Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Smoked Californian Paprika

Inspired by Foodycat's smoked paprika post, some friends and I decided to try our hand at Californian smoked paprika in September, a time when peppers are cheap and plentiful. How hard could it be? 

The most time consuming part was slicing and seeding the peppers. Three of us had a station with a knife, cutting board, and a bowl. This was the most time consuming part.

The peppers were on smoked with dried rosemary branches, leftover from yard work, for about an hour.

Afterwards, I dried them in the dehydrator for half a day.

Post dehydrator, they went into the Vitamix. The end result is delicious! Some of the peppers we added must have been fiery hot because my lips go numb (and smokey) when I taste the paprika.

So far, I used the smoked Californian paprika in a moussaka - not quite traditional, I know, but it turned out fantastic despite me ruining the béchamel sauce. Did you know that the béchamel sauce for moussaka has eggs in it? In that case, is it even a béchamel?

I estimate that I have a year's worth of smoked paprika, which was exactly the plan. I split the 5-lbs of peppers with my friends, and it came to about $7 for my half. Not bad for organic smoked paprika! I should weigh the end results so we can do a real price comparison against the Spanish smoked paprika, but if you want a visual, I was able to fill a 1/2 pint jar.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fifty-Fifty, You Were a Good Cat

It's never easy to say goodbye, even when you know it's the right decision. Sadly, my little orange ninja  kitty, only 13-years young, left us a couple of weeks ago. I went to the vet because she suddenly wasn't walking right, and I left the vet 2 hours later, alone, sad, and stunned.

Orange kitties leave the biggest holes in your heart. I'm sure of it. Thank you, Fifty-Fifty, for schooling 3 dogs, for being a good sister to Greaseball (who we all know is a butt), for grooming the boy and me regularly at 2 AM, and for having the cutest, loudest purr.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Graduation Day!

Sesame and I completed Canine Circus School 1, and we're on to the next set of classes! My friends and co-workers have all been plied with cute pictures of my dog in circus school, and I'm sure they are keeping a lot of comments to themselves as they look at picture after picture of my dog doing tricks. Most people think I'm joking about the school until I show them pictures. Post pictures, the non-dog people probably think I'm crazy, but they don't know Sesame. When we don't train, play ball, or walk her, she drives us (Mingus and the cats included) batty with her demands for attention.

I think Mingus is starting to get jealous, so I've been trying to convince the boy that Mingus needs an education, too. Mingus has been auditing our practice sessions, and he knows a lot of the tricks now himself: circle, sit pretty, and stand.

So, in summary, I am a crazy dog (and cat) person who doesn't think she is crazy, and Mingus is homeschooled.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DIY Sriracha Sauce

Rooster sauce? That's the gateway drug, but once you get sick of it, you'll find that there are other sriracha sauces worth seeking out. I made the switch from Huy Fong's sriracha sauce to Grand Mountain last year after trying it at Hawker Fare, so there was no panic in my household when the now averted sriracha crisis of 2014 started to make headlines. Since the only ingredients in Grand Mountain are chiles, sugar, vinegar, garlic, and salt, it couldn't be too hard to make, right? 

Chiles are in season now, hence cheap, so I sauntered over to my market and picked up some beautiful chiles still on the stem (2 pounds for $4 - what a deal). Using this recipe as the base, I cut the stems off a pound of chiles but left their green caps on.

I pulsed the chiles in the food processor until they were roughly chopped, then added 2 tablespoons of palm sugar, another tablespoon of evaporated cane sugar, two small cloves of garlic, and 1 tablespoon of sea salt. I pulsed the mixture until it was wet and the chile skin was about the same size as the seeds.

The mixture was put into a canning jar, and I left it out to ferment for 5 days, tasting each day after the 3rd day until I detected a slight sour tang. There was a bit of white fuzzy mold at the top, but it was easy to discard with a spoon.

I added 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar, and then boiled the mixture for 5 minutes. When I tasted it after the mixture cooled down to room temperature, it needed some more vinegar, so I ended up adding an extra 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar.

After blending the sauce for a few minutes with a splash of water, enough water to get the mixture moving, I pressed it through a fine-mesh sieve. This step took the longest!

The result is a complex sriracha sauce that is hotter (and dare I say better?) than Grand Mountain Strong. It's terrific, and now I want to try this with different chiles and can it so I can have enough around until next year.

Have you made fermented chile sauces? If so, please leave me a comment because I'd love to compare notes and hear about your experiences. I have some green chiles I bought at the same time and I want to make another fermented hot sauce.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hot Dogs Are Evil

My hands reek of hot dogs on dog school day. Eager to get Sesame back into a training program, I signed up for Canine Circus School, appropriately dubbed "art school for dogs." It has been years, DECADES, since I've purchased hot dogs, and all I can think of is pink slime when I purchase those things as training treats per the recommendation of the instructor. I buy them covertly, ashamed, at places where no one who knows I'm an Alice Water disciple will recognize me.  But of course, the first time I had my cart loaded with hot dogs, I ran into a coworker who glanced at my hand basket (Meyers hand soap, Seventh Generation dish wash tabs, and 4 packages of cheap ass hot dogs - 4 of theses are not like the other).  Then, he proceeded to keep me there to talk about work stuff, while sneaking multiple glances at the hot dogs. Busted! I thought about telling him that they were for my dog, but he's no nonsense guy who probably doesn't know of Alice Waters and who would think it frivolous to buy human food (and I use this term loosely) for a dog, so that would make it worse. 

Still, Sesame works her butt off for a nibble of hot dog, more so then she would if I offered her my homemade, dolphin-free tuna, pastured eggs, and Parmesan cheese treats.  For the first class, I bought organic beef hot dogs, but when the instructor came by and offered her the crap hot dogs, she did back bends for him despite her "stranger! danger!" issues. I was sold. Pink slime hot dogs it is! I bought my second round of hot dogs at Ranch 99, where a cart filled with 3-liters of peanut oil, 4 packages of hot dogs, a carton of fermented rice, and salted turnips doesn't make anyone raise an eyebrow.

Did you know that the cheap, pink hot dogs are made from chicken now? I was shocked! I thought they were pork, because that's what I thought they were when I was a kid, but when I checked out the $2 hot dogs at the store, they were either chicken or chicken/turkey mixes. My childhood memories of hot dogs are fond, and I remember that, as a kid, a special treat was the hot dogs filled with a nacho cheese sauce. I could nuke it myself for an after-school snack, along with Spaghetti-Os and canned beef raviolis. They tasted good, and I'd probably still eat those things today if I didn't worry about things like type 2 diabetes which, unfortunately, is a disease both of my parents now deal with on a daily basis.

The boy hates melon as much as I hate hot dogs, so since it's melon season and our CSA is giving us one a week (one too many according to him), I have had to come up with ways for the melon to be useful. Enter infused vodka. I still have a lot of lemon zest infused vodka and some other bottles of plain vodka, so I mixed the vodkas together and added half a chopped melon. Perhaps I've made the most disgusting vodka in the world? Or, just maybe, I'll have a good ingredient for cocktails. I already have some black cardamon infused vodka and a bottle of Thai chile tequila, and those have proven to be good cocktail mixers.

My CSA and my modest garden are providing us with loads of tomatoes, so I've been saucing them, roasting them, and stuffing them. Tonight's dinner is tomatoes stuffed with quinoa, brown basmati rice, fennel, dill, pine nuts, and tomatoes. Currently, it's sunny and hot during the day, but the fog rolls in by dinner time, so it's a good time to have the oven on. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers have become an end of summer tradition here. Any other tomato ideas are appreciated!

The boys like hanging out on the couch, and I've given up on making the couch forbidden. I slays me how each of them has to have their head on the pillow. Spoiled! Totally our fault, though, so I can't harp on them too much. Often, I wish I could join them on that couch instead of working/cleaning/exercising. Someone has to pay for their loafing, though!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Photo Tuesday

Mingus knows that the first rule about being a model is to work it, work it, work it! He can work it with a sleeping person in the background. I have a collection of photos taken with the boy sleeping and various pets draped across him, proof again that the boy can sleep through anything, even suffocation.

Sesame, as always, is more demure when she hams it up for the camera. That squeaky toy lays dormant until 5:30 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. What was I thinking when I bought it for her? It's like buying your kid a drum set!

Greaseball, as always, is boss. What you don't see in this pictures are two large dogs laying off to the side because they don't want to disturb him.

What is this? Why, it's a Soulritto: mac & cheese, fried chicken, collard greens, and yams all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. This is American food at its finest and fattiest, but boy was it good (especially when consumed with hot sauce and Arnold Palmers).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Roasted Tahini

Tahini is one of those ingredients that either camps out in my pantry for months, or I use it up in a matter of weeks. Since I'm going through the later phase, paying $11 for a small jar of roasted, organic tahini instigated a DIY project. 

1.5-lbs of organic, hulled sesame seeds set me back $6. Since I prefer the deep, nutty flavor of roasted  tahini, I opted to toast the seeds. In retrospect, I could have turned on the oven, but turning on the oven for such a small amount of seeds seemed wasteful.

After 20 minutes on medium heat, the seeds were toasted, albeit unevenly, and ready to blend.

If you do this at home, let the seeds cool. I didn't do this, so I ended up taking 2 sessions to blend the seeds because the container was hot to the touch.

The sesame seeds started off dry and I wondered if I needed to add oil. However, as I continued to blend and scrape down the sides, more oils came out and the mixture became cohesive.

After a few more minutes, the tahini was a smooth butter. Success!

Using 1.5-lbs of raw sesame seeds resulted in roughly 24-ounces (3 cups) of tahini, 50% more than the the jars of tahini I had been buying at the store. So, if I were to buy this, it would cost me $16.50 versus the $6 I paid at Berkeley Bowl West. I love it when a little experimentation leads to a better, cheaper solution!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

FIfty-Fifty is a Confused Cat

This was my submission to Confused Cats Against Feminism, and I'm pretty sure that it didn't make the cut. Was it too weird? Probably. It makes much more sense if you are a Dr. Who fan. Although, truth be told, I know more about this fez quote because of others talking about it so much. When I originally designed the hat, the thought of Fifty-Fifty donning the tiny fez was my motivation.

For those of you not clued in to the Confused Cats Against Feminism phenomenon, rest assured that Fifty-Fifty really is a feminist. The confused cats are meant to parody the Women Against Feminism website, which, sadly, is not a parody.

Thanks to Carey for her Photoshop skills. I tried adding text to the photo myself, but it made my eyes bleed. Photoshopping, wrapping gifts, and folding laundry are tasks that take me 10 times as long as anyone else, and the result is as ugly as if I had spent 1 minute doing the task. It's my anti-superpower. Now you know.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Whimsical Doorway

This tiny doorway appeared on a day I was determined not to let a chain of minor issues mess with my mood. I had a glorious day off, and I intended to squeeze as much as I could out of it by starting it with a morning yoga class. I arrived at the gym 15 minutes before the class, but I ended up circling the gym for 20 minutes trying to find a parking space.  (Later, I found out that the class I was interested in isn't scheduled to start until 2 weeks later, but I still could have bouldered at the gym.)

Ok, no yoga. Fine. Now, I told myself through clenched teeth, I can try out the boba from Asha Tea House since it's been on my list of "must-do's" for a few months. 20 minutes later, I park 1.5 miles away because I couldn't find a closer parking spot. Ok, no problem. I needed the walk anyway to compensate for the lack of mind-calming yoga, although now I'm feeling weird about walking about town in yoga clothes because I'm a poser.

The boba was as perfect as I anticipated: they use freshly brewed tea, chewy boba boiled with sugar, and none of that non-dairy creamer crap. I had a slow walk back to the car. Only then did I notice that I parked next to a tiny door! 

The moral of this story? I need to ride my bike or take the bus to town.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tomato Sauce Season Begins

30-lb boxes of roma tomatoes are available now through my CSA, so tomato sauce season is here! This time, I timed each step to track the time I spend making and canning 5.75 quarts of tomato sauce.

Chop 20-lbs of tomatoes and throw them into the giant beer pot. 15 minutes of active time.

Simmer the tomatoes for an hour. There isn't anything for me to do except clean up the knife and cutting board and give the sauce a stir every 20 minutes or so. 5 minutes of active time. I used the boy's beer pot, which can probably hold 60-lbs of tomatoes. I contemplated making a double-batch, but it was cumbersome lifting the huge pot with the 20-lbs in it.

Since these pots are thin, I did burn some of the skins on the bottom of the pot, but luckily it wasn't enough to leave a scorched taste in the sauce. The other near accident was that I didn't close the spigot, but I noticed the tomato water coming out before if flooded the kitchen floor and fixed the problem.

Strain the tomato seeds and the skin. Active time, including clean up, is 1 hour. Clearly, this is where I need to speed things up.

The final steps had very little active time: reduce the sauce for 1 hour, and pressure can the sauce (10 minutes of active time, and 1 hour for canner to finish).

5.75 quarts of sauce takes roughly 4.5 hours, and the majority of the active time was spent putting the chopped tomatoes through the food mill. Although I have mostly an automated set up, it still was annoying to operate the food mill for an hour, but it is much quicker than using a manual mill as I've done in the past. For my next batch, I'm going to try straining the through the food mill first, and then reducing the sauce.

Last year, I canned 140-lbs of sauce, and we only have a small bit left. This year, I want to can more quart jars since I used them up quickly last year for pasta sauce.  I had to ration them. Half pint jars were also a hit because they were the right amount for paella or a single serving of quick pasta sauce, but because I'm short on reusable lids, I'll probably can mostly pint jars.

Is it worth the time and the effort? It's something I ask myself every year because I feel a little crazy doing all this work, but I keep on doing it because I like the taste and I enjoy the process. Plus, I can reuse the jars and lids (Tattler lids really do work!) year after year, so I can give myself a green pat on the back.

I have closet space devoted to my canning efforts, and JarBoxes keep it all organized and secured. I'll need to buy more Tattler lids because now that I can more than tomatoes (chickpeas, black beans, and an assortment of stocks), I'm running low. I'm waiting until they have the red lids again because, well, red! However, I may have to cave in soon because I don't have enough for tomato season.

Post canning, I made myself a whiskey smash. And then I made another one. Meyer lemons, pineapple mint, rye, and gum syrup make a heavenly libation. Gum syrup isn't cheap ($1.40 per ounce) and I've gone through 1/4 of the bottle already, so that may be my next DIY project.

Have you seen the magnificent blog Confused Cats Against Feminism? I need to think of a clever caption for a Greaseball or Fifty photo so I can submit it.


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