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. 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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Happenings

Since the big purge that I just can't stop yakking about, every unused item in our house has a target on it. Lately, I've been eyeing the string hopper press and steaming trays that we brought back from our November trip to Sri Lanka.

This meant that it was time to use the items, or ditch them. I wanted to use them. For the first string hopper attempt, I made a dough of rice flour, water, and a pinch of salt. Since there are hardily any ingredients, the resulting dough tasted just as bland as the rice flour that we used. Yes, steaming hot, those string hoppers were fantastic, but I notice that neither of us have touched the leftovers, so it's time for them to go into the circular file. I was also informed that I made the dough too stiff, and unnatural noises were coming from the boy as he pressed the noodles onto the trays. 

For the next string hopper attempt, I want to make red rice flour. The red string hoppers were my favorite, and it seems impossible to find red rice flour here. However, I can find red rice, so I think what I'll do is make the flour myself by soaking some red rice and possibly germinating it for added nutrition and taste, drying it out, and then blending it up with my Vitamix (I love that blender so much).

Sesame has finished another round of Canine Circus School, and that meant that we were going through dog treats quickly. Since I'm picky about what every creature eats in this household (although I cannot say that I have much control over the largest creature's food and drink consumption), the prepackaged treats I was buying were so expensive for how fast we were going through them. So, I actually baked for my dogs. For the first treats, I used this recipe for Tuna Training Treats (scroll down), but I didn't add the Parmesan cheese because my dogs don't need to be that gourmet. They were a hit!

For my second recipe, I made it up, which is why it turned out really ugly. I had a ton of roasted butternut squash pulp in the freezer, so I defrosted it and blended it with eggs, peanut butter, and rice flour. I need to work on the proportions, but I'm happy to say that the dogs also liked these treats (although Greaseball thinks they are crap - he much prefers the tuna treats). The two batches of treats should last us for a few weeks, and they are much cheaper than the $11 per small bag I was paying.

On a lot of the dog treats, they list brown rice flour as an ingredient, so I want to make some brown rice flour, too.  Maybe April will be the rice flour experiment month. I also found some old chicken fat in the freezer, another ingredient in dog treats. Cleaning out my freezer by making dog treats makes my frugal heart swell.

For now, I've quit my CSA. I had so many melons in the summer and so many winter squashes and turnips in the fall/winter, things that I like in moderation but I cannot choke down on a daily basis. While I love the idea of a CSA, especially when I'm too slammed with work to go to the market, it wasn't working for the household. Partially because begin slammed with work means that we eat out more, so things in the refrigerator were staying there past their prime and ending up in the compost bin. I hope I can join again someday, but it's not working for us right now.

Vegan cheese, or as the state of California makes you legally call it, cultured nut product, is now on my radar. I had a delicious round of smoked farmhouse cheese, and I want to make similar cheeses myself.  Miyoko Schinner, the person behind Miyoko's Creamery, has a recipe book called Artisan Vegan Cheese. Fortunately, my library had a few copies available, so now my kitchen counters are littered with soaking grains and nuts. Her recipes start with rejuvelac, a liquid made from sprouted grains. In my pantry, I had millet and kamut, so those are the two rejuvelacs fermenting on my counter.

Rejuvelac is a stupid word, and when I read the wiki about it, I found that it is a tonic that was popularized/invented in the US by Ann Wigmore. The word is too hippy for me, although I'm sure it will do just fine for my cultured nut product. 

Sandor Katz has a section on nut cheese in The Art of Fermentation. He says to simply add some sauerkraut juice to start the culture, which sounds easier than what I'm doing since I have a vat of sauerkraut bubbling away right now. However, I read that after I started the rejuvelac, so I'll follow the recipe, for once.

Instagram is quickly becoming my online time waster of choice, so if you want to see what I'm up to in real-time, click here: Instagram.  There are more dog and cat photos there. Most of these pictures are recycled Instagram photos.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Post Tidy Vacuum

Lagavulin and hipster ice 

It's been over a month now since we've reduced the amount of stuff in our house. Amazingly, it's still tidy around here despite both of us going back to our regular work schedules (and then some!), continuing Canine Circus School, and resuming exercise routines after the nasty colds both of us caught in January. Less stuff equals less stuff to clean and a place for everything. For our place, we can whip it into "company is coming!" shape in 15 minutes.

Because I knew that getting rid of stuff would create a vacuum that would pull us to buy more things, I decided that we shouldn't buy anything non-work related for a month so the house could equilibriate. The pull to buy things is huge right now, although it is diminishing as the month wears on. What do I want? A cast iron pan made in Portland that has milled cooking surface, stackable Japanese dishes that are uber modern and spendy, stainless steel chain mail for cleaning cast iron skillets and woks, a new fish spatula that's all metal, and a number of other kitchen things that I can't decide on. The boy is no help. He already cheated and bought gear to go crab catching ("it's for food!").

My urge to buy things was diminished when a Kickstarter campaign I joined months ago delivered the goods. I bought an ice cube maker, both spherical and cube, that makes crystal clear ice. Sure, I was called out for wanting hipster ice, but it's so pretty!

This time of year makes me restless, so I immersed myself in some kitchen experiments. The first was ginger beer using a ginger bug (the starter for the ginger beer). The verdict is still out on this one because I'm impatient and I drank 3 of the 6 bottles of beer I made already - they had little to no carbonation. I think I need to tweak my ginger beer recipe some more.

The second kitchen experiment turned out slightly better, although unsightly. After reading about Chad Robertson in Michael Pollan's book Cooked and trying bread that my friend made using Robertson's Tartine Bread, I wanted to start baking bread again, this time using Robertson's recipe.

With a dough hydration at a whopping 80%, it was the stickiest dough! It was so sticky that there was no need for a stand mixer since you stretch and fold the dough in the bowl while it's proofing. This dough required babysitting, especially since the recipe was fussy and I was unaccustomed to working with such a wet dough. Maybe if I surfed and meditated like Robertson I'd be more zen about the dough, but as the boy can attest, I was swearing up a storm whenever I had to interact with it. I was especially irritated when it was time to put the dough into the glowing hot Dutch oven. As you can see, it wasn't a clean release. I think it was when the dough plopped into the oven that I declare I was going to feed all of the bread to the dogs. Am I a little stressed right now? Perhaps, perhaps.

The boy intervened and insisted we let ugly loaves cool down and taste a piece before chucking it into the garbage (at this point, I thought that not even the dogs should eat it).

My, what an open crumb structure! It was delicious: slightly tangy (just enough to make it interesting, but not puckery), chewy, but not dense texture with a crackly crust. If I looked at the bread slice by slice, it was beautiful. When toasted, it was even better!

This week, I'm attempting the bread recipe again, but this time only making 1 loaf. And to prepare myself, I'll do yoga beforehand. Maybe that's the trick.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Vitamix Soy Milk Recipe

Soy milk, especially when it's  hot with just a hint of sugar, is my comfort drink. The stuff you buy from cartons is marginal and they are usually flavored and thickened. Any decent Chinese market sells fresh, and sometimes hot, soy milk from a plastic jugs, but it is still not ideal because of that plastic jug (landfill!) and because it isn't organic.

I've thought about buying a soy milk maker before, but it's such a specific machine and it would take up a lot of precious space. What if I could use what I already have, specifically my super duper Vitmix blender? Pickiness, not necessity, is the mother of invention in my world.

A little research showed that this has been done (and there's one baffling website where someone makes soy milk while wearing a bikini), and after a few tweaks, I made fresh, hot soy milk that tastes just like the stuff I love at Chinese breakfast restaurants. The best part is that if you have dried soy beans handy, you can make it in less than 10 minutes from start to finish. Even better, there isn't a pot of soybeans you have to watch and stir, you don't have to remember to soak your beans overnight, and there is no straining.

Start by boiling two cups of water. While the water is boiling, measure out 1-ounce of dried soybeans. Combine the boiling water and the soybeans into a Vitamix and mix on HIGH for 6 minutes (start the blender at 1, ramp it up to 10, and then flip the HIGH button). If you want to sweeten the soy milk, add your sweetener and blend for another 10 seconds. I added 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar to my soy milk, but I've also added maple syrup or just plain cane sugar. I've also added a pinch of salt, which is also very good.

Although the temptation will be to make more than 2 cups at a time, don't do it! The soy milk foams up as it blends, and there is plenty of clearance to prevent it from foaming over and out of your blender when you only do 2 cups at a time. Also, starting with boiling water is key since you want to cook the soybeans - I tried with hot water from the sink, and the resulting milk was disgusting because it still tasted like raw beans. 

If you don't have a Vitamix, any blender on steroids will do, like a Blendtech.

I love when I can figure out a way to make something I usually buy, and it is way easier than I anticipated. I've made soy milk the old fashioned way (soak beans, blend beans with water, strain, and cook the milk), and it was a mess and not worth the effort. However, I can boil water and weigh beans just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tidy Mania

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and that 2015 is the best year yet! This year, instead of driving all over during the holidays, we stayed put. I wish I could report that we did wonderfully fun things like take an exotic vacation somewhere warm or kayak all over the bay, but we chose (and some of us grudgingly) to tackle some home improvement projects.

First up was managing our pesky kitchen pantry. That stupid Japanese tidy book convinced me that we lived in a hovel more so than watching a Hoarders marathon. The boy didn't know what hit him. Since we had company over, the house was clean, but I argued that our house was skinny fat. Just because it looked good on first glance, didn't mean that there weren't disgusting things behind closet and pantry doors. Faster than he could ask me to define skinny fat (a horrible term that implies skinnier people look better - so not true), he was installing new pantry drawers and I had dumped old flours, seasonings, and sauces. Now our two-feet deep pantry shelves are transformed into usable drawers where hopefully nothing will be forgotten due to never seeing the light of day. This was a much easier task, from my perspective at least, than weeding through our clothes, and I felt emboldened to continue tidying our closets and office room.

Several trips were made to the El Cerrito Recycling Center + Environmental Resource Center, the most wonderful place in the world for someone wanting to declutter with less guilt. I got rid of old office supplies, old clothes, electronic waste, kitchen tools that were redundant or not my style, and random memorabilia that had no place in the house anymore.

For those of you who live in the East Bay, East Bay Humane Society accepts donations of clean, used bedding and towels (and they are also walking distance to The Rare Barrel if you want to make an afternoon of it). Figuring out where to take used bedding instead of throwing it out was the hardest challenge. We had a ton of sheets that were ratty due to dogs and cats having claws. Out they went for a second life!

I even went through old photos and purged ones that were awful. Remember when you had to get film developed? You would end up with perhaps two good photos from an event, and 20 blurry photos. To add to the clutter, every photo developer offered 2 for 1 deals, so you'd get 40 blurry photos. So, yeah, although I initially thought it would be hard to throw away things that may have sentimental value, it wasn't hard to whittle down our photo collection and keep the photos that were truly precious.

The same went for old letters. I had saved old holiday and birthday cards and letters from friends, again these mostly were back in the olden days before email and Facebook. These items have served their purpose, although I did save a handful that I can use for blackmail. 20 years later, I do not need to know that my friend went to Costco or had coffee at so-and-so cafe. It's funny the things we hang on to thinking they have so much meaning.

Henslow shawl knit mostly in Sri Lanka

The tidying process also gave me a chance to unearth WIPs that needed finishing. I blocked and finished my Henslow shawl, a Wildcat Canyon scarf, and a ripple afghan that took me 4 years to complete!

Wildcat Canyon Scarf for Jen!

The never-ending ripple afghan has finally ended
I even had a chance to crochet some cool hot pads (Starburst Hot Pad), and I neglected to make one for myself. Once I finish some more tasks, I need to make myself a couple of them for the table.

Crocheted Starburst Hot Pads

In the office room, I had a box of vintage canning jars my MIL gave me. Among the odds and ends, for the box was full of lids jars that did not always match, I found a matching set of Triomphe canning jars in great condition. Fortunately, I had new gaskets laying around for them since Fido jars also use the same sided lids. Ta-dah!

Triomphe jars!

We also had time to experiment a bit with food and drink. The boy had picked our backyard plums last year and turned it into wine. We were skeptical that it would be something quaffable, and to our surprise, it was more than quaffable. It is delicious and it will be a good substitute for the gew├╝rztraminers and edelzwickers I like to pair with spicy foods! So far, it's been aging for 6 months. I think it will be better in a few more months to smooth out the rough edges, but I'm happy with the finished product.

We also had a chance to play more with the extruded pasta press, this time making bucatini to pair with the last of our 2013 season tomato sauce. Man, that thing is fun! Expect to see more pasta posts soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thosai and Dal and Folding

I have finally made thosai (dosa) batter with the right amount of tang. What did it take? A trip to Vik's Distributors for skinless urad dal and short-grain parboiled rice and one foldable proofer. Realizing that the thing holding me back the most from thosai nirvana was the temperature of my kitchen, which is about 30 degrees cooler than a Sri Lankan kitchen, I broke down and bought the foldable proofer I've had my eye on for over a year. 

Why didn't I buy this proofer ages ago?  It can be used for bread, kombucha, yogurt, and anything else that needs a higher temperature than what my cold kitchen can provide. 

For some reason, until I saw how thosais are made, it didn't click with me that they were a fermented food product. It makes sense, since the goods ones do have a slightly sour tang like the best breads, but I never thought about it. Fermentation helps to make my favorite foods and drinks.

What I didn't need was a nonstick skillet. My cast iron skillet does the job just fine, and the more I use it, the more nonstick it becomes. Since I've been subjecting the boy to daily thosai and dal, the cast iron skillet is working out great. Nonstick skillets skeeve me out since I'm sure using one will result in my cat and dogs dropping dead from the fumes. I know there are so-called environmentally friendly nonstick coatings out there, but I don't believe it!

Although he won't come out and say it, I think the boy is sick of eating thosai and dal. Heck, I'm getting sick of eating thosai and dal, but I am still crazy about making it. My new goal, now that I have the flavor right for the thosai, is to make it paper thin. That has been much, much trickier, but luckily the dogs are happy to eat the thicker thosai frisbees. I know that I've been feeding them too much thosai scraps because as soon as they see me heating up the cast iron skillet, they come running and they don't leave my side until the last of the batter is used up.

Another impediment to my Sri Lankan cooking attempts, besides the cold kitchen issue which is now solved, is that I don't have a source of young curry leaves. The curry leaves I bought from Vik's were older and not nearly as fragrant as the ones in Sri Lanka. If anyone has had any luck growing curry trees in the Bay Area, please let me know! I know that I can buy the trees locally, but will they produce in my foggy neck of the woods?

Thanks to a David Lebovitz post, I started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book on how to declutter your environment. My takeaway from the book is that I have been purging all my clothes and then refolding my shirts and pants so they face out like book bindings. This way, not only do I have much more room in my drawers, but I can pull out one shirt and not worry about a stack of shirts tipping over. I started going through all the boy's clothes and refolding them, much to his annoyance, but he does admit that it's easier to see what you own when you can see everything all lined up.

My other takeaway from the book is that OCD is a serious issue. I would hate to be the author because, let's face it, most of us are slobs. How can she go anywhere and face the chaos without breaking out in hives?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cats and Dogs and Monkeys and an Elephant

Cat(s) on a Hot Tin Roof in Negombo

The worst part about traveling is that I miss my pets something fierce. Luckily, my cousin was keeping all of my beasts company, and he would periodically text me that everything was ok and they were having a ball without me.

Cute house dog on a coconut plantain near Negombo

The hard part about traveling to countries like Sri Lanka is being seeing so many stray dogs and cats in need of medical attention. Still, we did see many happy animals, and some of them were even cherished household pets.

Sri Lankan Sesame on the Negombo beach

I was on the lookout for the Sri Lankan version of Sesame, Mingus, and Greaseball. Thankfully, we didn't see any malamutes there. I think a malamute would die of heat stroke in Sri Lanka. We did spot a few GSDs and some GSD mixes, but not a lot.

Another cute house cat I bribed with chicken

In the city of Negombo, there is a spay and neuter clinic called The Hope Foundation. We stumbled into Lords restaurant (great food!), whose owners also run the clinic, and were handed brochures with their mission statement and the work they had done thus far to take care of the local animals. Negombo did have the nicest animals - at least by that restaurant. They looked well fed and clean.

A temple cat in Dambulla

Peaceful naps in the humid city of Tangalle

It's not like we don't have cats and dogs at home. You'd think by the amount of pictures dedicated to cats and dogs that I took during our trip that they were as exotic to me as elephants and monkeys.

This reminds me of the Australians (you know who you are!) being enchanted by chipmunks and squirrels in Sri Lanka. As I sit here typing, a squirrel is going past the telephone wires outside our house. They are no big deal to us! I consider them pests because they drop half-eaten apples on my dogs from at least 20-feet up in the trees.

A temple dog in Sigiriya
 Even when we ascended many stairs, there would be a dog or cat waiting at the top. They just hang out and enjoy the view.

Temple monkeys
Many of the templed also had monkeys who raided the garbage cans and the ate the offerings.

Fried fruit bat!
Fried bats were a disturbing sight along power lines. Poor, poor bats. The live bats gave me the creeps, but this is probably because they were larger than my cat. I was assured that they only ate fruit, but kept my distance and would involuntarily duck if one flew overhead.

If you squint hard, you can see an elephant

We did see one elephant in the wild in the Yala National Park. It made the post-park diesel headaches and the early morning trip worth it. This is the only elephant I've even seen that didn't have a chain around his foot or neck, and from what I could tell, he was relaxed.

On a totally different subject, I have a proofer box coming in a day! I'm hoping that my sad attempt at dosas can be remedied with this box, and I'm looking forward to better kombuchas and sourdough breads.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sri Lankan Family Dinners

Typical pot and stove set up. 

The most memorable part of my Sri Lankan vacation was cooking and eating in peoples' homes. Seeing how people operate in their kitchen was fascinating, especially when the kitchens were tiny. Mise en place is a given to keep everything neat and orderly. Watching more than one person cook in the kitchens (excluding us tourists) was fascinating because you could see how they flowed together - no bumping into each other, and oftentimes someone would know what to do without being told.

Mise en place is a necessity

For many of the family kitchens, smoke was the elusive ingredient that will be hard for me to recreate at home. Smoke permeated the curries and even some of the sweets, like the coconut treacle, since so many dishes were cooked in clay pots over wood fires.

Bright and cheery kitchen

Patterns start to emerge. Shallots and garlic are the base of most curries. Roasted curry powder is used for meat while unroasted curry powder is for vegetables. Eggplants and green beans are popular vegetables, and vegetables are usually stewed.

Giant machete blade used to slice the shallots. I passed on using it.

Since I had only had Sri Lankan food once prior to visiting the country, I thought the food would be like South Indian food, and some of it was, but there were differences that stood out: no basmati rice, no ghee (rarely any dairy used), red rice flour, string hoppers, coconut symbol, and coconut oil and milk for everything. Maybe these are all in Indian cuisine as well and I don't know enough about it to say one way or another.

String hoppers! We bought the press and steaming trays, so hopefully we'll have theses soon.

We've been trying to cook many of the foods we enjoyed in Sri Lanka, like the dal, pepper chicken, dosas (thoasai in Sinhalese), fried cookies, and curries. Although I really want to eat something else, I have a "use it or lose it" mentality, so we'll be eating at least a few Sri Lankan meals a week until we can nail some of the dishes we want to recreate.

Scraping coconut is a never-ending job. Grated coconut was used to make coconut milk.

The dosas have proven to be the hardest to make, but I had minor success with them two nights ago. Part of the problem is that it's too cold in our kitchen to get a rapid ferment, but I have a bread proofing box on its way to save the day (or dosas, if you will).

Our second feast

The closest Sri Lankan restaurant to me is 30-miles away, in a sleepy suburban town. I do want to check it out, and I shouldn't complain about the distance since it's in the same time zone as me. However, since the two of us are still cooking the food and we're armed with 3 new cookbooks we bought in Colombo, it will probably be awhile.


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