Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sean Rowe Concert Memorial Day Weekend

This past weekend, Mitsy and I hosted a Sean Rowe concert in our backyard. To call Sean's set awesome is an understatement. Sean set up his gear under the sugar maple tree down by the garden and played about an hour and half long set. Joining Mitsy and I, were 30 wonderful friends and family members, who I think all enjoyed the show as much as we did.

The set opened with "The Walker" from the Magic album. He went on to play "Old Black Dodge" and later in the set "Wrong Side of the Bed" also from Magic. About 35 minutes into the show, dark clouds started rolling in and it appeared we were in for storm. We all were pulling up our phones and watching weather radar maps from multiple sites to determine where the storm was, when it would hit us, and what the hell we were going to do with 32 (actually 33 with Sean) people, since that many would not fit comfortably in the house to see a show. Sean said he would continue to play and we all decided to just play it by ear. With that he broke into "Joe's Cult" a kickass song from the "Shark and the Salesman" album. By the end of the song, in checking radar again, it appeared that the storm was splitting and going around us to the North and South. We had a couple of raindrops for a few seconds here and there, but Sean chased the storm away with his insane guitar skills and soulful voice. That's my theory anyway. Sean played additional tracks from the "Shark and the Salesman" as well as yet to be released material and a couple of cover songs, including the song that ended the set that completely melted our faces. I still need to find out the name of the song he finished with, as it was in a word, epic. He didn't play any songs from the album "27" which he recorded independently prior to being on the record label, so maybe there are rules about those kinds of things. My only regret is that I didn't locate a 2nd video tape to record the whole show, but I did get the first 12 songs on video that Mitsy and I will probably watch multiple times in the coming days and months.

After the show, some people bought some of Sean's albums and tshirts and took pictures. He gave Mitsy and I a copy of his single "To Leave Something Behind" on vinyl.

After the bulk of the crowd left, Sean gave a few of us a foraging tour around the yard. He has a lot of knowledge on wild edibles and showed us multiple "weeds" that we normally pull up that are common in our area, yet apparently edible and extremely nutritious. Might just have to try some burdock or milk thistle with butter now.

Sean went to bed early since he had a long drive home in the morning, but several of us stayed out by the fire pit to after midnight chatting and tasting a few craft and home brews. Strangely enough the lavender witbier that I had made (that I thought had turned out so badly) had aged nicely over the previous week in the fridge and was quite tasty.

Sunday morning Mitsy and I and a few other friends who stayed the weekend, had coffee with Sean and chatted for a bit before he headed back to NY. The concert was quite the kickstart to Memorial Day weekend and the summer. I wish we could do this every year.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter Ice Cream

Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter Ice Cream

So here in the mid-Atlantic there has been a buzz about Sweet Baby Jesus for the past few months. Duclaw Brewing Co., released this delectable brew a while back, but until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't gotten around to trying it. But recently Mitsy and I went out to lunch at the local taphouse and I gave it a go. It's rich with nice roasty chocolate notes. I don't think I could drink a sixer of it in an afternoon, but one or two on a cold winters today will do just fine. After tasting it, I started thinking about ice cream. And then I started researching ways to make beer ice cream. I have never tried beer ice cream, and actually I've never made it before either. But last summer, Mitsy and I got an ice cream maker as a wedding gift, and after reading various rave reviews on beer ice cream recipes, I decided to try one of my own. The result is a combination of a couple of different recipes I looked at. I still plan on making some tweaks and updates, but here is the maiden voyage as it were. This is a super rich and chocolaty ice cream, that you might just enjoy. 

2 cups of whole milk
1 1/4 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cups Sweet Baby Jesus Porter
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
Use a double boiler (I used a heat resistant glass bowl on top of a large sauce pan filled with water), and add the milk and the chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate has melted into a nice chocolaty milk and then remove from  heat and allow it to cool down for a bit. 
While your chocolate milk mixture cools, take a large bowl and combine the SBJ porter, sugar, heavy whipping cream, paprika, vanilla and egg yolks and then whisk all together until fully combined. 
While continuing to whisk, start to add a couple ladles of the hot chocolate mixture. This will allow it to temper and bring it up to temperature so that you don't end up scrambling the eggs. Continue to add the hot chocolate mixture until everything is combined. Stick this bowl on top of some ice/ice bath to allow it cool down a bit. Then add it to an airtight container and put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours. I put mine in over night.
Once your mixture has cooled in the fridge, get out your ice cream maker and churn it to the manufacturers directions. I used a Cuisinart (had to freeze the mixing bowl overnight as well) and it took about 20 minutes to get to almost a soft serve consistency (it still wasn't quite that thick though). Transfer this to an airtight container and put it in the freezer for at least 2 hours, or until it gets to your desired hardness. Serve with some shaved chocolate or dark chocolate bits as garnish. 
Boom. Beer ice cream. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Creamy Mexican-Style Turkey Soup

I can't believe it's been since the beginning of August since I last posted to the blog. The gardening is done, the canning complete, the vegetables in the freezer...gone. Yeah, had a mishap and the freezer went kaput on us and we lost all of our wonderful frozen veggies from the garden. Oh well. It was still a wonderful learning experience, and we will get a new freezer for next years harvest. Since the gardening season has finished, we have kept busy on indoor projects like remodeling the bathroom and basement. Now here we are the week after Thanksgiving and only three weeks until Christmas. How time flies! But even though Thanksgiving is over, there is still plenty of turkey to eat! Each year I look around the net for new and creative ways to use up some of the left over turkey. This year I went with a mexican-style soup that is a most excellent comfort food. I don't remember which site I got the original recipe from, but I think it was in a list of 10 great ideas for leftover turkey or something along those lines. At any rate, I made a couple of changes to the recipe to go with my own personal taste and ingredients that I had on hand. This is fairly easy to make and comes together quickly. Enjoy!
2 Tbls vegetable or olive oil
1 carrot chopped into bite sized pieces (or you can cut up a bunch of those mini carrots. Thats what I did since that is all I had in the fridge).
1 stalk of celery cut into bite sized pieces.
1 sweet onion, diced
2 1/2 Tbls of minced garlic (jar or fresh)
3 cups stock (I used store bought chicken stock, but you can make your own from the turkey as well)
1 can diced chilies, drained
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ancho chile pepper powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 1/2 cups shredded turkey
3/4 cup corn
1 bunch of cilantro leaves chopped
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery and saute' for a few minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat until its just simmering and add one cup of the turkey, the corn and the green chilies. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the turkey.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, salt, ancho chile pepper powder and cumin. Stir this mixture into your soup pot and continue to stir for a few minutes as the soup thickens. Stir in the cheese and cilantro and let simmer a few more minutes so the cheese all melts in. Continue to stir occassionally throughout the whole cooking process to keep every incorporated and ensuring nothing sticks to the bottom of your pot. Serve hot and enjoy! Goes great with a glass of Pinot Grigio!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zucchini Bread Recipe

The zucchini plants in our garden.
This year in our garden, I had originally planted 8 hills of zucchini. I have no idea why I thought this many was a good idea, since really one or two plants will feed a family of four for the summer quite easily. I think part of it was remembering the rows of zucchini plants in our garden when I was growing up. At any rate, this year I was fortunate that not all 8 hills sprouted. I planted them in a more shaded section of the garden and perhaps that is why they didn't all come up, or maybe I just had some bad seeds. Anyway, I ended up with 3 fairly massive zucchini hills, 2 of which  you see in the picture on the left.
Of course even just these have left me scratching my head as to what to do with all this zucchini that we seem to be picking every other day! Now I love zucchini just boiled and mashed with butter, but you can only eat that so many days in a row. So I decided to make some zucchini bread. And, if I may brag for a moment....this recipe rules. So here ya go:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 tsps cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups grated zucchini (I grated one large zucchini and this is approximately what I ended up with).
Preheat your oven to 325 F.
Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon together into a bowl. My sifter only holds a little over 2 cups, so I sifted 2 cups of flour first, and then did the additional cup of flour along with the other ingredients and then just mixed it together in the bowl.
With electric beaters, beat together the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla extra in a separate bowl. Once well combined, start adding your dry sifted flour mix to the wet ingredients. Beat together until everything is well incorporated. Then add your zucchini. You can use beaters with this as well if you wish, however I just used a large spoon at this point. Once all ingredients are well mixed, pour it into two greased (I just sprayed mine with Pam) 8x4 pans. Place in the oven and then bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat on the oven, but leave the bread in there for another 20-30 minutes. You will want to check it periodically after the first hour with a toothpick until the toothpick comes out clean. Once you remove it from the oven, let it cool in the pans for about 20 minutes and then remove and place on a cooling rack for about another 20-30 minutes.
This bread is so sweet and moist it's ridiculous. I keep mine wrapped in aluminum foil in the fridge and it makes a great addition to my morning coffee. I plan on making more, and then freezing it for later this winter. Enjoy!

The finished zucchini loaves.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Attempt at Spaghetti Sauce and Canning

Sunday's Harvest
Now that we have rolled into August, we are in the full swing of one of my favorite parts of gardening.....harvesting! Finally the fruits of our labor can be enjoyed, almost daily.

This past weekend, we pulled over a dozen ears of corn, nearly a half bushel of tomatoes and a few peppers. With the tomatoes and peppers I thought I would now try my hand at making a spaghetti sauce from a recipe shared by my friend JC. I have never made my own spaghetti sauce from scratch before, so figured now would be a good time to start, since I don't think I could make enough salad to use up all these tomatoes.

Additionally, I decided now would be a good time to start the canning. While I was growing up, my mother spent many a Sunday canning all sorts of things, from tomatoes to peaches, applesauce and even making her own tomato juice. These would fill the shelves in our basement so we could feast on homemade and homegrown goodness throughout the year.

After working in the yard all day Sunday, I decided I would make the sauce and can on Monday night after work. Bad idea, as this is quite a bit of work, and not something I would recommend trying to get done in an evening before bed when you have to work the next day. Thinking back on all the canning my mom did when I was a kid, I have to say that I have even greater respect for her canning and cooking skills now that I have had a go at it!

Anyway, I started the sauce Monday after work. Prior to starting I went out and picked more tomatoes from the garden that had ripened, so I had filled the half bushel basket. Here is the recipe I used, (this includes some of my own additions and subtractions as I changed up slightly the recipe JC had shared).

25 pounds of tomatoes (about 60-65)
3 onions, finely chopped
4 green peppers, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 (12 ounce) cans of tomato paste
4 tablespoons dried italian spice mix (includes oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.)
1/3 cup of salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1. Wash and peel the tomatoes. To make peeling tomatoes easier, blanch them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then plunge them into ice-cold water. Core the tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters. Put the tomatoes into a large pot and bring them to a boil over medium high heat. (Be sure to stir them constantly so that they don't burn on the bottom!) Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes start breaking down into small pieces.
2. Add the tomato paste to the tomatoes and stir to mix thoroughly.

3. Cut onions and green peppers into chunks and process in a food processor until finely chopped. Add to the simmering tomatoes and stir.

4. Mince the garlic cloves and add to the pot. ( I also just tossed these in the food processor and added them at the same time as the onions and peppers).

5. Stir to mix thoroughly and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes. Continue to stir the sauce constantly.

6. Add the italian spice mix and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix thoroughly and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

I recommend using a very large pot for this. I started out with our largest pot, but by the time I added all the tomatoes, I had filled it to the rim and I didn't think I was going to have enough room to add the rest of the ingredients, even though the tomatoes will cook down some. So Mitsy ran next door and borrowed this big pot from the neighbor, and I made a quick transfer and put it back on the heat.

 This sauce came out pretty sweet, probably due to the type of tomatoes I grew in my garden. (Don't remember what kind they were) but they are large and have a great sweet flavor when we eat them fresh. The original recipe only called for 2 cans of the tomato paste, but I added a third to thicken it up a little more. You can also add more or less onions, peppers and garlic depending on your preference.

I also meant to add black pepper, but forgot before I started the canning process.

So by the time the sauce was done cooking, it had already gotten pretty late, but I decided to forge ahead with the canning process anyway. I put six jars in my big canning pot filled it with water (to about an inch above the jars) and set it on to boil to sterilize them. Once the water came to a rolling boil, I let them go for about 10 minutes and then came in to remove them from the heat and start filling them with my newly made precious sauce.

So imagine my horror when I pull out the first "sterilized" jar only to find it covered in a white film. Ugh. It was then I realized that I hadn't washed the jars or the canning pot prior to filling them with water, because, well, I'm an idiot. I figured this was all the dust that had been on them from sitting in the store shelves and the pot sitting in our basement for the last six months. So instead of starting all over with the jars with washing them, reboiling them, etc., I decided to wait a day, since it was already almost 11:00pm. I placed my pot of sauce in the fridge and went to bed!

Day 2

On Tuesday evening I came home and after dinner, got back to work on the canning process. I put the sauce back on the stove to heat up while I washed all the jars and the canning pot, and the put those on the stove to boil again. Once it finally came to a rolling boil (seems to take forever to start boiling with these big pots) I let it boil for 10 minutes again. Then I used my jar lifter to take out my first jar to fill with the sauce and..........it was covered in white film again. WHAT?!?! I was defeated. It was then that I realized that this was not dirt or dust collecting on my jars, but calcium and or limestone from our hard water that comes from our well. So now what? Doing a google search, I found that I could add vinegar to the water and do it all over again. Well I don't think I had enough vinegar, and quite frankly I didn't feel like boiling the jars for a third time! So what does a man do when faced with this type of dilemma? He calls his mother.

As I mentioned before, my mother has been canning for years, like probably at least 60 years, and at age 82, she is still canning every season! So I figured getting her advice on this matter would be better than any google search. Well mom said she doesn't boil her jars to sterilize them anymore, and hasn't for several years. She runs them through the dishwasher and then uses them and hasn't had a problem yet. Well I don't have a dishwasher (another project that needs to be done, and soon!), but I did fill up the sink with some scalding hot water and soap, rewashed the jars, and then rinsed them again in super hot water (seriously, I thought the skin on the back of my hands was going to come off from the heat). I then followed these canning instructions for the sauce:


1. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each jar. Do not use fresh lemon juice.

2. Using a funnel, transfer the spaghetti sauce into the jars. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Release any air bubbles with a spatula. Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place a warm lid on each jar and hand tighten a screw band on. Do not over-tighten.

3. Place your jar rack in the water bath canner, suspending it with the handles on the edge and put your jars in the rack. Unhook the jar rack and carefully lower it into the hot water. Add more water if necessary to cover the jars with at least 1 inch of water. Heat the water to full, rolling boil for 40 minutes.

4. Remove your jars with a jar lifter and place them on a clean, dry kitchen towel away from drafts and allow them to cool completely for 12-24 hours. Test to make sure each jar has sealed and store in a cool, dark place.

I actually didn't do that whole thing with suspending the jar rack, etc. I just set the whole rack down in the pot and then added my full, capped jars one at a time using my jar lifter. I think I also boiled the batch a bit longer as well, probably more like 45-50 minutes, since I wasn't sure exactly when the full boil starter, and then at the end I was watching Conan O'Brien and didn't want to go out into the kitchen until the commericial break. Yeah, I know my precious sauce should be more important than Conan's jokes, but I think the extra five minutes was fine.
At any rate, I finished up the canning process a little after 11pm and didn't run into any issues with cracked jars or whatever other atrocities that can occur during a canning session. Oh, I did accidentally fill my canning pot to high with water, so when I added the full jars of sauce it overflowed over the top of my stove and all over the floor. I used a large measuring cup to scoop out the excess water, and then a quick use of paper towels to clean up the puddle on the floor and I was good to go. I ended up with the finished product below, and in checking the lids this morning I have a proper seal on all six jars. Mission successful!
I should mention that I still have more sauce, I think this would probably fill another 2-4 jars, so I may do some more tonight, or I may just make some spaghetti and start using up the sauce that way. Also this blog entry is not meant to be an instructional for how to can, as most websites on canning will recommend the sterilization procedure that I omitted after two failed attempts with the hard water. You should always take precautions with canning to ensure you have proper acidity in your recipes to avoid those fun things like botchilism. Or you can call your mom and follow her advice like I did. But call your mom, not mine.
Anyway, I 'm looking forward to chowing down on some good homemade spaghetti sauce this fall and winter, and now that I have my first session under my belt, I may make more. God knows we still have a ton of tomatoes coming in to use.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Culinary Smut

Earlier this week, Mitsy and I were out in the garden checking the status of our vegetables, picking some zucchini and cucumbers and just enjoying our garden area in general. Mitsy went down to see how close we were to start harvesting corn, when she saw a couple of the cobs that had some sort of blight on them. She called me over to investigate and in walking over I was greeted with this monstrosity.
This was the first crop of corn I have ever grown myself and I had never seen anything like this. Pulling out my trusty phone, I quickly Googled "blue mold on corn". I quickly had multiple images and articles come back about blue mold on a corn crop and so I began reading to see what I needed to do to protect the rest of my crop from being overcome with this blight.
Imagine my surprise when I found out this stuff was actually edible! While it can spread and infect a whole crop of corn, it can also be a delightful culinary experience. While generally in America, this stuff is referred to a "Corn Smut" (not a very appealing description), it has quite a history with our South American neighbors. In Mexico, it is commonly known as huitlacoche or cuitlacoche (pronounced QUEET-la-coh-chay).  It is commonly sold in markets and can fetch upwards to $3 a pound! It is most often used in soups and quesadillas, although searching more on the web, I found a host of recipes for it, including ice cream!
I , however, was still not convinced. I posted the picture above on my Facebook page and soon had several comments from friends recommending it as good eats. So I researched some more. The fungus usually occurs when rain/moisture get down into the growing corn cob and the kernels begin to rot. Still doesn't sound very appetizing, but the amazing thing is the transformation that occurs, in not only the way it looks, but the nutrient value skyrockets. Corn is pretty much devoid of lysine, one of those "essential amino acids" that the body requires but can't manufacture. We need it to fight infections and strengthen bones. However huitlacoche is loaded with it! It also has more beta-glucens than oatmeal.
So after reading all this, I decided to pull the four "infected ears" and try making a dish with it. After pulling the ears, I plucked off all the blue knobby kernels.

It looks almost like some kind of blue-gray deformed popcorn at this point. I had also picked a couple of jalapeno's, some cilantro and some tomatoes out of garden to go with my smut creation. In a large pan I sautéed the jalapeno's (seeds removed, you can add more if you like it spicier), 2 cloves of garlic and about a quarter of a sweet onion. Once that was cooked down, I rough chopped the huitlacoche and tossed it in. The larger fungus have black spores in them that look kind of like the underside of a Portobello mushroom. These are edible as well, although from what I understand the younger fungus has better/more acute flavors. Either way, the fungus kind of turns black and tarry looking anyway when its cooked. After sautéing on medium-high heat for a few minutes I cut the heat and added it to a warmed tortilla that had a bunch of slightly melted Mexican four-cheese mix on it. Then I cut up a fresh garden tomato and chopped up some of the cilantro and added this to my creation as well. 

I then wrapped up the whole concoction and topped with some salsa verde, a little taco sauce and a what was left of the fresh cilantro. It ended up looking like the picture below.

It was completely delicious! The huitlacoche has a flavor that is both earthy and sweet. The only way to describe it is a fresh corn flavored mushroom flavor. It mixed well with the other ingredients and my only regret is that I did not have more in my garden to add. I would also like to try the other recipes I found online. I highly recommend you try this odd looking yet tasty smut! I believe you can buy canned versions of huitlacoche online (I think amazon sells it) or probably at a local latin food store. I am only guessing, but I would imagine that fresh would be much better than canned. While I don't want my whole corn crop to turn into corn smut, I wouldn't having more of this in the future growing in my garden. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Home Brewing Update

I have been doing some brewing this spring and summer as well. While it is rough to fit in a 3 1/2 hour extract brew session between all the yard projects, garden and new puppy, I have managed to brew four times so far this spring.

Most recently I brewed my "More Wit than Wisdom" which is a Witbier and The Wedding Ale (a.k.a. the Schmoopie IPA). Both will be on tap at a cookout we our having the Saturday before Mitsy and I get married.

The Witbier has  been pretty popular at outings over the past three years and is a great summer drink with hints of coriander and orange peel. Many people who drink beer may be familiar with Blue Moon, which is sort of an Americanized version of the Witbier. Victory Brewing Co. has one that I tried on tap last summer, but I thought the spice notes were too heavy and didn't really care for it. The best commercial Witbier that I have had recently is Namaste by DogFish Head. However, not to sound like a pompous ass, I think my Witbier is better than any of them.

Witbiers were pretty popular way back in the day, but then kind of disappeared (at least in the US) around the 1950's but had a resurgence back in the late 80's with the growth of home brewing and craft breweries. They only run about 5% alcohol (mine usually runs about 5.3%) and pair great with seafood dishes and other light summer fare.

I use bitter orange peel, coriander and honey as my additional ingredients. For the honey I use Orange Blossom honey to further increase that light orange flavor. The grain profile is easy with the extract version, since I simply use extracts of pilsner and wheat malts and then the only specialty grain I have to steep is the flaked oats. Hallertau and Styrian Goldings complete the hop profile.
Anyway, the brew session went well with everything going as expected. The same went for the IPA that I brewed on Sunday. With kegging the Witbier tonight and the IPA by mid next week, both beers should be good to go for the party. I still have to make another portable kegerator for the 2nd keg though. I will update later with the outdoor tap system I am putting together for the party. I hope it will be bitchin'.