Friday, May 31, 2013

Busted A/C... and Brownies

Well, it looks like our 40-year-old HVAC unit made by Chrysler (no kidding) has finally bitten the dust for good. No amount of duct tape and pool noodles can make it last another season. Rats.

So far this year I think we've had two days of fully-functioning A/C. My studio has gotten downright tropical during the daytime this week; It was 90-something degrees at the hottest point today, and of course, I was busy working a deadline. So it goes without saying: I'm extremely pleased that we're getting a new heating and air system installed by Monday. Phew!

Apart from my reluctance to use a hot stove in the heat, I haven't been completely idle in the kitchen in the past week. I owe my blogging absence to art deadlines more than a lack of cooking.

We've simultaneously been planning a yard sale with my parents. Brendan wants to serve brownies and/or other baked goods at the yard sale, and to my chagrin (also possibly to put me in a competitive baking mood), he purchased and prepared some pre-packaged Marie Callender brownie mix. We can't have that.

I set out to make better brownies. I came up with my own recipe and it was pretty good, but not perfect. I took copious notes all over my original recipe. I promise, I'll post up some nice new photos and the recipe when I get it just right.


We also did a fantastic homemade tomato sauce which I plan to blog about soon, baked some more bread, etc... but mostly it's just been a hot, sweaty, busy week.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Late Spring Planting

I originally had big plans this weekend, but due to half a dozen unforseen circumstances, all of my original and backup plans were cancelled. So I've been making the best of my time at home. Despite rain, I woke up early with an irrepressible urge to get outside, and took advantage of that feeling. As Tom Waits said, "A little rain never hurt no one."

First I went to the Burke Farmer's Market. I didn't see many veggies that I was interested in today, so I picked up a couple of herbs that were missing from my outdoor herb container garden: mint and sage. I planted the rosemary we got at the farm market last week in the container as well.

After the farm market, I went to my local plant nursery, Burke Garden Center, and bought some plants to spruce up the front yard. In 2011, we collaborated with our neighbors and planted a few creeping jenny plants between our doorsteps, which has since spread and become an absolutely lovely carpet of bright yellow-green.

Forget grass. This stuff could take over the whole yard and I wouldn't complain.

We've talked about doing the same thing on the other side of the doorstep since then, and as of this morning, it's planted for real. Gardening in the rain, wheeee! :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Vegetarian White Bean Chili

I finally gave in and turned on the air conditioning today. After all that beer last week and the rise in temperature today, I wanted to cook something full of vegetables and NO BREAD, so I ended up creating my own vegetarian white bean chili recipe. The red curry paste is the special ingredient that brought this dish together. Culturally consistent? No. Delicious? Yes. It adds a tiny bit of sweetness reminiscent of Cincinnati chili, which was the first kind I ever sampled, made by my Ohioan college roommate.

Vegetarian White Bean Chili

Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
  • 16 oz cooked cannellini beans
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tsp vegetarian red curry paste*
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
--------------Optional Toppings:
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1 wedge of white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large nonstick saucepan or pot over medium heat, cook the onions in olive oil until translucent and fragrant, 5-7 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the jalapeño pepper; you can add as much or as little as you like to control the level of spice. I found that about half a pepper with seeds in worked for me, but you might have a higher or lower tolerance for heat than I do.

Add the cannellini beans, carrots, celery, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Continue cooking and stirring for another minute before adding the vegetable broth. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat and let the liquid reduce and thicken while stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes. Finally, stir in the red curry paste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream, and serve hot! Enjoy.

*A note for vegetarians and vegans: It's important to note that some red curry paste has a shrimp or fish base, so if you're strict about not eating seafood, make sure you buy paste that doesn't contain animal ingredients. With a vegetarian curry paste and no toppings, you can make a this as a vegan chili.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Farmer's Market Opening and Apple Walnut Muffins

I've been excited for the reopening of the Fairfax Saturday Farmer's Market for months. This morning we went with our friends Sven and Jeannine and had fun sampling food and picking out interesting local items to buy.

The Haul.

The best thing for me about farmer's markets is getting more insight into where the food came from, and to be able to talk directly to the people behind it. Most of them are passionate about what they're selling and want to tell you how the food is grown and made. Here's a little info on our first purchases.

Honey Mint Dressing
Made by Joie de Vivre Fine Foods, this dressing has a mayonnaise base infused with chopped mint grown in the owner's townhouse garden, and honey from a West Virginia apiary.

Creamed Honey
This rich spread was made by the local "honey man" from Manassas, Wild Mountain Honey, Inc. I got to chat with him about making creamed honey (there's no actual cream involved). It's a process that involves heating honey to specific temperatures to keep it from crystallizing, combining it with small bit of creamed honey from a former batch, and keeping it at a consistent 57° F. It's labor-intensive, and the result is a smooth, very spreadable pasteurized honey. While local honey may not provide relief for allergies like many say, it is delicious, and buying it supports local farmers.

I also got some fresh strawberries and a potted rosemary plant from Garner Produce, and the apples were from Kuhn Orchards.


Speaking of apples... I got a few Braeburn apples which are great for baking, so I decided to make some apple muffins tonight. I modified my Whole Grain Raisin Muffin recipe to . Here's what I came up with:

Apple Walnut Muffins

Ingredients (for a dozen muffins):
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Braeburn apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp x 12 turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tray with a small amount of olive oil.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the oats in 2 cups of water, for about 3 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the oats are soft. Make sure they don't burn to the pan while cooking. Once cooked, set them aside.

Whisk together the flour, flax meal, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in center of the dry ingredient mixture, then add the honey, oil, vanilla extract, beaten egg, and cooked oats. Stir well. Add the finely chopped apples and walnuts and continue stirring until evenly combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tray, filling each well to the top. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar atop each muffin to add a touch of sweetness and a shiny glaze to the top of each muffin. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the muffins are firm. Remove them from the muffin tray with a rubber spatula quickly after baking and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sweet & Smoky Beer Cheese Soup

This may go down as the least healthy recipe I've ever posted, but it fits with the beer theme, so here goes. This is my sweet and smoky take on a classic dish, using our doppelbock style home brewed beer Cletus the Defenestrator.

Hey look, a beer snifter!

Sweet & Smoky Beer Cheese Soup

  • 8 oz gouda cheese, cubed
  • 4 oz smoked gouda cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup bock style beer
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 4 shallots, sliced into strips
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp turbinado sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili pepper, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large non-stick saucepan, sauté the shallots in butter on medium heat for 4 minutes or until the shallots just begin to brown. Add the minced garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes, then add the sugar and let the shallots caramelize. Temporarily remove from heat and add the flour. Stir until combined. Optional: Once combined, set a couple spoonfuls of shallots aside for garnish.

Add cream and bring to a low boil. As the cream thickens, slowly whisk in the cheese cubes until melted. Add the beer and whisk until you have an even, creamy consistency. Note: If you want to thicken the soup a little bit more, add 1 tbsp of flour to 1 tbsp of melted butter and whisk into the soup.

Season with salt, pepper, chopped cilantro, and minced red chili pepper, stir together and remove from heat. Garnish with the remaining caramelized shallots. Serve immediately with toasted garlic bread.

I'm proud that I made this recipe from scratch. It took some trial and error, experimenting with different cheeses and onion varieties and proportions of ingredients. I knew I wanted something that specifically worked with our beer, which is kind of sweet and malty, and my palette just screamed smoked gouda. I am glad it did.

And thus concludes beer week. It's been fun, but I am craving tea and non-bread-based food.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spent Grain Dog Biscuits

Brendan and I tried out this recipe for homemade dog biscuits from one of our local home brew shop's blogs. The recipe is fine as is, and I didn't come up with it, so I'll just link it for you.

Mostly this was an excuse to make treats for Gordon, then take pictures of him enjoying them (which he did).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sandwich Bread with Spent Grains

Back in February, I made a post about Artisan Bread from Spent Grains, and a friend mentioned that we didn't really need to use loaf pans for that. She's right, but if you use the same recipe with a few minor tweaks, you can make really delicious sandwich bread, too. This might be a touch repetitive, but pay close attention to the differences.

Sandwich Bread with Spent Grains

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 cup filtered water (at room temperature)
  • 3/4 cup spent grain
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • about 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt

Combine the yeast and water in a bowl and stir until dissolved. Add the flour to the spent grain (it’s best to do this right after brewing so the grain is still moist), then stir in the yeast solution. Mix everything together with a spatula until combined into a wet dough, then cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave it out on the counter overnight to ferment and grow in size.

Transfer the dough starter to the bowl of a stand mixer. Combine the flour, water, honey, and salt with the starter. Using the dough hook attachment on low speed, mix the dough for 10-12 minutes. The texture of the dough should be slightly smoother than what you'd want for baguettes- I like taking the dough out of the mixer and kneading by hand so I know exactly how it feels. It's hard to describe the perfect consistency, but it should just barely be floured enough not to stick to your fingers.

After kneading, set the dough aside in a bowl that’s been lightly oiled, cover it with plastic wrap, and leave it for 4-6 hours more (this is longer than we'd wait for the dense baguette-shaped loaves).

Now that the dough has increased in size again, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured counter top or flat work surface. Knead and roll the dough out with a floured rolling pin (it's good to put some flour on your hands as well) and divide it into two equal portions.

Re-flour your work surface and flatten out each section into an approximate rectangle about ½ inch thick. Roll up each of the rectangular dough sections into tight cylinders, pinching together the ends and the seam (the seam will be the bottom of the loaf). Lightly grease 2 loaf pans, and place in the rolled dough. Wait another couple of hours, or as long as it takes to expand to the size of the loaf pan's base, like this:

Raw bread dough that's expanded in the loaf pans. This is ready for the oven.

Preheat oven to 450° F, and place a metal tray on the bottom rack for steaming. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans, add more steam, and bake for another 15 minutes. A finished loaf should be brown on top, golden to dark depending on the type of grains you used. As a matter of preference, we've found that the darker grains with a higher SRM (such as black patent) don't look or taste as good in sandwich bread because of their strong flavor. So we recommend sticking to lighter grains like pale malt and saving the darker stuff for other baked goods.

Let the loaves cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, slice, and serve!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Making Labels for Beer

While I've been coming into my own as a home cook, my husband Brendan has been exploring his passion for making beer. It's been about a year since he started home brewing, and (matrimonial bias aside) he's getting very good at it, both in the technical sense, and developing his palate to know which malts and hops work together harmoniously.

Yes, that's a wine glass. We don't own beer snifters... deal with it.

Today, we tasted his latest beer, an eisbock called Cletus the Defenestrator, and I've decided that this should be Beer Week on Fork and Brush. Although I've learned a lot about the process by watching Brendan, I'm not concerned with the technical stuff here. There are plenty of other blogs for that, including one recently launched by my good friend Joe.

I'm more interested in how beer and brewing relate to cooking, and occasionally art, so that's what I'll be focusing on here. Today, I want to tell you about our label.

Brendan gets full credit for its design, and we executed it together. The label features the name under which he brews, Dead River, the silhouette of a mischievous goat (Cletus), and the feet of someone falling from a window. Home brewers often have a lot of fun making their own labels, and there are ways to do it on the cheap. For example, these were printed using my ink jet printer and affixed to the bottles with whole milk. Milk works unbelievably well as a label adhesive, and when you want to re-use the bottles they peel right off with warm water.

Surgeon General's Warning: Do not consume alcoholic beverages near goats or open windows.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

State of the Kitchen, May 2013

It's been a few months since I posted about my initial pantry overhaul, and it's time to take stock of what's worked, and what hasn't.

Stocking The Essentials

I feel great about this. It's still posted on the fridge, but I barely need to rely on my pantry essentials list anymore. There have been a couple edits to the list since December, mainly the subtraction of meat items and the swapping of things like "rice" to "whole grain rice." I've also been good about preparing enough Homemade Granola and Whole Grain Raisin Muffins to keep 'em on the list.

Now for the less positive stuff...

Flour and Sugar on Work Release

During the overhaul, I set up a "Food Prison" bin on top of the fridge for the empty foods I wanted to get rid of, while replacing them with whole ingredients.


That was months ago, so jail should be empty by now, right? Not exactly. I discovered about two months later that it was going to take more than a little willpower to get rid of white flour and white sugar altogether, unless I wanted to severely limit my baking. Medieval March, for example, would not have been completely possible without those two staples. What I have done is upgrade them to a higher-quality unbleached all-purpose flour and organic white sugar (not pictured), and I try to use them sparingly. The rest of Food Prison has dwindled slowly, or hasn't been touched since its incarceration and will soon be in a different bin.

Old Friends in the Cupboard

Right after I shot that photo of my cupboards above, I cleared everything out of them to clean the shelves. I only had one cup of chickpeas left, so I decided I'd soak them for a small batch of hummus. But as I was pouring them in the pot, I was met with a familiar and unwelcome sight: Sitophilus granarius, aka grain weevils.

We got them last summer, and it forced us to go through all of the grains in our cupboards, throw out the weevil-infested stuff, and freeze the rest. The weevils steered pretty clear of the bleached and processed grains, choosing to set up their main camp in a bag of brown rice; I think there's a lesson about nutrition in there somewhere. Either way, now that what I'm keeping around is mostly whole grains, I need to be even more careful.

There is one upside, though... sort of. Remember when I said I didn't want to throw money at mason jars? Well, I finally had a real reason to get some. Grain weevils can't chew through glass, like they can through plastic and paper. I can't think of a prettier way to avoid pests and organize.

More updates to come...