Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vietnamese Yogurt

If you have not had Vietnamese yogurt, and you are not lucky enough to live near a shop that sells it, do not despair! You can make Vietnamese yogurt with easy to find ingredients and it will taste just as authentic as the real deal. And the best part? It is so easy! If you can boil water, use a measuring cup, and your whisking skills are sharp, this yogurt can be yours with very little effort on your part.

Why would you want to make it? Because it is sweet and tangy, an unusually addictive taste sensation. I got hooked myself when my local banh mi place started stocking it in the refrigerated case. I was a little dubious about this nondescript, white yogurt, having felt betrayed by the black whiskey rice I tried from the same case a week before, but I made myself get over it after many assurances from the store's proprietor that it was good stuff. (But isn't that what he told me last week about the whiskey rice?, the little voice in my head protested.) I am so glad that he convinced me to try it!

The recipe is not my own. I gleaned it here from White on Rice Couple.

Since my most favorite cow milk is from Strauss, I used Strauss yogurt as the culture and Strauss whole milk. Mmmm. The organic sweetened condensed milk is from Trader Joe's. Good stuff.

I hate buying one trick kitchen gadgets (i.e. a yogurt maker), so I scrounged together a yogurt making system from things I already had around the house. My 1/2 pint canning jars were the perfect size for making yogurt and I knew they would not crack if placed in boiling water. I put the pre-yogurt mixture into 6 jars, placed all the jars into my insulated rice cooker, filled the cooker with boiling water that was the same level as the yogurt in the jars, and then closed the lid. The first time I made this, I thought I was being clever by leaving the rice cooker on "warm," but it was a bad idea because it kept the boiling water bath too hot for too long. I killed the yogurt culture, resulting in a sweet mixture with no tang. So, if you want to use a rice cooker for your water bath, do not plug it in!

I checked the yogurt 6 hours later, and it was not tangy enough yet, so I let it sit for a couple more hours until it reached the tanginess level I craved. It was done and delicious!

The Vietnamese store sells this yogurt for $1.50, and I made 6 containers for considerably less money. Plus, it is all organic, something I am sure that the Vietnamese yogurt I buy is not. Plus, the next time I make yogurt, I can just use one jar of the old stuff to make the new stuff, just like my other ferementation projects. How sweet is that?

I am going to start experimenting with different yogurt flavors soon. Blood oranges are in season right now, and I think that making plain yogurt and swirling in some blood orange simple syrup would be the best thing ever! This opens up so many possibilities...

Friday, January 23, 2009

AM's Birthday Cowl

She almost did not get this cowl, because I love it. I used 1.25 skeins of Touch Me Due, an appropriate, albeit cocky, yarn name because it is indeed the softest yarn on the planet.

I knew that I wanted to use this yarn and I knew that I wanted to make a cowl or a scarflet, but it took a few tries to find a pattern that worked. My first permutation involved two Victorian buttons. I loved the buttons and I thought they looked classy with the cowl, but the weight of the metal buttons left an ugly gap that ruined the lines. Those buttons will have to find another project.

This stitch pattern is wildfire knit pattern, One Row Handspun Scarf by the Yarn Harlot.

Here are the particulars if you are tempted to make this yourself:

CO 26 stitches
Knit for 17 inches, using the One Row stitch pattern
BO all sts
Whip stitch the ends together, and voila! The softest cowl on the planet!

More details on my Rav project page.

Rendering Chicken Fat

I love fat. Even the tiniest amount of the good stuff can add so much flavor to your food, so because of this and because I let almost nothing go to waste, I made a batch of schmaltz with chicken skin pulled off of some chicken thighs that were destined for the slow cooker.

A heavy pan and low, even heat transforms pale, blubbery chicken skin to golden elixir. If you have a cast iron pan, making schmaltz has the added bonus of seasoning your pan. Watch the magic!

What do I do with this fat? Off the top of my head, I use to pan fry potatoes and roast Brussels sprouts. I use it to saute onions and celery for spaghetti sauce. I use it to saute leeks for potato leek soup.

The dogs get the resulting bits of crisped skin as high value treats. They know them as "chicken chips."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Exploring Fermented Rice

Chinese sweets, and I am not talking about fortune cookies, tend to bring out polarized reactions from people with Western palates. Bean paste tucked into steamed bread? Barley soup with ginko nuts? How is this a treat?

During our bike tour of central China, we ditched the bikes for a bit and did a temple hike. We trekked up, up, up windy staircases with no guard rails, dirt paths, and finally, there was the temple. And there I was, starving! Luckily, there was a vendor who had somehow lugged his food stall up the same stairs (how?), ready to offer us hungry hikers a fortifying snack. It looked odd to me: he had a 40 gallon carboy half full of white stuff, some eggs, and a propane burner. The tour guide was eating it, and so I figured, what the heck? I'm starving!

The snack we ate that day consisted of fermented rice, a little water, and eggs. It was not a snack my family had ever made, but fermented rice was nothing new to me. My mother makes a dessert, bak tong go, that is a fermented rice cake. It is subtly sweet, lightly fermented rice flour cake that my brother and I would scarf down as soon as it was done steaming.

When I returned home, I was happy to see that so many of the foods I had tried in central China were readily available to me at my local Asian grocery store. I'm so freaking lucky to live here! I had always seen some of these items, but since my family did cook with them, I passed them by, not knowing how to use them.

I make this sweet fermented rice soup for breakfast on cold, blustery days. If anyone knows the name of this, clue me in!

You'll need some of sweet fermented rice, glutinous rice balls, and some eggs.

A quick note about sweet rice: this does not mean that there is sugar added. "Sweet rice" refers to short grain rice. In the picture above of the packaged fermented sweet rice, there is sugar, but it is a byproduct of the fermentation - you might be able to see that the ingredient list simply states sweet rice, yeast, and water.

To make this the soup I enjoyed in central China, I bring to a boil about 2 cups of water, and add a cup of fermented rice in a small saucepan. Add the rice balls, and let them cook for a minute. Then, pour in two or three scrambled eggs. Do not stir for at least 30 seconds because you want the eggs to set. Once the eggs are set, turn off the heat, break up the eggs, add some sugar of your choice (I hardily add more than a tablespoon of agave syrup since the fermented rice is naturally sweet), and serve! ETA: Some recipes call for adding the fermented rice after the egg is set.

This isn't exactly cereal and milk, but trust me, it is delicious!

Since I've been a fermenting fool lately, I decided that I could make my own fermented rice. I found a good tutorial here, but since I still had some fermented rice left, I decided to do the old trick of using some of the old stuff to make some new stuff. Currently, it is bubbling on my counter. The boy is making faces at it, and he is sure that I am trying to kill us both, but so far, it smells and tastes right. My mother thinks I'm a little nuts for trying this, although she does remember her mom making this using similar methods (and I must note that her and her siblings are all alive and going strong). It should be done tomorrow!

ETA: The trick worked! My fermented rice turned out just as wonderful as the store bought stuff, and both the boy and I had it for yesterday's breakfast. In other words, no one died from it.

The word on the street...

is that all the cool dogs are wearing handmade collars.

Mingus, my fastidiously clean dog, always watches other dogs on the street to check out their duds. So far, he informed me, no dog is sporting collars as cool as the ones the boy made him.

Sometimes, Vespa will also watch, and she came to the conclusion that, yes, her collar is the best on the block.

So far, this "buy the boy a sewing machine for xmas" idea has been the best one I've had in awhile. I've gotten two pairs of hemmed jeans (never mind the unexpected buttonhole on one pair), and now dog collars. Right on.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mingus Meets the Pool

Despite his love of running around in muddy, yucky lakes and bays, he did not particularly like the pool. He went in with his favorite person, then decided that he must exit immediately.

Mingus, please don't knock over the beer! That would be a huge party foul!

Then, he did his curious post water ritual of smearing his wet, doggy body onto everything and anything. I had to chase him away from the house, so instead he went for the pile of sand. Much better?

After he sufficiently impregnated his coat with sand, he became Hyper Dog! If anyone knows why dogs get the zoomies and run around like caffeinated freaks after they get wet, please clue me in.

Yeah, these are still Arizona photos. I need to take some new pictures of the whole crew. Perhaps they can model some more knitted goods since I seem to be cranking out the FOs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing

Since the boy and I are trying to cut back on prepared foods, we've been making our own salad dressings. Tonight's salad dressing was the boy's all time favorite: honey mustard dressing.

I perused the Internet, and found this Alton Brown recipe that was promising. It didn't have mayonnaise, a plus since I didn't want to make any, and there were only a few ingredients, all of which I happened to have in stock. Since 5 T of honey seemed excessive, and I was using my homemade mustard instead of Dijon, I changed the quantities to the following:

3 T honey
2 T mustard
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 pinch salt

Whisk it all together and you got yourself a honey mustard dressing way better than store bought! Tip: you can make the dressing directly in the salad bowl, eliminating the need to wash a mixing bowl. I added a few cranks of pepper into the salad.

We are really enjoying our lettuce garden. Being able to have a garden fresh salad twice a week is a nice perk to living in the Bay Area.

Blood Oranges

These ones are moros. Get 'em while they last.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Some Holiday Knits Revealed

I was in such a rush to block my hand knitted gifts that I did not get to photograph them before they were wrapped. My bad. However, I did manage to get some pictures of people sporting their goods.

My brother, tofuninja, actually requested this hat in these colors. Apparently, he wears this in public. For those of you who wave the geek flag, you'll recognize this as the Jayne Hat from Firefly. I used this pattern from Craftster. Can a person be furmiliated?

I also made my future sister-in-law a Noro Scarf from Brooklyn Tweed. What a joy this was to knit! Since I used Noro Kureyon, I softened it up with a good soak in some hair conditioner. It seemed to do the trick.

My feet were dipped into the world of knitted lace shawls with the oh so popular Swallowtail Shawl (*this link opens a .pdf). I wish that I had a better picture of this! The yarn is Redfish Dyeworks 20/2 silk, and I loved it! Perhaps someday I'll make this again, because once I got into the groove, I found it a meditative knit. I do have another ball of lace, so I can make it in green, or I can do another lace project. This project made me buckle and buy Victorian Lace Today, and the mellon scarf is calling my name.

I also have some baby knits on the needles for some good friends, and I finished a Clapotis for myself! I'll share pictures soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Internet Recipe Reviews

During the past few weeks, I tried some new recipes and revisited old favorites. I thought some of you might be interested in them!

For a tasty spread on sandwiches or just as a dip, this smokey tomato confit is amazing. The smokiness comes from smoked Spanish paprika - a little goes a long way, so don't be alarmed at the price tag (usually less than $10). For a more refined dip, I'll pass this mixture through the biggest sieve on my food mill instead of pulsing it with the food processor.

Since Mexican food ingredients were wonderfully fresh in Arizona, I tried out a couple of dishes on everyone, and was happy with the results. The first one was carnitas cooked the classic way: in lard. Yes, I bought 3 pounds of lard and simmered cubed pork butt until it was meltingly tender. What a treat! I couldn't taste the orange at all, but I had to rush the cooking a bit since I got back from a hike at 5 PM and I had 6 starving people checking my progress. The next time I make this, I'll let it cook for at least 4 hours over low heat. The only extra step I did was to pan fry the pork after I extracted it from the lard so I had little bits of crisp, caramelized porky goodness! Mmmmmm, porky goodness!

The second dish I tried was manchamanteles, or "table stainer." Talk about getting all of your fiber into your sauce! It has raisins, prunes, apples, apricots, and pineapples in it. I like smooth sauces, so I pureed all the ingredients together when they were done simmering. I cooked chicken in my manchamanteles by first browning the boneless chicken on all sides, and then covering it with sauce and letting it simmer for at least 30 minutes. OMG, I'll be making this again and again and again! Leftover sauce freezes well, and leftover chicken with manchamanteles makes a good base for chilaquiles! We had chilaquiles for breakfast at least twice since we also had plenty of leftover tortillas.

Chilaquiles is tortilla strips fried, and then smothered with salsa or another spicy sauce. The tortilla strips should have an al dente texture, and not be too crisp or too soggy. I serve mine with cilantro, refried beans, queso seco (Mexican dried cheese), and a swirl of crema fresca (sour cream as a sub).

Sorry for the lack of pictures! All the food went too fast for me to photograph!

I salute those of you who regularly cook for 6+ people a night. I found it exhausting, but it did give me the incentive to try new recipes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Banh Mi

Oh how I adore my $2.50 banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). My favorites are the #8 (pork) and #9 (chicken). Both are topped with jalapenos and pickled vegetables, and the crusty bread (the secret is the rice flour) cannot be beat. Forget the $5 footlongs!

10174 San Pablo Ave in El Cerrito


The dogs miss Arizona. They were able to run free in the desert.

The people miss Arizona. They were able to explore cactus (bullet holes in cactus were, unfortunately, quite common),

dead dried things (I'll spare you my many photos that fall into this category),

abandoned mines (not as sketchy as it sounds),

Christmas (see Mingus?),


and Castle Dome Peak (the boy did a write up about our hike).

I had no expectations for the desert, and I am happy to report that there was never a dull moment! It's a great place to be outdoors, during the winter at least. Get me out of there when the temperature reaches over 90 degrees F!


Potential Pita Power

Put a little work into it, and you get Pitas Realized.

This time around I used the recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Shift in the Craft Space Continuum!

For Christmas, we decided to gift each other with a new sewing machine! The boy wants to make things for his Jeep, mountain biking gear, and other things that are kind of burly, so after a lot of research, we picked out our newest addition. All I really want out of this are nicely hemmed pants, preferably with me not doing the hemming. Oh, and some nice dog collars.

So here it is, folks, the boy's first FO!

See the concentration?

Who will win? The boy or the sewing machine?

Woot! His first FO! It is either going to be a dish towel for us, or a burp cloth for a newly preggo friend.

I'll have to take a picture of how nice the edges are sometime. He's a natural.

I had an inward chuckle moment yesterday when he started listing all the gifts he wanted to make for people and all of the stuff he wanted to make for Jeep/him/house. Why was I chuckling? Because, coming from someone hopelessly addicted to knitting, I sensed the beginning of a sewing addiction. (Again, if I get hemmed pants out of this, this is perfectly OK with me!)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Anasazi Beans

They look like cows. I am not sure how I am going to cook them, but
they are getting soaked now for tonight's dinner.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Welcome to California

Brrrrrr! These palm trees are out of their ideal environment, and so
am I.

Still waiting for a thought?

Or perhaps he is contemplating how nice it is for the whole family to
be crated together.

My nose disagrees! Gack!

Joshua Tree

Quick, cue the U2 CD!

I think this officially qualifies as the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Proof I was there

That last picture could have been taken anywhere, so here's the
benchmark as proof. I would have stuck my head there, too, but things
were a bit precarios up there. That was by far the most technical hike
I have done because I actually used my mad rock climbing skillz!

And this is me at the top!

It was a great way to celebrate the first day of the new year!

This is what I climbed today

Reaching the top of Castle Dome was an all day affair. This picture
was taken on the trail.


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