Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tomato Nation - DonorsChoose

Please help out Sars (of Television Without Pity fame) raise money for schools! The goal is high, the prizes are many, and the month is full of AWESOME!

Bet Red.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trip to Alexandria, VA (part 1)

I spent last weekend in Alexandria, VA on a much-needed vacation. As it coincided with Mr. Llama's business trip, we only had to pay for my ticket and one night in the hotel (more money left for food and yarn, I say!).

The flight in was quiet, uneventful, and productive for knitting - I'm currently knitting this sweater out of Cascade 220 100% wool, and managed to finish the body up to where the sleeves will be joined! There was another knitter in the same row, which was nice to see, and the in-flight movie was
Monsters vs Aliens, a movie I had been intending to see but never got around to. I really enjoyed the movie - good vs evil plus some girl-empowerment going on, I found it both funny and original. Plus, Stephen Colbert voices the POTUS!

After taking the Metro and a nice walk to the hotel, I spent a bit of time sitting before Mr. Llama returned and we walked down to King Street in Old Town Alexandria. The street is lined with restaurants, stores, and historical sites, and is extremely pedestrian-friendly though King Street can have heavy traffic at times. Dinner was at the Fish Market, a busy place with a raw bar and giant glasses of beer. We shared a full pound of their specialty, the "Hot" Spiced Shrimp. Basically, just unpeeled shrimp cooked in a combination of spices that included bay leaves, coriander, and red pepper flakes (among many others I couldn't identify, but I was about halfway through the bathtub of beer - Harpoon IPA if you're interested - so that probably had something to do with it!) The shrimp, two orders of Hush Puppies, and some bread made a good meal for a hot day. Their Hush Puppies are some of the best I've had - lots of garlic flavor kept them from being just fried sugary cornmeal.

After dinner, we made our way to Cafe Salsa for some mojitos - they were apparently on special that night, as we only paid about $40 for 14 drinks (we were with a group - really). No skimping on the mint here, and they weren't too sweet, either. I probably would have preferred mine to be made with a dark rum, but that wouldn't have been a standard mojito, either. That pretty much finished off the night for all of us, and we made our way back to the hotel and some sleep.

The next day I spent alone while Mr Llama was again at work. I wandered back to King St to find some breakfast and especially some coffee, and went into La Madeleine, one of a chain of French bistro-ish eateries, emerging with an almond croissant and a double espresso. Unfortunately, the croissant, while topped with crunchy toasted almonds, was filled with a too-sweet flavorless goo which made the pastry soggy and unappitizing, and the espresso, which lacked any semblance of crema, tasted only slightly better than the coffee I had on the airplane. I'd like to hope that the rest of their menu isn't so bad, but I didn't bother going back to find out! After the nauseating breakfast, I walked the shops. There's a definite French influence and a number of imported French furniture stores and French bistros. I found a place to try breakfast the next morning called Le Pain Quotidien, which I glanced into and looked less like a cafeteria than La Madeleine. The menu was also smaller, which was encouraging.

And then I found the yarn! Two stores were within walking distance, and one was having their grand opening as well! Fibre space (here they are on Facebook) had opened that morning - a nice airy space with lots of well-organized shelves, though they were only half-full since all the yarn hadn't come in yet. They did have samples of the yarns yet to come in, though, so people could touch and grope and fall in love! I bought a skein of 100% merino superwash sock yarn in a deep purple/green colorway called Iris and a set of #2 dpns to start the infamous Pomatomus socks - yay! I really loved the colors and, now that I've started the socks, love that it's not pooling strangely and the variagation doesn't lead to striping! The people there were very nice, fun, and excited, and I really enjoyed myself. I wished I had brought some knitting so I could have just spent some time on their couches! I also purchased a reusable bag with their logo - big enough for the sweater parts I've got in progress.

The second shop, though promising, was a bit disappointing. It was completely void of customers, and the only employee was very quiet and a little standoffish. I did buy a single skein of a locally-dyed yarn because 1) it was locally dyed and I wanted a souvenir yarn, 2) it was
so soft, a 50/50 blend of merino and silk, and 3) it was the only skein of a pretty varigated green - I'm a sucker for orphan skeins, they're like little lost kittens!

Since I hadn't brought any knitting with me, I planned to go back to the hotel - but first, a side trip to Trader Joe's! There aren't any Trader Joe's in Colorado, so I needed to get my fix. Tasted some wines, bought a lot of chocolates and freeze-dried fruit, and picked up some Bourbon Vanilla and Spanish Saffron for much better prices than I can get around my town. After that, it was back to the hotel, where I spent the rest of the afternoon winding my new sock yarn and starting the Pomatomus - got all the way through the cuff and into the pattern before Mr. Llama returned and we were off for dinner.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crockpot Beef Stew and Sandra Lee

So, I feel like since I've been giving this recipe out at least once a week to someone, I might as well just post the darn thing on here and then just reference my blog! More readers and less work on my part, heh.

I came up with this beef stew recipe after some great discussions with friends on the Television Without Pity Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee forum about crockpot cooking and how to make good meals without cooking like Sandra Lee.

I suppose I should explain further.

I am a self-proclaimed Shrike. I do not like Sandra Lee, I do not like what she stands for, and I really do not like her "recipes" (or arrrrussipees, if you like to use Sandra-speak). Many years ago, I happened upon her show as I walked through the room. This was back when Food Network focused mainly on actual cooking shows, and was great for having on as background noise, and since I was in the middle of writing for my comprehensive exam, I spent a lot of time at home. Anyway, she was making Tiramisu. With Mascarpone cheese (mars-capone, in Sandra-speak) mixed into pudding cups. Seriously? I am not going to spend money on good Mascarpone just to mix it with artificially-flavored paste, and I am especially not going to scrape out pudding cups. I started watching her show just to yell at the TV, and then eventually I found the community on TWoP. They are absolutely hilarious, smart, wonderful people, who never would have met if it wasn't for our shared dislike of this woman. Crazy, isn't it?

In any case, we tend to share a lot of recipes. Good recipes, many of which could be considered to follow the Semi-Ho philosophy, if it had ever been executed correctly in the first place. Lots of canned beans, tomatoes, etc, are fine. Using truffle oil with your RealLemon? Not so much. We like real food, with real ingredients, and NO seasoning packets.

This beef stew is easy, tastes good, and is inexpensive to make. I don't need to flavor it with a can of beef stew or a packet of beef gravy. The only seasoning is Emeril's Essence, and that's not even essential to the recipe - you can flavor with thyme alone if you want. Enjoy! I like to serve with cheesy grits, but it's also fine with egg noodles or your favorite starch. Or just by itself with a loaf of crusty bread and a pint of beer.

Crockpot Beef Stew

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ c flour

2 lbs lean stew beef

2 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence

1 onion, sliced against the grain

3 carrots, in ½” slices

½ lb mushrooms

1-2 lbs baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered

4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

2-3 Tbsp tomato paste

¾ can Murphy’s stout, or Guiness, or red wine, or beef broth

2 cups water



Bay leaf

2 Tbsp butter/margarine/oil

2-3 Tbsp flour

Season beef with salt, pepper, essence. Add flour and toss to coat. Heat oil in pan, brown beef in two batches and put into crockpot. While beef is cooking, cut up onion, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and carrots and put into crockpot. After beef is finished, add tomato paste to pan, cook a bit, then deglaze pan with beer, scraping up all the browned bits. (Drink the rest of the beer as a present to yourself, or add the whole can, I guess, but I'd rather drink it!) Add to crockpot along with water. Cook on high setting for 4 hours (or low for 6-8 hours). Make a roux of butter and flour, stir into stew, cook for 1 hour more. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve with green beans, bread, cheese grits.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My husband. My friend, My yarn enabler.

Yesterday, I took some time between work and fun to head over to the Lamb Shoppe, a lovely, well-organized, very friendly yarn store for some dpns (double-pointed needles for the uninitiated). I'm working on my very first sweater, and am almost done with the body, and didn't own #8 dpns with which to knit the sleeves. Of course, I brought the husband with me since we were on our way to dinner, and he didn't want to sit in the car. We went in, I headed right for the needles, intending an in-and-out stop. I did stop to fondle and ogle some yarns, and kind of went over the basics for Ray since he was interested in what you do with different weights/styles/fibers of yarn. Anyway, by the register was a basket containing some balls of gorgeous Louisa Harding Kimono Angora. Four balls, from the same dye lot, and 40% off.

And Ray told me to just buy them. So I did, disregarding my original plans to completely destash before I buy new yarn.

I'm a freaking yarn addict.

And now I have an enabler.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Knitting Post!

So I know you're all thinking "the blog is called The Knitting Llama, but there aren't any llamas, and there isn't any knitting - I want my money back!"

Besides the fact that you're not paying for this, and never will have to pay for this, it really is time to say something about knitting. I knit. I taught myself about 7 years ago, when I started grad school, because I decided I needed some sort of portable hobby. I started pretty much where most knitters start: a scarf. While not the ugliest scarf in the world, since it was just off-white, it was too short and inconsistent in width, plus I had knitted it in stockinette stitch, so it would constantly curl up. Worst. Scarf. Ever. I still have it somewhere, though I'll never wear it. It's a symbol of accomplishment now, nothing more.

I stopped knitting for a time after that, mostly because classes and working got in the way, but I eventually started again, armed with this book of dishcloths. If you're using them to wash dishes, who cares if they look bad, right? The book got me started again, gave me confidence in my knitting ability, and taught me new skills; I now give this book to anyone I know who wants to start knitting. Making a dishcloth is relatively quick and easy, the yarn needed is thick enough and not fuzzy so you can see your stitches, and this book even has some relatively intricate cabling patterns - great for learning how to cable without running the risk of ruining something expensive and large. Plus, they make fabulous gifts for anyone, and for relatively cheap (depending on how much your time is worth, I suppose). When else can you essentially give your practice swatches as gifts?

My first full afghan was a present to my husband's grandmother. Not knowing any better, I knitted it with very cheap, not very soft acrylic yarn (Red Heart, I believe). The pattern was simple, just a diagonal stripe. It seemed like it took forever, as I had been making tons of dishcloths for the last few months, and I realized that a boring afghan pattern makes it really hard to want to work on said afghan. I think the only reason I finished it was because it was a gift; it would have been easy to give up on something for myself, since I didn't really like the colors all that much in the first place, and it wasn't soft in any way.

Since then, I've knitted socks, hats, baby afghans, full size afghans, and baby booties. Unlike this post, my future knitting posts will focus on types of projects, ideas, things like that. I just wanted to get some of the history out there, and let other beginning knitters know that it does get better than that first oddly-shaped scarf we all have hidden in our closets!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chickpea and Spinach Stew

I frequently listen to the local NPR station on my commute to and from work. Last month, NPR started a segment sharing recipes for meals that serve four people for under ten dollars, the first of which is this recipe from Chef Jose Andres, who trained under Ferran Adria and now owns a number of restaurants in the DC area. After hearing the segment on the radio, I decided to try it that night. Lacking time, I used one can of chickpeas, had no Sherry vinegar and so used white wine vinegar, and based on the contents of my spice rack, omitted the saffron and replaced the Spanish paprika and olive oil with regular paprika and olive oil. Otherwise I followed the recipe as written. It was very good, not amazing, but was added to my standard menu list.

Last night, I made another attempt at the recipe. This time, I did extra alterations, and really enjoyed the results, so here's my new recipe (and it still doesn't break the $10 mark as long as you have these ingredients already):

Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
serves 4

1 slice bread (white or wheat), cut into cubes

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground paprika
Pinch red pepper flakes

2-15oz. cans chickpeas, drained
2 cups stock (I used Imagine Organic vegetable stock)
2 Tbsp sherry
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups frozen cut spinach (you can toss it in frozen)

1-2 eggs per person
Pita bread (one per person)

Toast the bread in a large skillet (dry, over medium high heat) until browned and crisp, then either crush into crumbs with your hands or with a food processor/blender/mortar and pestle. Heat the olive oil in the skillet, saute the shallots and garlic until soft, then add the red pepper flakes, cumin, and paprika. Cook for about a minute, then add the chickpeas, stock, sherry, vinegar, and bread crumbs. Simmer for 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, add the spinach, and cook about 5 minutes more to let the spinach soften. Fry 1-2 eggs in olive oil for each person, and warm the pita bread in a toaster oven or toaster.

Serve in a bowl, topped with the egg(s) and with the pita bread on the side.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shrimp Linguini? Nope! Colcannon!

On the way home from work tonight, I was mulling over the possibilities for dinner. My original thought was shrimp linguini, which is one of my go-to dinners. I always have raw shell-on shrimp in the freezer (when they go on sale I buy a LOT), and the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples. I'll just post the recipe now so I don't forget later on. This is more a technique than a recipe; the ingredients are very much to taste and quantities are approximate, so feel free to add more or less of anything. I tend to make enough for dinner and leftovers.

Shrimp Linguini (for two people, with leftovers)
12-20 shrimp, raw, shell-on, thawed (quantity depends more on shrimp size and personal preference than anything else)
Olive oil or butter
5-9 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, roughly chopped
red pepper flakes
white wine (NOT "cooking wine" - that stuff is naaaasty)
juice of one lemon (and zest if you feel like it and your lemon's not old and wrinkled like mine usually are)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb - 3/4 linguini

Start water for the linguini (heavily salt when it comes to a boil). Shell the shrimp completely, including the tails, and put the peels into a small saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer while you start the garlic and shrimp. Melt butter or heat olive oil in a skillet, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and shrimp. Add the linguini to the boiling water. Saute until the shrimp get a bit of color on the outside, but don't cook them all the way through. Take out the shrimp and set aside. Deglaze the pan with some white wine (1/4 - 1/2 cup is good), scraping the bits off the bottom, then strain the shrimp stock into the wine. Let this simmer until the linguini is just short of done (it will finish cooking in the sauce), then put the linguini into the sauce, using tongs to get the pasta all covered. Add the shrimp and lemon juice as well, and cook until the pasta is done. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of chopped fresh parsley is great as well.

Now, this is what I was going to do until I realized that 1) no lemons and 2) I still had leftover potatoes and carrots from the corned beef. The corned beef was finished off as hash this last weekend, but I'm not about to let the potatoes go to waste. So, I made . . .

Colcannon! It's normally a side dish, but I'm eating it alone, with a salad and an egg on the side for protein, and, of course, a pint of Murphy's stout (I prefer it to Guinness).
Probably about 1-2 lbs leftover cooked potatoes, taken out of the corned beef broth
There were about 10 baby carrots in there, too.
I mashed up the potatoes and chopped up the carrots, then chopped 1/2 small head of cabbage, put the cabbage into the broth, and microwaved it for 5 minutes to get it partially cooked. Strained the cabbage, then added it and a heaping spoonful of leftover horseradish sauce to the mix, tasted for salting and peppering, then put it in an 8" square glass casserole dish, grated a healthy amount of sharp cheddar onto the top, then into a 350 oven for about 30 minutes.

I really like the horseradish in this - it adds an extra dimension of flavor while also helping me use up the leftover sauce. I may have a little more on the side as well!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Corned Beef

I'm still alive, if anyone was worried. Just, well, busy and therefore not cooking, knitting, or doing anything else worth posting about and thus, no posts. However, since St Patrick's day was this week, I threw a party last Saturday. Lots of beer, car bombs, and food. Corned beef and cabbage, to be specific, and here's the recipe I made up that day.

Now, this recipe uses the prepackaged, already-brined corned beef brisket. I still haven't tried corning my own, and since I was going to be making at least 10 lbs of the stuff, I went with what I've done before. I did the corned beef, potatoes and cabbage, and served it with roasted carrots and parsnips with onion, and soda bread. The soda bread recipe I got off of Food Network's website, from an episode of Sara's Secrets. I didn't use loaf pans, just formed the dough into two rough balls and put them on a half-sheet pan. I'll warn you - the recipe is really sticky and moist, so your two balls will run together if you do it this way, and if you don't use a pan with edges, might slide right off. However, this bread has great flavor and moisture. Instead of raisins, I used one cup of dried currants (which are really just tiny raisins, they're not actual currants, in case anyone wanted to know).

This is what I did for the party; you can scale it down as needed, it won't change the recipe.

Corned Beef, Potatoes, and Cabbage
Serves 15-20

12 lbs corned beef point cut (packaged in juices)
Spice packet from corned beef (mustard seeds, allspice, peppercorns, bay leaf, and coriander)
7 lb red potatoes, small ones halved, larger ones quartered
2 heads cabbage, quartered, cored, then each quarter sliced into thirds

For roasted parsnips and carrots:
2 lbs baby carrots
2 lbs parsnips, peeled and cut into pieces
1 onion, peeled, quartered, then each quarter cut into thirds
Olive oil, salt, and pepper

Preheat oven to 300. In a large roasting pan, put beef and spices. Add water to about halfway up the beef, bring to a boil on the stovetop, then cover with foil and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 3 hours. When there's about one hour left, mix the carrots, parsnips, and onion with olive oil, salt, and pepper in an ovenproof dish, and put into the same oven.

When the beef is done, pull it out of the juices and let it rest on a cutting board. Put the potatoes into the juices and put back into the oven for about 30 minutes, then add the cabbage, cover, and cook another 10-15 minutes. I like my cabbage relatively crisp, so if you like yours completely cooked, put the cabbage in earlier.

Slice the corned beef across the grain and serve with the veggies and soda bread. Mmmmm . . .

I love how easy this recipe is; it's technically time-consuming, but it's nearly all just down time. You can probably also do this in a crockpot, but the potatoes and cabbage will probably have to be added with the beef at some point, and I've always just done it in the oven.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Comfort Food

Tonight's dinner was good ol' grilled cheese and tomato soup - standard comfort food for me. This is what we used to get on snow days home from school in between building snowpeople and having snowball fights. The cheese has to be sharp cheddar, the bread homemade whole wheat (or honey whole wheat from Great Harvest), and the soup?

No matter how much I dislike processed food, I still have to have the standard Campbell's condensed Tomato Soup. It has to be almost boiling hot.

When I was in tenth grade, my boyfriend at the time turned me on to thinly sliced (raw) onion in grilled cheese, which was delicious when we used onions from my garden, but these were replaced with sauteed onions when we ran out of the sweet little ones that winter.

I don't use any butter on the outside of the sandwich, though I will cook it in the leftover oil from cooking the onions. I guess it's not really "grilled" per se, but I've always called it grilled cheese, and I'm too stubborn to change!

Anyone out there want to share their favorite comfort foods?

Monday, January 19, 2009


Sorry it's been a while - almost two weeks!

I finally finished another chocolate box review for your reading pleasure. In the next few days you can look forward to a post on my New Year's Cocktail Party, plus pictures and descriptions of all the knitting projects I've done over the last couple months.

Hope everyone's getting along well with 2009!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

See's 8oz Truffle Box

Why does everyone put a "Key Lime" in their chocolate boxes these days? Maybe it's just me, but Lime flavoring isn't all that tasty, and it permeates everything.

Now, unlike my last post on chocolates, the Key Lime this time wasn't nearly as bad, but the first truffle I ate did taste faintly of lime, so I removed the Key Lime truffle from the box and allowed the other chocolates to sit before I ate them.

There's one problem with this box - I couldn't for the life of me find anything to tell me which chocolate was which. The first one I ate had a top that looked kind of like it contained coconut, but from what I can tell it was just chocolate-flavored and I have no idea what that stuff on top was. At least it tasted like chocolate, and while it wasn't anything to write home about, I don't really regret eating it. I think it might have been "Dark Chocolate Chip".

Next came one of the ones with a swirly design on top. Of course, pretty much all of these had that kind of design, so it didn't really help with identification. I think it might have been "Cafe Au Lait", but only because I don't think it was "Cafe Hazelnut".

I ate a bite of one that had a white criss-cross pattern on the dark chocolate coating. The filling was white, tart, and not readily identifiable. I think it might have been Raspberry, but again, not sure. I know it was supposed to be some kind of fruit, based solely on the acidity of the filling.

I think I'm giving up on this box. No identifying photos plus unidentifiable flavors equals not a box of chocolates I'm going to eat. I'll mail the rest to one of you if you want to take over, though!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ham and White Bean Leftover Soup

We had an absolutely fabulous New Year party this year; I made tons of canapes and we had a cocktail party. I promise to post about that soon, though I forgot to take pictures of all the food, so the descriptions are taking a bit longer to write up.

In the meantime, how about some more soup? This time, it's a recipe using leftovers from the fridge helped by stuff I keep on hand all the time. From the pantry. I'm like Sandra Lee, but without the sagging boobs and seasoning packets! We had a bunch of leftover ham from one Christmas dinner, chunks of onion and red bell pepper from some fajita beef skewers from New Year's (they had been touched with raw beef so they had to be cooked), the normal mug o'bacon fat from breakfast bacon and half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that, well, tasted like white grape juice *shudder*.

Here's the ingredient list:
Spoonful of bacon fat (or use your favorite fat)
Approximately 1/2 onion, chopped
Approximately 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and rough chopped
1 carrot, chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
Approximately 1/2 bottle white wine (or use less and supplement with stock)
Around 2 cups water (I didn't have any stock on hand)
Approximately 1/2 lb ham, diced
1 can white beans (I used Cannellini beans)
Pepper (there was enough salt with the beans and ham)
Pinch of dried thyme

I sauteed the onion, garlic, pepper, pepper flakes, and carrot in the bacon fat until soft and just beginning to take on color, then threw in the wine, let it reduce to about half, then added the ham and water. I let this simmer for probably 10 minutes, mostly to get some of the ham flavor into the liquid, since I didn't have any stock. I added the beans, which I only drained of about half their liquid, fresh ground pepper, and the thyme, then let it simmer until the liquid was thickened, about 10 more minutes. We ate it with leftover bread from New Year's, which was already sliced and had been intended for Bruschetta, so it was perfect for sopping up the broth. We also had some leftover olives and Blue Cheese Ball.

It actually turned out pretty well for a last-minute quick soup, so I was happy!