All posts by Josh

Pork Potstickers

This recipe is a combination of Mama Yang’s dumplings and the USENET Cookbook’s Potstickers. I made it today to use up a pound of ground pork from Skagit River Ranch that’s been sitting in the chest freezer for about a year.

Finely chop half of a large napa cabbage and mix it in a large bowl with a fair amount of salt. Let’s say a tablespoon. Mix the salt in well, and let it sit for an hour or two. When you come back, the cabbage will have shrunk. Drain off as much water as you can, and then scoop the cabbage out into a clean dish towel. Mound the cabbage up in the center, then pull the edges of the towel up around it and twist until you have a ball of cabbage twisted up in the towel. Now crank down on that sucker, squeezing as much water as you can out. Really go for it — I got over a cup of liquid out.

Empty the cabbage back into your mixing bowl and give it a stir to break it back up a bit; it’ll be compressed.

Add to the bowl: one bunch of scallions, finely chopped; twenty or thirty grinds of pepper; four finely minced or pressed large cloves of garlic; one teaspoon of sugar; one tablespoon of dark sesame oil; a large mound of grated ginger, maybe the size of a ping-pong ball; one pound of ground pork; four ounces of chopped shrimp meat.

Now give your hands a good wash, then dive in and mix that all up with your hands and fingers. Really give it a good kneading and squeezing, letting the mixture squoosh out between your fingers. You want to mash it up really well, and get all the ingredients nice and distributed. When it’s all mixed in, wash your hands again, because eww.

For the wrappers, I always cheat and use store-bought gyoza wrappers. You’ll need two packages. If you want to make your own wrappers, there are instructions at the original recipes, linked above.

Now get a baking sheet and clear out enough space in your freezer that you’ll be able to fit the sheet in the freezer and close the door. Cut a sheet of parchment paper the size of the bottom of the baking sheet, and lay it down in there.

To fill the wrappers, use a spoon in your dominant hand and scoop out around a tablespoon of filling into the middle of a wrapper laid across the fingers of your non-dominant hand. Getting the right amount of filling can be tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it — you’ll be doing this 60 or 70 times, and practice makes perfect. If you’re using store-bought wrappers, dip your finger into a cup of water and moisten the inner edges of the wrapper (so that they’ll stick when you fold it) and either fold the wrapper in half, forming a semicircle, or gather it up as demonstrated in this video:

As you finish each dumpling, put it on your baking sheet, not touching any other dumpling, but packed as tightly as possible otherwise. When the baking sheet is full, put it in the freezer, put the bowl of filling into the fridge, and take a half hour break. After half an hour, transfer the now-frozen potstickers to a gallon sized ziplock bag and store them in the freezer. Fill the rest of your wrappers and freeze them, too. How many the recipe makes depends on how much filling you put in each one. I made around six dozen today, but some of those were using square wrappers because I couldn’t find any more round ones at the store.

To cook, get a large nonstick pan and add enough oil just to coat the bottom. Heat until the oil shimmers, and carefully place frozen potstickers in the pan, not crowding the pan too much. Ideally, don’t let the potstickers touch each other, because as they cook, they’ll adhere to each other if they’re touching. Let the pan come back up to heat again until you can tell the bottoms are getting a little crisp, and carefully pour in some water, maybe half a cup to a cup, depending on how large your pan is. If you want your finished potstickers to come out darker and a little saltier, add a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. Now cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for five minutes.

Once the five minutes are up, remove the lid and let the water boil off, leaving the oil to finish crisping and browning the bottoms of the potstickers. Give them another minute or two in the pan, then check the bottoms using a thin spatula. If they’ve got a nice brown crust, transfer them to a plate and serve with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and hot chili oil or sesame oil. If you had any ginger left over when you made the filling, you can add it to the dipping sauce before you start making the dumplings and let it infuse.

These will store in the freezer for a while, where they’ll probably get stuck together. If you end up with clumps that you can’t break apart without tearing them, they’re good in soup.

Vegetarian Grinder

This is from Grand Central Bakery‘s lunch menu:

  • Grand Central Seeded Baguette or Essential Baking Parisian Baguette
  • Sliced avocado
  • Red or sweet onion, sliced extremely thinly
  • Mama Lil’s hot pickled goathorn peppers (mildly spicy will do if you can’t find hot)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Provolone
  • Romaine lettuce

This sandwich really requires a good flavorful bread. Grand Central’s seeded baguette and Essential Baking Company’s Parisian baguette are both good.

Cut the bread like Subway used to do, with a V-shaped chunk taken out of the top. This helps keep the avocado in while you’re eating it. If you’re careful, you can cut from the base of the V out towards the sides, turning the top of the bread into a kind of hinged filling-keeping system. (Be vigilant anyway; those avocados are slippery.) Sprinkle one half of the bread with balsamic vinegar. You let it pour out, didn’t you? Well, try to get some of the runoff onto the other sandwich you’re making. You want a fair amount, but not sopping.

On the other half of the bread, sprinkle some of the oil from the pickled peppers. Layer the other components onto the bread. I think the avocado stays in place best if it’s directly next to the bread and not in contact with the cheese, but it may just be a lost cause. You’ll need to adjust the amounts of each ingredient to taste—I like more onion than Cam does, for example, and I think Cam could do without the cheese entirely while I think it’s a necessary component.

Whole Foods’ house brand balsamic vinegar is surprisingly good, incidentally.

The original recipe calls for mayonnaise, but it doesn’t need it at all. You can get about three sandwiches out of one baguette, but I recommend just cutting it in half and making two.

Cast iron waffles

For my birthday, Cam got me (among other things) a cast iron waffle maker. It has long been a source of grar here at House of Cranks that seemingly every consumer-level electric waffle maker on the market has terrible flaws which could lead to inadvertent branding or just doesn’t work very well. Either that, or it’s a Belgian waffle maker, which is not what I want. (Next month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated has a review of one electric waffle maker for which I couldn’t find any reviews which said something like “the cheap spring clips fell off and the heated plates fell off, killing my cat”. I therefore expect that model to be discontinued before the issue hits newsstands.) Anyway, Cam found this cast iron stovetop waffle maker which makes decent sized, regular-grid waffles. I tried it for the first time tonight.

The first couple waffles (and I use that word loosely) were a disaster. After the first one, I had to run the plates under hot water and scrub them with a nylon-bristle brush to get all the stuck-on bits off. By the third waffle, though, things had come together, mainly because I read this cast iron waffle making advice written by folks who, like me, like to use an infrared thermometer in the kitchen. Possibly the problem was just that the first few waffles out of a newly-seasoned iron are going to stick, but more likely was the fact that I was heating it about 75 degrees too low.

When cooked at the right temperature, waffles out of this cast iron waffle maker are better than any I’ve ever made at home before. Crispy on the outside, cooked just right on the inside–heaven. The batter recipe I adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book:

In a medium bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 8 tbsp buttermilk powder. In another medium bowl, whisk two egg yolks, then add 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of cooking oil. Beat the whites from the two eggs until stiff peaks form. Add the liquid to the dry bowl, and mix until the batter’s a bit lumpy. It’ll be pretty liquid still, but don’t worry. Fold in the beaten egg whites, and don’t over-mix.

While you’ve been making the batter, the iron should have been heating over a medium flame. Flip it every now and again to get both sides warmed up. When it’s around 400-425 degrees, you’re ready to go. Brush some cooking oil over both sides of the iron and pour in around 3/4 cup of batter. You want to fill the whole iron, but not cause batter to flow out the sides. Close the iron and flip it over, so the side that’s been over the flame most recently is now facing up. Cook for 3 minutes on each side, then carefully open the iron and peel the waffle out, using a fork to unstick bits of it if necessary.

Either eat immediately or put on a wire rack in a 250F oven to keep warm until you’re ready to eat. Om nom. Makes around 7 waffles in this particular iron. I have a couple left over that I’m going to try freezing. Or maybe just eat now.

Home improvement fail

About two years ago, I ordered a Rainbow attic stair, so that we could get some usable storage space in our attic. The existing attic access was a tiny hole in the back of a closet, and I could barely fit through it, let alone get in with a box of stuff. So I ordered this drop-down folding ladder. I got this specific one because it was rated for 350 pounds, and all the ones available at the big box stores were only rated for 250. I figured it would be a weekend job to install it. Hah.

First, the handyman whose time Cam got as a Christmas present was sick for several months. And then we went back and forth about where we might be able to install the stair. Eventually, I got up into the attic and crawled around in the insulation, and determined that there’s exactly one place in the whole house where this stair will fit — in the hall outside the bathroom. There was a light installed right where the stair would have to go, so I figured I’d have to move the light. No big deal, right? When I got up there, though, I discovered that it wasn’t just the light I’d have to move; in order to put the stair there, we’d have to cut one of the ceiling joists, and guess which joist the knob-and-tube wiring leading to the bedroom was running along?

If it had been modern wiring, I would have just moved it myself, but knob and tube makes me nervous, so we tried to hire an electrician. There’s a whole other post right there. Suffice it to say that it took over a year to get the wiring moved so we could cut that joist. But eventually that happened, and the handyman was available, and everything was good to go. We got the joist cut, the stairs framed in and bolted into the joists, and expanding foam insulation piped in around the edges so it wasn’t draining hot air out of the house when it was closed, and everything. The only thing remaining to do was to cut the folding ladder to the right length.

This particular ladder is metal, with metal treads welded between the rails. In order to cut the rails to the correct length for our floor (which is very uneven in that hall), I would have had to cut the left rail exactly in the middle of one of the treads, and the right rail just below that same tread. That clearly wasn’t going to work. The installation instructions said that if you had to cut the rails in within an inch of the bottom of a tread, you should cut just above the tread, and then use the adjustment bolts at the top to alter the angle of the whole ladder so that it was long enough again. (There’s no up/down adjustment possible, given the mounting hardware supplied with the ladder. You can adjust how much standoff there is between the ladder and the platform that hinges up and down from the ceiling, but there’s no adjustment in the other dimension. Which is just bad design, if you ask me.)

If I had cut the rails just above the treads, I would have had to angle the ladder so much that the steps would be nowhere near level. And that just seems like an accident waiting to happen. Ladder steps should be level, especially if it’s a ladder you’re going to be going up and down while carrying boxes. There was no adjustment possible with the mounting brackets, but I did notice that the brackets themselves had been moved at least once — there were holes drilled a few inches away from the brackets, with the right spacing to have mounted the brackets there. I figured they must be where you’d install the brackets for one of the other model of stair Rainbow sells, and that I could probably just unscrew the mounting brackets and move them a few inches down, making the cut points on the rails just above that tread without having to adjust the angle of the ladder. So that’s what I did.

I got the mounting brackets moved down three inches, the ladder measured and cut to length, and everything looked good. I’d been a little worried that there didn’t seem to be much “bite” to the bracket mounting screws, but didn’t think much of it. Everything looked good, so I gave it a test. I was three or four steps up when the ladder’s mounting brackets ripped out of the door and the whole ladder slid back into the hall, dumping me on the ground. Luckily, I stayed upright. And when I examined the holes the mounting brackets had ripped out of, I realized why the screws didn’t seem to bite much — the door that they’re mounted to is hollow-core. The only place where it’s solid is at the original mounting points. So when I moved the mounting brackets, I was just screwing them into fiberboard.

What the fuck, Rainbow? How hard would it have been to make that door solid plywood, instead of a solid frame and two crossbars with finished fiberboard facing? Or to provide a mounting bracket that provided adjustment in the other, useful, direction?

This whole thing has been a massive clusterfuck, and now I’m going to have to either fabricate myself a whole new door out of plywood or cut the interior fiberboard facing out and install solid crossbars at the location I need to put the mounting hardware, now that I’ve cut the ladder to length. Or maybe I’ll head up the street to the metal shop and see if they can fabricate me some mounting brackets that don’t suck. Either way, I am heartily sick of this project. Also, my ankle is starting to bruise from where I hit it on something on the way down. Oh, and one of the treads caught on the latch on the way down, and bent both the latch and the tread, so I’m going to have to get a vise and bend the latch back into shape or have the metal shop make me a new one. And while I bent the tread more or less back into shape, I don’t know that it’ll hold as much weight as it used to, so I’m probably going to have to reinforce it with some bar stock.

Longest weekend project ever. *mutter*

(Crossposted from elsewhere.org.)

Pickled carrots

I made about two gallons of pickled carrots with jalapeños and onions this afternoon, mostly using this recipe. I doubled all the ingredients but the carrots, because I wasn’t sure how many carrots the recipe called for. I used about 4.75 pounds total (after slicing). I’m not entirely sure how many jalapeños I used, either. Slightly less by volume than there were carrots, I know. Let’s say around 30.

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The brine and onions are pink because some of the carrots I used were purple carrots, and the color leached out of them during cooking. The batch filled our white stockpot, which I guess is two gallons. I gave half to my folks and kept half for us. It’s sitting in the fridge now, getting tastier. It should be ready to eat tomorrow, but it’ll probably develop the best flavor over the course of the next few weeks. If it lasts that long. I do like hot pickled carrots.

Next up: firecracker carrots using these weird white carrots they had at Whole Foods.

Stupid chickens

I spent a fair amount of time today fixing the chickens’ roost—it was in the wrong location, encouraging them to sleep in the draftiest area of their coop, and I think it contributed to them catching colds during the colder/wetter weather. It was also directly outside their nest box area, which meant that the area of the coop with the most droppings was what they were walking through to on their way to lay. Ick. So I crawled in and remodeled this afternoon, moving the high roost to the interior corner, away from drafts and the nest box. I also completed a second nest box on top of the first, with a way for them to get from the low roost into the high box via a little ramp. (There have been … issues with multiple chickens trying to use the same nest box at the same time.)

I just went out there to see how they like the new arrangement. Apparently, they don’t. Trouble and Miss Thing are crammed in between the roof and the top of the upper nest box, pressed against the chicken wire window. Durf is sleeping on the ramp into the upper box. They’re in exactly the same place, only now they don’t have a roost there. What the heck, chickens? Am I going to have to put bricks or something up there to encourage them to try the new roost?

This would make more sense if I had photos, but I didn’t think to take any earlier. Although, hmm… maybe I’ll go back out and take a photo of how they’re sleeping right now.

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And now that I see the photos, I think they’re going to be crapping in their water all night. That won’t do. New plan: find a longer piece of 2×2 and make them a perpendicular roost that runs all the way across the interior side of the coop. And then put something on top of the nest boxes so they don’t roost there.

First dozen eggs

The chickens have laid their first dozen eggs over the course of about a week, maybe 9 days:

First dozen eggs Three representative eggs

I believe that the lightest in color come from Durf, the medium from Trouble, and the dark from Miss Thing. A few of them are cracked at the tip; I suspect this is because they keep scratching all the material out of the nesting boxes before laying, exposing the bare wood. If I can find a plain coir doormat, I may cut liners for the nest boxes out of that and see if it helps.

First egg!

Apparently the fuss the chickens were making this morning was due to one of them laying her first egg:

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I’m very surprised to see that it’s almost exactly the same size and weight (55g) as a large egg from the store. The last time I had chickens, I remember them starting off with undersized and less sturdy eggs–the shells were softer, and the eggs were about half size. Could we have just missed that phase with these chickens? I don’t remember seeing any evidence of eggs, broken or otherwise, in the coop before today. Maybe we just have these chickens on a better diet than the ones we had when I was a kid.

In any case, hooray! They’re finally starting to earn their keep.

And that’s why we call her Durf

Further evidence that if Durf, our Buff Orpington were any dumber, we’d have to water her twice a week: she isn’t bright enough to come in out of the rain. I just went out to make sure the chickens were all locked up in their coop for the night, and found Durf on the perch in the uncovered run area, dripping wet, muttering unhappily. I tried poking her off the perch, and she just sidled away from me. So I lowered the perch to the ground, hoping she’d get the clue and go inside. Nope, she just stood there on the lowered perch, getting rained on. So I had to climb inside the run, pick her up, and put her in the enclosed coop. Where she proceeded to just stand there, occasionally pecking at the ground. I tried lighting a path for her from where she was to the area of the coop with the night-time perches, and she just blinked at me. So I had to get back into the coop and shepherd her into the fully-enclosed area. Eventually, she got the idea, and I heard her hop up onto one of the perches.

But, come on. Sitting in the rain and cold, when there’s a warm perch with the two other chickens not 10 feet away. I worry about Durf. On the one hand, she’s a bully to the other chickens. On the other hand, she’s about as smart as a cabbage. Maybe being a bully is all she has.

Chicken run, mark 2

The temporary chicken run didn’t work out so well–the wire sides folded over and the top netting sagged enough that Miss Thing managed to get herself tangled up in it and nearly strangled herself. So a more permanent solution was called for. Our more permanent (but still constructed in such a way as to allow for easy reconfiguration) solution involved a whole bunch of 4’x4′ frames made of 2×2 treated lumber and 1×2 welded wire fence, held in place with sturdy stakes and covered with chicken wire stapled to the top.

The chickens seem pretty happy with it:

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