Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Low-res, Knishes, and Corsetry

This is going to be one of those multimedia entries containing adventures in food and knitting. My interests are pretty varied, so it's hard to confine myself to one area when I'm writing about what's going on, especially since at some point those interests intersect and I end up almost putting yarn in the mixer when I make fudge or doing something else because my mind isn't where it should be at that particular moment.
I should never watch cooking shows on Saturday. It's becoming an addiction! Our local PBS station runs everything from Coastal Cooking with John Sheilds to Baking With Julia; my favorites are Baking with Julia and America's Test Kitchen, both of which almost always result in me saying, "Oooooh, that looks like fun. I think I'll try it!" This all started with the bagels, and then there was the deep-dish apple pie with five pounds of apples, and then there were the little nut cookies, and now it's knishes. As filler between cooking shows, there's this short segment called The Hippy Gourmet; most of the recipes are vegetarian, and a good number of them I don't find appealing since I don't care for tofu, or completely meatless dishes, so if I decide to try something, I end up tweaking it until I'm happy with the result. One of these little segments is about making knishes. A knish, for those of you who don't know, goes by a number of different names depending on which country you're in: In Mexico, they're called empanadas, while in India, they're called samosas, and elsewhere they're called piroshki (not to be confused with a pirogi, which is different), in Britain, they're called pasties (rhymes with nasty, not tasty, which can cause giggles if you're not careful) and are enormous.
I liked the idea of making knishes, so I called my mom's Jewish friends to ask if they had any suggestions; no one did. One of them buys her knishes frozen, another doesn't make them from scratch, and the third thought knishes were something horrible made with tripe. After strinking out there, I googled knish recipes and found out that there are as many variations in both dough and filling as there are different names for the thing! I mulled it over and finally dug out mom's Claudia Roden cookbook for a bit more help. Basically, there's no hard, fast rule for making knishes/piroshkies/whatevers; it all depends on the cook's preference or the household's eating habits. Since I like meat, potatoes, AND cheese, I decided to combine all three for my filling; the dough I didn't play with except for adding a bit more flour and some water to make it less dry. The end result makes quite a bit more than 24 knishes, so there's enough for the family AND the family dog to enjoy.

Dough a la Claudia Roden ... sort of.-
250 g flour plus some for correcting stickiness
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
3 tbsp water

Mix the ingredients with a fork until incorporated fully. Knead on a floured surface, adding more flour as needed to correct the stickiness; I was aiming for a consistency similar to biscuit dough. Round the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rest for an hour, covering with plastic to keep the moisture in. After an hour, turn out of bowl and knead some more. Roll as thin as possible and cut into 3 inch rounds. Fill with rough, heaping tablespoons of filling mixture and fold over, pinching the edge closed. If you want to get really fancy, you could crimp the edge with a fork. Bake on a buttered baking sheet at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.

1 lb ground beef, browned in veg oil
1/2 to 3/4 lb mashed potatoes (about 3 medium russet potatoes)
3 to 4 oz shredded extra sharp cheddar
1 medium-small onion, minced
1 tsp fine ground sea salt or to taste
black pepper to taste
rosemary to taste
thyme to taste
cinnamon to taste

Brown the meat with the onion, herbs, salt, cinnamon, and pepper, and let it cool in the pot while you're boiling the potatoes. Boil said potatoes in their skins, let cool, then peel and mash with 1 tbsp of butter. Add the meat and mix until incorporated; add the cheese shortly before you're ready to fill the knishes, otherwise it'll melt and get very gooey.

The first night we made knishes was New Year's Eve. I'd put some on a plate to cool in the dining room, and then gone upstairs to do something else. A little while later, mom went downstairs and called up that she couldn't find the knishes, and asked where I'd put them. It turned out that yes, I had put them on the dining table, but all that was there was an empty plate. The dog was quite naughty and stole about ten knishes while I was upstairs. All that work! I was pretty upset. The dog, however, now has a taste for knishes, so we don't dare leave any within reach... or anything else edible, for that matter.

About two weeks before Christmas, I finally decided to sit down with the CW Corset pattern which I'd had dangling over my head since early autumn. Sam picked the yarn at a shop in Winchester -- Berocco Ultra Alpaca in a tweedy light purple called Prune Mix O.O -- and I'd had it in my stash since... early autumn. I realized, once I got started, that knitting with two strands of worsted yarn would be pretty close to the bulky/chunky weight the pattern called for, and then realized that I probably didn't have enough to finish the pattern. I had other purple yarn, fortunately, so I colorblocked the front with some Elann Peruvian Highland Wool in Eggplant, and was able to have enough of the Prune Mix left over to do something else small, like a pair of Fetching wristlets or something. It took me a week and a half to knit this sweater, and I was satisfied with the result, especially since it was graciously received and it FIT properly despite the fact that I used the wrong size needles to knit it on.
About a week before Christmas, Sam came over for tea and cookies, and I was working on another knitting project. I told her that I hadn't started her sweater because I wanted to get a bit more practice doing something knit in pieces before I went to work on hers, all the while knowing that hers was already almost done. Occasionally you see the phrase "her face fell" in novels, and that's exactly what she looked like: extremely disappointed and crushed, but too well-mannered to squawk. I admit I felt a little guilty about fibbing to her, but I knew she'd be thrilled when she saw the end result. To make things even more interesting, I knew she'd hurt her back at work and could probably use something practical like a heating pad; the night before I'd found an empty heating pad box, which I later used as the box for her sweater.
After I finished weaving in all the loose, dangling ends of yarn, I folded up the sweater, wrapped it in tissue paper and stuffed it into the heating pad box, and then wrapped said box in some nice festive paper. When Sam came over the next time, I had a hard time keeping a straight face when mom said, "Sam, I hope you don't mind, we're giving you a practical gift." When she unwrapped the heating pad box, she seemed surprised, but pleased, until she actually opened the box -- "You might want to open it, just to make sure everything's in there that SHOULD be in there," we said -- and then she lit up like a firefly, squealed, and said, "Is it, could it be? It's MY SWEATER!"
So now that her sweater is safely finished and out of the way, I can proceed to other projects. I've started working on one of the sweaters from Big Girl Knits, and I've hit a small snag because I don't understand how the shaping on the front pieces works. There's a little warning that says the shaping is to be worked simultaneously, but I'm not sure if I'm reading things right, because it seems more complicated than it ought to be. I'm probably missing something somewhere, which is why it's not turning out quite the way it's supposed to. I refuse to give up, though, because this is the first time I'm knitting something for myself since I started knitting -- again -- a little over a year ago. I'm also working on the Bluebelle Ruana -- a hooded shawl -- for mom, and now I've found another pattern in another book that I also want to make. And in the meantime, I'm still cooking and spinning, and hunting for a job. And this year I decided not to make a New Year's resolution simply because I have so many things going on that I'm not sure I can add another thing to do.. maybe actually finishing a few of my projects would be a good resolution? Or learning to cook yet another new, fascinating food? Or maybe doing a bit better about keeping in touch with my friends? Those all seem do-able.

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