Summer Sriracha


Hi there!

I haven’t had much time to post anything for the past few weeks. I started my summer internship and love it. I cut the hell out of one of my fingers and had to get stitches (I like to complain about it every chance I get). I’ve been on several dates. And I’ve cooked. I even made some sourdough bread, which was delightful.

So… I thought I would post on something I have made that I have never known anyone else to make: homemade sriracha.

Last summer, I ran across the recipe and it ended up being one of the greatest things I have ever made, mostly because I used it all year. I eat a lot of rice with roasted veggies and eggs over-easy, and sometimes the best thing to do is drop a bit of heat into a meal like that. It keeps it from feeling boring.

The sriracha can also be turned into other things… I transformed a portion of mine into Mango Sriracha Caramel, which I used as a coating for toasted almonds (Ninja Nuts).

Sriracha is also the kind of thing that’s screaming out to be made in the desert summer, when Sprouts puts pounds and pounds of jalapenos on display. I’ve decided Summer Sriracha is going to become a tradition and I would consider it to be a part of my food culture as well. 🙂

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Credit where credit is due: the recipe I started with is for “Homemade Badass Sriracha,” from The Wicked Healthy Cookbook by Chad Sarno, Derek Sarno, and David Joachim. It’s a great cookbook and totally worth buying. The Mango Sriracha Caramel and Ninja Nut recipes can both be found in that cookbook as well.

The original recipe calls for 4.5 lbs of red jalapenos or Fresno chiles, 20 medium cloves of garlic, 3/4 cup molasses sugar or coconut sugar, 1/4 cup salt, and 1.25 cups distilled white vinegar.

If you follow the recipe, you chop things up, put all of it but the vinegar into a food processor, then stick it in a covered bowl to ferment for 3 or 4 days, stirring once a day. After that, you add the vinegar and food process it again, strain all of the pulpy ish out, then reduce it over medium heat until it’s smooth and the right thickness for you. They recommend reducing it for about 10 minutes.

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Kate’s recommendations:

  • Try different peppers and combinations. I’m not an expert on peppers, so I just bought several types and way more than I needed. I tasted each of them raw before deciding what to use. I also threw in one red bell pepper, because… well, I had one. Also, if you want your sriracha to turn out red, you should use mostly red peppers. I don’t mind mine being green. My only real goal this year was to tone down the heat just a scoash. Mine is still fermenting at the moment, so who knows if I’ve succeeded?
  • Don’t worry about the weights and measurements… just get in the ballpark. It will be okay. The first year, I could only find 4 pounds of jalapenos. This year I used 2.5 pounds jalapenos, 2 pounds Pasillas, (approximately?… I guesstimated) 1/2 pound of Serranos, and 1 red bell pepper. Also, I don’t really understand what people mean when they say medium cloves of garlic. I actually used thirty cloves, but didn’t worry about the size. Some were big, some were small. I didn’t worry about it.
  • IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t chop hot peppers!

The only thing you want to do is cut hot peppers in half and use a spoon to get the seeds out. Some peppers (like Serranos) are too small for this. Trying to get the seeds out of those will result in inflamed hands. You will feel like there are flames underneath your fingernails. Hot peppers will also release fumes as you chop them. The fumes get in your eyes and throat. Consider using gloves if you’ve got them and perhaps a bandanna for your nose and mouth… or, just don’t mess much with the hot peppers.

For peppers that are milder, do whatever you want. Leave the seeds in, even. The recipe has you leaving the jalapeno seeds in, but I found that doing so left me with a sriracha that was too hot for most people. A lot of the heat is in the seeds and white fleshy stuff.

  • Keep the pulp! After the peppers have fermented, you dump the vinegar in, re-process, and strain… the book doesn’t mention doing anything with the strained pulp, but I ended up using mine to replace canned green chiles, which I use a lot to season black and/or pinto beans. It’s worth saving the pulp and being creative in how you use it.

Fair warning, if you make this recipe, your kitchen (and several other rooms) will, and should, smell like fermenting peppers, because… well, you will have fermenting peppers in your kitchen.

And that’s all, folks!

Let me know if you try the recipe. I’d love to know someone (anyone) who is weird enough to spend 4 days fermenting jalapenos. 🙂

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Kate’s Kitchen: The Long Disclaimer & How I Learned Things


I feel like the kitchen is an intimidating place. There have been times in the kitchen when I’ve felt inept, judged, and even betrayed (an incident with a wooden spoon and a blender).

Also, each of us has her own relationship to food and I don’t want to go sticking my nose into anyone else’s kitchen without invitation. Food is intimately personal and important. There is a spirituality with food, even for people who would say they are non-spiritual. There is a sense of community and beauty and dolce far niente (“the sweetness of doing nothing”). I’ve had meals which seemed to overcome the power of time, forcing it to pause and wait while we laughed and tasted.

On the flip-side of the coin, I struggle with my relationship to food. That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent time thinking about it and learning to cook. I obsess about food. I think about what I am going to eat at the next meal every moment of every day – sometimes several days in advance. I fantasize. I torture myself trying to be thin. My New Year’s resolution this year was not to weigh myself, because I always want to know my weight, every day, multiple times each day, just in case.

For those reasons, writing a series of blog posts about the kitchen is super intimidating to me. I want to write it, and I want to write it in a sort of instructional way, but a large portion of people who read this blog also cook. They know things and I fear telling people who already know things about the things I know.

Yet, I love food. I love cooking. I think food and cooking are delightful, and I hope to write some delightful posts.

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As I can’t seem ever to shut off the Hermione in me, my response to feeling intimidated and vulnerable in the kitchen was to study.

I have read tons of cookbooks and watched tons of cooking shows. I have yet to take a cooking class, but that is high on my list of to-dos when I’m no longer a starving college student.

So… Kate’s rules for cookbooks.

Cookbooks

1. Cookbooks should actually be read… cover-to-cover, if possible. For a long time, I was skipping the introductory stuff and looking ahead to the recipes. Recipes are great, but they provide instructions for cooking one dish. Introductions, on the other hand, explain cooking in general. They also usually present a food philosophy, which I think every person ought to have.

2. Cookbooks are not Bibles, nor are they even text books. I used to feel like I was supposed to follow recipes exactly and perfectly on every jot and tittle. Doing that was too stressful for me and it kept me from learning to improvise. It kept me from feeling joy and artistry in the kitchen.

3. Kitchen tools can be like jeans or like wedding dresses, so don’t go buying crap you’ll only use one time. Make sure you know the difference between the items you will use and the ones you won’t before forking out the dough. Most cookbooks include a list of everything everyone ought to have in the kitchen. The lists include items ranging from pots and pans to spices to pantry ingredients to gadgets and gizmos. I read everything on those lists, but I have never, not even one time, had everything on one of those lists. Having that stuff isn’t usually important, because where there is a will, there is a way. It’s better to improvise once, even if you get it wrong, than it is to buy an expensive gadget that’s eventually going to be donated to Goodwill.

4. Use the public library and used book stores before you use Amazon. There is no reason to buy a cookbook unless you know it’s going to be helpful to you. There is also no reason to buy a cookbook new. If you do it right, you are going to dump flour and drip EVOO all over the pages of your favorite cookbooks. Buying them new is a waste of money.

5. Apps and e-books are good for lounging on the couch or in bed, not for the kitchen. Often, you need to look at a recipe RIGHT NOW, not after you wash and dry your hands. It’s better to touch a hard-copy with greasy fingers than it is to touch a screen. If you must use an app or e-book, print stuff out.

6. Have a variety of cookbooks, including one for beginners, one that seems old-fashioned like your grandmother probably used it, one that’s aspirational, one specific to your food philosophy and dietary restrictions, and one that’s sort of niche.

  • Everyone should have a cookbook for beginners, because they don’t feel as terrifying as the rest of the cookbook world. They explain techniques that seem intimidating (like blanching), as well as ingredients that seem intimidating (like spaghetti squash). The recipes are foundational and become staples of everyday life. They often replace boxed foods, like mac ‘n’ cheese, and nothing is worse than that powdered Kraft cheese crap that was created in a petri dish.

 

  • When I say old-fashioned, what I mean is Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, or something similar. This type of cookbook is usually binder-style, so you can pull out individual recipes. It includes an uncommon variety of recipes concerning both difficulty level and dish-type. They have recipes for dessert rolls that take a million steps to make and for veggie broth, which is super easy. They are easy to navigate: they’re tabbed, with tables of contents for each section. They also include food that works for any and every occasion.

 

  • Aspirational cookbooks are the ones with the recipes you always want to make, but almost never do. They are usually the Julia Child/Wolfgang Puck books that seem great for all of those fancy dinner parties you intend to throw but never do. They are the wedding dresses of the cookbook world, and everyone ought to have one to pull out once every five years and impress people.

 

  • I usually go with vegan cookbooks for my food philosophy/dietary restriction books… even though I’m not a vegan. Half of the recipes in most cookbooks are wasted on me since I only rarely eat fish and eat no other meats. Vegetarian cookbooks are fine, but they seem to spend less time and emphasis on understanding food than vegan ones. Vegan books explain that they’re using nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute, which helps me improvise down the road. Also, it’s easier to add cheese to a vegan recipe than it is to take cheese out of a vegetarian one. Vegan isn’t the only way to go, though. There is a cookbook out there for every food philosophy… keto, paleo, dairy-free, gluten-free, raw, etc…

 

  • When someone asks what your favorite food is, what do you say? Indian food? Israeli? Chinese? Popcorn? Ramen? Coffee? … this is what I mean by niche cookbooks, and what I like about them is the variety they bring to my favorite things. I know how to pop popcorn, but having a cookbook dedicated to popcorn allows me to try new and different things with it AND these types of books are great for hosting. Having a popcorn bar where people choose how to flavor their own food is super fun and easy.

 

  • A note on food memoirs… I don’t like them. They seem to be sort of indulgent navel-gazing that hasn’t helped me at all in my kitchen. That said, there is one book that I would place in this category called The Everlasting Meal. It’s totally helpful and worth it. Plus, the Pima County Public Library has a copy, so you can read it without having to pay anything.

7. Food blogs are great for consulting, but not for reading. I know there are some great food blogs out there. I just don’t really like any of them. Partly, it’s the screen thing. Hard copy is always superior to me. Partly, there are so many of them that it’s hard to separate the good from the bad. Partly, they feel too much like food memoirs. Partly, it’s the fact that good food blogs eventually put out a cookbook anyways.

I know… this thing that you are reading is a blog post. Thank you for reading, but reading a good cookbook would be more worth your time. 🙂

8. Magazines and newspapers that write about food are for consulting. They’re fine. They sometimes have great recipes. I love that the N.Y. Times includes a recipe on their daily briefing, and have read many a recipe they have posted. But they strike me as having similar problems to blogs (minus the navel-gazing usually).

*I suppose if you kept a nice file and printed out the recipes of the Times or a good food blog, it could be as good as having a cookbook, although, I don’t think it would actually save you much money, you should probably laminate them, and you would be lacking a coherent body of recipes that are united under one food philosophy.

9. Ask people in your life for their recipes. I’m not very good about this one. My grandmother, however, used to send me a recipe in every letter or card she ever sent me. I think she would get them for free from somewhere, and they weren’t her type of cooking so she’d mail them off to me. Her type of cooking was more along the lines of: dump sugar, salt, flour in a bowl, add some water, stir for a bit, shape and stick in the over. She just knew how to do things in her kitchen and would try recipes only occasionally. For years, I didn’t think it was exciting to receive her cast-off recipes, but I did keep all of them. I mostly used them as book marks. When I started cooking, though, I also started trying some of the recipes she’d sent me. None of them has struck me as spectacular, but they have been a nice way for me to keep a piece of who she was as she gets older. My mom often laments the fact that my grandmother has reached a stage of life in which she only eats Little Debbie boxed desserts and the occasional microwavable mac ‘n’ cheese. At one time, she was the best cook I knew.

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Finally, specific book recommendations.

My number one recommendation is any of the Thug Kitchen books. There are a few different ones, but start with “The Official Cookbook.” It’s the best one. Thug Kitchen books are delightful. The writers curse at you all the time (subtitle: “Eat like you give a fuck”) and they explain exactly the right amount of things. The recipes are wonderful. Hands down, this is the cookbook I have used more than any other.

For niche books, Jerusalem. Again, this one is at the Pima County Library, so free. It’s got a great intro, even getting into how history and geography has played into the food. Plus, it’s got an excellent shakshuka recipe, although, I have to admit, I combined it with the N.Y. Times recipe, mostly because I wanted to do it in a cast-iron pan and stick it in the oven. I’m not a fan of the runny yolk for shakshuka, although I know that’s the way most recipes recommend going, and it’s probably more traditional that way.

For an aspirational food philosophy book, The Wicked Healthy Cookbook. The intro is excellent. It’s got just enough about the writers and their stories to make you feel like you know the philosophy and the the whys behind what you’re doing. Woody Harrelson wrote the foreword. Also, even though the recipes are complex and challenging, they taste amazing and are well worth it in the end. Fair warning, though, this is a situation where the recipes build on each other. The first recipe I tried was for Ninja Nuts… basically almonds that are toasted in the oven after being coated in a sauce. The sauce, mango sriracha caramel, was delicious, but it required that I first make (or buy, I suppose) regular sriracha. It took me a week to make the sriracha itself, because of fermenting, and it took me another three (ish) hours to turn a bit of it into the mango caramel stuff. I felt super accomplished after the fact, though, and Ninja Nuts have become my go-to snack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate’s Kitchen: A Summer of Writing About Food and Developing a Food Culture


All I have written about on this blog for the past two years is the law and dating. Both have been pretty important in my life, but I’m feeling like this semester is the first in which I have been sane about both school and dating. I haven’t even felt the need to check my blood pressure this semester, because I’ve been so calm. I’ve been wanting to get back to blogging again. I often miss it…

Thus, this summer, I intend to write about food.

This post is about food culture and food philosophy.

I grew up mostly eating foods that were either purchased from a restaurant, microwaved by me, or came with little or no assembly required.

I’m not complaining. My mom is (was? because she has sort of retired) a nurse. She would work long days and be tired and none of the rest of us helped out with much of anything at home. She would walk in the door to find piles of dishes in the sink, piles of laundry, and the rest of us lounging in front of the tv eating Chex Mix.

My dad could cook, but he wasn’t the type to cook dinner every night. He was the type who might wake us all up at 4 a.m. to eat homemade cinnamon rolls. Junk food was really his thing. Peanut butter candy, cheese dip, party mix, layered candy bars, etc… Those were his things. If he was responsible for getting dinner on the table, he’d order a pizza.

Also, I was a jock. While I did take a home-ec. class once, I really, truly wasn’t interested in being a homemaker. I occasionally tried to cook things, but it was like once every two or three years that I even felt the need to cook anything.

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Fast forward.

When I got my own place, I distinctly remember my first few trips to the grocery store, because I didn’t have any clue what the hell I was doing. I definitely only shopped at Walmart for probably four years, because I felt like Trader Joe’s was pretentious.

My mom made sure I had the basic kitchen things when I moved out: dishes, pans, spatulas, etc… and when I came home from the grocery store, I came home with the edible basics: Marshmallow Mateys, Lean Pockets (trying to be healthy, you know), and cheddar cheese.

For a few years, I stuck to microwavable foods, with the occasional real meal added in. I was fond of a chicken and rice bake I found in my Betty Crocker cook book (another basic Mom supplied me with). I sometimes did salads. Sandwiches. Pastas with store-bought sauces. It honestly wasn’t until I bought my own house that I started to cook real food for myself on a regular basis.

And I started reading books about food.

Lots and lots of books about food.

And dvds about food.

One of the books (I can no longer remember for sure which one) started out with a chapter stating that the problem with the American diet is that we don’t have a food culture.

On the one hand, that’s not entirely true. We have southern cooking, which is its own culture within the larger American culture. We have Thanksgiving, which seems to me the most valid piece of food culture we’ve got, although I also hate it and was called the Thanksgiving Grinch last year. We have burgers and french fries for the Fourth of July. And I’m sure there are other quintessentially American meals that I’m forgetting. Go ahead and remind me of them in the comments, if you like.

To me, pumpkin pie seems like all we can really claim in the way of food culture.

So I set out to develop my own personal food culture. That was probably something like five years ago.

This summer, I’m going to post the things I came up with.

As a general overview, I should say that I’m either a vegetarian who rarely, but occasionally eats fish or a Pescatarian who rarely, but occasionally eats fish. Neither label seems fully satisfying, but it’s how I’ve been for about 4 years now, and it’s a big piece of my food philosophy.

Steve, Lori, and I had a conversation quite awhile back about the theology of food, and I generally have a problem with factory farming in large part because of that conversation and food documentaries like Food, Inc.

I firmly believe that we are poorly stewarding the earth, in no small part, due to factory farming. I am opposed to the idea of feeding corn to cows. I’m opposed to chickens so fat they can’t walk. I’m opposed to eating a burger that is made up of meat from bunches and bunches of cows instead of just one at a time.

Also, though, I have reached a point where my practice actually exceeds my beliefs. I don’t think it’s wrong to eat meat. I just think it’s wrong to treat animals poorly (as well as treating the earth poorly) before we eat them. Yet, I am kind of grossed out by most meat now. When I contemplate eating meat, I can’t stop thinking of the animal it came from and how sad it is that it has died to provide something for me that I don’t even actually need.

Even though I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying a slab of beef from Whole Foods where you can select an animal who has lived a better life than lots of children in this world… I almost never have it in me to eat animals anymore (except fish for some inexplicable reason).

Because of my philosophy about stewarding the earth, I also have a leaning towards eating local, organic, and whole foods cooked by me at home, although it’s way too much work for me to be committed to doing that all the time. I also try to avoid foods that seem to have been invented in a petri dish… for instance, if I need fuel on a run, I tend to eat pouches of organic baby food rather than Gu, and I try to buy food with labels that make sense to me.

So… there isn’t much else in my food philosophy, but there are some staples in my diet that I’m going to try to write about this summer.

 

Eggs

Popcorn

Rice (and just about any whole grain)

Red wine

Avocados

Nuts (all types, but especially walnuts and cashews)

Coffee

Spices (especially paprika)

Spinach, onions, tomatoes, and certain squashes

Almond butter

Apples, berries, and frozen fruits

 

Additionally, I am trying to branch out and do more with tea, vinegar, homemade sushi rolls, and homemade sauces. I only rarely bake (unless roasting veggies and making pizzas count) and I’m not as interested in desserts as I am in savory foods. I also rarely cook for others, because I oddly feel like I am imposing on them by making them eat my food. This summer, however, I may try to host more so as to get more comfortable cooking for others.

 

I will try to post pictures, as if I were a proper food blogger.

 

Happy cooking!