Fall Equinox 2017: 4:02 pm Eastern Standard Time
I’m up to my ears in my last semester of college, so I’ll see what I can pull together for fall posts this year…
You know how prices on Amazon are always changing, and you never know if you should buy an item now, or wait for a better price? There’s a website for that!
It’s called camelcamelcamel , and when you copy/paste an Amazon link, it gives you a history of the prices, so you can know whether it’s likely that the price will go up or down in the future!
An example: today I was shopping for a yogurt maker. This one was recommended, so I went to Amazon to see how much it was. Right now, it’s about $30, which isn’t bad. I would be willing to buy it for that price. But I remembered camelcamelcamel, so I plugged it in there, and this is what I got:
See the red dotted line at the top? That’s the maximum price over the last few years, and the green dotted line at the bottom is the lowest price. Right now, the price for this item is almost as high as it’s ever been, and it spends a lot of its time quite a bit lower than this. So, I’m going to hold off on buying this for a little while, and see if I can save a few bucks.
Alternatively, there’s an accessory for this item whose story is different:
This item’s price is the lowest it’s been for years, by a significant margin. So I went ahead and ordered the accessory, even though I’ll have to wait to use it until I get the actual yogurt maker…
There’s no guarantee that a given price will increase or decrease in the future, but this gives you historical information that you can use to make an informed decision. That’s if you can resist the desire for instant gratification, which, let’s face it, is what Amazon’s all about, right?
My lamb is taking longer than anticipated to cook, so I’m sitting here watching the Easter vigil from the Vatican, and sharing my Easter meal plan!
For the last several years, I’ve used Kenji’s roasted leg of lamb for Easter dinner. I like it for several reasons:
I normally do some roasted potatoes with seasonings that complement the lamb. This year I’m trying Kenji’s “Best Roasted Potatoes Ever” recipe. We shall see if it lives up to the hype…
I make deviled eggs first thing in the morning; they’re good to cut all the candy we’re snacking on until dinner is ready… I make deviled eggs by steaming a bunch of eggs (à la Kenji), usually on Saturday morning. I make a dozen for decorating, and half a dozen for eating immediately (the decorated ones get eaten later in the week). Then I follow the time-honored tradition of mixing the yolks with mayo, 3 types of mustard, and whatever I find in the cabinet that looks good. I over-salted them this year, because I accidentally added both seasoned salt AND regular salt, but we’re managing to work our way through them, nonetheless.
I always do asparagus with hollandaise, following Julia Child’s recipe from The French Chef. (Sorry, Kenji, your hollandaise recipe doesn’t quite beat out Julia’s!) I’ve tried blender versions in the past, but I always go back to the hand-whisked. For one thing, the blender version always turns out too cold, so I have to dirty up a saucepan heating up anyway; for another, Julia’s recipe has NEVER failed me (knock on wood); yet another, I just enjoy the standing there, whisking, watching the yolks and butter turn into magic.
I couldn’t decide what to do for bread, so I just grabbed a bag of heat-and-serve rolls from my grocery store. I love those, and they only take 8 minutes to heat, so the rest of the food won’t get TOO cold while they bake…
And this year, I’m being lazy and not doing any special dessert. I figured that 6 bags of candy, a package of Peeps, and a bag of Peeps Oreos would have to suffice for the three of us.
If your kitchen is way too cold for bread to rise, stick the dough in the oven with the light on — the light provides just enough heat to warm up the dough. Just be sure to take it out before turning the oven on!
Ever since I first started learning to cook, I’ve been hearing about this book:
Everywhere, anywhere, people are talking about baking bread at home, they’re raving about it. So I finally caved in over the holidays, picked it up, and I’m glad I did.
This would be pretty intimidating for beginning bakers, so I don’t recommend it as a “first book” of bread baking (I’m still gonna have to go with this one for beginners!). At the same time, though, it’s not so esoteric that anybody who doesn’t have tons of money, time, equipment and space for baking can’t get something out of it.
It’s relatively light on actual recipes, but is filled with great material: a long, but very readable discourse on artisanal bread baking in the first part, and several varied recipes (with full explanations, photos, formulas and ratios) in the second part. I can see why Peter Reinhart’s books are so popular: he combines good writing with good explanations, two things which rarely come into contact. (Kenji excepted, obviously.)
Warning: while reading this, you will develop intense cravings for freshly-baked artisan bread, so I recommend you have some source of good bread into which you can dive, face-first, while you’re waiting for your own attempt to finish — which will be a while, because the key technique that Reinhart uses is a super-long rest period, often overnight. (In that sense, it’s not different from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.)
I ended up going to Panera Bread, since I can’t find any local sources of artisan bread near me, and got a ciabatta for about $3, but I was very disappointed: it’s scarcely different from the “Italian loaf” I can get at the grocery store bakery for a dollar. I have had good luck with Panera’s loaves in the past (I remember the honey wheat and the sourdough being good), but I won’t buy the ciabatta again. Of course, if I’m lucky, I can use this book to start making my own!
Sometimes, you just gotta make scones. Specifically, when you want something warm and carb-laden, but not really overly sweet, because you’re maxed out on sugar. But then you realize that you don’t have cream, and all your buttermilk is frozen, so none of your scone recipes work. Then the internet comes riding to the rescue, just when you had determined that it was a festering blight upon the face of humanity and you were going to burn your modem and everything related to it.
Anyway, here’s what I ended up making, based on this recipe from King Arthur Flour (who are pretty darn good at what they do).
What you need:
What you do:
You can eat them warm, or room temperature; they’re good both ways. You can add more sugar if you want them to be sweeter, but I like scones because they AREN’T necessarily super-sweet. You can play with the flavor by adding different extracts and mix-ins; there’s no need to just dump in more refined sugar for the heck of it. I think next time, though, I might try brown sugar; I think it would go well with the pecans and oat flour.
These have kept pretty well at room temperature in a zip-top baggie, although I am trying to use them up before they get stale or otherwise bad. It’s a good thing they last, because this recipe makes A LOT. Next time I’ll probably halve it, if it’s just for us. The other thing to consider is that you can just keep freezing the unbaked wedges after their initial chill; just put them in something airtight and then bake as many as you want later on. (Probably add a couple minutes to the baking time.)
You can use all all-purpose flour, too, if you really want more refined grain in your diet. I’m just on a whole-grain kick right now. Wait until I save up for a mill to grind my own grains! That’ll be epic.
See what I made?
No, it’s not queso dip; it’s split pea and ham soup — with yellow split peas! Isn’t that cool? I didn’t even know they existed until I saw them in the Mexican aisle at Wal-Mart.
I used them to make my regular split pea and ham soup, and it turned out great. Apparently the yellow peas can be a little milder than the green, although I don’t know that I really noticed a difference.
I base my recipe off of the Cook’s Illustrated version (paywall), although it is either simpler, or more complicated, depending on which way you look at it. Here’s just the text; maybe someday I’ll do one with pictures.
What you need:
What you do:
I like the Cook’s Illustrated version, but it was a little too complicated for me, so I usually simplify it — but by simplify, I mean I do some steps, way, way in advance.
In their recipe, they use 7 cups of water, then add in carrots, and celery, and bay leaves, and everything to actually make ham stock while the soup is cooking. I rarely have those things sitting around when I wanted split pea and ham soup, so I just make ham stock whenever I’ve cooked a bone-in ham (which I HIGHLY recommend — you’ll have frozen ham leftover for months, and it tastes SO much better than other ham).
So if you’re using poultry stock, you put the ham in originally to get some ham flavor in there, but if you’re using ham stock, you can wait until the end, since it’s already flavored.
The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also calls for two slices of bacon to be simmered in the soup, then removed later, and for the onion to be cooked down in butter in the initial step. I hate wasting bacon, so I get the bacon flavor in there by just using bacon drippings to brown the onion in the first place, and I don’t have to thaw out two strips of bacon just to toss them out later.
Also, because I’m using bacon drippings and pre-made stock, I don’t really season or salt this; there’s plenty of salt and flavor in it already.
Obviously, if you don’t have stock, and you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings in your fridge, then you can just follow their recipe, and it’ll be fine!
Split pea and ham is one of my favorite soups, especially for breakfasts on winter mornings. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! And the yellow peas make it much, much less gross-looking than green peas.
In keeping with the long and glorious academic tradition of putting off writing a paper, I present for your edification:
“Tumbled Opal: What to Do With It”
For my birthday last month, I decided to splurge on something I’d been drooling over for a long time: an opal specimen.
This isn’t jewelry; it’s basically a display piece because it has some crazing… Which I am totally okay with because it puts a phenomenal stone within my reach.
In addition to the fabulous stone, I scored a little parcel of tumbled opal pieces:
Aren’t they amazing?
Seriously, these are almost better than the bigger stones. (Click on the pictures to see the awesomeness even bigger! And then imagine I have a real camera…)
These are available as 100-gram parcels at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy, and I created a variety of action shots to give a glimpse into the possibilities of owning your own little pile of gorgeousness. (For reference, the amount shown in my pictures is about 70 grams.*)
In addition to being scattered across a mirror, as shown above, I like pouring them into a tiny glass jar:
Or piling them onto a clear glass candle holder:
You can combine the two and put the candle holder on the mirror – best of both worlds!
About the only thing you have to consider is that opals need plenty of direct light for the fire (or as my daughter calls it, the “rainbows”) to show up. I tried them in a clear glass votive holder, and I think it was a little too wide, and too much of the light was blocked:
You can see the ones on top, but the ones underneath look dull. Plus, the texture on this particular candle holder distorts the visibility; I recommend something with plain, clear glass.
For example, a champagne flute:
Or a martini glass:
I love this display, but if you have cats or kids it’s probably not the most practical: champagne flute spilled onto a mirror:
Or, you can have the shop owner make you a chest for your treasure:
My only caveat is this: if you have small children, they will have their fingers in these ALL THE TIME. So either put them behind glass, or up on a shelf, or get over it and start teaching your kids early to appreciate beautiful things. (I’m personally wavering between options 2 and 3.)
Other than that, I really don’t see how you can go wrong!
Tumbled opal parcels, an assortment of both cut and rough gemstones, as well as custom settings, are all available at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy. This is the perfect time of year to consider investing in a beautiful stone for yourself or someone you love!
* This is what 70 grams of tumbled opal looks like; I have medium-ish hands, I guess?
This stuff is tasty. When I was a teenager I used to love the decaf, no-sugar version of this stuff (why I was drinking decaf, I have no idea), and this is a nice throwback. I also love being able to boil some water in our electric kettle and just dump in about a tablespoon of this stuff for an instant caffeine shot. This one is pretty high in caffeine, but it goes down easy, so I have to be careful.
If you hate instant coffee, definitely don’t get this. But if you’re in a hurry for caffeine, there are much worse things. (Like Starbucks.)
These came out really well. Nice and light, with a very mild flavor; most of the sweetness and spices were in the glaze mix. I didn’t wait for them to cool completely before adding the glaze, so it all melted:
But they were good nonetheless. I don’t usually make scones from mixes (I rarely make scones period), but these were fun as a treat, especially with pumpkin spice chai tea latte mix.