Sweet shortcrust pastry

pastryballSweet Pastry 101

Colleen tells me that shortcrust pastry gets its texture from shortening the gluten strands with a fat. This makes it melt-in-the-mouth. In Seattle, the humidity in the air requires attention to the texture of the mix and you may need to add or subtract flour to get the desired end. A light hand is needed to avoid overworking the pastry.

Sweet pastry should be able to stand on its own, and for Colleen’s preferred recipe, it can be sliced up and served as shortbread.

Ingredients

1.5 sticks of butter at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons of water
80 grams (1/4 cup) of baking sugar

Equipment

A large bowl
Plastic wrap or wax paper (either is good)
Rolling pin
Measuring cups
Pie dish or dishes
Pastry weights (this can be rice or uncooked split peas)
Oven preheated to 400F

Making

Cream butter and sugar together using your hand.
(heat of hand helps melt butter)
Add one egg and mix thoroughly.
Gradually add the flour until pastry forms a ball
(you may not need all the flour)
Add a couple teaspoons water to help make pastry workable (it does not break)
Pastry should leave sides of the bowl clean and not be sticky

Wrap in plastic or wax paper and put in fridge for half an hour.
This allows the gluten strands to relax and not be stretched,
creating the desired ‘shortness’.

Using pastry

Take out of refrigerator and place between two sheets of plastic or wax paper.
Use rolling pin to roll out to the desired size and thickness.
Remove one side of the paper or plastic and roll loosely around the rolling pin to lift it.
Roll out over pie dish, pastry side down.
Ease pastry into the corners without stretching.
Finish the edges by pinching between finger and thumb to flute edges.
Use parchment paper as a barrier for the weights. Add pastry weights to fill base evenly.

Blind Baking

This will prepare the pastry and cook it partially so it does not become soggy when you add a wet filling.

Place in oven and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper (dough will still be moist on bottom).
Cook for another 5 minutes to dry the bottom of the pastry.
The pastry is now ready for filling.

Food: Mushroom chocolate crème sauce

MushroomCacaoTamarindSauceI’ve been making a mushroom sauce for years now, and it’s a versatile base for a range of different meals. By moving towards olive oil, and adding tofu and coconut milk, I can make it vegan; by taking out the garlic I can move it from savory to sweet; and for a spicy change, I add chile and chocolate.  Here is the basic recipe, with some variations I’ve invented over time at the end. The most ambitious variation is one that results in a “chocolate marsala creme sauce”.  Odd as it may seem, the chocolate marsala version is great with steak. Add wine.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil (or butter)
  • Crushed Garlic
  • Mushrooms (white button, or others to taste)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Lemons
  • Starch (for thickening)
  • Cream (creme fraiche, or sour creme, or coconut creme)

Optional ingredients

  • Tamarind paste / sauce
  • Semi-sweet chocolate
  • Maple syrup
  • Chipotle chile powder

Preparation

  • Wash mushrooms and remove stems
  • Finely slice enough mushrooms to fit medium size skillet (2 cups)

Cooking

  • Saute garlic in oil (or butter). IMHO olive oil tastes better.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring continually.
  • Squeeze 2 lemons and stir well.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce (1-2tablespoons) and, if you like
  • Add marsala wine to taste
  • Add 1 can of coconut milk OR 2 cups of sour creme, or creme fraiche
  • Thicken with starch (corn starch OR rice starch)

Variations

  • Vegetarian Meal variation – before thickening, add diced firm tofu, and cook for 5 mins -and serve over rice
  • Sweet sauce variation – Leave out the garlic at the beginning, and add maple syrup at the end, before serving
  • Chocolate Marsala sauce – this has the most variations, so it likely qualifies as a separate recipe. Basically, leave out the garlic, add tamarind to taste, 3 pinches chipotle chile and a cup of semi-sweet chocolate, and blend after cooking, but before serving. This variation uses creme fraiche, and does not require thickening. It is a great accompaniment for steak, lamb, salmon or chicken.

Character

  • The character of the sauce is tart/sweet and smooth. It has a complex mouth-feel, and can be adjusted towards chocolate/spice or savory/tart.

Food: DIY protein snacks and bars

chocolatechipsHealthy snacks for people on the go

This lovely little oddity comes to us courtesy of a food co-op in Madison, Wisconsin some 30 years ago, along with the slogan, “Power to the Beeple”. My sweetie told me about these “beeple bars”, and with a little experimenting, we reinvented the recipe. It’s basically a nut and protein bar with protein powder, honey and lecithin to bind it together. There are endless variations on a theme, some with more or less sweetener. If you want to go with peanut butter, no-salt peanut butter is best, especially the grind-your-own from PCC, Whole Foods or your local co-op grocer.

Ingredients

  • Nut butter – peanut, almond, macadamia
  • Whey protein powder
  • Cocoa powder, and maybe some chocolate chips
  • Binding agent – honey, lecithin (not sweet), molasses or agave syrup (lower sugar)
  • Optional – dried fruit, coconut flakes (unsweetened)

Making

  • Blend the  nut butter with honey and lecithin
  • Add WPI protein powder (chocolate flavored is good, or plain), and cocoa.

Use your hands to smooth it all together . It’s all kinds of messy and gooey, but by hand is the best way to mix all the ingredients. Keep mixing until it has the texture of a moist dough, all stuck together.

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Tips

  • If it’s too dry, add more lecithin
  • If it’s too moist, add more protein powder

Finishing touches

  • Take the ‘dough’, make a one inch ball, roll it in coconut and refrigerate.
  • Roll out a bar, add some raisons, wrap in wax paper or foil, keep in the refrigerator until ready to add to your day pack.

Variations

  • Add chocolate chips
  • For a desert treat, dip in chocolate
  • For some ‘snap’ add rice crispies
  • I particularly like blending a couple of nut butters together like peanut butter/almond butter or macadamia/pecan

These snacks are tasty and nutritious, and best of all, you know all the ingredients that went into them. 

Design for the right size screen

The monitors are larger,

so we can fit more on the screen

vectorstock_18712444One of the challenges of design is to have a response to the desire to fit more on the screen, as it seems obvious (to some) that a larger screen means more real estate to fill. Periodically, we also hear a proposal to have wider text, beyond the 75 characters that a person can read without turning their head. And that really depends on whether the device is at 10 feet, like a television or hand-held, like a smart phone.

However, the proportional relationship described by the distance between eyes, the reach of the arm, the amount a person can view without turning their head – those hold true, regardless of the size of the screen, console, device. For most practical purposes, designers use the width of 45-75 characters as the optimal width for reading. That’s actually why we have columns in magazines and newspapers. It makes it easier to read. We can cheat those numbers a bit, but beyond around 80 characters, we need to understand how we’re hurting readers.

As designers of human-computer interactions and experiences, we find ourselves drawing pictures to show people how that works. We draw the distance between human eyes, the viewing distance of the screen, at arm’s length away from the person, and the cone that represents the field of vision. We show a novel held in the hand, and examples from movies such as star wars, where there are a few large words across the screen, but those words fill the whole visual field

A long time ago

In a galaxy

Far far away

We show a person holding up their thumb, and moving it around at arm’s length. This simulates how we parse information, the thumb being the point of attention, and moving the thumb shows the bite-sized chunk of information we see at a time. The size of the monitors has changed, but the focus of human eyes has not. Human-machine interface follows the same rules as the other proportional relationships found in nature, and in the human body.

Fibonacci  described the relationships as part of the sequence of numbers and geometry found in the body, and in nature, as part of a spiral known as the divine proportion, or golden ratio. Though we more popularly know of Fibonacci from the Dan Brown novel, The DaVinci Code, his explorations of numbers in nature and the body are fascinating from a design perspective. They remind us that defining space, and designing within that space, can be made more pleasing by paying attention to the golden ratio. We can choose rectangular shapes that follow that ratio; we can also place information in places that the eye will naturally follow, along the curve of the spiral.

Changes in perception are occuring, however, not in ways we may have expected. More often than not, those large screens allow us to switch rapidly between different screens, rather than expanding just one. We can fit more windows on the screen, and move our attention between those windows, and the information contained in them. We also move perceptually between multiple email conversations, surfing, games, and writing, all in parallel. However, unless working on a full-game immersion, or a graphics program, maximizing a window is out. It makes it harder to mouse across to the far edges, adds to fatigue, and frankly too much is missed if it is on the periphery of our vision.

As a user experience designer, I need to be aware of these balance points, and not design experiences that make the user work too hard for the reward of the information they are trying to get to. Making it easier, quicker, more responsive within the frame or window, that’s the ticket.

Ultimately, we design for a variety of screens and devices. We use media queries to determine which stylesheets to use, and how the responsive widths will display the information. We have come a long way from the old world of print, with fixed layouts that are static. The end user wants control of their device, and of their experience. If we listen to that, and pay attention, we will design in a way that respects the person’s wish to change their screen contrast, the fonts, the sizes and the colors. Good design can take all these things into account, and become even more relevant to the person we are designing the experience for. That’s what modern design aims for – the right sized experience in the hands of people with all kinds of different needs.

Summer food: 3 refreshing salads

1. Pineapple and peppermint salad

Pineapple and peppermint salad by Ria

Pineapple and peppermint salad by Ria

This refreshing salad is a delicious sweet treat for the summer and accompanies most vegetarian or fish dishes well.

Making

  • Core a fresh pineapple and cut into small chunks / wedges
  • Pick some mint from the garden (about a cup) and chop it roughly
  • Combine in a glass bowl
  • Refrigerate for an hour before serving

Thanks to my sister for the recipe. Especially for the suggestion of using chocolate mint on occasion rather than peppermint. Nom.

Variations

  • Try adding a quarter cup of finely chopped red onion for a bit of bite
  • Love ginger? This one is great with a little fresh rasped ginger root (not too much, just a taste)

2. Mushroom garlic salad

buttonMushroomCapsAnother favorite from childhood, and oh so easy to make. It’s a tiny bit fiddly, but worth it for the compliments you’ll get if you bring it as a side dish to summer gatherings.

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

  • 2 pints white button mushrooms
  • 1 dessert spoon of crushed garlic
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup sour cream

Making the salad

  • Wash the mushrooms under cold water, turn them upside down and remove the stem. We discard the stems, as these have a more intense flavor than we’re looking for. Next, we clean up the mushrooms by reaching under the cap for the edge of the cap and removing the top layer of the mushroom. You’ll be left with a white, clean cap. This is the fiddly part. You can use your fingernails, or a paring knife, whichever feels easiest for you.
  • Slide the mushrooms to desired size – I usually do every quarter inch.
  • Aerate the whipping cream with a beater or whisk
  • Whip the sour cream and add the garlic to it, then fold the whipped cream into the mixture. Carefully, we don’t want to lose the whipped lightness of the cream.
  • Pour the cream mixture over the mushrooms and fold them together.
  • Put a tight lid on and put it in the refrigerator. It will be ready to serve in an hour, once it’s chilled.

Variations

Once you have the basic mushroom garlic salad, you can add a variety of different herbs and ingredients.

  • Chop half an English cucumber finely and add it to the salad. Serve immediately as the added liquid will dilute the cream.
  • Add ginger to the mix, for a bright flavor
  • Parsley, finely chopped, or chives, can also be added

Serve as a side dish with fish, barbeque ribs or steaks. It’s also great on a burger.


3. Fresh Fruit salad with lemon and agave

redwhitebluesalad-rialoader

Red white and blue fruit salad – Image by Ria Loader

I like to call this one the red, white and blue salad. Depending on what’s ripe, the white might be apples, pears or even white nectarines. Farmers markets are popping up all around the region at the end of May. They are arriving at town centers and parking lots, at schools and in empty lots, bringing with them foods that were in the ground only that morning. Short of growing the food yourself, this is the closest we come to picking fruit off the tree. There are all kinds of odd shapes, especially among the heirloom tomatoes. The pears arrive in less than perfect shape, and absolutely delicious. Together with a slice or two of a sharp cheese, this is one of my favorite afternoon snacks in summer.

Evaporated lemon crystals, now available in the grocery store or online, add the bright flavor of lemon, without adding any liquid. If that’s not available, try lemon zest instead.

Agave syrup, a lower glycemic fruit syrup, pairs well with fruit salads, making them full of dark sweet flavor. I tend to like the dark, raw agave syrup. Used sparingly, as a drizzle on the fruit salad, it is ambrosial.

Red, white and blue

Always a fun color combination, I made a red, white and blue salad using berries and nectarines.

  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 3 medium sized white flesh nectarines
  • 2 tablespoons raw agave nectar
  • crystallized lemon (1/4 teaspoon)

Chop the nectarines in 1/2 inch chunks, wash and combine the berries. No salt in the recipe at all. You can feel free to substitute the agave nectar for something else, sugar free vanilla syrup works, or honey if you like it better. The lemon adds a brightness of flavor to the raspberries. You could also use lemon juice.