Monday, December 4, 2017

Cranberry Sauce and Sriracha Grilled Cheese

Hello! Does the news make you want to cry right now? Because between the tax bill, net neutrality, public lands and everybody being fired for sexual harassment, this has not been an easy week to stay optimistic in America. The night the tax bill passed the Senate, a friend of mine texted me the words "ordinary life is a nightmare" and I can't even say it was hyperbolic. On Saturday, five thousand Utahns turned out to hear tribal leaders speak about protecting sacred lands, and just this morning we lost two million acres of  national monument.

(Also, I jogged for exactly 19 minutes last week and I think I'm still sore. This is not remotely important in reality, but my emotional response to it was dramatic.)

As an antidote to this madness, all I have to offer is a sandwich*. I was thinking I'd have to wait until next Thanksgiving to post it, but if I still have cranberry sauce in my fridge that means you could too. Also, I no longer have complete faith that there will necessarily BE a next Thanksgiving. Either way, it's a really good sandwich.

So here's my vegetarian answer to the next-day turkey sandwich that everyone claims is the best part of Thanksgiving. Full disclosure: I have made cranberry sauce in July just for this purpose. Also, I once put turkey in one once for my non-vegetarian sister, who also happens to be a fairly sophisticated eater, and she liked my version better. BAM!

*Actually, that's a lie... I also have a request. Please call your representatives this week- the tax bill still isn't a done deal and neither is net neutrality. Find their information here!

Cranberry Sauce and Sriracha Grilled Cheese

Note: I know most people don't really need a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich. If you're not a recipe follower, the instructions here are easy: make a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, cranberry sauce and sriracha. For longer instructions, keep reading.

For two sandwiches:

4 slices good bread (I like mild sourdough, but anything works!)
1/2 cup packed grated cheddar
~1/4 cup cranberry sauce
1-2 tsp sriracha

Figure out what is going to be the inside and outside of your sandwiches. Butter the outsides of the bread... I'm leaving the amount up to you (ALL THE BUTTER!). Spread about two tablespoons of cranberry sauce onto each of two slices of bread, and top with 1/4 cup of cheddar. Spread sriracha on the other slices of bread- half a teaspoon per sandwich will be pretty mild, and a full teaspoon will get you a good kick. I prefer more. Assemble sandwiches. 

Place sandwiches in a frying pan over medium-low heat and cook until the cheese is melted and the outsides are crispy.... I personally found this took about 10 minutes on each side, but watch it so your bread doesn't burn. Eat immediately!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Weekly Waterfowl (15!)


(This might be my favorite duck video ever? They just keep trying... and it's even funnier with the sound on).

Friday, November 24, 2017


A couple weeks back, two of my high-school friends drove 11 hours from the Bay Area for a 36 hour visit. I hadn't really seen them since before I ended up in Utah for depression rehab (my friend Hanna's phrasing, but I'm stealing it) and I was more than a little nervous. My last couple years have cut me down to size in ways I'm still just learning to share. If I'm honest, I've been using Utah as an excuse to hide out a little bit- I've turned down a couple opportunities to go home and see everyone when I found it overwhelming.

(As a side note, can I complain for a second about therapy teaching me to recognize my anxiety? It's definitely progress that I recognize my issues instead of just trying to numb them... but DAMN there's a lot of anxiety.)

I really shouldn't have worried. My stupidly wonderful friendpeople burst in with joy and patience and a third friend I took to right away. They got along with my roommates and my farmwife. We ate a lot of cheese. They didn't push me. The part that made me most nervous- the inevitable speaking of vulnerabilities out loud - happened on the side of a mountain, where my caged-animal anxiety tends to loosen up a little. The evidence of their stupid, wonderful love for me - offhand comments about keeping me in mind, a genuine offer to distribute a "don't ask Becca list" for New Years - made me cry, but I got to do with while wearing sunglasses and breathing mountain air. They're good friends, better than I have often deserved.

And yes, I'm a weepy cliche.

Saturday morning, we left the house planning on a city hike and ended up climbing the ice behind a ski mountain to a frozen lake. I'd like to say it was the least dignified snow-hike I've taken this month, but last week I ended up bushwhacking down a mountain after an elk, so I'm really not having a great run of it. We bought lunch late, and so 8pm found us hungry, but not really feeling the effort. My lovely friends, who after all largely taught me how to cook, sauteed some greens and poached eggs while I tracked down some chimichurri we had made earlier this summer. It was perfect. So here's my friends' easy weeknight dinner instructions: saute some greens with olive oil, sesame oil and red wine vinegar. Poach (or soft boil) an egg. Add a couple big spoonfuls of some sort of sauce- pesto is good, as is the chimichurri recipe at the end of this post- and if you're me, make some toast to sop it all up. Dinner.

(My house has terrible lighting, so I take all my food photos outdoors. Sometimes my neighbors' cats get interested. Poor Quasimodo did not appreciate being shooed away.)

For those of you who are reading this thing for actual recipes, may I suggest chimichurri? If you're not familiar, it's an Argentinean sauce made from parsley and garlic and traditionally eaten with steak, although it's gangbusters with eggs and good on sandwiches and pizza. My farmwife and I made a big batch right after the first frost and stuck it in the freezer. I've been going through it at an alarming rate, so when I noticed yesterday that some parsley had inexplicably survived, I went for round two.

One last note- when we made our version earlier in the fall we had jalapeños growing, so we used some instead of red pepper flakes. Yesterday I used red pepper flakes, and it worked just as well.

Adapted very slightly from here

1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, washed and dried
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp oregano leaves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil*
1 tsp Kosher salt
~1tsp finely chopped jalapeño or 1/4tsp red pepper flakes

*Ok, I'm normally not the biggest brat when it comes to olive oil quality- that shit's expensive! But as my roommate pointed out, I had an unreasonable hoard of California Olive Ranch from the NPS store and I'm glad I used it- so I'm gonna say this requires something a little better than Costco brand.

Put the parsley, garlic, oregano, jalapeño and salt into a food processor. Run until finely chopped. Add oil and vinegar and run again until combined. Eat immediately, or freeze in an ice cube tray.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Plum Ketchup

Did you know ketchup was not historically made from tomatoes? I didn't- although as I initially told my farmwife, I also didn't think it was particularly interesting. When I went a-Googling, I was expecting to find a culinary history full of stone fruits and maybe berries, but apparently tomato-ketchup's original ancestor was a 17th century Chinese condiment made of pickled fish and spices. Yes white people- we stole ketchup. Also, the early British versions were made primarily from mushrooms (!) and sometimes walnuts. Today's second most available commercial ketchup? A banana version that hails from the Phillipines. What? Why did we get stuck with Heinz? Kellie, I apologize- this is actually fascinating.

[Other things my farmwife has been right about this week; that our ducks would eventually get over their fear of the door, and that I should not talk about Al Franken while holding breakable objects.]

After all of that, plum ketchup probably seems like a letdown, but I hope you're still reading because it really is magic.

I've actually never really liked tomato ketchup personally, primarily because I find it too sweet. Yes, I was a weird kid. For some reason, this even sweeter plum version works though- I think it's because plums make sense to me as a sweet sauce in a way tomatoes do not. Maybe it's because I expect plums to be sweet? I can't really explain it. Anyways, the result is sort of a westernized plum sauce (again with the white people stealing, right?), or a fruit based barbecue sauce. My farmwife claims its merits lie in its versatility- it can be used for sweet or savory adaptations, as a BBQ sauce or ice cream topping- but I'm always in favor of cheese. Yesterday I finished the leftovers of an awesome pizza I'll tell you about next week- but you'll have to make some of this first.

One last note- our community has somewhere between seven and six trillion plum trees, and we've subsequently made this with two varieties of plums. So whatever sad plum is still hanging around your November grocery store, I think I've found them a home.

Plum Ketchup
Adapted slightly from An Oregon Cottage

4lbs plums, washed, pitted and cut in half
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (~3/4 cup
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup cider vinegar

Transfer all ingredients to a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, then cook about an hour until thickened. After an hour, puree the sauce with an immersion blender and continue to cook and thicken. At this point, it's your call when it's done- we made ours about the same thickness as regular ketchup this year, but it's up to you.

Meanwhile, prepare jars and a hot water bath for canning- this recipe yields 8 half-pint jars. For canning 101, I seriously recommend this resource.

When your'e ready, ladle the ketchup into the jars (leaving 1/4-inch headspace). Wipe the tops of the jars, attach lids and rings, and process 20* minutes in a hot water bath.

*20 minutes is the sea level timing- we're at some altitude here in Salt Lake and we processed for 30.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Weekly Waterfowl (14!)

So on Sunday, my farmwife and I spent the afternoon installing an automatic door on the duck's house. Monday, the ducks spent the entire day inside the house because they are afraid of the door. 

I have the dumbest pets.

(There are no waterfowl in this photo because there were no waterfowl outdoors to be photographed all of yesterday. Maybe if people leave comments telling my stupid dumb pets they are disappointed, the ducks will come outside?)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Six things not to do while making sparkling cider

1. Attempt to load 302 pounds of apples and 30 pounds of pears into your farm-wife's Toyota Yaris. You can, in fact, buy high quality apple cider without having to stand on an extra tall ladder with an apple picker for six hours. Just live in the northeast like a normal person.

2. Make more cider than can reasonably fit inside a single chest freezer.

3. Forget that water expands, and overfill the glass gallon jars before putting them in said chest freezer. You will end up feeling supremely stupid while straining big chunks of glass out of the defrosted cider.

4. Underestimate the power of your own (previously proven) stupidity. Fun fact: even when a gallon glass jar appears to be unbroken- like when the cracks on the inside of the jar don't go all the way through and it holds a gallon of liquid cider without leaking - it might still shatter when you open it due to an expansion of gas. Bonus fun fact: when the bottom of a gallon jug of cider falls out and you're holding it at chest height, it is possible to make a mess rivaling a tomato-swamp. Also, you might not notice until the next day at work that you've still got apple cider on your shoes.

5. Use a gallon vinegar jug to carbonate cider. The flip-top doesn't provide a good enough seal for carbonation to happen, and you'll just end up sad and disappointed.

6. Have easily annoyed roommates. This one I actually managed to avoid- in addition to the glass-and-cider mopping incident, my roommie has put up with my getting weird frozen apple gunk all over the inside of her freezer and waking her up at 6:17 am because I was making a racket in the kitchen carbonating cider. And that was just this week! Apparently, she has just come to expect such things from me, because she was spectacularly nonplussed.

All of that aside, if you're not a monumental idiot, making sparkling cider at home is almost unbelievably easy. It takes two ingredients, four minutes of actual work and will knock the socks off of anybody who likes apples. Starting with good cider (and not needing to cook it) effectively elevates Martinellis' from the sad, child-and-Mormon knockoff champagne that it is into something independently worthwhile and effervescent. So if you live somewhere with cider, I am going to have to insist that you stop everything you're doing and make this now.

Hopefully, you're smarter than I am.

Sparkling Apple Cider 
Basic recipe from here, above suggestions my own.

One gallon high-quality apple cider
1/4 tsp champagne yeast (LINK)
2 empty 2-liter soda bottles, cleaned thoroughly

Dissolve the champagne yeast in ~1/2 cup of cider. I often find this requires me to microwave the cider for 30-60 seconds, but try to minimize the heat: cider is actually defined by not having been cooked (did you know this? Does everyone know this?).

Divide the yeast/cider mixture between the two bottles, and then fill the rest of the way. You do need to leave a little head space- basically, just fill the bottle to the place it would have been filled with soda. Stash the bottles somewhere at room temperature.

The cider is done when the bottle feels very hard to the touch- for me, this has taken around 24 hours consistently, but it could go faster or slower depending on your house temperature. Refrigerate immediately, drink within a couple days, and make sure to open the bottle slowly over the sink.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Weekly Waterfowl (13!)

Things I learned this week:
  • I am very grateful mud isn't a consistent problem around here
  • When a Tinder date asks what you did this weekend, 'shoveling duck poop' is not a very good answer. You should probably invent something less gross.
Last week we cleaned out the duck coop for winter, which was unsurprisingly disgusting (it involved literal shoveling of shit). We also made a giant mud puddle while hosing everything down, and the ducks discovered it, and well....

All hail Utah's pathetic yearly rainfall, for this is a rare occurrence.