Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week eleven of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Spent Grain Bread - Jeff is making a certain fermented beverage that makes use of grains (it's going to be a Christmas gift this year, hence the high level of secrecy regarding its exact identity). There was an awful lot of spent grain left over, so he froze it in 3 cup batches to make this bread with when we want it. Jeff actually used the 3 cups in two loaves, so I would recommend halving the amount of spent grain in the recipe.

  • Upside Down Jam Cake - This one is kind of cheating because I haven't made it yet, but I plan on making it tonight. I plan to use some homemade blueberry jam that's been sitting in the fridge forever, and for the cake recipe use the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes.

  • Lentil Loaf - Jeff loves lentils and decided to make this loaf. It has a huge amount of ingredients which was kind of intimidating, but most of them are spices. I really liked the loaf until we put the lentils in (not being a huge fan of them myself), but it was tasty. I could see making this with okara "meat" in the place of the lentils.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week ten of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week nine of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Pickled Watermelon Radish - I picked some watermelon radishes up at the last farmers' market we'll be having in Boston until late May (sad), and decided to try them pickled. By about three days later Jeff was already wolfing them down so I'd say this recipe was a success. By the way, four smallish radishes made a quart of pickles so I doubled the recipe. That didn't leave enough liquid to cover the radishes so I just filled it to the top with water after adding all of the other ingredients.

  • Cranberry Fudge Pie - I veganized this by using the cream from one can of coconut milk instead of cow cream. This was such a huge hit at Thanksgiving and I was almost worried that all of my non-vegan relatives would gobble it up before I got a slice. Although I wound up putting most of the cranberry sauce on top I would definitely tone it back (maybe more than the 1.5 cups it calls for though) as the bitterness from the cranberries tends to dominate over the sweetness from the fudge.

  • Tofu Turkey - Jeff and I made the tofu turkey recipe on this page. We did it last year as well and I'd say it makes an excellent recipe for Thanksgiving!

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vegan Cheezeburger Pizza

Long-time supporters of the now-closed TJ Scallywaggle's, Alyssa and I had sampled all of their pizza offerings. The cool thing about TJ's was that they weren't afraid to push the envelope on pizza or politics, no matter how outlandish. Some recipes were great (chicken w/ funny mustard!), and some were flops (nacho??). Since they closed every so often I'll have a craving for our Favorite TJ's Pizza of All Time: Cheezeburger.

Vegan Cheeseburger Pizza

Cheezeburger pizza sounds like a horrible idea. I thought it was at first, but having tried my first slice, I couldn't get enough. The pizza tastes exactly like a cheeseburger, and you don't need to slaughter a cow to have the experience!

Here's our take on a TJ's classic:

Cheezeburger Pizza
Yield: 2-4 Servings
1 Pizza Dough
1/4 C Pizza Sauce
50:50 Vegan Cheddar:Mozzarella Cheeze Blend (or any vegan cheeze)
1/4 Medium White Onion
Gimmie Lean "Beef" OR Okara Meatballs
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (if using a baking stone, ensure stone is in the oven).
  2. Roll or toss the pizza dough onto a pre-cornmealed baking sheet.
  3. Spoon pizza sauce evenly on top of the dough. Leave 1 cm or so around the edge for crust.
  4. Grate cheeze on the pizza, leaving 1 cm around the edge.
  5. Slice onion into rings and add to pizza with pickles.
  6. Crumble the "beef" onto the pizza.
  7. Drizzle on the Ketchup and Mustard.
  8. Place pizza in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until crust is golden brown.
  9. Remove pizza from oven and slide onto a wire rack.
  10. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting on a solid surface.
  11. Enjoy!
The Finer Points:
I usually make a dough from scratch when I get home from work. By the time I've relaxed a bit, I head back into the kitchen and the dough is risen and ready to work with. The recipe I use is straight out of the Joy of Cooking. A simple dough recipe from a quick google search will do fine. Alternatively, if you don't want to make a dough yourself, most supermarkets (Shaw's and Whole Foods around here) have pizza dough available. I have tried this also and this can save you some time.

For the sauce, I usually use whatever is sitting in the fridge, provided that it's still good (no mold, tastes okay, etc.) For pizza, there is a rule that "less is more" so I tend to go with a red sauce on the plain side. I find that a sauce that is too complex can conflict and overpower the toppings. You want these flavors to be complimentary, so go easy on the garlic and basil. In a pinch I've used canned tomato sauce which can be a bit bland. I doctor this up slightly with a little garlic and dried herbs to taste.

For the cheese, there are a few options. The actual TJ's cheezeburger used a 50:50 blend of Cheddar:Mozzarella Teese, so I felt I needed to keep true with the written recipe. We ended up using Cheddar Daiya alone for the one in the photo, which worked fine. Use any vegan cheeze you'd like.

Now come the toppings. Remember that with pizza "less is more". You don't really want to over-do it with any one topping, because you'll end up with a mountain of same-tasting food with a big patch of undercooked dough underneath. Place down the pickles, sliced onion, and "beef" crumbles evenly and sparingly. This holds true for the ketchup and mustard, too. Remember that you plan to eat what you're playing with here.

When you're satisfied that you've created a masterpiece, you may run into some difficulty popping the sucker into the preheated oven. I recommend using a baking stone (heated with the oven), as it distributes the heat evenly and gives you a nice crispy crust from the soft dough's contact with a hot surface. This is why I recommended building the pizza on a flat cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. In theory you should be able to slide the pizza off the cookie sheet and onto the hot stone. Sometimes I find that with all these toppings, and the size of my oven that I can't slide the pizza off. If you can't, don't worry, just place the whole cookie sheet on the stone. It will all work out fine.

Additionally, I check the pizza after 10 minutes to turn it around because my oven is hotter in the back than in the front. Your crust should be solid yet soft at this point, so rotating is easy. In 10 minutes the pizza will be done and ready to eat.
So Good
Congratulations! You're now enjoying delicious cheezeburger pizza!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week eight of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Fresh Gnocchi - We didn't have many potatoes, so we put a lot of effort into making an appetizer. This would be a great idea to make in bulk, and then freeze the leftovers.

  • Tofu Pot Pie - I made this with pumpkin instead of sweet potato. I had really built this up in my mind so much, that nothing would have lived up. I liked it much better the next day.

  • Beet-eroni (Faux Pepperoni) - I used big (normal sized?) beets and roasted them over an hour and they never soaked up all the liquid. They were still delicious on pizza. Two beets yielded tons of leftovers so I would recommend only using one beet if you've got something bigger than a golf ball.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven

Monday, November 8, 2010

Successful Experiment with Kombucha

I first had Kombucha in Worcester after picking up a bottle at the ARTichoke Co-op. I remember Jeff telling me how hippie it was, and I didn't need much more convincing than that. The sweet and sour vinegar taste won me over instantly, even with the weird pieces of culture floating around in it (backwash, as Jeff and I lovingly refer to it). I've since looked into making my own, including reading every last inch of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, but became disappointed when I figured I'd have to buy a mother in order to make it happen. Kombucha isn't mainstream enough for mothers to be sold at homebrew stores along with vinegar, and online at Gem Cultures it was going to cost a pretty penny to have one shipped here.

New Batch So imagine my delight when I found these two posts about growing your own kombucha mother, or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts). I used GTI kombucha to start my SCOBY, because that's what was easily available to me. Make sure whatever you buy is raw and unpasteurized or it won't work!

Jeff and I made that recipe, and had let it sit on our counter for at least a month. Last night I decided that the SCOBY was mature enough to take out of the starter and make into some serious fermented beverage. As you can see in the photo above, the SCOBY is a large whitish disc, which really isn't half as gross looking as I expected. I was initially nervous that it wouldn't be able to exit the container, considering that the mouth is narrower than the jar's diameter, but that was no problem. The SCOBY is pretty flexible.

Kombucha We drank the remainder of the liquid that the SCOBY was grown in, and it tasted delicious. Because it had been sitting for so long, it was quite vinegary, which is how I like my kombucha. If you like it sweet, don't culture the tea for too long. Pictured above is our next batch of kombucha brewing away in a half-gallon mason jar. Maybe we'll eventually move the operation up into a larger container if we get adventurous.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week seven of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Jeff and I had a Halloween party, and served black bean and corn salsa, blueberry banana bread, brownies, and also foccacia, pizza rolls and hummus (recipes not online).

  • Roasted Corn Soup - Jeff and I cheated and used frozen corn, we also don't have an immersion blender so we just used our food processor. We served this with baked potatoes, and wound up mashing our potatoes into the soup for extra deliciousness.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Make Your Own Pumpkin Pie Soymilk: Vegan MoFo

Here I am three days into Vegan MoFo with no posts to show for myself. I'm neck deep in writing a Very Important Document for a Very Important Deadline for my PhD (not my thesis yet, thankfully), so, needless to say, Jeff and I have been eating a lot of pasta lately. Then on Monday, I got my braces adjusted, so now I've been eating a lot of mushy pasta. And soup. :)

Inspired by this recipe for a pumpkin pie shake, I bring you a recipe for the much simpler pumpkin pie soymilk. I think it's a somewhat less sweet version of the stuff Silk makes, but way more delicious.

Pumpkin Pie Soymilk

Pumpkin Pie Soymilk
Into your blender add:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
Soymilk up to the 2 cup line
2 tbsp maple syrup (more if you have a sweet tooth or are using unsweetened soymilk)
Sprinkle of ground cloves
Sprinkle of ground ginger
Sprinkle of nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

Blend until smooth. Feel free to add more of any ingredient after tasting. The best thing about recipes is playing with them until you discover what works best for you!

Until next time... enjoy the Vegan Month of Food!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week six of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Vegan "Cheese" Breadsticks - Simple and delicious. I skipped the onion and added a drizzle of olive oil instead, and used a heaping tablespoon of roasted garlic. This is seriously the easiest yeast breadstick recipe ever, and you could whip them up an hour or so before dinner.

  • Thai Coconut Soup - A good choice when Jeff and I wanted soup and didn't have much produce to use. I skipped the peanut butter because I personally hate that stuff.

  • Acorn Squash Alfredo Sauce - This meal was very simple, tasty and the best part is that it made enough for left-overs so I didn't have to worry about making lunch the next morning. I would probably use only 1 tbsp or less of the mustard as I feel that flavor somewhat overwhelmed.

  • Tomato Soup - This soup was very tasty, and simple to make. Next time I'd probably peel the tomatoes first as the peel (even blended) has a magic ability to get stuck in my braces.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four, Five

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week five of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Rustic Three Squash Soup - Jeff and I roasted a butternut and buttercup squash for an hour, added roasted garlic and a piece of roasted yellow pepper, and added 2 cups of soymilk. We didn't use the food processor so it came out very thick, but delicious. This was a good opportunity to use some of our apple sauce.

  • Roasted Peppers - See above recipe. Neither Jeff nor I had ever roasted a pepper before. Very simple, but I let Jeff do the dirty work as I'm afraid of burning my fingers off.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three, Four

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Life Gives You Apples...

Jeff, my parents and I tried to go apple picking last year. Not thinking, we picked an orchard somewhere in the vicinity of Wellesley. We had a hard time parking because the place was full to the brim, and while waiting in line we saw a sign mentioning an entree fee (14$ a person) and cost for u-pick (2.50$ per pound). I laughed, and pointed out the sign to my parents, who also enjoyed a good chuckle. We about-faced, got some cheap apples from the farm store and drove back to Boston. Lesson learned.

Tree This year we decided to go a bit farther out to Bolton, to Nashoba Valley Winery, which is not just a winery, distillery and micro-brewery but also an apple orchard of prodigious proportions. One of the things that excited me about Nashoba is the fact that they have over 90 varieties of apple trees. You are not confined to red delicious, empires and macs.

Jeff and I spent a decent amount of time exploring the orchard and wound up picking a half bushel for cider/sauce purposes. Among the varieties we picked were Roxbury Russets, Winter Bananas (yes, they taste like bananas) and Winesaps. There may have been a few Golden Delicious thrown in there, and certainly other strange varieties whose names have already escaped my memory.

Coming home we opened up the Ball Book to Home Preserving to figure out how to make cider. Half an hour of chopping apples later (and at least one blister from the effort), we had filled a 5-gallon and 2-gallon pot. We added the water, turned on the gas, and waited for the apples to become tender.

Fresh Pressed Cider Thinking we could save time by draining all the apples at once, we rigged up a set-up consisting of a huge nylon straining bag, giant bucket, broom handle and chairs to prop the broom handle on. Amazingly, it was strong enough to hold 25 pounds of wet apple glop. We let it sit for 2 hours, and quickly learned why the Ball Book recommends you drain the apples in small batches; only about half a gallon of juice had strained out. If you have a lot of time, definitely do it in small batches. It getting to be late at night, we poured a bit of water through to force more juice out, and wound up with just over a gallon of cider, with gallons of pulp left over.

After Jeff and I had set up the cider into a fermenter, we looked at each other in disbelief over how much pulp we had left over, when I realized a food mill would allow us to turn all of the seedy, peel-y mass into apple sauce. Considering we didn't own one yet, we transferred the pulp to containers to stay the night in the fridge.

Food Mill The next day, Jeff picked up a food mill after work so we could make use of our near-disaster. A food mill is an amazing kitchen gadget. While we were waiting for our dinner to bake in the oven, we had already processed a gallon of the puree. After tasting it, we realized the apples we used were already the perfect combination of sweet, tart and exotic for us not to want to add any spices to the mix. I didn't feel like waiting around to process them in boiling water, so into the freezer they went.

Sauce We wound up with 2.5 gallons of the most delicious apple sauce ever. At 1$ per pound for apples, we will wind up with a gallon of hard cider, 10 quarts of sauce and a unique New England apple picking experience. If you are lucky enough to live near an orchard with old heirloom varieties of apples, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give them your support by buying their apples and ciders. You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week four of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Vegan Banana Blueberry Muffins - I didn't use very ripe bananas so these muffins weren't terribly awesome. I did add a little bit of oil but they still had a very dense crumb.

  • Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte - I tried this with chai tea and some pumpkin puree I just made (which was more stringy than puree), and it was okay but not great. I think real puree would have made it much yummier.

  • Pumpkin Puree - I had three pie pumpkins, which probably yielded a quart of puree a piece.

  • Pumpkin Butter - Two out of three of my pie pumpkins went into pumpkin butter which is now in the freezer.

  • Blueberry Breakfast Cake - This wins the recipe of the week award. I know the website is fat free vegan, but I used oil instead of applesauce and this cake had the best mouthfeel ever, even though it was very crumbly. Jeff and I gobbled this one up real fast, I never expected something made from oat and whole wheat flour to taste so good.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two, Three

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Couple Hot Sauces

In the spring I made a hot sauce recipe I saw with habaneros and a carrot base. It was super-spicy, which is what I was craving at the time and paired well with most of our meals at the beginning of the summer. Needless to say, it was so good that it was gone by the time I got around to writing a hot sauce post. While I was looking for another recipe to write about I found that many hot sauce recipes are just chili purees, a base ingredient, and spices. Feeling adventurous, I decided to come up with my own recipe and post it here.

As summer came to a close a few weeks ago, farmers were unloading the last hot peppers of the season at the farmer's market. I picked up a few lbs. of "hot peppers" (I think they're cayenne) and let them sit in the fridge until I had some time last night to throw together some hot sauce.

Hot Sauce

The sauce is sweet on the nose with a spicy bite at the end. The cumin and coriander serve to balance the flavors in the middle. The tomato sauce makes an excellent base for any sweet and savory sauce. You might compare this to arrabiatta-style sauce but with a bit more balance and kick.

Spicy and Sweet Tomato-based Hot Sauce
Yield: 16 fl. oz.

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
3 Cayenne Peppers (or 1 C chilies of your choice)
1/4 Large Red Onion (or 1/2 Small Red Onion)
1 Tbsp. Roasted Garlic (or 1 - 2 Cloves Fresh Garlic)
1 Cup Tomato Sauce or Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 Tbsp. Chili Powder
1/8 tsp. Paprika
1/8 tsp. Cumin
1/8 tsp. Coriander
1/4 Cup Vinegar

1. Finely chop (or blend) Chilies, Onion, and Garlic.
2. Saute Chilies, Onion, and Garlic in oil on medium heat until softened.
3. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer on low for 15 - 20 minutes.
4. Remove cover (be careful of fumes), and taste. If the sauce is spicy enough remove from heat and bottle. If it is not, simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes to cook off more liquid, then remove from heat and bottle.

Chunky Hot Sauce

The notes in parenthesis are alternative options that I think will work equally well. Blending will result in a much smoother sauce. As it stands, this sauce is a little thick; perfect for tacos, burgers, sandwiches, meatballs, etc.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Victory Garden Lessons Learned

Jeff and I were able to start not only one, but two gardens this year. We were lucky to have our application for a Fenway Victory Garden approved, giving us a space roughly the size of my old studio apartment to plant some veggies. On top of that, my mom was very interested in having a vegetable garden, so we also put in some raised beds in the backyard of my childhood home.

We had a lot of successes and some failures, but ultimately we learned a lot. I'd like to share our lessons learned here so that hopefully they can be used as a learning experience.

Garden Successes
Unripened Tomatoes
  • The cherry tomatoes were a big hit with my parents, my dad would gobble up a handful after work ever evening and raved about them non-stop. They were also very prolific, much like the romas we planted there. While several dozen romas only gave me 3 pints of sauce, that was just from a few plants. I'm definitely going to plant many more romas next year!
  • Our Bush Ace tomato plants were amazingly huge, and while we didn't get many to ripen on the vine, we had enough big green tomatoes to make a quart of pickles and a gallon of relish, which came out absolutely delicious.
  • Snap peas planted early at my parent's did really well. We will definitely plant more next year.
  • We planted an entire seed packet of Quinoa at our victory garden thinking: "what the heck?" We managed to get a bunch of seeds out of it, and they're drying as I write this. Hulling them is very simple, and I look forward to eating them to see if they're worth doing again next year.

Garden Failures
  • Our cucumbers here in Boston could not seem to do anything right. We were excited by a big blossoming in early July, followed by many tiny cucumbers growing. We ultimately ate ONE, the rest of which got eaten by small animals, rotted or otherwise disappeared. The plant caught powdery mildew, pretty much decimating whatever remained. We pulled the plants out and threw them in the big compost pile. Very sad. (See picture for our lone edible cuke.)
  • Peppers failed to thrive. I planted a lot of jalapeño and bell peppers because I love eating them and they're expensive. Not a single plant got big enough to produce flowers for some reason. Last week Jeff and I cleared out our raised beds here in Boston, and found that one jalapeño plant had put out flowers. In September.
  • Jeff and I started lots of herbs and for some reason had no success with them, save for a row of sage we planted in the backyard. We'll simply try again next year!

Lessons Learned
Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers
  • Don't bother using egg-cartons as seed starters. Sow directly into big, biodegradable seed starters. I found some commercially sold at a hardware store. Anything too small will have to be replanted frequently, and if you don't find the time to do that (guilty!) your seeds will not benefit from their extra time indoors. Planting them couldn't be simpler, just put them in the ground, cover, and you're done.
  • Start indoors early! All of our tomatoes that got to a decent size indoors were huge by the end of the season. Tomatoes that are quite big and bushy before going in the ground benefit from being planted deep, helping to promote root growth.
  • Don't start seeds indoors if the seed packet doesn't recommend it. We started cucumbers and squash indoors despite recommendations to the contrary. Our squash seedlings all died after planting, and our cucumbers resisted growth for a while. When they finally did grow, they quickly got some powdery mildew and I had to tear them all out.
  • Get things in the ground ASAP. Unfortunately we couldn't even get into our victory garden until May, and didn't have the raised beds built until late June, so we really suffered a short growing season. Next season we will have the benefit of starting whenever we want!
  • Plant more seeds than you think you'll need. We planted tons of beet seeds and ate maybe 4 or 5 beets at the end of the season. I have no idea why our success rate was so low. Pepper plants grew very slowly and never flowered in time to fruit. Use an entire packet, and thin out as needed. It's better to waste seeds than to not use enough and waste a growing season.
  • Use tomato trellises! Jeff and I couldn't find any so we didn't use any in our garden, and most of our tomato branches were so heavy from fruit that they grew laterally along the ground. This is bad for a number of reasons, the main one of which is that the fruit will tend to rot if it's left on the ground, or get eaten by small animals. They also don't get enough sun to ripen.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Recipe Roundup

Cast Iron Skillet This is week three of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Pancakes - The easiest, most reliable pancake recipe I've used.

  • Small Batch Pickled Green Tomatoes - Jeff and I have a glut of green tomatoes, due to planting our garden too late in the season to have them ripen before first frost. I made two times this recipe using only 7 out of dozens of green orbs. Time will tell how delicious it is!

  • Green Tomato and Red Onion Relish - The remaining large green tomatoes weighed 7.5 pounds which was perfect for tripling this recipe.

  • Vegan Agave Cornbread Muffins - I didn't have any neutral flavored oils on hand and without oil these were a little "hearty," but nothing that wasn't remedied by putting on a little Earth Balance after baking. I would also double this recipe as I basically had mini muffins using the 6 serving recipe.

Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One, Two

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail

Lots of exciting things are happening around where I grew up in Upstate New York. (I hate calling it Upstate, but since that's what most out-of-staters tend to understand as "not New York City", that's what I'll call it.) For example, we have a new food co-op, a vegan bakery, and that's just what I can think of in Troy.

And then I found a brochure for the Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail, which is a collection of 5 wineries, a distillery and brewery in Rensselaer and Columbia Counties, and also just across the border in Massachusetts. The locations span north to south from Castleton to Germantown, and east to west from the Hudson River to New Marlborough, MA.

Jeff and I were able to visit two of these locations with my dad and mom (acting graciously as our designated driver). We hoped to visit the locations in Chatham as well, but we'll just have to save that for another day.

Bar Brookview Station Winery is located at Goold Orchards, where we previously picked 15 pounds of raspberries. The winery offers a decent selection of wines made on site from non-grape fruits; mostly apples and pears. The wines I tasted from them were crisp and mostly dry, but the great thing about apples is that they tend to make a dry wine taste sweeter than a dry grape wine would taste.

Brookview Station also provides many other wines from New York wineries in the Finger Lakes region. From this selection I tasted many interesting wines ranging from a plain but ultimately very drinkable Cayuga, to a bold and spicy Baco Noir to a Cabernet Franc bursting with currant flavors.

The tasting was 6$ for 6 wines, and all of the wines that they offer for tasting are also on sale at the store.

Harvest Spirits Distillery Just down Route 9 from Castleton is Harvest Spirits Distillery in Valatie. Harvest Spirits has grown out of Golden Harvest Farms, a huge apple orchard that I would see every time we'd drive down Route 9 to visit relatives in Germantown. The distillery is actually quite a bit smaller than I envisioned, but it's quite awe-inspiring to walk inside and see hand decorated aging barrels and an enormous, beautiful copper still.

The tasting was 3$ for a flight of their spirits: Core Vodka (made from apples), Applejack and Pear Brandy. I'm really not much of a drinker of straight distilled spirits, preferring to mix in something non-alcoholic to make it more drinkable to my palate. The Core Vodka, however, was a very smooth and sugary vodka that I was able to sip without choking on. I'm not sure if it would be easily discernible from other high quality vodkas in a mixed drink, but could easily win a blind taste test with common mixers such as Absolut.

Applejack The Applejack made my eyes water as I sipped it, and honestly my taste buds were too burnt from the vodka for me to really appreciate the fine flavors of distilled apple cider. Apparently, this is a traditional drink made from freezing bottles of hard cider and removing the ice.

Finally up was the Pear Brandy, which honestly was not something I would want to taste again. I will sum up how Jeff and I felt about the beverage with this before and after shot of trying it out:

Sipping Flavor Reaction

Overall, I'm glad places like Harvest Spirits exist, because usually when you think of vodka you don't think local, you think of Sweden or Russia or someplace thousands of miles from home. (Unless you happen to live in Åhus.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eating in the Caribbean - St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten

Saint Kitts is a beautiful volcanic island, and probably my favorite of the islands we toured on the cruise. My sister has a copy of the book 1,000 Places To See Before You Die and in that book is Rawlins Plantation Inn which is a small resort sitting on an old sugar plantation. Driving to the inn requires navigating a dirt road surrounded by acres of sugar cane, and the inn itself is comprised of many buildings, some of which were actively used in the sugar production when the plantation was in business. The highlight of the inn is their buffet. While not cheap it is still an incredible bargain for off-boat eating in the Caribbean.

Pina Colada First, we enjoyed drinks on the porch overlooking the croquet field, swimming pool and lush tropical foliage. Even after two tastings two years apart, their piña colada is my favorite of all the piña coladas I've ever tasted. Maybe it's because of the abundance of local rum and coconuts?

The meal itself was actually exactly the same as what we were served on our previous trip in 2008 - but I was not disappointed. On our previous trip, I asked the chef about the ingredients, and he assured me that all of the food that didn't have meat in it was free from dairy and eggs. Lentils and rice, pasta with sweet basil pesto, johnnycakes and a green salad were among the foods Jeff and I dined on. I was too busy eating to take any pictures, and we were sad to have to pack up and leave after paying the bill and taking a tour of the grounds.

Our next stop on the cruise was Saint Lucia. Jeff and I hadn't booked an excursion so we headed into town. Our entire walk there was spent turning down offers of taxis, and when we finally got to Soufrière it started to downpour. We checked out the open air market (but had already saturated our suitcase with offerings of hot sauces from other islands) and ultimately went back to the cruise ship for a day of lounging on board. There weren't any restaurants listed for St. Lucia on Happy Cow, so we didn't feel we were missing much.

The final stop on our voyage was Sint Maarten / Saint Martin. Why two names? Half of the island is Dutch, and the other half is French. While the boat docked on the Dutch side, I took an excursion with Jeff and my parents to the French side, which is where we had a great experience with local food.

Bananas Apparently the island used to export salt, which was its main industry until tourism came in and reared its ugly head. You can still see a lot of salt bays where the salt was produced. Our tour guide also informed us that there are almost no farms on the island, so I don't imagine they export much, if any, foods. However, that doesn't mean the islanders don't eat. We happened upon a wonderful farmers' market in Marigot, which was surrounded by crafts vendors and wonderful juice bars.

Cinnamon My parents bought some spices such as the pictured cinnamon bark, and Jeff and I bought mustard seed and peppercorns. (Unfortunately, the bags exploded in my suitcase and most of the items fell out, some of it was recoverable. Thank goodness they weren't powdery.) There were lots of fresh fruits such as bananas, chiles, mangos, and lots of roots I couldn't identify. I would have loved to take some home but for USDA regulations prohibiting such a thing.

Drink Our last act on the French side, before hitting up the bus back to Philipsburg, was to grab some drinks from a juice vendor. My dad, Jeff and I all shared coconut water, served out of a freshly machete'd plant. It was sweet and delicious, and afterward we asked the guy with the machete to cut up the coconut so we could eat the flesh. Best. Coconut. Ever. My mom ordered a mango smoothie which was made with fresh mango and sugar cane. If the essence of the Caribbean can be juiced into a beverage, it would be that smoothie. It was not cheap, but well worth every penny.

Back in Philipsburg, Jeff and I tried to find the Freedom Fighter Ital Shack listed on Happy Cow, but we were told it was a long bus ride away from the main tourist area. We were disappointed, but having eaten a lot of delicious food along the way, not terribly so. We boarded the ship again, looking forward to home cooked food back in Boston.

Read part one (Puerto Rico) and part two (St. Thomas, Dominica and Barbados) and stay tuned for a cruise survival guide as well as local brewery / distillery post.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Recipe Roundup

This is week two of the weekly Recipe Roundup, where I post the online recipes I've used over the past week.

  • Brown Sugar - Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to cane sugar. To me, that's a pretty strange thing to do, because molasses and cane sugar come from the same place - sugarcane. You can either buy raw sugar to completely circumvent this process, or buy the two finished products (cane sugar and molasses) and add them together to make brown sugar. Brown sugar isn't something I have ever seen sold in bulk, it hardens in the pantry, and it's super easy to make your own, so why buy it?

  • Almond Milk - Since making my own soy milk, I have become wary of the commercial stuff. What do they do to it to make it taste completely unlike soybeans? One of the many additives is tons of sugar. Almond milk is easy to make and super healthy. All you need are a blender, cheesecloth, almonds and patience.

  • Homemade Applesauce - I just made this recipe with 12 pounds of Cortland apples and got 1 gallon. I would definitely not recommend making this sauce with Cortlands, even though mine came out delicious. I will go apple picking later this month and will get a variety better suited to sauce and try this again. Good sauce varieties include: Macoun, McIntosh, Rome, Crispin, Golden Delicious, Jersey Mac, Northern Spy and Newton Pippin.
Check out previous Recipe Roundups: One

Friday, October 1, 2010

Caribbean Booze

Rum Punch In the Caribbean, rum is cheaper than milk. When Europeans started colonizing the islands hundreds of years ago, they set up sugar cane plantations, using slave labor, and started an industry that has lasted to the present day. Fortunately, without slave labor anymore. When you take a tour around Saint Kitts or Barbados, you can find sugar cane growing like weeds. Several islands have their own rum distilleries, although most of the islands have dramatically cut back on or mostly stopped their sugar production.

Rum is made from fermented molasses, which is squeezed out of the sugar cane plant and boiled. My brother-in-law made fermented molasses a few years ago, and I think the results came out... interesting. (I didn't get to try it.) The fermented product is then distilled one or two times, yielding almost pure ethanol. I have smelled this stuff, and it is enough to knock you out. I don't think it would be palatable.

At this point, the rum is aged in casks for a short time or a long time to gain flavor, texture and color (color comes from oak casks, many of which are reused from whiskey makers). Light rums, such as the fruit flavored kind you might buy from companies like Malibu, are generally not aged for long, are aged in stainless steel, or in oak and then filtered to remove the color. The tastes are sweet and the alcohol content relatively low. Dark rums are aged much longer, and develop complex flavors during this aging period. Most rum producers offer dark rums in various prices and ages, and the alcohol content tends to be much higher. While you could probably chug a light rum (if you're into that sort of thing), dark rums are more suited to sipping. Swirl them around in a brandy snifter or wine glass, and appreciate the aromas and legs before enjoying the complex flavors.

Tower Bacardi is a giant rum making company that started in Cuba. Although they like to promote their roots, they are actually headquartered in Bermuda, with another location in Puerto Rico (among other places). I've toured the Bacardi factory twice, they have a free tour which presents a history of the company and two free drinks from their outdoor bar. If you are a rum drinker living in the US, chances are good that you've drank Bacardi. It's presence in liquor stores and bars is ubiquitous. They have an enormous variety of flavored light rums, and some higher end dark rums. [Bacardi Homepage | Wikipedia]

Barbados is home to Mount Gay rum, the oldest rum company in the world. I got to take a tour of their company this year, with a format very similar to Bacardi's. My father decided to try a glass of their 1703 for about $20, which has aged for 10 to 30 years. (Most bottles of rum don't come from a single cask, but are blends from many casks, hence the 20 year time span on the age.) While I probably wouldn't be able to drink a glass of it, the 1703 was the smoothest dark wine I have ever sipped. I would have to rank it as the best rum I've ever drank, although I really haven't tried many premium dark rums. [Mount Gay Homepage | Wikipedia]

Down the street from Mount Gay is Malibu, another familiar name for US based rum drinkers. Their coconut light rum is great for mixing with pineapple juice into a "light" piña colada. I toured Malibu in 2008, and don't remember much of the tour other than the tasting. We tasted their dark rums which go under the label Cockspur. I found the Cockspur rums to be slightly on the unpalatable side, so I was relieved when the third item in the tasting was Malibu's coconut rum. [Malibu Homepage | Wikipedia]

Besides rum, I found it interesting that nearly every island I toured had their own brewery. Although Jamaica's Red Stripe could be found at local bars (alongside alcohol free international behemoth Coca Cola), the local brands are always available. Maybe coming from the US where everything is sourced to the cheapest area of production, I found it strange that each island would make beer instead of merely importing it from a central island. But this allowed me to sample many of the local brews.

In Puerto Rico, Medalla Light is what's on tap. Actually, I had it in a can. This was the first beer I drank in a can. If I ever had Bud Light (I haven't), I'd probably make a quick comparison, so for now I can just say they taste similar based on Jeff's tasting experience. I tasted the Medalla Light at a small shack out near Fajardo. Everyone else in my family got the rum punch, and based on their reactions I'm glad I settled for the cheap beer. There's something to be said for predictability. [Medalla Light Homepage | Wikipedia]

Banks We toured Banks brewery in Barbados as it's not far from Mount Gay's headquarters. I thought it was cool that we actually got to see their production and bottling floor although it was at least 95oF and extremely loud. Having only seen Harpoon's relatively tiny bottling operation here in Boston, getting to see this one was interesting. They bottle a lot of stuff at this brewery, not just the beer. They're actually licensed to produce Guiness for the island, and they also make shandys as well as alcohol free malt beverages. How did Banks Beer taste? The same as all the other beers I tried. Bud Light? [Banks Homepage | Wikipedia]

Jeff and I didn't spend much time in Saint Lucia, but we did stop by a bar before getting back on the cruise ship. I got a piña colada, and he got a Piton. On asking Jeff to remark about the beer, he notes that it was superb for thirst-quenching in the relentless heat and humidity, but the taste was nothing remarkable. [Piton Homepage]

In Saint Kitts our taxi driver stopped to show us a landmark, and we hopped out to buy him a Sprite at the soda stand. They were also selling Carib which my dad and Jeff tried. I opted for the grapefruit soda Ting which I'd had on my previous trip to Saint Kitts. Apparently Carib is headquarted in Trinidad and Tobago, but has regional breweries on several other islands. [Carib Homepage | Wikipedia] [Ting Homepage | Wikipedia]

As far as I know, there aren't any wineries in the Caribbean. I could see how growing grapes there would be difficult, but I think it would be amazing to make wine out of their limitless quantities of tropical fruits. Jeff and I entertained wild fantasies of setting up shop in Saint Kitts, making wine from bananas, pineapples, coconuts, canepas, mangos, guavas and papayas.

Rum on Foodista

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cool Things: Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival

Sign Vermont is a fun state filled with amazing ski resorts, country stores, great diners, hippies, awesome breweries, and a garlic festival.

I couldn't go last year for some reason, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to go this past labor day weekend. Really, it's hard to be prepared for how much garlic is present in one place and at one time. And there are a huge number of garlic aficionados, judging by the turnout.

When Vampires Attack Considering that I can't stomach raw garlic, and just got a shiny new pair of braces put on, I wasn't up to sampling much, but Jeff was up for the task. The number of varieties of garlic was mind boggling. Like apples, each variety has a different flavor, level of tartness, acidity and is best suited for different applications.

We ultimately came home with 5 pounds of German White for pickling and roasting, and a pound each of Music, Zemo, Hnat and Carpathian. Considering how quickly Jeff and I tore through the garlic stash my mom bought for me at last year's garlic fest, I'm sure these won't be around for long.

Delicious Another fun part of the festival was all of the food and drinks available for tasting. It was really sad for me, actually, because I can't eat pretzels, chips or nuts for the next two years, and those are the vessels most vendors provide for sampling their various dips, salsas and sauces. I let Jeff do the tasting, and I scoped out one or two vendors that offered bread to sample with, including some delicious balsamic from pastamoré, who apparently are not local to Vermont in any way.

YumThere were also plenty of wineries offering samples, as well as one distillery that sold some sort of delicious and hugely expensive brandy. The wines we are sampling in the adjacent photo are from Honora Winery, which makes a delicious Merlot that we bought. They do grow their own grapes which I thought was interesting. Many Vermont wines focus on local fruits, not necessarily grapes. They just purchased a tasting room in Wilmington that used to belong to my family's old favorite North River Winery that we were sad to see go out of business recently. I'm glad that the location will not be going to waste!

Tasting But the best bang for our buck was a tasting set in the back of the festival where we were able to taste a flight of at least a dozen local wines for free. I really wish I had kept some notes about the wines, as some were absolutely divine. Some expensive nearly 100$ ice wines were part of the tasting. (By the way, I am not double-fisting in the photo above, nearly offering my mom's glass for a refill as she took the photo.)

DinerFinally, no trip to Vermont is complete without a trip to the Blue Benn Diner. Tucked away just off of routes 7 and 9 in Bennington, located in a quaint train car, the Blue Benn is certainly a delight for local vegetarians and vegans. Nearly a half page of their menu is dedicated to meat free dining, and Jeff and I were both excited to eat the veggie-loaf with gravy. It was soft enough for me to get through with my new braces, and savory and delicious as well. I would definitely recommend this place to any veg*n who finds their way to southern Vermont.

(Photo credit: my mom took all the photos in this post. I brought my camera and took exactly 0 shots the whole time.)

Garlic on FoodistaGarlic

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Recipe Roundup

I've decided to start including a post with some great recipes I've tried and used from other websites every (hopefully) Saturday.

  • Healthy Miso Gravy - I've been making this gravy and mixing it with macaroni to make a fast version of mac and cheese, something I've been craving a lot lately. I imagine it would also be delicious as an actual gravy!

  • Vegan Cinnamon Bread - I made this in the evening for breakfast the next morning, and it is quite delicious! I'm usually wary of any recipe that calls for over a stick of butter, and I probably used half a stick total without any noticeable lack of flavor.

  • Chai Latte, Iced or Hot - I don't drink coffee but sometimes I want something other than water to drink at work. I made the tea, which utterly clogged my french press. (Note to self: do not put ground spices in my french press again.) Instead of soy creamer (too many weird ingredients), I mixed it with some soy milk. I think it would be just as good with homemade almond milk.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Raspberry Picking

Filling One thing I miss about living in a somewhat rural area is u-pick farms. I have many fond memories of apple and raspberry picking at Goold's Orchard going back to at least a kindergarten field trip many years ago. Now that I live in Boston, my options are finding a vehicle and driving at least an hour away or waiting until I go home to visit my parents and picking from one of the many local u-pick locations.

Picking Jeff and I were excited to take a trip to Goold's after hitting up Vermont's Garlic Festival on labor day weekend. Our goal was to pick as close to 18 pounds of raspberries as we could before hopping in the car and going back to Boston.

We searched high and low, nearly picking a huge swath of bushes completely dry for at least two hours before calling it a day. Our final tally was 15 pounds - enough to add to our primary fermenter Red with some sugar and yeast to make 6 gallons of raspberry wine.

As of now, it's still sitting in the secondary, bubbling away, but we're extremely excited to taste it in a year or so.

(Photo credits go to my mom.)

Raspberry on FoodistaRaspberry