We are officially in the throes of the holiday season and I simply can’t believe it. Illustrated Bites is almost one year old and 2011 is nearly over. As someone who is trying to get an illustration career off the ground while juggling two part time job and trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance, this blazing passage of time is giving me a bit of a panic attack. I just wish I didn’t need to sleep! Not to worry though, things seem to slowly be coming together, and I’m learning patience and celebrating small steps forward.
This last month of 2011 will be an exciting one. I’m looking forward to some big changes in 2012. One exciting change is that my lovely and talented sister, Christina, just moved here for a new job at Chronicle Books. We’re from North Carolina and for the past two and a half years, I’ve been living in the Bay Area while the rest of my family was still in NC. Now that my sister is here, San Francisco is going to feel a lot more like home.
If you’ve happened to notice that I haven’t posted in a few weeks, it’s because I’ve been busy spending the evenings catching up with my little sister. Oh yeah, Thanksgiving happened too. Just because there hasn’t been a new post in awhile doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. Just the opposite really; I’ve been cooking so much I haven’t had time to illustrate and write about it! Christina is quite the cook herself and we’ve whipped up many tasty dinners and desserts over the past 2 weeks.
One of my favorite things we made so far is apple pie. It’s a simple and seasonal dessert that was quick to make once we spread the work between the two of us. I made the crust and Christina handled the filling. Get a pint of vanilla ice cream and you’re in for a serious treat.
I was first introduced to challah bread while working in the after school program at Tehiyah Day School, a Jewish elementary school here in the Bay Area. Challah is an eggy, slightly sweet, and very tender bread that is the traditional Sabbath bread of European Jews. We would often serve it to the kids as snack on Fridays and they absolutely love it. I developed a taste for it myself, it’s excellent with a little cream cheese and it makes amazing french toast.
Every Friday the kids take home a loaf of challah for the Sabbath dinner. It’s really adorable to see hoards of little kids running to the bus, each with a braided loaf in tow. With some of the smaller kids, the loaf of bread seems almost as big as they are. I often wondered how many of those loaves survive the ride home and actually make it to the dinner table intact. I’m guessing not many.
A little perk that came with working on Fridays was that inevitably someone was going to forget their bread and I got to bring it home. These days I’m only working at the school twice a week and Friday isn’t one of my days. I’ve been missing my challah french toast so I decided to try and bake it myself. It took about three hours but most of that time was passive. It was actually easy to make and it turned out great!
Step one: Dissolve the instant yeast in the warm water, letting it sit for a few minutes. Then mix half of the flour with the salt and add all of the yeast water. Stir to combine with a wooden spoon.
Step two: Mix in 3 eggs and the honey and blend until smooth.
Step three: Begin adding the remaining flour, a little at the time. When you can no longer stir with a spoon begin kneading the dough. Repeatedly fold and press to combine. Add just enough flour to keep the dough from being a sticky mess. Knead for about 10 minutes.
Step four: Grease a large bowl with a neutral oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for one and half hours.
Step five: Deflate the ball and divide into three equal pieces. Let them rest for 10 minutes, then roll each ball into ropes about 15 inches long.
Step six: On a greased baking sheet, or a baking stone, smash the ends of the dough ropes together and braid the dough, just like you would hair.
Step seven: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover and let the dough rest while you preheat the oven.
Step eight: Right before you put the bread in the oven, beat the egg yolk and brush the top of the bread with the yolk. Sprinkle the bread with the poppy seed and the optional salt. Place it in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. The bread is done with you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow. Cool before slicing.
This makes a fairly large loaf. I gave half away to our neighbors because it really is best if eaten in the same day it was baked. If you don’t like poppy seeds, a tasty option is to sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. Happy baking!
I recently discovered some mint growing among the nasturtium in front of my apartment and I immediately began brainstorming all the delicious things I could concoct with fresh mint: mint tea, fruit salad with mint, and of course a variety cocktails.
As much as I enjoy a good beer, I prefer cocktails. I think it’s partially a volume thing. I just can’t drink THAT much liquid, beer or otherwise, and partially that I get bored of the the flavor of a beer about halfway through the pint. I really enjoy cocktails for the diverse flavors and manageable volume. Maybe I’m being kind of defensive about my preference but I have a lot of friends who are staunch beer drinkers and always make me feel sissy when I order a cocktail. I just like them more. Okay, guys?!
Rationale aside, I made mint juleps for the first time last night and they were so tasty! Mint juleps are a classic southern cocktail often associated with the Kentucky Derby. They are delicious without being overly sweet. The mint and sugar complement the flavor of the bourbon, without covering it up. You don’t need any fancy mixing equipment or numerous ingredients; all you need is bourbon, sugar, mint, and ice.
Step one: Make a simple syrup. Combine equal parts water and sugar and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir constantly so the sugar doesn’t burn.
Step two: Bruise the mint leaves with dull edge of a knife. You will need 8 leaves per glass, reserve one for garnish.
Step three: Put the mint in a glass and cover with crushed ice. If you don’t have an ice maker that crushes ice, just wrap a few cubes in a towel and whack it with a hammer.
Step four: Give the ice and mint a stir to muddle it together and further release the essential oils of the mint leaves.
Step five: Pour 2 oz of bourbon over the ice and sweeten to taste with the simple syrup. I found 1 TBS of the syrup was perfect (it amounts to about 1/2 TBS of sugar.)
For the most of my life, I did not like mayonnaise. The white, slimy condiment just seemed gross and completely unappetizing. That all changed when I worked at a French restaurant here in Berkeley. That’s when I was introduced to aioli. Aioli is flavored mayonnaise but what makes it truly special is that it is handmade with fresh ingredients. Processed mayo from a jar just doesn’t compare to the real stuff. Aioli is delicious on sandwiches, in chicken salad, or as a dip for vegetables. My favorite way to enjoy aioli is as a dip for french fries.
This past weekend I went to a cookout for a friend’s birthday and I thought it was a perfect occasion to make homemade fries and garlic aioli. Aioli is quick and easy to make but this was my first attempt at making fries. I found a well-reviewed recipe at allrecipes.com and changed it up to make the fries spicy. These fries are battered like fried chicken and they turn out tender on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside. The batter adds a lot of flavor; I didn’t even salt them after they were cooked. The garlic aioli was the perfect complement, adding another layer of flavor and texture. The fries were quickly eaten up, and were devoured within 10 minutes of getting to the party!
This recipe makes about 2/3 cup of aioli. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
I lined a ceramic baking dish with paper towels and layered the fries and paper towels as they came out of the skillet. This kept them nice and hot while the rest of the fries were cooking and it absorbed all the excess oil. Since you can only fit about 10-15 fries in the skillet at a time this turned out to be pretty handy. I also had two skillets of oil frying, to speed up the process. I recommend using cast iron skillets. They heat the oil evenly plus all the oil seasons the pans nicely.
These battered fries and aioli is truly a tasty treat. Go ahead and enjoy them with a cold beer and you have a perfect cookout snack.
The Mediterranean climate of the Bay Area makes it perfect for ornamental fruit trees. Trees bursting with fresh fruit is a common sight in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s equally common to see piles of rotting fruit beneath the trees. Waste annoys me (plus free food is awesome), so I usually gather what I can from branches that hang over the sidewalk (the law states that any fruit on branches growing over the sidewalk are public). I’m a novice at urban foraging – you won’t find me eating dandelions or acorns – but who would turn down locally grown, free, fresh fruit?
Like growing your own food, I think there’s something equally liberating about finding it in your environment. My first foraging expeditions were with my Mom, when I was small. In the fall we would pick up pecans that grew in a field near our house. Since then I’ve been gathering food from my environment whenever I come across it.
My most recent foraging haul was from a mission olive tree around the corner from my house, right next to the Buddhist Temple. Mission olives are a black olive that were originally brought to California by Franciscan missionaries. I’ve been waiting for the fruit to ripen for the last few weeks and been doing some research on how to cure the olives. An unfortunate taste-test taught me that olives ARE NOT edible right off the tree. It was indescribably bitter.
There are many ways to cure or ferment olives to make them ready for consumption, but the method that seemed most appropriate for this type of olive is dry curing. Basically, you pack them in salt for a month. Here’s how to do it:
Dry Cured Mission Olives:
Materials: Crate or box, burlap or cheese cloth, salt, and ripe mission olives (dark purple to black).
1. First, make slits in your crate or box, if it doesn’t already have slits.
2. Line the crate with burlap or cheese cloth. Secure in place.
3. Pour in a layer of salt, then put in a layer of olives. Continue until you’ve covered all the olives in salt.
4. Put the crate over a basin to catch the moisture, or put it outside where it won’t get rained on.
5. Wait one week, then dump the contents of the crate into another container. Shake well and return to original crate. Remove any damaged or rotten olives.
6. Repeat step five every 3 days-1 week for 4-6 weeks. The olives are cured when they are shriveled and smaller in size.
7. Separate the olives from the salt.
8. Dunk the olives in boiling water for thirty seconds. This melts the waxy covering on the olives.
9. Dry overnight.
10. Mix with olive oil and spices and refrigerate.
These directions are assuming you harvested a large crop of olives. I followed these same directions on a smaller scale. I used a plastic take-out box instead of a crate and cut slits in the bottom of the container and gave it some air holes on the top. I set it on a cookie sheet to catch drips, the whole thing fit comfortably on top of my fridge. I’ll let you know how they turn out!
Update: The preserved salted lemons turned out pretty amazing. Salty and sour with a note of cinnamon. Expect some recipes with these tasty pickles soon!
A friend of mine recently turned me on to Kombucha, and man do I love it. Kombucha is a tangy, refreshing, and fizzy drink that is professed to be good for your health. There’s a myriad of claims about the drink: it’s supposed to be good for digestion, detoxify your body, and raise your energy levels. I’m not here to attest to any of those claims, but I do think it is an amazing beverage.
Kombucha is fermented sweet tea that is cultured with a solid mat of yeast and bacteria known as a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) or sometimes refereed to as the kombucha “mother.” The Kombucha “mother” is a wonderfully icky thing that looks a lot like a jellyfish. The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar and produce acid, so the final product is not sweet but tart.
There are several commercial brands of Kombucha on the market, but they’re pricey, usually $3.50-$5. After doing some reading on the subject, I decided to brew my own. Home-brewing Kombucha isn’t a complicated process. Once you acquire a scoby, all you need is sweet tea and some glassware. In my first batch, the Kombucha paid for itself. ($16 dollars of equipment for 7 bottles!)
Finding a scoby is a little tricky, I searched a few weeks before I found someone on craigslist to give me one (I traded a scoby for a painting.) You can order them online but I preferred to find one locally. Every time you brew a batch of Kombucha the “mother” culture forms a “daughter.” So after you finally hunt down a “mother” and begin brewing, you’ll end-up with more cultures than you can give away. The cultures propagate so quickly a friend of mine joked that he suspected Kombucha is actually an alien conspiracy to take over the world. (You really have to see these things, the scoby does look like a weird science experiement. My boyfriend doesn’t like to stand too close to the jar that’s brewing in our kitchen.)
If I haven’t scared you off, here’s what you need to brew your own kombucha:
Here’s how ya’ do it: Make sure everything you use to brew and bottle is clean, clean clean!
There are a vast number of tutorials and how-tos on the web, if you’re ready to brew. The Happy Herbalist has detailed the ins-and-outs of brewing. If you’re in the Bay Area, I’d be happy to share one my scobys with you! Just shoot me an email.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Back in the days before refrigeration and processed foods, folks preserved their vegetables through lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation is a pickling process that uses beneficial bacteria to keep food from rotting. Believe or not you’re probably already acquainted with this process. Lactobacilli are used to make make yogurt and sauerkraut. Remember these guys from a few posts back?
So it goes down like this: you soak vegetables in salty water or you cover them with salt and this creates an ideal environment for lactobacilli. The lactobacilli do their thing, consuming sugars and producing lactic acid as a by product. This creates an acidic environment which kills off the bacteria that spoil food. These bacteria are pretty good for you too; they help you digest the vegetable and promote a healthy flora in your intestines.
Lately, I’ve really been getting into lacto-fermentation. Since I’ve joined a CSA, I’ve had an abundance of veggies in my fridge and making pickles has helped me save them for later. This is essentially what our ancestors did whenever they had a harvest. So far, I’ve made diakon radish pickles, kimchi, preserved salted lemons, and yogurt.
You can use this process to preserve any firm vegetable or fruit that doesn’t have too much water. So radishes and carrots are in; watermelon and tomatoes are out. You can add any spice you want, or throw in garlic and ginger if it strikes your fancy.
The kimchi and diakon radish pickles are wonderfully tasty. I’m really looking forward to trying the preserved salted lemons. They take a few weeks to ferment. I’ll let you know how they turn out! In the meantime, if you want to make some for yourself here’s the basic guidelines:
Preserved Salted Lemons:
When it’s done, you eat the rind and use them like olives. Check out the Sprouted Kitchen’s beautiful post about preserved salted lemons. She has a more detailed how-to and links to recipes. Happy Pickling!
I love it when I find a recipe that’s so simple that it almost makes itself. Soda bread is amazingly easy to make, before you know it…BAM!! You have fresh bread! I baked a loaf of soda bread one evening while Andrew and I were making soup, and I had the dough made and in the oven before he could finish chopping the onions.
This recipe for soda bread come from Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen’s book The Urban Homestead. It’s an overall enjoyable read; the writers have a quirky sense of humor and keep you entertained while gettin’ ya some learnin’ about being self-reliant in the city.
Easy peasy! I used yogurt instead of buttermilk and really enjoyed the slight tang it gave the bread. Soda bread is reminiscent of a big biscuit and was delicious with a little butter. It went perfectly with soup and the next morning I made french toast out of the leftovers. It was pretty darn tasty like that, too. I usually find the prospect of baking bread pretty intimidating but this recipe is no nonsense and a perfect beginner’s bread.