Saturday, December 3, 2011

New laundry

Oh, I've also had my laundry remodeled.

I forgot to take a "before" picture, but this is it now:

It's just a large cupboard off my kitchen. To get some idea of what it was like before, imagine it without any of the shelves, and instead of the bench and sink it had this tub …

… on your right, and a top-loading washing machine on your left. It also had a clothes dryer mounted on the wall above the washing machine that I kept banging my head on. I replaced both of those with a combination washer/dryer. I rarely use a dryer, but need it sometimes - like when I'm going on holiday and want every single pair of knickers, except the ones I'm wearing, clean and dry ready to pack.

I love love love my laundry now, it's like having a bit more kitchen bench space and an extra kitchen sink. I can make cheese there without clogging up the rest of the kitchen, and I can use my waterbath there for sous-vide cooking. The tap just nicely clears the top of the waterbath, making it so easy to fill.

Saag paneer and variants

I'm having a bit of a spinach binge at the moment, have been for the last couple of months. This post shows how I started making saag paneer (from a recipe), and I'll tell you the much easier way I figured out. It's so much easier that saag paneer, or some variant thereof, has become one of my quick and easy, whip up after work, every day dinners.

The recipes said steam spinach in a steamer over a pot of boiling water:

I have replaced this with wash spinach, put it in a bowl or jug and microwave for 6 minutes on high, turning it over with tongs half way through.

The recipe said blend together, or mash in a mortar and pestle, onion, ginger root, garlic, and green chili …

 … until it's a paste, before frying off in butter:

My adaptation is to grate the onion, ginger, chili and garlic directly into a buttery frypan using a very fine microplane grater.

Then both the recipe and I add powdered spices (cumin, mace, and I use a vegetable masala mix) to the frying onion etc:

The recipe says to put the squeezed, steamed spinach into the food processor …

… and whizz until it's a paste …

… before adding to the onions, spices etc in the frypan, along with some yoghurt and a little cream:

What I do is squeeze as much wetness out of the microwaved spinach as I can, then add the onions etc, the yoghurt, and a little cream (sometimes) to the spinach in the bowl I microwaved it in, then whizz the whole lot up with my stick blender. Making a collar-like arangement for the stick blender out of a paper towel stops it from decorating the kitchen with green splotches.

Then, return the spinach mix to your pan, add paneer …

… and heat through …

… before serving on rice:

This spinach sauce, although traditionally eaten with paneer, is also delicious with lightly steamed cauliflower and/or cooked carrot chunks. Actually, I think it would be delicious with just about anything, but carrots and cauliflower are low calorie and have some bulk so that's what I eat it with.


Saag Paneer

2 litres milk
half a cup yoghurt
half a cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
some muslin and a colander

or you can buy paneer (panir) instead of making it.

a big bunch of spinach - 500 grams or so I think my bunches are
an onion
a big clove of garlic
1 green chili about 3 inches long
about an inch of ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 heaped teaspoon vegetable masala or garam masala
a cup of yoghurt
half a cup of cream (optional)

Put milk into a pot and bring almost to the boil. Turn off heat. Add yoghurt, then half the vinegar/lemon juice and stir well with a wooden spoon. You should end up with white curds in a greenish whey. If the whey is still white, add more vinegar/lemon, until all the whiteness has curdled out.
Pour the curds into a muslin lined colander and leave them to drain. I hurry this process up by wrapping them up in the muslin and putting a heavy object on top to squeeze out the whey, but you're supposed to leave it for a couple of hours.
The hotter you cook the milk, the less likely the curds will be to melt later on when they're in the curry. I like them a bit melty, so I don't take it quite to boiling. If the milk boils, the curds will be completely melt-proof.

Wash the spinach and remove any roots and thick stalks. Put the spinach into a microwave proof bowl (I use a 2 litre pyrex measuring jug) and nuke on high for 6 minutes, turning it all over half way through with tongs to make sure it all gets cooked through.
While the spinach is in the microwave, melt a couple of teaspoons of butter (more or less) in a pan, and grate the chili and the peeled onion, garlic and ginger into the butter using a fine microplane (or similar) grater. If the chili is not crisp enough to grate, chop it finely. It's going to be blended later so you don't need to be too worried.
Stir around and cook at a high enough temperature that it sizzles but doesn't burn. Cook until it's translucent - or would be if the bits were big enough to see.
Add the spices to the pan and cook until fragrant.
Squeeze the cooked spinach against the side of the cooking bowl with tongs and tip out as much liquid as you can.
Tip the onion/spice mix into the spinach, making sure you get all of the bits of chili if it was chopped.
Add the yoghurt and cream to the spinach. Put your stick blender into the bowl. Get a paper towel and rip it half way through the centre. Wrap this "collar" around the stick of your blender, arranging it to cover the bowl and catch splatters.
Blend like crazy, holding the collar around the stick, until the spinach is a homogeneous sauce.
Pour the spinach mix back into its pan, heat it back up and add salt to taste.
Add the drained (or squashed) paneer that has been cut into approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks and heat through.
Serve with rice.

Serves three or four as a main.

The paneer can be replaced with any chunky cooked vegetable, or cooked chicken.

Dobos torte

Anyone who reads this blog will know I'm a great fan of Joe Pastry. He is sensible and not in the least bit pretentious, and tries to find the most authentic (but workable) recipes for classic cakes and pastries. I have a list of his cakes that I want to try making at some stage, and whenever I go to a pot-luck, or have visitors, I make one.

His Dobos torte was one such cake I made for a pot luck back in July - I only just realised I hadn't posted the photos from it. I won't repeat the recipe, it's on Joe's blog and I didn't change a thing. It was very successful, so much so that people refused to believe I made it.

Eggs and sugar beaten up:

Flour, ready to go in:

Flour being beaten in:

This did not turn to putty as Joe had said it would, so I was a bit worried, but I shouldn't have been. Lemon:

The egg whites …

… beaten …

… and getting folded in:

Final cake mixture:

I used siliconised baking paper instead of the foil Joe did - mostly because I was out of foil. That big round thing is my 8 inch cutter that came in a set from IKEA.

Cake mix spread on baking paper:

Then sprinkled with icing sugar and trimmed with the cutter:

Another layer:

There were eight in all:

Sugar ready to caramelise:

And the caramel being spread over my most attractive layer …

… which I cut into wedges, thus:

Butter …

… and chocolate …

… to melt for the icing:

Mixed up with egg yolks, vanilla, and icing sugar:

Using three or four bits of baking paper under the edges of a cake as a "drop cloth" is one of Joe's better handy hints:

When you've finished icing it …

You just pull them away, and your plate is clean as clean can be:

How's that cake then? Just like a bought one, if I do say so myself.

I can't say I'm a great fan of the taste though - just a bit too sweet and chocolatey for me.

Busy busy busy

Back in May I posted this update to my knitting projects. Since then I have knitted the cardigan from the design I posted …

… designed and knitted (and worn to death) this oversized sweater …

… and also designed and knitted this shawl:

Counting the Aran sweater from my May post, that's three things off my list of "want to have a go at knitting" (Fair Isle, Aran, Shetland lace). I also want to knit a traditional guernsey, but I think I'll leave that for another winter.

I'm really very proud of the shawl, it's knitted in a very fine 2-ply merino-possum mix and I had anticipated it taking many months, if not years, to finish. I started by knitting a 100 stitch by 200 row garter stitch centre, then did 28 patterns (112 rounds) of Old Shale for the border, ending up with around 1000 stitches. There are over 2000 rows of edging, most of which I knitted while having a week and a half off work with the most dreadful non-flu virus that I have still not completely kicked.

And yes I have cooked one or two things, and I have taken some photos but have not got around to posting as yet. I'll try to catch up over the next week or two.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New carpet, and earthquake-proof furniture.

This is my workshop:

I have enough tools to do most of the things I want to do myself - I fix a few things around the house, and I've made some equipment for cheese-making that I couldn't buy.

In my living room I have two bookcases that sit back to back, there not being enough wall space for them all to have their backs to the wall. These two bookcases also sit about a foot away from each other, as my vitrine has its back the their sides, and it is wider than the two of them are deep and is not as tall as they are. This will make sense eventually, I promise.

Anyway the bookcases have a tendency to lean backwards, which is a jolly good thing when they're against a wall, but is not so good when they're leaning on nothing but a foot of empty space. Up until now I've just screwed a plank of wood across their tops to hold them apart, but if you push them they sway. Something better needed to be done.

This is the top portion of my new structure, upside down:

Those smaller bits of MDF are the size of the gap I want between the tops of the bookcases, and the larger bit is as long as the cases are wide. It is wide enough to cover the backs of the cases, so I can screw it down. I glued the smaller bits to the larger bit with wood glue, clamped them down, and left it to set overnight.

Next morning I got this piece of pine and drilled three holes in it. The plan is to fix this bit of pine to the front of the structure at right angles to the rest, so it hangs down at the front.

Next job was to drill matching holes in the end of the top bit:

Then I glued wooden pegs into the holes in the pine …

… applied glue to the surface of the pine that will abut the top thing …

… and fit the pegs into the matching holes:

I astounded myself. They fitted perfectly.

I banged the joint tight with my mallet, then propped the structure up to dry overnight:

Here we have the finished structure, upside down again:

I drilled some slantwise holes in what would become the bottom part so I could screw it onto the backs of the bookcases, giving some rigidity to the structure.

Here is a view from underneath, with the backs of the two bookcases to either side:

You can see how the smaller bits of mdf hold them apart.

And this is what it looks like all screwed in, with my Monstera sitting on top:

The screw holes are pretty ugly, but they get covered up. The wood doesn't match either, I might get around to slapping some stain on one day, but you can't actually see it so there's no great rush.

The gap between the cases is well and truly covered up anyway, so no cats can jump down between them, and the bookcases don't sway when you push them. Solid as a rock.

Next job, the vitrine. You will realise I'm not shifting all this furniture around by myself - I was fitting my contraption while the carpet layers were doing the hall.

I got the carpet guys to bring in the vitrine and put it in its possie by the bookcases, then I screwed the top back of the vitrine onto my contraption …

… and put my old old books back on top to hide everything:

Now all that was left tto do was the other bookcases. The easy bit, I thought. They just needed screwing onto the wall.

I'd borrowed my friend Craig's stud finder. Studs are the long vertical bits of wood framing that go to make up a wall, and between the studs there are short horizontal bits called dwangs. Carpenters have weird imaginations. Anyway, when you screw something heavy onto a wall you need to screw it into a stud or a dwang, and this little gizmo bleeps and flashes when you go past one. I marked out the positions of all the studs behind the bookcases. There were two behind each one.

Then I had to drill holes for the screws to go in. And broke a drill bit off in the first hole.

I couldn't pull it out with pliers, and I needed another drill bit, so I had to hop in the car and drive into town to buy some drill bits and vice-grips. At least, generic things that are NOT Vice-Grips, but work exactly the same way and cost about quarter as much.

These things:

They got the drill bit out of the bookcase in no time flat, and I proceeded to screw the tops of my bookcases to the wall.

So this is what it looks like now:

The china is attached to the bookshelves with blu-tack, as are the adjustable shelves to their supports. I couldn't do a lot about the stuff in the vitrine - with glass shelves blu-tack would be just ugly. I'll have to hope that the doors are enough to keep things in place.

I think I'll have more to worry about than a few bits of furniture if we have an earthquake that is strong enough to dislodge that lot anyway. Like my house sliding down the hill into the harbour.

And my new doors?

They're wonderful: