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Friday, May 29, 2015

Queen of Persia Gelato

It's just as sexy as it sounds.(sorry for potato quality)
Hello, class! Time to focus on churned-frozen desserts, which categorize ice creams, sorbets, sherbets, and gelatos, which are desserts that are churned/agitated during the freezing process. We will cover still-frozen desserts another time, which are desserts that are just popped into the freezer without agitation. I am making gelato because I have a gelato machine, and not an ice cream machine, and they are NOT the same thing.

In fact, let's get one thing straight:

The thing which sets gelato apart from ice cream/sorbet/sherbet is something called overrun. It has nothing to do with the ingredients, it all has to do with how it's made. What's overrun, you ask?

Overrun - The amount of air churned into a churned-frozen product by volume.

An ice cream will have anywhere from a 15% to 50% overrun, depending on the kind you buy. Notice that cheaper ice creams melt more quickly? That's because they're literally half-made of air. More expensive ice creams have a creamier mouth-feel, and don't melt as quickly, because they're more ice cream than air. Let's say your ice cream machine has a 25% overrun, which is fairly standard. This means that if you start with 1 qt of ice cream base, you'll end up with 1 qt and 1 cup of finished product.

A gelato, however, only as a 10% overrun, which means it requires a special kind of machine to make. You cannot make gelato in an ice cream machine. You cannot make ice cream in a gelato machine. It's just not going to happen. Don't pretend like you know different, and leave a review on Amazon.com saying that it's the cream-to-egg ratio that makes ice cream in a gelato machine, because you sound like a jackass.

The "Queen of Persia" flavor profile usually entails flavors of cardamom, rose water, and pistachio. I omitted the pistachios because I have some friends that are allergic to nuts, and it's better to make it accessible to everyone. By all means, though, if you want to make this recipe using pistachios, please do!

Queen of Persia Gelato

  • 14 fl oz heavy cream
  • 20 fl oz whole milk
  • 9 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 7 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 oz Karo light corn syrup
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • About 4 heaping spoonfuls of Rose Petal Jam
    • if you don't have this, 2 Tbsp of rose water is just fine, but you'll want to add an extra egg yolk just to be sure
Combine the heavy cream, milk, cardamom, and rose water(if using rose water) in a pot and bring to a boil. Let the pods steep for about 10 minutes.

Combine the sugar, egg yolks, syrup, and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment, and whisk on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl down, then increase your speed to medium-high. You can do this by hand(although it's a pain) or with a hand mixer, so long as you get a very light color to your egg yolks with increased volume. 

Splash your hot cream mixture onto the egg yolks to bring up the temperature, and whisk. Then return the cream to the heat and add in your yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Cook your custard until it reaches about 180 degrees F, or until it thickens, then immediately remove from the heat and strain. Set in the fridge to chill, or in an ice bath. Chill completely before churning in your gelato machine, according to it's factory instructions. You can also use this recipe in an ice cream machine, so long as you call it "Queen of Persia Ice Cream".

When the gelato is churned but still a little soft, add in your rose petal jam, if using. You can also introduce some chopped pistachios at this time and churn that in. Let it churn for about 30 seconds more, no matter what you added, and remove from your machine. You can enjoy your dessert now, or let it set up in the freezer for about an hour for better results. Your patience will be rewarded!

If you remove the cardamom pods and rose water/jam, you can use this ice cream base/technique to create many flavors.

Want to make chocolate gelato? Simply add 5 oz of chopped dark chocolate, the darker the better, to the still-warm custard mixture before straining. Want to make earl grey gelato? Steep 10 earl gray tea bags in the milk for about 5 minutes before whipping your eggs. 

Thanks, class! Enjoy making gelato!

Make sure you check out how I made Rose Petal Jam from roses in my own garden!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rose Petal Jam

Hello, Class! My, what a nice vacation you've had! But it's time to get those pencils sharp and get back to work!

Today we'll be discussing rose petal jam, and how easy it is to make. Jams and preserves are the perfect way to really utilize the bounty of your harvest, and canning is a fantastic skill that everyone should know how to do. Seriously, how great would it be to can your own goods? To keep the middle man out of your pantry? Jams and preserves are such a great way to make friends, too, as you can easily bring them to housewarming parties, all gift-wrapped and pretty...plus you can turn your nose up at those assholes that brought the new pashmina from Pottery Barn, with a smug sense of superiority that you got from making it yourself.

When harvesting, PLEASE be careful! Some roses have steel thorns.......

Please take note that all roses are edible, so long as they are grown organically. This is why I love growing my own roses; not only do they look and smell beautiful, but they make delicious jams in the summer when you have a surplus. Not only that, but roses are symbols of love. Spread the love. On toast.

Let's talk about what you'll need:

Rose Petal Jam

  • 10 oz rose petals(by weight, if you please)(or about 5 cups, lightly packed) picked and washed thoroughly
    • Seriously, I found, like, four spiders in the roses. You don't want to cook and eat those little guys! Find them and put them back outside!
  • 13 oz white sugar(also by weight)(or 1 3/4 cups)
    • Brown sugar will do in a pinch, but the white sugar really helps keep the integrity of the delicate rose petal flavor
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 Tbsp pectin(I used the no-sugar-needed kind)
    • You can also use a whole peeled apple to introduce pectin...just boil it with your stuff and fish it out later!
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water

Take about about a third of your sugar and set it aside, mixing it in with the pectin and salt. Toss your lemon juice, zest, rose petals, and about a third of the sugar in a bowl together and set aside. Bring to a boil the remaining sugar and the water in a large pot, preferably heavy-bottomed.

Hmm, I still have about ten minutes left....
Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and add your rose petal mixture. Stir to coat, and let cook. The petals may turn white, but this is temporary. The color will return and remain a gorgeous pink. This process should take ten minutes, and it is at this time that you add in the sugar-pectin mixture, as well as another half cup of water.

Bring this beautiful stuff  back up to a boil, and reduce to simmer, allowing to simmer on low for about 20 minutes, adding more water as needed. You don't want this stuff to over-reduce or burn, because that will absolutely ruin the rose flavor.

Another fantastic benefit of this jam? Allergy relief!

No, seriously, hear me out:

Somebody get me a
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, eating flowers could seriously help you. Bee pollen has been used for years as a natural allergy remedy; just sprinkle some on your cereal in the morning or a spoonful in your coffee or tea. Taking in the allergens/pollen of your natural habitat helps immensely in allergy relief. If your body ingests it and doesn't die, it knows it's okay. This is yet another benefit to growing your own food. Your pollen, your atmosphere, going into your body...so less allergies! It's helped me for years; I swear by it.

That being said, I'm not a doctor. If you have severe seasonal allergies, this might not be the best idea. But, hey, give it a shot and keep your epipen handy as a just-in-case.

When this is done, you'll have a gorgeous jam! It will be full of beautiful rose petals and the color will just be glorious on toast. It'll be thick and pretty, and canned goods like this can keep for up to a year unopened in your pantry! (It probably won't last that long, though, as you'll be eating it.) Opened, it'll last for at least 1 month, probably 2. But, again, it won't last that long in your house.

If you want to preserve this, this recipe made exactly two 8 oz jelly jars. Simply sterilize the jars and lids using boiling water, then pour your hot jam mixture into each jar, ensuring that there's enough head room. This just means that the place where your jar's threads begins should be the fill line for your preserves. You'll need a very large pot for canning, and a few chopsticks on the bottom to give your jars a little lift so it's not directly touching the bottom of your pot helps. You'll also have to make sure that the pot is big enough for you to have at least 2 inches of water above the lids of the jars to get a good seal.

Here's my favorite canning tutorial, stolen from Pinterest:

You can use chopsticks or metal skewers scattered on the bottom to replace your canning rack. You can use tongs(CAREFULLY) to replace your jar lifter. You really shouldn't spend a ton of money if you can fake it in other ways for frugal living like this. Just DEAR GOD BE CAREFUL.

And don't set your freshly-processed jars in a place where there's a breeze, or set it directly on your cool counter. Glass can take a lot of heat, but it will shatter if there's even a splash of cold water on it once it's hot. Sit it on a cutting board in a dark, NON-drafty place, and cover it with a towel. You might hear pops every once in awhile during the 12-hour resting period, and that's normal. Just be sure to check to see if your seal pops or not. If it moves or pops, reprocess your goods and try again.

Thank you, class! Please post questions and comments below!

Rose Petal Jam

Witchcraft And Wellness: Fun at Gathering of Pagan Souls

Taken from Gathering of Pagan Souls.com!
I'm Wiccan.

I'm not shy about who I am or what I believe in. I suppose that this feeling is new, considering I've only had to deal with it recently. But I have come to the conclusion that I'm not shy about my religion or my belief or my involvement with the community. I suppose I should be more careful, considering I'm in Kansas and all, but I really don't think that being shy and hiding is the way to go. I don't feel that being annoyingly loud is the way to go either. I feel that if you don't make a big deal about your faith, nobody else will. Your relationship with God is your own thing; and it's not my place to say...nor is it your place to say. If you aren't harming anyone, what's the problem?

Being religious doesn't make you morally superior. Being atheist doesn't make you intellectually superior.

There, now we can get on.

I had SUCH a fun time at Gathering of Pagan Souls(here's their Facebook page)! It took place on 80 Acres, a beautiful venue in Leavenworth , KS that was just perfect! I wish it had been sunnier, but the rain skirted around us. We all joked about how it was because we were all praying so hard and pushing the storm around. There might not be any science to it, but there's something to be said for 100+ Witches directing their energy to make the storm NOT come.

"If you rain, I will unleash the
flying monkeys"(Thanks 1x.com)
Anywho, my workshop was with the illustrious Mary Caldwell, a High Priestess from Texas who works with the acclaimed Ed Fitch, author. Everyone was pretty stoked at Ed Fitch was going to be there, but he was unfortunately struck with some medical issues, so he had to send Mary up to help me. She set up her hot pink tent and sold her wares. We all hung out together in the tent and talked about our presentation:

Witchcraft & Wellness.

What is that? I will tell you, faithful reader.

It's just finding the balance between spirituality and taking care of your body. Sure, you can have a glowing soul, but still have Diabetes. You can be spiritually pure, but still obese. You can be at peace, but you still eat like shit. My theory? You can't.

Your body is the vessel in which you are in. Your brain is piloting this giant meat-skeleton, and you are responsible for it. Sure, you might be reincarnated and live many lives, but you only get one body. That's it. You. Get. One. Body. Let me write that again:

You may live several lifetimes through reincarnation, but you only get one body. 

So please take care of it.

Many health-related issues here in America are diet-related. Obesity-related diseases are rampant. Sure, body issues and acceptance and body politics have all gone nuts, but it's not about image: this is about health.

There are a shit-ton of fat people in this country. I'm not saying you being fat makes you a bad person. I am saying that it's hard on your body to be fat. A few extra? Sure, whatever. But 300+ lbs overweight? You're not meant to be that big. You are not meant to be 300 lbs and above of fat. Granted, we weren't necessarily meant  to be living sedentary lives in big urban cities, eating fast food, so that's probably a factor in our weight and health. As hunter-gatherers, we sought out high-fat, high-sugar foods to binge on because we didn't know where our next meal was coming from. Nowadays, you don't even have to get out of the car to eat.

Drive-thrus are a miracle, and they are slowly killing us.

I have a pedometer on my phone, and I average about 10,000 steps per day. My boyfriend, who has an office job, averages around 3,000 per day. Our lifestyles are fairly different, because my job is extremely physical and I am constantly on my feet. A more sedentary person than my boyfriend might average 1,000 per day. My taking 10,000 steps per day, however, hasn't necessarily made me lose weight, but it has made me gain muscle.

I am a muscular girl. I build muscle fairly easily, but I also have some soft-and-squishies on my tummy. I have a resting heart rate, however, of 61 bpm(beats per minute), and that is a sign of someone who is very healthy. Health is something that's not solely dependent on one thing, and that's the kind of thing I really wanted to lead with at Witchcraft & Wellness.

Spiritual health is an easy sell with Pagans, as it is with many who subscribe to a more religious/spiritual doctrine. The basic theme of my workshop was connections through the Four Elements. These are Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, and are the four corners of all which makes up Nature, a beautiful thing from which we owe our lives. Here's how you can live a spiritually and physically balanced life using the Four Elements:

I just love this picture...

  • Gardening
    • This is a great way to connect with the earth, and a great way to make your life a little better! Whether you plant flowers or food, you're planting, and that means that bees will find the flowers....which is very important. Not to mention the great benefits you have of growing your own food. Tomato plants grow like weeds, and spinach plants couldn't be easier to maintain! You just snip off the outer leaves when you want a snack, and let the inner ones continue to grow!
  • Walking with your pets
    • Your dog loves you, and s/he needs exercise to be healthy and happy, just like you do! Walk an extra block with your dog; although this may not seem "earthy", it certainly is! Caring for pets or children unlock that 'mothering/nurturing' part of your brain that give you all sorts of calming endorphins and seratonins!
    • You will never drink too much water. Dehydration is a major energy zapper, and--often--when you think you're hungry, you're probably just thirsty. Drink water before you go for that bag of chips, as it will probably fill you up.
  • Dance
    • I know this  sounds silly and cliche, but seriously. Dancing connects you to yourself, and if you do it alone in the kitchen, just moving where your  body takes you, you'll feel better. 
  • Stretch
    • Your body and bones and blood need exercise, but also a time to relax. Do a few yoga moves, do some low impact stretching...your bloodflow will be happy.
  • Vigorous exercise!
    • Get that heart rate up! Jog! Swim! Anything that gets your heart rate going! Invest in a heart rate monitor, if you like.
  • Eat spicy foods!
    • Seriously, capsaicin jumpstarts your metabolism like crazy. It's something as small as adding a little red chili flake to your chicken salad that will seriously help you in the long run.
    • Stressed? Take a breath. Take a deeeeeeep breath. Nobody will get sick from breathing. (Allergies are a different story.)
  • Get some fresh air
    • Don't just breathe in your office. Go outside. Breathe. Seriously, it won't kill you.

These were some of the basic things I covered through the Workshop I conducted. We had a really great turnout, too, considering the grounds were completely empty for fear of storms! I asked my faithful assistants to go out with scraps of paper and have people write down what they would like to know about eating healthy and living a more balanced life from the opinions of a professional cook. 

The questions I got were really great, and I tried to answer them to the best of my ability. I really wish I hadn't lost the actual slips of paper, but the gist of my questions were:

  1. How do you deal with picky eaters?
  2. What are some tips for feeding a large family on a budget?
  3. What raw produce to eat for the best nutritional value?
  4. How do scars effect your spiritual health?
    1. This one wasn't necessarily food-related, but I still loved it...

Let's tackle one thing at a time:

Picky Eaters
  • Children
    • Just mash it in and don't tell them. You can make soups that are chock-FULL of vegetables that they would normally not eat if you blend it up. Add a splash or two of heavy cream and some butter, then pop the soup in a blender. If it's pureed in, they won't be able to tell. 
      • A trick:
        • I once got my little sister to eat turnips and celery root by mashing it in with mashed potatoes. If you boil it all in at once, and it's all the same color, they won't know. 
    • If they still refuse, just say "Hey, you're going to bed hungry then."
      • This will happen ONCE, and never again. Trust me on this. It seems mean, but it's for the best.
    • Make them cook for themselves
      • As early as 5, kids can make themselves a sandwich, make themselves a salad...nothing that involves the stove. At 10, they can bake cookies, operate the stove, etc. If they don't like what you're cooking, they can and will make their own food. This will not only instill a feeling of responsibility in them, but be a huge  self-esteem booster. Nothing will make your kid feel as powerful as feeding themselves.
  • Adults
    • See above
      • Seriously, if someone wants to act like a child, you treat them like a child.

Feeding a large family on a budget

  • Mushrooms
    • Take a pound of ground beef(pretty cheap) and a quart or two of mushrooms(the kind you can pick up at the store for $2.99). Chop the mushrooms up and use that  as a filler for burgers, meatloaf, etc. This can be a great filler and an excellent alternative to breadcrumbs if you're needing to accommodate a gluten-free member of the family.
  • Quinoa
    • Oddly cheap, this superfood is extremely high in protein for a grain(which it technically isn't...it's a seed) and very nutritional. Make quinoa instead of rice. You can use it in literally any application:
      • Served cold, hot, as a pilaf, in a dessert, whatever
  • Portion-control
    • It's easy to buy in bulk. It's not easy to keep that bulk up. Take a day and portion out your food, plan out your meals. There are easily a thousand websites that can show you how to do this better than I can, with way better pictures, so please do some research! 
      • If you know how much food is allotted to you per day, that's one more easy way to keep yourself trim, and your family.

Veggies that are super-good for you

Oh you know, just being
fabulously girly while I talk
about health and wellness.
  • The person that asked me the question wanted to know about raw stuff, which is good...but cooking doesn't really kill off nutrients. Sure, over-cooking does, but the Gods gave us fire, so let's use it, please. If you want to eat raw? Great. If you don't? Also great. As long as you're eating veggies, I'm down.
  • Beets
    • Beets come in all sorts of colors, be it red, orange, gold...whatever! You can enjoy beets roasted, raw(sliced thin), pickled, in soups...if you can think it, the beet can do it.
  • Blueberries
    • A bit pricey, but a great antioxidant. You can have them dried, too, if you like!
  • Greens
    • Tunip greens, beet greens, carrot greens...when you buy this stuff at the farmer's market, the veggies often come with delicious greens. DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY!!! These greens are delicious, nutritious, and so easy to cook! Just braise them. Or roast them. Look up some recipes online! 
      • My favorite is beet greens, sauteed in oil with salt and pepper, maybe a little lemon juice.
  • Anything naturally colorful
    • The beautiful thing about nature is that it color-codes what's good for us! Eat orange things. eat red things. Eat purple and blue things. Eat green things! Add color to your diet. Look to the rainbow to help you!
How do scars effect spiritual health?
  • The long and short? They don't.
    • This question threw me for a loop because I have so many scars. I have burn scars, and chicken pox scars, all over my body. I was so self-conscious of them, and when you feel icky about your own skin, it tends to leak out into your spirit. But those scars on your skin tell a story of who you are, and where you've been. Wear your scars like jewels, and the blotches on your aura will fade away. You don't have to have flawless skin, but you have to have skin. Does your skin do the job? It's beautiful. Your looks only have as much effect on your soul as you allow it.

In addition to all of these things, the people mostly wanted to just see basic tutorials, how to cook, how to feed families, how to not  set a grease fire in their kitchens... I find that most people are willing to cook, but they don't know how. They want recipes that work and that don't take forever, or cost a billion dollars. I will do my best to provide this information, all through Culinary School

Happy cooking, happy eating, happy BEING.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen - An Ode to Urban Romanticism

I went to Tannin for dinner last night. It seemed the perfect thing to do after a successful showing at the Gathering of Pagan Souls for Witchcraft and Wellness, for whom I am the official Kitchen Witch! Here, you can read all about it! But more on that later...

It seemed wrong to go to Tannin without ordering wine, so I opted for a sweet gewurtztraminer(say that five times fast), even though I seldom drink. I had definitely heard great things about this little place in the Crossroads, so when B suggested it for dinner on a rainy Saturday evening, I just couldn't say no.

The decor was nice, intimate without being too dark or cramped. We sat by the big bay window and watched as the rain fell down around us. It was like being in a 40s Noir film, and felt very sexy and romantic. When I was little, I would imagine how fabulous I would be as a gorgeous grown-up girl, with my hair long, wearing a pretty dress, sitting romantically across from the man I loved at a perfect little bistro as the rain fell down around us. These feelings were magically conjured up as B and I held hands over our table at Tannin.

The wait staff was attentive without being overbearing, and the tables were small without feeling, well, small. The wine list was, obviously, quite extensive so I can't imagine there would be something there that couldn't work for a person. I am not a wine aficionado, of course; I'm more of a food person. Onto the food.

Sausage. Potato salad. What else do you need?

On the appetizer menu, we decided to split "the Local Pig sausage" while we decided on an entree. It came sort of 'shielding' a really tasty potato salad hidden underneath! The sausages from The Local Pig are always great, and seeing businesses that support them so vehemently are nice. Kansas City truly is the biggest small town out there!

Now, THAT, is how you sauce a dish. 

When it came time for entrees, I opted for the chicken, and B got the short ribs. The short ribs came with yummy, garlic-y mashed potatoes and green beans. It was fall-apart tender, but still kept its shape nicely, which is hard to do. It was seasoned perfectly, and he ate the whole thing before I was halfway done with my chicken.

The chicken, though beautifully seasoned, was sadly a little dry. It was flavorful, but it was dry, and swimming in a pan-sauce that really needed to be reduced. It was just a crap-ton of liquid on a plate, albeit tasty liquid, that begged for some bread to sop it up. I actually kind of regret not asking for some....

Though gorgeous, the chicken was(tragically) a hair dry.

The chicken came with brussel sprouts and oyster mushrooms, which are my absolute favorite mushrooms ever. There were plenty of brussel sprouts, all yummy and hard-seared, but I really wished that the mushrooms were more aptly presented and not just tossed in. But then B said something:

"Not everyone likes mushrooms as violently as you do."

Damn, he's right.

I love mushrooms! I love them grilled, and I could just eat nothing but mushrooms of varying kinds for a whole meal. I just wanted a big fukken wedge of mushrooms, just grilled, and on a plate......but not everyone likes mushrooms like that. Some people like them just as an accent piece. Some people don't like them at all, so it actually makes sense for the people of Tannin to make it a more accessible dish for people who don't want their mushrooms loud and proud like I do. I almost felt like the mushrooms were hiding in the sauce/broth/stuff, but it was probably perfect to a person who wasn't a total mycophile.

The rain was coming down really hard by the time we finished up with our entrees, and we, like idiots, didn't bring the umbrella. This was my excuse for ordering coffee and dessert, and boy am I glad I did!

*heavy breathing*

What you see before you is easily the best dessert I've had in a long time. It's French toast, made with challah bread, and served with whipped cream. Dear God, was it delicious. I can't even begin to describe how moist yet crispy, soft yet textured this thing was. I just wanted to shrink myself down and crawl onto the bread and snuggle up into a sleepy, sugar-coated slumber on it, and then eat it. The coffee was good, too, I guess. I got a few neat pictures of it. I was trying to get a solid, clear picture of the milk swirling in the hot coffee, but a lot of my photos ended up a little blurry. Oh well.

When the rain finally let up, we had just finished scraping the dessert off the plate and were able to pay the check. We didn't have to sprint to the car, which is good, because I was really full, but I did not leave wanting to run away from this place. Rather, I would like to run TO this place. It was a great little bar, perfect for unwinding, meeting friends, having a date night.... I cannot think of a single thing wrong with that place. Even if the chicken was a touch dry, I'll be back. I will be back for the sausage, the French toast, the wine list, the atmosphere...I might just go there tonight, just for the heck of it! Big thumbs up for Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen!  Great job!

Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Camping Hack! (Perfect for outdoor cooking)

Camping this weekend?

Are you camping, EVER??

Try this for a great outdoor DIY campstove.

Sure, it helps to have a chainsaw, but you can do a simpler, rougher version with a hand-axe. So long as you can fit some kindling down into the split/cracks, it should be good.

And, of course, BE SAFE!!! Please don't chop your fingers off!

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Visual Guide to Eating Fish(which are okay to eat!)

It's huge. Here's the original link, if you like.

Be aware of what fish you purchase at the grocery store and what you order at a restaurant. You can make a change, in very small ways...but those small ways add up!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Anna's Oven - Americana, Searching for a Voice

"Beef Stroganoff"
I live near the 39th st/Volker district, and I love it. I love the diversity, I love the culture...I practically live on 39th street! I even have a credit at Prospero's Book store; they gave me $30 more on my store credit when I gave them my old espresso machine for their newly renovated upstairs! Across the street from Prospero's Book Store, however, is a quaint little bistro called Anna's Oven.

I know the Lead Cook/Chef there because he's got a dog that's about the size of mine. I spotted this gorgeous Great Pyrenees from across the street and went up to pet him; about five minutes later, I acknowledged the human that it was attached to, and we started chatting.

Thank you, Anna's Oven.com!
What really grabbed my attention at Anna's Oven was their commitment to charity. 50% of the profits this restaurant makes goes to the improvement of a girls' school in Kenya. I realize that there are many domestic problems, but part of being American is helping others, oddly. I know that sounds odd, but when your neighbor trips, you help them up, and that's a very American mentality, regardless of the certain Xenophobes in Congress. I finally was able to drag B here tonight and check it out.

Anna's is a small bistro with globally good intentions, but the staff running it is a bit cobbled together. This is not a bad thing! The lead cook, Victor, has been a Sommelier, a cheese monger, and a world traveller in his lifetime. He's been to France, Italy, and he and I always find something nice to chat about. He lives in the 39th street area, too, so I see him around a lot. It's just him and his apprentice in the tiny kitchen at Anna's, and they're really trying their best. They're even experimenting with more vegan options so they can better serve their clientele!

"King me."
Anna's has a really fun and eclectic environment. I think it's the perfect fit for 39th street, because it's a little bit funky, and it's a little bit home-y. The table that we sat at had a checker board built in, which chips in a tiny coffee cup to play! B crushed me, of course, but whatever, checkers isn't my game. I am more of a rummikubs kind of girl. What was really cool about the table was that the checks themselves were cut-outs of pop culture and paintings. We had fun recognizing the pictures, and chatting about it.

B got the chicken Pot Pie, which had a crazy flaky crust on top! It was poofed up like a big frosted cupcake, and I heard the audible crunch as he broke through it with the spoon. The flavor was good, but the inside itself was rather soup-y and thin. It was disappointing, and not the wonderful thick gravy that you would normally expect from something labeled chicken pot pie. When I spoke to Victor about it, he said it was made that day by the apprentice who was still learning; a forgivable offence, in my mind. I mean, hey--you remember being young and still learning! I think what people forget is that there are individuals cooking for them in restaurants. People are very hard on the cooks, who are often just trying their best. But I digress.

Good lord, that's a lot of pasta...
I got the Beef Stroganoff, which was oddly red-colored and not the traditional thick, white creamy mushroom sauce that we all know and love. It tasted a bit of tomato, probably to give it a different kind of kick, and was in need of seasoning...but it's, in my mind, not quite Beef Stroganoff. It was a good beef noodle dish, but I wouldn't call it Stroganoff. Beef Stroganoff is a very traditional comfort food that we have come to adopt and love here in the Americas, and we know how we like it. So it's a classic; what's wrong with keeping it a classic? In America, when you say "Beef Stroganoff", you have a vision in your head of what that should be. It's not red, and that unctuous mushroom flavor is very apparent. The noodles, however, were paper-thin, and while it was odd...it was good! They make their lasagna with it, which is really neat. I think the sauce could have been a little thicker, and more mushroom-y, but the flavors were really great. Again, though, I don't think I'd call it beef stroganoff.

When Victor and I first spoke, I told him I was a pastry chef and he asked for a few tips on creme brulee. I didn't want to give away all of my secrets, but I did give a tip or two...so when we came in tonight, we were brought out one of the lavender creme brulees. And it was good!!


They did a really great job of infusing the lavender, and the texture of the creme brulee was just perfect. It had come out of the oven not long before we arrived, so it was still a touch warm...but quite the perfect texture. The only trouble with having a still-warm creme brulee is that the heat often prevents the sugar from getting terribly crisp, or rather, staying terribly crisp. It was crisp to begin with, but as we ate it, it got a little soft from the residual heat. But, hey, I won't say no to a creme brulee! I can tell you that once it cools, it'll be a really good dish.
Anna's Oven on Urbanspoon
All in all? Though I think the menu itself is a bit all over the place, I still give Anna's a solid 7 out of 10. There are some technical flaws, probably things that only an anal-retentive foodie jerk like me would notice, but they're good people working for a good cause that are really trying their best. I will be back.

Vegan Hot Chocolate

It's oddly easy to go Vegan when you're trying to be as dairy-free as possible. Everyone has their reasons to go vegan. I am not vegan, but I try to avoid drinking milk when I can, because I'm lactose intolerant. Though mine isn't necessarily for ethical reasons, getting farty when you consume too much dairy is an excellent reason to adopt a vegan-friendly lifestyle.

Don't worry, you don't have to go completely granola. Just little substitutions can help! A splash of coconut milk, for example, in your favorite instant hot chocolate mix can add that extra bit of creaminess you're craving!

But here's a real vegan hot chocolate recipe:

Vegan Hot Chocolate

  • 3-ish ounces Dark chocolate, at least 55%, chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • A splash of water, about a tablespoon

Heat the coconut milk and water(this is to keep it from thickening TOO much) to the point where it's steaming. Add the chocolate and whisk-whisk-whisk. This will froth it and give a creamy texture...though use an immersion blender, if you have it. You can also modify this recipe by putting the chocolate in your blender then pouring the hot liquid over it while it's near-boiling. Let the chocolate sit in the heat for at least one minute before blending on low. This will emulsify the chocolate and give you a frothy treat! The chocolate is posted as "ish" because this is a base. You can use however much or however little chocolate you want! Also, coconut milk is naturally quite sweet, so it can really stand bitter chocolates...up to 70%, if you like!

Add your favorite vegan marshmallows(bought or homemade) or dairy-free whipped topping and enjoy on a rainy morning without the possibility of being farty later!


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Cinco de Mayo! (Prickly Pear Everything)

Thank you, "Sweet Life Bake.com" for the photo
I proudly boast of my Southwestern roots. I may not be related to the land via Native descent, but dammit I am a Tucsonan! I am from the Southwest! And I love Cinco de Mayo parties!!!

Actually, Cinco de Mayo is more an American thing than anything. Many mistake it for the Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16th. Cinco de Mayo marks the battle of Puebla...but you can look that up. In Mexico, they go to church, and maybe have a few drinks...they don't really celebrate it like we do. Sure, there'll be the party here and there, but not like here in America. In America, we party-hearty. We do this, especially, in Tucson, which is my hometown.

Wanna get down with the Sonoran Desert crowd? Get yourself a few prickly pears...or cactus pears...which you can buy at the store for, like, $4/lb, which is ridiculous because you can find that shit literally everywhere in AZ and we would probably punch you in the face if you tried to charge for that. Honestly, coming here and seeing prickly pears for that much was a serious sticker shock for me!

I suppose it makes sense, though...you know, supply and demand and whatnot.

But if you live in the desert, prickly pear cacti grow like crazy. The cool thing about the actual plant is that you can cut off a "leaf" and plant that leaf in the ground...and it'll grow. I remember having to actually dig one up as a kid because one fell on the ground and took root. My grandma was picking thorns out of my hands for a solid hour, because I was stupid enough to think: "Oh, I'll just wear one glove and only grip it between the thorns!" How I survived my childhood without dying, I'll never know.

This is what a prickly pear cactus looks like. You also call them "nopales", which are the green "leaves" of the plant. If you peel them and get all of the thorns off, you can cook with it. The taste is bitter, but they're high in calcium, magnesium, and have 3 grams of fiber per serving...so hey, that's good nutritional value in the desert. I can understand why and how a civilization can be built using this thorny plant as a cornerstone.

The picture to the left is a lot like what grew in the Family Home, and now that my parents live there, they have small children, which can be sticky with that kind of plant around. Honestly, though, Dad doesn't mind the prickly pears or the night bloomers...there's quite the desert garden out there, so he just lets it grow. We've yet to harvest the cactus pears for ourselves, but prickly pear-anything is my shit. 

In Tucson, you get prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear syrup for waffles and pancakes...there's even a place in Tucson called the Bread and Butter Cafe that serves Prickly Pear Meringue Pie in the spring(which is my absolute favorite pie in the world, by the way...)! I remember experimenting with prickly pear puree in culinary school to make soufflees, which tasted delicious, but never got that elusive pink color that I wanted unless I added dyes. But I digress.

Celebrate Cinco De Mayo with this recipe from Emeril Lagasse:

  • 3 ounces tequila blanco
  • 1/2 -ounce Cointreau
  • 1 1/2 ounces lime juice
  • 2 ounces prickly pear syrup
  • Kosher salt and turbinado sugar, for garnishing the glass
  • Kumquats and lime peels, for garnish


Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and pear syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to incorporate. Wet the rim of a margarita glass and dip into salt and sugar mixture. Pour margarita into glass over ice. Garnish with a kumquat and a curled piece of lime peel.

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2007

Sure, he's not a Tucsonan, like me...but I've done this one, and it's a good fail-safe recipe. You can buy prickly pear syrup online and save it to use not only in margaritas, but in iced teas and lemonades...or make your own:

Prickly Pear Syrup

  • 4 cactus pears, medium sized, BRIGHT fukken pink, if you can help it
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 8 oz water
Peel the pears by wearing thick gardening gloves and using a paring knife. Roughly chop into 1 inch pieces and pop into a blender. Boil the sugar and water together to dissolve, then pour the hot syrup over the pears. Blend. Strain this through cheese cloth or just a fine mesh strainer to rid yourself of seeds and pulp. You can also adjust the sugar and water amounts to your tastes, but this is generally fine for me. 

You can also get prickly pear marmalade from Cactus Candy Company and have it on toast, or(my favorite) with your waffles. OR you can make your own Prickly Pear Gum Drops and really feel the flavors of the Southwest!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Lusty Month of May; Welcome, Beltaine

Blessed Beltaine, one and all!

Hello, and happy May Day to all of my followers, friends...and anyone else who just happened to stumble upon my blog.

Today is the 1st of May, Beltaine, a Sacred and beautiful holiday of the Pagan denomination. It is known as the Opposite of Samhain(pronounced SOW-wehn), which is the time of year when the Veil between the worlds of the living and the worlds of the Fae are the thinnest. Beltaine is also a 'veil thinning' holiday, only the Fae come across to dance and make mischief and merriment for the celebration of summer to come instead of winter.

"are you gonna kiss me now or do i have to
lie to my diary"
Beltaine is basically a big "phew" in saying "OMG WE GOT THROUGH THE FROST, YAY!!!" and planting season is now upon us. It's also the time of The Great Marriage, in which God and Goddess marry in High Summer and proceed to celebrate all year. I think it goes without saying that this is a holiday of fertility.

In the Pagan community, sex isn't really the kind of thing you shame or put a value on in the sense of someone's virginity is a sacred thing. Sex is a sacred act, indeed, but it is done so with respect, versus restraint. It's not solely for the marriage bed, but a sacred gift, an expression of love, and not meant to shame one or another. Sex in the Wiccan culture, especially, is quite revered and celebrated, and seen is a natural and beautiful thing in which two(or three, or four, whatever) consenting adults can worship each other's bodies in their own respective ways...be that vanilla or butt stuff. Honestly, Pagans love banging. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I really love the anti-slut-shaming movement that's happening right now. It's always bothered me that virginity is solely a girl's issue in some respects. What if we treated boys' virginity like a girls'? My virginity was a societal constraint placed upon me, meant to hold me on a pedestal as if it increased my value, somehow, as a human being. I lost my virginity when I was sixteen to my long-term boyfriend. My first time was great; when I look back on that moment, I remember it being safe and loving and with someone I really cared about. I got this healthy attitude from my religion, which told me that it was just as important to them as it was to me, and that I should be respectful of both their body and mine. My religion taught me consent. My religion taught me respect, not shame. I'm not saying that my religion is better than everyone else's, I'm just saying that this is the correct path for me; I repeat: FOR ME.

We all choose our own path; I respect yours, so long as you respect mine. Respect yourselves, respect your bodies...and don't call each other sluts. Seriously, ladies, don't call each other sluts; it makes it okay for boys to call you sluts, which is fucking stupid because boys are encouraged to get laid and party, put marks on their bedposts...it's really not fair to our young men.

I digress.

I celebrate my religion with joy. I celebrate Beltaine with happiness. I celebrate life all around me, and one of the many ways I worship the Earth is by gardening. I love gardening! Gardening is like therapy, only instead of paying someone upwards of $300 per session, you get free tomatoes. It's very relaxing to have control and responsibility over another living thing. Here are a few pictures of my own garden!

My hand for scale
 Here's a purple potato plant; I've got seven in total! And the potatoes really are purple, too!

It's not grass; trust me
This is garlic, which is excellent for all things healing! Plus, it goes great with literally everything...even chocolate. No, really! Many mole recipes have garlic in them. This particular variety is called Spanish Red Garlic. I can't wait until July, when I can harvest them!

Hi, cutie!!
These are the sprouts for a variety of watermelon called Moon and Stars. Google the pictures of a Moon and Stars Watermelon, sometime! They're seriously magickal, and I could think of nothing better to be in a Witch's garden! I'm really excited for these ones to show up!

This is the sprout of a Royal Purple Bush Bean. I actually planted the seeds for the beans sometime last July, but they never sprouted. I came out to my garden sometime last month and noticed a bunch of very similar-looking sprouts all in a row, all in the places I usually plant seeds. "What's this??" I thought. "Elementary, my Dear Watson!" piped back the little sprout.

"Good show, old bean!" I said. Then I fed it some plant food and we had a chuckle. They've sprouted all over, including in the crack in the driveway I remember spilling some of the seeds last year. No, really! They're growing in the crack of my driveway! (At least I think they are...the plant looks really similar. We'll know when autumn comes.)

I am the Tomato King! Water me and I shall grant you a Boon!
This variety of tomato is called Indigo Rose Tomato. It's said to be one of the healthiest varieties ever! I've never grown tomatoes of this size before, so it'll be interesting to see how I'll do! I'm used to the little guys...oh well!

Oh. My. Gods.
This is my pumpkin patch. The sprouts are large. I tried to get all of them in the picture, but I couldn't. Literally every single pumpkin seed I planted has sprouted. Do you know what's funny, though? I have no idea which is which. I saved all of the seeds from the pumpkins I ate and carved last  year, but they got mixed up in the drawer...so it's basically a mixture of Rambutan, One-Too-Many, or Long Island Cheese pumpkins....maybe. And I'll only know in the autumn. Oh well! I always did like surprises.

Do you garden? Post pictures of your garden below!

And Happy Beltaine!