Ginger Beer

It’s summer, which means ginger beer! Or, I guess, force-carbonated ginger lemonade.

The batch I just made had these proportions:

  • 160g lemon juice
  • 150g ginger juice
  • 250g cayenne simple syrup
  • 1000g water

The cayenne simple syrup was made with 1 cup each of sugar and water, and 1 teaspoon of cayenne. It has a bit of heat right now; we’ll see if it gets hotter as it sits. If so, maybe cut that back to 1/2 a teaspoon, because I think where it is right now is good.

We originally set out to clone Rachel’s Ginger Beer, but our test batches kept tasting not ginger-y enough, and I haven’t had a reference taste of RGB recently. I’d be willing to bet that even without the cayenne, this has more of a kick now, though.

The recipe we started with called for 1 part ginger, 2 parts lemon, 3 parts simple syrup, and 10 parts water. After a bunch of experimentation, we seem to like it with roughly equal lemon and ginger, and a bit less sugar. The cayenne is a new experiment with this batch, based on really liking Columbia Gorge’s Meyer Ginger Lemonade, which has some cayenne in it. We’ll see if that’s worth keeping or not.

A note on carbonation: I’m carbonating this with a rig I put together myself after I’d crunched the numbers on whether it made more sense to buy a SodaStream or put together a carbonation rig from the homebrew supply shop. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

“Basic ball-lock keg kit (regulator, gas hose, beer hose with party faucet, fittings): $55. New aluminum 5-lb CO2 tank: $65. Carbonation cap for PET bottles: $15. Shipping: $8. Fill-up of CO2 tank at local fire extinguisher supply house: $15. Total cost: $158. (And I have some extra parts that I can use to tap a corny keg should one of my homebrewing friends bring me one of his batches.)

The cheapest basic sodastream starter kit runs around $85, so up front, I’m down $73. (That’s the lowest-end sodastream kit’s online price, mind you, not including shipping or tax. Buying one of the higher-end models at retail, I might be breaking even already.)

A 60L sodastream tank holds 14.5oz of CO2. So one refill of the 5lb tank is equivalent to 5.5 sodastream tanks. Each 14.5oz tank exchange costs $15, and I’ll need 4.5 more of those to match the amount of CO2 in my tank. That’s $67.50, so by the time I need a refill of my tank, I’ll only be down $9.50.

By the time I’ve gone through my second tank of C02, I’ll have spent another $15. If I had gone with sodastream, I would have needed another 5.5 tank exchanges, or $82.50. At this point, I’ll be ahead $58. Every time after this that I fill my tank, I’ll be ahead by another $67.50.

And that’s ignoring the fact that there’s nearly 10% local sales tax on the sodastream tank exchange, while the $15 refill of my 5lb tank includes tax. It also ignores the fact that sodastream bottles (the ones the soda goes in, and which need to be replaced periodically) cost $10 each, while reused 2L or 1L bottles are essentially free for me.”

Rhubarb Ginger Shrub

Cam told me about shrubs (the colonial preservation method of making a vinegar syrup) the other day, as a suggestion for what we could do with our rhubarb. So I’m trying it today. I’ll update this post as it develops.

So far, I’ve cut up two ~9 ounce bunches of rhubarb, added 9 ounces of sugar to each, and about 2 ounces of ginger to one of them. I’ve got them sitting for a while now, and will macerate them and let them sit at least overnight next. After that, I’ll add 9 ounces of Rockridge apple cider vinegar and let them sit at room temperature for a couple of days, and then in the fridge for a week or two before straining.

Captain Crepe Pan

Back in September, I backed a Kickstarter project for “Captain Crepe Pan“, a guy raising money to make cast iron crepe pans on a larger scale than he could do at home. I think Cam pointed it out to me originally, and hinted that it might be a good Christmas present, what with us collecting manhole covers and enjoying crepes, and this basically being a small manhole cover you could cook on. The project made five times its funding goal, and our pan arrived on the morning of Christmas Eve, just in time to be a present, hooray! The creator had offered a seasoned and non-seasoned version of the pan, and I asked for non-seasoned so I could give the method Sheryl Canter posted about a try.

Well, first I got a 60-grit sanding wheel for the drill and spent half an hour sanding the cooking surface smoother. The maker had ground off the casting flash and the worst of the roughness from sand casting, but it was still a pretty pebbled surface, and while I’m sure it would have worked just fine if I’d seasoned it as it came, I wanted to start off smoother. So half an hour with a sanding wheel later, it felt pretty smooth and I started seasoning it.

Wow, flax oil is definitely the way to go for seasoning cast iron. I’m tempted to get some oven cleaner and un-season most of our other cast iron objects so I can re-season them with flax oil. (Although if I do that I’ll also want to borrow an angle grinder so I can smooth the bottoms of the Lodge pans we have — they’re ok, but they’re no Griswold.) Six very thin coats of flax oil later, the surface of the crepe pan is very, very slick. I fried an egg on it as a test, and had no issues with sticking whatsoever.

In fact, it might be a little too slick — during the first test batch of crepes I made tonight, I lost one crepe off the side of the pan when I underestimated how easy it would be to rotate the crepe with my fingers. I gave it what I thought was a little push to get it un-stuck, and it shot right off the side. I guess it hadn’t been stuck at all to begin with. Oops.

It’ll take a while to get the motion with the batter spreader down, but around the fourth or fifth crepe I made, I think I was starting to get it. (The spreader, incidentally, was difficult to find at retail — the clerk at the restaurant supply store suggested I try Sur La Table, but I didn’t feel like going down there, so I went to Rockler and got some cherry dowels and made my own.)

The pan is 13 inches in diameter, so it’s smaller than a commercial crepe machine (which are 15 3/4″ in diameter, and cost upwards of $650) but larger than any other home crepe pan I’ve seen (which seem to all be 11″ or smaller). About four ounces of batter seems to be the right amount to spread right out to the edges without spilling over (which should tell you something about the size of the finished crepe — Alton Brown’s recipe calls for one ounce of batter per crepe). It heats pretty evenly, possibly thanks to the design on the non-cooking side, and I suspect would heat even more evenly if I cleaned the burner on the stove. There are no handles, so you have to let it cool before taking it off the stove, unless you’ve got welder’s gloves and a heatproof place to store it.

I’m looking forward to putting it to a lot more use. Once we’ve got the technique down and the house cleaned up, I hope we can have friends over for a crepe party. If you’re interested in getting your own pan, he’s taking pre-orders for a post-Kickstarter round of pans at CaptainCrepe.com.

Crepe Pan Seasoning, Third Coat Fully Seasoned Not a crepe First try First try Fully Seasoned

Socca

We were introduced to socca, a vegan and gluten-free flatbread, by Mike Dash of Rolling Fire when we took a class on wood-fired cooking through the Experimental College. Mike has been tuning his recipe for years, adjusting the ratios of ingredients, trying special pans, adjusting resting times, and the like. His socca is delicious: creamy and eggy on the inside, crispy and crunchy on the edges, and perfectly balanced in its seasoning.

It’s also only available once a week when he’s at the farmers’ market, and not at all during his off season.

Happily, The Minimalist is right:

I’ve eaten and made both socca and farinata in Nice and in Genoa, and I’ve made it at home a hundred times. It is foolproof and 90 percent as good made in your oven as when whisked from the wood-burning ovens of Nice to the street stands in the market. It’s so simple and its flavors are so pure that unless you buy rancid chickpea flour you will get it right the first try.

Socca made at home from this recipe is merely very good, not transcendent like Mike’s. But that’s good enough for me.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (120g) garbanzo/chickpea flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, but would like to try grinding my own)
  • 1 cup (227g) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (about 100 turns on the grinder we have)
  • about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, maybe a little more

Whisk all the ingredients together in something you can pour them out of easily; I use a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup. You don’t want any lumps. Set the mixture aside, not in the refrigerator. Ideally, do this several hours before you’re going to actually cook it; I believe that letting it sit for a while to hydrate will lead to a creamier consistency in the final result. But I haven’t actually tested this, since by the time I’m putting together the batter, I want socca as soon as possible.

Anyway, once you have the batter mixture put together, set your oven racks to the middle and high positions if you have two; just the high if you only have one. Put a 12 inch cast iron pan on the rack and set the oven for 450 degrees. I’m using a Lodge 10-1/2-inch round griddle, which makes for a thicker socca than the 12-inch pan the Minimalist recipe calls for. I like it a bit thick, so that works for me. Once your oven has reached 450 degrees, set a timer for 10 minutes and leave the pan in there to get good and hot.

After the pan is hot, take it out and swirl some oil in it (maybe a tablespoon? I never measure), making sure the entire pan is coated. Set the pan back down on the stove and pour the batter in from the center. It should sizzle and push the oil out to the edges. Carefully put the pan back in the oven, and set the timer for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes, brush the top of the socca with some oil if it looks dry, then turn on the broiler and move the pan to the upper rack. Broil the socca for 3 minutes to get a bit of a charred crust around the edges. Take the pan out of the oven and remove the socca with a thin spatula. Cut it into quarters and eat while it’s still hot. Om nom.

Fauxbley tahini sauce

I could probably go through a bottle a week of Mr. Mobley’s tahini sauce. This is not quite that sauce — I’ve been fiddling with the proportions, but I doubt I’ll ever capture the magic that is Mobley Sauce. Still, it’ll do.

You’ll need to get out your scale for this one. A batch this size comes together well in a two-cup pyrex measuring cup. As far as the oils go, I’ve used canola, sunflower, and peanut oil, and they’ve all been fine. (The peanut oil is especially nice when I use the sauce on whole-wheat noodles.) You could probably sub in some olive oil for some of that, and it’d still be very tasty.

Tahini Sauce

A generous half-cup of neutral oil
100g well-stirred tahini (I’ve been using the Once Again brand)
40g low-sodium tamari (I like San-J)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp maple syrup (“Are you serious?” Yes. Yes, I am.)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 small fresh garlic cloves or 1 big one, crushed
50g water

Stir the tahini into the oil. Then tare the scale, add the tamari, and whisk it together with a fork. Add the seasonings, tare your scale one more time, and add the water. Whisk.

You can use this immediately, but it improves over a few hours. Good on pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and I expect it’d be great with tofu.

Potato / kale / sausage soup

This recipe comes from the Skagit River Ranch stand at the farmers market. Cam made a bunch of this for freezing earlier, so I’m going to add notes for the changes I know about, and maybe she’ll edit this later if I missed anything.

Julie’s Tuscany Soup

Julie, a customer from University market gave us this and it’s delicious and easy! Jan 2010

1 lb Skagit River Ranch Hot Italian Sausage [I'd probably try 3/4 lb next time. -- C.]
4 cups chicken broth [We're probably using Better Than Bouillon no-chicken or vegetable broth.]
6 medium size potatoes, diced [Probably the Desiree variety from Olsen Farms. (I used a good four cups' worth of diced Desirees. -- C.)]
1/2 bunch of kale (4-5 leaves), chopped [Hah. We used two bunches of dinosaur kale, I think. We like kale soup.]
1 tbsp flour or corn starch for thickener if desired [Nah. -- C.]
1 tbsp garlic (optional) [Not optional. When is "optional" garlic in a recipe ever actually optional?]
1 cup whole milk [1% milk was fine]
salt and pepper to taste

Take sausage out of casings, break them into small chunks & brown them with garlic. Set aside. In a medium sauce pan, pour 4 cups of chicken broth, bring to boil and add diced potatoes and cook for about 10 minutes until they are almost fork tender. Add kale and meat, cook 10 minutes on low heat. Add 1 cup milk at the end, cook for 3 more minutes and serve. Add flour or starch if you like a thicker soup.

Split pea soup

I just put a couple gallons of split pea soup into the freezer (and had a bowl for dinner). This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, mainly in that it uses some smoked ham hocks that we had in the freezer instead of ham steak and bacon.

If you’ve forgotten to thaw the ham hock, take one (around half a pound or so) and put it in a dutch oven or soup pot with 7 cups of water, bring that to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover, simmering for maybe 15 minutes to thaw the hock. Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan, sweat one diced medium to large onion (I used a red onion) with a couple tablespoons of butter and a large pinch of salt. Add two or three minced/pressed cloves of garlic and mix for 30 seconds or so — not long enough to burn the garlic. Then add the contents of the frying pan to your soup pot with the ham hock.

If you were smart and thawed the ham hock in advance, you can save yourself dirtying a frying pan by doing the onions and garlic in your soup pot, then adding the water and ham hock.

To the soup pot (which now contains a ham hock, onions, garlic, and water) add: 1 pound of split peas (recipes always say to rinse and pick through peas, but I’ve never once found a rock or anything else, so I dunno), two large sprigs of fresh thyme, and some bay leaves. Our bay leaves were old and stale, so I used a bunch. Two is what the recipe calls for. Also add a good amount of ground black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. I guess you could do this at the end, but I don’t think it hurts any to add the spices now.

Bring the soup to a boil, stirring to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer until the peas are soft, around 45 minutes. Some recipes call for you to soak the peas overnight. Don’t bother.

After 45 minutes, remove the ham hock and add a cup or so each of diced carrots, celery and potato. Tent some foil over the ham hock and let it cool. Keep simmering the soup for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Optionally, see if there’s any actual edible flesh on the ham hock. There might be some, or it might all be knuckle and connective tissue. If there’s any meat that looks decent, you can strip it out, chop it up, and add it to the soup. Or don’t.

Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves, add salt to taste, and serve with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

The original recipe is from the January/February 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and calls for ham steak, bacon, and no potatoes. That recipe looked entirely too meaty (and a waste of a good ham steak), and I think the smoked ham hock serves the same purpose as the bacon. The potatoes might make it a bit too starchy for some tastes, but I’m calling this a success. I also think the red pepper flakes (I used some delicious cayenne from the farmers market) are a good addition.

Pedal Mill

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I don’t remember when I bought the Schwinn Exerciser at a garage sale. Two years ago, maybe. I remember strapping it onto the back of the Xtracycle and carrying it home. It cost $2, and the folks selling it seemed delighted to be rid of it. I bought it intending to convert it to power our Country Living Grain Mill, which is kind of a bear to crank by hand. I thought it might take a few weekends to convert.

Well, it did take a few weekends. I just spread them out across two years. Looking at the timestamps on the photos I have of the cog/pulley hub being glued together, I started working on this almost exactly a year ago. I modified the exercycle flywheel and built the cog/pulley hub then, and did the rest last weekend and this weekend.

The idea’s pretty simple: pedaling the exercycle turns the flywheel, which has a second cog attached to the non-drive side. That cog turns a chain attached to the cog/pulley hub in front. The pulley of the cog/pulley hub drives a belt, which turns the flywheel of the grain mill.

In practice, nothing lines up quite right. My first attempt at mounting the cog/pulley hub placed it exactly 1/2 a chain link wrong. I tried adding a chain tensioner, but because of the very short chainline, it was just pulling the chain out of gear. A friend suggested cutting out a channel in the angle iron at the top of the frame, so the whole thing could move back and forth to tension the chain. That probably would have worked too, but I ended up making a sliding mount for the dropouts themselves.

The whole assembly is made of angle iron with pre-cut holes, held together with 1″ bolts, nuts and split washers. It’s like having a huge erector set to play with, one which requires power tools and has sharp edges. (I only cut my knuckle once, and remembered to wear eye protection when cutting metal after the first chip hit me near the eye.) It’s fairly stable in all directions, and while it’s very front-heavy, that’s only a problem when you’re moving it.

There’s a bit of mechanical advantage in the system — one revolution of the pedals turns the mill’s wheel about .9 revolutions. Since the mill operates best at 60RPM, that makes for a nice easy cadence when pedaling. We might add a little cycle computer later to show us how much we’ve used it. So far it’s only been tested on rice, which is pretty easy to grind. I’m curious to see how easy it is to pedal on hard wheat.

I uploaded a bunch of photos to Flickr, and annotated some of them. It should be fairly clear what’s going on, but if you’d like a close-up or explanation of how any particular part or attachment works, let me know.

Greg Nog’s tofu, more or less

A few years ago there was a thread on Ask Metafilter about tofu in which Greg Nog posted a recipe for baked tofu. Every time I want to make baked tofu I dig up that thread.

Greg Nog’s Tofu, More Or Less
(half recipe)

1 lb package of extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
1-2 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
1 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter
2 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
cayenne or whatever you like for heat
pinch of dry ginger
black pepper

First, get your oven going to 350. Now squeeze as much liquid out of the thawed block of tofu as you can, then cut it into strips and squeeze each strip carefully. You want to get it as dry as you can so it’ll soak up lots of the marinade that you’re about to make. If you cut the block into seven or eight slabs and cut each slab in half lengthwise, it’ll fit well in a 9×13″ pan.

Mix up your marinade. Add the oils first, then emulsify with the soy sauce. This amount will just cover your tofu, so you might want to be pretty liberal in your measurements. I’m fond of Mama Lil’s hot peppers in oil and am always wondering what to do with the extra flavored oil; about half a tablespoon of it in the vegetable oil mix is good. A little sesame oil is good too. For the bulk of the oil, I prefer peanut oil. When you’ve mixed it all up, taste it for balance.

Cover your tofu with the marinade and bake at 350 for an hour, turning the tofu over half-way through.