it in the pie pan which I had oiled, and put it into the oven for about ten minutes while I made the sauce.

For the sauce, I sliced the scallions (left from St. David's Day) and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil with some minced garlic.  Then I added herbs and spices, including basil from my CSA which I had dried to keep through the winter, and some oregano, fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, a bit of parsley.
I cooked this together for about a minute, then added the tomatoes.  I pulled out the rack with the crust on it, and spread the sauce in it.  Then I baked this for about twenty more minutes.

After that, I spread on the rest of the shredded cheese.  I thought I'd have some for later, but nope!  It's hard to see in the lefthand photo, but the crust was getting solid and crusty next to the pie pan.

After ten minutes, it was toasty, and the cheese had released oil.
I let the pie sit for a few minutes and the oil was absorbed.  Letting something like this sit for a few minutes is necessary so that it will slice neatly:
It's tasty, and the intensity of the roasted tomatoes and the intensity of the cheese play well with each other.  The other flavours are very subtle by comparison, and if I had not been hungry I would have played with the herbs a bit more.  The onion cooked down and was quite mellow.

And now I have pie to eat for lunch all week!

If you want to know how much snow we got, this picture shows the same view just after dawn, when it had been snowing for a few hours already, and just before sunset:
There had been no snow in this area the night before.  Total in my town was 14.5 inches, officially.

11 March 2017

Freeform (and Others) UFO Blog Hop

Among creative types, "UFO" means an Un-Finished Object.  Most of us have a lot of these, because we run into a creative block, or the piece becomes unwieldy, or we put it aside for some reason.  We try to encourage each other to finish UFOs, and every year in October a lovely lady named Afton hosts a UFO Completion Month on the KnitTalk list.  People post when they have completed the item and Afton sends out Prizes Of No Significant Worth with the able assistance of her Dragon-Slaying Daughter and Lara Girlcat (others of the household remain amusedly out of the way) which most recently consisted of individual pages from Franklin Habit's I Dream of Yarn and wee packs of crayons.

Everybody is delighted.

However, this is just once a year, and I have a number of other UFOs.  So when my friend Karen announced that she was hosting a UFO group, I jumped aboard.  Because Karen designs and teaches freeform beading projects (a couple of which I own, and which do not yet qualify as UFOs because I haven't started them), most of the people who joined are also beaders, but she said it is OK for me to use fiber projects as my goals.

Although I have a few other UFOs (two of which are baby blankets, but of course I cannot post about those, and one really only needs to have its ends woven in, and it's a generic one that I'm putting "in stash" for some future baby, but I digress) I decided to focus on three shawls I've started for myself, partly because of their age, and partly because people say I never make things for myself.  Which isn't entirely true, but I digress again.

One of the shawls will have beads added at the end, so it somewhat fits with everybody else's projects:

It is a ball of Taiyo Sock (which is apparently no longer being made because the Noro Yarn page just lists worsted and sport weights) that I bought at Madelinetosh a few years ago.  The pattern is an adaptation of one I was given with a ball of Kureyon Sock in a fiber guild holiday gift swap.  The pattern alternates stockinette and reverse stockinette, and after making it I decided to use all stockinette for this one because the alternating bands act as ribbing and I have to keep re-blocking the other shawl.  Since Taiyo Sock is so light, I decided to add beads to the final stripes to give it some weight.  Since I generally center-pull yarn, it was easy to determine what the colours would be and find a tube of beads that should work.  I'll report later this year if I finish and what I think of the result.

Another shawl is made from hand-dyed, handspun yarn from Iris Creek Farm.  I am doing it all in garter stitch because I think the stripes look pretty.

There is no pattern, I'm just doodling in different directions.  I'm sorry it's hard to see the directions in the full shawl picture, but when it's finished they should be more visible.  You can see the border I am doing crosswise to the previous section on the left side of the photo.

Finally, the shawl I started as part of a Knit Along when I was temporarily living and working in Wisconsin and needed something to do.  MarlyBird created the pattern and led people through it, and I just had too much solo commuting time and not enough knitting time.  Then I moved and lost track and........  

I need to get back to it.  This will be a nice big shawl that will be handy for travel, and I used a washable yarn specifically for that reason.  I'll be able to wash it easily no matter how grubby, and not worry about blocking, which the natural-fiber ones tend to need.  I love the colours, especially that pop of pewter between the blue and purple.

Some of the other participants have finished at least one UFO so far this year, but I've been dealing with deadlines (one of the aforementioned baby blanket, and items for the annual grad collection done by the mommas of Mittens for Akkol), so these are still in progress.  I have done some more on the Taiyo Sock shawl, but hope to finish the handspun one this year for sure.  To check out the other blogs in this hop:

26 February 2017

Presidents Day cookery with Thomas Jefferson

My company gives us Presidents Day off, so I decided it would be a good date for the monthly cooking experiment with old recipes.  I picked a book at random, chose some recipes, and made a shopping list.  I had projects around the house and didn't want to waste time on Monday, so I planned to shop ahead and not need to go out for additional items.

Then I thought that since it was Presidents Day, shouldn't I be cooking from a presidential cookbook?  I knew I had one or two someplace, and first looked for Martha Washington's since it's George's birthday after all.  Instead I found this one:
Since Mr. Jefferson was known as a bit of a gourmet, this seemed perfect, especially in light of the recent news about the discovery of Sally Hemmings' room.  The only problem would be to find recipes that would work with what I have in the house, so I didn't have to go out again!

I'd bought chicken (specifically, skinless boneless breasts, in part because they were on sale, and in part because I didn't feel like dealing with waste, and in part because they are most adaptable to all kinds of recipes, and in part because thighs - my usual preference - were not available, at least not at a good price) so I looked for a recipe using that, with other pantry items, and found:
Other than the meat jelly (a thickened, congealed stock used for seasoning), I was set!  Sadly, the book has almost no vegetable recipes - salsify, parsnips, potatoes, and some that look odd to modern eyes: polenta and macaroni, which we would put into a chapter about starches or grains or otherwise.  I thought about doing polenta with the chicken, but the recipe bakes the polenta with cheese and that was more flavours than I felt like mingling.

So I looked for desserts, and when I saw this one I thought it perfect, since Jefferson is credited with having introduced macaroni to the colonies and newly-born USA:
As you can see, I had everything on hand (eggs were in the refrigerator):
Usually I would use fresh cow's milk.  I always have some canned or boxed milk in the pantry in case of emergencies, and on Monday could find only a last container of soymilk from when I used it to bake for a group that contained some lactose- and milk-intolerant persons.  It would have to do.

I halved the amounts, using two large eggs instead of the five indicated, and followed the directions pretty much as written.  First, I simmered the noodles in the milk until done, about twenty minutes:
Then I stirred in the sugar (3/8 cup) and some rosewater. Since that's a tricky flavouring, I erred on the side of not much, and ended up with about 3/4 of a teaspoon, which turned out to be not enough.
Following this I beat the eggs and added them to the noodle mixture.  I did this so I would just have to stir them together, and thus not break up the noodles too much.
After that, into my handy casserole to bake.  Since no temperature was given, I set my oven at about 350(F), reducing it to 300(F) when I started the chicken.  By the way - is anybody else amused when you see those "like if you remember this" memes on Facebook, and it's an item you own and use regularly?  Yep, something close to this showed up recently, and I have several in different sizes.
Going into the oven.
Halfway cooked, still liquid in the center.
After it had baked about a half-hour (righthand picture), I started on the chicken.  Since one of the essays at the front of the cookbook said that Jefferson was interested in the oils used and worked to get olive oil for Monticello's kitchens, that's what I used in the recipe:
By the way, this was one breast from a package of four very large ones, which I cut apart into more manageable pieces.  The other three breasts went into the freezer for future cooking adventures.  Since a whole chicken would weight three to five pounds, but has a lot of not-edible-for-this-purpose portions such as bones and skin, I estimated that a pound of meat would be about half the recipe.

Since I was pantry-scrounging, and don't keep meat jelly in stock, I used twice as much of the cooked-down tomatoes from a package in my freezer.  I have a winter window garden that includes parsley, so that was fresh, but I seem to have used up the last of my garlic bulbs so had to use jarred.  And since I hadn't purchased mushrooms, because they were not needed for the original recipes, I had to use canned ones.  As I'd done last month, I substituted cider vinegar for the (still expensive) lemon, adding a generous tablespoon.
I chopped the larger mushroom pieces.
Ready to simmer.
 I covered the pan and let the ingredients simmer for about twenty minutes, keeping an eye on it in case it dried out and to keep from overcooking the chicken, which is too easy with the boneless, skinless breasts.  I miss-guessed it slightly but the ingredients made enough juice on their own.
When I cook this again I'll use a smaller pan to keep the chicken more immersed in the juices.  I used a large one to make photography easier.  I plated about half the chicken and sauce with about a third of the pudding, once again happy to have oiled the baking pan:

Overall the result was very tasty.  As I said, the chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce fixed that; I added a bit more after taking this picture, since there was plenty in the pan.  It was a tangy sauce because of the vinegar and garlic, but not overwhelmingly so.  A modern cook might simmer down the sauce to make it a bit thicker, and I am considering making polenta to absorb it the next time.  I plan to make this recipe again in the summer with fresh ingredients, and it's likely to go into regular rotation.

The pudding was mild and sweet, definitely not tasting of rosewater except a vague hint now and again.  When I make it again, I plan to use cow milk (the soy taste may have overwhelmed the others) and increase the rosewater to at least a teaspoon per pint of milk, and maybe a bit more.  The cold leftover noodle pudding made a tasty breakfast the next couple of days.

02 February 2017

Cybersecurity and Innovation Panels

I've fallen into one of my crazy-busy periods.  In addition to work's various deadlines I've attended three conferences on cybersecurity and privacy; spoken at a local event about one of my first experiences catching a cybercriminal; and I'm preparing to speak on a panel about creativity, invention, and innovation next week at the Connecticut Historical Society and Library:
My specific topic is how makerspaces, such as MakeHartford, contribute.  Since I'm also part of the Nation of Makers overview group, I said I could talk more broadly about the maker movement in Connecticut.

Moving back in time, at The MOuTH's event on "First Things First" I told about the time I caught a cybercriminal - in part because he sent me contact information because he wanted to fly his plane up and take me out on a date!  Sound improbable?  Can't make up facts like that, nobody will believe them.  The stories that have been collected from The MOuTH's events over the years are being turned into a podcast, so you may get to hear it someday.

Then there was the annual Symposium hosted by the University of Connecticut Law Review.  They had done one in 2014 for the 50th anniversary of the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, and this year's was called "Privacy, Security & Power: The State of Digital Surveillance".  Very interesting, the discussion and perspectives, especially given the changes in Washington right now.

Saturday I helped the Cetacean Society International with a display (and the only sale of the day) at the Amherst Railway Society's annual hobby show.  Sunday I caught up on things before leaving Monday for Washington so that I could attend the ACC Foundation's first Cybersecurity Summit.  A solid and long day of talking to colleagues, attending panel presentations, capped with a lively table exercise.  A couple hundred of the best and liveliest minds storming at once!

That evening I flew to Chicago so that I could speak on a panel the next day in the daylong "Cybersecurity: Protecting Your Clients and Your Firm" continuing legal education program.  In addition to preparing the obligatory materials, I spoke on a panel about what to do if you find there is a breach.

In the middle of the day I noticed the New York Times posted an article about securing  home devices which I mentioned during a speaker change because the information can be helpful to small law firms and solo practitioners.  Serendipity!

25 January 2017

Frugal Cookery for January (and bonus midcentury cookies)

As I said in my "Resolutions" post, I planned to cook at least one meal per month from one of my historical cookbooks.  We had a sleet/snow storm at the beginning of this week and it seemed the perfect time to try a menu, since I was working from home.

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, first published in 1829 as The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, seems a fitting choice for January.  Mine is the commonly-available Dover reprint of the 1844 edition.

The book is not only a cookery book, and the majority is about general household economy, including "Simple Remedies" for various ailments and how to remake bonnets, clean brass, and get rid of ants.  She also tells how to choose meat and store vegetables, and an Appendix at the end includes additional items such as getting rid of ear wax, preserving various fruits, and something appropriate to my current weather:  "Icy Steps - Salt strewed upon the door-steps in winter will cause the ice to crack, so that it can be easily removed."  Two substantial sections are stories (really, moralizing lectures) about living economically, intriguing for their perspectives on the society of the day.

Browsing the main sections, I found this recipe:
A pound of fish per person sounds like quite a lot, but this is fish entire, with the bones and skin and fins and such.  Fillets would be about half that quantity, and I happened to have some salmon in the freezer that I thought would do, once the skin is removed.  In the interest of frugality and using my current pantry, the only item I needed to buy was a potato.

Fish chowder alone isn't a full meal, so I looked for a dessert.  In terms of simplicity, frugality, and midwinter-ness, a pudding seemed the best option.  Given that most of the puddings were boiled, and I've never done a boiled pudding, the one baked pudding was the answer.  Finally, to round out the meal further, some vegetable is in order.  Browsing that section, which speaks more of storage than cooking, I noticed a recipe for stewed tomatoes.  That may not sound practical in January, but I had put tomatoes by in the freezer during the summer when my CSA had them in plenty, and that seemed a nice, easy way to round out the meal.  Plus, the chowder recipe mentioned adding tomato catsup (the recipe she included, not the insipid sweet stuff available commercially today) so it sounded as if the tomatoes would be compatible.

First to be prepared is the pudding, as it takes longest - "three or four hours" - to bake.  I had a pint bottle of milk in the 'fridge from another recipe that didn't get made, so halved the ingredients - and made a few adjustments.

I do not have molasses in the pantry, and my supply of maple syrup (my usual go-to with corn porridges) is running a bit low.  However, preserves and jam can be used as sweetening; I have some recipes that call for it specifically.  After checking what I have, I selected some peach jam as it is on the runny side (no pectin used) and I thought would go well with the ginger.

Although we don't need to scald milk for safety since pasteurization became the norm, I did heat the milk to just below a simmer.  Then I stirred in three and a half tablespoons of cornmeal; a half-teaspoon of salt; and a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger.

How much jam to add?  I estimated that a teacup would hold 4-6 ounces of tea, so I added four tablespoons (two tablespoons to a liquid ounce).  I whisked everything in the pot, and then poured it into the enameled cast-iron casserole, which is a family item that was passed down to me a number of years ago, and seemed appropriate to use.
Stirring in salt and ginger; cornmeal
has already been added to the milk.

The jam fell under the surface quickly!
Oven at 300(F) and I went away for two hours.  I wasn't sure how long the chowder would take, but I guessed it would be about half the time that the pudding requires.  I decided to bake the chowder because of the "don't look" instruction.

Two hours later, beginning the chowder.  This time I was making a one-fourth recipe, since I had about a half-pound fillet, but given that there are no specific amounts in this recipe other than the meats (fish and salt pork) and crackers I went by guesswork.  I skinned the filet and cut it into pieces.  Having been frozen, it was somewhat soft, so I had some slices and some bits.  At least they get hidden in the course of the cooking!
Pantry ingredients, plus potato.

Salmon, thawed, beginning to slice.

For the salt pork I used three slices of bacon.  I fried it in a pot, then poured the grease into the bottom of a Pryex® casserole.  I thought if the layers were pretty, I'd get a side shot.  I followed the layering pretty much as instructed, using all of the onion and about three-quarters of the potato.  I'd guesstimated the packet of crackers would be equal to about one and one-half common crackers.
Fish on the bottom, then sliced onion,
potato slices, and cooked bacon.

Second set of layers, crackers more
visible this time.

Of course there is no quantity or proportion for the "flour and water", just to pour it to the top level of the contents of the dish.  I started with 3/4 cup of water and two tablespoons of flour.  Then I added another half-cup of water to bring it just to the top.
Peeking at the pudding.

Something I didn't photograph was adding a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar just before putting the chowder into the oven.  Why?  If you look at the recipe, she suggests a number of things to add flavour.  Lemons were $1.49 at the store, not very frugal!  I don't have homemade tomato catsup and didn't want to create it when I needed a most a quarter of a cup.  I don't have clams, and I didn't want to use beer since I wasn't doing anything with the rest of the bottle.  But vinegar often stands in when something tangy is wanted, and I do have that, so I thought I would add just a bit, about as much as one-fourth of a lemon.

I took a look at the pudding when I put the chowder into the oven.  It's hard to see in the photograph, but it is still somewhat runny, although medium-thick.  I would eat it at this stage for morning cereal.

A little under two hours later, I put the tomatoes (partially thawed because I had not taken them out very early) in the pot that still had a bit of the bacon grease in it.  Mrs. Child's recipe says to add butter, but I figured I would be frugal and use what there is.
So I heated the tomatoes and cooked off the water that separates out when you freeze and thaw tomatoes.  It's not a problem if you are turning them into sauce or another cooked preparation, and it meant I didn't add the recommended "spoonful of water, to keep them from burning".

After two hours of baking the potato slices in the chowder were soft, so I decided that dinner is ready to serve!
The pudding has an almost cakelike crust on the sides.
I am very glad that I thought to grease that casserole!
My opinion on the meal?  Tasty!  OK, the tomatoes were "meh" because they were just tomatoes.  After a couple of spoonfuls I added some Vulcan Fire Salt to amp the flavour.

The chowder was definitely a good item.  Unlike modern chowders which are soup this is a solid casserole of a dish.  The fish was not prominent, probably because I didn't have much of it.  The vinegar was just barely there, alleviating what could have been pasty-white blandness.  Ditto the bacon, which of course softened but added a bit of smokiness that might not have been present had I used uncured bacon or salt pork.  I could have chopped it into smaller bits and the bacon would have blended in better, but it was pretty good.  The crackers and flour-water dissolved to bind everything together silkily.

As for the pudding?  WOW.  I love Indian pudding and similar things anyway.  I can see why people serve it with thick cream, that would really have made it wonderful.  Even without anything on top it's still very good, with the ginger showing up on about the third spoonful.  There's no distinct taste of peach, the jam just added sweetness.

These left plenty of leftovers.  I heated up some of the pudding for breakfast today, and it's still light, not dense, with the ginger a bit more prominent.  I'm going to top it with some vanilla yoghurt to finish, and will heat up the chowder for lunch.

BONUS RECIPE:  I am in a couple of book clubs, and this month both are reading Hidden Figures.  I decided to make a recipe from a cookbook of about that era to serve as snacks, and selected "Gumdrop Cookies" from the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, Revised Edition © Meredith Publishing Company 1953, 1962:

Because this post is so long already, I am not going to add lots of photos of the process.  It was very straightforward because this is a modern recipe.  I halved the quantities and used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour because one club has some people who need to avoid gluten.  This made the cookies a bit more crumbly that the cookies might have been otherwise.  Also, I used butter because I didn't have shortening.   I used only the green gumdrops, because I thought it would be more palatable to keep to a single flavour, and I don't like green gumdrops.
After baking - firm, brown underneath but still light on top.
Verdict?  Surprisingly better than people anticipated.  The lime gumdrops blended well with the cocoanut in the cookies.  I waited a few minutes before removing the cookies from the baking trays, which helped keep them intact.  Even halved the recipe made a lot of cookies, because the dough was fairly stiff and I rolled balls instead of dropping the dough from a teaspoon.   It's hard to see but I made sure that each had a least one piece of gumdrop, you can see a bit of green in the cooky at the bottom.