IN MY KITCHEN: DIY and Food Hacks
I have to admit, I tend to be a pretty liberal and open-minded person, but sometimes the whole hipster thing kind of gets to me. I’m just a little older than the majority of that generation. I was in college when I first heard the term being thrown around, so admittedly I’m aware there is a little of that “the youth will be the ruin” bias going on, but still, I find it ironic that a group probably best known for their rejection of pop culture and adherence to the underground should be so predictable ie. “Put a bird (mustache, owl, ect...) on it!” Further, the holier-than-though pretension I’ve encountered in some I would consider to be hipsters (though by the very nature of the thing, its taboo to label yourself this way) rubs me entirely the wrong way.
For instance, not knowing what I was agreeing to, I was dragged by a close friend to a vegan potluck with a group of these kids a while back. I had brought hard cider for everyone thinking I’d be the hero, but apparently they don’t drink… OR smoke… OR allow people to use gender-oppressive language like “he,” or “she,” or “boyfriend,” or “girlfriend.”
(I’m sorry, but I can barely remember your name let alone the fact that you want to be referred to as “ze” or "shim" and that your heterosexual boyfriend should be referred to as your “partner.”)
There was even a discussion about how happy they were that they weren’t “the sort of friends that teased each other or pointed out things that might hurt each other’s feelings.”
My eyes wanted so badly to roll, and my hand wanted so badly to smack into my forehead that I decided - to hell with it! I was drinking even if it had to be alone. Sipping my seasonal Fall Woodchuck (Which, just in case you didn’t know, is freaking amazing.) I came to the conclusion that perhaps hipster idealism is just too difficult a thing for a 90’s kid to understand.
However, despite how I might have sounded up until now, there is actually a lot I like about hipsters, and I recognize that the qualities mentioned above are side effects of the group’s virtues. In fact, the real reason I’m bringing up hipsters in food blog is to acknowledge the contribution these 90’s babies have made to American gastronomy. As hipsters bring us forward past the blind acceptance of religion, government, cultural norms, cookie-cutter art, and pre-packaged factory foods, they are actually leading us backwards, seeking to relearn lost skills and become the self-sufficient society we were before big corporations made us think we couldn’t do anything ourselves anymore.
That’s right. I’m talking DIY.
DIY: Black Pepper Basil Farmer's Cheese
This weekend, (admittedly driven by boredom and social network fatigue) I suddenly remembered a recipe I had pinned (You can follow my Gastronomics Pinterest Board here!) ages ago and decided that this day would be the day *I* would learn to make cheese.
I purposefully avoided recipes requiring fancy ingredients my grocery store wouldn’t carry, because I figured 1.) I should set myself up for success with the most introductory recipe and 2.) if ingredients were cheap and accessible, and the results were good and simple enough to achieve, I might even make cheese-making a regular thing. The results?
Without rennet, the ingredient that makes cheese stretchy and good for melting, I had a large wheel of cheese which tastes similar to mozzarella, though has bit more of a feta-like texture. I was glad I decided to add some spice to the recipe I found. The black pepper and basil flavors really came through and made this cheese just over-the-top good.
It's since been used grated on pasta,salads, and eggs, added to wraps and sandwiches, and just eaten in slices on it's own. To make a long story short: I will make cheese making a regular thing.
DIY: Super Simple Artisan Bread
Having completed this experiment, I realized that with minimal effort I had produced, from scratch, something that itself is commonly considered to be a “scratch” ingredient. Since then, my head has been flooded with culinary possibilities. I mean, if making cheese is this simple, what else could I be making?!
Riding the high of my success, I decided “Heck! I’m a cheese maker now, might as well be a baker too!” Though having failed in previous attempts, I had resigned myself to cooking only, deciding I was just more “artist” than “scientist” in the kitchen, I decided to give it one more shot and found the simplest, quickest, most basic bread recipe I could. Once again, I was delighted by the results. Even if my bread was not the best bread I've ever had, it was still very good and with a satisfying, crispy crust, I can confidently say it was better than most loaves stocking my grocery’s bakery shelves.
Ingredients (Water, Yeast, Salt, Flour) + Minimal Time Till Bread (3 ½ Hours) = A-FREAKING-MAZING! This recipe, knowing most of us are too busy (or lazy) to make dough and bake bread every day, wisely calls for enough to make 3 loaves. You can bake just one and refrigerate the rest of the dough as you go through your loaves.
In addition to the instructions in the recipe, I would recommend brushing your loaves with a little egg white and sprinkling herbs, sea salt and a little grated cheese on the top in the last few minutes. The egg white will give your bread a nice sheen and the rest will add a little flavor. The basic dough recipe could also be played with adding various herb and maybe cheese varieties.
DIY: Mexican Style Green Honey Sriracha
As I bragged to curious friends on Facebook, (to whom I had of course, been filling in on my kitchen experiments), now I could even combine my homemade bread and homemade cheese with another recent DIY project of mine I had actually made a couple weeks previous – a homemade sriracha I just had to try making after writing my first Gastronomics Trend Spotting blog – Sriracha Challengers.
Reading around I had found a handful of recipes which were all just a little different from one another, so when I realized my grocery store was lacking in red jalapenos, yet offered the regular old green variety – and clearanced to $1 a pound, no less - I decided I’d let my “artist cook” play with the “scientist” and try some substitutions.
I went ahead and followed their basic directions - blend, ferment, sieve, and boil - but swapped my dirt-cheap green jalapenos for the red, selected honey as my sweetener rather than sugar, used lime juice instead of vinegar for my acid, and added cilantro for even more flair. It’s been such a hit in my house that though I filled a jam jar with it just a few weeks ago, I needed to make a new batch just the other day!
(BTW: Not actually red raspberry preserves. I just like to be environmentally conscientious and reuse jars.) My recipe has the familiar, sweet, salty, kinda funky heat of sriracha, but a much brighter taste that's a lot hotter, and with a yummy cilantro, lime, honey twist!
HACK: Wontons Double As Ravioli
Besides my DIY kitchen projects though, I’ve made a few ingredient “hack” discoveries that have been really exciting. The first – wonton wrappers double as easy, ready-made ravioli dough.
That’s right! You too can easily impress your friends and family with thin, delicately skinned gourmet-style homemade ravioli pasta skin (As opposed to the thicker, more doughy sort you get in the frozen bulk type.) So good, even my picky little one shouts “Yes!” and does a little dance when I tell her it's what we're having for dinner. All you need to do is decide on your filling! Filings I’ve tried:
- Three Mushroom Ravioli: Chopped and sautéed white button, shitake, and enoki mushrooms, plus green onion and fresh garlic. Seasoned with sea salt, black pepper and liquid aminos. Half pureed, half left chunky.
- Three Cheese Ravioli:Ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, a little chopped spinach and garlic. Sea salt and black pepper.
- Shrimp Ravioli: Chopped and sautéed shrimp, green onion, and fresh garlic mixed with ricotta. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Half purred, half left chunky.
- Savory Asparagus Ravioli: Chopped and sautéed asparagus, enoki mushrooms, shallots, and fresh garlic mixed with goat cheese. Seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Half purred, half left chunky.
I love the ideas presented in this recipe, but even I, salt and fat lover that I am, found the butter sauce to be a little too much. I typically serve my ravioli with just enough olive oil to keep it moist, sea salt, black pepper and a little cheese. Sometimes capers and sliced cherry tomatoes as well.
HACK: Puff Pastry Biscuits Double As Mini Pizza Dough
The second kitchen hack I discovered – puff pastry biscuits double as the most AMAZING buttery, soft mini pizza crusts! I’ve used this one a couple times now – a few times as a sleepover dinner laying out a buffet of topping for my daughter and her friends to make their own pizzas, other times constructing versions that are a little more exotic for my boyfriend and I.
- My Daughter’s Favorite: Barbeque Pizza: Quartered artichokes, thin sliced red onion, North Carolina style barbeque sauce, topped with shaved Romano cheese and a little black pepper.
- The Grown-Up’s Favorite: Mediterranean Pizza: Chopped and sautéed white button mushrooms, red onion and eggplant, fresh halved cherry tomatoes on a za’atar seasoning olive oil mix (in place of sauce), topped with shaved Romano and grated black pepper basil farmers cheese. (Yep! That’s right. The cheese I made. It doesn't melt, but turns into little crunchy basil-flavored cheese morsels on the top.)
I love that like the wonton hack, this one has nearly endless possibilities. Use whatever you like or have on hand. Experiment with toppings, sauces and cheeses. Pair it with a nice garden salad and you’ve got a beautiful dinner!
Obviously, I’ve been having too much fun experimenting in my kitchen lately to stop now! In my next “In My Kitchen” blog, I’ll be filling you in on even more fun DIY, food hacks and new ingredient discoveries. On my to-try list:
INGREDIENT: Chive Bossoms
DIY: Herbed Goat's Milk Cheese
HACK: Low Cal Onion Blossom
DIY: Homemade Yogurt
Spotted bunches of these next to the cilantro at my grocery store and decided to pick them up - without any clue of how I would actually use them. Turns out they're a common Asian ingredient so that's probably the direction I'll take them. I'll let you know what I do.
Since I made my simple farmer's cheese, I've been thinking how great it would be to have a earthy goat's milk variety. So, I picked up a carton the other day and should be making that soon. I can't wait to crumble some on a salad or spread some on a warm slice of toast!
I, like most sane people, order one of these things whenever the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, the appetizer is LOADED with fat and empty calories. This version from Hungry Girl makes a satisfying substitute that drops it down from 1,355 calories per serving to just 192. Um - yes, please!
Investigating further recipes for milk, I discovered just how easy it is to make your very own yogurt. Further, I discovered just how much money it can save you to do it. Seriously - all you need is milk and 1 single container of your favorite store bought yogurt. Got to try this one!
DIY: Homemade Butter
HACK: Cauliflower Steak
DIY: Gluten Free Bread
I think most of us have a vague memory of making butter at one point or another as a kid, but I had forgotten just how simple it was until I found this recipe. Firstly, all you need to make butter is half and half. Second, rather than hand churning it, you can actually let a food processor do the "hard work!" When I ate meat, I used to make a thyme roasted steak with blue cheese butter that was to die for - and that was just using the store bought stuff. Just imagine all the great flavored butters you could be enjoying with this recipe!
Okay, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Pinterest, let me tell you - it is loaded with diet-friendly cauliflower recipes - something I had never really thought of before. For some reason, though I personally enjoy it, we never had cauliflower growing up. Now I'm excited to start playing with it - especially with creative uses like the cauliflower steaks above! I think I'd marinate mine in liquid aminos and garlic first, maybe with some herbs as well. Caramelize and top with a little balsamic reduction or some shitake vinegarette. OMG, YUM!
Listening, as I usually do, to the Splendid Table this weekend there was one story in particular that peaked my interest and imagination - culinary pine. "Of course!" I thought. "Like a lemony rosemary herb! Why hadn't I ever considered this before?" As someone that enjoys foraging - collecting berries, dandelion greens, wild rose hips, and hunting mushrooms, I found the idea of this wild herb especially exciting. You can use it any way you would use rosemary, but I was most intrigued by the idea of a pine flavored sorbet or carbonated drink.
So, as you might recall from my very first Gastronomics blog, I suspect I may have some type of food allergy and the prime suspects are unfortunately two of my favorite things - milk and wheat products. You may also recall though, that I refuse to stop eating them all togeather. As a consequence though, since I made my own delicious bread and have thus, been enjoying bread more often, I've notice unpleasant symptoms - breakouts and upset tummy returning as well. So, compromise! I thought it might not be a bad idea to give a home made gluten free bread a shot.
Okay. Enough about what I'm doing - what have you been making in your kitchen? Any tips to share? Ingredients to try? What's on your to-try list?
I'd love to hear from you!
IN MY KITCHEN RECIPES: