Thursday, January 31, 2013

Down the rabbit hole: Homemade sauerkraut

I've been peeking into the world of lacto-fermented veggies. One day I found myself with an abundance of chopped cabbage and no way to use it anytime soon. Since my brother and sister-in-law make their own, I called for directions.

I started out with about a pound and a half of cabbage. My brother told me to mix it with 2 tbsp sea salt, mix thoroughly and let it sit for about 15 minutes. It took a little longer to juice up, and I had some other things to do, so about half an hour later I dumped the greens and what little juice they'd released into a half gallon jar. I'd been sure to clean it very well, even sprayed it with a little vinegar. The bag that had been holding the cabbage I sprayed well inside and out with vinegar, filled with my clean cooking rocks to weigh the cabbage down, and secured to the top of the jar with a rubber band. This left the cabbage pretty well sealed, but the rocks open to the air.

I was a little concerned because my brother had stressed the importance of making sure the cabbage was covered in its own juices, and there was only a half inch of liquid at the bottom. If I pressed really hard, I could get it to come up halfway, but not all the way. I decided to leave it for an hour and see what happened, but I needn't have worried. When I went back half an hour later, the juice was covering the cabbage just fine, as long as it was weighted down.

My brother said that if pink mold formed I should skim it off and let it keep going, but green/blue/black mold was bad bad bad and needed to toss and start over. And confirmed what I'd heard elsewhere that when it goes bad, you KNOW it. Like, it goes really bad.

I waited the prescribed 7 days and tasted it. It was still pretty crunchy and VERY salty, so I called my brother back for assistance. When he got back to me around the 10-day mark, and I tasted it again to confirm it was still a little crunchy and way too salty, he advised getting more cabbage and adding it to dilute the salt content, and told me a fun little story about staged sauerkraut recipes. Two days later I brought home the cabbage, sliced it, and opened my kraut to find....

My rocks were wet. And STINKY. And I found chunks of green mold in the bag with the rocks. But the kraut itself looked smelled ok... except every time I smelled it my stomach turned and my nose wrinkled involuntarily, even though it was like there was almost no scent. Maybe a little astringent smell. I ran water into the bag to find the leak, and there wasn't one! Still a little weirded out, I asked Mr Moon to smell the contents of the jar. He was immediately repulsed, so we decided to be better safe than sorry and composted the project before either one of us ever thought to take pictures. Go figure.

This cabbage we will probably throw into soup, and start again another time. I'm a little disappointed, as I'd been so excited for our first lacto-fermenting project. And now that I've typed all that out, I can't help but wonder whether part of the issue is that between it being fine and suddenly not, I started a batch of kombucha 4 feet away. I know that my last sourdough starter went way moldy because of being too close to the kombucha, so I'm thinking I may have to segregate my products a little more carefully. It's just that it would be so nice to be able to devote one shelving unit to these kinds of projects!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quick & Dirty: Peeling Ginger & Hard-Boiled Eggs

When I was in culinary school, one of the other students showed the class a trick to peeling ginger without losing any of the flavorful fresh. She used a teaspoon to gently scrape off the papery peel, leaving all of the flesh in tact.

This is the same person who taught me to peel hard-boiled eggs. Crack the shell thoroughly on the counter, peel off the large end where the air bubble is, and stick a teaspoon between the shell and flesh. Move the spoon around the shell, separating the membrane from the egg white, and you may be able to pull the shell off completely, still attached to the membrane. Sometimes you have to break the membrane down the side and peel off in a flatter piece rather than an egg-shaped one, but that's ok. It saves your thumbs from little poke and slices peeling the shell by hand!

Tip: When rotating the egg, lift the lead edge of the spoon into the shell. You may break the membrane early and have to slip the spoon between the shell and egg again to get the rest, but you run less of a risk of breaking the egg white with the spoon and ruining the beauty of your deviled eggs. 

Naturally, these are the kinds of tricks that I've passed on to Mr. Moon to make his life easier in the kitchen. Well just the other day, he managed to find his own little trick. Using a grapefruit spoon (a teaspoon with a serrated tip), he was able to peel the ginger with greater ease and no additional damage to the flesh than using a regular spoon. Since this came on the heels of his realization of how far his knife skills have come in the last 3 years, I can say I've never been prouder of his hard work. But that retrospective is a post for another day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Menu: Jan 27-Feb 3

It feels like spring cleaning around here. This is the weather that I'm used to having after months of bitter cold, snowstorms, and being cooped up inside. The cool yet crisp air beckons me to open the windows and blow the dust out. Even if it is still January. 

My asthma has been acting up in November, and aside from being exhausting, it's really cutting into my ability to do much around the house. I was lying in bed the other day, and realized there was a visible film of dust covering the curtains... the ones right next to my head. As it was midnight, it took every ounce of willpower not to take them down and wash them immediately, but it was the top of my priority list the next morning. 

We discovered when we took down the curtains that the windowsill was covered in mold. Gross. Not worth doing a whole blog entry about, because I sprayed it with vinegar and wiped it down, sprayed it again and let it sit, then wiped it down again. Washed the curtains, having made very sure to not jostle them thereby dislodging the dust while I rolled them up carefully before taking them off the curtain rod. Clean curtains and no mold by my face and suddenly I'm having fewer problems breathing. Magic. 

There is still a lot of dust to manage, and I'm hoping to get before pictures of the bedroom when I take care of it because if I'm going to remove everything to dust it you can be sure I'm going to do the rearranging that needs doing at the same time. 
What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Turkey hash, peppered eggs, smoothies (and waffles for Mr. Moon)

Lunches: Turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese, pasta salad

Sunday: Shrimp tacos [fish]

Monday: Orange rosemary chicken, quinoa, cranberry sauce (saving leftovers for fried rice and curry soup) [bird; freezer]

Tuesday: Salmon burgers (regular burger for me)

Wednesday: Wild rice & mushroom soup [vegetarian; crockpot]

Thursday: On Your Own (Date night for me and Mr. Moon, we're having barbacoa tacos)

Friday: Lentil Soup [vegetarian; crockpot]

Saturday: Hamburger Gravy (using meatloaf from the freezer that Mr. Crankypants refuses to eat as meatloaf) over mashed potatoes (a frozen casserole dish of them that didn't get eaten over vacation) with green beans [freezer]

Sunday: On Your Own 

January Menu ideas--How did we do?

Beef/Pork: Beef & Broccoli stir frycorned beef

Bird: Roast TurkeyTurkey Stew & Dumplings; Chicken Cordon Bleu; Orange Rosemary Chicken; White Bean Chicken Chili

Fish: Pan Fried White; baked casserole with rice; salmon burgers; pesto shrimp Alfredo

Vegetarian: Tortilla soup; Split pea soup; Lasagna; Black Bean Burgers; Spaghetti; Lentil soup; Broccoli macMushroom stroganoff; African peanut soup; french onion soup

OYO ideas for me: Ribs; chicken wings; zucchini meatball sub; barbacoa tacos; chicken alfredo; thai curry chicken; stuffed peppers (with quinoa and barbacoa); gyros (with lots of leftovers for lunches)

February meal ideas:
Beef/Pork: Hamburger gravy (w/ meatloaf meat); enchiladas (w/ meatloaf meat); corned beef soup

Bird: Chicken fried rice; turkey noodle casserole; open-faced turkey sandwiches; Mom's oven-fried chicken; hummus-crusted chicken (or chicken cordon bleu since there is a lot of experimental food here)

Fish: Salmon (scallion & lemon); whitefish (wasabi); krab pasta w/ garlic sauce; whitefish and rice casserole (from last month)

Vegetarian: split pea (from last month); wild rice & mushroom soup; potato leek soup; ravioli w/ peas and alfredo; sloppy joe's; mushroom barley soup; african peanut soup; black bean burgers; mushroom zucchini "lasagna"

OYO ideas: Tortellini w/ pumpkin alfredo; lamb curry stew; chili and hot dogs; portobella & red pepper melts with broccoli pesto; sashimi bowl; thai curry chicken; barbacoa; shrimp tacos

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Menu: January 20-27

Still suffering the after-effects of three weeks of running around, over-medicating on pain killers, and pushing my anxiety to the limits. I'm ever so grateful that Past Me thought to make a monthly menu plan so that our weekly menus haven't been thinking in a vacuum. I'm definitely going to do that again for next month.

What's for Dinner?

Sunday: Stir Fry

Monday: Turkey & Dumplings

Tuesday: Spaghetti for the 'Rents, C-Bar for my birthday

Wednesday: Salmon burgers

Thursday: On Your Own (Birthday party!)

Friday: Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese

Saturday: Pesto Shrimp Alfredo

Sunday: On Your Own

Monthly Menu Ideas:
Beef/Pork: Beef & Broccoli stir fry; corned beef

Bird: Roast Turkey; Turkey Stew & Dumplings; Chicken Cordon Bleu; Orange Rosemary Chicken; White Bean Chicken Chili

Fish: Pan Fried White; baked casserole with rice; salmon burgers; pesto shrimp Alfredo

Vegetarian: Tortilla soup; Split pea soup; Lasagna; Black Bean Burgers; Spaghetti; Lentil soup; Broccoli mac; Mushroom stroganoff; African peanut soup; french onion soup

OYO ideas for me: Ribs; chicken wings; zucchini meatball sub; barbacoa tacos; chicken alfredo; thai curry chicken; stuffed peppers (with quinoa and barbacoa); gyros (with lots of leftovers for lunches)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: Whole wheat soaked grain Muffins (part one)

A couple weeks before Christmas, I tried my hand at baking some whole wheat soaked grain cranberry orange muffins. Not having planned very far ahead, the grains only soaked for a couple hours instead of overnight. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

One of the goals that I made for myself last year was to become better at baking. Of course, I decided to do so by delving into sourdough, which is largely recommended against. I am, you may have noticed, not one to shay away from things just because someone says it's not the easiest way to start. My tenth grade English teacher once told me that I was making a research paper a lot harder on myself than I needed it to be, and pointed out my tendency to do that in a lot of my endeavors. I believe at this point it is simply a personality trait that will at times be a hindrance. But at others it has been the same trait that has propelled me forward into projects that are just a little outside my reach, to take risks even when there was a safer or easier option. Some of those risks were what many would call mistakes, but they were lessons too. Lessons about myself and the world that have since come in handy. And so, there are times that I allow myself to jump into a project with both feet, even when the water is above my head. The fact that I was a swimmer only helps to make this analogy more entertaining to me when I do so.

That's why I found myself one day walking into the kitchen with my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, knowing full well I was going to look up and then completely adulterate their recipe for muffins.

Let's compare. 

BH&G's ingredients for muffins:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil

But I didn't want to use refined flour, I wanted a whole grain. I don't have a sourdough starter right now, but I at least wanted the grains soaked (for better digestion, there's plenty about that elsewhere on the Intertubes if you're interested in the reasoning). I also wanted to substitute a non-refined sugar, like honey or maple syrup, or perhaps an even lower glycemic sweetener substance like agave or stevia. And darn it, I was out of baking powder. But all those substitutions have consequences.

The recipe I created based on their ratios:
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup frozen cranberries

Before I go any further, let's review the changes:

  • AP -> whole wheat
  • Milk -> orange juice, plus an additional 33% liquid because WW flour absorbs more liquid
  • white sugar -> maple syrup, which screws up the wet to dry ratio BUT WW flour absorbs more liquid
  • an additional 50% "baking powder" because whole wheat needs a little extra rising action
  • an additional 1 cup frozen whole cranberries

Then I soaked the flour in the orange juice for a couple hours while we did other kitchen projects. I discovered when I came back to it that my flour mixture had developed a stretchy, stiff texture. Like a sourdough starter. I was afraid already that my muffins weren't going to be crumbly or just too dense, but I soldiered on, mentally prepared for utter failure, and a little excited regardless of the outcome.

I mixed everything together, scooped them into muffin cups, was afraid they were too liquidy, and put them in my 400 degree oven for... well, as long as they were going to take. My recipe said 18-20 minutes, so I started testing them at 18 minutes and probably cooked them an extra ten, but I forgot to keep track. Awesome.

Forgive the blurriness, but this is what greeted me at 20 minutes. Glossy, flat-topped muffins that had overflowed a bit. They didn't rise any further, either. But you know what? They were absolutely DELICIOUS. Just... a little dense (less so than expected), very moist, and they didn't rise. I can't explain why, but it seemed like the bubbles rose up and out instead of having enough substance to rise the flour.

So what did I do wrong?
I have a theory. Basically this theory is that I overcompensated for the substitution of whole wheat flour. The thing is, I forgot that soaking the grains makes the flour react more like white flour, so when I substituted a liquid sugar AND added the extra 1/4 cup of liquid AND the extra 50% of leavening agent, it was too much. When I put the batter in the muffin cups I was afraid it was too loose, but I've never successfully made muffins before so I had no idea what the consistency was supposed to be.

Next time:
If I were to do this again, and I certainly will, this is the recipe I'm using:

1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
* 3/4 cup orange juice
* 1/4 cup maple syrup
* 2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup frozen cranberries

* Dropping the liquid and baking powder back down (and using real baking powder), although I'm keeping the liquid sugar in the form of maple syrup. They were too sweet for my taste so I dropped the syrup from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup, but since I'm substituting a liquid for a dry sugar to begin with, I think the less liquid will be OK.

I also read somewhere that if you drop your oven temp by 25 degrees you get taller muffin tops, but I'm going to try it at 400 again the next time and adjust from there in the future if I still don't like their rising action. And for the sake of comparison, I'll only soak the grains a couple hours again. But in the future, soaking them overnight will need to be tested as well. I'm just not interested in changing TOO many variables at once, especially since I don't consider the first attempt to have been a complete failure. They were edible, and even downright delicious. So I call that a win.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Back to business as usual, and general rumination

Pulled together Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, and a little from my emergency fund to replace my dying (dead) computer. Managed to get it working just long enough to migrate the data to the new one, but it keeps randomly shutting down on me and not wanting to restart. Poor laptop, it served me well.

It seems there are times of the year that incur extra expenses. Winter holidays are notorious for their gift-giving traditions, the new year has incidentals like new planners and the expenses for starting any new habits and hobbies that come with the new year's resolutions. Sometimes it seems like these expenses should even up throughout the year, but they just never seem to. Like car insurance, I find it much easier to break the larger known expenses into smaller amounts that can be saved for throughout the year. Things like planners, though, are small enough they can come out of the "incidentals" fund for just such an occasion.

I like to wait until January to pick up planners because there are usually deals on them by now. I can always scramble through a week or two with a notebook if necessary, but if I can get a planner that goes into January is even better. The office supply stores this year don't seem to be running their usual specials, or I'm too early for them. I couldn't find the inserts for the ring-bound book I picked up on the cheap at Value Village last year (complete with the undated starter set) for $3, at least not quite the right size with quite the right set-up and anything close was $25! I found a wire-bound planner for $4 at Barnes and Noble instead, and saved another 10% with my membership left over from last year's christmas gift. It will do what I need, and though it didn't have all the features I wanted, it does have one nice one: Saturday and Sunday are the same size as the weekdays instead of being half the size like so many planners do. It's the little things in life that make us happy, I guess.

I'm looking at my planner from 2011 and wondering what I can do with the plastic cover and (non-spiral) wire binding. I'd switched back to the ring-bound version in an attempt at reducing waste, but wasted money is just as bad right now. If I can use it as a book of some kind, then I'll keep them together. Otherwise the plastic would be good for stencils of some kind, and of course the paper we can use in fire starters. I save any leftover "notes" pages as scrap paper for phone calls, shopping lists, those sorts of things. But the cover and the wire are posing a problem. I suppose I'll have to scour the internet later for ideas, unless my dear readers have any brilliant suggestions?

Noe that I have my own computer again, I'll have to sit down with the project list and make the new year updates. Mr. Moon and I have been tossing around a few ideas, and I'm pretty excited to get to work on some of them. And to get our "progress report" / "new before" pictures taken of the house, two weeks into the year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Menu: Jan 6-13

Whew! What a whirlwind vacation! After taking a couple days to cycle through the returning jet lag, I found myself refreshed and ready to take life by the... horns. Yes, horns. Right! Looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes. Sadly, my computer immediately decided to be out of commission, which is why the menu is posted late, so while I remedy that situation I'm stuck with Mr. Moon's. Did I mention I'm not good with Windows? Well, suffice it to say, I'm unable to access my pictures for the moment. No picture-heavy posts for a little while. But that's ok! Because our menu plans don't really need pictures.

This week we took a complete inventory of the inside and outside freezers, and reorganized them into some semblance of order. The inside freezer, we removed a lot of stuff we wouldn't be using this week. Our goal is to use the inside freezer for snacks, breakfast and lunch foods, treats (some limited amount anyway) and the foods we have on the menu this week. This way we don't have as many trips back and forth to the outside freezer, and if something doesn't get thawed or I think about it while Mr. Moon is at work when I'm having a bad day, I can deal with it because it's all inside.
What's to eat?

Breakfasts this week are bagels and cream cheese, smoothies, and eggs over polenta (if we ever get around to making the polenta).

Lunches are mostly leftovers, maybe a grilled cheese or two.

Dinners... ahhh, dinners. Not all the meals I'd prepared to be eaten during my vacation were eaten, but about half were. That made Mr. Moon's life a LOT easier while I was gone, and it's definitely how we intend to work in the future if one or both of us is leaving for an extended period of time.

I posted before about doing a monthly menu plan... I just don't think it will work for us. However, that being said, this week we almost exclusively picked meals from that monthly menu I'd already designed. So I'm going to see how this month goes before I write the idea off entirely.

Monday: Mushroom stroganoff over wheat mini shells; cauliflower and cheese was on the menu but the cauliflower was bad. We had game night and a friend brought over Chicago style pizza, too.

Tuesday: Chicken Tacos.

Wednesday: On Your Own for the 'Rents, they're going out to dinner; Date Night for Mr. Moon and me, we are having Greek Dinner. Beef, tzatziki, hummus, tabbouli, fresh veggies, pita bread, and a movie.

Thursday: Pan-Fried parmesan whitefish, wild rice, sauteed cabbage.

Friday: French Onion Soup

Saturday: Lasagna, using up a meatloaf from the vacation prep; Pops doesn't like it as meatloaf, so I'm finding ways to use the meat otherwise, and he requested lasagna with meat in it. Et Voila!

Sunday: On Your Own.
How does that compare with our goals?
Our goals are still a little unclear for the meal planning. Patience is wearing thin on all fronts with the attempts at vegetarian meals. New weekly goals that I think we'll try for a while:
  • Max 1 Red meat meal: Check! Lasagna (which only barely counts! but there is beef in there with the TVP and turkey and veggies).
  • 1-2 Bird meals (2 if no red meat): Check! Chicken Tacos, and lasagna.
  • 1-2 Fish meals: Check! Whitefish and rice.
  • 2-3 Vegetarian meals: Check! Stroganoff and French Onion Soup.
  • 1-2 crockpot/prepped casserole meals: Check! Lasagna is really getting around this week.
  • 2 OYOnights: Check!
  • Date night: Check!
  • Use up/cycle through freezer stock: Check! chicken for tacos, fish, meatloaf and marinara for lasagna
  • Add to freezer stock: Not necessary this week; no space to go around. 
Monthly Menu Ideas:
Beef/Pork: Beef & Broccoli stir fry; corned beef

Bird: Roast Turkey; Turkey Stew & Dumplings; Chicken Cordon Bleu; Orange Rosemary Chicken; White Bean Chicken Chili

Fish: Pan Fried White; baked casserole with rice; salmon burgers; pesto shrimp Alfredo?

Vegetarian: Tortilla soup; Split pea soup; Lasagna; Black Bean Burgers; Spaghetti; Lentil soup; Broccoli mac; Mushroom stroganoff; African peanut soup; french onion soup

OYO ideas for me: Ribs; chicken wings; zucchini meatball sub; barbacoa tacos; chicken alfredo; thai curry chicken; stuffed peppers (with quinoa and barbacoa); gyros (with lots of leftovers for lunches)
Any changes to your menu planning routine, since it's a new year? What's for dinner at your house this week?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goals and Resolutions

Each year I make some sets of goals and resolutions with varying degrees of specificity. It helps that since my birthday is just three weeks after New Year's, these goals come at a time of reflection in a multitude of ways. Of course, I make goals throughout the year as well, and don't feel as if I need to tie myself to New Year's resolutions if I find they're not working for me (especially if I've made them too specific). 

Many New Year's resolutions pertain to bettering one's health and being better people. Always good projects! And having them start at a certain point in the year regularly certainly helps make them measurable, and to remind you to check back with your goals from year to year. The important thing is to forgive yourself for the ones you haven't accomplished; let go of the ones that needed to be changed after you made them; and congratulate yourself for any and all progress you've made on the rest, both those accomplished completely and those you're still working toward.

I think it's also important to challenge one's self with these goals. Those we make throughout the year can often be ones we'd more than likely have accomplished anyway, almost like "to-do list" items than goals that challenge us and force us to WORK toward them. Although sometimes that's just because they're a continuation of goals we made previously and making progress but haven't quite conquered. So I do like that once a year, as the calendar turns, we take a moment to step outside ourselves and assess ways in which we can question our own assumptions, test our own commitment to ourselves, and commit to growing as people. 
My 2013 Resolutions:
I like to make my NY resolutions short, sweet, memorable, and not overwhelming. I've found I do better with more esoteric goals than strictly measurable ones. The measurable goals for the rest of the year are usually based off these resolutions. It's OK if they're subjective, because the measure is in my own commitment, effort, and attention to them, moreso than true success. 

  • Health: Connect my mind, body and spirit together in a more cohesive way. Help all the parts of me work in conjunction for a better, happier Me. Be better at meditation. 
  • Attitude: Keep a positive frame of mind more often, and work with the laws of attraction.
  • Relationships: Be more conscious and mindful of how I speak to people. Spend time with friends regularly, even the ones I can only see online. 
  • Homesteading: Make sourdough foods regularly. Work on finding and creating recipes for our own "convenience" foods. Increase our food growth and storage abilities. Reduce waste further, including space wasted by clutter.
  • Blogging: Be more consistent with blogging posts and projects. Be better at remembering before and after pictures. Work on a multitude of projects at any given time to always have something new and exciting to talk about (with bonus: keeps life interesting). 

What are your resolutions this year?
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