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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 are a good addition.
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.
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.
Mama Lil’s hot pickled goathorn peppers (mildly spicy will do if you can’t find hot)
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.
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.
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.