Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Cold Brew

I was never one of those people. You know, the ones who NEEDED coffee to wake up in the morning. The ones who can’t function until they get their first sip of java, and if they don’t get any are the most intolerable insufferable human beings who walk the planet. I mean, of course I don’t know anyone like that. I’ve just heard stories. Ahem.

Well, then law school happened. I was pretty good about rationing my caffeine intake until finals. But during finals, all bets were off. I have (not so) fond memories of stopping to get an extra large coffee and bagel for breakfast at the local coffee shop. Lets be honest, sometimes there would also be a second coffee to reheat as well as my lunch and dinner because I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving campus all day. Sometimes we would STILL go out for coffee breaks on top of that. But now that part of my life is over, as is bar exam craziness (don’t even get me started on my caffeine intake then) and I can actually sit and enjoy my coffee instead of using it to function.

Bean and Leaf is a local roaster in New London. Not just any coffee roaster though – they have been named Connecticut’s Best Coffee Bar by Connecticut Magazine. Though I haven’t yet made it to their cafe, Nutmeg State residents are extremely lucky in that B&L will usually come to them – via a local farmer’s market. I first stumbled upon them at my local market (CRFM) but they also happen to stop at the Billings Forge Market in Hartford on Thursdays and stock The Kitchen at Billings Forge with their delicious coffee if you can’t make it to either market.

Now, not everyone has the privilege of having an awesome local coffee roaster. (Shameless plug: B&L will ship it to you through their online store – not my fault if I start your addiction to their Guatemala blend.) You may hit Dunkin’ Donuts every morning to get your caffeine fix – I’m not here to judge. I’ve found, though, that this works best for me, and with some new equipment and a little patience I can really appreciate the effort B&L puts into their product. I can justify the more expensive locally roasted beans, because even though its much more per bag than the cheap stuff, its much less than hitting up Dunkin’ or Starbucks every morning. Plus, with a travel mug, its much more environmentally conscious. (Sidenote: You can even use the spent grounds as a facial scrub or garden fertilizer or as compost amendment!)

So I guess I am now one of those people. I don’t quite need it to function… yet… but I do enjoy a daily cup or two. Recently, I’ve had to change my coffee setup. It seems that I am one of those people who just can’t do hot coffee when the temperature rises above 60°. Its like an internal switch flips and hot coffee becomes absolutely intolerable in the morning. (Does this happen to anyone else?) When the coffee craving strikes, as it inevitably will, I like to keep some on hand for quick satisfaction. This means planning ahead. I bought a french press a year or so ago, and it has been a great investment. A glass one will only set you back about $25. Not only is the hot stuff miles away from drip coffee, but so is the cold brew. It just requires more time than the heated brew.

Basically, grounds + cold water + french press + at least 12 hours = the best iced coffee ever. I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but it really is worth the planning ahead. If you really want to get fancy, you can freeze some of the coffee to use as ice cubes in your brew. It will stay plenty cold and won’t dilute – is there anything worse than watered down coffee? The leftovers stay in a mason jar in the fridge for a day or two until the next craving hits.

Coffee consumption can be a messy subject.

Or, if you’re one of those people like me, you wont need to store your leftovers.

Spice Rack Challenge: Coriander

Again, with the late posting. I swear it’s the weather. We had a beautiful April – sunshiney and warm enough and it opened up all the promises of spring and summer to come. May, however has been anything but. Dreary, cold – I had to bring all of my spring plantings in for an early May frost – and the days of sunshine have been only hours at a time in a week of rain. I know plants like rain, but even they need to dry out at this point. Needless to say, it gets you down.

So, this month’s challenge was coriander. I had some whole coriander leftover from my summer and fall pickling, but to tell you the truth I hadn’t used it since. Some Googling revealed its use in a ton of Indian dishes. Not to mention that ever since Bend It Like Beckham, I’ve wanted to try an aloo gobi. Warm and nourishing vegetarian food – just what you need when the weather gets you down.

Aloo gobi
Adapted from Quick Indian Cooking and Sailu’s Kitchen

One head of cauliflower, broken down into medium florets
Three small potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 half onion, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon dried ginger or one half inch fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red chile flake

Heat a heavy bottom skillet or pan over medium heat. If you have whole spices, it makes a world of difference to toast them and grind them yourself. I use my toaster oven for this, but you could also use a pan on the stove. Heat coriander, cumin, peppercorns and red chile flake until fragrant. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to break down. I really like the mortar and pestle for indian cooking – it both seems therapeutic and the food really responds to coarser spices.

Once the spices are ground, add some olive oil or other neutral oil to your skillet and add the onions, garlic and ginger until the onions cook down a bit. Keep an eye on it, make sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the potatoes and spices next, and make sure everything is coated. Add a half cup of water and cover. Check every 5-10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are almost done (i.e. less than fork tender). At this point add the cauliflower and cover again. Keep an eye on it until the cauliflower and potatoes are done to your liking. I like my cauliflower with a little bit of a bite. Serve with naan for a delicious, warming meal.

Homemade Naan
Adapted from Budget Bytes (Thanks Olivia!)

One packet of dry active yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2.5 – 3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
1 large egg

Proof your yeast with the warm water and sugar in a small bowl for 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, mix the yogurt/sour cream, egg and canola oil together. Once yeast is proofed (you see little bubbles forming) add it to the wet ingredients. Add it to 1 cup of the flour and salt. Mix, then add half a cup of flour in at a time until the dough is no longer wet or shaggy. My dough ended up 2.5 cups of flour.

Roll it out and knead it for a few minutes. I like to knead mine in the same bowl in the beginning until its workable. You will need to use more flour so it does not stick to the counter. Once it is no longer sticky, let it rest in a warm spot for 45 minutes. We turned off our heat in expectation of a warm May and have been too stubborn to turn it back on, so I had to let the bread proof in my oven. I turned the oven to 170° (its lowest setting) then let it drop to 125 or so based on my oven thermometer. I covered the dough with a wet kitchen towel and closed the door. 45 minutes later – perfectly proofed.

Real naan is baked on the side of a tandoori clay oven – until I get one of those in my kitchen my cast iron skillet will have to do. Any heavy bottomed pan will do the trick. Preheat it over medium (no higher) and brush with canola oil. Tear the dough into 7-8 pieces and roll into balls. Roll each one out just before its time to cook. Roll it out quite thin – about 1/4 of an inch. Keep an eye on it, but each bread takes about 2 minutes per side to brown and quickly gets darker after that. Best brushed with a little bit of melted (unsalted) butter, some salt and some fresh chopped parsley.

PS: I’ll have you guys know that I wrote out the entire naan recipe using ‘flower’ instead of flour. Terrible. I blame cauliflower. But really, no excuse.

Spring Garden Update

While I can’t boast about beautiful raised beds or fruiting plants or harvests yet, there has been a lot going on in the Snowflake Kitchen garden.

First off, it wouldn’t be spring in Connecticut without lilacs. They really scream spring has arrived around these parts. They’re also sort of special in our family because my mom adores them. My parents used to have a lilac bush in their yard, but it is no more – I think it was eaten by an errant lawnmower or something. As such, late spring always turns into a hunt to find mom lilacs for Mother’s Day. Its tricky – while they do grow wild, you have to be very, very sure you don’t steal someone’s flowers. Lucky for me, there are some right near our house. So I can give mom her fill of the lilacs for the short while they are here.

Oh – that plant that we couldn’t figure out? Turned out it WAS celadine. And it bloomed last week:

Even though its a weed, its a pretty weed. I might keep it for a little while.

When we last spoke about gardening, I had just started the Daylight Machine. A few tomato seeds germinated … but quite a few didn’t. A combination of under- and over-watering to try to compensate for the dryness. I didn’t even think about it at the time – but we had a dehumidifier running nonstop in the basement. Once that was turned off, we finally figured out a system that works.

One of the few of the first round that made it.

Now it goes something like this: 1) Turn the light on for 18 hours, water from the bottom. 2) Come home, make sure the soil is moist – spray with mister bottle. 3) Just before bed, mist again and cover tomatoes and peppers with humidity dome. 4) Before leaving for work, take off the domes, turn on the light and begin anew. Anyway, the moral of this story is its a good thing seeds are cheap. I only wish I had started a bit earlier.

Luckily, in the midst of my learning experience, I’ve had plenty of garden inspiration to go around. Not everyone is lucky enough to own beautiful tiered property in California, which is exactly why you want to check out the gorgeous shots of Shae’s garden. I adore her citrus trees in wine barrel planters – and she just recently added a limequat to the grove! Not going to happen in Connecticut – but maybe a dwarf (indoor) citrus or two will eventually make its way to our house. A little closer to home, Tigress just shared her new stonefruit orchard. Plums, cherries, apricots, and peaches – oh my! I also cant stop thinking about the aerial view Daphne’s Dandelions gorgeous raised beds. Someday! When we own our own home – hopefully within the next five-ish years or so.

Anyway, back in Connecticut, I seeded another round of peppers and tomatoes, and added onions, cucumbers, zucchini, and basil. Most of them germinated (finally!) and they really started to take off. I spent hours potting up yesterday – I ran out of containers! We’ve saved all of our cans (beans, enchilada sauce, etc.) and small plastic cups (sour cream, yogurt, boyfriend’s chocolate pudding addiction) but it still didnt matter. I have a small amount of basil seedlings still in egg cartons – they will have to wait until we get more containers. The good news is that they’re not ready to go outside yet, because its still fairly chilly at night. In another couple of weeks everything should be ready to be hardened off.

I also did quite a bit of direct seeding outside. Some onion starts joined some swiss chard in a couple barrel planters…

I love the baby chard - more keep popping up in the barrel planters every day.

I also planted spinach in a drawer. That’s right – a drawer. (Nod to Kate’s dresser inspiration). Right next to my beans, which have failed to do much of anything yet.

In defense of the beans, they did get jostled a bit when I had to bring them inside for an early May frost. Next door to them, I planted some greens (mustard and arugula) in repurposed wine crates, a la Life on the Balcony.

Baby greens.

I also direct-seeded my herb garden: chives, dill, thyme, garlic chives and parsley. Also added some rosemary seeds to my existing sprig of rosemary – we’ll see how that fares. Though I hear rosemary is notoriously difficult to grow from seed so I may be buying that at a local nursery. Or trading for it at our first CRFM Swap! (You are going, aren’t you?)

Anyway, while its a lot less fun (I think) Joel and Dana’s parking space garden, its getting there. We’re about to have a straight week of rain – so it was good timing to get the greens outside. I’m itching to get the tomatoes out there, even though its way too cold still. Maybe in a couple of weeks.

What’s going on in your garden?

Cast Iron Trials

An ancient heirloom cast iron skillet is one of those kitchen essentials every cook should have. It’s the ultimate in getting a great crust on foods – from steak to potatoes It works to simply saute vegetables and can’t be beat for going from stovetop to in the oven (except for maybe my beloved Le Creuset Enameled Dutch Oven…) But I digress. I knew I needed one of these, and without a great Southern grandmother to bestow one upon me, I headed to the local church fair in search of one. There I found a great cast iron grill pan for about $3 – who could say no?

Well, maybe I should have. First off, it was rusty. Normally – not a problem with my flea market shopping – a little elbow grease tends to go a long way in that department. I scrubbed it within an inch of its life with a copper scouring pad and gave the whole inside a kosher salt scrub as well. The next step was re-seasoning, but all I had in the house was olive oil, and that would quickly go bad in this application. So I let the pan sit. Naturally, it rusted again. So I scrubbed it again. Thus the never-ending cycle… in my defense I had a few other time commitments (law school) and the pan never seemed to make it to the top of the priority list. I didn’t want to see it go to waste – so it ended up with a new owner via Freecycle.

Still on the hunt for a pan to make the perfect home fries, I went back to the cast iron section at our local restaurant supply store. It was heaven – they came pre-seasoned! And devoid of rust! So I bought one and took it home, only to find out that the pre-seasoning is this sort of gluey icky stuff that was not up my alley at all. So, as is my M.O. with these things, I scrubbed it within an inch of its life. Naturally, it needed re-seasoning. The powers that be on the internets recommended one of two things: either Crisco (vegetable shortening) or bacon grease. While I do have a jar of bacon grease in the fridge for special occasions, I’ll be the first to admit I was sort of grossed out by the idea. What if it went rancid? For that matter – what would keep it from going rancid? Plus, a friend of a friend has a cast iron pan that he insists on never washing (read: cleaning) and the only words I can use to describe it are “wicked gross.” So, I went out to the store and bought a can of Crisco.

It went well at first – I coated the pan, wiped off the excess, baked it for an hour at 200° and left it to cool overnight. The pan looked good initially, but things started to get sticky and it had to be stripped and re-seasoned all the time. In fact, it prevented me from wanting to use the pan at all. I again started looking for alternative seasoning method. Some vegan bloggers recommended alternative vegetable oils like flax or avocado, but frankly I didn’t have it in the budget (poor law student, remember?)

Enter: bacon grease. My thoughts would shift between the image of the aforementioned wicked gross cast iron pan and the fact that it must have worked or Southerners would have abandoned it long ago.

Not 100% yet, but definitely getting there.

You know what? It works. Perfectly. I used the method outlined at An Oregon Cottage:
1. Use a plastic scrubber to remove any stuck bits. Some use coarse salt, but that would be wasting something in my frugal world. *smile*
2. Wash the pan with hot water only (no soap). Yes, it’s OK- it is getting clean, I promise. I use the scrubber side of my sponge and haven’t found that it takes the seasoning off, like some sites warn against. Your call.
3. Dry the pan thoroughly on the stove. Heat it for just a minute or so on medium heat (not high and don’t walk away).
4. Remove the pan from the burner and turn it off. Using a rag (or paper towel) grab a smear of bacon grease and rub it all over the inside of the warm pan.
5. Set back on the burner – turned off, but still warm – and let the pan cool there before putting away.

Cast Iron Tips

  • Do NOT turn the heat any more than medium high/7.5 out of 10 on an electric stove. The cast iron doesn’t need it.
  • Be prepared to adjust to a whole different set of cooking times. This is not a pan to flash cook things – be patient, grasshopper.
  • This should be an obvious one, but remember that the handle gets hot too. Or, like me – you’ll only have to forget this once to NEVER forget it again.

Favorite Cast Iron Uses:
Home Fries. Leave the potatoes in there – i.e. DO NOT STIR OR OTHERWISE MESS AROUND WITH THEM – for at least 10 minutes. They won’t burn, I promise. If you don’t turn up the pan too high, that is.
Cornbread. I am still perfecting my cornbread recipe, but this is one of the easiest things to make that absolutely cries out for a cast iron skillet.
Roasted Veggies. I love roasted green beans or asparagus with garlic and pimentón straight out of the oven – I eat them like candy. Which sometimes results in finger burns. Totally worth it.
Roast Chicken. Cover the pan with your veggies of choice – potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, onions, garlic, carrots etc. Then butterfly/spatchcock (don’t you just love that word?) the chicken on top. Add some olive oil, salt and pepper over everything. Roast accordingly – I usually do 425° for about half an hour and then 350° until the internal temperature reads 165°. Inhale.

I’m still new to the cast iron game and still looking for tried and true recipes. What’s your favorite?

Third Time’s the Charm Yogurt

It seems making yogurt is all the rage these days. I’ve recently come across posts from Tigress, The Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter, Attainable Sustainable, and from Marcus Samuelsson. Yogurt is getting expensive – I believe the quart size Chobani in my local grocery store is now upwards of $7. You can buy cheaper yogurt, but a lot of it has pectin in it to change the texture, which I don’t like. I am a pure Greek yogurt girl – I want my ingredients to say “Milk, Live Active Cultures” and that’s IT. To top it all off, my friend Olivia has been making yogurt for a while, who on the scale of difficult cooking projects called this one “so easy it’s stupid.” So I had to give it a try.

Take One: Well, I’m sure you can figure out how this is going to go purely by the fact that its take one. It didn’t go badly – I just wasn’t satisfied with it. I didn’t start with much milk – in fact I used some lovely Beaver Brook Farm milk leftover from making ice cream. Whole, RAW milk – super rich stuff. I had been buying 2% Chobani. I also tried this in thermoses/travel cups – only about half made it – chalk that up to poor insulation. I probably didn’t care for this small batch because it was so rich. I also had to find a way to up my yield.

Take Two: I went all out on this one. I spent the extra dollar for a half-gallon of Farmer’s Cow 2%. I also bought a Chobani 2% – you have to get the starter cultures from somewhere. Making yogurt is fairly easy from all of the methods above – heat milk to 180° and leave there for a while, depending on how thick you like your yogurt. Then let it cool until it drops below 115° – stir in the cultures and keep it warm for 4-8 hours until it sets. You really do have to babysit it – this is why they have yogurt maker machines that you can buy, but I wasn’t about to spend money on a unitasker. I heated the milk to 180° for 10 minutes, then once it hit 115°. I stirred in the yogurt. While it was cooling, I put 110° water in my crock pot, and turned it on warm to keep it there. I put the yogurt in a metal bowl in the warm water, effectively creating a bain marie. There was only one problem – the warm setting on the crock pot is TOO warm! I had to set an alarm anytime it hit 115° and rush in to put in a couple of ice cubes. Needless to say – the batch did not turn out as yogurt, but more like a ricotta. If you go much over 115°, you kill the cultures – what makes yogurt, yogurt. I am going to try to see if I can salvage it today with some salt and make chicken rollatini and ravioli. But anyway – strike two. I fed the leftover whey to my plants, though – at least they get something good out of it.

Take Three: I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the $7 yogurt in the store, so I knew I had to try it again. Farmers Cow – check. Probe thermometer – check. Olivia offered her method of wrapping the warm milk in towels to keep it warm. I also thought about Sofya’s method of sealing it in the oven overnight, and Kris’ method of using a cooler. But given the past two strikes I wanted to keep an eye on this one, so back to the crock pot. This time, I put 110° water in the crock pot and didn’t turn it on. It gradually cooled – I could monitor the water temperature with a probe thermometer – and when it got below 90°, I added some additional warm water – never going over 110°. It sat for about six hours – and really firmed up. I strained it overnight to get the consistency I wanted. I woke up this morning to the most perfect thick, luscious yogurt. Finally! Breakfast was a small cup with the last bit of a jar of apricot amaretto jam from last summer. Perfection.

Homemade Yogurt
One half gallon of milk – your choice
One small individual serving of yogurt – your favorite

Heat milk slowly to 180° on the stove. I find stirring it often helps avoid forming a skin and also avoids burning the bottom of the milk. Leave it between 180-185° for 10 minutes. Let it slowly cool to 110°. While it cools, prepare your slow cooker with 110° water and a metal or otherwise oven-safe bowl (a bain marie). Once the milk has cooled, mix 1/4 cup of it with the individual yogurt, and then milk into the rest of the warm milk. Pour into metal bowl in slow cooker, put probe thermometer in the water in the slow cooker, and monitor. Do not go above 110°, but do not go too low either. Incubate 4-6 hours, until yogurt has firmed. Drain for thicker greek style yogurt. Use the very last bit of this batch to make your next batch. Never buy store-bought yogurt again!