ONIONS, or A Chopping Method that Blew My Mind

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H’ok so I’m sure this isn’t new to everyone, but it’s so fun that I’ve gotta share. Instead of dicing onions by cutting long strips and then chopping those, my friend Miles taught me this trick while we were studying abroad in London a couple years ago. Nothin’ quite like cookin’ with friends.

Cut the onion in half by the root.

Place it flat on the cutting board and cut horizontally toward the root, but not all the way through. Then make a few vertical slices on the top-most part of the onion half that still looks like a petal.

Finally, hold the onion so it doesn’t smoosh out on the sides and slice across it like you normally would from front to back. MAGIC.

Feel free to step back with your hands on your hips and a grin on your face to relish how quick and entirely neat and orderly and uniform [which equates to WONDERFUL in my book] it was to chop an onion like that. Now, please, go put it in something delicious and tell me about it.

p.s. I don’t often use the phrase “off the heezy,” but when I do…it’s Dos Equis. Christmas Eve morning I made these delicious pumpkin bars from the pumpkin puree I’d frozen this fall, but I didn’t take any pictures because the kitchen has been, ahem, off the heezy with all the holiday food production lately. I added cream cheese frosting to ’em, because really, what are pumpkin desserts without a cream cheese element?! Within hours, they were decimated by the hungry mob made up of my extended family. I hope everyone’s holidays have been just as delicious as mine!

Knit Earwarmer Headbands

There’s only one pattern in my repertoire that I’ve duplicated over and over and over, yet varied just as much. Say hellooooooo to winter headbands. It all started with wanting to make them for the captains of my college ultimate frisbee team, Betty Gone Wild. At fall and early spring tournaments, it’s too hot to wear a hat and too cold to go completely without. Headbands are so perfect for sports, but kind of a hassle to take on and off. I found this pattern for an adjustable cabled headband that’s easy to wear and remove, and adapted it a bunch.

The pattern makes a pretty wide headband, so all the ones I’ve made have only been 15 sts wide instead of the 21 the pattern calls for. I’ve basically ignored the given cable pattern. The first ones I made for my former teammates were all garter stitch in between the sl1, yb, k1, yf, sl1, yb border except for a smooth middle section of stockinette, on which I used a duplicate stitch to write the name of the team [Betty Gone Wild]. Duplicate stitch is alot easier/neater for adding in words or small patterns, at lease that’s what I’ve found for small patches of contrast color. You just take a needle and thread and copy each stitch in a contrasting color on top of the original stitch.

The garter stitch sections helped the headband to be even more elastic. I used a skein of Simply Soft and size 5 needles. Unfortunately, I didn’t measure gauge, but just knit the beginning of the headband on size 5 needles and ripped it out a few times before settling on the 15 stitch width. Relaxed, they were 21-23 inches, with the smooth logo portion measuring around 7 inches. For my first foray into knitting with a double strand of yarn and into duplicate stitch, I think they came out pretty well – the yarn is ultra soft and my friends wear them a lot!

The other versions of the headband I made were a little more tame, color-wise. All include cables instead of wording and use calmer colors.

I started knitting last December [this was my first project], and the first thing I’ve made for myself was this teal headband. I used size 4 needles for each of these cabled ones, the teal is Paton’s Classic Wool and the lighter ones are Bernat Alpaca. These were knit specifically to stay warm when we’re outside for recess. I work in a special education classroom and we still venture to the playground irregardless of how windy and cold the weather is, and it just plain stinks to wear a hat or headband that makes for a messy hairdo afterwards.

I made these for myself, the teacher, and the other aide in our classroom and thought it would be cute if they were all similar but had their own unique cable. I was so surprised to discover that cabling makes it look like you put way more effort into a project than you really did. Looks intimidating at first, but is easy peasy after a quick look at instructions. Mine [the teal one] is the reversible cable found here.

The light blue cable is a just braid: Each border of the headbands is comprised of 3 stitches, so I added one more in the middle sts to make 10 in between. The pattern for the braid I fiddled around with for 10 sts ended up like this:

  • All even rows: P2, K6, P2.
  • Every 6 rows, alternate between cabling 3 in front and then 3 in back (P2, K3, C3, P2)
  • Knit until about 2 inches from finished length.
  • All odd rows: K2, P6, K2

The marbled headband’s cable is a double twist with an elongated section in between, again for 10 sts, here‘s the pattern I found for it.

These are a favorite project of mine, so far. They only take a day or two to make, are easily customizable, and are incredibly functional.

Verdict? Super Triumph, over and over and over… 🙂

P(yum)pkins, part 2: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Also called pepitas, I remember looking forward to these little guys after carving pumpkins as a kid. It’s super easy to roast them, and there are about a million ways to do it. My mom always used to toss them Worcester sauce and some salt, and man oh man were those the best.

This time, I decided to branch out a little from the straight up salty avenue. Don’t get me wrong, classic is well, classically delicious, but I wanted a little more of an adventure. A little bit of Google searching led me to an blog entry with 3 different ways to roast the seeds. I chose the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy and Curried recipes [though the third, Black Tea and Butter sounded pretty interesting, too]. And I almost followed all of the directions.

Before we get to the recipe, can I just write about the highlight of my day for a second? Puffy coats on little waddling kindergarteners are hilarious. A kindergarten kiddo in the classroom I work in always struggles with putting his marshmallowy winter coat on, and we’ve been practicing putting it on by laying it on the floor, standing at the collar, stickin’ his arms in and flipping it up and over his head. Today, the little dude did it by himself TWICE. The look on his face when he succeeds is this excited shock that he put his coat on without a struggle. I was so pumped and had this huge grin on my face, to which he responded by giving me a big ol’ bear hug. I about melted from cute overload.

H’ok, back to the food.

For the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy:

  • 1 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 c. natural cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper [yaaaaay!]
  • scant 1/2 tsp. sea salt, finely ground [I think regular ol’ salt would do just fine, too]

“Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, sugar, cayenne and salt.

I think this looks disgusting. Good thing it doesn't taste how it looks.

Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and cayenne pepper when they come out of the oven. Taste and season with more salt if needed.” [Original recipe]

I thought the oven temperature was a little high compared to when I’d roasted pumpkin seeds before, so I started at 300 F. The seeds on the pan looked super gooey and gross, like they were just going to sit there and stay soggy to spite me. So after two 4 minute intervals with some turning in between, I bumped the heat up to what the recipe called for and kept my fingers crossed.

Sweet 'n' Spicy

OH. MY. GOD. They turned out to be perfect after two more 4 minute intervals at 375 F. They crisped up with this really beautiful gloss from the egg white coating combined with the caramelization of the cane sugar. The heat from the cayenne kicks in like a sassy little aftertaste is supposed to. I forgot to sprinkle with more cayenne and sugar at the end like the recipe calls for, but I couldn’t stop eating them. Neither could my family. OM. NOM. NOM.

Curried Pumpkin Seeds:

  • 1 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • scant 1/2 tsp. sea salt, finely ground
Again, whisk together the oil, curry powder, and salt. Toss seeds in mixture, spread single layer on baking sheet, bake for 12 minutes or until golden, yadda yadda. I didn’t take process pictures because it’s pretty simple.

The recipe called for egg whites again, but because I’d never coated pumpkin seeds with egg whites before, I wanted to do a batch in a way I knew would succeed [so much for adventuring, but I wasn’t about to risk all the seeds I worked so hard to separate from pumpkin guts]. These guys were the reason I started the heat at 300 F, because they started out dry  and I thought that anything higher would burn the outsides too quickly. I roasted them together with the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy guys, even when I turned the heat up to 375 F. In hindsight, I would have just done them on their own before roasting the egg white-coated seeds that call for a high temperature. I think they’d only take about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees, and not have gotten a little on the dark side like they did. Make sure you stir them up every now and then during baking to make sure they roast evenly.

Curried Pumpkin Seeds

Holy moly, do I love everything about pumpkins.

All the curried seeds you own in the bowl to the left, on the right that's sweet 'n' spice, yes.

Some take home lessons here:

  • Dry pumpkin seeds tossed in oil cook way faster than fresh seeds that are still moist (I think). Do the dry dudes at a lower temp at, oh, maybe around 275-325 F? Let me know if you know/discover otherwise, please!
  • Egg whites make friggin’ awesome coating for roasted stuff. Despite how they make pumpkin seeds look clumpy and disgusting at first, the outcome is glossy and crispaaaay.
  • Don’t forget about the other squashes! Seeds from acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squashes roast up just the same.
Verdict: Triumph.
If anybody’s got suggestions or favorite recipes for other interesting ways to roast pumpkin seeds, please share! I’d love to make some more from other squash seeds.
A huge thanks goes to my brother, who sent me the nice camera that he never uses anymore so that I can take nicer pictures to post here. Also for his encouragement to keep writing. And for just being the best brother in general. Thanks, Ben.

P(yum)pkins, part 1.

Pumpkin. Bright. Sweet. Some kind of wonderful. With sweet stuff or in savory stuff. YUM. Even the guts are fun to play with. Anyway, I don’t know how different canned pumpkin from the store is from fresh pumpkin you puree yourself and pop in the freezer, but I like to think that it’s yummier when it’s DIY.

Roasting pumpkins is simple yet somewhat time consuming, but it’s downright fun if you like to be elbow deep in pumpkin guts and seeds. So if you’ve got a lazy Sunday, why not revisit the squeal-inducing childhood indulgence of squishing pumpkin guts in your hands? [No one else was home while I did this, and I couldn’t help but feel a little like a mad scientist and fill the house with bellowing laugh…muahahahahahaha!]…we’ll come back to the seeds another day.

Roasting pie pumpkins (the lil guys) is just like roasting any other kind of squash.

Slice that sucker in half. Takes some serious elbow grease, at least if you’re like me and have toothpicks for arms.

Scoop out all the seeds (save these little dudes in a bowl and soak in water for later) and guts with a spoon.

Pop those pumpkin halves face down in a big ol’ casserole dish and add about a 1/4 inch of water. I can’t help but think the halves together kinda look like a baby’s tush – adorbz. Anyway, I snap off the stems so the halves aren’t quite so tight a fit, but if the pan you’ve got is on the smaller side, you can cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces, just keep an eye on it because it won’t take as long to roast. When that’s all taken care of, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour at 350 F. Although if you’re roasting more than one pumpkin at a time, it might take longer.

While the pumpkins are baking, go ahead and separate the seeds from the stringy bits, rinse well, and spread ’em out on some tea towels to dry thoroughly for a day or two. If they’re not completely dry when it’s roasting time, they won’t get crispy like they’re supposed to. Avoid drying them on paper towels at all costs – they stick to the seeds when they’re dry, and no one wants to munch on roasted paper towels.

When the pumpkin’s done, it should be soft enough to pierce the skin with a fork. Unfortunately, sometimes the skin can be pretty stubborn – the smallest of the pumpkins I did this time had an almost brittle skin. When I took a fork to it after 45 minutes, it didn’t feel done at all. After an hour, I decided to try to use my toothpick arms again and take a running start to jab with a little more might. It turned out to be done on the inside, even though the skin was brittle and shell-like. What the what? No fair.

After the cooking part is finished and your pumpkins have cooled a bit, remove the skins and puree the flesh in a food processor or blender until smooth. Three pie pumpkins to yielded approx. 2 quarts. It all depends on the size of yo squash.

Divvy it up into whatever portions you’d like (I measure 1 and 2 cup amounts in tupperware containers) and toss it in the freezer. Fresh punkin puree allllll winter long. [Consider this foreshadowing for future kitchen (mis)adventures].

Verdict? Triumph. [a wonderfully messy one]