Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meals for the Week - February 27th

I'm back with our menu for the week on this late Tuesday. We made a big (expensive) run to our far away Trader Joe's last night so are stocked to the brim with yummies. I found some interesting faux meat items such as corn dogs and orange 'chick'n'. We'll see how those go. We got this delicious quatro fromage cheese to go on pizza which was the best part of the pizza last night.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vanilla progres

I'm back with more honest boozy fun. That is my homemade vanilla extract project. Part one and two spelled out the details of where I am now.

So far the bottle of vodka/vanilla extract has been sitting in a dark cool cabinet for the last 3 or so weeks. I've been giving it a shake every few days to rile things up. I've been giving it a sniff too; and each time it smells less like cheap vodka and more like real vanilla extract. Progress.

Looking good huh? Nice and getting even more brown. Those beans are releasing their flavor crystals to turn plain vodka into a specialty baking ingredient. Now... onto those flavor crystals. I did my share of research on this DIY project on fellow bloggers sites but I don't remember specifically seeing anything on little bits floating around. Is this normal. Eaks. Gads say it is.

See all the vanilla bean bits that have settled on the bottom? They're the bean innards which are the tiny vanilla specks you see in ice cream. They were released since I sliced open each vanilla bean so this flavor could be used. What this suppose to happen? Did I do it right?

Lots of vanilla bean flecks are caked on multiple parts of my bottle. The bottom as well as the top. No matter how hard I shake they won't come off. They're stuck. I'm thinking that I'll just have to strain the vanilla at the end when pouring it in bottles. I'll probably use cheese cloth since it can get so fine. I wonder what's the worst that can happen if you put some of these floaties in your recipe...

Check back soon to see my progress and to see if this DIY homemade vanilla is going to work out. Also I've been on the hunt for bottles to put the vanilla in when I'm done. I may have some cute finds!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DIY Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Today I am blogging about making homemade mozzarella cheese. Yes it can be done. Yes it's very easy. Yes it will save you tons of money if you're into buying lots of mozzarella cheese at the grocery store.

First things first - yes I know this is kinda weird. Who makes their own cheese? We do. Sometimes. that is. We first made homemade mozzarella about a year or two ago and did it a few times then forgot about the activity until this weekend. You just need a few ingredients and supplies most of which can be bought at regular grocery stores or online. Mozzarella is a soft cheese and the easiest of cheeses to make at home for beginners (like us!). It takes only about an hour and you can eat it immediately. 

For beginners I recommend this site. It's Ricki Carroll's site and she is the Cheese Queen. You can buy her book which is excellent! I am not going to spell out the entire recipe here today but please check her site out or hit up your library (hint that is what I did). 

Ingredients & materials: 
  • 1 gallon of whole milk
  • Citric Acid 
  • Rennet tablets
  • tap water
  • thermometer - preferably digital or candy
  • cheese cloth 
Ideally we'd use 1 gallon of organic whole milk but since we're on a budget we got Fresh to Frozen milk which was pretty cheap. Whole milk is ideal for this since it gives you the best tasting mozzarella and something to do with the fat content works best. I think you can use 2% or skim but it yields less and is more bland.

We got our citric acid at a local independent Indian grocery store. For very cheap. You may be able to find it at Whole Foods, speciality health stores, or of course online. You use 2 tsp. per gallon of milk so you don't need a lot. The rennet tablets we got at a regular grocery store. They usually have them on the top shelf by the jello. There is also such a thing as liquid rennet but I have no experience with that. I'd say just look up the conversion from tablet to liquid online.

This is one of the tools we've got to make DIY mozzarella. It's a fine, mesh, low, wide scooper. We've experimented with other spoons and such but this works great for certain steps.

This is the first step. Pour milk into non reactive pot (no aluminum or cast iron). See photo. Just milk at first. Then add citric acid.

For our milk batch we used 1/2 a rennet tablet. I just cut it and saved the rest for later. Dissolve the 1/2 tablet in 1/4 cup of water and stir.

You use a thermometer and put the stove on low/medium heat until it gets to the magical number of 88F. Our digital thermometer's battery died so we pulled out the old fashion regular one.

After adding the rennet solution, stir until it reaches 105F.

The real magic happens here. You start to see clumps of stuff when you stir. It's crazy and cool at the same time. Why did we not do this in high school chem class?

Turn off the heat and all the curds separate from the whey. You basically wait, then scoop the curds into another bowl.
See how the whey is now more of a clear color. Bingo. This is where a slotted spoon and our fancy scooper come in handy. You gotta get all the little curds floating around for maximum cheese yield.

Then you have to strain out all the whey liquid from the curds (aka mozzarella). First drain the large portions then use the strainer and cheese cloth to get it all dry.

The goal is to kneed it to get it to a texture where it is soft and pliable. Like taffy. See in this photo it is certainly not like taffy. It was crumbly and still moist. You put the cheese in a bowl and microwave it to warm it up. Then kneed it to evenly distribute the heat and kneed more. Then repeat those steps 2-3 times. You can put the cheese in cheese cloth and dip into the existing whey at a temperature of 175F. This was perfect!

After dipping the curds (aka mozz) in the warmed whey on the stove, it started to get perfectly soft and pliable. Yay! You could indeed stretch it like taffy. Very cool. Also during these steps you can add some salt. It says 1-2 tsp and I put about 1.5 but it was a little too much. I would have liked to add less; well next time anyway.

You can finish in a couple fancy ways - form it into a cool shape... or just eat it. You've probably seen those cool braided/woven mozzarellas in the store. It is pretty easy when warm and soft to braid it. You can divide it into smaller balls or just leave it as one giant ball. Store in a baggie with some salt water in the fridge. Again  you can just eat or serve it now since it's done.

We of course did taste test this at the end (and perhaps along the whey (HA!)) and it was great! Slightly too salty but so fresh and yumm! What a savings compared to store bought mozzarella that normally is around $7-8 for maybe 10oz. We paid probably $3-4 for the milk and not counting the other supplies which we already had got more than 10oz!

For more information check out this site or google around.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eat it Four Times!

We finally made it to day 4 of pork week! Read all about the start of this journey here.

This post is delayed. Don't worry we didn't let good meat sit in our fridge that long! It's took a few days to get this post up. I've been busy working Disney. That's right.

We took a day off after day 3 with pork sandwiches then had a light pizza before arriving at day 4. Wahoo! This recipe had to be adjusted a little because someone *cough cough* ate most of the slaw without realizing I was saving it. So I shredded a carrot into the potsticker mix along with some other goodies. We made up for the lack of cabbage with extra green onion and extra sriracha sauce. ha.

Potstickers with peanut sauce
Remaining pulled pork and slaw
1-2 scallions, chopped
1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 package wonton wrappers
peanut oil
About 1/2 cup of stock (mushroom, chicken or vegetable)
Peanut sauce reserved from Asian slaw recipe
Sriracha hot chili sauce (optional)

potsticker filling mix
  1. Finely chop pork and slaw in roughly equal proportions. Mix in scallions, Worcestershire, Sriracha and cornstarch. (and any other ingredients you think look good)
  2. Cover wonton wrappers and filled wontons with a damp towel while you work. For each dumpling, wet wrapper edges with water. Place a teaspoon of filling in center, then fold and crimp edges.
  3. Heat a saute pan to high then add a thin coating of oil. Add potstickers in batches so they do not touch. Cook for 2 minutes without disturbing, then pour in 1/2 cup stock, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 5 more minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove potstickers to a serving platter. Put peanut sauce in a bowl or ramekin and add a dollop of Sriracha before serving.

We learned how to make these fancy looking suckers when we visited our Nepalese friends (see here). I must admit they did look pretty swanky and professional all lined up ready to be cooked. It wasn't too hard especially since we used store bought wonton wrappers. With potstickers you pan fry them then add the broth and steam them (or is it considered boiling?).

These were so good with that peanut sauce made on day 2. Perfectly crispy and soft at the same time. Tasted great even as leftovers!

What a heavy meat filled week! I'm sure it'll be a while before we go out and buy 5 more pounds of meat again. It was tons of fun and extremely delicious though. Sometimes it's just fun to do something different in the kitchen and that is exactly what we did. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

AeroGarden update

In this edition of the AeroGarden update I bring you a photo timeline. Check out how well our little plants are growing! We started/planted the seeds on December 29th 2011. They are doing so great! What proud plant parents we are!

It's all about the homegrown, local, fresh herbs here. Semi local anyways; don't factor in the shipping.
January 9th
January 25th

wait for it... wow.
February 10th
We have a lot of growth in the AeroGarden corner of the kitchen! We've already had to move the lights up 2 notches. I think only a few left until it gets to its maximum height. The savory plant (ps. what is that?!) is seriously taking over! Can you even see anything through that mass?! Hello thyme in the back. We've eaten a lot of the basil so it doesn't look that overgrown yet. It was delicious!

Now... what to do with the mint? I have no idea. Besides mint juleps what should I do with fresh mint? Seriously I need ideas. Help!

 See how pretty and amazing the mint looks?

Oh and the replacement chives have finally started to sprout! Late much jeez! Better late than... pregnant. Ha! Tony joke. No really if these hadn't sprouted I was going to call and ask for a replacement for the replacement and if I could get something else - like cilantro. Oh how glorious that'd be. I know a lot of people are very pro or anti cilantro people. We are a pro cilantro household!
If you can see - these are the roots growing in the water hydroponic basin underneath. The bigger the plants grow the more this gets filled with roots. Also the bigger the plants the more I have to refill the water. Those big plants suck up so much water that it ends up being where I have to top off the water every day or two.

The plants still get little nutrient packets that were provided in the kit every week or two - not sure exactly. I just put one in when the machine tells me to. Robots are smart.

For the original post in this series click here.

ps. any fresh mint ideas?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Eat it Three Times!

Eat It Three Times! Check out the first and second. We made it to day three (which as you maybe can tell isn't in the exact order of day 2 and 1). We just couldn't eat that much pork that many days in a row so we spread it out over a week. This was the easiest of the four recipes. Basically heat up the already cooked & shreaded pork, make a little sauce and toast your buns. Done. Eat.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 tablespoon Sriracha hot chili sauce
1 tablespoon brown or cane sugar
About 1 pound pulled pork
About 1/3 of the remaining Asian slaw
About 2 buns
  1. Combine vinegar, Sriracha and salt in a saucepan to make vinegar sauce. Simmer over medium heat until sugar is dissolve. Keep warm. 
  2. Warm buns in oven or toaster oven. Pour a couple tablespoons of vinegar sauce over pork, and heat it in the oven or microwave. Place a scoop of pork on each bun, plus a small spoonful of the slaw. Serve with extra vinegar sauce on the side.

Of course it was delicious! We bought store bought buns although I contemplated making my own - not that fancy yet. I roasted some asparagus to go with this meal. It was great with some lemon and salt & pepper.

One more day left in our pork week! Lastly we are going to make potstickers with peanut sauce and eat that meat for the forth time!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Eat it Twice

Day two of pork week. After planning it out, then cooking it once and eating it once we're onto eating it twice. Stay tuned there'll be two more of these coming up!

Eat It Twice
Tamari Brown Rice with crispy pork and asian slaw

To make Slaw:
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1.5 tablespoons each peanut and sesame oils
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
Remaining cabbage and carrot mixture from previous recipe
1-2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
About 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  1. Blend first 6 ingredients in food processor, creating smooth peanut sauce. Refrigerate half of peanut sauce for subsequent pot sticker recipe.
  2. Pour other half over cabbage mixture, then stir in scallions, cilantro, peanuts and sesame seeds to create Asian slaw.
  3. Refrigerate about half of the slaw for subsequent recipes.

I had to use frozen dorat cubes of cilantro since I didn't have any fresh
To make the Rice:
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil
1-2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup brown rice (I used white since I waited too long and was hungry, and brown rice takes longer)
1 1/4 cups stock
Tamari soy sauce
  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a deep saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Saute garlic and mushrooms (I used more than in recipe) in oil for a couple minutes, then toss rice in hot oil for about a minute, until it releases a toasty aroma.
  2. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to cook undisturbed for as long as package directions indicate.
  3. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 to 10 minutes (I forgot this).
  4. Add a few dashes of tamari and fluff with a fork (yikes I forgot this too!).

To crisp the pork:
1/2 tablespoon of peanut or sesame oil (I used olive oil throughout)
About 1 pound pulled pork, mixed with some of the onions.

  1. Heat oil in a wide saute pan over high heat (careful if you use olive oil!). Add pork and let it crisp up on one side for 2 to 3 minutes before turning or stirring.
  2. After a couple minutes, toss pork around in pan until all of it is crispy on the outside.

To serve:
Toasted sesame seeds
Sriracha hot chili sauce (optional) - no it's not optional.

Add a scoop of mushroom rice to each plate, then top with a scoop of crispy pork and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve with Sriracha sauce and Asian slaw on the side.

This was delicious! We ate huge plates and still had a little leftover for one of our lunches the next day. This meal particular was pretty labor intensive. I toasted and roasted those peanuts and sesame seeds. I used fresh garlic and grated it. I wouldn't say this was for beginners from making the sauce with all its ingredients to the rice and thirdly the meat, it was a lot. But worth it! I may have used half the dishes in our kitchen but totally worth it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cook it Once: Eat it Once

aka. Day 1 of pork week.

Day one involved cooking the 5 lbs of pork. All I did was put the meat in the crock pot and let it cook itself all day. Remember we are halving all the recipes for the two of us and not using the intended 10 lbs. So when I type out the recipes below they are already halved just fyi. Don't be halving the 5lbs to 2.5 lbs. Unless you want to cook for one person - that's cool too.

Cook it Once
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
5 pound Boston butt or pork shoulder (with bone in for enhanced flavor)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika (sweet, smoked or a mix)
3 to 4 red and white onions, peeled and quartered
5 cloves garlic, or to taste, peeled and smashed but left whole
Approximately 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or enough to create a 1/2 inch layer in the bottom of your slow cooker)
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Thoroughly coat meat with salt, pepper, paprika, and chili powder. Line crock bottom with onions, garlic and vinegar, then place meat over it. Set the cooker to the lowest, longest setting. The meat is finished when it pulls away easily with just a fork, or when the bone slips out with little effort. Depending on your slow cooker, this will take 6 to 10 hours. Drain and store most of the grease before storing meat in refrigerator.

All the ingredients lined up. I got it ready to go and set by 9:30 in the morning and let it cook all day until about 6pm.
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We used this organic apple cider vinegar which I think is all fancy pants. It has some special qualities to it which I know nothing about but something to do with a 'mother'. Plus it's organic so in it goes. Also once you place the meat over the onions there is no way to see how much liquid you'll need to create a 1/2 inch layer on the bottom. edit: as I re-read this statement I realized I should have put the vinegar in before the meat - duh. And honestly how on earth would I have fit 10 lbs?!? My slow cooker barely fit our 5lbs so unless you've got a double sized one or 2 in your pantry no clue how that works. Regardless.  

This was the gorgeous sight after almost 9 hours of cooking! It smelt great! I must say that after living in North Carolina for 8 years (wow!) I finally have officially come around to pulled pork. Not that I wasn't before. It just took about 5 years of living there to do so. Combine being vegetarian for the last year with not eating out recently, and not getting the good NC bbq here in Virginia this is going to be a great week! 

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Who's got smell-a-vision blogging invented yet?
We shredded all the meat and saved 3/4 of it for meals later this week.
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Eat It Once
Pork Tacos
1/2 head Napa cabbage, thinly shredded
1/2 head red cabbage, thinly shredded
2 carrots, grated
Approximately 6 tortillas or hard taco shells
About 1 pound pulled pork mixed with some of the onions
Fresh cilantro (for garnish)
1 to 2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
sour cream, salsa, avocado slices and lime wedges (optional)
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I tried this trick I saw on Pinterest recently where you lay the tortillas on the rack of the oven and bake to make standing up taco shells. It didn't really work that well. We just used regular tortillas.

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I just went with a whole Napa cabbage instead of that and red cabbage. It was just easier that way. This avocado was perfect and it tasted great on the tacos!

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I made the entire slaw of cabbage and carrots and what you do is save 2/3 of it for other meals later in the week. I added a little mix of rice wine vinegar/vegetable oil/lime juice/sugar/fresh aerogarden herbs to this meals' slaw for added taste.

I set all the toppings for the tacos out like sour cream, salsa (homemade by my wonderful MIL) and some chopped onions that slow cooked with the meat.

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Final product! Yum to the um. They were awesome. A little messy but a great combination of tastes and very well cooked meat. Awesome sauce-ness. Day one: success!


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