31 July 2013

Pickles and mustard, oh my

In further keeping with the theme of the summer--that is, "Oh man, I'm definitely not cooking an actual meal today,"--I've been making a slew of random condiments, garnishes, and snacks. It's AMAZING and I love it.

First, I decided to use some of the whey I got from making labneh with plain yogurt. I always want to use the whey, but I rarely find anything I actually want to make before it's turned questionable. But not this time! This time I just so happened to be reading about Phickle's lactofermented mustard. So obviously a lactofermented mustard was meant to be.

Yes, I have been staging a lot of pictures right here. It's the shelf immediately to the left of my kitchen windows, so it gets good light.

Anyway. Lactofermented mustard turns out to be super easy and VERY MUCH worth the minimal effort.

I didn't see a whole lot of active fermentation--no bubbles or anything of that nature--but the results are still pretty stunning. My mustard is spicy and complex and just the barest bit sweet. And I have enough to last for months! HOORAY.

This certainly made for some excellent sandwiches. But you know what else makes for excellent sandwiches? Pickles. So I broke out the vinegar, veg, and spices, and put together a batch of Emmy Cooks' spicy pickled peppers and one of Marisa's pickled eggplant.

spicy pickled peppers

I've made these pickled peppers before; they're one of the best sandwich accoutrements of all time. They're also super easy: make a simple brine, pour it over a jarful of sliced peppers, season with peppercorns and dill, and put in in the fridge. Voila! Pickled peppers for your delight & edification.

You should absolutely make some of these. I mean it. We can go through a jar in a few weeks if we're eating a lot of sandwiches. They're also really good sprinkled over salads, or even a bowl of spicy chili.

The pickled eggplant, however, was new & intriguing. So I hit the farmer's market for a handful of long thin Chinese eggplant, grabbed a bottle of vinegar, and went to work.

Chinese eggplant

For the eggplant pickle, you simmer salted & drained eggplant spears in red wine vinegar and pack them into jars with basil and pepper. Then you process them in a water bath canner for ten minutes. Marisa has the full process on her post at Food in Jars.

I had to wait a week to crack one of these guys open and satisfy my curiosity.

If you like a serious red wine vinegar flavor and enjoy the soft texture of steamed eggplant, you will like these pickles. Since the flavor is so intense, it's probably a good idea to combine them with a mild or rich component. I personally have found them to be great in an open-faced sandwich with a couple slices of cheese and some crispy mild lettuce.

Pickles and mustards for all!

What garnishes and condiments have you guys made lately? Are you canning any new and interesting things?

28 July 2013

All infusions all the time: chive blossom vinegar & lemon vinegar

Speaking of home infusions: I've spent quite a bit of time steeping various ingredients in vodka or brandy to make schnappses and liqueurs in the past few years. They're delicious and easy, and it's super satisfying to mix up a drink featuring your own personal concoction.

That walnut schnapps? I made an amazing black walnut Manhattan from it, with a little help from Savvy Housekeeping. Since it wasn't actual nocino, I doctored the recipe with lemon peel, cinnamon, and simple syrup. The results were all I could ask for in a cocktail: rich, interesting, and super luxurious. See?

black walnut Manhattan

But there's a catch with all this infusing. Guess what my cabinets look like now? That's right: they're full of random bottles of schnapps, many of which are a little challenging to use. I can't make much more without going completely overboard.

The solution? Infuse other things. How about vinegars?

For my first experiment, I decided to follow a tried-and-true method and infused champagne vinegar with chive blossoms. This sounded especially good because 1. we already had chives blooming in the side bed and 2. a nice oniony vinegar would clearly make some of the best & simplest salad dressings in the land.

chive blossom vinegar

Chive blossom vinegar

handful of chive blossoms
champagne vinegar

Start by gently rinsing your chive blossoms and laying them on a towel to dry overnight. The next day, put your chive blossoms in a glass jar and cover with approximately twice their depth in vinegar.

Steep for a week before straining your finished vinegar through a fine sieve, preferably lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, to remove all plant material. You may need to filter more than once if you notice sediment in the finished product.

chive blossom vinegar

Voila! Bright pink vinegar, ready to liven up your salad dressing at a moment's notice.

So that takes care of our salads for the next month or so. What's next? Well, I like the idea of cleaning with vinegar, but its strong scent is not so great. So I decided to steep a bunch of lemon peels in white vinegar to see if I could tame the beast.

lemon-infused white vinegar

Lemon vinegar

lemon peels
white vinegar

Cut your peels off your lemons in wide strips. Pack them into a glass jar and cover with twice their depth in vinegar. I actually used a bit more vinegar than that, as you can see, but I think the end result would be better with more lemon. Certainly it would be more lemony.

Steep for a week or two, or until you remember that you have a jarful of vinegar and lemon peels in the cupboard. Strain through a fine sieve as above, removing all vegetable matter.

Use in DIY home cleaning applications with baking soda. Actually, this would also make a great salad dressing. Two for the price of one!

Hooray for infusions! Are you infusing anything at home lately?

24 July 2013

Summer raspberries for breakfast

summer raspberries

Look what was at the farmer's market the other day! ALL THE RASPBERRIES.

I bought three pints and hauled them all home virtuously intact. Then, of course, I washed them, put them in a bowl, and served us the best summer weekend breakfast ever.

best summer breakfast: raspberries, bread, and cheese

So we had a pint and a half of raspberries still warm from the sun, a loaf of Acme Bread's amazing herbslab, and a chunk of Petunia sheep's milk gouda from Garden Variety Cheese.

It was totally decadent and entirely worth it.

What amazing summer produce are you eating?

17 July 2013

Walnut schnapps unveiled

homemade walnut schnapps

Last summer I put some split unripe black walnuts in a jar, covered them with vodka, and waited.

Now it's the moment of truth. After a full year of aging and oxidation, I get to try my homemade walnut schnapps.

homemade walnut schnapps

The original recipe mentioned an end result similar to cognac. Oh really? Let's see.

It's dark, dark brown, so dark it was almost impossible to get a picture that looked anything but black.

homemade walnut schnapps

It's smooth and serious. Check out that sheen.

The walnut taste is deep, but still a touch sharp and young. As the schnapps continues to age, it'll mellow out, becoming even richer and darker.

I can't say I mind waiting for something like this.

homemade walnut schnapps

It looks like I need to get my hands on some more green walnuts, doesn't it? Especially considering I'd like to try out a batch of traditional Italian Nocino as well.

Have you ever made your own liqueurs? How did you like the results?

12 July 2013

Summer rolls with fresh herbs & peanut-chili sauce

tofu mint summer rolls with Thai peanut sauce

What's next on the it's-too-hot-to-cook menu? I propose the summer roll: seared tofu, slivered crunchy vegetables, and handfuls of fresh herbs rolled in a delicate rice paper wrapper and dipped in a rich, tangy peanut sauce. Obviously the tofu requires some minor stovetop heat (although you can always use raw, or just make rolls minus tofu if you prefer), but everything else is cold.

For vegetable fillings, I went pretty classic. In place of the usual rice noodles, I used shredded cabbage, which provided a nice extra crunch and eliminated a pot of boiling water on the stove. And of course summer rolls need an assortment of herbs, so I grabbed some mint and basil from the garden and a bunch of cilantro from the store.

The classic sauce for Thai summer rolls is peanut. I've been looking for a good recipe for way too long, and now I finally have one. I based it on Minimalist Baker's Thai peanut sauce, with a few key changes. For one thing, we don't have any chili garlic paste hanging around; instead, I used sweet chili sauce and omitted the extra sugar. The result was the best Thai peanut sauce I've ever made.

Summer rolls with tofu, veg, and herbs

firm tofu
peanut oil
red bell pepper
fresh cilantro, mint, & basil
rice paper wrappers
peanut sauce to serve

Start by cutting your tofu into long batons and searing them on all sides in a little peanut oil. Let them cool before you assemble your rolls.

summer roll fillings: cucumber, red pepper, carrot, cilantro, mint, basil

Seed your cucumber, peel both it and your carrot, and sliver up all your vegetables. Strip your herbs off their stems; if the leaves are particularly huge, cut them into smaller pieces.

To assemble a summer roll, first soften your rice paper wrapper by soaking it in a shallow dish of water for about 1 minute. I used a pie plate, which was a bit smaller than ideal, but worked nonetheless. Only soak one sheet at a time, or your papers will get too soggy. You want them to be just flexible.

tofu cilantro mint summer roll

Put your rice paper on a work surface and pile your fillings in a line 2/3 of the way down, leaving a bit of space at either side. If you want a lovely decorative herb presentation, you can arrange your herbs in a line another third of the way up the wrapper, but it's also fine to just pile them up with the main filling. I decided to go for the fancy presentation not only because it's pretty, but because we have a cilantro-hater in the house, so I wanted to clearly distinguish between rolls with cilantro and those without.

Roll the bottom edge of your rice paper up over the vegetable and tofu filling. Fold in both sides to seal, and then continue rolling from the bottom up to create a long egg roll shape. Repeat until all your fillings are used up. I made ten rolls with half a block of tofu.

Serve your rolls with peanut sauce. If you have leftovers, cover them with a damp paper towel in a sealed container and they should keep for a couple days.

Thai chili peanut sauce

Thai peanut sauce

2 giant honking spoonfuls natural peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
2+ tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup hot tap water

Stir the living crap out of your peanut butter before you use it. I'm just saying. Natural peanut butter naturally separates into oils & solids, so you want to be super sure you've gotten the oil well mixed down to the bottom of the jar before you start scooping. Do it! Otherwise you'll be facing a quarter jar of dry peanut paste in a few weeks.

Combine all ingredients but the water in a medium bowl and mix well with a fork. Add half the water and mix again. If you're happy with the consistency, go ahead and serve. If you want to thin it down a bit more, incorporate the rest of the water.

Eat with summer rolls.

Needless to say, there will be more peanut sauce in the future. I would absolutely make up a batch just to dip cucumber slices and carrot sticks. It would be great tossed with cold noodles and crowned with steamed broccoli or ladled over a plateful of seared tofu and vegetables. I'm also having visions of brushing it over eggplant slices and baking until awesome. It's all good.


08 July 2013

Big green salad with chickpeas and herb vinaigrette

big green salad with chickpeas grape tomatoes cucumber mushroom and herb vinaigrette

It looks like we've finally broken through last week's heat wave, and am I ever happy about that. In the meantime, however, the word has been SALAD.

Spicy tuna salad on crisp flatbread with chopped cilantro. Little bites of Erin's cucumber caprese salad. And this salad: the big green.

A green salad is exactly what I want to eat when it's too hot to contemplate anything but lying in the shade with a cool drink, and yet I still need some form of solid food. Of course, while a plate of all veg is delicious and cooling, it's not normally a full meal.

Enter the chickpea.

Chickpeas are by far my favorite way to make a salad into a complete lunch or dinner. They're full of protein, cheap, easily available, healthy, and readily absorb flavors. This time I combined them with with a simple plateful of lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cucumber, and drizzled the whole shebang with an intensely green vinaigrette made with all kinds of garden herbs. It was perfect.

You can add practically anything you like to this salad. Chickpeas are relatively bland on their own, so they stand up well to intense flavors. I think some finely sliced red onion and kalamata olives would have been perfect additions. Bits of crumbled goat cheese or feta would not go amiss either.

big green salad with chickpeas grape tomatoes cucumber mushroom and herb vinaigrette

Big green salad with chickpeas

butter lettuce
grape tomatoes
cooked, drained chickpeas
salt & pepper
herb vinaigrette

Wash your lettuce and spin it dry. Chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces and spread them on a plate of your choosing.

Peel your cucumber, seed it, and slice it into thin half-moons. Slice your mushrooms and halve your tomatoes. Scatter all your vegetables over your lettuce. Top with chickpeas.

Season your plate with salt and pepper and dress with herb vinaigrette.

Eat. Isn't it delightful? A glass of white wine would be an excellent addition.

herb vinaigrette

Herb vinaigrette

6 tbsp olive oil or salad oil of your choice
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 big handful apiece of parsley, basil, oregano, and chives
salt & pepper

Wash your herbs, trim the leaves off their stems, and chop roughly. Add to a blender with your vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until mixed well. Store excess dressing in a jar in the refrigerator, and use within a week.

Hooray for salads!

What are you eating to beat the heat?

01 July 2013

Cold-brewed coffee with homemade almond milk

cold brew coffee with homemade almond milk

Well, it finally got hot enough that I don't want to cook anything. I don't even really want to eat anything. So! How about some more drinks?

The heat of summer is a perfect time for cold-brewed coffee. And how about some delicious almond milk to punch it up? No cooking; delightful results.

cold brew coffee

I hadn't ever made cold-brewed coffee before, so I followed Jess Scone's French press method, minus the delightful-sounding cacao nibs. Grind beans; deposit in brewing vessel of your choice; fill with cold water; wait ten minutes; stir; cover and let sit on the counter overnight; strain. The French press was a perfect brewing vessel, and definitely an optimal choice for straining.

I tried a couple batches of cold brew with different amounts of beans to see what I preferred. It turns out that when I use our standard amount of coffee beans and water to make a batch of cold brew, as recommended by Jess, the result is not only not concentrated, but a bit weak. It tastes good, but it's weak. So I doubled the amount of beans and came up with a much stronger finished product. Perfect.

cold brew coffee

Mason jars: they're good for everything.

For the almond milk, I followed these instructions from The Kitchn.

Start by soaking half a cup of raw almonds in double their depth of water for 24 hours. Aren't soaked almonds pretty?

soaked raw almonds

The next day, drain your almonds, rinse them, and put them in the blender with a cup of fresh water. Blend for about two minutes for optimal fineness. Strain through the fine-mesh strainer of your choice, squeezing gently to get all the liquid out.

straining homemade almond milk

I hear that a nut milk bag or a double layer of cheesecloth is the best idea here for optimal squeezability. Since I didn't have either of those lying around, I used one of my fine nylon yogurt strainers and gently pressed the solids with the back of a spoon. This worked ok, but wasn't as effective as I'd like, considering the fluffy, puddingy texture of the semi-drained meal. Using a cloth of some kind is definitely a better bet.

frozen almond pulp

I wanted to save the leftover almond pulp, but I didn't have any immediate use in mind, so I broke out a small ice cube tray and froze all the pulp into little domes. Perfect!

Now they're in the freezer waiting for further smoothie application, or possibly a plum or peach crumble. We'll see whether I want to turn the oven on anytime soon.

homemade almond milk

To serve your cold brew, fill a glass of your choice with a handful of ice cubes. Add coffee to fill the glass about 3/4 of the way. Fill the remaining space with almond milk. If you like sweet coffee, add some simple syrup or agave. Stir it all up and consume at your leisure.


What are you drinking to beat the heat?