Recently King Arthur Flour gathered a group of PNW bloggers and we all made dinner for a shelter here in Seattle. It was part of their Bake for Good initiative to encourage and help people reach out to their communities in various ways. In addition to getting food to those in need, baking for community events and bake sales to raise money they also have a Bake for Good Kids traveling tour that helps kids learn to bake and work with their communities. In addition to all this King Arthur Flour is an employee owned company where each employee donates time each year to volunteering and helping the community. You know what? There’s been a lot of gloomy stuff going on in the news lately and being a part of the Bake for Good tour reminded me that there is plenty of goodness out there and sometimes you have to create it.
(The image above is from the King Arthur Flour website. The pictures below are all from my aging iPhone, the days were so packed with flour and butter and dishwashing that I didn’t pull out my camera.)
(My bread was a little lopsided but bascially worked. The one here looked so pretty I took a picture of it instead.)
We spent some time in commercial kitchens which was a thrill for me. On the first day we made braided white loaves, dinner rolls and apple pies.
We braided white bread dough, you start from the center and braid down, then flip it over and braid down again. Not as easy as it sounds, at least the first time.
It rose! And got brown and pretty!
I’ve never been able to get a handle on pie dough. I’d seen plenty of demonstrations on cooking shows, I’d done the vodka thing, the food processor thing but I never had any success and basically gave up on it. Turns out some hands on learning with a cheerfully helpful teacher is what I needed.
What I learned? Half of the butter bits need to be way larger than I suspected. And one of these large plastic scrapers is oh so handy. Seriously, I won’t ever make pie dough without one of these again. It’s particularly great if you don’t have cold hands because it can mix and fold with minimal contact from your hands. It’s also great for scooping up chopped vegetables, even easier to use than a metal bench scraper. There you, my new favorite kitchen multitasker.
In my notes I have VB, which stands for Visible Butter, something you want during the last stages of putting your pie dough together. When you are gathering it to chill before rolling out you want the dough to be both shaggy and crumbly, not too dry but just wet enough to hold together. Right, I’m not going to do any good telling you about it, go find a pie person and practice!
The next day we made salad, macaroni and cheese, chicken and a few other vegetable side options. I appreciated the oversized tools.
We had a tour of the shelter and it was pretty sobering. Everybody there was a good soul caught in a difficult situation. It made me feel very grateful for what I have and like I could be doing a lot more to help out in my community. I’ll be seeking out as many opportunities to volunteer as I can.
If you like to cook I do have a suggestion for helping out in your area, look up your local VA hospital and see if they are seeking volunteers to cook dinner for the caretakers of patients who are living there are on a short or long term basis. Here in Seattle the Fisher House is one of those spots, this is something my friend Fresh Picked Seattle organizes from time to time so all credit goes to her. In addition to cooking they have room for people to come and hold craft nights, garden, organize outings or teach a class.
Alright, let’s go out and do some good.
· comments  · 05-30-2014 · categories:food · misc ·
The Food Lab: How to Make Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak Pinwheels | Serious Eats.
Stainless Steel Branch Skewers | UncommonGoods. Instead of one long skewer these have nine branches. It might just solve some of those times when the skewered food just rotates around when you try to flip it.
What Are You Drinking? – NYTimes.com. A simple interactive page where you plug in your requirements (like, a fruity drink made with tequila for a hot afternoon) and like magic a brief video plays showing you how to make something. All of the recipes can be seen here.
BuzzFeed’s Clean Eating Challenge. I’ve seen a lot of negative takes on this two week diet (clean eating and detoxing are things to be questioned) and while I’m unlikely to follow along I do admire how clearly they’ve laid out the shopping/prepping/cooking for a few weeks of healthy meals. I’ve turned to this for inspiration for a few light dinners and the pear and almond butter snack is a new favorite around here.
Joy the Baker – Fresh Juice and Sweet Tea Shot Bites. These are adorable.
The Best Places to Drink Outdoors in Seattle, 2014 Edition | Serious Eats. Thumbs up to all of these.
Feeding Hannibal. Janice Poon is the food stylist for the tv show Hannibal and here she goes behind the scenes with the inspiration, struggles and tricks on getting the food juuuust about as creepy as it can possibly be. Even if you don’t watch the show this is a lot of fun to read. See: How she solved the problem of making fake and actually edible Ortolans.
Project index / Bompas & Parr. I’m losing my mind over the fabulousness of the projects they’ve created. I’ve been to the Guiness tasting room and it was a very fun experience. See: Glow-in-the-dark Cornetto. Via Janice Poon.
· comments  · 05-21-2014 · categories:food · links ·
Earlier this year I recommended two games for iOS that I hadn’t actually played on iOS and I’m here now to un-recommend. But both of the games are amazing and you should play them, just on different systems.
Aquaria was released for PC in 2007 and won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at IGF that year. I played it around 2009 and fell deeply in love with the game. It was adapted and became available for iOS a few years ago and after recommending it I finally bought it for my iPad mini. Everything about it was the same but just as soon as I got into the areas where combat is required I died. Over and over again. You respawn at points very close to where you die but it was still frustrating. Why did I like the game so much upon the first play through? A little bit of memory jogging and I remembered why – with the PC version you can gently hack the settings so that your character takes damage less quickly. You’re not invincible but needing to regain energy comes at a much more reasonable pace for me. The other reason that playing on a computer has a bit of an edge is simply that there are keyboard shortcuts for triggering common things in the game that come in very handy. (One tip: If you are playing on iOS make sure you pick up your first pet before you head out to Open Waters to explore beyond the initial area of the game. Not having that was part of the reason I was expiring so quickly and why I was frustrated to the point of not continuing.)
General review: In Aquaria you play as an creature who lives in underwater caves and has no memory. You set out to make discoveries and during the course of play you uncover the history of yourself as well as a set of long lost civilizations all wrapping up in the story of the creation and downfall of a god. The game is vast and takes a long time to play. You are in an open world, meaning you can venture into almost any area of the game at any time. There are a few features that block your way until you gain new abilities but those abilities also unlock some fast travel systems later on which is great because you will be revisiting areas. There is a map and a note system so you can mark areas to return to. The game can be at times delightful and spooky and just when you think you cannot possibly find anything new everything changes completely, and then it changes again. I adore the feeling of exploration in this game, there is an amazing amount of space to search and most every area has a secret to reveal to those who look closely. If you get stuck or want hints the forums at Bit Blot are very thorough. The character development, soundtrack and story all lead to most people, including myself, having an emotional attachment. It’s one of those games to dive into in the depth of winter or if you break a bone and are immobile for a while.
Bonus points for the main character and most of the secondary characters being well developed and powerful females. Game includes impressively vast open world exploration, puzzle solving, combat, resource gathering and crafting and an amazing story and soundtrack. For game nerds I’ll point out that one of the developers went on to create a game called Spelunky, you might know it?
Available for PC, Mac and Linux (DRM free). Also on Steam.
Aquaria was made by two developers, check out their other stuff: Alec Holowka’s projects can be found at Infinite Ammo and see Derek Yu‘s site.
The Cave is a game by my beloved Double Fine that I hadn’t played yet but was on my radar. I bought it for my iPad and got stuck almost right away because the tablet controls are terrible. I was so frustrated I pulled up a bunch of reviews and the majority of them echoed my later conclusion – the game is great but the tablet controls are unsatisfactory and it’s worth playing the game in a different form.
So next I bought the game for my OUYA and loved it. The game is funny and sarcastic. In the game you choose three characters (out of an available seven) to go in and explore the cave, or rather, The Cave. Each character has a different set of abilities and can reach different parts of the cave. As you progress you learn the stories of each character, and they aren’t always what they seem. The playthrough isn’t terribly long and you can replay choosing different characters to reach different parts of the cave, though there are a few areas you will play through during each pass, which can be a little repetitive the third time you play (if you want to play all the characters). My favorites were the Twins, the Scientist and the Explorer.
Bonus points to the developer for making half the playable characters female. Game includes plot driven exploration, puzzle solving and humor. Available on Steam and OUYA.
Double Fine has been up to some interesting stuff lately, I cannot wait for the second half of Broken Age and their older games are well worth playing, there is a special spot in my heart for Psychonauts which I didn’t play until a few years ago.
Let’s talk games. I have a PS3, a PC, an OUYA and an iPad. In wintertime I want games to play in my living room so the PS3 and the OUYA are my focus, otherwise I am often looking for something to pass the time on a flight so I look for games for my iPad. My PC gaming has fallen away with the exception of a few extended story lines or games bought through Steam or Kickstarter (Dreamfall Chapters and Broken Age part 2 are what I’m currently anticipating). With all these platforms I’m only slightly aware of all the games out there that I know I’d like. (Even doing some link gathering for this post has led me to some gems that have been around for a while but are new to me.) Lately I’ve been depending on the podcast The Indoor Kids for game recommendations, and they do an amazing job but their focus as been on Xbox lately. I’m looking for a website or news source that is curated enough to not be overwhelming, my usual sources – Jay Is Games, Ars Technica, Touch Arcade – are often more information than I can parse.
So, I’m curious! Where do you find yourself looking for new games? What platform do you prefer? What news source do you trust?
· comments  · 05-14-2014 · categories:iphone · technology ·
This is a sponsored post brought to you by the upcoming Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return 3D animated film.
I remember reading about China Country for the first time in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book and I was utterly charmed by the description of a land and people entirely made of porcelain. Rereading it just now I find that a startled china cow has it’s leg broken off! Happily the cow could be mended but, still, eeek. In the book Dorothy and her companions pass through the land of China Country and then there isn’t any more mention, but for some reason I’ve always remembered it. Happily we will see a lot more of China Country (called China County in the film) and the China Princess in the upcoming Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return film, which opens this weekend. (Quick note: sound plays when you load that website. It’s lovely music but, just in case, I wanted you to know.)
To celebrate the film I decided to make tea cakes themed around places in Oz including China County and Candy County. The icing I used here doesn’t require any heat or electric mixers to make, it’s stirred together by hand, so young children can be responsible for icing and decorating these cakes.
I wanted to keep things fairly simple and shopped for candies that could represent the various places in Oz. I found rainbow sour ribbon candy, green rock candy for the Emerald City, orange nonpareils for the field of poppies, yellow cake sprinkles for the Yellow Brick Road, chocolate cones and mushrooms that would work as forest trees, sugar roses and gold dragees for China County and gingersnaps and peppermint candies to represent Candy County.
I wanted to create small cakes but instead of buying a baking pan specifically for them (they are out there if you’d like) I used jumbo sized cupcake pans and put a smaller amount of batter in each cup making for small and charmingly domed cakes. Since my cakes are little landscapes I used chocolate cake to represent earth but any flavor of cake, or even a brownie, would work out great here. This is a good time for your favorite one-bowl chocolate cake recipe.
Spray a jumbo muffin tin with a baking spray such as Baker’s Joy. Put 3 tablespoons of cake batter in each section and bake at 300 degrees until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool, remove from the tin and place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
The icing is simply confectioners sugar and milk mixed together by hand. I made white icing for the porcelain of China Country and the snow of Candy Country, and the rest of the icing is colored green to represent grass. I used clear vanilla flavoring so the white icing would stay as white as could be. The great things about this icing are that it’s as simple to make and it sets up into a beautiful shiny finish, like porcelain. The downside is that it doesn’t keep overnight very well so it’s best to make these the same day. (Or keep in a sealed container in the fridge overnight.)
The trick for the icing is to make sure it’s as thick as can be while still being a little bit flowy. Add the ingredients listed below and if it’s thick like a paste add 1/4th of a teaspoon of milk at a time until the icing feels thick when you stir it but it relaxes and becomes shiny about 10 seconds after you stop stirring. 1/4th of a teaspoon seems like a tiny little amount but you’ll be surprised at how quickly that amount will change the texture of the icing.
- 9 ounces confectioners sugar (or two cups of of confectioners sugar that you’ve fluffed up by running a whisk through it before scooping)
- 2 tablespoons milk (plus more)
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla flavoring
- green food coloring
Mix the ingredients above together in a bowl. If the icing is thick like a paste or not all the sugar will dissolve in the milk add 1/4th of a teaspoon of milk at a time just until the mixture is still matte when you stir but relaxes and becomes shiny a few seconds after you stop mixing. Either separate it and make 1/2 of the mixture green or make a second batch. One batch will cover twelve cakes.
Drop a heaping soup spoon of icing on top of each cake.
Be a little patient and let it settle and spread. Now quick! Before the top dries it’s time to decorate!
A little bit of sour rainbow ribbon candy works for our rainbow. I used a butter knife to poke into the cake and hold the rainbow in place
Simple sugar roses and gold dragées echo China County.
Green rock candy represents our Emerald City and tiny orange nonpareils for our field of poppies.
Candy County is full of gingerbread house delights, here I used half of a ginger snap and some peppermint candy.
Small chocolate cookies from a Japanese import store work as trees in the forest. These are supposed to be cones and mushrooms but clustered together I think they look like a foreboding forest.
You might think I’m looking forward to this movie because of the actors behind the voices (Kelsey Grammer! Bernadette Peters! Oliver Platt! Hugh Dancy! Patrick Stewart! Lea Michele!) but I think I’m most excited to see what the animators have done with Candy County. It’s like a gingerbread house but instead it’s an entire land, be still my gingerbread loving heart!
Have a look at the movie trailer for more peeks at the new lands:
As a kid did you read the further stories of Dorothy or the land of Oz?
· comments  · 05-7-2014 · categories:food ·
· comments  · 05-1-2014 · categories:food · links ·