Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

November 19, 2009


Filed under: Cooking,Gardening — cec @ 9:44 am

pickled-tomatoes and that’s the last of the summer veggies:  pickled green (and unripe red) tomatoes (mostly cherry), bannana peppers, a couple of small eggplant (can you pickle eggplant?) and an okra that I hadn’t noticed.  I’ll crack one of these open in a month or so and see how they taste.  FWIW, the pickled bannana peppers from September are great.

October 6, 2009

Now I am feeling inadequate

Filed under: Cooking,Gardening — cec @ 8:57 pm

I went out to the garden on Sunday and took a look at how the okra was doing.  Now I’m feeling somewhat, um, inadequate…


as a gardener.

Really, who lets okra get that big.  I should have been picking them every two or three days so that the maximum size was only 3-5 inches, not 8-12.

In other gardening news, I opened one jar of the pickled peppers early (they should still be pickling for another 3-4 weeks), and they are delicious.

Oh, and I am *so* jealous of these people.   They also seem to have a great stuffed pepper recipe that I would bet even K would eat if I fixed them with sweet banana peppers (as opposed to jalapeños).

September 21, 2009

Peter Piper picked . . .

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 2:25 pm

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

When I planted the garden, I put in a couple of banana pepper plants.  I seem to recall that my thinking was along the lines of, “I’ve got a great idea, I’ll plant some banana peppers – I love ’em.”  Great in abstract, but I don’t actually have any recipes that call for banana peppers.  I only seem to eat them pickled.

Well, I couldn’t let them rot, so yesterday I went out and picked, not a peck, but maybe a half gallon (0.25 peck) of peppers and spent part of the afternoon pickling them.  I’ve got two pints of whole peppers and four pints of sliced.  We’ll see how they taste in a few weeks.

Before and after:


August 17, 2009

Garden produce

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 5:23 pm

I’ve mentioned before that this is the first year that we’ve had a garden, and it’s been going great.  In the early spring we had lots of spinach, arugula, turnips, lettuce, etc.  Now that we’re in the summer, it’s time for a whole new type of produce.  Last night, I went out to the garden and picked a bunch of tomatoes (yes, I prefer the cherry tomatoes), banana peppers and green beans.  Later this week, I’ll pick some of the eggplant and we’ll do eggplant croquettes.  Hopefully, we’ll also get some regular peppers, zucchini and maybe even a small watermelon or two.

The best part for me has been that we’ve gotten a good amount of produce with a fairly minimal amount of work.  I planted densely, but in raised beds.  I haven’t weeded and the whole thing looks like an overgrown mess, but it produces quite a bit:


April 20, 2009

Harvest time!

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 11:32 pm

For the first time in about 10 years I planted a garden.  We are always drawn to shaded lots, so we’ve never had a place for one before.  Even here we’ve got five acres… and they are all wooded.  Normally?  Great.  For a garden, it’s kinda the suck.  This year, I decided to plant a garden in the right-of-way/frontage and the heck with what the neighbors think.  So, raised beds to avoid the clay soil problems, fencing to keep the deer out (btw – know any bow hunters?  I may be a vegetarian, but the deer are getting on my nerves), and we’re set to go.

I started planting late winter/early spring crops back in February and they’re starting to come into harvest.  The picture below is from a week ago and the plants have since grown significantly larger.  Last week we did an arugula [1] and basil pesto, this week it’s been a salad and probably spinach quiche [2].  I think that by the time everything starts to bolt, it’ll be warm enough for summer vegetables.


Let’s see, clockwise from the bottom right, the boxes are growing: 1) spinach, arugula and leeks; 2) kale, lettuce and a mesclun mix (not to be confused with mescaline – that’s a completely different plant 🙂 ); 3) broccoli, beets and fennel; and 4) peas, carrots and turnips.  Yeah, I went a bit overboard.  I figure that we’ve got about a month for harvest, the kale/lettuce/mesclun will wrap up first.  Last will be the broccoli/fennel/beets plus the leeks which won’t finish developing until late summer.


[1] It seems like every liberal type I know who has planted a garden is growing arugula.  FWIW, I suspect there are two reasons for this: 1) it’s awesome, and 2) it’s a big FU to the republicans who thought that “arugula eater” was an insult.  If it makes you happier, call it rocket – the southern corruption of roquette.

[2] Yeah, don’t give me that “real men” b.s.  We’re talking about a meal with a pie crust, cheese, cream and 3 or 4 eggs.  It’s a heart attack waiting to happen, which as near as I can tell is what makes it something a “real man” would eat 😉

February 23, 2009

Adventures in vegetarian cooking

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 6:56 pm

K and I don’t eat much meat – no red meat, no poultry, etc.  Theoretically, we still eat fish, but since I won’t cook it…

This weekend, we experimented with a couple of new recipes that, in hindsight, were even vegan:

  • Vegetarian Mac and Cheese.  Like a lot of people (I suppose), I love macaroni and cheese.  Not the Kraft, out of the box, kind, but one made with onion, garlic, mustard powder in a homemade cheese sauce.  Unfortunately, K (okay, me too) isn’t supposed to eat that much high-fat cheese.  I’ve been making it with low-fat cheese, but well, that’s a little lame.  Last week, a guy at my office gave me a recipe that eliminated the cheese sauce and turned out to be (possibly) tastier than the original.  Start by sautéing an onion in a little olive oil.  Add a drained, rinsed can of cannellini (other beans work, but cannellini are wonderfully creamy), 1.75 cups of water (or vege broth), 1 tbsp of miso paste (I used soy sauce), a little dry mustard and a half cup of raw cashews.  Puree, then add a package of cooked spinach and use as the cheese sauce.  It’s wonderful.
  • We also made seitan which, as near as I can figure, is pronounced satan.  It’s wheat meat – wheat gluten (which means it’s also pronounced “death to etselec and hlf”) and water (or broth) which is cooked and then used as if it was regular meat.  We made ours with water, soy sauce and some Italian seasonings.  Once it was cooked, we sliced it up, braised it and served it with a wine/mushroom sauce.  It was great and a *lot* easier than I thought it would be.

November 27, 2007

Making vegetarian food tastier; or

Filed under: Cooking — cec @ 11:05 pm

Cooking with the world’s most dangerous* additive; or

How I stopped worrying and learned to love MSG.

A few weeks ago, I heard Robert Krulwich on NPR talking about umami – the fifth taste. If you didn’t hear it, go to the link above. As always, Krulwich makes the story very engaging. He describes how the Greek philosopher Democritus hypothesized the existence of four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Everything you eat is made up of a combination of those four tastes (plus the 10,000 various smells your nose can sense).

He goes on to discuss the previously hypothesized, but recently confirmed, discovery of a fifth taste – umami. The taste of l-glutamate. The 200 year old discovery was finally confirmed with the identification of two different types of glutamate receptors on the tongue. Glutamate is common in meat and other protein-heavy foods, like certain cheeses.  I suspect that the glutamate receptors evolved for the same reason as our ability to detect the other tastes: to help us decide what we should and shouldn’t eat.  Sugar indicates a carbohydrate rich food, salt – salt (duh), sour – probably vitamin C, bitter – maybe something poisonous to avoid, and umami to detect protein rich foods.

That got me to thinking.  With the exception of certain foods, e.g., cheeses, vegetarian cooking doesn’t have much umami in it.  It may have plenty of protein, but the dishes often aren’t satisfying.  Perhaps the lack of umami means that the actual protein in the food doesn’t register on the tongue and so, over time, you feel as if you were lacking for the protein itself.

Some of my favorite vegetarian dishes have lots of cheese, particularly parmesan (e.g., hamburger bocca burger pie and barley with mushrooms).  Of course, I can’t add parmesan or soy sauce to everything.  So as an experiment, I bought some ‘Accent’ which is just a container of MSG.  It’s not something I would add to all dishes, but I’ve been experimenting with adding it to dishes that are supposed to be savory: split pea soup that doesn’t have ham, store bought stuffing that should be made with beef broth, etc.

So far, the experiment seems to be a success.  Used in the right dishes, adding MSG to certain foods seems to make them taste better.

Of course, there are reasons why I shouldn’t use MSG; but fortunately health is not one of them.  Numerous scientific studies have completely exonerated MSG from the anecdotal health scare from the 60s.  There are no ill effects observed from the consumption of moderated amounts of MSG.  After all, this is essentially the same compound as is found in meat and other natural glutamate sources.

My main concern for not relying on it too much is that it’s a cheat.  It’s not a big cheat.  It’s a little bit like adding vinegar or salt to something to improve it’s flavor.  However, it is a cheat.  Rather than using an artificial source of umami, I would prefer to find ways of using more ingredients that are naturally higher in umami.  But in the meantime, I’m definitely going to keep the MSG around.  It’s in a little container in the pantry, right next to the salt.  🙂

July 29, 2007

Home made sourdough bread

Filed under: Cooking — cec @ 9:49 pm

One of my favorite things is really good bread. Back when I was in school, I bought a book on making bread. It started from a home made sourdough starter that had no commercial yeast. It was basically water and flour with a few grapes tied in a bag to give it some extra yeast. The bread itself also called for no commercial yeast. So the whole loaf was made using whatever yeasts happened to be in the air. A friend of mine, a German woman named Margrid Krueger, made similar bread a gave me a few of her tips on how to solve bread problems, etc.

The problem with this type of sourdough bread is that it takes about two days to make a loaf. You make up the bread dough, let it rise for about four hours, shape it, let it rise for another and then put it in the fridge overnight to develop. The next day, you pull it out and let it sit for another three hours before baking. Okay, so you’re sitting around waiting for most of the time, but that’s a heck of a long time to wait for bread.

So, I found a different bread book. I started using quick rise yeast and the microwave to help raise the dough’s temperature for a faster rise. I could make bread in about an hour or two – start to finish. But you lost out on the flavor. Last weekend I decided that it was time to get back to the sourdough. I got my starter going, fed it a few times and was ready to bake this weekend. After much kneeding, rising and waiting, I put the bread in the oven this morning. It turned out great. A nice crust, good flavor, a pretty interior, etc. Just the thing to serve with a pot of gumbo.

July 4, 2007

Happy July 4th

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 10:04 pm

I hope everyone had a good 4th of July and if you had the day off, you enjoyed it.

I spent my day doing a little of this and a little of that. I picked up a low water use irrigation system that I’ve run to the flowers and the blueberry bushes. I’ll need a few hundred more feet of pipe to run it out to all of the trees, but this is a good start.

Inspired by hsarik, I made some beer and cheese bread. We used that to make veggie-sausage poboys. That, some onion rings and some fruit made for a great holiday dinner.

Finally, I may have a new favorite song: “Future Soon” by Jonathan Coulton. How can you not like a song featuring love, lasers and robot wars whose chorus contains the lines:

And I won’t always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

Okay, I’m a bit of a nerd

June 11, 2007

Weekend cooking

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 7:34 pm

I made a few things I’ve never made before for dinner last night, including lemon pizza and two kinds of ice cream.

The lemon pizza recipe is from the Wednesday Chef and was mentioned by someone on an IRC channel (etselec? I can’t remember – sorry).  K and I don’t eat salmon roe, so I substituted finely chopped capers.  Overall, it was pretty good, but we didn’t slice the lemons thin enough and they over powered the pizza.  If you’re going to do this, try to get the lemon slices down to about 1mm.

We also made a couple of ice creams.  In general, we like to do different types of ice cream and to try new things.  Strangely enough, we had never made fruit ice creams (chai – yes, cinnamon – yes, fruit – no).  Fortunately, I had picked up a pint of blueberries and a pound of cherries.  So, two different flavors: blueberry and cherry!  They both came out well in their vanilla ice cream base.  Now if I was slightly more adventurous, I would have made the cherry in a chocolate base; and if I was really adventurous, I would have ignored the fruit and made rosemary ice cream as described by a friend last week 🙂

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