Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Brown Derby

One leftover ruby red grapefruit, some nondescript bourbon, and honey make a cocktail worth singing over! Shake together 3 parts bourbon, 2 parts grapefruit juice, and 1 part rich honey syrup with ice. Strain in to a glass and enjoy! If you're feeling fancy, add a grapefruit peel twist. I wasn't feeling fancy.

I had some cheap scotch that the boy bought from Trader Joe's that I used instead of the bourbon, and it was still delicious. Is it sad that the only things I buy at Trader Joe's are toilet paper, dried pasta, and booze? Their produce is covered in unnecessary packaging and never looks fantastic. Once in awhile, I'm seduced by their avocados, but they all ripen at once and then at least one of them will end up in the compost pile. Where I grew up, TJs was the best supermarket around, but now I'm spoiled by multiple farmers' markets (the El Cerrito Tuesday market has the best Asian vegetables), Monterey Market, and Berkeley Bowl West.

One thing I cannot find in the Berkeley area is bulk peanut oil. I go through a 3L bottle of peanut oil every 6 months because I use it for stir-frying and everyday cooking where olive oil's taste doesn't fit in.  Before I buy another plastic bottle of peanut oil, I'd like to find somewhere I can refill my existing bottle. If anyone has any nearby options, please let me know! A friend informed me I can find what I'm looking for at Rainbow Grocery, but it's far from me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dehydrated Snacks

Can a healthy snack replace a salty, crunch potato chip? This is what I wanted to explore when I got a new dehydrator. All my experiments with nut cheeses meant that I needed something to spread said cheese on. I was buying chips and crackers, but decided that a homemade spread deserved a homemade cracker.

First up was an amaranth cracker. Making it was simple enough: boil 1 part amaranth with 2 parts water. Add salt and any other seasoning you desire, and spread the mixture 1/4" thick onto dehydrating tray, and dry at 115 °F for 10 hours or more. I liked them, and the boy thought they were "not his favorite." His dislike over these could be due to me not seasoning them very well, but I liked them. They had good crunch, although it was like eating tobiko at a sushi restaurant: you find yourself chewing bits of amaranth minutes after you've finished the cracker.

Attempt #2 was beet chips. I read about making crispy beet chips, starting from raw beets. I thinly sliced the beets in the food processor, and then drizzled them with olive oil and a dusting of salt. They were dehydrated at 115 °F for 20 hours. Does beet taffy sound good to you? If so, you'll love these chips. If it sounds disgusting, avoid at all costs!  I liked them, but they weren't crisp. Further web research shows that maybe I need to fry them first, and then dehydrate them.

Attempt #3 was flax crackers, and for these, I borrowed a juicer. (Having a Vitamix, a juicer, and a dehydrator made my kitchen feel like a regular hippy hangout.) I juiced beets and carrots, mixed soaked flax seeds with some of the vegetable juice and pulp, and dried the mixture out for 10 hours, again at 115 °F. This time, success! While I need to work on scoring the dough so I can break apart the crackers into snackable sizes, the crunch and taste of these are perfect for dipping.

Attempt #4 was just as disgusting as it looks. I mixed together nut pulp, leftover from making nut milk, tahini, and I forgot what else into a dough and dehydrated it. These were recycled into dog biscuits.

I'm losing hope over my leftover nut pulp. The energy to freeze it for future use isn't worth it. I've read that I can dry the pulp, but it's flavorless! Sure, there's fiber, but there are more pleasant ways to get fiber into my diet. So far, nut pulp is good for dog treats and worm food.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Smoky Negroni

Substitute mezcal for gin in the Negroni recipe, and what do you get? A smoky Negroni, which is even better than a regular Negroni! I got the idea from Speisekammer's bar. There, it was served with a fancy vermouth, but I only had the non-fancy variety at home. Still, it was delicious.

If you want to make your own smoky Negroni, mix together equal parts mezcal, sweet vermouth, and Campari. I was out of Campari last night, so I made it with Aperol, resulting in a less bitter drink. Hey, since I'm already messing with a classic cocktail, what's one more substitution?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bottle Drying Rack

Homebrewers are all familiar with the accumulation of beer bottles on the kitchen counters. The bottles can't be thoroughly cleaned in a dishwater due to the beer sediment, and therefore they pile up until they reach critical mass (i.e. someone gets fed up and starts complaining).

Our excuse for letting the bottles pile up is that we didn't have a good place to dry them. I hate counter clutter and we have limited counter space, so anything that needs to be hand washed is dried and put away immediately - we don't have a countertop drainboard. It's hard to dry a bottle immediately unless you want to shove a small rag into it or use a hair dryer.

The boy wanted to weld a bottle rack, but again, it would pig up some room on the counter and it would drain on the counter. We compromised on a simpler solution: a drain board that straddles the sink and holds the bottles upside down. He found some wood scrap, drilled some holes, and problem solved!

(Actually, the problem is almost solved. Someone still needs to clean the bottles out with a bottle brush.)

The rack works well for wine bottles, too. We save those as well because we have a friend who grows grapes and makes way more wine than he can possibly drink, an excellent quality in a friend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No More Boba Tea Guilt

Today marked another baby step in my quest to create less trash: my cobbled together boba cup!  I love boba (also known as bubble tea), but I get queasy when I get the plastic cup heat sealed with the plastic lid and the giant plastic straw. After inhaling another boba tea, I mentioned to my friend that I really need to stop ordering these drinks or think of a way to get the drink without all that trash. Since I so rarely get single-use cups nowadays, it felt odd and wrong to toss everything. (Yes, I've been living in Berkeley for a long time!)

I started by researching the crux of this setup, the boba straw. I found a glass option and a metal option, and after mulling over the two, I went with the 10" boba straw from The Mulled Mind. Once I had that, I had the other pieces of the setup at home. The lid comes from reCAP, and the jar is a Ball Pint & Half. The reCAP lid is for wide-mouth jars. If I were to buy the setup, it would cost around $15 (jar is $1.50 jar + $7.00 lid + $6.50 straw). Mine boba kit costs a few dollars less than that because I bought the lids and jars in bulk. The lid is the most expensive component, and it certainly isn't necessary - I like mine because I'm usually in my car when the urge to get a boba hits me, so this keeps spilling to a minimum.

For you Bay Area boba fans, County Cheese in Kensington makes a fantastic version. They use high quality tea, real milk (instead of that sketchy powered creamer stuff), and the boba is boiled in sugar water and has the right amount of chew. I always hate it when I order a boba and instead of being chewy, the tapioca balls are old and mushy or, almost equally as bad, the balls are tasteless because they have been boiled only in water. That defeats the whole purpose of the drink! I know there are some other boba places around that don't use the gross stuff, so please leave me a comment if you have a recommendation.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monte Rio Getaway

Quick vacations are wonderful for getting out of a rut. The boy and I are enjoying our time off, and instead of scheduling a grand trip, we decided to make several small trips around the Bay Area. Monte Rio is less than 2 hours from us, yet it feels far enough away to let some of the daily-life stress soften up. Not having cell phone service, helped, too!

Sesame swam, although begrudgingly. She'll do anything to save her precious ball.

Mingus dug holes in the beach and sat proudly in them.

Sesame posed by the river...

And on tree stumps.

I found unexpected kimchi fried rice for breakfast at Dick Blomsters. This constitutes a successful vacation. Where we'd move if we didn't have to do X, Y, and Z is always a moving target, but Monte Rio is a strong contender.

If you want to see updates on the dogs, cat, and food more than once or twice a month, you can find us all on Instagram. My username is sungoldtomato.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Stingray Fish Cakes

The boy has taken up fishing, and while I do applaud hobbies that are productive and practical, I wish he would stop bringing sea monsters home. His first catch was a 22-lbs halibut, which was terrifying. The picture he took of it before he got home didn't have anything in the background to give me perspective, so when I rounded the corner of our house after he had it laid out, I pretty much screamed and ran back in the house. They look like aliens! His second catch? This 37-lbs stingray. Seriously, WTF? Can't he bring home some Dungeness crab or a nice little striped bass?

Our friend, the boy's fishing partner, graciously filleted the wings for us. Quick Googling turned up with French recipes for skate with browned butter, and also a bunch of unappetizing facts about stingrays, like how they secrete urea through their skin, so you have to process these suckers and use the meat fast.  We decide to make the brown buttered recipe. The taste of the fish was fine, but it was chewy.

What to do with chewy fish? Asian fish cakes seemed like the obvious choice. I made two versions: one Korean and one Thai (I omitted the white pepper from the Korean recipe and added two tablespoons of Thai red curry paste).

Both versions were delicious, although we need to work on our deep frying technique.  The cakes were bouncy, just like they were supposed to be. I have three tubs of fish paste in the freezer now that I can fry up and add to noodle soups and stir-fries. However, we mutually agreed that a stingray is on the "catch and release" list from now on. It was a lot of work for very little meat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Superbags for the Masses

I've been hesitating over a nut milk bag for awhile, and not just because of the name. Although they pack up small, the nut milk bags seemed like a one trick pony. Enter the Superbag, a filter bag that is not only useful for straining nut milks, but is large enough to hold a whole chicken carcass and be thrown into the cooking pot. All I have to do is pull the bag out of the pot when the stock is done!

Superbags are super expensive. The large 100-micron bag sells for $42. But guess what? You can buy a similar bag on McMaster-Carr for $10 - I purchased the nylon bag that is 7" diameter and 16.5" height. Since both the McMaster-Carr nylon bag and the Superbag have a maximum temperature of 325 °F, I'm pretty sure the Superbag is just nylon. I got the idea from this discussion on egullet, and now that I've used the 50-micron bag to make hazelnut milk, I'm wondering what took me so long to purchase it. So far, it seems robust and is easy to wash, but I'll use it to make stock soon and report back.

I read that I can make tomato water using these bags, and once summer hits, that'll be my next experiment.

Obviously my "don't buy anything" streak is over, because I also bought two silicone reusable bags. If I ever decide to buy a sous vide, these bags are supposed to be a reusable option. I bought them because I like the convenience of bags for keeping my washed and chopped greens fresh and I also wanted them for storing homemade frozen potstickers, although they are a little too small for the later task. Hopefully, they'll come in a bigger size soon.

Each 1-quart bag held 1 bunch of chopped kale. Today, I made a risotto with kale, chorizo, smoked paprika, and a splash of sherry vinegar. I'm in love with the pressure cooker method of making risotto - same results, but 25% of the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Vegan Cheese is the Gateway Drug

Experimenting with vegan cheese has lead me down a a path lined with sprouts, essene bread, raw foods, and vegan yogurts. Anyone who has been around me in the past week will attest at my inability to talk about anything else. A few people have made it over to our house during this high experimentation time, and they've been lucky enough to not have any of these offerings foisted on them, but they can't escape so long as they know me. Yes, I lure people into my lair with cocktails, and then cram vegan cheese and raw crackers down their throats!

The vegan truffled brie experiment went well, although Sesame got first crack at tasting it. I've been drying my cheese near the back of my stove, and she actually pushed a step ladder over to the stove and swiped a huge chunk of cheese while I was at work. Undeterred and much to the boy's disgust, I cut off the bits my dog's mouth touched and continued aging the brie, this time in pet-free zone.

Does it taste like brie? Well, although I do like the taste, both the taste and the texture reminds me of… Condensed cream of mushroom soup. It's like I dumped a can of mushroom soup, air dried it for a few days so it develops a skin, and served it on a cracker. Does this mean I like it? Yes,  I do like it, but I think the next time I make this, I will skip the aging step, reduce the tapioca flour and agar powder, and just run with it as a delicious soup.

The plethora of cheese means that we need crackers and bread to eat with the cheese. (Unless you're Sesame. But, she has a laundry list of questionable favorite foods, so for the sake of this discussion, her opinion does not count.) I had leftover sprouted kamut, so I made some essene crackers. To make the crackers, I put the kamut into the food processor with a dab of honey, salt, and olive oil. There resulting mass was spread onto a silicone mat and dried at 150 F.

The resulting crackers are on the sweet side, so to fix that, my next batch of kamut won't be sprouted for as long and I'll reduce, or even omit, the honey. Essene bread can be bought commercially as Ezekiel Bread, a sprouted wheat bread that is dense in texture and nutrition.  I'm making it because I need more crackers and I don't want to buy them at the store when I have a pantry full of raw materials.

I made another batch of non-dairy yogurt, this time using a thick cashew milk as the base. This yogurt is much better than my last batch of soy and cashew yogurt, maybe because this time I used a spoonful of Nancy's Organic soy yogurt as a starter. The yogurt was tangy in about 6 hours, and it was creamy! The picture below was from when I first made the yogurt, but now that it's been in the refrigerator, it has a lot more body. I'm definitely making this again - the cashews are soaking as I type. We used the yogurt as a topping for a beet risotto, and it was fantastic! I also ate most of it with a spoonful of Meyer lemon marmalade.

The marmalade was gifted to me, and now that I'm out, I want more! I found this recipe and I have all the ingredients, so hopefully I'll have some more marmalade tucked away for future yogurt topping.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ballerina Dreams and Vegan Cheese

When I saw Sesame taking over the chair, I thought she was dreaming of being a goofball. My friend Jenni, however, said she was dreaming of being a ballerina. I like Jenni's description better than mine.

I've been dreaming of vegan cheese since tasting the lovely non-dairy cheeses from Miyoko's Creamery. Cheesemaking has always been something I wanted to try, but the boy is allergic to dairy and raw milk is hard to come by (and a pretty penny). Nuts, however, store better and are a bulk bin away.

I checked out Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner, and I've made two cheeses from her book. The first was the basic cashew cheese mixed with sun-dried tomatoes. It was good, and it would have been even better if I mixed in basil and some pine nuts. Since I had so much cheese, even after halving the recipe, I used some of it to make raviolis, and those were delicious! The filling held up well to boiling.

The second cheese was the vegan Gouda. This cheese was air dried, with a little bit of salt spread on the outside to keep it from molding. It's now been aging for 4 days, and although I want to age it longer, I don't know if it is going to last. It is so delicious! The texture is creamy on the inside with a semi-hard rind. For this recipe, I made my first batch of soy/cashew yogurt, and that yogurt is also a treat, especially when mixed with lemon verbena marmalade. As a side note, my Vitamix and my foldable proofer box (incubator) are two kitchen tools I cannot live without.

Today's experiment is going to be a vegan truffled brie, this time from Miyoko's website. I don't see the recipe currently up, but I was able to find a link to it on the Wayback Machine (update: link no longer works because I suspect this recipe is very similar to the truffled cheese sold my Miyoko's). I have high hopes for this brie!

While at Berkeley Bowl, there were two of us staring at the 6 different truffle oils. The other person had his smart phone out and was furiously typing away, and he was still trying to figure out which truffle oil to get for his scrambled eggs when I left. I wonder if he's still there? I grabbed the second smallest bottle that was around $10, because in my experience, I don't use the stuff up fast enough to pay anymore than that for my oil. The volatile compounds that make it so good dissipate after a few months. I also found agar powder, bulk cashews, and an economy sized jar of refined coconut oil.

The boys are hanging out a lot together, I think mostly because they are stubborn. Greaseball was the first one on the couch. He barely cracked an eye open when Mingus wanted to get on the couch, so I think they've assumed these positions before.


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