Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vanilla Bean Soda

Chocolate is one of my favorite food groups, but I love a good vanilla flavor.  I'm pretty picky about my vanilla, though.  (No surprise there).  I hate vanilla flavored foods, especially ice cream, that have weak flavor or weird aftertastes.  I need straight-up pure vanilla bean flavor.  I want to see bean flecks in my vanilla concoctions.

A while back I was the lucky recipient of some vanilla bean samples from work- One from Indonesia and one from Papua New Guinea.  I opted to use the Papua New Guinea beans in my vanilla bean soda experiment because they smelled the best to me.  Plus, it gives me a chance to kick a shout out to my cousin and her family that are living there!  Hi Conners!

I wanted to make a vanilla bean soda because:
#1: I'm hooked on the "Dry" brand vanilla sodas at the Co-op.
#2: I love a really simple soda recipe
#3: My friend Sarah is obsessed with vanilla

So I gave it a whirl and really like the results!  It's richer in color and flavor than the Dry Soda and a bit less fizzy.  And, of course, it tastes yeasty since the carbonation comes from natural fermentation rather than charging with CO2.

Vanilla Bean Soda

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 quarts water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1/8 tsp. champagne yeast

Place vanilla bean and scrapings in a large pot with 2 quarts of the water, sugar and raisins.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally to keep sugar dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Then strain the brew into another pot and add the remaining 2 quarts of water.  Discard vanilla and raisins or think of a creative use for them.

In a little cup, stir the yeast up with a bit of water.  Make sure the brew is no hotter than lukewarm (wait longer if it's too warm) and then add the yeast/water.  Stir well and dispense into heavy-duty seal-able bottles.  Set aside in a warm place to carbonate.

*This took about a week in our 60 degree (F) house.  In the summer it will probably take about 24-36 hours.    Just check every day or so to make sure things don't get explosive!  Refrigerate when desired carbonation level is reached.

Want other soda recipes?  I'll try to post more of ours that we've done in the past (and future!).
Cherry Ginger
Mulberry Root Beer

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Best Biscuit Ever

Good biscuits are one of the really important things in life.  This morning I was reading in bed when I was overcome with the immediate need for a flaky, hot biscuit and hot coffee.  I don't usually drink coffee and when I do, it's decaf.  So I think this craving has something to do with the mystery series I've been reading lately, rather than a need for caffeine.

The series is by Joanne Fluke and it's about a fictional Minnesotan woman named Hannah Swenson who owns a bakery and solves murder mysteries in her spare time.  And she loves her cat Moishe more than anything.  I love these books!  They're like the Nancy Drew series- a bit repetitive and very tame- but you can't stop reading them.

Anyways, the books include recipes for baked goods and the characters are always swilling piping hot coffee- Hence, my craving.  I'm highly suggestible.

I always use the Baking Powder Biscuit recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance because they rise better than any other recipe I've used (rising and layer-formation are key indicators of biscuit quality, in my opinion).  Maybe the stars were aligned right or maybe it's the new canister of baking power I cracked open...But I think I baked the perfect biscuit today.

I should have measured, but I'm estimating that this one rose about 3 inches!

There was already a fair amount of Earth Balance in this biscuit, but I smeared some more in the center and then globbed on some of Morgen's Zestar Apple Jelly she canned last year.  I was saving it for a special occasion and this biscuit seemed pretty darn special.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

After the Hunt

Well, I'm back.  We didn't find the Winter Carnival medallion this year, but we got very close!  Someday perhaps we'll be the lucky ones to find it...

Now it's back to regular life- Like washing all the loads of snowpants, long underwear and thick socks.  And cooking food. And bathing.

The past week I've been subsisting on trail mix, a big batch of lentil soup and oatmeal cookies.  My favorite trail mix is really just a couple ingredients I mix together and pack in my purse every day: Almonds, craisins, chocolate chips, and ???.  Sometimes the extra ingredient is peanuts or sunflower seeds.  Today it was peanut butter filled pretzels.  It's not exactly the healthiest trail mix, but it gives me energy and keeps my blood sugar levels stable.

I spent a few hours at Ikea today, getting supplies for organizing things around the house.  After that I spent another couple of hours putting together a new cabinet for the kitchen.  It's really supposed to be kids' furniture, but it looks nice in the kitchen and the slide-able tubs work great for holding recycling and root veggies. And it was on sale!  I did have to stop into work for a bit to teach a class, but just for a few hours.

Now I'm vegging out in front of the TV (and the computer) and eating baguette with olives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Ikea takes a lot out of a gal!

Tomorrow I hope to do some actual cooking and blogging.  Back to normal!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Sorry I haven't been writing too much lately.  It's Winter Carnival season in St. Paul and I'm busy checking the batteries on the headlamps, stocking up on shovels and pitchforks, and making sure everyone's ski masks fit okay.  It's time to hunt for the medallion!

For those folks who don't live in St. Paul or have the slightest clue what I'm talking about, visit my posts from last year or the year before.  Or watch this creepy guy reading the clues to where the medallion is hidden.

So I'll likely not be posting too much in the next 12 days.  Hell, I'm not even going to work next week so that I can focus on the hunt!

Love, Liz

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Citrus Salad and Cherry Jam (not together)

Mom just asked if I quit blogging, so it must be a week since my last one. Oops!

I was pretty sure I wrote on Sunday: All about the new salt and sugar scrubs that I made and how I'm inspired to get really organized during my week vacation that's coming up.  And about the amazing salad I had for dinner on Thursday.  But I guess I imagined writing that or maybe just thought about it a lot, because it's not here!

Here's a cute kitten picture to say I'm sorry for not blogging, Mom.  Trouble loves getting inside my pickling crocks (when they're empty).

Let's start with the super good salad from last week- I don't usually buy magazines or follow recipes from them, but I picked up a copy of the January Vegetarian Times for old times' sake.  I remember when I discovered that magazine when I was probably 12 or 13- It was a new best friend who understood how I ate and why.  But over the years I've stopped subscribing because I never ended up using the recipes and felt guilty recycling all those magazines.

I'll admit that when I first saw that the #1 staff favorite recipe was the Citrus salad, I thought b-o-r-i-n-g.  Throwing some citrus in a green salad is so yesterday.  But one look at the ingredients changed my mind- This salad is filled with tons of citrus, arugula, chopped peanuts, red pepper flakes, mint and shallots.  It is anything but boring!  Since the Texas grapefruit is over the top sweet right now, I decided to make this salad with my dinner.

But this salad became my entire dinner because I ate the whole batch and even added more arugula to try to stretch it further.  You can find this recipe "adapted" and printed on Recipe Zaar, but you should just buy the magazine because then you get other good recipes, too.

I went on a little cleaning spree on Saturday and finally tidied up my cookbook shelf.  The shelf was starting to bow in the middle, so it was about time I got things a little more organized. I took a picture because I was so proud of myself!

If you could see a "before" picture, you'd be impressed!

On Sunday I had a blast jamming a bunch of frozen cherries with my friends Nick and Sarah.  They had dabbled a bit in canning before, but wanted a private lesson.  About 6 batches of Cherry Jam later, they were experts!  I happily received a few jars of jam and slathered it on top of toast with Earth Balance.

Yum!  This makes me want to make toast right now!

So there you have it: This is everything that I meant to write about this past weekend.  Next up: Vanilla Bean Soda!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tortilla Fiesta!

Last night we had an all-out taco fest!  

I had soaked some pinto beans overnight and used the pressure cooker to make some quick "refried" beans (really just cooked, seasoned and mashed).  Then I pulled down one of my jars of garden tomato salsa, mashed up some guacamole, washed some lettuce, opened a container of Tofutti sour cream and sliced some olives.

What's missing?
Tortillas!!! That's the most exciting part!
I treated myself to a nice double-burner cast iron griddle this holiday season (it is the season of giving...) and Mike got me a traditional corn tortilla press.  

I'm practically a tortilla factory now, I can make them so fast!  This dinner came together surprisingly quickly and the kids declared it the best thing they'd ever ate!  I can't wait to try pancakes on this giant griddle- I might actually finish making the pancakes in time to sit down and eat mine with the family now.

Here's the tortilla press in all its glory- The plastic wrap is a necessary evil to remove the tortillas and transfer them to the skillet. Someday I'll make a video.

And here are the tortillas cooking away!  The texture is SOOOO much better now that I can press the tortillas evenly and thin enough.  Before I was using my cast iron skillet to smash the dough into tortillas...but I also needed my cast iron skillet to cook the tortillas.  So it never really worked out very gracefully.

Now I'm thinking enchiladas, arepas and pupusas are in my future on this griddle!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals for 2010

It's time for some resolutions already.  It's not like me to be late and I'd hate to start this year off on the wrong foot.
Here's what I have so far:

1.  Continue with the 2009 sock drawer resolution.  This is the only resolution I've ever kept 100% of the year.  I will continue to not put any unmated socks in my sock drawer- It's strictly for paired socks!  Oddly enough, this comforts me every time I get out a pair of socks.  No more hunting!

2.  Enter something in the 2010 State Fair Canning Competition.  I meant to do this last year and just didn't follow through.  I have no good reason for not trying.

3.  Cook something at least once per week from a cookbook that I already own.  You'd think that this would be an easy one, but I have a hard time following a recipe as written.  When my friend Brandon made 3 awesome dishes I've never tried from a cookbook I've owned for about 6 years, something clicked.  I need to be using these books!

4.  Save more money!  You all know I try really hard to stick to a budget, but what do I do with the money I save?  I use it to buy things I don't need or things that are fancier than I need.  Instead, I've started off this year by doubling the meager amount of money I put in savings every month (And it's directly deposited so I won't be tempted to skip a transfer or anything like that).

5.  Spend more time playing with the kids.  In just a few years they'll be waaayyyy too cool to hang out with me.  I'd better get in all the games and fun I can before they're teenagers.

6.  Either do yoga or use the elliptical machine every day.  It's harder to be active this time of year when there's no gardening to do! But there's no excuse not to go into the basement and watch TV while on the elliptical machine.  Except that it's cold.  And there are spiders down there.  But, really, I need to do this.

That's all for now, folks!  Hopefully I can stick with these!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How I Brought in the New Year

This feels a little like an elementary school report.

First, here's our Christmas pizza.  You might remember from years past that our tradition is to make large quantities of pizza on Christmas Day with Mike's family.  This year things were a bit delayed because of snow.  Above it is kids' pizza.  Mike a I opted for a gluten free crust with mozzarella Teese, artichoke hearts, onion, green olives, capers, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, green pepper and fresh garlic.  I added some phoney pepperoni to mine.  We might have gone a little overboard with the toppings...

Mike's mom always has fun games for us to play at holidays and this year we did one where there were 3 people to a team.  One person was the "tree" and the other 2 decorated the tree.  We could only use one hand each to safety-pin netting to the tree and then hook 15 ornaments and hang them on the tree.  Challenging, but fun!

Mike was a little worried about me pinning the netting to him.

For New Year's Eve I headed over to Madison, WI to visit my friend Brandon and his sis Ashlie and bro-in-law John.  Fun!  Brandon and I visited the capitol, which was really gorgeous with huge statues, paintings on the dome and carved wood throughout, including this freaky looking badger, which you can see above our heads.

We ate REALLY well on this holiday.  On NY Eve we went to the Green Owl for an amazing meal.  I forgot to take pictures of our appetizer- Crabby Cakes!  They were really delicious, but I could have used more than 2 cakes.

I chose the seitan Italian "beef" sandwich with pickled vegetables- It was really awesome- The seitan was dripping with rich broth and it soaked into the crusty roll.  The pickled vegetables had a serious kick and the roasted potatoes were served with house- made ketchup.

Brandon had the secret recipe Schnitzel with green beans and roasted potatoes.  None of us really knew what a schnitzel was until the server told us- we were sure it involved sausage, but nope.  It was a seitan-type patty crusted and pan fried, then smothered in mushroom-y gravy.

Ashlie chose the Barbecue Jackfruit sandwich- The sauce was really good and it came with coleslaw on top.  (Yes, we all shared bites of everything!)

For dessert we chose to share the chocolate pie with raspberry coulis.  At the first taste, I was a little disappointed because the texture was very silken tofu-like and didn't have a very rich mouth feel.  But then the intense cocoa flavor hit and I was won over.  This pie packed some serious chocolate flavor!  The crust was a bit hard to break through, but was my favorite part, as usual.

On NY Day we went out to breakfast at Monty's Blue Plate Diner along with 1/2 of Madison.  It was worth the wait, though.  I ordered something called the "vegan heathen shoplifter's delight".  It was a tempeh, portabello, and avocado sandwich that really hit the spot.  Their seasoned waffle fries were super crisp and well seasoned- I dipped mine in dijon mustard!  Brandon got the vegan tempeh hash with scrambled tofu, which was also very good.

Not pictured is the super amazing curried vegetable dish we made that night (from How it all vegan) that was swimming in rich coconut milk.  Also, the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that Ashlie made (and that we finished off in about one and a half days).  And then the Mediterranean tofu scramble and skillet potatoes with homemade ketchup the next morning.  Yum!

Now I'm at home, drinking water and relaxing and trying to figure out my new year's resolutions one day late.

And to follow up on the laundry detergent post, YES!  It cleans great and gelled up nicely.  I don't plan on buying laundry detergent again!