Category Archives: Recipes

Ginger Blood

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I finally got a juicer! My dad bequeathed to me both a machine, and the “recipe” for his signature breakfast concoction. I use the term recipe lightly– this is my dad we’re talking about. I gathered my intel by following him around the produce section, and listening. “You want a bit of that, but not more than that much, or maybe that’s fine, no, wait–” and “you can use this, but you don’t have to, but if you do, remember to–” and other equally ambiguous instructions. While the proportions may be tricky, the ingredients are simple enough:

  • Greens (kale, spinach, etc)
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Apples
  • Lemon
  • Ginger root

The beauty of a drink like this is that proportions don’t really matter. Make it to your tastes. Two things I’ve slightly altered from the way my dad does it, are using baby salad greens instead of mature kale (way juicier) and to DEFINITELY peel the ginger, lest it wind up gritty.

IMG_20140607_195843I love this drink. It’s fruity, earthy, sweet, and HOT. I love the hotness of the ginger, and the redness of the beets. I’m tired of referring to it as “Larry’s juice thingie”, and a beverage this good deserves a name. I cant think of anything more fitting than Ginger Blood.

On a side note, one awesome thing about juicing is all the vegetable and fruit pulp waste you can collect. I hate letting things go to waste, so luckily my chickens absolutely LOVE it when I throw this stuff out back for them. Happiness all around!

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Also, I went into Houston this weekend and gave my dad the afghan I made. Happy father’s day Dad!

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Ceviche

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I love ceviche. It’s such a unique dish, both to prepare and to eat. It also has a fascinating and multicultural history– showing up in historical records as far as 2,000 years ago and containing influences from Spain to Peru. I highly suggest reading ceviche’s Wikipedia page if that kind of thing interests you.

Ceviche is made by cooking seafood in citrus juice, most commonly lime. The citric acid denatures the protein, turning it opaque without adding any heat. This makes it not only delicious, but very simple to make as well.

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Ingredients

  • Seafood (I use Tilapia fish fillets)
  • Onions (white and red)
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Jalapeños
  • Avocados
  • Lettuce
  • Tortilla chips

Making Ceviche

  1. Chop fish into small pieces. Submerge in a bowl of lime juice and let sit in the refrigerator, anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours or until opaque. You can leave it longer if you like- overnight works.
  2. Once fish is opaque, add chopped onions, cilantro, and jalapenos and mix. Add additional lime juice if necessary. Let sit for at least another half hour.
  3. Strain out excess lime juice. Serve ceviche over a bed of lettuce with sliced avocados and tortilla chips.

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Notes

The best ceviche I ever tasted was in Playa Del Carmen in Quintana Roo, Mexico, with my mother in January of 2011. Fish, shrimp, and octopus ceviche was served up fresh on every corner in this old fishing town. The night we arrived we ate ceviche on the beach, with our toes in the sand, right next to the boat that had caught the catch that morning. Nothing can really compare to that– but if you’re in search of good Ceviche here in Austin, I highly recommend Polvo’s.

Chicken and Kale Fried Rice

My chicken and kale fried rice has won me more fanfare than any dish I’ve ever made up (I’m looking at you, Dad!) I only recently mastered this one, but it’s been a long time in the making. Fried rice is the arguably the first thing I ever tried to make. Try. My technique has come so far since then.

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I never learned to cook until high school, and then my repetoire consisted of just two items: scrambled eggs and spaghetti sauce. Frying eggs and browning meat don’t make for a broad skill set. One day after school I decided to create the closest thing I could to “fried rice”. I steamed a huge bowl of rice in mom’s rice cooker, whipped up a pan of scrambled eggs, and microwaved bag of shelled edamame beans. I stirred them all together in a big bowl and ate it for days. I was so proud of myself.

But it wasn’t exactly fried rice. It was a tasty dish for sure, but miles away from what I wanted to imitate. But now I’ve totally mastered this whole fried rice thing. Like most good cooking, there are no fixed recipes to follow. Its all about the technique and how you put it together. The individual ingredients and their proportions are up to you, so long as you know what you’re doing. If I could go back in time to provide my 18-year-old self with a rough set of guidelines, then this would be it.

I make this particular version with chicken, kale with brown rice– but the things you can use are endless. Any meat or veggies you have around will work. The only thing I add every time is a caramelized sweet onion. I highly recommend it.

How To Make Fried Rice

1. The first step is to undercook some rice. White or brown rice both work; avoid using sticky or sushi rice. Prepare rice by any method, reducing water used. Rice ought to be dry enough to soak up the egg and soy sauce when stir-fried.

2. Prepare all the meat and vegetables. Fully cook and chop meat into small pieces. Lightly steam and chop veggies. Caramelize an onion, if you’re awesome.

3. Pile rice, meat, and veggies into a big bowl and stir. The dish must be fried in small amounts, so expect to make a few batches. Place a wok (or large skillet) on the stove over medium heat.

4. Melt 1/2 tbsp butter in the wok. In a separate bowl, whisk 2 eggs together with a dash of cream. Pour eggs over the melted butter. Scramble the eggs slowly, stopping before they are fully cooked. Add a few cups worth of the rice mix on top of the eggs.

5. Raise heat to high. Top it off with a swig of soy sauce and let it sit for a few moments over the flames while the eggs finish cooking. Then, using a spatula to break up the egg underneath, stir vigorously until everything is well mixed.

6. Remove from heat and pour fried rice into large bowl to cool. I like to make a lot so I can freeze some for later, so it usually takes me multiple batches to finish the job. But it is so worth it… 🙂

Make-Ahead Breakfast Sammies

385484059610543583_30857652Mmm- who doesn’t love a good breakfast sandwich? A buttered, toasted English muffin with egg, cheese, and some type of salty, meaty goodness? When I’m in the mood for a hot and heavy breakfast, this is it. And if you’re going through the trouble to make one or two- you might as well make 6. After all, bread goes bad quickly, and who wants to wash a skillet more than once if they don’t have to? This is also an excellent way for me to use the plethora of fresh eggs piling up on me.

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Marshmallows

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Marshmallows. For some reason, I always assumed they were made out of egg whites. While egg whites are an ingredient in the  recipe I used, they are neither the base of marshmallows nor are they used at all in the commercial variety. After a bit of light research (wikipedia) I learned that there is an actual marshmallow plant that, while not used any more, was the origin of this fluffy confection. The sap was used as a sweetener and a cough medicine as far back as ancient Egypt- imagine that! It was the French who, after the industrial revolution, used machines to whip up gelatin into its modern incarnation we love today. They flavored them not with vanilla but with rose extract. I had been majorly craving rose lately and was about to make Turkish Delights, when the idea came to try a new recipe and make rose flavored ‘mallows instead.

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Easy, Old-Fashioned Cornbread

* With a colorful twist!

Purple Cornbread

A few months ago, by happy accident, I bought a bag of blue corn meal. I never considered such a thing existed, but all those blue chips must be coming from somewhere, eh? I went ahead and baked and while it didn’t make the slightest difference in taste, it did make for some a very pretty lavender-tinted cornbread. The color was only very slight though; the use of blue corn meal wasn’t really obvious enough. I decided that next time I’d add just a touch of purple food coloring to the liquid ingredients before mixing– hey, I love me some purple.

So here’s a very simple, delicious recipe for corn bread– with an (optional) colorful twist.

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All About Yogurt

Yogurt is one of those amazing things I took for granted until I learned how to make it myself. I won’t lie, I’m not a huge fan of milk– I  find the whole idea mildly icky (a subject for another blog post, surely!) So to take something I already find slightly gross, and turn it into something I love by letting it rot— well, that’s just cool.

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After recently learning that a particular brand of “Greek” yogurt I enjoyed obtained its thick consistency through the addition of gelatin, I was ticked. Food labels exaggerate health and nutrition claims left and right– but this was an outright lie about what the product was! Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt; this tedious and time consuming process is costly and reductive in nature, but it results in the thick-and-creamy consistency you expect when you buy Greek-style. To skip that step altogether by simply doubling the amount of artificial emulsifiers is just… not cool. Not to mention that they make up for it in the protein department with evaporated milk powder, and “improve” the flavor with the added-sugar levels of a Gogurt.

After a short consultation with the Google, I learned they were not alone. Cook’s Illustrated has a fantastic review and comparison of the top ten brands of Greek Yogurt available at their website to subscribers. And it’s pretty grim. Some are worse than others, but too few are the real thing. I started to get curious about how yogurt was made in the first place– and why all these brands were having such a hard time pulling it off! This led to a few more rather  enlightening discussions with the Google, and by the time I learned which in-store Greek yogurt brands were legit (Chobani and Fage, if you must know) I was intent on making yogurt myself at home.

I’m really glad I did, too. My favorite kind of dishes to cook are the ones where ingredients are simple and few, and being skilled is a matter of understanding the  science behind the process. Yogurt is the perfect example of this: all you need to make it is a gallon of milk, and a spoonful of yogurt (leftover from last week’s batch, or store-bought). Even with so few ingredients, there are a plethora of different procedures to follow online. There are, after all, just as many different outcomes when one is making yogurt. You can simply choose one that looks or sounds like what you’re going for and hope for the best– and with today’s world of Food Gawker and Pinterest, you probably can’t go wrong. But if you take the time to ask the “why” and learn whats really going on in that petri dish of sour milk, you’ll never need a recipe again.

There are four steps in the yogurt-making process. Though it appears to be, Step 1 is not necessary for any sort of sanitation purposes– more on that later. Finally, step 4 is the process of straining to separating out the whey and make the yogurt “Greek”, or super thick and creamy. This step is also not necessary– just highly recommended 🙂 .

A Breakdown of the Process

  • Step 1: (Optional) Preheat milk to 180 degrees F, just under boiling. Whisk occasionally to prevent a film from forming on top. Remove from heat, cover & let cool.
  • Step 2: Add bacterial culture (yogurt starter powder or spoonful of yogurt) when milk is cooled to at least 115 degrees F. Stir well, cover and leave to ferment for 3-8 hours.
  • Step 3: Test yogurt for consistency. Stir well. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to halt fermentation. If not proceeding with step 4, now is the time to add in any fruit, jelly, or sweeteners you want. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge.
  • Step 4: (Optional) Line a colander with cheese cloth and set inside a large bowl. Pour the yogurt on top and loosely cover with the corners of the cheese cloth. Set to strain in refrigerator until desired consistency is reached: anywhere from one hour to overnight. In a bowl, stir yogurt with any flavor additions or a splash of milk to smooth it out. Transfer to an airtight container in the fridge.

As you can see, this is no recipe. To call it “loose guidelines” even would be pushing it. Instructions such as “leave to ferment for 3 to 8 hours” don’t exactly ring of scientific precision. Bakers particularly, who rely on explicit step-by-steps and careful measurements,  would find these four steps on their own annoyingly vague. There are, however, easy ways to solve for these gaps and arrive at more accurate measurements. Its not a guessing game, or magic: creating yogurt is a science, even if it takes reading essays rather than recipes to truly see that. An understanding of the overall process and all of its variables takes out the guesswork and gives you perfect, homemade yogurt every time, no recipes needed.

The Various Variables

  • Time is (now and forever) your independent variable. If you have found a way to change it, please let me know. But what does that ubiquitous capital T stand for in this particular equation? In transformation of milk to yogurt, time is a stand-in for the rate at which the cultures ferment– that is, the speed at which the various yogurt-specific strains reproduce and metabolize– consuming lactose in the milk and creating lactic acid as a bi-product.
  • Tartness— that sour flavor that makes it yogurt– is a direct result of the lactic acid produced by all those cultures. Yum! The longer it ferments, the more tart it becomes. The best way to discover your own limits with tartness is to test them– duh. Carefully take tiny tastes throughout fermentation. Keep in mind that it takes a long time in the refrigerator to stop the process (and truly, it only slows it down) so the sourness will increase even after you stir and set it to  cool.
  • Texture refers to how thick or thin the yogurt is. The general rule is that the loner it is left to ferment the thicker it will become. This is true, but time is not the sole factor in how thick or runny your yogurt is: the type of milk plays a role as well.
  • Type of Milk used is completely up to you, and only affects the process insofar as mentioned above. The higher the fat percentage, the quicker it thickens and the thicker it gets. If you want to make authentic greek yogurt, you would use goat’s milk cream. So far, I’ve stuck with cow- I have tried skim, 1%, 2%, and whole milk– next on my list to try is half and half! In addition to affecting texture, the type of milk also (of course) impacts the nutritional values of your yogurt. (Soy or almond milk can be used as well!)

A Few Notes

On Preheating in Step 1: All the yogurt recipes I read online included a preheating step before fermentation. I thought nothing of it– until I started to notice recipes without the step listed. It sounded to me like skipping it could be dangerous– or else why bother? It turns out, there’s nothing wrong with skipping this step if you’re already using pasteurized milk. And you are, trust me– unless you are lucky enough to own a cow (or live in a crazy hippie raw-milk commune in Portland) I’m going to assume you bought your milk at the store. It doesn’t matter whether you grabbed a cheap jug from the corner spot or spent $8 on some fancy “organic” stuff that comes in a compostable carton from Whole Foods– if you bought milk in America you bought Pasteurized milk. This means it has already been flash-heated to kill all harmful pathogens that might be present, at a temperature lower than the 180 degrees of preheating. So what does preheating do? It denatures the proteins: basically unfolding them out of their complex, 4-dimensional shapes and into longer more opaque molecules. It’s the same thing that happens when clear liquid egg white hits the pan and turns white. Heating the milk unfolds the proteins, and this in turn creates a thicker yogurt.

On thickening: if you’re going to strain the yogurt in step 4, you don’t have to worry about how thick it gets during the fermentation step. Straining naturally creates a thick texture on its own, so if you want a non-fat Greek yogurt on the less tart side, you can stick with a low, 3-4 hour fermentation period and strain a runny yogurt. But ,if you’re not straining it and you want it thick and tart, go ahead and let it ferment for 7-8!)

On equipment: there are multiple routes to take when making yogurt. Essentially, you want something that will hold a steady temperature above 100 degrees. You don’t have to buy a yogurt maker- although they do come in handy if you make it all the time. All you need is to keep the temperature at 105 and the warm milk undisturbed. But before you reach for your slow cooker, know that that “low” setting is more than hot enough to kill all your cultures. Some of the expensive pressure cookers have digital settings that can handle the lukewarm temps of yogurt fermentation; my own oven, however, won’t even go below 220. Some people still manage to use their ovens; placed in a well insulated dish inside a preheated (but not off) oven is one method. Many wrap their dish in wet towels to increase insulation, others leave the oven’s pilot light on to help keep it warm. Some even ferment their yogurt using what I like to call the “lazy cat’s” method: setting the dish on top of a radiator, television, or other warm whirring mechanical or electronic device. So long as you test your method first– all you need is a thermometer– you’re pretty much without limits here.

On Whey: you’ll be amazed at how much of this clear, yellow liquid strains out of yogurt. Also called “milk serum”, its the same watery stuff you’ll find sitting on top of yogurt in a package. This may or may not sound completely disgusting to you– either way, you might want to consider saving the stuff. There are tons of uses for this “cloudy, yellow liquid left over after milk curdles”. Lovely.