Randomly On My Mind

Subtly citrus, floral, spicy, complex. The glossy deep green leaves are used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, and the scent and flavor combined can absolutely “make” a dish. We love our makrut lime tree. We love our makrut lime tree …maybe tree a little too much. We worry about our makrut lime tree. Probably any tree of which you actively consume the leaves, one should worry over… We worry mostly that… we’ll kill it. There are really good sauces to be made from makrut or Thai lime leaves. We made a simple sauce with pulverized leaves, garlic, shallots, curry paste, Peppers of Death Sauce (made with chile d’arbol and far too little water and corn starch as a stabilizer), a little oil, and vinegar. Others typically used include fish sauce (nuoc main or nam pla). Cilantro and ginger add their own special verve. We’re halfway through our second batch of sauce, and we have wild salmon coming fresh off the boat very soon. We’ll have to make more sauces… and make them last. Because, again, it’s a tree, of which you eat the leaves. How much eating of the leaves does it take to kill off the whole tree?! Most recipes only call for two or three leaves… at the rate we use them, it’s time to fertilize. Or buy an additional tree… or two.

Meanwhile, it’s an oldish story, but it’s back again for Round II: Eating bagged salad greens can give you E.Coli.

It’s a fact: twenty-six people in three states have recently had untraceable food poisoning through consuming bagged salad greens as recently as this past April, 2006. Many of the people who suffer are small children, for whom busy mothers prepare quick cherry-tomato-and-green-stuff salads to at least brush past the “healthy eating” requirements in their heads. But after the kidney failure and other things that have struck otherwise healthy people, it pays to heed Consumer Report recall information, and be sure and:

  • Wash Your Hands
  • Wash Your Bagged Greens
  • Chuck the Salad in the Fridge
  • Really Check the Use-By Dates

and my personal fave:

  • Grow your own freaking lettuce – All you need is a sunny window and a little time.

GOOD NEWS (for once): I found out that our local Lumber Store has both bamboo and cork! At $.99/foot, the cork flooring is quite a good deal, I think. QUITE a good deal. We’ve been rattling around in our brains the idea of doing tiles in the kitchen because we’ve read that bamboo is hard but a bit brittle, and wood in the kitchen can be prone to water damage, but a cork tiled floor can a.) be replaced in pieces if there is damage, b.) is softer and easier on the back and legs, and therefore might be worth checking into. Several people have cautioned against cork because of the gouges in soft flooring, the problem of putting coasters under furniture and the bother of not dragging appliances and furniture. The one person I know who has a cork kitchen mentioned that her cork faded slightly in the strong sunlight cast by the back door sunshine in her single-paned window kitchen, but the fading is slight, and can be refinished. At such an expensive price per square foot, and already pre-finished, this deal is a steal. The price goes up for darker stains, and larger grains in the cork, etc., to where it’s more expensive than bamboo, but it’s certainly worth further research, maybe worth doing the floors in the whole house with something soft, insulative and noise-canceling. Options, options! Hm.

Wish I Were Baking Instead of Figuring Out Logistics

I’m beginning to think we should rename this blog: ‘Wish I Weren’t Remodeling.’ Kitchens = Headaches

Not really headaches, per se, but mental gymnastics as we think of what can go wrong (everything) what we might do incorrectly (most things) and how much it’s going to cost (all we’ve got, plus). It’s something that’s causing us some oddly restless nights, and bizarre appliances dreams.

But, we soldier on.

Of course, we want to be environmentally conscious in the kitchen, so we’re doing a bit of research to make sure we do this remodel thing correctly. According to the EnergyStar people, when planning a new kitchen, one should be careful not to put the refrigerator next to any other appliances. Apparently, appliances need buffers around them so they operate correctly and efficiently.

Oh.

Let’s translate that into Wee Little House terms: SPACE is not what our kitchen has. THIS is not going to work in our kitchen.

(Maybe.)

In all of our remodeling schemes, we’ve never even thought of moving the fridge anywhere. I wonder why that is. In reality, we could put the fridge into a sort of built-in cubby hole, where the built-in microwave is now. A step saver between the sink and the fridge, one would only need to pivot to get what was needed, and then that entire corner would be open for …cabinets. And a hanging microwave. Open shelves. Cook books. A small screen TV. Hmm.

This morning’s Ponder du Jour included realizing that we have NOTHING gas related except in our garage and on the second floor for the water heater. Ah, the 70’s, when the Wee Little House was shiny and gadgety and new, and all this electrical crap was ultra-modern. Now we long for gas, and have… electric everything. Do we go ahead and punch through the kitchen floor to run gas into the room? Will it be that easy? Do we have to punch more holes in the house to get the kitchen we want?

At some point, do we acknowledge that this isn’t our Dream House or our Dream Kitchen, and make it the best it can be as it is?

Sigh.

Our stove search is centering on an electric stove. Consumer Reports this month says that the Kenmore 964 is the best for the electric smooth top models, but in researching glass-topped stoves, we’ve had some questions… A.) I’m not world’s best housekeeper; the other cook in the house is… um, worse. You have to clean glass top stoves immediately or else the stains are permanent; acidic and sugary boil-overs become part of the stove. B.) We don’t want to replace all of our pots, and though flat-bottomed is the only real requirement we’ve come across, but some folks were advised NOT to use glass pots on them, without an explanation given. In any case, the main issue is canning ware… do people can on glass-topped stoves? Yes, BUT, boil-overs can pit the glass, a heavy pot or cast iron being set down too hard can shatter it, as can anything falling on it. If the elements are painted on (which I don’t think anyone does on new stoves anymore), it can be scratched off within the first week.

I think a glasstop stove sounds like too much trouble for people who really cook, shake pans to sauteé, use cast iron, and forever have a kettle on the hob. One is supposed to use ceramic pots for glass top. Well, I don’t have any of those, so sorry. “Oh, but they’re so much easier to clean!” Um, well, that’s as may be. But if you keep a brand-new stove reasonably clean… it won’t turn into the gunky horror that came with this house. It’s that simple. It’s all about maintenance… something millions of people are apt to do very poorly.

Stay tuned as we debate whether chrome is really worth an additional $200, if black or shows fingerprints worse, if bisque is an actual color, and if the color of the floor really plays at all into the color of the appliances… or if we’ll go with bamboo all over, or with tile in the kitchen, or what we’re doing at all…

After all this talk, STILL, nothing whatsoever to do with baking, darn it.

Canning … well, eating.

Cast your votes, ladies and gents: would you believe the amount of heat that onions can hold?

OK, so I went through the first quart of the spiced, pickled onions. That would’ve been the quart from the experiment, “let’s see how much pepper we need to put in our pickled onions, and we can do that by putting, oh, say, a tablespoon of chopped Chile de arbol in each of a quart jar, a pint jar, and a half-pint jar.” Next up this evening was the half-pint jar, with the assumption that it’d be nice and spicy and would match well with the following ingredients, sauteéd:

  • 5 oz firm tofu
  • 1 oz Gimme Lean, sausage style
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 small zucchini, chunked
  • 1 small crookneck squash, likewise
  • 2 Tbsp homemade Thai Lime-leaf sauce (lime leaves, chile paste, coconut milk)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of said Pickled Onions of Doom

The result? Tears, coughing, the assertion that “nobody would believe….”

Too much hot. Which means that the single pint should be about right, and will be the recipe we use for putting up spiced onions. Standard pickling brine for onions, plus 1 Tbsp Peppers of Death per pint jar.

Things That Make You Go… Eeew

There are many fine things in this life, roasted beets being one of them. A soupçon of huile d ‘ olive, a sprinkle of sea salt, a few choice twigs of rosemary, and you’ve got yourself a simple culinary paradise. Add chevré or some arugula, and you’re, well, golden, if that’s what kind of beet you used. But if it’s not…

…just remember that you’ve eaten beets, okay?

Or you could well give yourself a heart attack a day or so later.

And we’ll draw a veil over the rest of THAT brief episode.

Last Night I Dreamed I Was in my Maidenform…er Kenmore…

We thought, for a second, of getting an induction oven.

That being said, we must also admit that we didn’t really know what an induction oven IS.

An induction oven is *NOT* just a smooth-top electric stove, although I suppose it has a smooth top and looks reasonably electric. No. It’s something else. It’s something that works via electromagnetic field, prompting people who work where phrases like Clinical Electrophysiology are common, to question whether or not people just mightn’t get radiation sickness from these fine scientifically progressive machines.

I know we might like to bake and all, but I’m not sure this one’s worth it. For one thing, Consumer Reports doesn’t carry any comparison pricing, etc., info on it, because it’s too new and not yet a really ‘finished’ product for mass production in full ranges. For another thing, it’s priceeeey just to buy the single cooker units, pricewise, it’s the equivalent of buying a single electric burner for almost $200, and I’m not sure what baking we do is worth the cost. third, there’s the whole EKG disruption, radiation poisoning thing people worry about from cell phones and all of that. Now, there’s more information than you could ever want on induction ovens on the web, and no one says the death-via-radiation theory is true, but I do wonder if the rumors didn’t start just because it’s such an energy saver appliance.

Anyway, the price checking continues. Meanwhile, something must be done soon… the range situation is dire. Lest I sounds like an obsessive one-note on the topic of the remodel, I will just say I am having dreams about Kenmore appliances. Be afraid.

Meanwhile, in more food ramblings, amusing ex-pat Chris Cope enjoys some of the best flavors of the UK… one wonders if the ox crisps are spit roasted or what.

Gardening…

Just got back from the garden, and am disappointed in my little Kermit (yes, confirmed it by the label) eggplant: they don’t have enough size to harvest any more this week.

The zucchini and yellow squash are doing fabulously, however, so we’ve got another batch of chips in the drier. After last time, we determined that the yellow squash were best as chips, and the zucchini were probably best left to be rehydrated in the winter for soups. So, herbs and salt upon the yellow squash, and into the drier they went.

The tomatoes are not ripening very quickly, despite the heat, but we’re not worried: we figure that the plants will produce what they’ll produce, and we’ll end up with fresh and dried tomatoes, as well as lovely green tomato chutneys and mincemeats.

Speaking of which, thanks for the reassurance, Makiko, and the perspective upon canning and the liabilities involved in publishing a canning book. I’ve still left the onions in the fridge, and I doubt they’ll last long enough to have had to worry at all even if we’d left them out (our first quart jar was incorporated into a salad yesterday evening), but it’s good to remember that we live in a world which puts caution labels on soda bottles (“You’ll put your eye out, kid”).

Am now sitting with the laptop upon my lap, watching Alton Brown drive his little BMW motorcycle across the country, eating various road-foods, and wondering at the world. My knitting is beside me, and that seems a better option.

The thing is that I was knitting, but I went downstairs to make some coffee, got distracted by the fact that we have some dried figs in the cabinet which we won’t be eating in keeping with this low-carb thing, and thought that I might as well try to find a chutney recipe, so pulled up the computer & discovered this morning’s post which I hadn’t posted. It’s one of those days in which you say to yourself “coffee,” and then find yourself doing something else entirely and wonder why … and then determine that you need coffee.

One last thing: I happened upon this book at the bookstore (Museum of Kitschy Stitches), and must just say that it’s an absolute scream. I picked it up because I thought it’d have some stitches in it, and knew that I had to take it home about two pictures into the book. I laughed for literally an hour.

SO wrong!

Turduckeneasquail. Sent this link to my friend in North Carolina who’s into meat and has done Turducken before. Haven’t heard back yet, but am waiting to see if he’ll try it. Am hoping he doesn’t burn the house down trying to fry the darned thing, but he’s pretty much into overdoing anything he does, so he’ll overengineer it if he does do the deep-fried thing, and end up with some massive containment vessel, I’m sure. I figure he’s waiting for Thanksgiving, or is trying to track down a butcher who’ll do it (although, in North Carolina you’d think they’d be all over the place).

Just frightened, that’s all. Don’t know how I ended up with this link, but since we’re usually the type to do the vege-turkey thing for Thanksgiving, it’s a complete anomaly. Well, maybe it’d be a complete anomaly to anyone…

Canning?

So, I took a peruse through the Ball Blue Book last night in search of interesting recipes. I was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t make Zucchini Relish, but that the Dried Apricot and Date Chutney would be an acceptable offering. I’m contemplating mincemeats (vegan, of course) as well, as we enjoyed them so much last year, and am wondering about adding pectin to them, as the ones we did last year (green tomato, mostly, and of course apple/raisin) didn’t gel on their own. Not that it matters when you simply slap in the cornstarch and throw into a pie shell, but there’s the niggling feeling that they should be … well, not so liquid in the jars.

The biggest takeaway from the Blue Book is paranoia, of course: they’re all about “you will die an ugly, horrible, botulism-paralized fungus/bacteria/spore death if you do not follow this… blah blah blah.” I know that you must cook for the right amount of time, and at the right level of acid, etc. That’s the paranoia that led me to pressure-can my high-acid jellies, and end up with lovely syrups instead of jams!

So. I was wanting to invest in some means of testing the pH, to ease my paranoia, but I find that’s a bad option too: that food can change pH once it’s canned. So. I guess I’m going to have a fridge-full of the things I canned last weekend (onions), as I skimped on the vinegar. Even though I added sugar – going for a sort of hot/sweet relish – the Ball Book has gotten me once again. Enough so that when I read posts like this one, I find myself wondering if it’s high enough in acid, has been tested by some food scientist, etc. It’s a shameful thing to worry so when all manner of peasants from all over the world have been preserving things forever by chucking them in salt water and letting them bubble and rot (saur-kraut? kimchee?).

Eggplant…

So, we have the cutest little green eggplant. I think that they’re the Kermit ones shown here or here but am not sure. They hold their texture quite well, and were probably overripe even when we picked them – at about 2 inches across – they’ve lots of seeds, which tells me that we should’ve picked them even smaller! Not that I mind the seeds particularly, but that I’m just amazed. We’ve not done so well with eggplant in years past, but this blasted heat seems to have made things very happy. Well, that and the WaterSorb we tilled in to encourage drought-resistance, I’m sure.

In the heat, we’ve given up baking for a bit, and are starting to get into the swing of produce processing from the garden. We’ve dried our first squash and tomatoes into chips, which are absolutely fabulous and probably won’t last until the weekend; we’ve canned our first bunch of Thai Bird peppers (love them when I get them in restaurants, just can’t stand the fish sauce they usually come in), and we’re waiting for more tomatoes.

We’ve run out of our home-made pepper sauce (made from some of last year’s dried chiles de arbol), so that’s also on the agenda, but that’ll never last longer than the next couple of months – just hoping that it lasts long enough to get us to this year’s crop of chiles!

So. Still trying to get into the blogging thing, which isn’t working so well – I find that I don’t have much to just broadcast out there to the world. Oh well.

Going to concentrate on eating the eggplants now, and can’t wait ’til the weekend when we’ll harvest some more!