Monday, January 30, 2012

Wine Marinaded Seitan Recipe

Grilling is a huge activity in my family. Huge. We do it literally every weekend, weather permitting. It's cheap, it's fun, it keeps us entertained for hours. The Other Adult recently purchased a metal fire pit which really isn't much of a pit IMO, but actually a metal bowl on legs. Whatever--it provides light and heat for night grilling, which has opened like a whole new world for us.

Our normal grilling fare includes corn on the cob, grilled eggplant sandwiches (recipe to come sometime in the future), and kabobs with mini heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, pepper, squash, tofu dipped in barbecue sauce and wine marinaded seitan.

Seitan is a relatively new staple item in our refrigerator. It's kinda like tofu but it's made from wheat gluten, and its texture more closely resembles real meat. Unlike tofu, which seems to have no inherent flavor, seitan has a veggie-brothy kind of flavor that also makes it a little more meat-like, even without any additional flavoring.

Seitan is totally delicious and it has a lot of practical applications in the kitchen. I recommend it for any vegetarian. We use it in fajitas, stir fry meals and vegan chicken nuggets. I buy our seitan at Whole Foods and have a hard time finding it at other stores, but the Other Adult's parents, who live in rural-ish Illinois, have managed to find seitan at their local supermarket. Grocery stores that stock seitan usually stock it with the tofu and other refrigerated vegetarian or health foods, or sometimes with the refrigerated Asian food products.

The seitan marinade recipe I use is adapted from this recipe on I adapted the recipe for the ingredients I had in my cupboards the first time I made it, and I loved the results so much that I haven't modified it.

Wine Marinaded Seitan
8 oz seitan, cut in chunks
1/4 cup red wine (I use 2 buck chuck, shiraz:)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary chopped
1/2 Tbsp thyme
salt and pepper
olive oil
3/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried leaf oregano

Combine ingredients and marinade seitan for at least one hour. I usually save the leftover seitan for the next time we grill, so sometimes it marinades for a week.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beer brewing, first try: secondary fermentation

Last night I started my secondary fermentation. Recall that for one week the beer has been sitting in a giant fermenting bucket in the office of our house. During that time, some settling happened. Yeast and other things formed a layer on the bottom of the bucket. This layer is called "trub," pronounced "troob." So last night, I sanitized my big glass carboy. I also tried to sanitize my racking cane, but I have realized that I will need Star San for this in the future because my current sanitizer is not very good quality and the fact that it needs to be rinsed thoroughly after use is too cumbersome for good cleaning. After sanitizing the equipment, I siphoned the brew from the trub and into a glass carboy, so that the beer could begin its next stage of development, called secondary fermentation.

These pictures are all very dark and not such great quality but I just had to share this. My fermenting bucket:

Using a racking cane to transfer the brew from the bucket, into the carboy:

The racking cane is an old-fashioned tool for this purpose. Looking online, I see a lot of home brewers now use special siphons with air pumps for this job. The racking cane is cheaper, and it works just fine except for one problem: you have to suck on the end to get it started. Like, with your mouth. As one guy online put it, you're siphoning beer from the bucket like you might have siphoned gas from a friend's car in high school. So I brushed my teeth, took a shot of vodka and sucked the brew out of the bucket and into the carboy.

I think I made at least one mistake during this process. At this point, it's important for the brew to stay relatively still so it won't be exposed to any more air than necessary. During the transfer, I started with the pouring end of the racking cane resting at the top edge of the carboy, so that the brew dropped the height of the carboy down to the glass bottom. Obviously, this agitated the brew and created a lot of bubbles. I realized my mistake before too long but you can see by the froth on top of the brew that a considerable amount of mixing and sloshing happened before I realized the problem. I don't know what this will do to the brew.

When the transfer was complete, I put the stopper in the top of the carboy and stuck the airlock in the hole.

Now it's back in the office, in a carboy, in a big plastic tub, on top of some towels so I can easily slide it around if necessary:

The trub in the bottom of the fermenting bucket:

Now the brew will sit around for a few weeks before I bottle it.

I had a hard time figuring out this process. I bought the ingredients for this brew in a box at the Beer Wine and Cheese store near my home, and the instructions for this brew were included, but the instructions said nothing about secondary fermentation. Likewise, the racking cane came with no instructions. I looked online and found a few good instructions for using a racking cane. I found this one to be particularly helpful:

Only after I used the racking cane to get the brew out of the bucket did I realize that I probably could have attached the racking cane hose to the spigot at the bottom of the fermenting bucket, and that would have been more sanitary than sucking the brew out with my mouth--see this guy below. Oh well.

One more thing to share, this is an excellent, 8 minute video about the home brewing process:

Friday, January 27, 2012

random thoughts about vegetarianism

I told the Other Adult that I was going to read Eat, Pray, Love because I wanted to read a book about food. Her response: "You know it's not just about food, right?" I think I responded with something like, sure, it's also about loving, which is nice, and probably about praying as well. I've been re-evaluating my spirituality lately so I am looking forward to that part also.

Actually, once I started to read it, I found out that Eat, Pray, Love is about a woman in her mid-thirties having a kind of crisis. She thinks her crisis is that she doesn't want to have a baby, but she does want to get a divorce. The actual crisis seems to be living in New York with too much money and a startling lack of real problems. I'm being unfair and kind of mean, after all, having a baby is a huge thing and you shouldn't have a baby if you don't want one, and if your husband wants a baby but you don't want one, that's a big debilitating problem in a relationship and a legitimate crisis. However, I found the author to be whiny and very self-centered. Other Adult said it gets better, but I put it down before the author had the chance to go on her life changing journey. I may pick it up again.

I switched out EPL for a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals. It's kind of memior-esque, but more of a study, about (obviously) eating animals. I chose it specifically because I read clips of this book over Christmas because it was laying on Other Adult's parents' kitchen counter. The small bits of it I read were so fascinating and disturbing that it has stayed with me for these months.

In this book, the author has had his first child and now he is contemplating his dietary choices because these choices will affect and influence his son.

This may sound callous, but I am not a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I'm not thinking of the animals. I guess I am giving more consideration to the environment, and some consideration to my health. Mostly, I do it because it's a really easy thing I can do that I know is right.

It's not a great sacrifice for me.

It's not weird or disturbing to me that people eat meat. I used to eat meat myself.

I'm currently reading the section of the book that deals with the poultry business. What's astonishing to me is how gross the poultry business is, and that people can eat chicken and survive. I'm not trying to convert anyone to vegetarianism, so I won't go into the disgusting details about how chickens are raised and killed, except to say that it is unnatural and appalling. There are basically no chickens raised on small family farms now--99% of chickens are raised in factory farms, and their lives and deaths are horrifically cruel.

Still, I really don't care that much about the humanitarian side of vegetarianism. I'm not a vegetarian because I have a bleeding heart for the animals. I read these words, I imagine the pain these poor chickens must feel, and I am numb inside. I feel no sympathy. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I've never been a chicken before. Maybe it's because my heart insists it's impossible that chickens could really could feel as much pain as my brain tells me they must feel. (and the life of a factory chicken can be nothing but pain)

What's worse to me--much worse--is what happens to them after they die. How disgusting it is. How contaminated the meat is. The low standards we have; the atrocity that we consider to be "safe" food.

I said a few paragraphs ago that I don't think that eating meat is weird or disturbing, but here I come to one aspect of meat-eating that actually is baffling to me, which would be, the general population's loyalty to meat as a food. It is my belief that most people who eat meat would read this book, set it aside, and still eat meat. This book may not even convince me to be a vegetarian, if I were not a vegetarian already. And let me tell you, this book has some really, really awful details.

We have so fully disengaged ourselves from the process that brings us our food, that we really don't care where the food comes from. We want it to taste good, we want it to be cheap, and (most of us) want the preparation to be fast and easy.

In his book, Jonathan Safran Foer is flopping back and forth in an indecisive, hamlet-esque kind of way between vegetarianism and eating meat, but his book is so packed full of outrageous stories of animal suffering and rampant bacteria that it reads like vegetarian propoganda. You can't read this book and not think that eating meat is a terrible thing to do.

A more subtle analysis of meat-eating, and reasons pro and con, may be found in the lengthy article, Consider the Lobster, by meat-eater David Foster Wallace. In this article, DFW looks at meat-eating from the perspective of someone who eats meat and admits that he can't really justify it, but keeps doing it anyway. Which goes back to what I said earlier: that people who read the book Eating Animals probably wouldn't see it as a reason to convert to vegetarianism, even though the book is full of nothing but convincing arguments against eating meat. For some reason, most people only consider a meal to be a meal if there is meat involved. And the suffering of the animal is second to the pleasure the meal will bring to the person. In the article, Consider the Lobster, DFW is taking a hard look at the practice of eating lobsters, which as you probably know are often boiled alive for freshness. A quote from DFW's article:

"Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero's entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? My own immediate reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme--and yet, the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I have not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient."

This is my favorite part of the article because it seems to sum up meat-eating in a way that is exactly correct. People are willing to overlook the suffering of animals for the sake of their own gastronomical satisfaction. They, in fact, don't even care to think about the suffering of the animals, and when they do, they don't see that as reason enough to stop. Perfectly ethical, moral, kind people eat meat. Boil lobsters alive. I did this for years and when I stopped eating meat, I didn't even do it because I felt bad for the animals.

I'm officially a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Unofficially, I am a vegetarian because seven years ago I lost an argument with the Other Adult, and she is a vegetarian, and now we are a vegetarian household. But the better reason is the environmental one.

When we have to raise food to feed to our food, we're wasting land and resources. We're cutting down rain forests to make room for our beef, we're raising cows that contribute more greenhouse gases than our cars, and we're raising corn to feed to our livestock. We could be feeding the planet but instead, we're feeding our food. I believe in eating lower on the food chain. It makes sense. There are almost 7 billion people on the planet--there can't be a chicken in every pot. But I'm not trying to proselytize. I used to eat meat, my extended family still eats meat, and I don't look down on their choices. I think by being a vegetarian, I am trying to set an example. I wish more of the world would eat less meat. That is all.

I miss tuna. I miss it quite a bit. I miss my mom's tuna casserole, and tuna salad sandwiches. I also miss bacon--real bacon (although I eat a vegetarian substitute that pleases me very much). I also miss all-beef, ball park style hot dogs (not the company Ball Park, I mean hot dogs you buy at a ball park). And I miss having a wider variety of menu choices in restaurants. It's hard to be a vegetarian and travel to a foreign country and eat well, although I'm getting better at it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beer brewing, first try: update

Beer is leaking out of the fermenting bucket and into the tub. I think it is coming out of the spigot.

This whole thing is just going very wrong:)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

beer brewing, first try: the mysterious failure of the yeast

As mentioned in a previous post, on Saturday night I gave my first shot at beer brewing. I chose a dry irish stout from a kit assembled at the Beer Wine and Cheese making store not far from my house. In the future I have plans to brew beer not from kits, but from my own assembled ingredients. But this was my first try.

Beer making is complex and it happens in different stages. First you boil the wort, then you let it ferment, then you bottle it. There are long stretches of time in between steps. I will probably post more on the specifics of beer making later, but what happened that night, in a nut shell:

1) I cleaned and sanitized the equipment
2) let the grains steep in a big pot on the stove for 45 minutes
3) strained out the grains and poured the liquid into a 5 gallon pot
4) poured more water over the grains to fill the 5 gallon pot about 3/4 of the way full
5) boiled the liquid in a 5 gallon pot for 1 hour, adding hops at the appropriate intervals
6) cooled the liquid (called wort) very quickly in an ice bath
7) dumped yeast into the wort
8) poured the cooled wort into the fermenting bucket

I'm a little fuzzy on the specific chemistry of beer making. This is something I'm still learning. What was supposed to happen next--my understanding of it anyway--is that the yeast was supposed to grow and do its thing in the bucket. Yeast releases all these gases; I know this from making sourdough. My sourdough starter, when healthy, will literally blow the lid off the tupperware container I keep it in after it's been fed. In the case of beer, the fermenting bucket has an airlock on the lid. The purpose of the airlock is to release the gas in the bucket but prevent air from coming in. This means you should see bubbles escaping from the airlock, but this is the problem: on Monday after 48 hours there were no bubbles coming out of my bucket.

There were two possible problems I could think of:

1) the yeast was dead. I killed it, or it was dead to begin with.
2) the lid wasn't tight on the fermenting bucket. I didn't think this was the case, but I supposed it could be possible that there was air escaping from the sides of the lid where I had to cut it. See, the lid was too tight before I started the boil, so I couldn't even get it to seal on the bucket. The bucket came with instructions that if this was the case, I needed to cut the side of the lid to make the fit less tight. All the same, if the yeast was healthy I still think I would see some activity. Even if gas was escaping from the tiny cracks in the sides, the fact remains that the airlock is a much better escape route and I should see most of the gas escaping that way.

Yesterday I ran back to the wine cheese and beer making store, and I picked up some new liquid yeast. The packet of yeast was kind of a double-layer thing, with a packet on the outside and a packet on the inside. The instructions said that 3 hours before pitching the yeast, I needed to blow open the interior packet by popping it with a good, swift smack. Then for 3 hours, the yeast gases expanded in the packet and the packet got big and hard. After 3 hours, I cracked open the bucket one more time and dumped the yeast in. The wort inside was bubbly and frothy, which indicates to me that the original yeast had been active, or at least some of it had. Then I was faced with the choice to put the new yeast in, given that there had been some previous yeast activity. I went ahead and dumped in the yeast, and the interior yeast packet fell into the wort. I'm posting a picture:

The thing that looks like an ice cube on the left hand side is the yeast packet that fell in. I had to fish it out with hastily sanitized tongs, and I don't think I sanitized the tongs well enough because I kind of panicked.

The guy at the store said the "odds are in my favor" for saving the batch, but we'll see. He said that before I dumped the yeast packet in the brew. See, keeping the wort sanitized during the fermenting process is like one of the most important things you can do. There should not be bacteria in the wort or the brew will be bad.

The biggest problem I face at this point is that if the brew fails, I won't have the slightest idea what caused the problem--there are so many potential causes. Bacterial contamination? If so, from where--the yeast packet? The hastily sanitized tongs? Cracking the lid on the fermenting bucket like 3 times? My sanitizing process before the boil? The cheap sanitizer I used?

And it seems pretty likely at this point that this brew is going to fail:) I just won't know why.

It took me a year to get the sourdough right, and sourdough is actually much less complicated than beer. The guy at the store just said it was important to enjoy myself. I realized, I am enjoying myself. It's ok if the beer is dead. I'll be disappointed, but I've been dropping in on my fermenting bucket every 2 hours. It's the first thing, literally, the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning.

Monday, January 23, 2012

10 Minute Emergency Salsa

The Other Adult loves salsa and has almost no tolerance for mexican food without salsa. And really, what is mexican food without salsa, anyway? Particularly mexican food made by me, midwest-lovin', vegetarian eating, blond haired little old me, who didn't even like tacos until I was an adult--my mexican food is basically not mexican food anyway. It's...LesMex. Hehe.

So the other day I made tostadas and only at the end did I realize that there was basically no salsa in the house. The Other Adult hates it when I commit the sin of going to the grocery store during or before a meal for some necessary ingredient. She likes the house to be fully stocked at all times and any indication that we don't have a full grocery store on hand at all times basically pushes her over the edge. She also says I take too long to go to the grocery store.

I was faced with the choice of trying to eek by with only three or four spoonfuls of salsa, or I had to get more somehow. I improvised and made my own. This took about 10 minutes.

Note, this recipe does not include any actual hot peppers. Remember, this is LesMex. And in my house we wouldn't know what to do with hot peppers. The one time I worked with hot peppers my hands burned for 24 hours, so we really don't keep them around. But the salsa tastes good anyway and the Other Adult likes it.

Now, forgive me if these pictures are all a bit dark. They were taken on my phone. I've been messing around with Instagram. The goal of the last two days was to email the pictures straight to blogger from my phone and save it in a post that I could later edit. This has not come to pass at all. But I did find out that you can somewhat edit pictures for color and format in Instagram. The end results don't even very look, so I've really gotten nowhere.

10 Minute Emergency Salsa

1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
2-3 T tomato paste
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c finely diced onions
1 T olive oil
1 T chopped garlic
1 T lime juice
hot sauce and salt to taste (I think I used about 3-4 T of hot sauce and 1-2 t of salt)

Puree the canned tomatoes for 2-3 seconds until all the biggest chunks have broken down. Remove half the tomatoes into a mixing bowl and puree the rest until creamy and smooth. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

where did I go?

It's been a year since I posted. A year!

What happened to me? Well, I bought a house, for one thing. A house!! Ahh!! My favorite feature of my 1954 house is my knotty-pine, 1954-esque kitchen with a vintage, O'Keefe and Merritt stove, pictured here.

Note the bungee cord holding the oven door closed. That's a real 1954 bungee cord.

Actually that's pretty unlikely.

Anyway, we fixed the oven door in November. No more bungee cord. The Other Adult in the house, my other boss, gave the decree that we had to have the oven fixed before Thanksgiving, and so it was.

Actually, there's just a slew of things going on in my life now, some good and bad. I'm not sure if I should go into all nitty gritty details of my life on this blog, as I think I intended to make this blog about food. But then, the food I make is shaped by my life, my life is shaped by the food I eat. My commute to our new home is longer than it used to be. My kitchen is larger but my available time has shrunk. Let's just say I'm baking a lot more convenience foods than I used to. No, not like boxed mac n cheese and vegetarian chicken nuggets. More like, tostadas (takes about 30 minutes), nachos (again, about 30 minutes), mini pizzas (45ish minutes), fajitas (30 minutes)--you get the picture. People in my family want dinner on the table by 5:30 or the world explodes. I do my best to accommodate.

The Other Adult purchased a chest freezer for our garage, and the house came with a Bonus fridge, which means I've got LOTS of cold-air storage. I've been experimenting with making food leftovers and freezing them in small portions for easy reheating. I'll tell you more about that as I get time.

Also, I started brewing beer. Beer! I'll be posting a lot more about this as the situation develops, but this is a new hobby for me. See here, a picture of my boil from this weekend.