Planning Ahead

When you have a deep-freeze, you can plan ahead. For us, that means we can make up four casseroles and about four loaves of bread (one pan is double-length and is really for making angel-food-cake, but who does that?).

Peachtree 26

Three of the casseroles went into the deep freeze, where they’ll stay until we’re not feeling like cooking dinner. The fourth was baked immediately after the bread came out of the oven. The bread will, likewise, mostly be put into the deep freeze, where it will stay until we’re in dire need of raisin bread

We’re really enjoying that there’s a tortilla factory about a mile down the road from us, and have been experimenting with making “enchilada casseroles.” This batch contains several layers of crookneck squash, as well as beans, cheese, TVP, corn tortillas, and green or red enchilada sauce.

The raisin bread contains a heap of raisins and currants, plus our spice blend, some whole rye-berries (steamed), and a few whole fennel seeds to add that random element of surprise to things.

Now that we’ve figured out that the oven needs to be preheated for about 30 minutes, we’re happy to be able to plan ahead for the week (and beyond).

-D & T

Nearly Settled

Another week! Another pile of collapsed boxes! As of today, all we have left to unpack are the art supplies and to hang what mirrors and paintings are going to go up. Everything else is unpacked and has a permanent home and/or is sorted into donation boxes, awaiting pickup on Wednesday. Less clutter = more peace, and that’s really helpful to T getting creative work done. This is a very quiet neighborhood (except when someone gets the odd urge to mow something, or the train blows its whistle), even on the weekends, and the wind whistling through the house works as natural white noise. It makes for good napping conditions – and we are still exhausted enough to take advantage of them. Well, we think about it, anyway…

On D’s work front, his first week at the new job was immensely enjoyable – so much so that he neglected to come home until after seven, occasionally. There’s much to be done, and much chaos to organize, and he’s enjoying the challenge (or the chaos, one or the other. Not clear which just yet).

To those who’ve complained we’ve gone radio silent and feel as far away as we did when we lived in Scotland: apologies! You’ve asked what the house looks like. Here’s part of downstairs. A glimpse of upstairs to come next time.

Peachtree 3

Above is what we’ll call “the den,” simply because the living room / dining room is the next space over. As you can see, we’re still sorting a few things, organizing the kitchen space, using a folding table. That table will get tucked away until holidays or some other need, soon.

Peachtree 4

If you’re in the den, you’re looking into the kitchen. Yes, those are sticky notes on the cupboards – we had to decide what went where, and haven’t quite gotten it down to memory yet. Things are still shifting around (the flour moved all the way across the kitchen, just last night, to find a home in a cabinet next to the sink, rather than next to the fridge). We’re still trying to get the cupboard space to work well, which is odd, since they’re so narrow and some of them are so deep. As large as the ones next to the fridge are, they’re still too narrow for our largest mixing bowls, so those have had to relocate to the closet next to the garage door.

Whole Wheat Flax Bread 8

We have done our first proper baking here, though, 10 days after moving in (the quiche last weekend doesn’t count, really). A gas oven is miles off from an electric, and there’s an adjustment of all the senses, especially sound (that whoomp as the pilot lights), and smell (that little whiff of gas). Touch is the one sense that doesn’t fare quite as well here… because the oven thermostat is so far off, we had to order an external thermometer. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to close to full heat (set it at 390°F and it’ll get to 350°F in that time), and then gradually slides even hotter, so you have to adjust the temperature down when you put your baking in. We notified the invisible property management people, who report that the owner insists that this is what an oven is supposed to do, and we’re just going to live with it until it falls over.

We are not amused.

At least the bread turned out superbly.

Onward into the new week, with its goals of placing the last mirrors, rugs, and artwork, figuring out the irrigation system and finding a home for the last odds & ends. Until next time,

-D & T

Buying Spices

So, we watched this youtube video the other day on how to make “tuna” sliders out of unripe jackfruit (go – watch it – then come back and let’s talk). It really is an awesome recipe, and we’re nearly ready to make an attempt at it (it’s too hot, and we don’t have Old Bay Seasoning). That’s not what this post is about today, though.

Today, I want to talk about choice. Like, if you go to Amazon, and try to buy Old Bay Seasoning. Go ahead, go over there and drop it into the search box, then come back here and tell me how you found the experience. Did you locate what looked like the best deal? That would be the 24-ounce item that shows up first on the list. Do notice, though, that it is a “Fresh” item (so, you have to join some program or other in order to buy it) or an “add-on” item (which means you have to play grocery-cart bingo and put enough in your cart to actually get it delivered). Also notice that there are just about 100 different things from which to choose.

There’s a thing going on here that I think is important: I think that there is a payoff here on the part of Amazon in that you’re going to have to 1) join some program of theirs (which makes them money) or 2) add more things to your cart than you want to buy or 3) troll through literally 100+ items to figure out which one you can and should buy. I think that this level of product chaos is found in a few different places, and I suspect that there’s some degree of psychological testing going on here, to figure out what drives the most profit. Or perhaps this level of chaos actually accomplishes that, and this is simply the new normal when shopping on Amazon.

In my case, I decided that I really didn’t need the Old Bay and that I’d spend the couple dollars at the grocery store, rather than suffer through the buying process on Amazon. I emptied my cart (including the slippery add-on item which put itself on my “buy later” list, repeatedly) and went to buy the other things I wanted elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll use them for other dishes, and Amazon is perfectly prepared to drive a certain amount of business away in order to maximize revenue. They’re a store – that’s what they do.

This jumble of bad choices is what’s known as a dark pattern: something which drives the user to do something they do not want to do. Once you become familiar with dark patterns, you start to see them, and then start to look for them. In this case, I’m sure that I’ll continue to use Amazon. But I’m also sure that I’ll start paying attention and, if I find myself struggling to actually find the thing that I want, I’ll go elsewhere.

I ended up spending way more money than I’d intended to spend just then, but also bought a whole bunch of things that we needed: I went to the SF Herb Company’s culinary herbs page and simply went down the list, adding 1 of everything on there that we do use and have run out of. Those spices and a stop at the Asian market and we’re done. And some time today we’ll get our delivery and will have the joy of unboxing bulk spices! (below is a previous order)

SF Herb 1

-D

No Recipes for Mexican-Like Food

Peppers for the Pot 2

Beyond having delayed our fermentation, most recently we had also stopped making batches of food in any sort of quantity, because batches have to be divided and stored in the fridge or freezer, and this is not your best move, when you think you’re moving house. So, this week found us reversing our attempt to live solely out of the cabinets and freezer. Shopping had to be done, bread needed to be baked (which isn’t all that interesting to photograph any more – it’s bread, it gets thrown together, there’s no recipe, etc.), and ironically, furniture had to be moved to close up the gaps of what we’d given away – more on that later. We also needed to replenish staples like pinto beans (which D. picked up at the Mexican market when he picked up all those peppers). Like many Californians, we almost always have beans on hand, so as to make our versions of Mexican food.

As with many “home” foods, there’s no real recipe for beans: 4 cups of beans, a handful of the hottest peppers you can find (in this case, 5 habañeros and 3 Scotch Bonnets, nearly the last from last year’s garden), and a good couple tablespoons of minced garlic. Enough water to keep them covered, cook in a slow cooker for maybe 8 hours, et voila.

Baked Burritos

Similarly, there’s no real recipe for baked burritos: mix 2 cups of beans with your meat-like product of choice and some green enchilada sauce and cook most of the moisture out, wrap this in tortillas (with some cheese if you feel like it), cover with more of that enchilada sauce, bake for 45 minutes, top with some guacamole and plain yogurt. If our fermented salsa were done, we’d have used some of the paste form in making the filling for the burritos (it’s also good for soups and Thai food), and would have dressed the top with some of the sriracha-like form. Alas, we’ve still got a week and a few days to wait.

Is it time for lunch yet? It seems like it’s time for lunch. Happy rainy, stormy Friday to you.

-D & T

More Fermented Salsa

The massive preparation of peppers for fermented salsa continues. Below is what the fresh, hot-sweet Manzano pepper looks like, as compared to the an Habañero pepper: three times as large, thicker walls, more bell pepper than hot pepper. But tasty and fiery sweet, nonetheless.

Fermented Salsa 3.2

In this batch are roughly equal weights of Manzano, Habañero, and Serrano peppers: 5 pounds of them total, with 5% salt by weight of the water in the brine (weight measure is more accurate in big batch fermentation like this). They’re shown below, ready to be prepped for fermentation, along with a fist of garlic. This time, in order to preserve the brightness of the color, we’re not fermenting the lime juice along with the peppers, but adding it to the finishing sauce prior to reducing that sauce on the stove (and we’re cooking outside – on the camp stove – we learned our lesson, choking for hours on pepper oils and fumes the last time).

Fermented Salsa 3.1

Five pounds of peppers was a bit much for our current fermentation crock – it was nearly impossible to get the stones in, to weight down the peppers, there was that little room left. On the other hand, D. wasn’t about to pull them out and chop them more finely, as he was already courting disaster with this particular pair of pepper-saturated gloves.

Next up is the two week wait before we uncrock the ingredients, followed by cooking them down to reduce the juices, adding lime and possibly some cornstarch or agar, depending on how juicy the fermentation process leaves the peppers. Until then, we’ll make do with our imported Encona “West Indian” sauce (made in Hertfordshire, England!) which … isn’t nearly as good as ours. Truly, folks: fermented salsa beats anything we’ve found so far, and we’re really into salsa. You don’t even need an official fermentation crock; if you’ve got a couple of Mason jars, you’ll want to give this a try! The bacteria does all the heavy lifting and as its been reported for years – there’s really something to the whole fermented foods thing.

-D & T

Fermented Salsa

Fermented Salsa 2.1
Fermented Salsa 2.3
Fermented Salsa 2.4
Fermented Salsa 2.6

So, some of you may have subscribed to our photography and have seen the pictures of hot peppers going by. We’ve basically been able to make our own Sriracha-like pepper sauce, along with a coarser pepper paste for cooking. There’s not a recipe for this, more like a series of steps:

  1. coarsely chop a whole bunch of peppers (and some garlic, and lime juice)
  2. ferment them in a 5% saline solution for a couple of weeks
  3. puree them
  4. run them through a sieve
  5. boil the liquid portion until it’s as thick as you’d like
  6. refrigerate both portions

This gives you two portions of hot peppery goodness: one to use in stir-fry and the like (the coarse one) and the other to use as a condiment.

We, of course, had to include quite a few habañeros in addition to serranos, jalapeños, manzanillos, and pasillas. The manzanillos / manzanos were a new one to us – we saw them at the Mexican market and thought we’d give them a try. They’re surprisingly fruity, almost like a very mild habañero. I looked for them a few weeks later and couldn’t find them again, so they may be very seasonal – there were certainly only about 50 there when we saw them, so perhaps they just ran out. We’ll look for them again, though, because they’re yummy!

The fermentation gives the sauce a tiny bit of sourness (on top of the lime juice) and helps to soften the peppers so they’ll blend. Sourness really helps the flavor, and probably makes this more digestible as well. We just like the heat, and go through so much of this that making our own is a necessity as well as just plain fun.

Two critical cautions:

  1. Wear gloves any time you’re handling any of this stuff.
  2. Ventilate the kitchen when cooking down the sauce, or cook it outside (which is what we’ll be doing next time). Honestly, cooking this sauce down means you’re evaporating quite a few volatiles and your house will make your eyes water for the next several hours even running the whole house fan, so … definitely, cook it outside, and don’t breathe near the vapors.

Honestly, you do not want this stuff – raw or fermented – to get under your fingernails and visit your eyeball some time hours later. You also don’t want your house to make you cough and your eyes to water. Or maybe you do – up to you.

-D

Sweet Potato Snaps

You know what’s problematic? Vegan cookie dough.

Sweet Potato Cookies 11

In the fourth grade, T went to play at a friend’s house, and while the mother was diligently ironing, she was watching Days of our Lives, and eating, with a small spoon, from a bowl. Curious (nosy) T was offered some. And she was horrified. It was chocolate chip cookie dough – with raw eggs in it.

Being that awful know-it-all child, T gasped that raw eggs were BAD for you, and didn’t indulge. But, vegan cookie dough on a rainy afternoon… is another problem altogether. What’s worse? Is sweet potato cookie dough. If you already like sweet potatoes, baker, you may be doomed…

*cough*

Sweet Potato Cookies 12

We have used surplus root veg to make cookies and muffins before, and it can be a great idea. Lots of vitamins and high fiber, and with minimal sweetener – honey or molasses – it’s a good way to use farm box veggies. This recipe uses sweet potato puree, so if you have a couple of baked yams sitting around, it’s a great way to use leftovers.

We revised a traditional Southern cooking show recipe and doubled everything but the sugar, and we still think it could maybe be cut a little, but your mileage may vary. Your baking time may also vary; we had to shorter ours quite a bit, or have black-bottomed cookies, which aren’t that tasty.

Sweet Potato Snaps

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 egg, room temperature 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweet potato puree
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Add sweet potato and mix until incorporated.
  5. Mix in dry ingredients and vanilla.
  6. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie.
  7. Bake 18 minutes.Bake 10-12 minutes unless you’d like to eat cinders.

These actually taste – in dough form – like a cross between pumpkin pie and gingerbread – but once baked up, the spices create a subtler seasoning, and the sweet potato flavor really shines out. Be sure to let the cookies sit a bit after baking – not only are these little nuclear furnaces to bite into, the starches need to settle in order to give them that chewy gingersnap texture. Five-to-seven minutes should do the trick, and yes, you can wait that long.

Sweet Potato Cookies 13

As you can see, we used a scoop to make these cookies the same uniform size (until some of us got bored with that *ahem*) but if you have a cookie press, the cookie dough is a great consistency for that.

Originally, the cookies were meant to be finished with an orange glaze, but we really feel like a.) there’s already quite enough sugar going on there, and b.) the orange might be better added as extract, just before baking. If you were making these for a party, and not just for at-home snacking, by all means, use a powdered sugar and orange juice glaze and a zest an orange to give it a bit of color, but the sweet potato flavor really doesn’t need the extra help, and if you use too much sugar, you really run the risk of losing the subtle play of flavor. Definitely use more orange than sugar here!

Sweet Potato Cookies 15

Enjoy – and enjoy these rainy, hazy, crazy days of winter.

Eating the Resistance: Poland

Cabbage Rolls 1.03

After Warsaw fell in 1942, it seemed that Poland was pretty much done for. They decided otherwise.

We all know what the word “resistance” means, but Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition is also pretty much apropos. It is, “the capacity of a species or strain of microorganism to survive exposure to a toxic agent (as a drug) formerly effective against it.” We are the microorganisms – small and previously disorganized – who will survive the present toxicity. Poland’s resistance was successful because it involved virtually every member of society – men, women, children, from professionals to laborers and religious people. And, though it was shut away behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years, Poland’s resistant spirit reignited in the days of Solidarity under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa.

Obviously, we need to eat some Polish food to fuel ourselves for the winter ahead.

Cabbage Rolls 1.17

In another example of America’s melting-pot culinary tradition, many people from the South grew up eating cabbage rolls. T’s mother sometimes fixed them when she was growing up, but not frequently. Cabbage rolls are a lot of work, as we discovered. The nice thing about this recipe is that though some people add a couple of eggs to the filling, those can be left out with no terrible consequence. Ground chuck and pork is the original meat for the recipe, but it’s easy enough for the veg/ans to substitute a meat-analog in crumbled form, like Tofurky sausage and Quorn or Morning Star’s Griller crumbles. Avoiding all carbs? Leave out the rice and add chopped tomatoes. This is flexible comfort food, and can be as healthy as you like. Cabbage rolls are pretty much a meal within themselves, though a traditional side is noodles in mushroom gravy, or boiled potatoes. We ate them with baked cauliflower, because some days one must double-down on the veg. Some Polish Americans eat cabbage rolls browned in butter, with a bit of sour cream, but they’re also perfectly reasonable as is.

American Variation on Gołąbki

  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • medium onion, diced
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, smooshed and diced
  • 2 chopped mushrooms, optional *we used dry porcini*
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground chuck + 1 pound ground pork OR 2 c. veggie crumbles
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten – OPTIONAL
  • 1½ cups white rice
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Cabbage Rolls 1.04

Choose a solid, good-sized green cabbage and core…
Cabbage Rolls 1.08

Add a 1″ slit to the bottom of the cabbage leaf …
Cabbage Rolls 1.11

Don’t forget parsley; shredded carrot or tomatoes.
Cabbage Rolls 1.14

…and now it all gets just a bit messy!


Cabbage Prep: With your newly whetted knife, with which your husband obviously intends to gut a cow, carefully core your cabbage from the bottom. Fill a large pot of water half-way and when it comes to a boil, put in your entire head of cabbage and let it boil. After about ten minutes, we fished out our cabbage head, leaving the water hot in case the core wasn’t quite soft enough, and gently begin to peel apart the leaves when it was slightly cooled. We made a pile of “reasonable to use” and “others” and set them aside. Some people prep the cabbage leaves by thinning the thick spine with a paring knife, and making a slit along it to make rolling easier. Be careful that the slit is only an inch long; cabbage leaves can be delicate.

Rice Prep: While the cabbage is boiling, prepare rice according to package instructions, BUT, only boil for ten minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

Brown Veggies: In your butter or oil, brown the chopped onion for about three minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so it doesn’t burn. Stir in paprika and black pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Roll ’em: In a mixing bowl, combine rice, meat, parsley, and your onion and spices mixture. Don’t forget your salt. This stage is a lot like making meat loaf, and most people advise you to use your hands. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop about a quarter cup of filling per cabbage leaf, cross the little triangles formed by the slit toward the stem end, fold over the sides, and roll them. Place them in a pan seam-side down.

Cabbage Rolls 1.12

You will need 3/4 c. of some kind of liquid to complete cooking the rice inside of the rolls, and to allow the rolls to plump. The two tablespoons of tomato paste will dissolve well in water or broth to fill that need. Some people just pour a little V8 in the pan, but cabbage is a watery vegetable that needs intense flavor, so don’t be afraid to add some. NB: If you’re not using meat, cook these rolls for 45 minutes. If you’re using meat, 1.5 hours is your baking time. Meat eaters, let your rolls rest for the same half hour you would a steak. Conventional wisdom is that cabbage rolls are better the next day, and they also freeze very well. And they’re good for you.


John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867 said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.” While you may be uncomfortable with the labels of “bad” and “good” here, the point is to do something. Eat well. Sleep well. Do well. You are not defeated, not by winter cold nor war nor work nor worry. Decide otherwise.

Cabbage Rolls 1.18

FauxOreos, Redux

Back in 2010 we made fauxoreos, and don’t know why we haven’t made them since. Possibly because they’re so fabulously addictive?

Well, we decided that, rather than baking a carrot cake (which seems to be the most favorite thing of all things, at D’s work), we’d try the oreos again. We have decided that they are so awesome that they need to leave the house first thing tomorrow, if they survive that long (they will – there’s no way we can eat more than a few bites and stay sensible about sugar intake).

Homemade Oreos 2.06

We had set out to roll these out as we did last time, but D wasn’t happy with them being oval for some reason (he’d forgotten that last time we didn’t roll them out, but smooshed them with the bench scraper – the bench scraper that’s gotten lost somewhere along the way, and was perfect for smooshing things). So, instead, we made the best use of our sushi press/mold ever, and used it as the thickness guide for rolling these out to a perfect 1/4 inch thickness.

Homemade Oreos 2.14

Of course, in addition to the more reasonably-sized oreos, D had to make one that’s about 6 inches in diameter. Just because. And then we got down to the icing things portion of the exercise, and realized that we didn’t have any icing sugar in the house … so we used granulated instead, sent for a spin through the cuisinart for long enough to at least be finely ground.

Homemade Oreos 2.17

Tomorrow morning, some of these will be going to the Honda dealer in Vacaville, because they’ve been so good to us. Some others will be going to D’s work, possibly to be handed out to a few special people, ’cause there really aren’t all that many in this batch. As to the huge one … we’re not sure. That may just have to stay home.

-D & T