Sunday, April 15, 2012

the bread crazy and a walnut bread recipe

I mentioned in the last post that breadies measure ingredients in grams, ounces and percentages. Reading a breadie recipe is hard for someone who doesn't speak breadie. These recipes use words like "hydration" and "autolyse".

Here's a great example of a breadie recipe that sounds like half gibberish to me. It looks like a very beautiful bread and I would love to be able to make it for myself, but I have no idea what 69% hydration means, or how you tell if gluten is moderately well developed, or how to 'fold' during the bulking period (although I have some guesses about that one).

As far as bread baking is concerned, I've been doing kiddie stuff. Wearing training wheels. I still talk like a regular person--and I measure flour in cups and I never use the word autolyse.

Enter this recipe for walnut bread. It looks like the most beautiful bread I've ever seen. When I saw it I knew I just had to try it, but if you clicked on the link you'll notice that all the measurements are in grams and ounces.

The Other Adult did a nice thing for me this weekend and bought me a scale.

It looks like that. As far as scales go, it's not exactly sophisticated. Or sensitive. But it's cute and doesn't take up much room in the kitchen and it will at least allow me to make some of the big girl recipes, like the walnut recipe.

Dan Lepard's Walnut Bread, preparation time around 4 hours


for the paste (makes 100g):

50g walnuts

50g water

2 tbsp honey

20g melted butter, lightly browned

a pinch of fine sea salt

for the dough:

220g water @ 68F

100g starter (I fed mine at 4PM, put it in a warm place and then used it 3 hours later)

1 1/4 tsp fresh yeast, crumbled (I used bread machine yeast because it's all I had)

100g walnut paste

100g halved walnuts

350g white flour

100g rye flour

50g wholemeal flour

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Blend together the paste ingredients in a food processor, coffee grinder or blender.

Mix the flours and salt, then add the remaining combined ingredients, including the paste. Combine as evenly as possible with your fingers. Cover and leave 10 minutes.

Knead for 10 seconds. Leave for another 10 minutes. Knead once more and leave for an hour in a warm place.

Line two 1.5 litre bowls with flour-dusted tea towels. Divide dough, shape into balls and leave in the bowls seam-side up, covered with the edges of the towels, 2-2 1/2 hours or almost doubled.

Preheat oven 410F. Turn dough out onto floured baking sheet (I used cornmeal.) Slash in a criss-cross pattern. Bake in center of hot oven 50-60 minutes til a good rich brown. Cool on rack.

I also steamed the oven for the crust on this bread. I have a problem with breads developing weird, pale crusts because of the dry environment in the oven. This is a common problem and steam is the solution, so a lot of bread people find weird ways to make their oven into a moist environment for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the bake. The Jim Lahey bread doesn't have this problem because it's baked in a ceramic pot with a lid that holds in the steam and the crusts turn out just fine, but on other breads the crust tends to be pale and hard.

I don't know if steaming the oven was necessary in this recipe, but I did it anyway. I put a cast iron skillet in the bottom rack of the oven when I preheated. When I put the bread in the oven, I put 1/3 cup of water on the cast iron skillet, creating a steamy environment in the oven. After 15 minutes, I opened the oven and let out the steam for a few seconds, then I closed it and proceeded with baking as normal.

This is eventually going to ruin my cast iron, so I need to get a cast iron I don't care about that I can dedicate to this purpose.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Sourdough Starter Recipe That Works

At first I didn't even know what sourdough was, except that slices of sourdough were usually thick and white and--somehow--San Francisco was involved. I didn't even realize that it was named sourdough because it was, well, sour.

I had eaten sourdough, I guess. You know in restaurants when you order from the breakfast menu, and the server wants to know what kind of bread your toast should be made from, and you ask what the choices are and s/he says, white, whole wheat, and sourdough, and you say you'd like sourdough, and the bread comes, and it's just a thicker than normal slice of white bread? That's the type of sourdough I had tried. That's not sourdough really--its flavor is no different than normal white bread.

The Other Adult said she wanted me to make sourdough. So I started researching it, and found out that sourdough is this whole process, and people get really into it.

It turns out that I am really vulnerable to adopting new hobbies. Case in point: I recently started researching bonsai trees, and even though I had no previous interest in bonsai trees and I found them to be really dull, as I started to do the research, I started to realize that bonsai trees are like, really cool.

I got this picture of the Dwarf Schleffera Bonsai Tree from Bonsai Beginnings blog:
And um, isn't that little guy amazing? Like, don't you just look at that and think of the swamp where Yoda lives? And what if you could make that in your house? Do you know how hard it is to get this thing to grow those aerial roots?? You have to put it in a humid environment and mist it every day and prune back the little roots to get the bigger ones to get bigger, and you have to fertilize it and I mean, it's just this really long process and it takes years. And people do this for fun.

Actually, if I had time, I think I would do that for fun.

Now, I'm a little too aware of my own limitations to pick up a bonsai hobby. I'm kind of busy. Between beer, bread, the Kid, cooking, writing and needing like at least 6 hours of sleep a night, I'm just booked for the rest of my life. Plus I've started this vegetable garden in the back yard and that's completely consuming me. So it's unlikely that I'll be doing anything with a bonsai tree--but I'll admit, a big part of me wants to find a Dwarf Schefflera Bonsai and go to town.

Back to my story, the Other Adult said that I should try sourdough. And I started researching sourdough, and like the bonsai tree, even though I really had no interest in sourdough bread as a food, the more I read about sourdough, the more I wanted to be able to make it for myself.

I found out that you can buy sourdough yeasts from a store, but that seemed a little too easy, and sounded a little too much like buying the boxed potatoes, which I am basically against doing even though I think that some of the boxed potatoes (like betty crocker's julien dehydrated potatoes) are just really delicious (because I have a really unsophisticated palate). And anyway, I thought, people make these starters in their own house, so I can too.

It turns out that finding a starter recipe that works can be really hard. For one thing, breadies measure things in percentages and weights, and so a lot of the recipes I found were measured in pounds and ounces and percentages and I can't devote that kind of time to bread. Not now anyway.

And then, the first couple recipes I tried didn't even seem to work. And it would take me weeks or months to figure out that the starter was really weak or wasn't doing anything. It was a big waste of time and flour.

The recipe that finally worked for me came straight out of the River Cottage Bread Handbook, a book I highly recommend. This book has sturdy pages, sensible recipes, attractive illustrations, and it gives all its measurements in cups, pounds and ounces, so everyone can use it and be happy.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

This is what you need:
1 cup stone-ground whole wheat four
1 cup warm water (I would say about 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit)
a plastic or ceramic container

  1. Mix the cup of flour with the cup of warm water in the container of your choice. Whisk vigorously and cover with plastic wrap or a loose fitting top.
  2. Leave the batter somewhere warm.
  3. Check the batter every 12 hours or so. Eventually, you'll start to see bubbles forming near the top of the batter. This is what the bubbles will look like:

    When you see the bubbles, it's ready to be fed.

  4. Feed the starter by adding one cup of the same flour, one cup of warm water. Whisk vigorously and replace the lid.
  5. Wait 24 hours, then discard half the batter. I usually discard it into a plastic shopping bag, which I then throw away.
  6. Feed the starter with 1 cup of the same flour and 1 cup cold water. Whisk vigorously and replace the lid.
  7. Feed daily at the same time every day, repeating steps 5 and 6.
That's it. That's how I made my starter. For the first couple of weeks while your starter is becoming established, feed it every day. After your starter is healthy and established, you can move it to your fridge and feed it only once a week, until such time as you need it. Take your starter out of the fridge a day or two before you plan to use it. Feed it immediately after removing it from the fridge, then feed it every 24 hours after that. Feed it around 5-7 hours before you plan to use it in a recipe.

I recommend that you become familiar with the behavior of your starter. A few hours after you feed it, it will start to rise and expand in the container. Mine is usually doubled in size about 5 hours after feeding, and that's when I use it for cooking. Once it peaks, it goes back down. Sometimes a layer of liquid forms at the top of the starter. This is called hooch. Stir it back in or dump it out, it's up to you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Traditions

The first holiday we ever spent with the Kid was Easter. This was after she started visitations at our apartment, before the adoption. She was then like 6, and she had some concerns that the Easter bunny wouldn't know where she was or how to find her. So I said, well, we'll do the Easter Bunny dance and of course he'll find us. Not to worry.

So that night I made up the first Easter Bunny dance. She had to do it with me, so I'd do a step and then she had to repeat what I did. More rain dance than two step, it involved some clapping and hopping and chanting things like "Easter!".

By Christmas time the Kid was confident that her change of address had gone through, and there never was a Santa dance or anything like that. I forgot about it until the following Easter, when she just expected we would do it again. It turns out that my kid now thinks this is just a normal part of Easter. The Easter dance. I have no idea if she thinks other families also do this, or why we did it that first time. This year, she asked me how I know it--the dance. but I make it up on the fly, and it's different every time.

I wanted to make a traditional Easter dish this year, but as you probably know, vegetarians don't eat ham. I settled on hot cross buns, a traditional food on Good Friday. Then the weekend came and I was just too lazy to make hot cross buns because the recipe was going to take like three hours. The Kid requested pancakes, and I settled on a plan to make pancakes in the shape of bunny heads.

It turns out that this is actually much harder than you might think. Pancake batter just doesn't want to form any shape other than a circle. The final product was globular and asymmetrical. I meant to add chocolate chip eyes and a nose, but I had no chocolate chips in the cupboard, so what I fed to the kid was this weird misshapen pancake that bore no resemblance to a rabbit whatsoever.

Monday, April 2, 2012

No-Knead Sourdough

This recipe was inspired by my version of Jim Lahey's No-Knead bread recipe, and it is virtually the same in all ways except I substituted the regular yeast for my sourdough starter.

I found this loaf to be moist and shiny inside, with big air pockets and a soft crumb. I can only hope that my future loaves are so successful.

No Knead Sourdough Recipe

Preparation time: about 15 minutes of actual work, 24 hours to make a loaf

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/3 cup active sourdough starter (approximate)
1 1/3 cup cool water

  1. Feed sourdough starter approximately 5 hours before mixing the dough. Wait until starter is risen and puffy.
  2. Mix together 3 cups flour, sea salt, starter and cool water. Work ingredients with your hands to form a wet and somewhat sticky dough. Add the remaining flour only if the dough is too wet and sticky to work with; add just enough so that the dough will form a sticky but not unworkable ball. Once the dough has been mixed, place it back in the bowl and cover with a hand towel. I usually do this around 8PM at night. Let the dough sit someplace warmish.
  3. Let the dough rise for around 15-21 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. I usually let it sit until 5PM the following night. The dough will be risen and there will be bubbles at the surface. Scrape the sides of the dough off the bowl and tuck the sides of the dough underneath so it forms a deflated, semi-loose ball.
  4. Let the dough sit in a warm place with a hand towel over the bowl. After an hour and a half, turn on the oven to 475 degrees and place the ceramic dish with lid inside.
  5. When the dough has been sitting for two hours, scrape the sides of the dough off the bowl and tuck the sides of the dough underneath so it forms a deflated, semi-loose ball. Lightly flour the surface of the dough.
  6. Put the dough in the ceramic pot, then bake at 475 for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn down the oven to 400 degrees and remove the lid. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
It should be noted that the loaf I made in the picture was baked at 475 for the entire 40 minute time period because I forgot to turn down the temperature in the oven. The result is a very attractive, chestnut colored crust. In the past I found darker crusts to be difficult to cut, more difficult for my purposes (I use this for my sandwich bread), but I'm having no difficulty with this particular loaf. It is slightly too well done around the edges but in the future I'm not going to turn down the oven quite so much.

If your starter lives in the fridge (mine does), you'll want to take the starter from the fridge a few days before making your loaf. The starter should be room temperature and on a regular daily feeding schedule.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Freakin' Awesome Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy

Wednesday of this week found me hungry and desperate for biscuits and gravy. I looked up a recipe. I had Thursday and Friday off work and on Thursday I wanted to make biscuits, but instead we got up and left early and went to Home Depot where we bought some plants for our garden including tomatoes and herbs and things. We spent the afternoon planting. So no biscuits and gravy on Thursday.

Friday we painted the dining room, living room and foyer. This was a HUGE undertaking because our dining room is lined with book shelves and the books had to be removed and the book shelves put in the kitchen. No biscuits and gravy on Friday.

Saturday we woke up early and cleaned up the mess from the painting the day before. Not kidding when I say this took all day long. No biscuits and gravy on Saturday.

Does my sad story have a happy ending? Yes. Today, Sunday, we had biscuits and gravy. This recipe takes around 20 minutes to prepare. The biscuits are light and fluffy and just a little bit buttery. The gravy is peppery and filling.

Biscuits and Gravy, preparation time: 20 minutes
Makes 6-7 biscuits


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups ground vegetarian sausage
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven 450 degrees. Mix ingredients for biscuits in a bowl--do not over mix. Batter will be wet and sticky. Grease 1 cookie sheet and place spoonfuls of batter onto the cookie sheet. Biscuits will be approximately 2-3 inches wide and 1-2 inches tall. Note that biscuits will retain whatever shape you give them--they don't rise much. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

While the biscuits are baking, heat the sausage in a sauce pan with flour and butter. Add milk slowly. Add salt and pepper and stir until the biscuits are ready.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread Recipe

This bread recipe is all over the Internet so by reproducing it here I'm not really contributing anything new except for my thoughts and opinions about it. Lately I've been having a hard time with the sourdough so this is my fall-back favorite.

This is the recipe that sparked my interest in bread baking. The best features of this bread:
  • it's easy ("no-knead"). You really need know nothing about bread making whatsoever to make this recipe. It's perfect for a beginner.
  • the bread is crusty and rustic looking, with an airy, light crumb
  • good shape with many flexible applications: sandwiches, toasts, garlic bread
  • as a "prepare the dough one night, bake the next night" recipe, this works for people like me who work all day


  • it requires a 6-8 quart pot with a lid. The pot I use is slightly smaller--probably no more than 4 or 5 quarts. I had to buy this pot specially for making this bread. It was a great investment. By the way, I've made this bread in a ceramic casserole dish without a lid and I can safely say it makes a difference. The crust was wrong.

I had my daughter make this loaf, so the pictures below were taken of her.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Recipe (as featured on his website and in his book, My Bread--but I just noticed that the recipe on his website is slightly different than the recipe that I copied by hand out of his book) Preparation time: about 15 minutes of actual work, 24 hours to make a loaf

*Note that my version of this recipe is slightly different from the original, namely in the proofing time. I go for a longer proofing time so I can bake during the work week, but I've also found that the longer proofing time makes for a lighter loaf.

3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast
1 1/3 cup cool water

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the water. Work ingredients with your hands to form a wet and somewhat sticky dough. This takes about 4 minutes. Once the dough has been mixed, place it back in the bowl and cover with a hand towel. I usually do this around 8PM at night. Let the dough sit someplace warmish for about 18 hours.
  2. Let the dough rise for around 15-21 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. I usually let it sit until 5PM the following night. The dough will be risen and there will be bubbles at the surface. Scrape the sides of the dough off the bowl and tuck the sides of the dough underneath so it forms a deflated, semi-loose ball.
  3. Let the dough sit in a warm place with a hand towel over the bowl. After an hour and a half, turn on the oven to 475 degrees and place the ceramic dish with lid inside.
  4. When the dough has been sitting for two hours, scrape the sides of the dough off the bowl and tuck the sides of the dough underneath so it forms a deflated, semi-loose ball. Lightly flour the surface of the dough.
  5. Put the dough in the ceramic pot, then bake at 475 for 30 minutes.
  6. Turn down the oven to 400 degrees and remove the lid. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
I actually have no wire rack so I cool my bread loaves on a plate and turn them upside down after 20-30 minutes. I make a point to be in the kitchen for the first 5 or 10 minutes after removing the loaf from the oven because this loaf, more than other loaves I have baked, sings:)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Decadent Raspberry Streusel Muffins

I'm going to take a sec to plug an awesome vegetarian cookbook. Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison is the best cookbook I own that I rarely ever use. Why don't I use it, you ask? There are too many awesome recipes. This, like, 700 page tome of vegetarian cooking is so comprehensive that I don't know where to start.

So big and beautiful, I don't know where to start. That's why I don't use it. Pathetic reason.

Need a recipe for pizza? This book has 16. Have only 5 minutes and like 6 different vegetables and you really, really want to make soup? there's a recipe in here to help you. Want to make mayonnaise? Pages 58, 59, 93 and 60.

Most recipes in this book are described in reasonable terms--two paragraphs or fewer--and the ingredients are the sort of foods that most vegetarians--nay, most humans--keep on hand.

Vegetarians will be blown away by this book. Blown away.

So, I pulled this book off my shelf today and made some raspberry streusel muffins. They are delicate and delicious, with a moist interior and a crunchy, crumbly topping. I used fresh raspberries rather than frozen, and that has made all the difference.

Raspberry Streusel Muffins, preparation time: approximately 45 minutes
Makes approximately 15 muffins.

Muffin Ingredients:

3/4 cup whole wheat white flour
1 3/4 cups all purpose pastry flour
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup melted butter
1 /12 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup fresh raspberries

Streusel Ingredients:

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat white flour
1/4 cup oats
1/2 t grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon
4 T cold butter


Preheat oven 375 F. Combine dry ingredients for muffins in one bowl, wet ingredients in another bowl. Combine into a rough mixture; don't over mix. Stir in raspberries.

Combine streusel ingredients in blender or food processor and mix until crumby.

Fill greased muffin trays to the top with batter and sprinkle with streusel. Bake in oven for 25 minutes until brown and risen. Let cool somewhat before eating.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Creamy Corn Chowder

K, so when I get paid or get my tax refund, I'm going to start my next brew, but I can't decide what kind. The stout is fabulous but now I want to go lighter. Maybe an IPA...?

The weather outside the last couple of days is cold and overcast, so I'm sharing this recipe for my family's favorite corn chowder.

Creamy Corn Chowder
preparation time: 30 minutes

  • One large potato
  • One small red onion
  • One red bell pepper
  • One to two heads of broccoli
  • Flour
  • Minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Milk (2 ½ cups)
  • Veggie broth (1 ¼ cups)
  • Corn (3 cups)
  • Grated cheese (1 cup)
Cut up potato, red onion, red bell pepper, broccoli (or green beans, or snap peas, or some other green vegetable—I usually use whatever is on-hand) and sauté together in olive oil on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with minced garlic and salt. Once it has sautéed to your liking, mix with two tablespoons flour and turn off heat.

In a large pot over the stove, mix two and a half cups of milk and one and one fourth cup veggie broth.

Mix sautéed veggies from step 1 into the pot with the milk and veggie broth. Turn on high heat. Add corn. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked.
Mix in ¾ cup of cheese. When the cheese is fully mixed, the soup is ready.
Serve each bowl with a little of the remaining cheese garnishing the top.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Warm, Comforting VEGAN Beef Stew

People who live where I live have no right to complain about the weather. We do it all the same. It's been cold the last few weeks. The wind picked up the other night and the doors on the plastic shed-like thing in the back yard were flapping and banging and the cat's bed flew around the yard and the stringed lights under the porch awning were clanking against each other and when I went out in my pajamas to secure the fort, my robe flapped around my ankles and my hair whipped around and covered my eyes. And it was COLD. Not like Wisconsin or Canada or Alaska cold, but cold. Possibly even 40 degrees outside. Cold like I want to eat a nice, hot, cheap, comforting bowl of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. That's exactly what I might have done when I was 13 years old, but now as a former-meat-eater-turned-vegetarian I can't eat Dinty Moore anymore. We (in my family) used to call it Denny Moore. Or maybe that was just me. Ahh. Denny Moore.

K, so I have a great beef stew recipe. It's 100% vegan and since I can barely remember what Dinty Moore tasted like now, I tell myself that this recipe is as satisfying--nay, more satisfying than Dinty Moore. Or at least as satisfying. If you knew how high a regard I had for Dinty Moore as a girl you'd realize that this is a seriously good recipe.

Vegan Beef Stew, preparation time: 45 minutes

Stew Ingredients:

1 8oz package seitan, cubed
1 large onion chopped
1 quart vegetable broth
5 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tamari
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
4 of each large carrots and large peeled potatoes coarsely chopped
1 tomato seeded and diced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon each of pepper and basil
3 tablespoons soybean margarine
5 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water until not lumpy

Gravy Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stew Instructions: Combine stew ingredients and heat over stove until the potatoes and carrots are cooked. We like our beef stew really thick in my house, so while this is cooking, I make a separate gravy.

Gravy Instructions:

Heat vegetable oil, onion and garlic in a pan on medium heat until onion is soft and translucent. Stir in flour and lower temperature. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir occasionally.

Serve stew in a bowl with a spoonful of gravy on top. Mix. It's delicious.

As a side note, I like to prepare this the night before and put it in the crock pot on a low setting. I make the gravy when I get home (gravy takes about 10 minutes).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Favorite pasta salad

Monday through Thursday I make lunches for the Other Adult to take to work. Not sure how I got into this routine, I just did. I guess I do it cause I kind of own the kitchen and it's more difficult for her to get into the kitchen and do things in there when I'm doing my own thing in there all night long. Once a week or once every two weeks I'll send a pasta salad of some kind. I try to shake it up and keep the recipes interesting, but the unfortunate truth about pasta salad is this: there's really only one recipe out there, and every pasta salad is a variation of that one recipe.

Every pasta salad recipe that I have come across has the following things:
1) pasta
2) wetting agent (usually like an oily dressing but could be mayonnaise based or pesto or something else)
3) spice/flavor
4) vegetables
5) meat or meat substitute
6) cheese

Of all the pasta salads I've ever made, our favorite is this variation, which I just think of as Favorite Pasta Salad.

Favorite Pasta Salad prep time: 15ish minutes
  • pasta
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • diced onion, bell peppers and tomato
  • sliced sausage (I use Tofurkey Beer Brats)
  • cubed fresh mozzarella

Cook pasta. Bake sausage slices for about 5-10 minutes on 375. Combine ingredients in a bowl. I'm not giving quantities for the ingredients because I never measure, and I think it's all a matter of your own preference anyway. The Other Adult prefers it heavy on the sausage and light on the tomato and onion. Plus she likes the tomato and onion in really, really small pieces. I add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tips for the Harried Family Chef

I know I've mentioned before that I'm constantly in a hurry. That I spend my nights cooking dinner and making tomorrow's lunches and doing dishes and picking up messes and taking out garbage and doing more dishes and putting away dishes.

I'd like to say that I've got this kitchen operating like a well oiled machine, but I'd be lying. Despite spending 95% of my time at the sink doing dishes, there are always more dirty dishes to be done. There's always something I forgot to do, something that's still a mess and some critical ingredient I'm missing and making up for. Despite my shortcomings, I've learned some tricks that keep me sane and my kitchen (more or less) running smoothly. These tips help me crank out the meals more quickly and makes food preparation less stressful.
  1. Always prepare extra of the things you use a lot. Grating cheese? Grate more than you need and put the rest in the fridge for next time. Making refried beans? Make a double batch and put the leftovers in the freezer. Cutting up sausage for the 5,000th time? Cut up extra and put the rest in the freezer. Which leads to my next tip...
  2. Keep extra things in your freezer. You'd be amazed all the things that you can freeze and thaw later with minimal consequences. I mentioned refried beans already. Cheese is another good example. Remember to give ample time to thaw--24 hours should be enough.
  3. Keep a running grocery list. Write it down as soon as you've used the last of whatever ingredient. I keep a list on my phone (one of those smart touch screen gadgets) of groceries we need.
  4. Always, always have a frozen pizza on hand for emergencies.
  5. Don't snub your nose at time-saving conveniences. I'm talking about buying the sliced cheese instead of the block, or the sliced pineapple instead of the full-sized pineapples. That kind of stuff.
  6. Stop making extra trips to the garbage while you cook. On your counter, place a Tupperware dish that features a wide opening into which you can throw all your food scraps. You can empty the dish into your compost pile or garbage when the meal is over. Not making a trip to the compost pile just yet? Throw the lid on the tupperware and save it for later.
  7. Keep your Tupperware organized. When I'm cleaning up after a meal and stashing the leftovers, nothing slows my momentum like finding a the perfect Tupperware but being unable to find the lid.
  8. Treat yourself while working the kitchen. If you spend as much time as I do in the kitchen, which is to say, if you spend like half your life in the kitchen, it shouldn't be a chore. Find little ways to make cooking and clean up more fun. Sometimes I play a radio or sing songs to myself. I like to have a beer while cooking, and while I'm cleaning up, I have coffee. In the absence of either of these things, I'll have a juice.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My first beer.


This is a shot of me drinking my first beer. The first beer I ever made on my own.

It tastes great:)

Family Favorite: Pine Nut Pasta

My family calls it Pine Nut Pasta. It used to be that we couldn't get enough of this stuff, but I think the Other Adult got burned out on this because I was always suggesting it, or maybe the Kid was always asking for it, whatever. So now we rarely have it, but we had it again last night, for the first time in ages. It's delicious. And I remembered all over again why we used to eat it all the time...cause it's fast and delicious and healthy.

The original recipe comes from What's Cooking Vegetarian, by Jenny Stacey--a favored family cook book so used and worn that looks like we left it on a battlefield. We have adapted the recipe to suit our needs, though some of the changes I'm not sure why we made.

I've decided to start giving the prep time for these recipes because prep time is so crucial to people like me who run in the door at 5:00 at night...not sure how I didn't think to do this before.

Prep Time: 30 Minutes (20 if you cook like a maniac)


  • 3 T olive oil
  • 3/4 medium to large onion, diced
  • 3/4 c pine nuts
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • pasta


  1. Boil water for pasta. Put pasta in as soon as it's boiling.
  2. Place pan for sauteing over medium to medium high heat; add olive oil and onions. Stir occasionally. Saute for about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add pine nuts and garlic to the onions in the pan. Stir occasionally. Onions should be softening slightly but not caramelizing or browning. Saute for about 3 minutes. Stir your pasta from time to time.
  4. Add baby spinach to the food sauteing in the pan. The Other Adult likes it when I take the time to remove the stems from the baby spinach.
  5. Add salt and pepper to the sauteing food. Allow spinach to become half wilted, then turn off the heat.
  6. Serve over pasta with parmesan cheese; a little salt.

Serve with:

Toasted garlic bread, or sauteed mushrooms on baked toasts.


The original recipe calls for 6T white wine over the pine nut mixture, added around midway through the saute. When we were first developing this recipe, we were broke and probably never had white wine on hand, which may be why we eliminated that from the recipe. Also, the original recipe calls for mushrooms. We never put them in but as far as I can tell, there isn't a good reason for that. hmmm...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflections, sourdough update

So, I know I've explained this before, but sourdough bread is bread made from wild yeasts. The yeasts are cultivated in a mixture of flour and water called a starter. A starter is like a pet. I feed my starter every night before I go to bed. ...or at least, I'm supposed to. These days, the starter sleeps in the fridge. In the cold temperatures the starter basically goes dormant. I keep it in the fridge because I'm just so busy lately that I don't have time to make bread, and if I don't have time to make the bread then feeding the starter flour every night is just a good way to waste flour.

A few months ago I made a loaf of sourdough bread, and that was the first time since we moved into the house that I had done so. My sourdough starter is a couple years old now, a young age for a starter. Starters can live forever, as I understand it, as long as they are fed.

My starter really has taken a beating since we moved into the new house, and even before the move, my starter had suffered long periods of time in the fridge without food.

You can imagine that basically all fun activities stopped for the summer while we were moving. The Other Adult was gone with the Kid for the weeks leading up to the move, and in the first few weeks after the move. During that time, I packed a lot, disassembled furniture, watched back to back episodes of the Office and Star Trek (yup, I'm one of those), made phone calls to the Realtor and signed papers and ate Luna bars and slept 4 hours a night and stressed about termites and roof problems and renting a moving truck and driving a moving truck, and everything fun I ever did or ever wanted to do was pushed aside. Beer brewing, sourdough, painting, reading. I didn't do any of it over the summer. Ah, well actually, I did read. I re-read the Pillars of the Earth over the summer. Re-reading is not even like real reading though, it's like...pretend reading. Cause you're not increasing the list of books you've read or learning anything new. You're just massaging your brain, like dreaming.

And during that time, the moving time, my starter lived in the fridge. I have serious affection for my starter because it was there with me through this. Chugging along. Like me. I brought it to the new house in a cooler with refrigerated condiments and the depleted contents of our freezer (and that was basically all the food I had left, after spending all my money on gas and trips to the new house and movers and packing tape). My refrigerated pet. My starter. It was one of the first things in our fridge in our new house.

So then we got busy pulling out carpet and tearing out the bathroom floors and painting and replacing light fixtures and fixing the brick wall in the back yard and meeting with contractors and unpacking. And every weekend was some new DIY project and my hands were always filthy and there wasn't time and the starter sat in the fridge, where it sits today. If my starter is lucky, I remember to feed it weekly, which is really how often you're supposed to feed it if it's in the fridge.

A few months ago, as I mentioned, I tried to make my first loaves of sourdough in our new house. Not surprisingly, the starter is not as vigorous as it once was, and I didn't get as much rise out of the loaves as I wanted. What's more frustrating is that the oven, that 1940's O'Keefe and Merritt stove that came with the house, does something very different than our old characterless oven in the apartment we moved out of. The bread I made in our new oven was slightly overdone on bottom and the crust was rock hard. My old methods either don't work in our new oven, or somehow during my forced vacation from bread baking, I lost my touch.

So this weekend I hope to make another batch of sourdough. First I need to prep the starter. I'll take it out of the fridge tonight (wednesday night) and feed it a good healthy dinner. Stir vigorously to aerate the mixture. Then I'll feed it again tomorrow (Thursday), and then feed it early the next day (Friday) so that the following night (Friday night), I can make my sponge. Then I bake on Saturday.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fast, Mouthwatering Garlic Ginger Tofu

In my house it is absolutely critical to have dinner on the table by 5:30. Maybe I mentioned in a previous post that, if not fed, members of my family wilt and die after 5:30. Or they start eating snack foods, then they don't want to eat for hours and all routine flies out the window.

So the minute I walk in the door, the oven goes on preheat or the water goes on to boil. The yellow recipe folder comes out. Flour on the counter, vegetables. Cutting boards.

Yellow recipe folder. It's one of those $0.15 folders made of a single sheaf of flimsy paper barely thicker than the papers you put in it, a folder that you buy unknowing that you'll be using it for the next 10 years and what you really need is a 5 Star industrial strength plastic reinforced binder. The pages inside are smeared with food, crinkly and brittle from absorbing water and drying out.

Perhaps like a lot of you, I find most of my recipes online. I print them out, mark them up and make them my own. Write notes in the margin. "so-and-so thought this was too dry," or "added more clove and cinnamon. Worked really well." Then the recipes go in the yellow recipe folder, in no particular order.

This recipe, taken from Kristen at the Pixelated Crumb has been adapted to my family's preferences. The Other Adult does not like Dry Stir Fry, which this would have been without the sauce. So I made a separate sauce for the rice, and I added a few vegetables per the Other Adult's request.

Stir Fry Ingredients:
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 package firm tofu (I use a package and a half per our preferences)
  • 1 onion diced into big irregular chunks
  • 1-2 carrots diced
  • 2-3 heads of broccoli
  • 1 C chopped mushrooms
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 t ginger powder
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • sesame seeds, for topping
  • cooked brown rice

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C soy sauce
  • 3-4 T corn starch mixed in water
  • 3/4 C veggie broth
  • 1 T lime juice
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t ginger


  1. Dice the tofu into 1.5 inch cubes (approximate size). Put the oil in the frying pan and spread out the tofu in the oil. Turn up the heat to medium high. Turn the tofu occasionally, browning each side. I let the tofu sit in the heat by itself for at least 5-7 minutes before adding other vegetables because the Other Adult likes "crispy tofu." If you like your tofu soft, then cook it for much less time.
  2. As the tofu cooks, put the rice on to boil and then start your sauce. Combine soy sauce, veggie broth, corn starch water, lime juice and garlic powder in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir occasionally. Add more veggie broth, soy sauce or lime juice to taste.
  3. Add carrots and onions to the frying pan. Sear the veggies by allowing them to sit on one side for a few minutes before turning them.
  4. Add broccoli to the frying pan, then sprinkle with soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and ginger. Turn down the heat slightly and keep turning the veggies and tofu, heating everything evenly.
  5. Add ginger to the sauce. Stir into the sauce until the ginger clumps have disappeared. Taste the sauce and make adjustments as desired (I usually play a lot with the proportions of lime, soy sauce and veggie broth).
  6. Serve when the rice is done, usually about 25 minutes. I put the rice on the plate first, then sauce, then vegetables. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Microwave Popcorn!

The Other Adult believes that Microwaves Are Bad. She believes that the radiation from microwaves probably causes cancer and at the very least microwaves heat unevenly and cause crunchy foods to go soft and mushy and in general microwaves make good foods taste bad.

We had a little microwave in college. It was just large enough to hold our 4 cup Pyrex measuring dish, and in college when we lived in a dorm room and had no kitchen, we used it to boil water so we could make box mac 'n cheese and cream of wheat and hot tea. We decorated the top of the microwave with shelf liner that was blue with a pattern of silver swirls.

We took the microwave with us after college, and it followed us to three different cities and two different coasts. The microwave had no digital face and no power settings to speak of, just a dial that worked like a timer, so that you could set the microwave to heat a food for a specific length of time. Our microwave was the perfect size for a counter top in a little apartment. After college, our need for the microwave decreased dramatically. In fact, I don't know if we needed it at all. We used it primarily for defrosting frozen peas.

Our house came with a microwave over the stove. The microwave, probably from the 80's or early 90's, looks out of place in our kitchen with knotty pine cabinets and a vintage 1940's/50's era oven. This microwave has a complicated digital interface, power settings and buttons for defrosting/cooking specific types of food. I have barely bothered to learn how to use it. The interior of the microwave is like four times the cubic volume of our previous microwave. We use it to defrost frozen peas.

We do not buy microwave popcorn. Nor do we have a popcorn maker. I make popcorn over the stove. Stove top popcorn takes only a minute or two longer than the time it takes to microwave popcorn.

  • 1/2 c popcorn kernels
  • 3 T olive oil
  • salt to taste

Basically, put your pot over high heat. The pot must have a lid. I think the pot I use holds about 8 quarts. Add olive oil and popcorn kernels to the pot (I never measure the amount of popcorn I put in, but I think 1/2 cup is a good guess). I usually sprinkle the kernels and oil with salt.

This is going to work better on a gas stove, but I think you can do it on an electric. For a gas stove, start by putting the lid on the pot. Hold the pot up above the burner so that the flames lick the bottom, and swirl the pot around gently so you can hear the kernels sliding around in the bottom of the pot. The kernels will start to pop after a minute or more. If they don't start popping, you're holding the kernels too high. Once the first few kernels pop, they'll all start to pop at once, furiously. If the pops stay few and far between, the pot is too high above the flames. Keep swirling the pot. The popping will hit a climax then become less. Remove the pot from the flames before the popping has stopped entirely. This whole process probably takes about 4 minutes start to finish.

On an electric range, leave the pot on the burner and the lid off. Keep the lid nearby and within reach. I've never tried this on an electric range so you may need to adjust this process to what works for you. Stir the kernels in the pot with a wooden spoon until the first two or three kernels have popped. Put on the lid, turn down the heat to medium and swirl the pot around on the burner to keep the kernels moving.

Salt the top of the popped popcorn as desired.

Some tips:

1) The handles on your pot may get quite hot. I've found that the pot gets warmer when there's no liquid inside to absorb the heat. Wear oven mitts the first few times you do this--especially if your pot is the type that has two short handles on the side instead of one long handle.

2) Although I specified half a cup of kernels in the recipe above, I don't actually measure the quantity I put in the pot, I just eyeball it. I do know that a small portion of kernels will yield a surprisingly large batch of popcorn so go easy on the kernels the first few times you try this.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beer brewing, first try: bottling day!

Well after two weeks of waiting and looking at the carboy and obsessing and having excited fantasies about sitting down on the couch with a cold home brewed beer and watching a full 1 hour television show, I bottled my beer.

This was a long process. Start to finish it took about 4 hours, partially because my sanitizer is the type that needs to be rinsed, a situation I will be remedying before my next batch.

I had to wash and sanitize about 60 bottles, which turned out to be more than I needed. Washing and sanitizing the bottles took about 2 hours. First I washed each bottle with a bottle brush and soapy water. I've been collecting these bottles for about a year, so as I cleaned the bottles, I spent my time reflecting on our old apartment, and the move over the summer, and the ways that my life has completely turned on its head since last February. One of the things I love about beer is the way that drinking different kinds of beers reminds me of the various times in my past when I have had said beers. Guinness, for example, is the first beer that I ever liked. When I drink Guinness, I remember the first Guinness I ever had. I remember the excited wow that popped into my head when I had that first sip.

Now these beer bottles remind me of the not-so-distant past, of our old kitchen, of our old loft where I stored the bottles. Sundays spent doing laundry and cooking. Carpeting and cathedral ceilings.

After washing and sanitizing all my bottles, I sanitized my fermenting bucket, siphon, hydrometer and bottle caps. I also sanitized a couple dishes where I could place tools and bottle caps that weren't being used. Then I used the racking cane to transfer the beer from the carboy into the fermenting bucket. I could have left the brew in the carboy but I thought the fermenting bucket would be easier to bottle from.

After I filled the fermenting bucket, I diverted a little of the brew into the plastic hydrometer tube. I don't have a wine thief (think of it as a turkey baster for brewers), which would have helped here, so I filled the hydrometer tube from the spigot in the bottom of the fermenting bucket. The hydrometer measures the density, or the gravity, of the brew. It's a buoyed glass tube with numbers up the side, and looks a bit like a thermometer.

Bearing in mind that I'm still a little fuzzy on details of brewing, I believe that the reason you must check the gravity of the brew is because you need to measure the sugars remaining in the mixture. As the yeasts eat up the sugars, the liquid becomes less dense. Once all the sugars are gone, this is called Final Gravity. When the brew reaches final gravity and the density stops dropping, that's when you're ready to bottle.

The wise people at the Beer Wine and Cheese store told me that I should hit final gravity after 7-10 days of the second stage of fermentation. I waited 14 days because I brew on the weekends, and I wanted to be sure I had given the brew enough time to reach final gravity. I asked the clerk at the store if there were negative consequences to going over the prescribed 7 to 10 days and he said no, within reason. He said not to wait 2 months after final gravity:)

I measured the gravity. Because this was a recipe that I obtained at the Beer Wine and Cheese shop, I knew beforehand that the final gravity was supposed to be 1.01 or 1.02. Had I been making up my own recipe, I would have needed to determine final gravity for myself.

The gravity was about 1.01. What are the consequences of bottling before reaching final gravity? Not sure.

So then, onto bottling. My priming sugars were powdered, so I boiled a cup of water and dissolved the sugars into the water, per the instructions from the guy at the Beer Wine and Cheese store. I poured the sugars into the brew and stirred them carefully with my racking cane.

I attached the plastic hose to the spigot on my fermenting bucket, then put the bottling attachment at the other end of the hose. The bottling attachment has a pressure sensitive tip that, when depressed into the bottom of the bottle, lets the beer through. I turned on the spigot and depressed the tip of the bottling attachment, and filled my bottles. In between bottles, I allowed the bottling attachment to rest in the top of the carboy.

The fuzzy picture below shows a bottle, the bottling attachment in the carboy, and the bottle capper. The bottle capper has a magnetic piece that holds onto the bottle cap. You tip the bottle capper over the top of the bottle, depress the handles all the way down, and then lift the handles back up. In most cases, when you pull the bottle capper off the bottle, the cap is solidly on the bottle. Probably 1 time in 6, the bottle cap goes on sideways or just doesn't go on at all. I wasted about 15 bottle caps in this process.

Wasted bottle caps:

A better shot of the bottle and bottle capper:

The finished bottles:

This yielded about 45ish bottles of beer. For the time being I stored them in a big plastic tub in the office. At the end of two weeks, when I can drink them, I'll move them into the garage.

I'm planning to start my second brew in March, when I get paid and can buy some more ingredients and Star San sanitizer.

Some things I have learned and wish to remember for the future:

1) Next time I do a boil, I can start boiling the water while I'm sanitizing the rest of my equipment. This will save a lot of time because boiling like 3 gallons of water took basically forever.

2) Need to put water in my airlock. Duh. This is very likely why I thought my yeast was dead--the airlock was being improperly used. Craig put a lengthy talk about airlocks online:

3) According to the guy at the Beer Wine and Cheese shop, putting double yeast into the fermenting bucket probably didn't hurt anything. It may even have helped.

4) while inefficient, transferring the brew from the carboy back into the fermenting bucket seems to have helped me ditch some of the sediment in the bottom of the brew after 2nd stage fermentation.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vegetarian Grilling

yeah so we grill every weekend, weather permitting. What's funny to me about this is the following conversation, which I have about half the time when someone asks me about my weekend and how it was:

Friend/family: how was your weekend?
me: It was [insert adjective]. I cleaned [insert noun or name of room] and we went to [insert name of place]. Oh, and we grilled on Saturday.
Friend/family: Grilling, huh?... [thoughtful pause] how does a vegetarian grill?

Apparently eating meat is essential to grilling. well, non-vegetarians believe so. When I tell people I'm a vegetarian, they don't usually react by asking me how I manage to get through a meal. But when I tell people I grilled over the weekend, people who know I'm a vegetarian usually react by asking me how I managed to pull that one off, in a way that sort of likens vegetarian grilling to some kind of oxymoron.

But it turns out that vegetarian grilling is possible, as much fun and just as delicious as meat grilling.

Grilling in our family requires a lot of preparation. We keep a tub in the garage full of grilling accessories, including an assortment of plastic plates, metal skewers, a roll of paper towels, corn tongs, grilling tongs, the lighter, oven mits, etc. I keep a list in the tub of items to prepare before the grilling event. It takes about an hour/hour and a half to get ready to grill, which includes a trip to the grocery store, marinating, cleaning the grill, loading new charcoal, etc.

Recently, the Other Adult bought a fire pit, which is actually in no way a pit because it sits on a stand over the ground. The fire pit is a bowl on legs. You make a fire in it. When we grill at night, the fire pit is a source of light and extra heat. We like it.

We use lump charcoal, which is supposed to be the natural alternative to the regular Kingsford briquets we used in my childhood. Lump charcoal is somewhat faster burning than the briquets, leaves less waste, and comes in irregular sizes that range from large log-like pieces to tiny little flakes. We like the lump charcoal because we have heard rumors that the briquets have been soaked in nasty chemicals and that doesn't sit well with us. See below:

Just like with the briquets, we soak the lump charcoal in lighter fluid (nasty chemicals?) and light it up. It burns hot and bright for a couple minutes, then dies down. When the fire dies down we put on the griddle.

First we put on the shish kabobs and corn in the husks. The shish kabobs have onion, pepper, heirloom cherry tomatoes, cubes of tofu soaked in barbecue sauce, marinated seitan, cut up corn on the cob, and zuchinni. The kabobs are drizzled with olive oil and garlic powder as they cook.

I soak the corn cobs in water for about 15 minutes before placing them on the grill. This prevents the husks from lighting on fire for a while, although by the time we eat the husks are charred.

I cut up some carrot slices and wrap them in foil with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. We heat that up until the carrots are somewhat soft but still have a crisp core. Sometimes instead of carrots, we marinate mushrooms and put them in foil, or we place asparagus spears directly on the grill and drizzle the spears in olive oil.

We have a grilling mascot. Mr. Grilling. The mascot is a plastic horse I found in the cart corral in the grocery store parking lot.

The Other Adult seems to think Mr. Grilling is stupid.

In place of burgers or steaks, we usually have grilled eggplant sandwiches with goat cheese on crusty bread. Or, like the pictures below, sometimes we make pizzas on crusty bread. For the pizzas, we heat chopped vegetables in olive oil in foil. We grill the bread until toasted and then spread on pizza sauce. We top it with the vegetables and little pats of goat cheese.

Below the table we keep a food garbage that I later put in the compost bin:

And of course, I have a beer. I bought the Guiness Draught because it was on sale.

While we grill, we talk. In the summer we swim. Sometimes the Kid does homework during this process and the Other Adult puts her phone in this little speaker base thing she bought and she turns on podcasts of This American Life or Josh and Chuck or Science Friday. we do it like this because we are huge nerds.