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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winter Birdseed Cakes

 



I hope I don't need to state that this is not intended for human consumption. All that being said, I can't stop you, if you are so tempted. Live your life, right?

The holidays are coming and a lot of people are joining the "Support Small Businesses" movement! While this is incredible, it's still going to be a difficult holiday season for many humans on this planet. Not only have many lost loved ones, have come down with a chronic illness, are isolated from what we all used to view as a normal life...and let's not forget the financial hardship that has kissed all of us full on the lips this year. I'd love to tell you to buck up, to hold on, to stay optimistic...but I won't. I'll just tell you that I'm with you, I understand, and that it's okay to do a handmade holiday this year. 

Although I am an incredibly social person, I have enjoyed the last few holidays with only my husband and myself. Thanksgiving, especially, was lovely, as we got to enjoy all the stuff we wanted without a large family, screaming children, drunk uncles, and pants. (Yes, pants. And bras, for that matter, which I frankly don't see having a comeback after 2020.) The point is that, although this year has been exceedingly and extremely difficult for me and my family, it has been oddly freeing. So, no, I have no problem sending out handmade cards and gifts this year for the holidays! I don't think you should either...

This birdseed cake project is frugal gift-giving at its finest. I do this whenever I have something like fried chicken or doughnuts and I have to clean out my pot of oil and fat. I usually dispose of the fat in the garbage pail, but don't scrape it clean...because I'm using it to make these cakes.

And, hey, all you really need is a fancy ribbon for it to be #PinterestWorthy.

Winter Birdseed Cakes
yield 1 doz muffin-sized cakes

  • The remains of a greasy oil-filled pot, usually 6 or 7 Tbsp of fat
  • 1 c steel-cut oats
  • 1 c whole dried corn*
    • I owe my friends at KC Farm School at Gibb's Road for this particular corn, that's been dried in my pantry!
    • I'm using corn in my recipe because I have a lot of jays in my area, but please feel free to substitute this for dried fruits, depending on the kinds of birds you have in your area.
  • 1 2/3 c birdseed mix
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 4 Tbsp sugar or honey
  • 2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin bloomed in about 6 Tbsp cold water
  • String or ribbon, as you like
  • **A wooden skewer or a chopstick, as well as a muffin tin
Bloom your gelatin and grease the muffin tins with oil. Heat your oil leftover from your last deep-frying adventure (which will probably have some goodies in the bottom of the pan) and add the oats, corn, and birdseed mix. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to ensure you get absolutely everything off the bottom of the pan. This is a great way to also get rid of bacon grease or schmaltz from the bottom of a pan, even if you aren't deep-frying anything. A little fat is good for the birds, because birds are carnivores, and they eat bugs...which do have some fat on them! 

Add in your oats, corn, and bird seed mix, and stir gently. The idea of this step is to make sure that your granules are coated with your fat. Sprinkle in your flour and add the sugar or honey, and continue to cook on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Make sure you're scraping the bottom and the corners well with your spatula!

Add your gelatin and turn off the heat. Stir well to make sure that the gelatin melts and everything is incorporated. Next comes the fun part that also takes the longest!

Portion the birdseed mix in the greased muffin tins and pack down well to ensure that everything is as dense as possible. You can do this with a spatula, of course, or you can wet your hands and press it down tight with your fingers. As little air as possible could be in this seed cake! Remember, it has to stand up to being outside in the wind and rain, and being knocked about by birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures that would like a nibble.

Use an oiled wooden skewer or a metal chopstick to poke holes near where the top would be for each cake. This is essential to do now, before it sets, so you can hang the seed cake outside on string later. Set these in the fridge or on the counter, in a cool place, for at least two hours. While we wait, I'd like to talk a little about how birdwatching has nurtured my soul in this troubled and uncertain time.

I was certainly never what one would call a bird watcher, or bird enthusiast. Backyard birding seemed to be the hobby of someone's great aunt that you talk to every so often, that has books about it and sits in the park every weekday and feeds the birds. Being stuck inside for 8 months, however, helps you explore your inner old auntie and set her free with all the wild abandon you would imagine that person to have. Looking back on my first spring indoors, I was quite grateful when my husband's late grandmother gifted us her two encyclopedias on backyard birding when the pandemic hit. I was safe at home and able to watch from my huge windows and cozy couch. 

My cat appreciated all of the snuggles, too.

Sitting at my window, watching the birds, and sipping my coffee was a meditative act that I could easily do when I was feeling restless and anxious. I told myself that when I started there may not always be birds, but - to my surprise - there were a lot more birds than I expected. I'm fortunate enough to live near a forest and to have four mature trees on my property, so there is plenty of nature to be had. From my couch, I've watched puffy red cardinals fluff themselves up to keep warm, and small groups of starlings glitter in the morning light. I've laughed over Blue Jays and how much they scream and fight with each other. I've even had the pleasure of seeing baby rabbits wander across my yard in the early morning. If you've ever had the opportunity of gazing into the eyes of a wild animal, you'll know how oddly exhilarating and humbling it is. 

The birds have been integral to my backyard permaculture endeavors, as well, with my victory garden. I'm aware that birds are usually considered a pest when it comes to gardening, but I have appreciated their presence when it came to insect and pest control. Jays are aggressive, so they keep stray cats away from my garden. The finches, sparrows, and coal tits have been wonderful to watch from my office window, as they perch on my Giant Sunflowers and eat the seeds, which is a worthwhile investment for entertainment alone. When the seeds were gone, they turned to the nasty beetles and grasshoppers when they noticed I had a reliable food source. Did they eat the odd strawberry or tomato? Certainly. But did I have considerably less pests this year, now that I'd taken an uber-organic approach to the garden instead of spraying everything with neem oil and calling it a day? Yes, absolutely!

I know this is getting preachy, but believe me when I say that the birdfeeders I now have hanging from my roof have brought me peace in a way I didn't believe they would have. I live in the Midwest of America, so that means I get to see cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, golden orioles, starlings, sparrows, mourning doves, falcons, and more. Giving myself permission to sit lazily and watch these animals go about their day has given me a strange sense of peace and connection to nature. I hope this will encourage you to at least try hanging up a birdfeeder near your window, just to see what will happen. 



To remove, all one has to do is give them a rather strong knock when you turn the tin upside-down, but you may use a spatula to get the cakes out of their hiding places. String them on ribbon or twine and double-knot a square knot at the top to get your loop to be tight. I like to let these air-cure on a cooling rack for at least a day at room temperature before I set them outside, but this step isn't absolutely necessary if you're living in a dry climate. 

And there you have it! A thoughtful, attractive gift for the bird-lover in your life. These thrifty things are excellent stocking-stuffers, or the perfect "Just Because" gift. They can be made any time you deep-fry something and happen to want to clean out the bottom of your pan in an economical way, and they store for ages so you can keep them in your cellar or pantry for a quick gift on the fly. I know that my birds appreciate it, especially in winter when their diets have to change. Remember, not all birds migrate, so if you play your cards right, you're going to have some wonderful winter entertainment if you invest your time in making these. 

Please be safe this holiday season.

Thanks so much! Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy gifting!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sausage Pizza Lumpia

With apologies to the FilAm community...
 

We did something kind of crazy this Thanksgiving. We realized that we didn't have to do anything that we didn't feel like doing, as far as food goes, and decided to get away from the social constructs of what you have to cook. Instead, I made a big list of every food I'm truly thankful for, had my husband do the same, and we cross-referenced it. 

Among many dishes, we both had "pizza" in some form on our lists, but I didn't want to make a whole pizza. We were both grateful for dumplings in every way, shape, and form, so of course, my mind jumped to this: what if we made lumpia...only filled with PIZZA???

Note: a lumpia is a cigar-like roll that's deep-fried and full of meat and seasonings, with almost no vegetables other than aromatics. I love lumpias! I love eating them much more than I love making them, as making them is a bit of a process. You can find a traditional recipe here, from an AWESOME writer! If you'd like to know how I made this abomination, please read on...

Sausage Pizza Lumpia

  • 1 lb Italian sausage (pork or beef is just fine!)
  • 3 oz carrots, shredded fine
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c shredded mozzarella (I used the vegan version by VioLife!) 
  • 3 Tbsp shredded parmesan(still the vegan kind!) or nutritional yeast
  • 1 oz mushrooms, minced
  • 2 sprigs each thyme, rosemary, and sage, chopped fine
  • 1 egg
  • Pizza sauce, as needed
  • Egg roll or lumpia wrappers, as needed
  • Shortening or oil for deep-frying, as needed
This could not be easier to pull together. Simply combine the sausage with all ingredients except the sauce, wrappers, and shortening and let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. While this step isn't exactly necessary, it's going to help everything mesh. You can also use this time to set up your rolling station. I recommend doing this with a beloved partner, a friend you've been plodding with, or your children, like how my mom did it with me.



I set up this station with my husband. This is:
  • Wrappers
  • A small bowl of water
  • A personal paper towel (for wiping fingers)
  • The pizza sauce
  • A plate to put the finished lumpia on
  • (Unseen) The bowl of filling
Simply smear the pizza sauce on the wrapper, spoon some filling on (about 2 oz) in a log-shape, and roll up, using a wet finger to seal like an envelope. Immediately get these into the freezer, once all finished, and let hang out until you're ready to deep-fry. It is much better to fry these from a frozen state if you can at all help it. I've noticed that you can get crispier skin without darkening while cooking everything all the way through this way, but I don't exactly know why.




I like to use shortening for deep-frying purposes. Hydrogenated lard will do just fine in almost any purpose, and will last you several deep-frying sessions before you need to get rid of it. I also prefer it because it solidifies at room temperature, which means cleanup is a little easier than if it were a liquid. All you do is scoop it into the trash bag instead of having to find a vessel to pour oil in! 

Heat your oil to 350 degrees F and be sure to use a candy thermometer! I like the glass kind that sticks straight in the pot with clear lines. They're quite easy to clean and durable to boot! All you do now is deep fry the lumpia in batches of 3 or 4 until cooked through and golden-brown, which takes about five minutes. Be sure to not add too many to the hot oil all at once, otherwise, the temperature of the oil will go down too drastically and the lumpia will get greasy as a result.

Serve with a warmed marinara sauce for dipping, and you've got a winner!



The taste is so similar to a sausage-filled pizza! I invite you to try it with your own favorite pizza toppings, like bell peppers, anchovies, fresh basil leaves, chicken, chopped pepperoni, or more! The best part about this, like pizza, is that it's so easy to personalize. I do recommend making a lot all at once and freezing ahead, if you can at all help it.

Thanks so much for coming on this journey with me! I hope you all had a fun and safe Thanksgiving that was quiet and happy. I know I enjoyed the quiet celebration that I had with just my husband. There was no stress, no family fighting, no awful kale and corn salad that some body bought at the grocery store just before the feast... Just him, me, and more food than we'll ever eat in one go.

Happy cooking, and happy eating!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Maple Rosedale Pumpkin Pie

 


Maple Rosedale Pumpkin Pie

yields 1 9" pie

  • 15 oz roasted squash puree
    • Mine was from my special Rosedale pumpkin!
  • 4 oz (a generous half cup) granulated sugar
  • 3 oz (about 1/3 cup) grade A maple syrup
  • 3 eggs, ideally organic
  • 1/2 c almond milk
  • 10 coriander seeds or 1/2 tsp dried coriander
  • 1 cinnamon stick or 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 spicebush berries, dried
    • If you can't find these, use 2 allspice berries plus 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 Chinese long peppercorn 
  • 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
    • Check out my Partners page for good resources!
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and prepare a sheet pan lined with either aluminum foil or a Silpat mat. Roll out your favorite pie crust into a glass pie dish (I prefer glass because I can see the bottom and make sure it's all cooked) and decorate as you like. I have these adorable cookie cutters that resemble leaves, and one of them looks like a pine cone. Since I tragically couldn't find my maple leaf cutter, this was the perfect alternative! All I did was let them hang out on the cool marble slab until I was ready to use them. I didn't feel the need to refrigerate the pie piece cut-outs since this pie is so quick to put together. 

Combine your hard spices into a spice grinder and blitz until wholly powdered. You can also use a coffee grinder, in a pinch! I much prefer to use whole spices in this way, as they store much better.  Then add about 2 Tbsp of the sugar and blitz together with the spices. This really helps perfume the sugar with the spices and lends more flavor to your pie!

Whisk together the squash puree with the sugars, maple syrup, and spices until well-combined. Next, mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely combined. Add in all the rest of the ingredients and taste. If it needs a bit more cinnamon or you'd like to add a dash of cardamom or clove, that's perfectly fine. This is your pie, after all!

Once everything is combined and well-mixed, pour your mixture into your prepared crust. If you've chosen to decorate your pie with leaf or pinecone cutouts, like me, now is the time to attach them with egg wash to the sides and let the other half float along the custard top. Please remember that this is, in fact, a custard pie so I don't recommend a lattice top to finish. Go and have some fun with the outer crust, instead!

Bake at 325 for 3(three) twenty-minute intervals in which the pie is rotated gently in the oven. The pie sets up beautifully when baked low-and-slow, so be sure to not try to rush it! Now that I have your attention, and while the pie bakes and cools, let's talk a bit about the brand new Rosedale Pumpkin and the complicated world of cross-pollination. 

Everyone, meet the Rosedale Pumpkin Squash!

When you grow your own produce, either in a small Victory garden or a decent-sized homestead, there's always the possibility of cross-pollination. While there are many ways to avoid it, there is a not-insignificant amount of us gardeners that simply allow the thing to happen and see what comes of it. I noticed this strange thing growing on one of my squash plants. I got several small butternut squashes from my vines this year, but nothing was quite as big as this weird little monster. It was clear that the butternut and acorn squash had cross-pollinated, and while I could have simply cut it off and let the plant continue to make more...I was frankly too curious to not let it grow. I began taking pictures of it and telling my friends about it. We racked our brains trying to come up with a name for the squash, and it never came...I settled on 'Rosedale" squash since I live in Rosedale and that's where it grew. When I harvested it on the morning of Halloween eve and told my husband about the mysterious squash, he groggily looked at the green monstrosity and said: "So, what, it's like a ... buttercorn?"

OH, MY GOURD.

Oh, come on! We've been trying so hard to come up with a cool name and you just pull that out of the air?! Jerk. 

I actually did a live opening of this thing on Instagram. 

I've decided to call it a pumpkin because of the stem, which is woody and quite stiff once it was dried! I was so curious as to what this tasted like. I documented everything about its cooking. It had a gorgeous bright-orange flesh when cut into that quickly beaded up with drops of diamond-like dew. I roasted it slowly at 300 degrees for about 4 hours with some canola oil so it wouldn't dry out. I didn't add salt or sugar, since I wanted to taste the real thing. Sadly? It didn't taste like buttered corn, so I chose to not name it 'buttercorn.' It tasted incredibly mild, and had a texture almost akin to spaghetti squash. It had plenty of moisture in it, still, so I don't know if this wall of text is masking my disappointment well enough at the lack of distinct flavor of my little green monster. 

Oh well. I still stand by my decision to save all of the seeds for next year's planting! Who knows if the seed will be viable or not? I simply know that I'll be starting them all in seed trays and letting them hang out in the garage by the window to keep them warm and safe until they're ready to be transplanted outdoors. Maybe the second generation will be better? 

This method can be used to roast any winter squash for the sake of preserving the puree over the long winter. I highly recommend doing this, if you don't have access to a cellar (or basement) that's pest-free and is relatively climate-controlled. My deep freezer will likely see a good portion of many bags of winter squash puree this season, even though I have a good cellar that will keep all of my produce fresh over winter. These are the things you really need to think about with a global pandemic going on, and the numbers getting worse. 

I know we're all sick of hearing about Covid-19, but with everything escalating and with hospitals getting overwhelmed again, it would be irresponsible to ignore it and not talk about it. I encourage all of you to contact local farms and see what kind of winter squash they're growing and if they're willing to sell you any or do a trade for them for whatever you may be able and willing to give. I'm fortunate to have partnerships with awesome farmers here in Kansas City that have paid me in produce for doing PR work for them. There are also many farmers markets out there that are participating in a Covid relief program to get good seasonal produce to families that really need them. 



And please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WEAR A DAMN MASK.

Squash - winter squash particularly - are incredibly nutrient-dense. Usually, quite high in fiber, they're a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Pumpkin and squash are oddly acidic, so that means they're great at encouraging white blood cells to get amped up and protect you against disease this fall and winter. Who doesn't need that? 

Most eastern medicine - seen specifically in Chinese and Ayurvedic principles - have what are known as warming and cooling foods. There's a lot that could be said about this, but all you need to know right this moment is that a "warming food" is based on the internal nature of the food product. You should have nothing but warming foods if you are recovering from an illness or surgery. Foods like chicken, chestnuts, fresh ginger, and - you guessed it - pumpkin or squash are quite warming. It's no wonder we like it in our baked goods, the most-warming kind of food you can usually have! So, really, eating a whole pumpkin pie could be good for you...

When your pie is set to room temperature, you can cut and serve immediately, but I think it's better to chill it for a couple of hours first, just to help set the custard. After that, I do suggest letting the pie come up to room temperature to serve it. This is because the squash and spices are quite fragrant, and cold temperature dulls the beautiful aromas. This is also because eating cold foods can suppress your immune system so it's better to just let stuff be at least room temperature before you eat it. 

If you're curious about more warming and cooling foods, I invite you to have some fun researching it on your own and making informed decisions on it, all with a grain of salt! My mom, a Filipinx woman, always made sure to put extra ginger in her chicken soup whenever I got sick, and I will say it seemed to kick whatever crud I was experiencing out of my lungs. 

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Persimmon Cinnamon Rolls


 

These are fabulous. You want these. You want them in your mouth, right now. These persimmon cinnamon rolls - or per-cinnamon rolls, if you will - are an excellent application of this beautiful fall fruit. I don't think it gets enough credit, but I'll talk about why I think that a little later... For now? Let's get to the recipe!

Per-cinnamon rolls

Dough

  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 5 g dry active yeast
  • 125 g sourdough starter
  • 150 g sugar
  • 30 g coconut milk powder
  • 200 g warm water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 2 eggs
Filling
  • 1 cup persimmon puree
  • 2 tsp dried spiceberry bush berries, crushed
  • A few grinds of white pepper
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon 
Icing
  • 2 oz vegan butter substitute
    • I really love Earth Balance, or Miyoko's brand!
  • 6 oz vegan cream cheese
  • 1/3 c persimmon puree
  • Powdered sugar, as needed
    • Mine took about a cup and a half to get the right consistency
The night before...
Start by combining all of your dough ingredients, except for the eggs and salt, into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Stir to combine and only to combine, which shouldn't take more than ten or eleven turns. Set a timer for 10 minutes and let everything sit together until the time has passed. When the timer goes, off, add your eggs and salt, and turn on your mixer to a low stir. Let this stir for about 5 minutes! Next, turn the speed up to medium and let stir for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the dough is incomparably silky and smooth. 

Oil up a large plastic Tupperware container or a good-sized clean bowl that you can seal well with clingfilm. Turn your dough into this container, seal shut tight, and then let sit out for about 30 minutes, or until you can clearly see or smell that the yeast is working in your dough, though it should be noted that you shouldn't keep it out for longer than 45 minutes. While you're waiting, let's get you to prepare our cinnamon roll filling by simply combining everything with a whisk and storing in a large piping bag overnight with your dough. A ziploc plastic bag is fine, too!

Pop this gorgeous dough into the fridge and let sit overnight! It's important to note that if you want to have cinnamon rolls for breakfast, you must wake up early to do so, at least a couple of hours before everyone else eats breakfast to be safe. If you just want them as a morning snack, then wake up at your normal time and do this at your leisure. Shall we take this break to talk about persimmons?




First of all, I should tell you that I personally believe that they do not get hardly enough credit as a fall fruit. They possess a wonderfully sweet and complex flavor with a most-pleasant tang to finish. They're hard as rocks when they're unripe, but when they are ready they get almost squishy. I suppose you could describe their taste to be somewhere between a banana and a date, with an almost citrus-like tang to finish. They almost taste, to me, like good pie filling that's already been sugared and spiced. 

Second, I think it's only fair to warn you that they can be a little hard to find, but with local farmers and the local CSAs being so amazing, you're likely to find at least one or two folk growing them. Wild persimmons are the kind that I got, and although they were incredibly, especially delicious, they were quite small and rather labor intensive. If you can, don't get the wild kind, unless your plan is to dry them and have them in a tea blend. If you've already gotten your hands on wild persimmons, here's how to clean and process them:

Simply take them all in a bowl and let them come up to room temperature. Then, pour boiling water over them and let them sit until the water is cool enough to stick your hand in, remove and crack open the peel, one by one, before pressing the entire fruit into a fine mesh strainer. I like a good tamis, but if you have a food mill on hand then that'll do just fine! I put all of my puree, along with some of my skin, into my blender before pressing it through my tamis strainer once more. I think it's only fair to tell you that it did take me the better part of my afternoon.

Is it the next morning, yet? Are you ready to roll some stuff out? Let's do it! Just so you know, if you want to have this for breakfast, you should wake up a couple of hours before you are ready to bake and turn on the oven. If you work from home, and time doesn't matter anymore, just get up and go! Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and let's get ready.

Flour a surface generously, and that includes your hands! Turn your now-risen dough out onto your chosen surface, be it your counter or a marble slab, and roll out to an even rectangle that's about a quarter-inch thick. Take your filling and simply pipe it in lines all across your dough, and spread evenly with a spatula. The piping bag isn't absolutely required, but it does make it a little easier on you when it comes to even distribution. 

Roll up your dough, nice and tight, and pinch the sealing ends hard when it comes around to the end. Roll over on the seal side to let the weight help you out when cutting. I personally like to slice mine so that they stand up to be about 2 inches tall, and with this recipe, that method yields 15 rolls. Ultimately, if you're a bit of a novice, all you should really do is evenly slice them with a serrated knife and leave to proof on a sheet pan lined with either parchment or a silpat mat. An easy thing to do is to simply cut your whole roll in half, then in half again, then in half again...and voila! You have a whole tray of cinnamon rolls!





Next, arrange all of these on your chosen tray so that there's a decent amount of space between each one. This yielded 15 rolls for me, so I arranged it ina 3 x 5 on my half-sheet pan, sprinkled generously with flour, and then gently laid plastic wrap over the top while I preheated my oven to 325 degrees F. I usually set my rolls next to the stove and rotate them every 15 minutes or so, until they've doubled in size. You might as well make your icing while you're waiting!

Bake at 325 for about 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and delicious. Let them cool for about 5 minutes in the rack, and while your rolls are still warm, dollop over your gorgeous persimmon cream cheese frosting. 

And there you have it! You've just made incredible cinnamon rolls with a gorgeous autumnal twist. Not only are they delicious, but they have a beautifully gentle orange color that's perfect for fall. They're tasty with a hint of the date-like flavor of the persimmons, that is at once comforting and bright...and it all spells magic. 

Thanks so much for reading, today! Happy cooking and happy eating!






Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Fermented Habanero Hot Sauce

 



Fermented Habanero Hot Sauce

yields 1 qt hot sauce

  • 1 pint of organic habanero peppers
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar, plus more for after the fermentation process
  • 1 1/2 c unchlorinated water
  • 2 Tbsp organic fresh ginger, finely chopped
Please note: It's actually important to get organic stuff because it's absolutely guaranteed to ferment, whereas it's not always a guarantee with the stuff that's had pesticides. 

I'd like to tell you now, at the beginning of the recipe, that the most important ingredient in this recipe is time. At least 2 weeks is required, but the longer you let this ferment, the better it will taste. You can ferment this for up to 6 months, but I personally prefer a 3-month ferment. You can plan accordingly, now that you know what kind of time table you're about to have on your hands. Are you still interested? Great! Let's continue...

Clean your peppers and set up a cutting board, ideally a flexible plastic one that can immediately go in the wash. I also advise you to use gloves and to make a conscious effort to not touch your face, eyes, ears, or any other sensitive areas until you've washed your hands thoroughly during the hot pepper chopping process. Make sure you also wash your utensils immediately after you do all of this chopping!

To prepare your peppers, simply remove the stems from your habaneros and roughly chop so that they're all the same size. Peel and chop the ginger, quite finely. Add this to your favorite fermenting croc jar and toss it all with the sugar. If you don't have a good lidded ceramic croc jar, use a mason jar that you can have in a place that's away from direct sunlight. Let this sit for about 10 minutes. 



Pour the water-vinegar mixture over your peppers, then stir well with a metal spoon. Make sure that you have enough liquid to submerge your peppers in their entirety, or they might spoil! All that's required of you now is to cover the jar and wait! Do yourself a favor and set yourself a calendar reminder every week, around the same time, to stir and check on your fermentation.


This is my favorite fermentation jar. I made it.


I'm so lucky to have this gorgeous ceramic jar to ferment my goodies in, but it's absolutely fine if you have a few clean mason jars lying around the kitchen to use! If you have a screw-top jar, you're going to want to 'burb' your mixture every few days by unscrewing the top and allowing any gas to escape. You're really going to want to do this. You don't want to clean up an exploded hot sauce glass jar from your cabinet. Just save yourself the trouble. 

Special note: when you check your pepper mixture after a week or so, you may see a sort of white film on the top of your mixture. This is called kahm yeast. It is not mold, nor is it harmful. This is rather sour, though, so you may want to skim it off the top and discard it!


While we're waiting, shall we talk about hot peppers? 

Most every continent has native capsicum, and the Americas are no different. Peppers are actually native to tropical America, which means anything near the equator and south of.  It's actually quite fun to look up all the peppers that are native to where you are from! Peppers are berries, and they're quite easy to grow in warm climates. If you have a cooler climate, you'll really get the best yield out of them by growing them in a greenhouse or inside in containers in a sunny window. I personally have better luck with most peppers by keeping them in hanging baskets by my window, even in winter. Read all about that in my victory garden post!




I'd very much like to take credit for the number of peppers in this particular brew, but it's actually from a dear friend of mine. I'm partnering with my good friend Alicia, and the rest of the wonderful people at the KC Farm School at Gibbs road. This place is a real working and teaching farm with a wonderful example of permaculture to boot. They have chickens, a big greenhouse, and a tall and lovely cornfield. They're dear friends of mine, so please do give them a Like and a Follow, if you can spare one.  They also have this scarecrow that lives in their cornfield, which definitely does not come alive on the full moon to eat naughty children. 

I first met Alicia when I was the head chef of a not-for-profit organization that combated food insecurity in my city. It was my job to feed a few hundred food-insecure people every day, and I learned more than a lot about how food is grown and consumed in this country of mine during that time. One thing I learned is that the biggest obstacle, in my personal experience, is not exactly getting good food to good and healthy food, but rather getting them to try it. 

When it comes to combatting food insecurity and the unhealthy relationship that the average American family has with food, you must understand that we do not have a good work-life balance in this country. I don't know when the ideology of "If you work, you should be able to have a weekend and to be able to afford a house, food, bills, etc.," became an extremist belief, but there you have it. The reality is that many families nowadays don't have the most ideal schedule, especially those with working single parents and multiple children. The hard thing isn't necessarily acquiring good and healthy food, but it's getting everyone to eat it.

Think about your mental capacity and energy throughout the day, and imagine you're a harried single parent in the middle of a pandemic, trying to scrape together every cent to make a living. Would you rather have a fight with your child about doing their homework or about eating a salad that you made? Would you rather spend time cooking an ingredient you're unfamiliar with, then spending more time getting your child to eat it instead of pick around it on the plate? Or would you rather just throw on something that you know they'll eat and then save your energy about the homework fight, or the bathtime fight, or the bedtime fight? Furthermore, what if you didn't grow up in a household that afforded you the education of learning how to cook? 

Most of the people that know how to cook learned from their parents or grandparents, if not cooking classes later in life. I was incredibly fortunate in that I had a grandmother that knew how to cook, and who cooked with me as a child. My father cooked, my mother cooked...everyone cooked. Everyone also had a good grasp on how to run a home and I benefitted from that by watching them. I tried new foods because they always tried new foods, and as far as I remember I was never a picky eater. The point is that not everybody had that same food-loving family structure growing up, so it's unfair to assume that they did when having a conversation about food going on the table for everyone

After your preferred fermentation period, you're ready to make your hot sauce! Are you excited? Because I am!

Drain the peppers slowly and reserve the liquid. Add the solids of your mixture to a food processor or blender and add about 1/4 cup of the fermentation brine along with another 1/4 c of vinegar. You can use either apple cider vinegar or white vinegar at this point, but I personally prefer the sweetness of the apple cider in this particular application, because habaneros are incredibly hot. Please also note that this will likely explode in a cloud of spice when you pour, so please be cautious!

Blend this concoction on low for 1 minute, and then on high for 30 seconds, or until entirely smooth. You can strain out the solids with a fine-mesh sieve, but I personally prefer a thicker sauce so I don't strain. All that's left now is to bottle it in either a glass bottle or glass mason jar to be kept in the fridge! I love the fermentation process, and the fact that it does continue to ferment in my fridge, so I don't cook my sauce, even though you can cook it to stop the process and intensify the flavor more to your liking. No matter what, this is the stage you'll want to taste it and add salt to your liking. 



And there you have it! A gorgeous, fermented hot sauce for the table that will last you a good long while. Use this as you would use your regular store-bought hot sauce for a little extra zing while you're cooking! I hope you've enjoyed this post. Please feel free to experiment as much as you like with this hot sauce recipe. Don't be afraid to add garlic, dry spices, different kinds of peppers, and more! 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, September 25, 2020

Best Ever Sourdough Focaccia



Favorite Sourdough Focaccia


  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 150 g sourdough starter
    • I'm sure all of us started this thing when the quarantine began but if you don't have one, you can just omit this and up the yeast to 5 g
  • 260 g water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 3 g yeast
  • 125 ml olive oil plus more for the pan
  • 3 g kosher salt
  • Herbs and such as needed
  • Salt and water for the brine
Combine the flour, sourdough starter, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer using the hook attachment and mix until just combined. Let it sit for about 10 minutes in the bowl to let the flour hydrate and the yeasts to get to know each other. When that timer is up, turn the mixer on to low speed and add in your salt and oil, and mix for five minutes. Then, mix for another 5 minutes on medium-high. Oil a clean bowl or a plastic container with a lid generously with more olive oil, using your hand. Use that same hand to scrape out your dough (so you won't stick) into the container and stick it in a warm place for about two hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

While we're waiting, let's get to the fun part...

Oil a new sheet pan quite generously and turn your dough out, as gently as possible, and pull it out to spread evenly. Oil more, and add your pretty ingredients. I cannot stress this enough if you are going to make lovely focaccia art, but it is absolutely imperative that you set in your picture now so that it can rise and stick when baked.

Focaccia art began circa April/May 2020, when the pandemic was really kicking into high gear. The trend has gone from Instagram to being all over Good Morning America, and even Buzzfeed's Tasty got in on the fun! Basically, you take a gorgeous focaccia loaf and create a lovely landscape using herbs, flowers, vegetables, and more. Now I was skeptical of this idea before because I subscribe to the belief that "every bite should taste the same" when it comes to bread. Once the boredom and existential dread set in, however, and I had more and more sourdough starter piling up, I frankly cracked and made one for myself. It was a big hit!




The reason I'm telling you this now is so you can look ahead for some inspiration! The flowers here on mine are made of sliced leeks and I used sliced green bird chilies here and there...and added leaves of spinach, parsley, cilantro, dill, and more. Many people use lovely fresh peppers and other vegetables to be atop their focaccia art, and I've joined in the fun on a couple of occasions. I do admit that I still believe that above all else bread should be tasty and while putting slices of raw peppers on a focaccia dough to let rise looks pretty cool I don't know how well it's going to taste. The taste of your item should absolutely reign as the supreme factor when it comes to food, leaving looks to be a close second. 

I'm sure that plenty of folks out there will tell you that you really need to think about what you want your garden landscape on the focaccia to look like far beforehand, and that's definitely true when it comes to just about any art project. Mise en place is a lifestyle/mentality that many chefs and cooks subscribe to! When it comes to this particular application, however, I personally prefer to let it develop organically, leaving it all dependant on what herbs I have in the garden that are ready to go. 

It's currently late September and I live in the North-Midwestern Americas, so I still have quite a few herbs, but the cooler weather of the midwest means that I have pansies. This means I get to put edible flowers on my focaccia! I invite you to look around in your own garden and see what edible flowers are available to you immediately. You likely will have pansies, marigolds, and roses...all of which are absolutely edible. 



As I mentioned before, the trick with focaccia art is that you must put on your flowers, herbs, etc., during the second proof so that when it rises, the herbs and flowers and such will really stick. Although I don't necessarily plan out everything meticulously, I certainly don't just slap stuff down willy-nilly either. To let it develop organically, I first decide on the visual orientation of the piece, be it portrait or landscape. Then, I take my biggest pieces or my most-colorful pieces of edible loveliness and pop that on first. In this one's case, the pansies were the biggest eye-catcher, so everything sort of developed around that. I also had these incredible nasturtiums that looked like tiny parasols, in a way, so that came on next. Then came the sage leaves, thyme, etc. 

Once you're happy with your focaccia garden landscape, spread olive oil lightly on the dough and cover with clingfilm and let rise again. You can let this hang out in the fridge for up to three hours if you did this early in the day and want to bake it freshly for dinner! If you just want to bake it soon, simply set it in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until it looks very puffy. Everything will have risen together and your herbs, flowers, vegetables, etc., will not fall off! Don't forget to preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

When risen after the rest, dissolve two tablespoons of kosher salt in three tablespoons of hot water in a cup. Oil your fingers her her her and press dimples between the spaces of the pictures you have created. Spoon in the brine to the dimples. Let sit for another 5 minutes and oil well with even more olive oil. Add a few grinds of fresh pepper and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, rotating your sheet pan halfway between. 

I like to let my bread hang out and cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting, but make sure you get this off the sheet pan and onto a cooling rack sooner rather than later, lest you get a soggy bottom. 



Thanks so much for joining me here today! I hope this has inspired you. Please don't forget to share this around if you try it, and tag me on Instagram or Facebook to let me see your incredible creation. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Favorite Apple Pie

 



My Absolute Favorite Spiced Apple Pie

Favorite Pie Crust

  • 10.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz solid fat
    • Chilled butter, vegan butter substitute, cold lard, or cold coconut oil do just fine!
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • Vodka, as needed

Apple filling

  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp grand marnier
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/8 tsp freshly-ground Chinese Long Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground ancho chili powder
  • 9 small apples or 5 medium ones, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
To make the pie crust, simply combine your dry ingredients with a fork and rub the fat into the flour with your fingers. Add in some vodka until it's just moist...and mix together! How should you mix this all together, you ask? Well, lucky for you, I've discovered the joys of IGTV:




Isn't that great? I can do tutorials without having to get a youtube channel. 

Simply wrap and chill this dough for at least 30 minutes while you prepare your filling. All you really have to do is combine all the ingredients, except for the flour, toss well, and cover. Let this sit for the same amount of time you're letting your dough rest so the flavors can meld and mesh together. I like to let it all rest on the counter instead of the fridge because you tend to get a lot more juice out! A proper pie has a good dance of moisture and juicy filling, but we don't want to make our crust too soggy. When we can control the amount of moisture in our pie, we're going to have a good time.

When it comes to rolling out your dough, I prefer not to dirty up my counter with tons of excess flour, but to roll it out between two well-greased sheets of parchment paper. I do this for many reasons, but the main reason is that I don't want to mess with my perfectly-crafted ratio of fat-to-flour. After all, if we're going to be exact with our measurements, why screw it all up with more flour when rolling out? The other reason to do it this way is for easy clean-up. Simply give your counter a quick wipe and throw the parchment paper away! All you need is a good rolling pin, a good arm, and plenty of pan-spray to make this perfect. Even better, you can use the parchment paper to help you flip your flat dough into your pie dish. 

I love this glass pie dish because I can see the bottom, and therefore see when things are cooked or not. Glass is excellent at conducting heat, so for me, it is the ideal baking dish. All that must happen now is you gently line your pie dish with your dough and let it chill before adding the filling. I also like to let it chill before I trim it so that the dough has plenty of time to relax. This way, you can let any glutens that may have accidentally developed relax away. 

Your pie filling should have become quite juicy at this point, so now's the time to add your flour! You may need more than 1 oz, depending on how much juice has come out, but definitely don't use less than this amount. So long as the mixture has thickened slightly with the amount of flour but is still liquid, you should be safe. Add your flour, mix well, and fill your pie! 

Use your rolling pin to roll out a top crust and very gently let it fall over the top of the apples. You should have a nice high pile, which is exactly what you want! Don't stretch your pie dough too much, but be sure to let it sit atop your fruit for about 5 minutes before you crimp all the edges. Once the edges are crimped, with either your fingers or your fork, let it chill in the fridge until your oven comes up to 350 degrees F. Be sure to also cut some vent slits in the top. Get decorative at this point, if you like!

Line a sheet pan with tin foil and set your baking rack to the lowest possible setting so that the bottom of the pie tin is close to the bottom of the oven. Bake your pie on the lowest rack for 45 - 55 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown and your pie filling is bubbling slightly out of the vent slits. 

This next bit is the tricky bit, but it's absolutely essential. You have to - and I'm not making this up - wait to cut open that pie for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. 

I know, I know! It's apple pie! What is better than apple pie fresh from the oven??? Well, how about an apple pie that stays together and won't flood out into a big juicy, sticky mess, that sogs up your bottom like no other? It's imperative that you let the apples do their thing and let the pectin rest. You must do this, so when you warm up the pie again, by the slice, it'll actually stay gelled together. Apple pie really is quite easy, but the real secret ingredient is time, and time well spent. 

While we're waiting, would you like to learn a thing or two about apples? 

We've all heard that phrase "as American as apple pie", but what if I were to tell you that apples themselves were not native to America? They are, in fact, native to central Asia, and have come to Europe by way of the Silk Road, which is the same trade route that gave Italy noodles, which would eventually evolve into the modern pasta we know today.  Apples were then planted in Europe, and then were brough to the American colonies by - you guessed it - colonizers. So, really...nothing is more American than apple pie, because apples - like most of us - are immigrants that have taken hold of the land and changed it forever!

People loved apples because they're delicious, but more importantly they are incredibly prolific. They do not self-pollinate like peach or plum trees (also from central Asia), but need a partner tree to be next to in order to produce. Once they do, however, they'll give more fruit than you could likely know what to do with! I'm specifically and explicitly forbidden to have a pair of apple trees in my own garden because my husband's childhood was "ruined every late summer" because he, his brother, his sister, and his mother all had to stop everything and process every single apple into apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie, apple dumplings, and more. Now, if you ask, "why not just let the animals have it?" Well, dear friend...

Apples are naturally high in sugar. When sugar meets water, it's going to begin to chemically change, especially with time and the right bacteria. Long story short, they ferment. When you get a squirrel or a deer biting into a fermented apple and drunkenly stagger around your yard, it's likely going to be quite comical. When you get a bunch of butterflies, bees, and hornets flying around drunk, it immediately becomes less fun. Apparently, hornets are like yours truly when they've had one too many - they'll fight anything. 


Apples on the ground are not bad or rotten. In fact, apple trees are exceedingly clever in that they will tell you when an apple is perfectly ripe and ready for eating by letting them fall to the ground with only the slightest breeze to invite you to eat them. So long as they don't have a big bite out of them from a squirrel or bug, it's best to just gather them from the ground. You can store them in the cellar, if you have one, just as they are, in crates. Please keep paper between the layers, however, as they do better this way. I hear that they hold the best when not touching directly, and each apple is individually wrapped with tissue paper. This is the reason we have wax on our apples, you see. When apples touch, skin-to-skin, they'll begin to ripen and ferment. They say you should wash off the wax before you eat them, but I've eaten apples with wax on the skin for years and nothing's happened to me yet. 

You can, of course, make this all into apple butter, or freeze the processed slices in bags. You can make candy apples. You can make it into applesauce, which - by the way - magically replaces eggs in a cake if you are in a pinch and can't go to the grocery store right that moment. You can do all sorts of things! The point is that you must absolutely know that you love apples, that you'll never get sick of apples, and that you have neighbors that love apples before you get yourself a pair of trees. That, and you have an excellent apple pie recipe in your back pocket. 

Serve this pie with ice cream, if you like, but I like it on its own with some good coffee. 

I hope you've enjoyed learning about apples, the history thereof, and the silk road. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Sourdough English Muffins



I've had various phases of my life in which I've made a sourdough starter, all of which have either died or been neglected to the point of molding. I'd love to be this kind of person that just has a sourdough starter to give away, to use, to pass on to the next generation. Even the community pressure of being a chef to have a sourdough or ginger bug starter is ever-present! (Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to be the only chef in your city to not have a sourdough starter?) The fact of the matter is that I just don't eat bread enough to justify keeping a sourdough starter around. Rice is the preferred starch in my home, and we so seldom have bread with our meals that I frankly would forget about it when I was working 10-hour shifts.

Nowadays, since we're in a quarantined state of emergency, there's not much else to do than to maintain a lovely sourdough bread starter. I am a very fortunate person because my partner works a good job that he's able to maintain remotely while I occupy my time with volunteering, studying, and writing. There's lots of time for me to experiment with sourdough, and an English Muffin is a great way to use up some of it without heating up your whole house with a hot oven!

Sourdough English Muffins

yields 12 large square muffins

  • 600 g flour
  • 12 g yeast
  • 100 g sourdough starter
  • 40 g olive or grapeseed oil
  • 50 g sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 310 g water or soy milk, body temperature
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • Semolina, as needed

Mix your flour, yeast, sugar, sourdough, liquid of choice, and eggs together to create a soft dough in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a hook attachment. You aren't kneading at this point, just mixing so everything is homogenous. The idea of this stage is to hydrate the flour and activate the yeast. Let this all sit for 20 minutes, and then turn your mixer back on. Add in your oil and salt while this mixes at a low speed for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn the mixer on to high and knead the dough until it's smooth and silky, which shouldn't take more than five minutes.

Scrape your dough into a plastic container that has been well-oiled and cover. Let this beautiful concoction sit in a warm place for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It's summer right now where I am, so I love to let this sit in the shade outside for that time. In the winter, I like to set my proving doughs atop my fridge to rise. While we wait, I'd like to discuss some technical stuff!

First of all, n English muffin isn't exactly English, but an American invention. An immigrant known as Samuel Bath Thomas created the original "nooks and crannies" muffin - then called "toaster crumpets" - in the 1880s. A crumpet is very much like the bread that we all call and English Muffin, but the holes are on the top instead of being sandwiched and hidden within. These little lovelies seem simple enough to make, but there are a few tricks to them in order for them to be just right.

  1. The dough is soft, so don't try to add more flour to make it stiffer.
  2. Your griddle must be of an even heat before you start
  3. Don't rush; patience is a virtue!
The idea of a well-done English muffin is to have those big, beautiful, deep, craggy bubbles. These big bubbles only occur in the first stage of the fermentation process, so you don't want to handle this dough too much. A gentle hand is a real key here! If you knock out too much air, those big bubbles will pop and be replaced by small bubbles in the second proof, which is not what you want.

It is a gentle hand that will make your English Muffin perfect!

Another thing you need to know about this item is that it is not baked but fried on a griddle. You can use a frying pan if that's all you have, but a good cast iron griddle is a multitasking item that you should have at your disposal. It's great for searing steaks, cooking pancakes, and - of course - making the perfect English Muffin. No matter what you use, you'll want a thick-bottomed cooking apparatus that will help thoroughly cook your muffin at a low enough heat to not burn the surfaces. 

Time to cook!

Your dough won't take very long to prove, as there's quite a bit of activity happening in the yeast department. My sourdough is quite active so it only took my dough 45 minutes to double in size. This is the tricky part!

Flour your rolling surface quite thoroughly with both all-purpose wheat flour. Prepare a sheet pan by dusting it with plenty of semolina or cornmeal. Use either a rolling cutter or a large, floured cleaver to gently cut your dough into shapes. As gently as you can, move your cut pieces onto your sheet pan and dust with semolina. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside to rise. I much prefer to cut my muffins into squares instead of circles because I don't waste any dough. This dough is not like biscuit dough where you can rework the scraps. The inner shape of the finished product won't be proper if you reuse uncut dough to rise later, so I think it's much better to simply pull your dough into a large rectangle and cut squares accordingly. I cut 12, but I could have gone as small as 18, as these will puff up to be rather large. 

My cleaver is the workhorse of my kitchen, and it's perfect for cutting dough!

I usually turn my cast iron griddle on to the lowest possible flame and let it all heat for about 15 minutes before I cook, so now is the perfect time to heat your chosen cooking apparatus. I don't let my muffins puff for more than 20 minutes at the absolute most, otherwise, the bubbles risk collapsing when you move the muffins to cook. 

Transfer your muffins with a spatula onto your hot surface and set the timer for 6 minutes. Do not, under any circumstances, touch these muffins until that six-minute timer is up! Your bubbles will rise and form and puff, and the dough will cook on this side. Once your timer is finished, flip the muffins as gently as you can to cook for another six minutes on the other side. If you don't flip it gently, you risk breaking the big bubbles that form the signature nooks and crannies of a proper English Muffin, which is not what you want.

A good cast iron griddle will last you generations. Mine is from Crate and Barrel!

When finished with your total 12 minutes, remove your muffins from the griddle and continue to cook all of your muffins in batches until done. This is a time-consuming process and does require a little bit of extra attention to heat management, but it will well be worth it in the end. 

I love this recipe because it's a quick way to use sourdough without the effort of making a whole loaf of bread. You can use English muffins for sandwich bread for an easy lunch. Best of all, English muffins freeze perfectly when wrapped properly, therefore making it a great project to wrap yourself in for an afternoon. Even The Kitchn agrees that the freezer is your best asset for the year!

I hope you've enjoyed learning all about English Muffins! Did you make them? Tell me in the comments below! I hope you're staying safe and healthy in this trying time. Happy cooking and happy eating!