Unofficial Slow Cooker Summer Challenge

For the last couple of weeks in the Boston area, it’s been a little hot and a little humid.  It hasn’t been bad enough to be considered a heat wave.  When I take my late evening walks, it’s actually quite comfortable.

But when it’s that time of day to cook a meal, the stove is the last thing I want to use.  This makes me a little sad as making soups and baking things in the oven tends to be my default cooking style.

(Grilling is not something I’ve done on my own.  However, I’m determined to change that this year.  I’ve dug out an old charcoal grill left by a previous housemate that I will finally clean out and use.)

So, I’ve been playing with my slow cooker some more and I’m going to try using it as my main cooking method this summer.  I might as well.  I’ll be working from home for the rest of the summer (and likely for the rest of the year).

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I’ve done a sweet Italian sausage/tomato sauce/bell pepper recipe.  Most of this batch went to some friends, but I kept what I couldn’t fit in the container.  It was pretty good, and something I’d like to re-visit with some changes.  While I like Italian sausages, I am health conscious, and try not to eat a lot of sausages in general.  (Having said that, I do several pre-cooked sausages in my freezer right now because I can’t afford to be picky shopping during a pandemic.)  I think the next version will be to make my own meatballs and cook in the same sauce.

Quick breads actually do pretty well in a slow cooker.  The cornbread in the photo was a slow cooker recipe.  And this weekend, I made my favorite sourdough discard banana bread in the machine – it was delicious.

If you’d like to make my sourdough discard banana bread, take a 6 quart slow cooker and line it with parchment.  Drop the whole batter in.  Cook on high for 2 hours, with a tea towel lining the lid.  The towel makes a huge difference for making baked goods in a slow cooker.  It keeps any condensation from falling onto your product.

I’ve actually been slowly working on a rotisserie-style chicken in a slow cooker for the past year.  I think I’m finally getting the hang out it.

I have a lot chicken bones in the freezer waiting to be turned into stock.  I think I’ll try my sourdough recipe in the slow cooker (yes, the texture will be altered COMPLETELY but if it still yields a tasty bread, I won’t complain).  I’ll have to figure out a good vegetable side dish to make because I don’t always want a salad even though it’s the summer.  I will NOT be braising any cabbage though.  It’s fine in the colder weather but the one time I made braised cabbage in the summer, several flies found their way into my apartment.  I think that’s the one downside of slow cooking in the summer.  Flies will find their way to you depending on what you’re cooking.  The last two times I made chicken, a fly found its way into the house (although, one fly is still better than the several from the cabbage round).

I’ll also take this opportunity to revisit cookbooks I have (Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker and The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers), but I’ll probably draw most of my inspiration from whatever I have available.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

In case you missed it, my favorite banana bread recipe can be found here:

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/how-to-stop-wasting-flour/

Healthy Eats, a cookbook review

“Healthy Eats” is the latest cookbook from Six Sisters’ Stuff.  I’ve reviewed one of their books before, with some mixed feelings.  I loved their pulled pork recipe, but wasn’t into the amount of pre-made stuff being employed.  (To be fair, the book was called “Six Ingredients”, and cooks often have to cheat an ingredient to get the best flavor when they’re not working with much.)  Since healthy eating is a different concept than minimal ingredients, I was curious about the contents of this new book.

Chapter breakdown is much like their previous book:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Main Dishes
  • Side Dishes
  • Snacks and Desserts

 

Things to I’d like to try:

  • Hearty breakfast cookies
  • Red potato turkey bacon bake
  • Protein packed egg salad sandwiches
  • Shredded beef and sweet potato tacos
  • Honey lime grilled chicken
  • Avocado sour cream
  • Salisbury steak meatballs
  • Garlic lime sweet potato fries
  • Healthy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
  • Skinny frozen strawberry bites
  • Flourless banana bread

 

Initial impression?  The recipes are straight-forward.  Most of the ingredient lists are 8 ingredients total.  Some are more.  Some are much less.  None of the recipes are exotic, all are fairly familiar North American fare.  In fact my mom, who is an excellent home cook but not very adventurous, really liked the look of the recipes here whereas she’s shown much less interest in some of my other cookbooks.

Since my location is still under self-isolation/quarantine advisory, I was limited at what I could recipe test with little to no changes.

The original recipe I picked out was the egg rolls in a bowl.  Ingredients consist of sesame oil, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, ground chicken, black pepper, coleslaw mix, and scallions.  I didn’t have coleslaw mix per se, but I had green cabbage.  And honestly, coleslaw mix is mostly cabbage with some carrots.  Not a major ingredient replacement in my opinion.

How did it turn out?  Initially under-seasoned.  I also thought the cooking instructions were odd.  I like the idea that you make the sauce directly in the pan, and then add the meat but the recipe has you cook the ground chicken on low for about 12 minutes.  And then you add the veggies and cook for about 3 minutes more.  That is overcooked chicken in my opinion.  I added my cabbage earlier.  However, that wasn’t enough to improve on the dish.  There’s no garlic.  Not even onions.  If you’re going to use ground chicken, you really need more flavor.  I tried not to fuss with the recipe but, in the end, I added garlic powder and onion powder to make this edible by my standards.  At least it tasted better the next day, but I’m still going to give this particular recipe as it stands a failing grade.

I try to be a fair person, so I decided to test a second recipe.  This time, I went with peanut butter protein bars made of quick cooking oats, shredded unsweetened coconut, peanut butter, honey, apple sauce, chocolate protein powder, chia seeds, vanilla, and semisweet chocolate chips.  I had to make two substitutions in this due to my kitchen inventory.  I swapped the chocolate protein powder with vanilla protein powder, and chia seeds with hemp seeds.  I’m happy to report that my results were tasty!  I don’t think the flavor of protein powder is very important as the dominant flavors are peanut butter and coconut.  

But then how does one go about reviewing a book when the scorecard is 1 pass and 1 fail?   I kept mulling this over when I decided that there was still one more recipe that I could try with very little change.  On a whim this past Sunday, I decided to make the blueberry protein pancakes.  This time my ingredients were rolled oats, banana, eggs, baking soda, vanilla protein powder, milk, and frozen raspberries instead of blueberries.

The pancakes were good, but not great.  Solid passing grade.  I liked that they were easy to put together.  This particular recipe is a blender batter recipe.  I recommend letting the batter sit for at least 5 minutes if you can.  I found that my first pancakes were quite thin but my last pancakes were fluffier.  Flavor was pretty good.  They are just sweet enough to eat without syrup if you want but it won’t be disgustingly sweet if you add syrup.  My only issue was general texture.  They are on the dry side, probably because of the protein powder.  The recipe doesn’t specify a whey protein powder or vegan protein powder, so I wonder if one would do better than the other.  Most likely though, the texture would benefit from cutting back on the protein powder some.  Syrup would definitely help cover up the dryness, but if you don’t want to use syrup then maybe some fresh fruit?  I’m not sure.

Overall, I’m recommending with reservation.  Like all cookbooks, some recipes are better than others but I think the home cook using this book should heed their instincts, and treat the recipes more like guidelines.  Having said that, this is probably also a good book for someone who wants to cook healthier but doesn’t want to stock a large pantry of ingredients.  Because while I might be willing to use more effort in a recipe, I recognize that not everyone may feel the same.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Shadow Mountain for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is available for sale now.

With COVID-19 self-quarantine in effect, my scope of recipe-testing was limited.  Some modifications may have been made.  I apologize that I could not recipe-test better.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.sixsistersstuff.com/

https://shadowmountain.com/

Soup Swap 2019

Soup Swap 2019 has come and gone.  I’m currently unable to find online evidence but I think I attended my first swap in 2008.  Holy cow!

I haven’t managed to go every year but I’ve been to a lot of them.  And I think there was a year or two where there was no swapping to be had because the host was working on a master’s degree.  

This is the earliest mention on this blog that I could find:

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/chinese-black-sesame-soup-dessert-soup/

 

But I know the first thing I ever made for Soup Swan was French onion soup.  I remember crying through 5 pounds of onions and vowed “never again!”

For those not in the know, Soup Swap is a gathering to boost our spirits in the heart of the winter season. All of the attendees bring six quart-sized containers filled with a frozen homemade soup/stew of their choice. If you’re really ambitions, you can bring twelve quarts and secure yourself two picks per round.  All of the soups are lumped together in a spot in the room. Attendees pick out a random number, and proceed, in their numbered order, to explain what they brought in. The dear host likes to call this the “Telling of the Soup.” You can also win bragging rights for best telling.  Once the telling completed, the guests then take turns, in same numbered order, picking out a new soup container to bring home. To be fair, the dear host likes to run backwards during the last two rounds. So, you bring over six quarts of your soup, and you bring home six quarts of someone else’s soup.  It gets a bit competitive and a lot of strategic after the first round because there’s usually 12-14 flavors available, only 6 quarts per flavor, and some flavors are extremely popular.

And true story, I’ve been enough times to soup swap that I printed out my own inventory sheet this year.

I am proud to announce that this was the very first year where I got ALL THE FLAVORS I WANTED!  This was probably definitely only made possible by my severe dislike for cilantro. (A couple of the very popular flavors had cilantro in the ingredient list.)

This year, I made a pumpkin curry soup with black beans.

And here were my “winnings.”

 

I’ve had the Green Monster and the Porq-ue soups so far.  Tonight, I’ll be having the Eatin’ Big Time. I can’t wait.  🙂

If you want to make the pumpkin curry soup that I did, it’s a Libby’s Pumpkin recipe.  The only difference was that I added canned black beans, rinsed and drained, at the end of cooking.  If you want to make six quarts of it, just multiple the recipe by 3.  I will say that I think your results will heavily depend on the quality of your spices.  I am personally fond of Penzey’s house curry blend.

https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/28476/pumpkin-curry-soup/?recipeSortBy=Relevancy&keywords=pumpkin+soup

https://www.penzeys.com/online-catalog/penzeys-curry/c-24/p-3037/pd-s

2018 in review

I have a lot of thoughts about 2018, but since this is a food blog, I’ll keep it to food related things only.

Here are my highlights:

1. Eating bugs with the Nordic Food Lab!

 

2.  Curry biscuit sandwich.  I’m still trying to figure out the right recipe for home re-creation.

 

3.  Ok, this one isn’t food related but it was definitely a highlight – a workshop with Dr. Jacob Harden.

 

4.  This Bon Appétit salad recipe:

 

5.  Finally making Kenji Lopez Alt’s vegan ramen recipe.

 

6.  Meeting Yvette Van Boven.

 

7.  And Kakawa Chocolate House finally opened their MA location in Salem.

 

What were your favorite food memories of 2018?

Sometimes, it’s ok to call it quits

In a perfect world, I’d be experimenting with sourdough breads regularly.  I’d create boules of beauty, and share them with friends and family.

However, this isn’t a perfect world.  A handful of close friends are gluten free.  I rarely get to share the things I cook and bake because I’ve messed something up just enough that it doesn’t feel fit for sharing, or I’m just make enough food for myself for the week.  At the end of the day, I’m just feeding myself.

I do make bread on occasion.  I even had a rye sourdough starter going for over a year.  But those two statements?  Rarely done at the same time.  When I make bread, it’s usually with SAF instant.  When I was maintaining my sourdough starter, I was just finding ways to cook the discarded starter.  I was almost never making proper bread with my starter.  It even got to a point where I forgot I had a starter hanging out in my fridge.  I literally did not notice it in my fridge until about two months after its last feeding.

Even then (!!!), it took me a couple of weeks to finally toss it in the trash.  Some part of me hated feeling like I was giving up on a project.  But logically, it didn’t make sense to try again.  More so, because I have a place in a 10 minute walk away that does a wonderful sourdough.  I’ve started going there a bit more frequently because I absolutely love their sourdough pizzas, but you can pick up bread to take home.  I can spend 2-3 days making sourdough bread on my own, or I can spend $4 – $7 at my local restaurant.

It will do me more good than harm to recognize what I am willing and not willing to do.  If I didn’t live so close to awesome bread, I’d probably feel differently about this.  Or if I had a large family to feed, which I don’t.

But you know what they say: when one door closes, another opens.

Why must some relationships end?

I discovered Blogging for Books toward the end of 2014.  For those who don’t know what it is, Blogging for Books is a website created 10 years ago to help bloggers connect with publishers to get access to books for review purposes.  For someone with such a small blog like my own, it was a boon.  Unless you have a minimum of 5,000 followers, most publishers don’t want to work with you.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  Back in 2014, I wished that I had found the website sooner.

As of this week, the closure of Blogging for Books was announced.  Saying that I was sad when I heard the news is an understatement.  I’m now back to floundering as a small time blogger.  And I am always going to be a small time blogger.  I did a weekend workshop once with people who all wanted to be food journalists (not necessarily food bloggers, so I was a bit out of place), and several people were amazed that I had absolutely no ads on my site.  Unlike my classmates, I was the only person who blogged purely for fun.  I don’t want to turn my hobby into a job.  I don’t want to churn out content everyday or every other day.  Food blogging has always been an outlet for me.  It’s a place where I can funnel my experiences and thoughts on this one subject that is important to me.

So here’s my good-bye to Blogging for Books.  Its value as a resource to me can’t be quantified easily.  I can only hope that I can find a replacement, or that publishers will one day take this little blog of mine more seriously.

Milk Street Kitchen’s Open House

Milk Street Kitchen (which I could also call Milk Street Magazine, Milk Street Cooking School, Milk Street Radio, or even Milk Street TV) had an open house this evening.

Here’s how it went…

:: I got a goodie bag from Che Maksou salon. There’s a little bottle of conditioner, shampoo, and some sort of “salt infused spray designed to work with other volume infusing products.” Uh, ok. BUT HOLY COW THE LABELS SAY THAT THE PRODUCTS ARE WORTH $30 ALTOGETHER.  So, I’m looking forward to testing out some hair products in the near future.

:: We got to taste some recipes. There was, I think, a recipe from every issue of the magazine so far.  There was Thai Steak Salad, Chili-Lime Melon Salad, Spanish Spice Crusted Pork Bites, Thai Coleslaw with Mint and Cilantro, and Tahini-Swirl Brownies. The brownies were good but I couldn’t taste the tahini. I was grossed out by the coleslaw because I didn’t realize that there was cilantro in it until I tucked into it. Having said that, it was still pretty decent. The other flavors of the salad helped to make the cilantro less disgusting. lol!  (Yes, I am anti-cilantro.  Sorry, not sorry.)

I did stay away from the steak salad from the start because I could tell immediately that it had cilantro. I’ve made my peace with not eating the steak because the pork dish was delicious!  I ate a handful of that. Overall, I think the fruit salad was my favorite. So, I had a good serving of that too.

:: Andi Wolfgang, founder of NamaKiss, was there with samplings of her chocolates. I really liked them! The chocolates were the reason I was inclined to go to the open house. It turns out that I can get her chocolates just a couple of blocks away from where I live, so I’ll probably stop by the store sooner rather than later to pick up some. There was a goji chocolate fudge square (it also had a seed in it but I don’t remember what… pepita maybe?) that was my least favorite just because it didn’t see that special to me. I really liked the coffee bean chocolate fudge and the peanut butter chocolate fudge. The citrus vanilla truffle was good too.

:: BRIX Wine Shop had samples.  I don’t drink wine so I stayed away.  But they were quite popular.

::  There were cooking demos throughout the evening but I only watched the steak salad demo.  Overall, the evening was lively and fun.  I just didn’t want to spend my whole evening by myself watching demos in a crowded room.  Plus I have access to all the magazine issues so far, so I’m not worried about getting a copy of any recipe.

: : And of course, there were issues of the magazine available.  The issue was the March-April one, which is where the tahini brownie recipe lives.

All in all, I was glad I went.  And I’ll be returning to Milk Street Kitchen this month for a cooking class.  As long as I’m not lazy, I’ll do a write up on that too.

Havard SEAS lecture, 11/7/16, Sister Noella/Ben Wolfe/Mateo Kehler

More specifically:
“Delicious Decomposition: Tales from the Cheese Caves of France”
Sister Noella Marcellino, Ph.D., Abbey of Regina Laudis, artisanal cheesemaker and microbiologist who studied the biodiversity of cheese-ripening fungi in France; featured in Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” based on Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”
Mateo Kehler, co-founder and manager of Jaseper Hill Farm and Caves, Greensboro, Vt.

Or in the words of Sister Noella, the presentation could be renamed to “cavemen I have known and loved.”

I’m not going to go into super detail.  It was just a fun lecture.  I wanted to attend because I remembered her from Pollan’s Cooked.  I got there early (doors opened at 6pm even though the lecture didn’t start until 7pm), and took my old spot in the audience.

We got cheese samples!

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Cheese sampler

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Sister Noella’s presentation was really informative, but I think Mateo’s and Ben’s presentations were a bit more of interest to me.  She mostly talked about how the Bethlehem cheese came to be, certain microbes (like the geotrichum candidum, which I think smells a bit like daikon), and how she won a Fullbright scholarship that allowed her to study cheesemaking in France.

Mateo’s presentation was almost half-advert, but was really about the structure of Jasper Hill Farms as it relates to cheesemaking.

He also made a comment about grass-fed cheeses.  Basically a cheese made from the milk of cows with a 100% grass-fed diet doesn’t taste all that great.  He said that dairy production requires a lot of energy, and lactating cows need to be fed a little bit of grain.  (Grains provide more energy than just grass.)  If I recall correctly, he also mentioned that the Jasper Hill cows are fed dry hay, which promotes good microbes and none of the bad ones like lysteria.

Anyway, Jasper HIll has prospered enough and worked with scientists often enough that they’ve actually built their own lab on the property to study their cheese microbes.

Toward the end, there was a surprise mini-presentation with everyone’s favorite microbiologist, Ben Wolfe, Tufts University.  Ben quickly chatted about DNA sequencing and patterns of microbes.

And that was the lecture.

The end.

Or not, because let’s go back to that cheese sampler!

Seven cheeses were listed on the sponsor thank you slide, but the audience only got five cheese samples per plate.  The very top cheese in the photo (at 12 o’clock) is the Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam.  I definitely liked this one.  It was like brie, but creamier and maybe saltier.  I found the overall flavor to be clean and fresh.

The cheese to the bottom right of the Mt Tam is probably the Bethlehem cheese.  Maybe, probably.  I thought it had some citrus overtones to it.  Overall texture was dry and brittle.  Flavor was mild.  I liked it enough.

The bottom right cheese (at 5 o’clock), I’m fairly confident, is the Kaltbach Gruyere.  It was hands down my favorite.  I liked the scent and the flavor of it better than all the others.  It was strong but nothing offensive.

We only had one blue cheese, and that was the Jasper Hill Bailey Hazen Blue.  I really thought I was going to hate this as I normally find blue cheeses to be too stinky and too boldly flavored for me.  Not this one.  Having said that, it was still my least favorite on the plate.  It reminded me of a stack of papers.  Probably old papers.  But it was very salty and metallic tasting on my tongue.  So, metallic old papers?

The last sample on the top left is probably the Jasper Hill Winnimere cheese.  My first impression of it was that it was sharp in scent and flavor.  It also smelled salty.  The texture was soft, but not as soft as the Mt Tam.  The flavor of the Winnimere reminded me of beer.  It’s a good cheese, but not one of my favorites.

So yeah.  I want to stock my fridge with Mt Tam and Kaltbach Gruyere right now!  (^_^)

No lie, I’m on a Korean foods kick (cookbook review)

First of all, I may or may not be addicted to dongchimi right now.  (Dongchimi is a radish kimchi that lacks the red color from gochugaru, Korean chili flakes.  It’s a fairly mild kimchi and a great gateway drug into Korean fermented foods.)

Second of all, a friend of mine expressed an interest in a special event at a local restaurant called the Feast to Celebrate the Debut of Koreatown: A Cookbook.  Per the event page:

The Kirkland Tap and Trotter is excited to welcome Chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Rodbard to The Kirkland Tap & Trotter for a one-night-only event celebrating the soju-slamming, pepper-pounding, kimchi-everything adventure that is Koreatown: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; on sale February 16, 2016). For two years, co-authors Hong and Rodbard gathered recipes, stories, in-the-moment photos, and thoughtful interviews from Korean American neighborhoods all across the country to comprise their portrait of a culture in Koreatown. With a penchant for global comfort foods, killer wood grill to complement the flavors of Korean barbeque, and convivial atmosphere, Kirkland is the ideal place to kick-off the cookbook tour.

I was immediately intrigued, and did some digging around.

It turned out that I had this book available to me to review.  OH HAPPY DAY!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.25.21 PM

This cookbook is definitely Korean American in flair.  Some recipes are traditional (ie. baechu kimchi* and kongguksu*) and some are not (ie. kimchi triple-cream grilled cheese and Korean fried broccoli).  But it still provides a great sample of Korean dishes.  I think recipes for all the most popular dishes are here: jjampong*, jjajangmyeon*, and gamjatang*.

I also love how the Korean names, hangul, and English translations are listed for every recipe.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.25.08 PM

(That makes a lot of dongchimi.  I’m also unsure about the use of soda for serving.)

The photos are pretty gorgeous, and interviews with Korean Americans across the U.S. are a nice addition.  There are definitely recipes that I want to make.  The first one might be the kalbi meatballs because kalbi is always a good reason.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.24.35 PM

Long story short – I feel inspired and this book has a permanent home on my bookshelf.  I hope to have a follow up post in the near future, so I can let you know how a recipe went.

Reference:

baechu kimchi =  napa cabbage kimchi
kongguksu = soy milk noodle soup
jjampong = spicy seafood noodle soup
jjajangmyeon = black bean noodles
gamjatang = spicy pork neck and potato stew

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/feast-to-celebrate-the-debut-of-koreatown-a-cookbook-tickets-20933491637?aff=ebrowse

http://koreatowncookbook.com/

(note – the official cookbook website has 3 recipes available)

P.S. Completely unrelated to Koreatown, I made the octo vinaigrette from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes book.  I used it as a dipping sauce for a hot pot night with friends.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t use the full amount of garlic but it was still plenty garlicy.  And I got compliments.