Archive forTutorials

Seasoning cast iron – without lard

As I said before, I am sorry I don’t have more skillets to give away because I wish I could give skillets to everyone who wanted them. As it turns out, Poopiebitch won the drawing for the skillets, and Lisa of Cravin’ Veggies won the bread pan. But as a consolation prize for everyone else, I decided to write up a tutorial on seasoning cast iron. Why? Because cast iron is very cheap and completely awesome and I want those of you who need skillets but are low on funds to consider it.

You can buy new cast iron pots and pans just about anywhere. Fortinbras wanted to pass on a tip for you: he suggests buying them in a camping store, where you can find the same pieces you’ll find in the fancy, expensive cooking stores for much cheaper. I bought a large Martha Stewart raw cast iron skillet at K-Mart for ten or fifteen dollars. “Raw” means the skillet is un-enameled and completely unseasoned. (Martha Stewart also sells reasonably-priced enameled cast iron pots.) Lodge is the most popular modern-day maker of cast iron in the United States and often what you will find in camping stores. Lodge also sells “pre-seasoned” cast iron. I have a pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven. Buying pre-seasoned cast iron saves you the step of cleaning the pot or pan and gives you a head start on seasoning, but it also costs more money and in my opinion isn’t worth it. Lodge pieces are nice as far as modern cast iron goes and the pre-seasoned stuff isn’t bad, it’s just misleading because you still have to season it, and if you’re seasoning anyway, you might as well save your money and do it all yourself.

My favorite way to buy cast iron is to find the vintage stuff. Griswold is the most collectible and therefore the most expensive. Griswold stopped producing cast iron in 1957, so any Griswold pan is at least that old. My large skillet is a Griswold No. 9 from the 1930s. I LOVE it. Remember my omelette from a few nights ago?

The only oil I used in that pan is a very light spritzing of olive oil from my mister and that omelette didn’t stick one bit. People aren’t lying when they say properly seasoned cast iron is “practically non-stick”. I lucked out when I found that skillet; I think I only paid $50 or $60 for it and it barely needed to be cleaned; I just seasoned with one coat of shortening and began using it heavily and it’s now perfect. Griswold pans often go for more than a hundred dollars. But the point of this tutorial is helping you find cheap pans. So forget Griswold, unless you find it in a thrift store or yard sale where the owner doesn’t know what they are giving away (and in that case, grab it). There are reasons the quality of a Griswold pan is higher than others, but those reasons are very negligible.

The reason to buy vintage over modern is nearly all cast iron made before the 1950s is alleged to be of a higher quality than what they sell today. The main reason is the surface of modern cast iron is not entirely smooth; it is slightly bumpy. Run your fingers over the surface of a Lodge piece and you’ll see what I mean. The surface of my Griswold, on the other hand, is very smooth – often referred to as “glass-like”. The other reason to buy vintage is I just like old stuff. I prefer owning stuff that has a history. But that’s just me. If it’s easier for you or cheaper for you or if you simply prefer to find modern cast iron, go for it. You won’t have to work as hard to clean it at any rate. If you do buy vintage, don’t worry about superficial rust. In fact, you can often find amazing deals on rusty cast iron because the seller doesn’t realize how easy it is to remove and clean. The only thing you need to worry about when buying old cast iron is cracks or warping. The piece should sit level, and also not be cracked. Cracked cast iron pretty much can’t be repaired, at least not cost-effectively.

When I gave away my Calphalon skillets, the only real sacrifice I was making was the small skillet, which I sometimes used for toasting seeds and the like. I wanted to keep the set together, though, and also welcomed the opportunity to buy a small cast iron skillet. So yesterday I went to my favorite antique mall, where I got the Griswold, and found two No. 3 skillets. I couldn’t decide which I wanted. One was a Wagner, which is another really good brand, but it was rusty, and one was unmarked with a logo, but because it has what’s called a heat ring, is probably the older piece, and was also in slightly better condition. As they were only $7 each, I just got them both!

Now I’m going to show you how to clean and season these pans, but I want to make it known that I am NOT an expert at this. I’ve seasoned my cast iron wok, and I lightly re-seasoned my Griswold skillet, and I continued-seasoning my pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven, and I didn’t run into any problems with any of them, so I think my method works, but I don’t have years of experience or anything.

A lot of people recommend seasoning cast iron with bacon fat or lard. And I have no doubt they are both excellent ways to season, and definitely the most time-honored. This would be how all vintage cast iron was originally seasoned. But obviously I don’t use animal products so neither is an option for me. Also, don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to not use animal fats because many people recommend using things like palm oil. If you research cast iron seasoning on the internet, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting advice. People advising vegetable oil; people saying vegetable oil makes cast iron sticky. People saying use 250 degree Fahrenheit ovens; people saying use 550 degrees – and anything in between. I’m not a scientist so I can’t tell you scientifically which methods are best. What you essentially want to do is oil the cast iron and then heat it up hot enough and long enough that the oil carbonizes, permanently adhering to the iron and creating the “non-stick” patina. I have found that using Earth Balance shortening and a 500-degree oven has worked perfectly. If you can’t get or don’t want to use Earth Balance, I would try palm oil, which the primary oil in EB shortening. You can pretty much season with any oil, but your results may be different than mine.

If you have a brand new or a dirty old pan (the non-pre-seasoned new ones come with a waxy covering that needs to be removed), you need to scrub them completely clean. The very fortunate of you who can find a vintage piece that is clean and has a nice, smooth surface, as I was when I found my Griswold, can skip this step. You can use a steel wool pad to remove the rust:

Just start scrubbing away!

I got rid of most of the rust in just a few minutes:

But then I scrubbed some more:

I got off all of the rust – that’s the most important thing – but I didn’t remove all of the old seasoning. I could have, and I’d have ended up with a smoother surface, but I was tired of scrubbing, and eventually after use, the seasoning will even out.

Next, get your oven ready. Place one rack in the upper half of the oven, with the second rack immediately below it. Place a large cookie sheet or piece of foil on the lower rack. This will catch any dripping oil. Heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Yes, my oven needs to be cleaned.)

Heat the pan over medium-low heat and place a small pat of shortening (or a small amount, depending on the pan size, of oil) in it:

Allow it to melt as the pan gets warm. When it’s completely melted, take a paper towel and completely rub all surfaces of the pan, coating them in a THIN layer of oil. I didn’t bother with the handles of my vintage pieces, so I could grip them with my oven mitts (they were seasoned already anyway), but all other surfaces, including the bottom, should be covered:

Place the pan(s) in the oven, upside down, directly over the baking sheet/foil. It doesn’t matter if the oven is not entirely pre-heated yet.

Close the oven door, and optionally open any nearby windows. It may get a little smoky, in fact, you want a bit of smoke; it means the process is proceeding properly. It may also smell a little funky.

Let the pan bake for about an hour, then remove it and let it cool on top the stove for about 10 minutes. It should look darker than it did when you began, though it may still be gray:

Repeat the process, beginning at melting the small pat of shortening in the warm pans …

… and smearing on all surfaces. Note that after use, the paper towel is essentially still white. If after wiping with the shortening, the paper towel becomes dirty, one of two things probably went wrong: 1) you didn’t thoroughly clean the piece or 2) you didn’t bake it hot or long enough.

Repeat the oiling / baking process three or four times, depending on how much time you have and how thoroughly it was originally seasoned. As I said, I only baked my Griswold once, but I did these skillets three times. Here’s the end result:

When they are thoroughly seasoned, they will be completely black and their surface should be relatively smooth. You don’t have to complete all of your baking cycles in one day, though I find it relaxing to dedicate an afternoon to it; it gives me an excuse not to leave the house and I just spent the whole day reading and drinking tea.

It’s best to cook something pretty greasy the first few times you use the pan, I’m told, to help break it in and finish curing it. I sauteed some shallots in each of mine for dinner tonight and they performed marvelously. This post is getting long, so I’ll save cooking in cast iron, and taking care of cast iron, for one or two later posts if you guys are interested. I really do recommend that those of you who feel you can’t afford nice cookware consider cast iron. It’s one of the few instances in life where the best quality you can buy is some of the cheapest! It just takes a little start-up effort and a little consideration when cleaning, but the rewards are huge. Most non-stick cookware is pretty much disposable. It doesn’t last long, can’t be heated very hot, requires special utensils, often contains a known carcinogen, and has to be thrown out the moment the surface is scratched. Invest in cast iron and you’ll have an heirloom you can hand down to generation after generation of your children, and actually contains nutrients instead of carcinogens! That’s right – cooking in cast iron imparts nutritional iron – which vegans can be low on – to your food! It’s practically impossible to destroy cast iron: no matter what you do to it, the worst case scenario is you have to repeat this tutorial. Furthermore, after a few months of use, my cast iron skillet is more non-stick than the one Calphalon non-stick pan I have (most of mine are not non-stick because I don’t like or trust it)!

That wraps up the tutorial, but here are a couple of related photos for you. First, I mentioned I spent the day reading and drinking tea. I make most of my tea in a cast iron tea pot! (Man, I love cast iron!) Here’s my tetsubin, which I got in San Francisco’s Japantown, with one of the Chinese tea cups my mom gave me:

Next up is a pic that might make a lot of other cast iron aficionados shudder. I mentioned above I once bought a Martha Stewart brand cast iron skillet for next to nothing, despite the fact I said I prefer to use old items. The reason I bought this one new was it was cheap and I wasn’t planning to season it or cook in it. It lives in my oven as a steam pan for bread baking. I wanted cast iron because although it will rust, it will not warp, and it stays hot, producing the amount of steam I want. Here is what happens when you allow cast iron to remain in contact with water!

As bad as that pan looks, though, if I wanted to, I could clean it up with no problem.

I’ve mentioned before that I essentially have just one baking rack in my oven, because I keep a huge stone and the afore-pictured steam pan in there. I removed the stone today for my seasoning:

All that stuff is just baked on; the black splotches are pizza sauce. The stone is actually becoming seasoned itself this way. The only maintenance it requires is brushing crumbs out. If you are at all into making pizza or hearth breads, FibraMent baking stones are expensive but worth the investment. Yesterday I baked these two sourdough loaves at the same time on one baking stone:

Alright, more cast iron information coming up if there is interest, and I’ve got to get around to making dinner – using those skillets – now!

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How to Make Soy Milk (again!) and Soy Yogurt

I’ve recently gotten back into making yogurt. See, a year or so ago I mentioned I wanted to start making yogurt and my aunt gave me her old yogurt maker. And for a while there I was making a batch every week. But I kind of got out of it because it was sort of annoying to make. I’d used Bryanna’s method and Susan from Fat-Free Vegan’s method, and while both of them made consistently successful batches of yogurt, the adding of thickeners bothered me for some reason. It seemed like the whole process was a lot harder than it needed to be. Not that either method was difficult (they are very similar), and not that I’m one to shy away from difficult tasks in the kitchen, but when making staples on a weekly basis, I like the process to be as quick and easy as possible.

It was Wild Fermentation that changed everything. Sandor Katz claimed making soy yogurt was no different than making dairy yogurt (which I’ve never done but which looks very easy and never calls for thickeners), and he shared what I have found is the secret: adding less pre-made yogurt to the warm milk. And nothing else! He himself had read in another source that yogurt cultures don’t like to be “crowded” and that less is therefore more. All of the other recipes I’ve found for making soy yogurt call for 1/4 to an entire cup of existing yogurt to be mixed into a quart of soy milk. Sandor Katz called for just one tablespoon. And it works! No need for thickeners or fuss. It’s so easy I’m back to making it all the time.

Soy Yogurt

1 quart soymilk, preferably freshly homemade
1 Tbsp soy yogurt, with live cultures (can be from your previous homemade batch)

I’ve already explained how to make soy milk, but I figured I’d document it again for this tutorial. But if you already know how to make your own soy milk or if you want to use commercial soy milk, just skip down to the “*******” below.

To make about a quart of soy milk, soak 4 ounces of dried soy beans over night (I use 4 handfuls, which is actually a bit more than 4 ounces). It’s not necessary, but I put the dry soybeans in the blender and pulse a few time to break them up. Then I add water to the blender and swirl it around, causing the hulls from the beans to float up to the top, which I then pour off. I repeat this a few times, then I top it off with water and soak the beans right in the blender.

The next morning (or 8 hours later), set a scant 4 cups of water over medium heat in a medium large pot.

Meanwhile, drain the soaked soybeans, then put in the blender (if they aren’t already there) with fresh water to cover by 1/2 to 1 inch or so. Blend very thoroughly.

Pour the blended soybeans into the water and stir. Heat over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the soymilk as it has a tendency to rise up and boil over very quickly.

If the soymilk gets very foamy on top, you can skim the foam off.

Meanwhile, set up your strainer. I use a 4-cup measuring cup (although I should really use a larger one, and I’ll show you why in a moment), a strainer, and a piece of cheesecloth. Set the strainer in the measuring cup and line with the cheesecloth.

When the soymilk is ready, pour it into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.

Now, usually I’m doing this with two hands and as the soy milk filters down into the measuring cup, I lift the strainer out of it to make room for the milk. I didn’t take into account that this time I’d be taking photographs and not have two hands, so I didn’t lift the strainer and the soy milk overflowed. Oops! If I were any smarter than I am, I’d be using a bigger receptacle in the first place, but I like using something that has a spout and that’s what I have.

I sort of close the cheesecloth up into a sack and bounce it up and down on the strainer, settling the bean pulp – or okara – and pushing most of the soy milk out. I don’t worry too much about squeezing all of the liquid out because I’m trying to keep this process as fast as possible, but you can get really into it and mash it with a potato masher if you’d like.

Here’s the okara. You can save it for another purpose, although if you’ve been a reader for a while you’ll know that I have issues cooking with okara so I’m not going to think any less of you if you throw it away or compost it.

The worst part about making soy milk, by the way, is cleaning up the pot. It requires a lot of scrubbing.

You now have soy milk. If that’s all you’re here for, you’re dismissed. You can add a sweetener if you’d like. Frankly, I don’t bother any more. I used to add agave nectar or maple syrup or even a bit of sugar, but the only things I use soy milk for are the occasional loaf of bread (I use water more often, however) and putting on breakfast cereal and most cereals are already too sweet as it is.

Back to the yogurt.

******* If you are using pre-made soy milk instead of making it now, gently warm it – in a saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave – until just before boiling: about 180 to 190 degrees. Then follow the instructions below.

If you have one, stick a thermometer in the soy milk. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You want the soy milk to cool to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This took about 45 minutes for me (though you can speed it up by putting it in the refrigerator or in a cold water bath). If you don’t have a thermometer, just stick your finger in it. If you can leave your finger in without burning it, it’s cooled sufficiently.

While the soy milk is cooling, sanitize and prepare the container(s) in which you’ll be making the yogurt. You can do this by running them through the dishwasher, or you can either submerge them in boiling water for a few minutes, or do as I did and rinse them out with boiling water.

If you are using a yogurt maker, plug it in and set the sanitized container(s) inside. The warmth will help any water clinging to them evaporate and it’s helpful for the containers to come up to temperature before adding the yogurt.

If you don’t have a yogurt maker, there are many incubation ideas floating around the internet. What I’d probably try first is the oven, using either the pilot light of a gas oven or the light bulb of an electric oven. I’ve never used this technique so I’m not going to discuss it, but you’ll find plenty of ideas if you google it.

When the soy milk is cool enough, whisk in 1 tablespoon of pre-made soy yogurt. If using store-bought, make sure it contains live cultures; it will say so on the container (Whole Soy does). You can also use a tablespoon of your previous batch of homemade yogurt. I’ve read that after six rounds of using your own yogurt, you should make your 7th batch using store-bought again to refreshen the culture, but I haven’t really tested this out because I haven’t managed to make yogurt for 7 consecutive weeks and have had to buy new yogurt before that anyway. When you buy the commercial yogurt, you should make sure it’s plain flavored, although since you’re using so little, I imagine you can get away with a flavored variety if that’s all you can find. I’d probably use vanilla if I couldn’t find plain.

If the soy milk gets foamy or bubbly when you whisk it, you can skim the bubbles off to prevent your yogurt from containing bubbles.

Pour the soy milk/yogurt mixture into your prepared containers.

Incubate. I’ve seen it said both that soy yogurt takes less time and more time to set than dairy yogurt. Having never made dairy yogurt, I can’t tell you which is correct. But I did notice that since using this thickener-less method, my yogurt’s actually been setting in less time than it did before: in as little as 4 hours. This picture was taken after 6 hours. It may have been ready in 4 hours, but Brachtune and I sort of ended up taking a little nap and I didn’t check it.

I happened to be flipping through The New Farm cookbook yesterday for an unrelated reason and came across their yogurt making section. Their method is similar to this except they call for more pre-made yogurt. But they did include a little trick for telling if your yogurt is done. If, when tilted to the side, the yogurt comes cleanly from the side of the container, it’s ready. It’s probably hard to see here, but that’s exactly what my yogurt is doing.

Refrigerate for about 3-4 hours, during which time the yogurt will further firm up, before eating.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy yogurt is mixed with granola, sliced bananas and other fruit, and drizzled with agave nectar.

I know this has been very long, but if you’ve made it this far, I shall reward you with pictures of Brachtune being beautiful.

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Chinese New Year

By now most of you have probably heard about Monday being the Chinese New Year, this year being the year of the ox. I wanted to celebrate but had something to do Monday night so I had to postpone my celebration. Yesterday may have been ideal for implementing my celebratory plans, as the weather was all sorts of snowy and icy and I worked from home, meaning I should have had plenty of time to make dinner, however, I wasn’t hungry at dinner time because I ate lunch too late. So tonight it is Chinese New Year at Mark and Renae’s! The holiday is traditionally celebrated over 15 days anyway, so I don’t feel too bad about being a couple of days late.

I just wanted something light for dinner tonight so this is not an elaborate feast, but I did do something special and that is I made pot sticker wrappers from scratch for the first time. I usually buy pre-made wrappers from Super H, and frankly, although they consist of no more than flour and water, making my own never even occurred to me. I’m not really good with things that need to be rolled out evenly. It seemed like an unfathomable amount of work. As I mentioned earlier, though, the weather is being stupid here and I didn’t have any wrappers in the house. And I’d seen Jes’s pot stickers on Cupcake Punk the other day, which inspired me. So, home early tonight, I embarked on my first pot sticker wrapper journey. The journey wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!

These recipes were adapted from Bryanna Clark Grogan’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine.

Pot Stickers

1 1/2 cups vegan ground beef substitute, either a commercial product (which I used because I had leftovers) or TVP reconstituted in water or vegan “beef” stock
1 carrot, minced
1 parsnip, minced – this is a weird addition and very optional; I only included it because I have parsnips I have to use up
1/2 onion, minced – I’d have used a bunch of scallions instead of the onion if I’d had any
2″ piece of ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp soy sauce

I used a chopper to mince the veggies:

Mix with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.

Next up, the wrappers! Feel free to buy them pre-made, though. I won’t think any less of you! (Do check that they are vegan, I’ve seen egg in them on rare occasion.)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp very hot water

Mix the flour and water together, either with a wooden spoon (or your hands) in a bowl, or in a food processer.

If using a food processor to knead, pulse for about 30 seconds. If kneading by hand, knead for about 5 minutes.

Roll dough out into a long “rope”.

Cut off a piece about 1″ long and flatten a bit. As you are working, keep the unused dough covered with a wet tea towel to prevent it from drying out.

Using a rolling pin, roll the lump of dough out into a thin circle about 3 1/2″ in diameter.

I rolled out about 5 wrappers, then filled and sealed them, then rolled out 5 more wrappers, etc. For sealing the filled wrappers, you have two choices: you can either use a pot sticker press or you can pleat them by hand. Until tonight, I have always used a press because I figured it was really hard to do by hand. I was wrong; it’s really pretty simple and nearly as fast as using the press once you do it once or twice. I had to do about half of my dumplings by hand tonight whether I wanted to or not because my wrappers were too small for the press. In either case, have a small bowl of water handy.

To use the press, lay the wrapper on the open press:

Place a scant tablespoon of the filling in the center:

Dip a finger in the bowl of water and rub it along the outer edge of half of the dumpling. Then close the press and squeeze lightly.

Open the press and remove the dumpling.

To pleat by hand, place a wrapper in your palm and then place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center.

Lightly wet half of the outer edge with your finger as described above, then fold the dumpling in half, squeezing the edges together to seal.

Starting on one side of the folded dumpling, make a pleat like this:

Continue pleating the entire semi-circle:

Here is a dumpling made using a press (on the left) next to one hand-pleated (on the right):

Continue until either all the dough or all the filling is gone – hopefully they are about even – placing the filled dumplings on a cookie sheet and covering with a towel so they don’t dry out.

To pan fry, heat a large skillet until hot. Add a tablespoon of oil (I used peanut oil with a bit of sesame oil mixed in, as Bryanna suggested) and tilt the skillet until it is coated evenly. Place as many dumplings as you can fit into the skillet without overlapping, pleated side up.

After two minutes, pour 1/3 cup water into the pan and immediately cover.

Cook until water is evaporated (about 5 minutes). Remove lid and if necessary, continue cooking until bottoms are brown and crispy:

The dumplings will have puffed up a bit.

To freeze leftover (un-fried) dumplings, place the dumplings in a single layer on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn.

When they are frozen, remove from the cookie sheet and place in a freezer bag. Cook them exactly as you would fresh dumplings: no need to thaw.

Serve pan-fried dumplings with a dipping sauce. I usually just throw together a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, shaoxing wine (substitute dry sherry), vinegar, hot chili oil, and garlic. Your dipping sauce could be as simple as soy sauce and vinegar or soy sauce and sesame oil.

Although I wasn’t hungry for an elaborate meal, eating nothing but pot stickers for dinner seemed a little wrong, so I also threw together a very fast soup. I just flipped through the same cookbook to find a soup that was very quick to make and called for only ingredients I had on hand. This one fit the bill perfectly (though I had to use frozen instead of fresh spinach).

Tofu and Spinach Soup

2 1/2 cups vegan broth or stock, any flavor
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1 ounce bean thread noodles
1/2 cup tofu, cubed
1 1/2 Tbsp shaoxing wine
1 Tbsp soy sauce
Sichuan pepper, to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients into a small pot. Season with sichuan pepper if you’d like.

Cook for 5 minutes. Eat.

And that was my little Chinese New Year celebration! Happy Year of the Ox everyone!

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I decided to take my love of fermenting things to a new level and make miso. Because I’m insane. Really, though, it’s pretty easy if you can find koji, which is rice that has been steamed and mixed with a certain kind of mold spore. The hardest part about it is you have to wait up to a year to eat it. This will be by far the longest I’ve ever fermented anything.

You can make your own koji if you can get the mold spores. I have some and I’ll probably try it at some point, but I decided to use pre-made koji the first time around. As with most of the cultures I use, I purchased it from GEM Cultures.

The next thing I needed was a crock to make the miso in. The directions that came with my koji instructed me to use a 1 1/2 quart straight-sided crock. All I really have are jars, so I had to find something else with a mouth as wide as the sides. Off to the thrift store with me, again! I found this crock, which was perfect:

Then I was on my way to making miso!


2 cups dried soybeans
1 cup soybean cooking water
1/2 cup sea salt
2 1/2 cups koji (available from GEM Cultures)
1 Tbsp unpasteurized miso (If you can’t find this in stores, GEM Cultures sells it. You can also omit it if you have to, but apparently it really helps your miso along.)

Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. The next day, boil them for 4 to 5 hours or until quite soft, being sure to add water as necessary.

When the soybeans are done …

… drain them, reserving the cooking liquid.

Add one cup of the soybean cooking liquid to the soybeans and mash. I used a blender but I think potato mashers are pretty common.

Here are the mashed soybeans in a bowl.

Add the salt …

… and stir it in thoroughly.

When the soybeans are cool enough to touch, add the koji and the unpasteurized “seed” miso. If you’ve made miso before, you probably didn’t pasteurize it, so you can use it as the seed miso. I ordered some from GEM Cultures in lieu of searching for it in stores because most of the writing on the miso I buy is in Japanese.

Stir very thoroughly again.

Next prepare your crock. I got the idea to rub the sides down with salt from Wild Fermentation, which I read about on Cyn’s blog and realized I needed to own. So what I did was bring water to a boil in the kettle, pour it into the crock to sanitize it, then pour it out without drying. Then I set it on its side and sprinkled the sides with salt while rolling it. It wasn’t the most even of jobs, but I figured it was better than nothing (which is what the other instructions I had indicated for the sides of the crock).

Press the miso firmly into the crock, making sure there are no air bubbles. My knuckles got tired so I used a potato masher for a bit.

Tigger then appeared on the scene to investigate.

Smooth and level the miso.

Sprinkle the top fairly generously with salt. You’ll be removing this layer before eating so don’t worry about it being too salty. Particularly concentrate the salt around the edges.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the miso and up the sides of the crock.

Find a plate that fits just inside the crock. This plate is particularly appropriate for this application because not only does it fit the crock perfectly, but I acquired it from a Japanese restaurant.

Place a heavy weight (at least a pound) on the plate. I forgot to go out rock-hunting today so I used my small molcajete. (I’ll probably go find a rock and retrieve my molcajete!)

Cover the crock, with a lid if it has one, or with a heavy piece of fabric tightly tied around the top.

Label the crock! This seems like a step I’d skip, convinced I would magically remember the date, and then later kick myself about for being so stupid.

Place somewhere out of the way. Here it sits next to my fancy new sauerkraut crock (that I got for Christmas), in which is brewing a new batch of sauerkraut, in a spare bedroom that is inexplicably but handily very cold.

Soon I’ll have a whole row of crocks with things bubbling inside them. I am the mad fermenter!

Check back in 6 months when I try it the first time, and then in a year when it’s fully matured!

Update, July 26, 2009: See results of the six-month check-in.

By the way, Tigger says hi.

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Skincare Products

I make most of my own skincare products, out of food-quality ingredients – well, out of food, really! Which makes this post somewhat food related! I needed to mix up fresh batches of a few items today so I figured I’d share my “recipes” with you.


I put it in quotes because it’s not technically a lotion, but I use it all over my body as a lotion alternative after stepping out of the shower. I make this one differently in the winter than in the summer because it’s mostly just coconut oil, which solidifies at around 70 degrees or cooler. So during the winter months, I add some almond oil to keep it soft. During the summer, it stays soft on its own.

Coconut and almond oils are both very inexpensive in Indian and Asian grocery stores.

coconut oil
almond oil (during cooler months)
vitamin E (optional)
essential oils or other fragrance

If your coconut oil is at all solid, use a spoon to scoop out some into a glass jar.

Then microwave it for about 20-25 seconds to liquefy (or use a hot water bath).

If using, add some almond oil (I use about 2 Tbsp for the size jar shown) and vitamin E. Also add some fragrance if you’d like. Sometimes I use sandalwood, but today I wanted to smell like the baby Jesus, so I used frankincense and myrrh.

Stir. I like to use a tiny whisk, which I bought at an Asian grocery store and which Fortinbras is always trying to steal.

Depending on the ambient temperature, it will take a day or two for the oil to solidify again. It will turn whiter and look more like coconut oil again when that happens.

To use, simply emulsify in your palms (if necessary; generally it’s not) and apply to your entire body.

Sugar Scrub

sugar (white or brown is okay)
sweet almond oil
fragrance (optional)

Fill a glass jar nearly to the top with sugar.

Add just enough sweet almond oil to saturate it. Add fragrance if desired. I use bergamot for a citrus-but-a-little-different scent.

Use a chopstick to encourage the oils to completely saturate the sugar.

To use, simply scoop a little bit into your hand and apply to your face, scrub, and rinse off. I use it maybe once a week or so.


Instead of expensive moisturizers, I just use oil. I use jojoba because it is the closest to human skin oil. I mix in a tiny bit of tea tree oil because it is antiseptic, it’s good for your skin, and because I like the smell (not everyone does, however). It is drying, so I don’t use much.

jojoba oil
tea tree oil

Mix a few drops of tea tree oil into the jojoba. Place in a pump-type container.

To use, pump out just a FEW drops and apply to your face. A little goes a long way.


Instead of soap, I use the oil cleansing method. I won’t give you a recipe because everyone finds different combinations of oils that work for them. (I use half caster oil and half sweet almond.) I store it in a pump like this:

I’m not going to say that using oils instead of soap and moisturizers will solve any skincare woes, however, I will tell you that I developed rosacea about five years ago. My face was a total mess and I went to a dermatologist who prescribed about four different medicines, none of which worked and one of which reacted weirdly with alcohol and gave me bright (and burning) pink rings about my eyes whenever I had a glass of wine. Needless to say, that didn’t last long with me. I stopped using all medicines and switched from cleansing with soap to oil, and I haven’t experienced a trace of the rosacea since. I must stress that part of me believes this is just a coincidence! Although I do believe oils are better for your skin, I do not believe they work miracles!

Also, I have naturally oily skin. You may be adverse to slathering yourself with oils if you share this characteristic with me, but actually it’s good for this skin type. When you wash with something drying, your oil glands react by generating a lot of oil to counter the dryness. If you instead apply oils, your glands don’t end up overreacting. Just use them sparingly. A little really does go a long way.

Hair Gel

aloe vera
rosemary essential oil (optional)
peppermint essential oil (optional)

In a measuring cup, stir together equal parts water and aloe vera, as well as a few drops of the essential oil(s) if using.

Decant into a spray bottle.

I use this both to encourage my natural waves to come out with scrunching, or to smooth fly-away and otherwise misbehaving hairs.

Hair Oil

I use this occasionally to combat dryness.

coconut oil
neem oil (available at Indian groceries) (optional)
rosemary oil (optional)

Place the coconut oil and neem oil in a small glass jar.

Warm in a microwave (or hot water bath) until stir-able, then add rosemary oil if using, and stir.

Allow to solidify again. To use, emulsify between your palms and apply to your hair, concentrating on the ends. Comb through if you can. Leave on for a few hours, then shampoo out thoroughly.

And that’s about it for skincare products for me! They’re cheap, they’re edible, and they work great! And if you use them you can be as beautiful as me!

Since I was playing with oils, I filled these pretty little perfume bottles I scored at the thrift store for $2 yesterday, with various scents I like to wear, including amber and sandalwood. Aren’t they cute?

Finally, Mark said I should show you this item I made for him. I told him it wasn’t food and he said I’ve posted crafts before, which is true. Not only that, but this entire post has not been about food, so it’s the perfect opportunity to show off my (lack of) sewing skills. The story behind this item is: one day a few years ago, Mark, who in the winter perpetually has cold feet, complained to me, “They need to invent a blanket for feet”. I immediately responded, “They did: they are called socks. Try them.” Although I like to kid Mark about this, I later decided I was going to get into quilting and decided that my first project would be a “blanket for feet” for Mark.

Now, I have explained here that I am REALLY bad at sewing. I have NO idea why I thought I was going to “get into” quilting. It was a huge mistake. It caused me a lot of headaches. I later decided it was among my dumber ideas. Not before I DID manage to make a quilt top of sorts for Mark, though. It was simple: merely squares of different plaid flannels, but I did sew it together. When it came time to actually quilt it, though, I realized that either my sewing machine or I personally – or likely both of us – are not made for quilting. I shoved the flannel, the batting, and the fleece I’d gotten for the quilt bottom into a closet and promptly forgot about them.

Last weekend I got around to cleaning out that closet (I’m in an organizing frenzy around here lately!) and found the quilt parts. It’s freezing here. Mark’s feet are cold. Heck, MY feet are cold. I decided to assemble the blanket without actually quilting it. So I just sewed the batting to the flannel, then sewed the flannel to the fleece.

Then I added a pocket on the underside at one end.

Mark can slip his feet into the pocket and voila! – a blanket for feet!

Although it wasn’t quilted and the three layers therefore aren’t sewn together (other than at the seams), it is actually extremely soft and comfortable. And warm! I might have to steal it from Mark!

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Quick and Easy Ginger Ale

I hope everyone has had a great holiday season, regardless of the holiday you choose to celebrate. Myself, I have been sick since Christmas evening, when the “too much sugar” diagnosis I gave myself in the car on the way home from the parental homestead turned out to be wrong, or more likely, not the full story, and now I have a full-blown something-or-other that is not going away. I haven’t been sick in years, so I was a little surprised by this. For nearly a week, I’ve been lying around the house doing nothing but reading. Fortunately, my aunt gave me a bunch of books for Christmas that have kept me busy, including two cookbooks (Vegan Planet, which I feel like I should have had for years and Real Food Daily), although it has been frustrating to lack the energy or the appetite to make any of the 40 or so things I’ve marked in both of the cookbooks. (I have managed to make the mac and cheese and the veggie quinoa soup from RFD, both of which were good; Mark really liked the mac and cheese.)

One of the few times I crave soda is when I am sick. I usually like either water or wine with my meals, and water throughout the day. Most soda disgusts me. I used to like Coke as much as the next person, but now I really only like ginger ale (and birch beer, which is very hard to find for some reason). And it has to be real ginger ale, with actual ginger in it. And it can’t be overly sweet. Mark got me this Grown-Up Soda ginger ale, which I like, to help me feel better, and that was great while the 4-pack lasted. But since I was feeling well enough yesterday to finally make it to the grocery store and pick up some seltzer water, I decided I’d make my own ginger ale, which I like even better, today.

I’ve been making this for a while and I think it is the perfect soda. Others seem to like it as well, although it’s definitely tailored to my tastes and is not nearly as sweet as people may be expecting when I offer them a “soda”. But this is only a basic formula: you can certainly add more sweetener if you prefer. The only downside to it, that I can see, is that currently I still have to buy seltzer in bottles because the antique seltzer bottle I found still doesn’t work, even after I got the missing part. I think I need to replace a gasket or something. It’s on my list of things to do. I once tried carbonating on my own with yeast and that was…bad. So bottled seltzer it is for now.

I’ve made the vanilla optional because you should only use it if you have access to Trader Joe’s brand vanilla, which is alcohol-free. You may be able to substitute vanilla paste or whole vanilla beans, although I don’t know the quantities you’d use for either. What you don’t want to do is use an alcohol-based vanilla extract. I tried it once and it was NASTY, and it wasn’t because I have anything against alcohol, because trust me, I don’t.

Quick and Easy Ginger Ale

3 cups water
1 piece of fresh ginger, about 4.5 – 5 ounces
1 cup agave nectar
2 1/2 Tbsp non-alcohol based vanilla flavoring (such as Trader Joe’s) (optional)

Roughly chop the ginger. You don’t have to peel it.

Place in a pot with the water. Begin heating over medium-high heat.

Measure the agave nectar …

… and add to the pot, as well as the vanilla flavoring if using.

Bring to a fairly rapid boil.

Reduce heat somewhat so the boiling doesn’t get out of control and let cook at a steady simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until reduced by about one third.

Get a strainer and a receptacle ready …

… and strain the contents of the pot into the receptacle.

Don’t throw away the leftover ginger; you can use it again – more on that in a bit.

You should have about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of ginger syrup.

Transfer to a refrigerator-friendly container. I don’t like plastic, but it’s all I had and was the perfect size…

Store the syrup in the refrigerator until you are ready to make a glass of ginger ale. To prepare a glass of ginger ale, place some ice cubes in a glass. I used a lot here because the syrup was still warm.

Add 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the ginger syrup.

Top off with seltzer water.


Garnish with a lime round if you’d like. I only had lemons. Limes are much more picturesque.

And enjoy! As for the leftover ginger pieces, as I mentioned you can re-use them. What I will do with them today is make ginger tea, which I like all of the time, but particularly when I’m not feeling well. I’ll just simmer the ginger pieces in about a cup and a half of water, with some agave nectar to taste, for about 15 minutes, then strain and drink as a tea, perhaps with some lemon.

Mark and I have a long-standing tradition in which one of us is always sick on New Year’s Eve. In our early years together, it was always me, because my body would revolt at the end of a semester of working full-time, going to school nearly full-time, and commuting a few hours a day. Once I graduated, I never got sick again (until now), so in the following years it was Mark’s turn to end up sick for New Year’s for one reason or another. This year, I guess because I’ve been thinking about, and preparing for, going back to school, the illness pendulum has swung back towards me. I bought a bottle of champagne in case I made a miraculous recovery today, but since Mark doesn’t like champagne and I’ve been too sick to make plans with anyone else to share it with and I don’t think people who desperately want to stop being sick should necessarily drink an entire bottle of champagne by themselves, it looks like I may be having ginger ale at midnight. It’s better than water anyway!

And on that note, I’d like to wish everyone a very merry new year! I have some plans for revamping this site in the new year – at a minimum finding or creating a theme that displays all the tags I’ve been meticulously applying to each post and which you can’t see. I hope 2009 finds you all happy and well-fed!

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Homemade Sauerkraut

I’ve been wanting to make my own sauerkraut for quite some time now. It’s the perfect project for me: I love fermenting things, I love sauerkraut, Mark loves sauerkraut…really the question is why I haven’t been making sauerkraut for years. The following procedure makes about a gallon of sauerkraut and costs next to nothing.

How to Make Sauerkraut

2 heads of green cabbage, about 5 pounds total
kosher or other non-iodized salt

Can’t get simpler than that, no? You’ll also need a large (at least a gallon) jar or jug, which you’ll probably want to sanitize by running through the dishwasher just prior to using, or filling with boiling water for a few minutes.

Take each head of cabbage, wash it, and remove any yukky outer leaves.

Cut each cabbage into quarters.

Cut the core out of each quarter.

Grate each quarter. I found that a mandoline vastly expedited the grating process. Some of you may have grandparents with “kraut cutters”. It seems like a very grandparent thing to have. These are large mandoline-like apparatuses for grating cabbage for sauerkraut. Or you could try the far more modern approach of a food processor; I don’t have one so I can’t tell you how well they may grate cabbage.

Here is my grated cabbage:

You want to add non-iodized salt at the rate of 2% of the total cabbage weight. I was feeling rather metric the night I was making my sauerkraut – maybe I was feeling German – so you can see that I’ve measured 22 grams for half of my my 2,200 grams of cabbage (I only had a mixing bowl large enough to measure one head of the cabbage at a time). 2,200 grams of cabbage is just about 5 pounds for you Americans, and 22 grams of salt is about 3/4 of an ounce (so you’ll need 1.5 ounces of salt total). A lot of recipes I’ve seen online have called for between 2 and 4 Tbsp of salt for 5 pounds of cabbage, if you don’t have a scale. I’m so used to bread baking that I felt more comfortable weighing it. Salt is one of those things that varies drastically in weight from type to type and brand to brand.

Now in your clean jug or jar, add a layer of cabbage, then sprinkle some of the salt on it:

Continue adding layers in this manner:

Periodically tamp the cabbage down with a potato masher or similar implement.

You really want to press hard on the cabbage to it becomes quite compact …

… and begins to exude water:

Continue adding layers and periodically tamping until the cabbage and salt are all gone. Ideally you want the cabbage to be covered in its exuded water at the top. Place a plastic bag or other piece of plastic into the jar, entirely covering the cabbage (if you are using a wide-mouthed jug, you can use a plate or something instead). Then place a weight on top of the plastic. It’s not obvious from the photo, but on top of the plastic bag, there is a smaller, water-filled jar acting as my weight.

Place in a cool place for 3 weeks, checking periodically for any white scum that may form on the top and removing it if you see it. Apparently the white scum is harmless (just gross) and extremely common, however, I never saw any on my cabbage. I had made sure the cabbage was submerged in water and then completely covered by the plastic.

After three weeks, taste it. If it taste good and sour, it’s done. If not, let it sit a few more days and taste it again.

Here’s what it looked like when I opened it up:

Now a bonus recipe. This is how my mom prepares sauerkraut for holidays: To one pound of sauerkraut, add celery seed, butter, salt & pepper, and 2 slices of bacon cut into small pieces; cook for at least 30 minutes. I threw a very small dish of this together for tasting tonight, using Earth Balance and some vegan “bacon” bits (and microwaving for one minute).

Honestly, though, I didn’t like the bacon bits at all. Maybe it’s simply been too long since I’ve had it that way: at least 20 years now. And I don’t see any need for the Earth Balance. So I think I’ll just stick to the celery seed and salt & pepper. I also want to play around with other additions to the sauerkraut, both during the fermentation and afterwards. Stay tuned!

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and now for something completely different

This is a different sort of tutorial. It’s not food-related, but as most vegans seem to be at least somewhat concerned about the environment and our human impact upon it, I figured I’d push my pro-handkerchief, anti-tissue agenda on you. I must confess that although Mark is in general very supportive of everything I do, he hates this aspect of me. He finds it disgusting and unsanitary, although I put forth the notion that it is actually more sanitary to use handkerchiefs than tissues. For example, most people sneeze into their hands rather than hunt around for and then “waste” a tissue to sneeze into. But then they end up wiping their hands on their pants or something. And a lot of tissues are so thin I’m sure they’re not really protecting you or the rest of the world from all your germs. Anyway, handkerchiefs are softer, sturdier, cheaper, and all-around just better. They are also hard to find these days, so I just make my own. Here’s how:

Snot Rags

flannel – This can be purchased from a sale bin at the fabric store or scavenged from worn-out pajamas. “Gen-Xers” can use also use their old flannel shirts from the ’90s, but don’t tell Mark because he’s planning to single-handedly bring back grunge.

First, cut the flannel into handkerchief shapes. I find a rotary cutter makes this job particularly easy, but just use regular shears if you don’t have one.

I made 8″ squares, but you can adjust this to whatever surface area you feel you may need to contain your snot. I didn’t even bother making sure the squares were perfectly straight because, jeez, I’m just going to be blowing my nose on it.

Choose the zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine.

Line up one of the flannel squares under the presser foot so that as it zig-zags, the needle will go from piercing the fabric on the left to just hitting the right edge of the fabric:

Continue zig-zagging all four edges.

Repeat for each of your flannel squares.

Trim the dangling threads from each.

Now just keep one in your pocket or purse, use when necessary, and toss in with your laundry to clean!

And I’ll be back with a food post hopefully later this weekend. I’ve been in the kitchen for a few hours today but haven’t managed to make anything that qualifies for the blog. Mark and I drove up to Pangea today and purchased a ton of Cheezly, then Mark requested I try a deep-dish pizza (as opposed to the Neopolitan and New York-style crusts I usually make), so I’m about to stick that in the oven, but it’s pretty experimental. We’ll see how that goes.

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I had a specific request for a bagel tutorial, from Fortinbras for his mother. So here you go! This is from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I really must insist you buy.

Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels


1 tsp (0.11 oz) instant yeast
4 cups (18 oz) high-gluten or bread flour
2 1/2 cups (20 oz) water, at room temperature


1/2 tsp (0.055 oz) instant yeast
3 3/4 cups (17 oz) high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 tsp (0.7 oz) salt
2 tsp (0.33 oz) malt powder OR 1 Tbsp (0.5 oz) dark or light malt syrup, agave nectar or brown sugar

To Finish

1 Tbsp baking soda
cornmeal or semolina for dusting
toppings (optional)

To make the sponge, add all of the ingredients to a large bowl, or the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, and stir until combined.

Cover and let sit for two hours or until it has risen to twice its size and is very bubbly.

To make the dough, add the yeast to the sponge and stir.

Add the salt, malt powder or sweetener, and 3 cups of the flour, and mix until it forms a ball. Slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup flour. Bagel dough is pretty stiff and especially if you are making a full recipe, you may find this easier to do in an electric mixer. However, my Kitchen Aid can’t handle kneading a full batch, so what I do is after adding the initial 3 cups of flour, I put bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and add the remaining flour as it mixes at speed one. It can handle this initial mixing phase. Once all of the dough is incorporated and the mixture is an admittedly somewhat shaggy ball …

… I remove it and cut it in half.

Then I use the dough hook to knead each half on speed 2 for about 6 minutes. When both halves are kneaded, I combine them on my workspace and hand knead to combine them for about a minute. If you are not using a mixer, hand knead the entire dough for at least 10 minutes.

Scale the dough into 4.5 ounce pieces for standard-sized bagels or smaller for mini bagels.

If you are into baking at all, a kitchen scale is really indispensable – and you really should use the measurements by weight above, not by volume – but if you don’t have a scale yet, try to divide the dough as evenly as possible so the bagels bake evenly later. I was so proud of myself yesterday because for the first time, I ended up with 12 bagels that each weighed exactly 4.5 ounces! Usually the 12th or 13th bagel is a little runt. This time it was perfect! Here are my 12 4.5 ounce dough pieces:

Round each dough piece. To do this, cup one of your hands around it and with the other, spin it around, forming a tight ball. I’m not very good at explaining this, which is why you should buy The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and learn from the master.

Cover the balls with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Prepare two half-sheet pans by lining with parchment and misting lightly with spray oil. (Don’t omit the misting: I forgot to do so yesterday and my bagels were stuck the parchment this morning and I therefore ended up with a few misshapen bagels after prying them off.) Use your thumb to poke a hole in one of the rounds.

Gently use your thumbs to embiggen (what? it’s a perfectly cromulent word!) the hole to a diameter of about 2 1/2 inches, while keeping the the dough as even as possible on all sides. This one isn’t exactly a great example; try to do better.

Place each shaped bagel on one of the pans; you can fit 6 on each half-sheet pan

We have a small dorm-sized refrigerator in our basement, originally purchased as back-up beer storage for parties, but I’ve commandeered it as a proofing fridge during non-party times. I can’t fit half-sheet pans in it, so I use quarter sheet pans. I don’t know what I’d do without my proofing fridge, although I wish it were full-size!

Wrap the pans tightly in plastic wrap. I don’t like using all this plastic wrap and I’m trying to think of alternative but haven’t come up with much yet. The issue is you don’t want any air getting to the bagels.

Let the bagels sit out for 20 minutes, then retard in the refrigerator overnight.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot – the widest you have – of water to a boil, then add the baking soda.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator …

… and add only as many as you comfortably can to the pot of water. Don’t allow them to touch, and realize they will embiggen somewhat in the water. Boil for one minute …

… then flip over and boil for another minute. Peter says you can boil for as long as two minutes on each side if you like chewy bagels and although I do like chewy bagels, I have found that one minute per side works best for me.

Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the sheet pan, which you have sprinkled lightly with cornmeal or semolina. Immediately after placing on the pan, sprinkle with your desired toppings. I almost always make “everything” bagels, a mixture of sesame, poppy, caraway, and dill seeds and salt.

Bake for 5 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, then rotate the pan 180 degrees, reduce heat to 450 degrees, and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until light brown. If you are baking on two shelves, switch the pans as well when you rotate them; I bake one pan at a time because I’ve found they come out more evenly that way.

Let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

I forgot to take a picture of one when I served them, so admire this second cooling shot in lieu of the usual “plated” photo, or see my earlier Entertaining the Vegetable-Hating Aussie post, which has a shot of a bagel in Tofutti and jalapeno jelly topped action.

In Tigger news, I stopped by Petco today to get some kitty litter and looked at the kitty toys while I was there. Tigger’s favorite color is red, so I always look for red toys for him. He goes bonkers for red toys. They happened to have cute little red cherry and strawberry catnip toys, so I got him a couple. I thought the packaging was funny:

Cat Toy…For Cats!

Tigger loved them. He loved them before I even removed the cardboard.

I love that cats always rub their heads on things they like. (Tigger often rubs his head on me, which is how I know he loves me.)

Silly kitty.

Of course, he even rubbed his head on the empty cardboard, so I don’t know why I bother seeking out particular toys for him.

Ah, we’ll be hearing the thunder of cat paws running up and down the hallway later tonight…

Until he at long last captures his prey.

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Homemade Pasta

Although in many ways I am a sucker for the latest kitchen gadgets and there are some modern appliances I couldn’t do without, the love I have for vintage items often flows into the kitchen and I periodically find myself in antique stores gawking at old Pyrex. You may have noticed vintage Pyrex and Fire King items in my photos. I was in one of my favorite local antique stores on Saturday when I came across some interesting – and inexpensive – utensils that I decided to snatch up. The first one I realized I needed was some sort of rolling pasta cutter:

I have the Kitchen Aid pasta roller and cutter attachments for my mixer, which, the former at least, I actually use on a fairly regular basis, but this little number intrigued me anyway because I’ve never seen one, and I do occasionally cut pasta by hand.

Then I decided to buy a few of its matching buddies:

The item on the right is a crimper. The one on the left is a batter beater, and the one in the middle is, of course, a potato masher. I have a modern potato masher, but I’ve never liked it. It’s Teflon or some sort of nonsense. I mostly use it for smooshing the okara bag when I make soy milk and it feels extremely dissatisfying. On the rare opportunities I’ve used it for mashed potatoes (I usually use the potato ricer for that), it just gets a lot of gunk in it that’s not easy to get out. I used the “new” masher to make soy milk last night and it felt MUCH nicer. This is a nice, quality potato masher and that’s why I love old stuff and distrust most new stuff.

So anyway, despite the fact that I’m pretty tired and also embarrassingly sore after an unexpectedly long and somewhat terrifying hike on Sunday, I was so excited to try out my new pasta cutter toy that I decided to make homemade pasta for dinner. It’s really not that hard or time consuming. I just used a recipe in Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, so the pasta part of this is not my own recipe. As for The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, honestly, after buying this book I don’t think I like Peter Berley much as a person. There are a few comments in the book I found off-putting. I sort of pre-judged him based on his photo on the back cover, which I realize is a horrible thing to do, but I thought he looked a little mean and arrogant. But I reprimanded myself for being judgmental and went into the book with great hopes. And in fact, I’ve really liked nearly everything I’ve made from this book, however, as I said, Berley makes a few comments, some about veganism and some just in general, that made me dislike him. And sort of glad I bought the book used. But I am glad I bought the book because it contains some good ideas. When I first made the following recipe for chickpea flour pasta it was the first time my homemade pasta didn’t come out as overly mushy as my previous attempts had been. One nice thing I can say about Berley is he’s very much into interacting with his food, by which I mean he doesn’t employ many gadgets because he feels they remove you from the tactile experience of touching the food. That’s a concept I like, although I’m actually somewhat addicted to certain appliances, including my mixer for kneading dough. But the good news is I’m actually giving you a recipe that doesn’t require any special accoutrements!

Chickpea Flour Pasta
From Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

3/4 cup chickpea flour
1 1/4 cup unbleached white all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons Rosemary-Garlic oil (recipe follows) (Renae’s note: or substitute olive oil)
semolina flour for dusting

In a bowl, mix the flours and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the water and oil.

(It looks a bit like the egg you’d likely be using for non-vegan pasta, eh?)

With a wooden spoon or dough whisk, stir to bring ingredients together.

It’s easiest to finish mixing it with your hands. All you want to do is make sure the flour is almost completely hydrated. Some dry parts are okay. You can add a tiny amount of water at a time if it is so dry you can’t get it to form a rough ball, but it should be pretty dry:

Cover and let it sit for 5 minutes. Berley then advises 10 minutes vigorous kneading by hand, but I stick it in my mixer with the dough hook for 6 minutes instead. It will become much smoother and somewhat softer (although not as soft as most bread doughs).

Stick it in a plastic Ziploc-type bag and let it rest for 30 minutes. (I usually try to come up with alternatives when recipes direct me to use plastic, but I didn’t want it to dry out and I re-use Ziploc bags, so this wasn’t wasteful. You could also toss it in a container in which is just fits.)

After resting, the dough will be much more pliable. I’m not sure if you can really see a difference in the photos, but it’s even a bit glossier:

Divide it into two equal parts and roll each half out to a thickness of 1/16″ inch (1 or 2 mm):

I’m not that handy with a rolling pin, if you want to know the truth, so half the time I just run it through my pasta roller on the first setting. But I wanted to leave it low-tech in keeping with my vintage cutting tool.

Let the rolled-out pieces sit, without covering, for 5 to 7 minutes to dry out a little. (In the meantime, I chopped up some broccoli and tossed it with some pressed garlic, sea salt, and olive oil, baked it in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes then tossed with freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest.)

Berley’s next instruction is to sprinkle each piece of dough with semolina, roll it up into a “loose cylinder”, then cut the cylinder crosswise into 1/4″ wide strips. Then unfurl the cylinder and separate the noodles. I, of course, instead just rolled my new toy down each piece:

I found it easier to sprinkle some semolina onto my workspace under the dough as well as on top of the dough, as well. You want to use plenty of semolina so it doesn’t stick.

Here are my nice uniform noodles:

Cook in boiling water until done. Berley recommends 3-4 minutes, however, I have found that one minute is sufficient. I’m paranoid about my homemade pasta being mushy because it’s ended up that way too many times. Then drain and if you like, toss with a small amount of Berley’s Rosemary-Garlic oil.

Rosemary-Garlic Oil
from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 small springs fresh rosemary

In saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil, garlic, and rosemary and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to as low as possible and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the garlic turns light gold. Do not let the garlic brown or the oil will turn bitter. Strain the oil into a clean glass jar and let cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Note: the garlic bread I made when I burned a baguette was made using a paste made from these rosemary-y garlic cloves: so don’t throw them away, smear them on something and eat them!

What to do with your homemade pasta? Anything you’d like, but here’s what I did tonight.

Renae’s Pasta Dish

This is my go-to dish when it’s late and I need to make a quick dinner for guests (although Mark and I eat it a lot on our own, too). It’s very easy and I always have the ingredients, but it tastes a bit more elegant than some of the stuff I make for just the two of us when I don’t feel like cooking.

I don’t measure anything, and I switch up the ingredients to match items I may have on hand. But at it’s most basic it looks like this:

1 shallot or 1/2 onion, diced
many cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2-4 Tbsp capers: these are a must as Mark never fails to announce, “I don’t know what those tiny little green things are but they are awesome!”, to which I respond, “They are capers and you just like them because they are salty.” and then he says, proudly, “Yup!”
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes: I usually use the kind not packed in oil because I use enough oil in frying the onions
chopped olives, if you have good ones on hand. I often don’t (and Mark and I are in disagreement about which are better, black or green olives), but when I do, I throw them in. Although I like cheap canned olives for some purposes, this dish is not one of them. It’s good olives or none.
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (the can in the picture is bigger than what I usually use and I only used half of it)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
flaked sea salt, to taste (watch it if you use a lot of other salty things)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp red chili pepper flakes (or to taste)
pinch of oregano
2 cubes frozen basil, or fresh basil (as much as you can get your hands on)

In a wok or large pan heat some olive oil, then add the onions and fry for 5 minutes or until beginning to turn brown:

Add the garlic and capers and fry for 2 minutes:

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and olives if using and fry for another 2 minutes:

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until tomatoes are beginning to break down:

Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and chili flakes. If using fresh basil, add just a minute before serving.

Toss in the cooked pasta. This can be the homemade pasta above, or for quick meals, any dried pasta shape you like.

The final meal:

Didn’t take nearly as long as you’d think considering the pasta was homemade. Tigger sat on the chair next to me while I ate:

… until he climbed up on the table and tried to knock over the vase of roses that Mark gave me yesterday (for no reason, isn’t he great?!) in order to get the water out. He was successful at this maneuver last night but I was too fast for him tonight. To retaliate for unfairly preventing him from messing up my roses and drinking day-old dirty rose water, he licked my pasta:

I can’t win with him. But I DO win at the antique and thrift stores where I am always making fabulous finds. I also scored a Secret Hearts Ken for my friend’s birthday. Now, THAT was a true thrifting success story. You freeze heart-shaped ice cubes (ice cube tray included!) and then rub them on Ken’s cummerbund “and other parts” and secret, magic hearts appear. How awesome is that?

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