Monday, September 22, 2014

Top 10 Reasons You Should Click on my Bait, Or, How Not to be a First World Douche in the Kitchen

Hello again, dear readers. It's been two weeks and I'm sure you're curious about how my pantry clean is doing. It's going pretty well, I'm happy to say. My pantry is, somehow, STILL bursting at the seams, and I think we still have enough food to feed a small army and/or survive for a good year after the zombie apocalypse.

I managed to use the rye 'berries' (as it turns out they're called. Who knew?) in a pretty good whole-wheat kinda sourdough rye bread (blog post pending), I finished up our barley and our quinoa, I'm slooooowly making a dent into the rice, and I found out that I have another two whole kilos of oatmeal and of whole wheat flour hiding in the pantry.

But, before we get more into the whole pantry thing, I feel like I'm getting a bit ahead of myself with this blog.

You see, two things happened this week that made me realize I'm missing a vitally important blog entry.

One is, we went to someone's house over the weekend, and I discussed this whole eating through the pantry thing with the hostess. She was completely overwhelmed by the idea - and that made me so sad! I don't want this blog to be a snobby 'oh look at me and how ammmmmaaazing I am that I make fig jam' blog! I want this to be funny! Down-to-earth! Inspiring! Showing you that you, too, can make random weird meals out of things that you find in your pantry, like the really strange sardine-red-pepper-white cheese on crackers I had for dinner last night!

Objects in photo may taste stranger than they appear

The other thing that happened, is that I came across one of those lists of 'oh look at me and my blog and here are 10 click-baiting things you should know about food!' So I clicked (grrr) and I went to their blog, and wouldn't you know it, it was all about avoiding white flour and only buying organic whole-locally-grown-chickens-who-have-been-fed-nothing-but-chia-seeds and other such stupid first world problems. So I read that, and I thought, GRRR, and then I thought, ok, I better make my list of how my kitchen works. Without further ado, I bring you:

Babka's Top 10 Rules for how not to be a First World Douche in the Kitchen

  1. Eat real food. By real I mean ingredients you can pronounce. If you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it. That being said, if you do eat it - it probably won't kill you, so stop freaking out about it. 
  2. White flour and white sugar are delicious. Eat them. 
  3. Salt is delicious. Eat it. If you have a problem with sodium, stop going out to so many fast food joints. If you own one of those stupid cookbooks that recommend low sodium things, I give you permission to throw it across the room, stomp on it, tear it into little pieces, and burn it.
  4. Margarine and MSG, otoh, are not real food. EXTERMINATE. EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE. Or see point 1.
  5. Organic food and vegetables are great - if you're rich. If you are a starving child in Africa, eat whatever food you can find. Realize that all organic things, however great they might seem, are definitely a First World advantage that you should feel grateful if you have, and not beat yourself up if you don't.
  6. Not every frickin' meal has to be animal. Vegetables are delicious and they're cheap. Stop eating so much meat. Not every meal has to involve an animal who died so that you could get fatter. 
  7. Quit throwing out so much frickin food. (See 'starving children in Africa.') If you have leftovers in the fridge and aren't sure what to do with them, add an egg and some bread crumbs, fry them, and call it a day. If it's really dead and you can't revive it, however - 
  8. Compost, don't throw out. Find a friendly local composter. It's not hard, it's good for the ground, and it saves on those gigantic landfills that aren't going anywhere fast. 
  9. If it doesn't have a cape, stop calling it Super! If I'm going to eat super-foods, I fully expect to be able to fly, turn invisible, and to live forever. If it doesn't do that, I want my money back.
And finally, the most important of all:   
  1. Be able to play in the kitchen. Yes, I have millet and oats in my kitchen. Possibly even several different kinds of oats. I do this because I like playing. I like being creative. I get strange ingredients and I figure out what I can do with them. Sometimes I'll buy chia, and sometimes I'll buy whole rye. Sometimes I make ketchup from scratch, and sometimes I'll try pickling. But whatever I do, I do it because I enjoy it and it's fun for me. The kitchen should be the place where you feel comfortable to go to get good food. Not the place you feel stressful because your ingredients have to comply with some stupid top ten list that some intern came up with to bait your clicks. If you enjoy playing and want to attempt bread - follow along with me. There will be many mishaps. That's ok. Keep calm and carry on cooking.
I've always wanted to generate one of these!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mushroom Barley Freezer Soup

I hate to admit it (don't we all?) but sometimes, I'm wrong. Just sometimes.

That is, it wasn't so much that I was *wrong*, but that Pinterest was right. (Even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

I desperately needed to do a Pantry Clean. Just like Pinterest told me to do.

What's a pantry clean and how did this happen?

I blame my sister-in-law, who, a few days ago on Facebook, posted a link about the end of the world and the end of resources in the world (sorry, A.I., I didn't really read more than the title.) That led me to my old fascination with the whole Mormon 'stock for a year's worth of food after the Apocolypse' thing, which I find completely morbid, mind-blowing, and fascinating. And that, dear readers, led me to the Eat Out your Pantry thing on Pinterest.

I stitch all the pictures! I good Pinterest Lady!!
Just trying to explain what a Pantry Clean Challenge is makes my soul weary. Even actually writing Pantry Challenge makes me simultaneously want to puke, have 2.5 kids, and go trot out my red and white polka-dotted poodle skirt. So I'll copy paste, and that's ALL I'm going to do.
"A pantry challenge is a focused, but limited, time to “eat from the pantry.” Rather than buying groceries like I normally would, I focus on what we already have. I build my menus around the ingredients I’ve been avoiding using. Sometimes this is something that is cumbersome to prepare or something that I’ve been too lazy to be creative with.... I end up saving money because I’m not buying more; I’m using up what I’ve already purchased."
Cheap. I like that. Ok. Fine. I can use up what I've already purchased.

These are a few of the things I have in my pantry that desperately need using up (just to show you that I have not earned yet earned my polka dots, self-published book, or the 'Best Homeschooling DIYer Mom Trophy):

  • A jar of buckwheat that I'm pretty sure we got as a wedding present six years ago
  • An ever hopeful jar of brown rice
  • Mung beans. Don't even ask.
  • Millet (oh hey, I actually used that once. For a blog post, even.)
  •  Cashews. I don't even *like* cashews.
  • shiitake mushrooms that I sincerely hope aren't the same mushrooms that came back with us from our trip to China 3 years ago. 
...And even more in the freezer.

So I'm gonna do this thing. I'm going to cook through my pantry. (I'm still going to buy things from the store, like fresh fruit and veg and whatnot.) I'm NOT going to make this one of those 'Oh Look At Me While I Cook Through My Pantry Day 11 of 7632!' kind of things.

At least, that's the goal.

I'm also planning to cook consecutively through all of my cookbooks.

(Um, yeah. One day.)

Mushroom Barley Freezer Soup

  • all the barley in your pantry
  • pre-chopped onion that you wisely once chopped and stuck in your freezer 
  • a bunch of celery that has a truly unfortunate amount of freezer burn
  • shiitake mushrooms that may or may not be from China, soaked in warm water
  • all the garlic that got stuck at the bottom of the fancy-shmancy 'garlic-salt' 
  • water

Erstwhile Instructions: 
  1. Soak shiitake mushrooms in water.
  2. Chop all the things.
  3. Heat oil.
  4. Put all the things in a pot, throw a little bit of salt in, clamp lid on and let steam for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add water and cook.
  6.  Good luck.
  7. mushroom barley freezer soup
    How about 'dat. It actually looks edible.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The jarring truth about jams (or, the jamming truth about jars)

Here's the thing. I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to jams.

I do know one thing, though. Store-bought jam is EXPENSIVE. Bloody expensive. And I can't figure out why! Fruit, when it's overripe, is dirt cheap. Sugar is cheap. I'm pretty sure pectin is cheap (and I hope I didn't lose you with that fancy foodie term, dear reader. Pectin is just a fancy word for fruit sugar.) Is it the amount of work that gets put in? The electricity? The fact that it's a fancy first world food that only us #firstworldproblempeople get to eat?

I'm not sure. But that's why I've been making jam at home.
fig jam DIY
C'est non le strawberry jam.

Now, clarification. I don't think that what I'm making is *jam* jam. (Or maybe it's not preserves? I don't know.) My point is, I wouldn't trust it on a shelf for months and months and years and years. I don't have the knowledge, and I don't have the equipment, and I wouldn't really want to risk the botulism.

What I *have* been making is refrigerator jam, and it is delicious. It gets eaten quickly, it lasts in my fridge for a month or so, and both myself and my significant other have eaten it recently and are both still alive. So far, I've done cherry jam (yum), cherry jam with a drop of almond flavoring (OMG YUM), peach/plum//apricot jam (still good, but not as good as that almond.)

Today, life handed me figs fresh off the tree. So today I am attempting fig jam.
I'll jam you my pretties! And your little dog, too!
Hum. Ok. That just got weird rather quickly.
Sometimes, when I'm sad that I don't live in a country with fresh raspberries growing wild and mushrooms everywhere (shout-out, R.R!), I am consoled that we at least have fig trees growing wild. So many that I truly cannot understand why anyone would pay the ridiculous price they charge for figs in the store.

Now, I'm not going to go into much detail here about how to jar things. I'm not here for that. If you really want to learn about it in depth, check out Alton Brown (my kitchen guru, as I may have mentioned) in the Urban Preservation episode about jam. Then, if you want to know more and are more patient than I am, head on over to some random blog that I don't particularly know if you can trust and read the whole veeeeeeeeeery looooooooong article with everything you could possibly ever want to know about canning and jarring and stuff. Finally, check out the newest edition to my list of kitchen gurus, David Lebovitz, read his cherry jam 'no recipe' recipe, and pray to whatever god you pray to that you can still find cherries this year.

For now, I will tell you what I do when I make "jam" (maybe I should call that "jamm" or "gamm" - you know, like one of those trademark things that don't want to use the real word, so they use a silly misspelled one instead.)

Babka's Random Fig Jamm 

See?? Fig seeds!

  • Figs picked from the tree that morning
  • Sugar or honey (according to the links above it's 3/4 of the amount of fruit. I find that to be a bit sweet. So do what you want, but I take no responsibility)*
  • a bit of lemon or lime juice (a squeeze or tsp or so)
  • water (some)
  • cardamom, a bit of white pepper (oh yes!!), and a bit of almond flavoring (I'm starting to think almond just makes everything better.)
  1. Clean the figs. Cut the figs. Check the figs VERY CAREFULLY for worms or bugs. Ew. Gross.
  2. Weigh the figs. See, I told you you should get a kitchen scale. 
  3. Put all the ingredients in a pot and cook them until they're dead. Really dead. Like probably 30 minutes worth of dead. Do the spoon test that David Lebovitz taught me about (put a plate in the freezer, and when you want to test if the jam is done, you plop a bit on the cold plate and see if it smudges. Works great.) 
  4. Cool and put into a clear jar. I don't have real canning jars. I just use clean leftover jars from previously bought jam. Like I said, it hasn't killed me yet. 
  5. Refrigerate and enjoy.
*I used honey because I was completely out of white sugar. I've never tried using honey before, no idea if it will work. I don't see why it wouldn't, honey is a natural preservative. I'll let you know how it works out.