Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake 1 Carrot Cake 2
Carrot Cake 3 Carrot Cake 4
Carrot Cake 5 Carrot Cake 6
Carrot Cake 7 Carrot Cake 8

Of all the cakes I bake to take to my coworkers, the King Arthur Flour, Everything But the Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake has to be the one that disappears the fastest. I used dried pineapple this time, instead of using canned and crushed … and I think I prefer the canned, believe it or not. Yes, the bursts of sweetness from the dried fruit are nice, but I think that I prefer the slightly tart bursts of raisin (or currant, in this case) with the pineapple more evenly distributed throughout.

Since this one started out to be a double recipe but ended up being a quadruple recipe (I doubled the flour in my head … and then doubled it again), I decided to play a bit with the sugar and only include 3/4 the amount of sugar. I find that this actually worked out quite well – that the cake is not so over-the-top sweet this way. I adjusted the spices a wee bit, as well, with more nutmeg than called for, and less allspice.

I pre-sliced it before frosting it (it’s a 14″ x 14″ cake pan, so I went with a 6 x 6 slice). This is the first time I’ve tried this, and I think it’s something I’ll do again, particularly with such a large cake. This cake isn’t going anywhere, it’s so dense, and this will definitely make life easier when trying to serve pieces at work. I had initially thought to leave it in the cake pan, but that’s been problematic in getting pieces out, and this way I could put chopped nuts around the edges (to let people know, very clearly, that there are nuts in this cake).

We’ll see how long this lasts, tomorrow. With 36 pieces, I’m guessing it’s going to last until lunch … but I’ll make a point of emailing around to let people know that they can can come visit for cake.

Carrot Cake 9

As always, when using this pan: this is a huge cake. It’s always rather surprising (although it shouldn’t be, when considering that the pan won’t even fit in any of our cabinets).



We quite enjoy fermenting our own kimchi and D. has had a request from a coworker for some made particularly spicy. So, below is what we ended up with after visiting the farmers’ market to pick up daikon and Thai bird peppers.

Kimchi 1 Kimchi 2
Kimchi 3 Kimchi 4

The ingredients for this dish are:

  • 3 heads of Nappa / Chinese cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, halved, quartered, and sliced
  • 1 daikon radish, halved and sliced
  • 3 sheets of roasted nori (seaweed sheets), cut to strips
  • maybe 15 Thai bird peppers, split open
  • 3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
  • 1 cup kosher salt (not shown)

And the preparation is:

  1. Salt the cabbage, massage a bit, and let it sit for an hour.
  2. Rinse the cabbage well, drain, and mix with everything else.
  3. Cram everything into your fermentation crock.
  4. Cover with the appropriate weights.
  5. Top up with filtered water (removing the chlorine here, really).
  6. Wait several weeks.

D’s coworker is off on holiday for several weeks, at which point this should be nice and fermented.

-D & T

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.


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; conspiring with him to create 80+ degree weather that resists cooling down…

Vacaville 162

So, it’s October already, and do you know, there’s only two weeks of this month, after the weekend. How. Does. This. Keep. Happening.


by Helen Hunt Jackson

Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

Tomato Bisque Soup 2

So dark out now, when Niecelet goes whimpering to the ferry and comes home from the gym, when D. leaves for work at half-six, dark, dark, and nippier these last few days. Turkeys roam the streets in feral packs while wisps of fog steal over the hills. The change of seasons is upon us.

(Okay, at least one of those things happens pretty much year ’round, but you get the point.)(We’ll leave you to guess whether it’s the fog, or the feral turkeys.) Since the produce is exhausted and fairly terrible about now from both the garden and the farm box (with the exception of the last fat, round eggplant on the very sturdy and still flowering plant), and since the afternoons are overcast and hinting at rain that has yet to appear (pleasepleaseplease, this weekend, let it begin), T. keeps making soup, in the vain hope that soup is to clouds and cold weather as washing your car is to rain storms. So far, no dice. But lots of diced veggies — cumin, garlic, and carrots, exhausted kale, weary tomatoes. We added coconut “fat,” instead of butter, and half and half, instead of cream. All you need is a stick blender, and it all comes together.

And, eventually, so will the season; the start-stop of pseudo-summer will at last give way to the long season of mild, dark, and stormy. We’ll hear frogs again, and curse the wet leaves as they plaster themselves to our legs. We’ll slosh and splash through another winter — with perhaps some real rain this time — and enjoy many a savory cup of soup.

Tomato Bisque Soup 4



Chilly Changes

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This morning, the frost on the deck has stayed… well into afternoon. Freezes and a few snow flurries this past week have been a surprising change from the previous weekend, when errands could still be done on one’s shirtsleeves (if done briskly, anyway). And now, the change of season has brought with it both fewer stresses, and additional ones. 2014 is suddenly bearing down on us, and the tentative thoughts we’d had about changes in the new year will soon be… more than thoughts. D. will be lecturing for an online course for a university this year, and T. has agreed to joining a vision board for a camping and retreat organization. Both D. and T. are taking on this additional jobs against their better judgment, and there will be many adjustments in the new year – and possibly a lot of whining as well. Nevertheless, one always has to try out opportunity like a coat still bearing its tags. Maybe something is meant to fit…

2013 Benicia 046

Meanwhile, we’ve begun to amble about the countryside a bit, in search of the unusual, as we gather items for the festive season. At a diner on the 680 industrial corridor outside of Benicia netted us a yummy breakfast at Rosie’s Cafe, and the chance to watch trains – right up close. That was probably the last weekend we could reasonably sit outside in the thin autumn sunshine, but it was well worth it to chow down on zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes and onions stuffed into an omelette and a perfectly toasted English muffin. Cheap and entertaining – can’t beat that.

Our diner luck held, the following weekend, and we were excited to discover a tiny cafe tucked into the edge of a shopping plaza in Pleasant Hill that has regular diner options and vegan ones as well. Real diners – places where requesting a half-caf mocha latte with sprinkles will get you nothing but regular refills of strong black coffee and a bowl of those little vats of cream – are traditionally completely impatient with the high maintenance requirements of foodies. They’re usually cheek-by-jowl with irascible old people, shifty-looking loners, families full of sticky children, and cackling dames gossiping over their tea. Plaza Cafe has all this — plus scrambled tofu among its breakfast offerings, and huge portions – tell the server you won’t need the hash browns or you’ll never finish. A cash-only cafe, full of “regulars,” Little League families, and surprised newbies like us, who just happened to wander in, this place is right in the middle of everything, yet off the beaten path. Those in the area will find it worthwhile to check it out.

A brisk, sunny day, Thanksgiving was a gift of family, new friends, and a plethora of great tastes. Our meal consisted of garlicky roasts and lentil loaf with a surprising bbq sauce, a savory barley risotto, rich mashed sweet potatoes, studded with bits of fried apple and onion, an amazing vegan kugel-style mac-n-cheese, the regular mashed potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds, salad greens with Honeycrisp apples and bright bursts of pomegranate arils, and silky mashed… cauliflower. Which we’re still not sure we believe contained no potato whatsoever. One of the nicest additions to the meal, aside from numerous pies, was T’s resurrecting her vegan cheesecake. Once upon a time, this was the go-to recipe, lemon cheesecake. Since then, it has had a few variations — this year, cranberry apple. Since the last time we blogged this particular recipe was in 2008, we’ll go ahead and repost:

Basic Vegan Cheesecake

  • 1 14 oz pkg. firm silken tofu
  • 1 8 oz. pkg “Cream Cheese” Tofutti, Daiya or, substitute regular creamed cheese if you’d like
  • 2/3 c. sweetener – we used erythritol
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch + ice water

Skyway Drive 123

Though a graham cracker crust is traditional, a more flavorful — and less apt to go soggy — alternative is a gingersnap crust. You can make it in the same way — whiz up ten or fifteen dry gingersnaps in your food processor (or, ginger nuts, as they’re also called) and add a tablespoon of butter or margarine to create a crumb the texture of damp sand, and then pack it with your fingertips into the bottom of a spring form pan. Pre-baking the crust is unnecessary.

~ Preheat Oven 350°F ~

Place silken tofu, cream cheese in bowl, and, using an immersion blender or beater, blend until smooth. Add your flavoring. If you’re making a lemon cheesecake base, 1/4 c. of lemon juice at this stage will give you a perfect tang.

In a smaller separate bowl, combine 2 tbsp ice water, your extract and cornstarch with a whisk. Pour mixture into tofu blend and beat until VERY smooth. Pour lemon filling into gingersnap crust, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool for two hours, or for very best firmness, REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT. We left ours in the oven and just went to bed, and it refrained from cracking in this way, but cooling SLOWLY.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 3

We topped this lovely pie with cranberry applesauce. This may seem a strange choice, but adding apples to cranberry sauce sweetened and took the edge from the fresh cranberries, allowing us to use less sweetener. Also, the pectin from the peels brought the sauce a really smooth mouth feel, complimenting the creaminess of the tofu. This cheesecake with a citrus sauce, chocolate ganache, or a bright berry coulee would also have worked beautifully.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 2

Our next test kitchen project upstairs is attempting to make sourdough rye bread. Rye flour contains little or no gluten, which means that it’s so far lying sullenly in the big silver bowl, staring at us… and yet, the commercial bakeries at Raley’s and Nob Hill bring forth perfectly light, chewy, sour loaves with thick, crisp crusts, on a weekly basis. Their secret has to be, in part, the baking vessels, which must be cast iron, to make that lovely crust, and we have a great pair of cast iron skillets which together will create a Dutch oven. But, only time will tell what else goes into the mix to make a great rye sourdough. Stay tuned!

Soft Tacos

When we were in Scotland, we’d order our pinto beans from an online retailer, because the only ones we could find locally were so incredibly ancient that they’d never cook down. The ones we got shipped to us were quite a bit better, and we made do with soaking them overnight and then cooking them in the slow cooker for about 6 hours. California pintos, though! We soaked some for about an hour and then cooked them down in a pot, on the stove, with about 3 hours of cooking time. Amazing! Our “traditional” recipe for pintos is:

Cooked Pinto Beans

  • 4 cups pintos
  • 1 Habañero pepper, diced
  • 4 Serrano peppers, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  1. Pick all of the broken beans out of the dry beans, and any pebbles you might find.
  2. Thoroughly wash the beans (they’re quite dusty, usually).
  3. Soak beans overnight (at least 6 hours).
  4. Cook beans in a crock-pot / slow cooker for about 6 hours, with all the other ingredients, making sure to have enough water to keep them covered (8 cups should probably do it).

We had soft tacos for dinner Tuesday, and again for lunch Thursday. Simply put a few spoonfulls of beans, some lettuce, cheese, chopped tomato, a slice of avocado, and yogurt into a warmed corn tortilla. Delicious!

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We gifted our friends D & S with half of a 3-kilo bag of pintos when we left Scotland, along with a handful of frozen Habañero peppers. We truly hope that they’ll find the time to cook some pintos, and to enjoy something along the lines of soft tacos.