Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Pairing wine with salt & pepper chicken

Everyone says that pairing wine with Asian food is difficult (seriously, when you say "Asian food" and it includes everything from northern Indian food to sushi... that doesn't really work). We love salt & pepper chicken. But, being a dish that includes copious onions and soy, it's got some challenges when it comes to pairing it with wine.  I've been working on a wine chart for a while, and matching the umami versions of various main ingredients has been interesting. So, we thought we'd try a Greco; herbal, citrus, not heavy, but can have slight hints of umami. Specifically, we tried a 2010 Torre Quarto Hirondelle Greco Puglia.

Greco also is well known for pairing very well with lots of dishes, so it made for a fairly safe choice.  It turned out to be the right one; it had just enough mineral to make it interesting, and enhanced the savory flavors of the chicken, while still providing enough of a contrast.

Bottles are going for about 10 bucks now, so if you want to try something with "asian food" I have to say that Greco might just be a winner.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tacos with Carnitas

One of my favorite meals to make for our family is homemade tacos with carnitas.  I like to make my carnitas by a slow braise.  This allows the pork to get very tender, and it practically melts in your mouth.

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder (or similar cut - not loin or tenderloin. You want tough and fatty. I've used boneless fresh ham too.), cut into 3-inch chunks (if you have something bone-in leave it in one piece, but it will take longer to cook so plan accordingly!)
  • ~1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons frying fat (light olive, peanut... my personal favorite is duck fat because NOM)
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • cinnamon stick (I like ceylon - less spicy/sweet, more citrus-y)
  • 1-2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • ~5 cups water (depends on the size of your cooking vessel)

Heat oven to 350. Coat the hunks of pork with kosher salt - not too thick, just a nice coat (about a tablespoon all together) In a large, cast iron pot on the stove (isn't mine GORGEOUS? THANK YOU HOLLY!) heat your frying fat, and put chunks of pork in. Let them brown on all sides, then add water to about 3/4ths of the way up the chunks. Add all the spices and stir. Pop it in the oven for 3 hours, or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. Take the pot out and shred the pork. There still should be liquid in the pot; return the pot to the oven until most of it has evaporated/absorbed by the meat, and the meat is as dark as you'd like.

I like to serve carnitas with salsa fresca (usually about two large tomatoes with seeds and skin, 1/2 medium onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a mild banana pepper de-seeded, a tablespoon of lime juice and salt to taste) and guacamole for which I freely admit to just using Alton Brown's recipe because it is fantastic. I make homemade corn tortillas (for which the recipe is: masa harina and water; ok, there's no real recipe.) I also like to have rice and grilled corn on the side.

As an aside, sorry I only have pics of the first few steps... I ended up being too involved in the cooking and eating. Trust me, however: you cannot go wrong with this recipe.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail Hour - Ginger Lime Fizz

This one is one of the kids' favorites. For extra fun, serve it in martini glasses.

  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz ginger syrup
  • 3 oz seltzer water (as usual, you can sub ginger ale for the syrup and seltzer)
  • Large cup with ice

Pour lime juice and ginger syrup over ice, add seltzer. Stir very gently and strain into martini glass.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why my food photography looks like... a family dinner.

My chicken makhani, on our normal plates, complete with Subway napkins
and sweaty plastic cup.
There are a ton of food blogs out there with beautiful, mouthwatering pictures of meals, plated perfectly, glistening under really good lighting, on a sparkling surface.

My food pictures tend to look more like what would be served up at someone's house. The plates are serviceable (let us say "durable"), the napkins are mismatched, water has spilled on the table (and sometimes some of the food has too).

The reason for that? I don't cook food to take pictures of it. I cook food for my family to eat. If we get a couple of pictures of it along the way, then great. The fact is, with a family of seven, we rarely have time to worry about how well it is plated, and getting the lighting and angle just right.

And this is all ok. Really, really ok. Because I think that people should see what the food will look like when you really make it. This isn't primped and primed or anything except thrown on a plate. Because 99% of the time, that's how you're going to eat it. So my pictures aren't all beautiful. Heck, I'm happy when they come out in focus. But they are real, and you can know that that's what it really looks like.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Running our house - food and meal planning

I was asked to write a post about how we manage to run our house with all seven people in it. Now, it somewhat depends on the season. During the summer we don't have to worry about school lunch meals (which Joshua faithfully packs every day for the each of the kids, along with making bread daily for their sandwiches).

We rarely buy bread products; we have a bread maker for sandwich bread, things like buns and dinner rolls are easy enough to make by hand, and you really can't compare the flavor of homemade corn tortillas to anything you buy at the store.

The really big secret for us is ingredients.  This is our freezer section (we have another little freezer entirely devoted to rhubarb, mostly for Rhubarb Chicken Risotto, a family favorite).

Last year we got a half steer, two pigs, 10 chickens (beef, pork, and these chickens are all pastured and near-organic; I prefer my farmers to be able to treat their animals when they need it than get something with an organic seal), about 240lbs of chicken breasts, 4-10 ducks, quarters of parmesan wheels. We also get bags of fish (I'm still looking for a good local bulk source of fish, but it's hard), and as you can see, Fla-Vor-Ice.  Because hey, kids!

Then there's the dry goods:

Yeah, we buy in bulk (side note to self: out of sesame oil!). You'll see gallons of olive oil and duck fat, five different kinds of rice in two to five gallon containers (regular long grain white, short grain japanese sushi rice, arborio for risotto, basmati, and brown), five gallon containers of flour (all purpose) and quinoa, one gallon containers of everything from whole wheat flour to mushrooms (shitaake, maitake, porcini, and when we're lucky morels), quarts of nuts, sesame seeds, various herbs and spices, polenta, masa harina, panko crumbs, liters of rice vinegar and soy sauce, and shelf-stable chicken and beef broth concentrate in ~gallon packages (seriously, this stuff is wonderful, best flavor next to homemade -- which I make as much as I can and it isn't enough).

Joshua and Duncan prepare to Farmer's Market!
So from these stocks of ingredients I start making my plans for meals. Next, during the not summer (most of the year) I look through the grocery store circular to see what veggies are on sale/special that week and check To Your Health to see what organic veggies are in stock; during the part of the year when the farmers market is open we go down to one of the local ones and see what's available.  Many times we also end up visiting Sam's Club (sigh, what I wouldn't give for a Costco) to see what they've got veggie-wise too. Here's what we ended up with for this week:

That's 3 red peppers, 3 banana peppers, two avocados, two limes, two lemons, five tomatoes, 10 tomatillos, six sweet bells, two bok choy, a bag of grapes (we usually go through fruit faster than anything; it's one reason multiple trips to the store are needed in a week), a bag of spinach, a bunch of carrots, two bunches of green onions, 13 ears of sweet corn, and multicolor swiss chard.

We have two half gallons of milk, but we'll be getting more milk and some cheese on Tuesday (the day the milk comes to To Your Health).

So here's the dinner meal plan for the week:

Monday: Tacos with Carnitas, salsa fresca and guacamole
Tuesday: Chicken and pork jambalaya
Wednesday: Hamburgers with creamed swiss chard
Thursday: Chili Verde (it's a pork-y week)
Friday: Yakisoba
Saturday: PROFIT!! Oh wait, no. Probably ribs or schwarma or something.

And... that's about it. Total cost per meal is usually around 10 bucks (wine always blows the budget, but it's yummy!)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Brandy Horse Neck

This one is especially for my Wisconsin peeps.

Wisconsin loves brandy.  How much? Korbel, the leading manufacturer, has this to say: "We export 385,000 cases a year, and 139,000 go directly to Wisconsin." We tend to make everything with it; order an old fashioned in Wisconsin and you'll get a brandy old fashioned (with fruit and soda. This is not the current hipster old fashioned.) Order a Manhattan you're likely to get brandy instead of whiskey. (Actually, why has no one made something like a daiquiri with brandy yet?  Get on that, people!)

So allow me to add another drink to your brandy menu, friends: the brandy Horse Neck (can also be made with whiskey, but we are talking Wisconsin.). The name comes from the lemon peel that is supposed to go in the glass, but you should have learned that I just don't do garnish (look, I do this at home. Garnish is optional.)  So just imagine a lemon peel dipping itself into the drink like a horse's head, and you'll get the idea.


  • 2 oz brandy
  • 2 oz ginger syrup (at the bottom of the Shirley Temple recipe)
  • 2-3 dashes bitters (herbal is yummy with the ginger)
  • 6 oz seltzer (or, if you want, replace the ginger syrup and seltzer with ginger ale)
  • Lemon peel for garnish (optional)

Friday, August 22, 2014

I created a steampunk LED Zepplin... lamp (part two)

I finished my steampunk zepplin lamp, finally!  Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pictures of the construction. We finally hung it up in the front hall yesterday.

I used mulberry paper and white glue to paper mache over the frame; I purposely didn't do the most even job in the world (and it tore really easily!)

For the gondola, I cut the keel and back out of beech plywood; the sides are a very thin, paper backed oak veneer. The portholes are curtain grommets with mica pieces for glass. The jets are candlestick tops and a small urn. I connected the bottom "jet" with a piece of old copper tubing I had, then hung the whole thing from the frame.

From there it was a matter of using the plate from the previous fixture to hang it, wiring it up, and turning it on.  Ta-da!

Whadda ya think? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail Hour - Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda

OK, it's no big secret I'm a big fan of cream soda. There are so many interesting non-alcoholic, sparkling beverages out there... like this one, the delightful  Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda.

Now, I'm a sucker for the flavor blue. I know, I know, blue isn't a flavor, but you know what I mean. Ever since I was a kid I thought that blue-raspberry flavored anything was the very best thing (fruit punch a close second). Icee's, gum, freeze pops, blue moon ice cream (what IS that flavor anyway? For those not in WI, blue moon is a flavor of ice cream that cannot be described, only experienced, and apparently only exists in the upper midwest.  YOU ARE MISSING OUT.) Things that are blue, in my mind, taste good.

Which brings me to the amazingly delicious Blumers Blueberry Cream Soda. Made by Minah's Craft Brewery in Monroe, WI, it's a small batch (well, for soda), local product. In flavor, it's got a hint of vanilla, and a lot of blueberries, and... the flavor blue. It isn't too sweet, just right in fact. I don't allow myself to have any in the house because it disappears instantly. If you want possibly the best ice cream float this side of keg-tapped 1919 Root Beer (oh, we'll get there my friends) and vanilla ice cream? Use this and a scoop of blue moon.  I think my tastebuds just exploded.

But seriously, if you live somewhere you can get a hold of Blumers (which again, upper Midwest is probably your best bet), do it. Your tastebuds will thank you, even if your waistline doesn't.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My grandmother's toaster and sustainability

And it's ridiculously cute too.
This is my grandmother's toaster. We use it regularly. It was made in 1937.

Let me repeat that: this toaster, which works really well, was made in 1937.

I've talked before about quality design and manufacturing, and this is another amazing example.  I just can't imagine any small appliance bought today -- heck, almost anything I buy today -- being used nearly 80 years from now. When we have to buy something I've found myself buying either the commercial version (they still make ones to fix, even if I have to save up for them), handmade metal and wooden, or "antique" items. (OK, my parents recently replaced my un-fixable KitchenAid food processor with another, brand-new identical one gotten at an auction, and gave it to us free, so yeah, there's that.) That, or things get refinished and re-purposed, even if they weren't meant to be.

I recently ran across this great article about heirloom design, what it means, and what it will take to return to it. One thing that it does address that I think is incredibly important is the fact that currently people rely on WalMart priced goods because they can't afford anything better at a given time.

Then there's this gem:
"If products were more durable, Cooper argues, some jobs lost due to the decrease in consumption would be offset by the addition of more highly skilled maintenance and repair jobs. And whereas the lost jobs might be overseas, the repair jobs would be local."
Merrill used to have a thriving manufacturing base based on high quality, repairable merchandise (and we used to have more repair shops too). I think of what it could mean for us for this kind of manufacturing to come back, and I get all happy inside.

Now, how can we make it happen?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Cocktail Hour - Martini

A real martini. Not made with flavored vodka, not a swish of vermouth and a glass filled with vodka (as much as I like Bond), and it definitely doesn't have the word "apple" in it. The original martini is now called a "Gin Martini," and at most bars if you order a "Martini" you'll get something closer to a shot and a half of vodka in a pretty glass. The real, original martini was a beautifully balanced, slightly sweet and surprisingly smooth drink.

And it used to be garnished with a cherry.

Anyway, here's a martini as I make 'em; I leave off the garnish (but a twist of lemon or orange would go nicely).

  • 1 1/2 oz Gin
  • 1/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • Dash of bitters (ideally orange, but it's good with herbal too)

Fill shaker with ice, pour in ingredients. Shake (or, for original authentic-ness stir), and strain into martini glass.