Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Freezing Eggs

Have you been tempted by those 24-packs of organic eggs at Costco or the like but have hesitated, fearing your ability to use them all before they go bad?  Don't hesitate!  If you can score a great deal on fresh eggs (or better yet, get them from a friend with an excess of eggs from their home flock), don't pass it up.  Use what you need, and then freeze what you can't use in the short term.

Yes, you can freeze eggs!  Here's how.

Break each egg into a bowl, and then gently with a fork or whisk mix the yoke and white together, taking care not to whip the egg -- you don't want to incorporate air. If you'd like, you can strain the eggs through a sieve for a more uniform consistency, but I don't bother.  Once you have all of your eggs blended, pour them into a freezer safe container.  If using a jar, allow 1/2 inch headspace between the top of the eggs and the bottom of the lid to allow for expansion. 

I use something a little easier than jars:  a jumbo sized ice cube tray.  Each well holds 2 eggs, a good portion size for baking or for measuring out for making frittatas, quiches, and such.  The tray is made from flexible silicone, so once the eggs are frozen they can be easily popped right out.  You can also use regular sized ice cube trays; each well will hold one egg.  Making individual portions is very convenient:  no having to defrost an entire jar and measure out eggs by the spoonful. 

Once the eggs are frozen, remove them from the tray and put the egg cubes into a vacuum seal bag or a ziplock bag (from which as much air as possible has been removed) and then put the bag into the freezer for storage.  You can then remove however many cubes you need for baking and cooking.  Easy peasy! 

To help prevent graininess of the yolks, you can add 1.5 tbsp. of sugar OR 1.5 tbsp. of corn syrup OR 1/2 tsp of salt per cup of whole eggs.  The yolks and whites can also be frozen separately; simply follow the same process (egg whites alone do not need added sugar or salt). 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Baking In Canning Jars: The Recurring "Thing" That Shouldn't Be a Thing

They seem to be all the rage lately.  You may have seen them at your local farmers’ market or in a bakery’s display case.  Little pies, heavenly smelling zucchini breads, scrumptious cakes baked in small mason jars that besides looking delicious look so cute! 

Or you may have seen that recently published book about baking in jars, or that article in a swanky baking magazine complete with a gorgeously styled photo depicting a cake baked in a jar, or one of the many recipes on the Internet that say that “Yes! Yes you can bake in canning jars!  And you can even seal the jars and then store them in the pantry!”

But can you?  Surely if there are people selling these items, publishing books and articles about this practice, posting YouTube ™ videos even – then you can do it too, right?

No, you can’t.  Or at least you shouldn’t.  Here’s why.

First, canning jars (aka mason jars) are not designed for oven use.  Canning jar glass (made from lime, soda, and other materials) is annealed, and annealed glass is not as strong as tempered glass.  Oven heat, which differs from the heat produced in a water bath or pressure canner, can create stress on the jar, causing it to break into sharp pieces.  (And no, putting a pan of water in the oven along with the jars does not replicate the environment of a water bath canner.)  Canning jar manufacturers, such as Ball/Kerr, specifically recommend against using their jars in the oven (and in the microwave as well) .  Knowing that jars have the potential to shatter, why risk your time, money, or even potential injury?  Keep your canning jars out of the oven, and use an appropriate oven-safe vessel for all of your baking needs. 

Second, and most important, is that canning breads and cakes in mason jars and storing them at room temperature is unsafe.  Cake and quick bread recipes are usually low in acid and high in moisture, and together with the process of creating a vacuum seal by putting a lid on a hot jar (thus removing most oxygen), a perfect environment is created for many microorganisms to grow – including C. botulinum, the organism responsible for forming the toxin that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease. 

Putting a lid on a jar of baked goods after it comes out of the oven is not a true canning process, and while a vacuum seal may be formed as the contents cool, it may not be a good seal and not all of the oxygen may be removed.  Any remaining oxygen in the jar would be would allow oxygen-dependent microorganisms – such as mold – to grow.  This also goes for the process of putting a lid on the jar after the contents have cooled:   air gets trapped in the jar, allowing microorganisms to grow.

Much research has been done at various universities to determine if canning cakes and breads can be done safely at home.  To date, researchers have been unable to formulate a recipe for a palatable, safe product for home use.  If you’ve seen commercial cakes or breads in jars available for sale and wonder why you can’t replicate this at home, it’s because reputable companies who make these products conduct safety tests for each specific recipe, have processing controls not available to home consumers, and often use additives and preservatives to keep the product safe. 

So, please, no home canning of breads and cakes in jars!  Use oven-safe bakeware, and refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.  Do not eat any home-canned baked products that are given to you, nor purchase home-canned breads or cakes unless they contain anti-microbial additives and have been labelled in accordance commercial food requirements.
Be food safe, not sorry. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wollaston, and Variations On a Theme (Or, How to Knit a Million of Them and Not Get Bored)

Introducing Wollaston, my new infinity scarf pattern. 

It's knit in tubular sections, making it doubly thick and warm.  It's nice and long, too, which means you can wear it doubled around your shoulders or pulled down for an off-the-shoulder torso hugger,

 or you can wear it unwrapped for a dramatic sweep that shows off all of the sections,

or you can do a simple loop-and-tuck and off you go.
The sample is knit in Elemental Affects Heirloom Romney, a worsted weight wooly-wool that's hand-dyed in lots of gorgeous colors.  The colorway names of Hubbard, and Nettles, and Tomato, and Carrot, and Calendula, and Fig -- well, they should give you a good idea of the color inspiration for this yarn.  Romney is a strong, lustrous long wool.  It's not the type of yarn you'd pick for next-to-skin use, but it does soften with wear and washing.  It's such a delicious yarn to knit with.
Wollaston is knit at a loose gauge in mostly Stockinette stitch, with bands of horizontal chain stitch and tubular sections joined with whip stitch to keep things interesting.  The worsted weight and loose gauge means this scarf knits up quickly, making it a great project when you need something to go with a new winter coat.  Or when you need a gift or two (or many) for the holidays.
So, about this post title.  Of course you're not going to knit a million Wollaston scarves.  But maybe you'd like to knit several.  Here's a few suggestions for simple variations that will keep things interesting, and maybe use up some of that stash you've got hidden away, or bits of leftover yarns just waiting to be put to good use.
  • I chose to make the sample in many vibrant colors.  But worked in a single color, with maybe just a contrasting color for joining the sections, the scarf would make a dramatic statement.  Choose a simple neutral color that will go with most any outfit, or choose a bright bold color.
  • Pick two colors: one for the background, and one for the horizontal chain stitches.
  • Instead of sections, make one long tube (joined at the ends) and vary the frequency of the horizontal chain stitches.  Make the chains randomly whenever you feel like it, or use a Fibonacci sequence, whatever strikes your fancy.
  • Instead of making tubular sections, knit the piece flat on half as many cast-on stitches, for a long basic scarf that can be wrapped around and around the neck.  You'll have a "wrong" side, but that's not really a problem, is it.
  • Choose a soft, luxurious yarn worked at a finer gauge for a smaller scarf with a more elegant look. 
  • Pick different yarns with different textures (but the same or similar gauge) for each section.  This is a great way to use up leftover yarn.
  • Decorate the plain Stockinette sections with embroidery.
  • Wollaston would be great knit in handspun.
Wollaston is available now in my Ravelry store.  I hope you like it. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

What I Did This Weekend (So Far)

When you work from home, there's really no such thing as a weekend.  Especially a long weekend.  Or even a holiday.  One day blends into the next, and you pick and choose which day is a workday (they usually all end up workdays) or an errand day or a housecleaning day, or -- sometimes -- you just declare a day off.  It could be a Tuesday or a Friday or a Sunday.  It really doesn't matter.

Sometimes, you even declare an entire weekend off.  This Memorial Day, I did just that.  I wanted a weekend that felt like a weekend.  And a holiday where I actually observed what was being celebrated.  And I wanted the time to just be in the moment and enjoy the little things.

So, this weekend, so far, I have enjoyed the cool morning air and drunk coffee on the deck.  And I enjoyed the warm evening breezes with a glass of wine on the deck.  I've watched the turkeys tussle and the bluebirds and titmice bring food to their babies in the nesting boxes around the deck, back and forth, back and forth, never seeming to tire.

I cooked a lovely dinner one evening.  Another evening I ate just bread and cheese.

I went to the farmers' market for the first time this season.  I made yogurt and canned zucchini relish.  I planted herbs. 

I reveled in the heat.  I cursed the heat.

I went for a long walk.  I took a nap.

I read a book.  Actually, I read almost two books.  I knit a bit. 

I even went into the studio and designed a few new things.  It was mostly play, though, and thoroughly enjoyable. 

And, I have remembered.  I have given quiet thanks for those who lost their lives in service to their country.  My family no longer has the Memorial Day custom of visiting the cemetery to lay flowers on our relatives' graves -- there's really no family left to do so -- but I still remember those who came before, those who are no longer with us.  Those who touched my life, or the lives of those important to me.  I think of them often, but try to make a special acknowledgement from my heart on this Day of Remembrance. 

There's still half a day remaining on my self-declared long weekend.  I'm sure I'll find some way to fill it. 

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend.