Let the yarn do all the work

Last Friday I finished my mom’s shawlette or scarf or whatever the heck it should be called. It’s a Trillian by Martina Behm. As previously posted, I used Schoppel Laceball in the color way Rosa Träume. It was a very relaxing and mindless knit. In fact, I got a bit bored knitting it. Today I got a few nice photos of it outside despite the cloudy skies:

The striping effect is beautifully dramatic and I know my mom will love it. And now my Christmas knitting is complete! Tomorrow is December 1 so it’s time for me to get going on the Grinch-a-long.

Doing Thanksgiving outside the U.S.A.

It is the eve of Thanksgiving in the U.S. Well, for me it’s the evening. It is exactly 11:21 PM as I write this. I hope everyone from the U.S.A. has a wonderful and relaxing day. If some of you have to work, well, so do I! Nobody where I live celebrates it. Of course, I love eating Thanksgiving dinner. But I also insist on observing this holiday in my home because it truly motivates me to remember what I am grateful for.

Thanksgiving, it goes without saying, is my favorite holiday and during the four years I’ve been living in Spain I haven’t missed a single one. Of course, it’s quite the solitary affair. I make Thanksgiving dinner for two. Sometimes, it’s been a challenge to get it right but I have tricks up my sleeve.

This year as always I have to teach the regularly scheduled English classes. This most certainly does not mean that I have to wait until the weekend to do my Thanksgiving dinner. In Spain, especially in a small city like the one I live in, pretty much everything closes at 2 PM to reopen again at 5 PM. This means that nobody takes English classes between these hours, either, so I have time to get together with my partner at home and have a couple of hours of Thanksgiving time.

It’s all a matter of proper planning. Today, I made my stuffing and an apple pie in my spare time. I also got my cranberry sauce ready, which was also a challenge. You see, all the ingredients for an American Thanksgiving are actually foods available every day in Spain,  except fresh cranberries or a can of cranberry sauce. In past years I’ve been able to find craisins, which are dried cranberries that look like little red raisins. I have made cranberry sauce with these by boiling them in sugary water. This year I have not seen a single craisin available. So, I made cranberry sauce by dissolving gelatin in cranberry juice. I tried some and it tastes like the real thing so, success!

I will not be roasting a whole turkey. Instead, I’ll be roasting turkey tenderloins. Since I have to go back to work in the afternoon, I’m also not making any mashed potatoes or squash. Instead, I’m going to roast my potatoes and the squash with the turkey tenderloins. Thanksgiving dinner, after I manage to heat the stuffing in the microwave and make a gravy from chicken broth, will be ready in under 40 minutes.

I really can’t wait to eat tomorrow! The stuffing looks so delicious. I have resisted the temptation to dig into it so far. And, of course, I can even be thankful for celebrating this holiday far away from home because I don’t have to listen to my relatives shout at the T.V. during the football game. In fact, I shall spend the day completely removed from and oblivious of football. I’m sorry, football fans. It’s just not my thing. I’m a hockey kind of guy!

Basic black gloves

I finished a pair of gloves just in time for today’s cold and rainy weather. They aren’t for me, but I modeled one so you can see how they came out:

photo-nov-23-11-26-18-am

I followed the basic glove pattern found in Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. The yarn is Patons Wool DK, a very convenient superwash wool I had in my stash. And, just in case you suspect I didn’t make two, I took a rather gloomy indoor picture of the pair:

2gloves

Getting ready to Grinch

Today I have taught a lot of English classes but I have time and energy for a mid-week blog post. I don’t have any photos to share because although I’ve been knitting there isn’t a lot of good lighting to take halfway decent pictures. I’m almost done with my mom’s shawl I’m giving her for Christmas and I’m just finishing a pair of gloves for my partner (he needs a pair of gloves ASAP, it’s getting super cold here).

As many knitters know, The Knitmore Girls Podcast holds an annual “Grinch-a-long” with some very interesting rules. To participate, you can’t knit anything for Christmas this year and you have to spend the holiday season doing something that gives you joy beginning December 1. The concept is really cool. Many knitters this time of year are feverishly trying to get knitted gifts done before December 25. I abandoned this kind of activity about two years ago but last year I couldn’t qualify to participate in the Grinch-a-long because I worked on a Christmas gift in December. I absolutely was not swamped with self-imposed Christmas knitting last year it was just that I got very unenthusiastic about the project and put it in time out for too long in November. This year I am totally pumped! I haven’t committed myself to Christmas knitting on the scale that I have in the past and I managed to start the two Christmas gifts I will be giving people way ahead of time so I’ll be Grinching.

Technically, the Grinch-a-long is considered a contest but for me it’s been a goal to participate because in the past I have pretty much ruined the Christmas season for myself by forcing myself to knit gifts for too many people. The funny thing is that no one really minds if you don’t knit something for them unless you tell them ahead of time you’re going to knit something for them (that was never my case, even weirder). In fact, reflecting upon Christmases past I honestly cannot say why or how I got the idea stuck in my head that I had to knit for as many people as possible for Christmas. Anyway, I’m not going to get all competitive about it. I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I will be able to participate in the fun and commiserate with my fellow Grinches.

Another thing that is getting me excited for the Grinch-a-long is that I’ll be able to get Grinchy in the United States. I haven’t been home for Christmas to see my family in a very long time. There’s just something cool about participating in an event that originates in America and also being in the same country. I really can’t say why because people from all over the world listen to the Knitmores and participate in their events and contests. I suppose it could be related to the fact that I listen to podcasts to keep myself connected to my native language and culture while living in another.

Is anyone else going to participate in the Grinch-a-long this year?

Any pot pie you like

I have been knitting a lot. Unfortunately, I’ve been knitting the same old things: A shawl for Mom, a pair of socks, and a cabled sweater. I think it would be rather boring to show you pictures of my WIPs because I’ve already done that and all you’ll see are more of the same  that aren’t finished yet. This week I have also turned left over pot roast into beef pot pies. So, just in case I didn’t have much knitting to write about I took some photos and decided to write about making them. If you read on you will get: a pretty darn good all-purpose pie crust recipe, a way to make pot pies with any savory filling you like, and my own personal recipe for individual beef pot pies made with leftover pot roast. Also, remember: you can easily double or triple everything indicated below.

The Crust

We judge a good pie crust according to how it flakes. To make a really flaky, puffy pie crust, in my opinion, it is essential to use butter. Also, it’s important to make sure the pie is nice and cold when you put it in the hot oven. The pie crust will puff up and acquire that flaky and tender texture we all want. In my recipe I use lots of butter. This is not for dieters or people with diet restrictions. So, here it goes:

Recipe for all-purpose pie crust (for the top and bottom of a 9-inch pie):

Ingredients:

1 cup of butter (4 sticks), cold

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/4 cup or less of cold water

extra flour for dusting and rolling

(note: if this is for a dessert pie, also add 1/4 cup of white sugar)

Directions:

Cut the butter into little cubes. To a large mixing bowl (or large capacity food processor with chopping blade) add flour, salt, butter (and sugar if this is for dessert). Cut the butter into the flour or pulse a few times if using a food processor. When your mixture has a course texture and can form little pea-shaped balls you are done combining the flour with the butter.

Stir with a spoon (or run the food processor) while adding the cold water little by little. When the mixture forms a ball all on its own stop adding water and stop mixing. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a little bit with floured hands on a floured surface. If the dough is really sticky or pasty you can add some more flour to it as you knead it to get the consistency you desire.

At this stage, you can wrap the large ball in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator or you can roll it out the way you want with a rolling pin and flour. When you’re handling the dough just make sure you keep your surface, hands, and rolling pin floured. If you keep it in the fridge for a long time (more than 30 minutes) you will need to leave the dough on the counter for a while to take the extreme chill off before working with it. An all-butter pie dough gets really stiff and impossible to work with when it’s really cold. I actually prefer to refrigerate the dough for 15 to 20 minutes after mixing it and before working with it.

Any pot pie you like

To make pot pie filling all you need to remember is the following: you typically need 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup of butter, and 2 1/2 cups of liquid (usually broth or stock). This will be enough to fill a 9-inch pie or 4 individual pot pies. If you need more filling, double or triple these proportions. I prefer to make individual pot pies, actually. They store nicely and you can bake them as you need them.

Phase 1: You start cooking your filling by melting the butter in the pan, adding minced or chopped onion to the hot fat and sautéing it until the onion gets translucent.

Phase 2: Add the flour and cook the flour for 1 to 2 minutes.

Phase 3: Gradually add your liquid as you stir or whisk the hot mixture. To do it right, add the liquid in very tiny amounts at the beginning and do not add more liquid until you see a smooth, congealed mixture in your pan. So the procedure is: add a tiny amount of liquid, stir aggressively until it all looks homogeneous and smooth, add a tiny amount of liquid, stir aggressively until it all looks homogeneous and smooth, etc. etc. Eventually, your mixture will be able to handle larger additions of liquid. Keep going until you’ve added all the liquid. Cook for five minutes more (make sure your mixture is bubbling) before moving on to Phase 4.

Phase 4: Add the rest of your ingredients and cook until the mixture has the consistency you’re looking for. If you’re using cooked chicken breast or another type of cooked meat that does not improve with extensive simmering, add it when you’ve finished cooking the other ingredients.

Phase 5: Allow the filling to cool completely. I like to cook my filling hours in advance of assembling my pot pies so it’s nice and cold.

Phase 6: Make your pie dough as indicated above. Roll out your pie dough as you like and start assembling the pie or pies. Line your containers with pie dough, add your filling, and top it off with the top of the crust. When they’re assembled, refrigerate them for at least an hour before baking them. You can also freeze them.

Phase 7: Brush the pot pies with whole milk or cream and poke a hole in their centers.

Phase 8: Bake the pot pies (individual 4-inch round or square pies) at 375 degrees F (190 C) for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool for ten minutes before serving them. If the pies are frozen, bake them for 60 to 70 minutes.

Leftover individual pot roast pot pies (serves 4)

Filling:

1/2 cup of onion, minced

1/2 cup of Cremini mushrooms, minced

1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of butter

2 1/2 cups of beef stock (it does not have to be homemade)

1/2 cup of sliced carrots (make sure you peel them!)

1/4 cup of frozen peas

1 teaspoon of dried thyme (or more if you like)

1 or 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 cup (or some more!) of leftover pot roast, chopped into small pieces or shredded

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large frying pan or medium-sized pot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for one or two minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add the mushrooms. Add the beef stock little by little and stirring, as described in “Any pot pie you like,” above. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the mixture has the desired consistency. Remove from heat. Cool, and then chill in the fridge until ready to assemble the pot pies.

Assembly:

After making the pie dough as instructed above, divide it into eight pieces. Four pieces should be of equal size but larger than the other four pieces. The slightly larger pieces are for the bottom of the individual pot pies and the slightly smaller ones are for the tops. Grease four 4-inch round or square baking dishes (you can get away with using 5-inch ones, too). Roll out each of the four larger pieces to fit the baking dishes. Line the dishes with the dough. Add the filling. Roll out the four smaller pieces and top the individual pot pies with them. Cut off the excess dough and press down on the edges to make sure the top edges and bottom edges are sealed. Refrigerate or freeze the pot pies until ready to bake them. Bake refrigerated pot pies in 375 F (190 C) oven 30-40 minutes or frozen pies in 375 F (190 C) oven for 60 minutes. Let the pies cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Enjoying pot pies

An individual, homemade pot pie is just something I love to eat. When you make them for dinner guests it’s also quite the delight for them. There’s just something cool about getting a little delicious savory pie just for you.