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we have a pressing question, don’t know how to proceed, need an expert’s advice, need it quick!

we google.

something that surprised me as a new blogger was the existence of  a whole behind-the-curtain world in which i could see all manner of things that the reader of my blog could not. one of the most fascinating details revealed in that hidden place was just how a person had found their way to my site. it never reveals WHO, only HOW. i can’t know your name or your address, your nickname, where you spend your money or what your so-called guilty pleasures are. i only know the street you took to get to my place…which is actually very little. i can understand if you don’t find it all that interesting. but read on. you may.

many such searches have resulted in a person landing at cooking-spree completely by accident. believe me, it’s obvious. and i presume they quickly move on.  some of those searches i’ve thought of sharing with you before because they’ve made me laugh out loud and i thought they might do the same for you. but today i came upon one that i simply couldn’t keep to myself. Read more

Spreenkle #3

While we’re on the subject of onions, and since there’s clearly so much more fun to be had with them…

Did you know that if you slice rings from an onion – red onions are especially good for this – and submerge them in a nice icy bath for maybe 10 – 15 minutes, they will have crisped up beautifully and lost the bite and bit of harshness  they have when eaten raw? (Drain them and dry with paper towels.) This works especially well when combining in a salad. I highly recommend it!

Did you know that if you submerge little pearl onions  in boiling water for a mere 30 seconds and then drop them into a colander, they’ll shed their skins with very little help from you? You can then go on to caramelize or saute them or whatever you fancy doing with your pearls.

By the way, I gathered up all the onion tips others so generously shared and dropped them into the “spreenkles” page above.

Sometimes when I go missing for a few days from here it’s because I had a plan…that plan began with a recipe, or merely a shopping list of ingredients…I proceeded to preparations and photos along the way…the final, loving attention given to the dish’s culmination…and then I move on to the part with the fork. Sometimes I’ve even started the writing before I’ve raised my fork. And then I  make a disappointing discovery at the table. It tastes fine — and fine just isn’t good enough to share with the lovely likes of you. And so I move on to another plan and go through a similar process, sometimes even trying to refine before finally  giving up, cutting losses and moving on once again. I may still come back to it later. But you only read about the success stories around here. I want to be sure you know though, just in the interest of full disclosure, that there are, at times, rather pathetic flops or meals just fine. So if you don’t hear from me for days, presume that I’m going through another one of those stretches. I like to play with food, as many of us do, and sometimes messes just happen. 

But this time, it could be several days before you hear from me because family’s coming, and my arms and my heart will be fully occupied. And there just may be a few happy tears. Onions or no onions. 

Have a colorful & fun weekend! 

And maybe a few tulips on your table…

See you in a few days! 

love,

spree

p.s. I know JUST what I’m posting next and I think you’re going to LOVE it! I already used my fork on it!

Spreenkle #2

A few helpful things to know about onions and our tears.

a) cold onions won’t make you nearly so teary. Try refrigerating onions 30 minutes before you need to cut them.

b) onions cut with santoku knives (it is said) are less likely to make you cry because of the knife’s extra-fine edge. What does that have to do with the price of butter? A finer blade is more apt to slice between the onion cells as opposed to through them — and through them is what causes them to burst and release the chemical that makes us weep.

c) I’ve tried this, and it’s possible that placebo effect would account for some of its success, but I’ve found it helpful.  Try slicing an onion directly next to the sink, with the cold water running. Why this seems to work could have something to do with the negative ions released from the cascading water – much like what takes places (on a far grander scale of course) in waterfalls – the negative ions present in the area around a waterfall result in the peaceful sort of happiness we experience when we are too.

If spreenkles are entirely new to you, you can see where they were introduced here. You’ll see them accumulating in the page with the same name in the header above. 

Unplugged

My blogging friend (I’m happy to call him that!) Nick over at FrugalFeeding has just asked me to participate in an “Unplugged” interview. Nick has such a gift with words, is very clever and is brilliant at saving dollars (pounds) on dinners. I enjoy following his blog so much. This is another one of those answer-a-slew-of-questions-and-then-pass-them-on to another 5 so that eventually, most of us bloggers will have been tagged and we can share the embarrassment of having revealed one or two too many details about our inner workings. I’ve discovered though that others really aren’t quite so bad at that as I am, so I’ll try to be a bit more discreet and veiled this time around. (like I know how to do that!)

I so don’t want to bore you. Move along if you’ve got better things to do with your time…and really, who doesn’t? : )   My next post (today I think) will have real food in it!

But because Nick is a jolly good fellow and an all-around nice guy and a good cook besides, and because he kindly asked me to…

here we go, this is………….

(because I cut and pasted the questions from Frugal Feeding, I have some sort of formatting error that I can’t seem to correct.

That problem’s completely resolved if you just click on the “unplugged” title of the post.)

Who or what inspired you to start your blog?

I found I was fixing dinner and snapping photos with my phone and emailing them to my daughters or friends and sharing recipes for things I’d discovered and loved. It seemed like a natural progression to take it to the inter-web.  (Though don’t for a minute think that I did that without being, first of all, scared to death, and second of all, scared to death.)

Who is your foodie inspiration?

This is a cop-out, right? I haven’t one. I have more like dozens. But they’re constantly trading places…this is like a game of musical chairs. I can’t keep track.  But in all honesty, I think food is my #1 inspiration.

Your greasiest most batter splattered cook book is?

So you think from the answer to that question that you’ll know my favorite cookbook? Oh no, not so. I have a weird thing about books. I kind of love them. And I take very good care of them. And my very favorite cookbooks, I shield from my greasy fingers and flying food, under plastic. I know, really anal. So there you have it already, embarrassing detail #1. Embarrassing detail #2 – despite the care I take of my cookbooks, I can (and often do) make a tremendous mess in the kitchen! Read more

where do you look for sunshine?

When rain in Seattle or Portland makes national news, you know things are about as bad as they get here. Standing water on freeways, drains unable to keep pace with the deluge,  stretches of highway closed, even a few small towns along rivers evacuated. We get grey days, and mostly gentle (and occasionally incessant) rain here, but not monsoons that turn umbrellas inside out and flood boots with the rain that falls fast down our jackets.  I was hydroplaning down the freeway about 10 miles an hour below speed limit, heading toward a long (and long-overdue) coffee date with a dear friend. Carolyn had been out of town for more than a month and I’d missed her. I was thinking of her sunny self as I tried to see through the waterfall that was my windshield. I was thinking too about where it is we go looking for sunshine when our eyes and skin are hungry for it.

Carolyn and I sat drinking our large steamy cups of chai, catching up with the parts of each other’s lives we’d missed. And then, from beneath the table she brought out a canvas banana with a zipper along one side. “Bananagrams,” she said. “You’re going to love it!” She spilled the tiles onto the table, and we turned them over, letters face-down,  as she explained how the game is played. Carolyn was right of course, my friend knows me. From here on out, along with my camera, Bananagrams go where I go.

~ ~ ~

Not long ago I’d visited a fellow-blogger  – Violets and Cardamom – and was struck by her pretty mango lassi.  It was lovely.

Today, I winged my own with several changes. Knowing the deliciousness of the pairing of mango, coconut, ginger, lime, cardamom and banana, it was a simple matter to drop them into a blender, whir them up, pour them out, and stick a straw into a glass of gleaming sunshine.

Read more

Spreenkle #1

It was pointed out in a recent post on kitchen scales that a cup of flour should weigh 5 ounces…that takes all the guess work out of measuring your flour and a good part of the mess out of baking. But how about sugar? Brown sugar, light or dark, should weigh 7 ounces. Same as white sugar! Kind of cool if you’ve ever wondered how tightly to pack your sugar.

Two spreenkles for the price of one today – did you know you can make your own brown sugar? For light brown sugar, add 1 Tablespoon molasses. For dark brown sugar, add 2. Mix well, store air-tight.

2 bites of business…

1) Just a very quick word to let you know the process has finally begun. One by one I’m going through the recipes previously posted here and condensing them for print. (I do tend to get a bit wordy – ohhhh…you’ve noticed? I’m hurt! – so hopefully this will make the process of using them in your kitchen a bit friendlier.) I’ve set up a new blog site called sprees-recipe-box where they’ll all be housed. A link will be provided at the bottom of each post (once I have them linked.) It’ll take me a bit of time to get them all up, but by March I expect they’ll each be ready.

2) Also, there’s going to be a new feature here. Do have any idea how many times while whiling away the day in the kitchen I think of little things I’d love to share with you? (plenty!) Sometimes, just a little happy-ending tweak to a recipe already posted here; sometimes a neat little trick, or maybe an inexpensive little gadget, or new tricks with an old one; a bit of kitchen trivia that spree finds amusing. You get the picture: too small for their own post, too kind-of-cool not to mention. Little tidbits, pinches of spice, little sprinkles of something sweet. That’s it!

S p r e e n k l e s!

Then it’s settled.

They’ll begin today.

I’ll identify them in the post name so subscribers who don’t want to make the trip for crumbs (even sweet ones) won’t need to. You can catch it the next time you happen back. I’ll keep a running list of them in their own page in the header space above. And by all means, if there’s something YOU want to share with the rest of us, now might be a good time! I’ll be happy to post it (and give full credit of course!) Now, I need to say one more thing on the subject. My husband donated the name of hoodathunkits? If you prefer that name to spreenkles, now’s the time to cast your ballot. Leave word in comments.

10 little monkeys

A game of tag is circulating the blog world and I’ve just been snagged…by Kathryn, a playful little monkey who asked that I play along. I’m game!

That being said, I have a rule-breaking streak in me…I’m squirming here, itching to break free and add a few questions of my own. I’m not one who likes the confinement of narrow boxes. 

But – also being a bundle of contradictions, as most of us are – I’m generally amiable and play by the rules. Here are the questions I was asked and I’ll do my best to stop squirming.

1.  Describe yourself in seven words.

joyful….soft-hearted….adventurous….passionate….lover-of-life….positive….thankful.  Above all, I think…thankful!

2.  What keeps you up at night?

How much time do you have??? My short answer: a mind that frolics. It loves words, and from them it makes up all kinds of sentences that lead to all kinds of scenarios, some amusing, others quite boring and repetitious. My mind tries dancing while my body tries sleeping. They’ve been doing this for years.

3.  Whom would you like to be?

oh, only me. (not that I’d recommend that for anyone else, no, I wouldn’t!)

I was a bit of a late bloomer, and I’m still figuring it out, this blooming thing. But I’m getting closer. Not by leaps and bounds, but by hops and skips, and now that I’ve started down this path, I have no interest in turning back. And as poor a job as I’ve done at being me at times, I’d do an even worse job at trying to be someone else. For now, I’m content to keep skipping down my own path.

4.  What are you wearing now?

I’ll be right back.

I’m wearing the loveliest cashmere sweater, a hand-painted silk scarf, a curve-hugging skirt with a (just-barely-tasteful) slit up the side, tall tall boots,

(who am I kidding. I dress in clothes that feel good. Which is not to say frumpy, never frumpy! No sweatpants in this closet. But I’m cozy-comfily dressed. Really, who wants more information than that?)

5.  What scares you?

Losing the thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve gotten used to a mind that frolics.

6.  What are the best and worst things about blogging?

The best: words and images and the  J O Y  of weaving them together. And the completely unexpected best: the joy of friendships formed and forming! Of this, I had no idea.

The worst: pushing “publish” and then thinking, oh that was stupid. that was idiotic. why did you say that? what were you thinking? what will they think? why don’t you just quit this whole thing and go back to life as it was – it was good! That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Self-doubt.

7.  What was the last website you looked at?

American Hunter Woman – hah! got you didn’t I?

8.  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Self-doubt.

9.  Slankets, yes or no?

I must be so old! What the heck is a slanket? But I guess I’ll say no. I don’t like the sounds of that at all. Read more

a simple post on a simple, luscious soup

dear readers, after the last two posts and all those   w o r d s   I must have bored you to teary yawns! Don’t think I don’t care about such things. I’m the first second to recognize you deserve a break!

So here, just one simple recipe, one photo and very few words from spree.

(I can’t launch into this recipe without first telling you –  I am so incorrigible! – that a recent study names beans as one of the top food categories implicated in promoting brain health into old age. The recommendation was for one to two servings per week (at a minimum.) Along with them,  the “super foods”. You know the ones.)

So, with very few words, may I simply offer you a bowl of luscious, comforting, healthful and delicious soup? Here, first…let me swirl my best olive oil on it. You deserve nothing less!

Chickpea Soup

4 servings

  • 2 cups (300 g) dried chickpeas
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove (or 2), chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • a good pinch of cumin
  • a good pinch paprika
  • Chicken stock or vegetable stock (water is ok)
  • Salt & white pepper to taste
  • Your very finest olive oil (the one you’d serve the queen, or your future mother-in-law)

A day before, soak the beans in a large bowl. Fill with fresh cold water by several inches, and allow to sit overnight.

(I recently read – in Cook’s Illustrated – that if you add a ribbon of Kombu seaweed to your dried beans, you can actually do without the soaking, and it has a way of eliminating some of the side-effects as well as improving the texture of all beans cooked with it. I’ll try that next time. Too many words!) Read more

bread for tomorrow – the no-knead loaf

Did you know that ¼ teaspoon of yeast can rise a loaf’s-worth of dough just as well as a tablespoon? It’s true. It will simply take longer for it to do so. But there’s a real beauty in that. The old adage good things take time applies. With each extra hour the yeast grows, it adds incredibly to the flavor of the finished loaf. So, though some recipes for home-baked bread will have you adding nearly a tablespoon of yeast, and sugar for it to feast and grow quickly on, and have you rising the dough in a warm place, that’s meant for your convenience and to hurry the process. If you slow it down, you’ll love what happens!

This may be the easiest – and possibly one of the most delicious – breads you’ll ever bake. Start it today, finish it tomorrow, and there will be curtain calls and encores in your future! Do I exaggerate? Occasionally, I have, yes. But here, no.

For full-effect, a true Dutch oven is required for this. Cast iron is best because it creates its own highly-conductive little furnace to bake the bread in. Higher-end brands like Le Creuset or Staub are lovely and come in many colors. But just as effective here are non-enameled (lidded) cast iron pots that you might see hanging over a campfire. The latter are inexpensive but require a bit more care in the cleaning, curing and preventing of rust. Always nice to have options though.

I’m sorry to repeat myself, but a digital kitchen scale makes this process so much simpler too, and with fewer things to clean up after. (See preceding posts if you haven’t already.)

This method (ingenious really) was first developed and introduced to us several years back by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Since its introduction, this No-Knead method has rather revolutionized home bread-baking. Without terrifically expensive ovens (the kind of which are almost never seen in home kitchens), this bread’s crust wasn’t reproducible at home before. You can see for yourself though, loaves reminiscent of old-world bakeries can now emerge steamy and fragrant from our own rather ordinary ovens.The secret lies in the steam that’s created and contained within the Dutch oven as the bread bakes.

This bread will cost you the equivalent of 3 cups of good-quality flour. We won’t calculate the cost of ¼ teaspoon of yeast or a spoon of salt. Let’s just say this gorgeous bread costs less than a cup of coffee or tea (even a very bad cup.)

Let’s get started.

No-Knead “Artisan” Bread

and you are the artist!

  • 3 cups (375 g) flour (either all-purpose or bread flour)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) water
  • Extra flour, wheat bran, fine cornmeal, as needed for dusting

a NOTE on the weight measurements, this primarily for the readers in the States who are as yet not as familiar as we will one day be with metrics. One beautiful thing about the metric system is that grams and mL’s are virtually interchangeable. In other words 100 mL’s of liquid will weigh 100 grams. Don’t you love that? That makes it possible to weigh out water measurements instead of the more approximate method of filling a glass measure where “a tad above-the line, below the line, eye-level” all makes a difference. Weighing is exact, every time.  (If you have a scale, it will likely convert US measurements to metric with a button-push, but just fyi 375 grams =  13.25 ounces.)

In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the water to blend. If using a scale, place bowl on scale and zero it out. Add 375 grams flour. Add yeast and measure out salt. Zero the scale, and add 375 mL (or grams) of water. Mix loosely. (It will finish the process of blending as it sits.) What you’ll have will be a bit wet, shaggy and messy-looking. Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow to rest (and grow!) for 12 to 24 hours. (If you choose a cooler place, the process will likely take 18 to 24 hours. Room temperature, more like 12 hours.) When the dough is dotted with bubbles and very alive-looking, you’re ready for the next step.

Only 1/4 teaspoon yeast…amazing right?

Generously flour a work surface. Dump the contents of the bowl out onto it.

See all the strands of gluten that have formed while you’ve ignored your dough? This is what will create pockets to contain the gas.

No need to knead, but simply fold the dough over on itself several times. Cover it with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. (Dough that rests like this is much more workable.)

(This next step feels so good!) Using only as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers, shape the dough as follows:

Fold in thirds (as if you were folding a letter for an envelope, one fold, then another.) Rotate the loaf, then fold each longer end in again. (You’ve made roughly a square shape with rounded corners.) What you have facing you is the seam that will open later, upon the final rise in the oven. 

After the first two folds

After the last two folds. Ready to rise.

Lie another towel on your counter and cover with a generous amount of flour, wheat bran or fine cornmeal and then place the dough on it, seam-side down. Be sure the flour extends beyond the borders of the bread as it will be growing. The reason for the generous amount of flour is that you do NOT want the bread sticking to the towel when you go to invert it into a hot Dutch oven.  Dust the dough with a little more flour then cover with a tea towel and allow to rise about 2 hours. In these two hours the bread will have more than doubled its size.  Read more