The Sourdough Starter Guide I Send My Friends

food

Hey! What’s up? It’s ya girl, The Bread Doula. So…you want to bring a sourdough starter to life? I’m so proud of you! But this shit is like having a real baby, except you can leave it on the counter all day. So it’s not like a baby at all, but it is a high maintenance kitchen project so buckle the fuck up chica.

First things first: The Jar. You want a pretty big boy in terms of jars. I would recommend at least a 3 cup jar or larger. No lid? No problem! You can cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. If using the actual jar lid, only screw it on loosely so that shit doesn’t explode. Before you put anything in the jar, boil it in water to make sure it’s as sterile as possible!

Now you can make that baby ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) When starting this bitch you want equal parts BY WEIGHT of flour and water. So get a kitchen scale for accuracy. They’re like super cheap anywhere. I think they’re like $5 at Target. Water weighs more than flour so you’ll always use what looks like twice the amount of flour compared to water. This is CORRECT!

So how much flour and water do you need? Start by mixing 4 ounces of flour and water together. By this I mean 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water. I’m worried you may have thought I meant 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water. Just clarifying. I have anxiety.

Anyway. Mix it until no streaks remain and scrape off any from the sides with a rubber spatula. Leave this in a warm corner of the kitchen with the lid loosely screwed on (or one of the other options I suggested above).

If you do this in the morning and leave it all day, you might come home to a mixture with a few bubbles in it and that shit is EXCITING. But wait, there’s MORE! Feed it again! Another four ounces each, mixy mixy and scrapey scrapey. Cover it and leave it overnight.

By this time it will literally GROW! It’ll look all bubbly and weird. Now before feeding again, it’s smart to discard at least half of what’s in the jar. It’s not REQUIRED but no one wants to find starter all over the counter because it outgrew the jar. That’s like the sourdough equivalent of your baby yaking all over their crib in the middle of the night. The worst, probably. I don’t know.

“But Marcella that’s WASTEFUL!” Ya bish I KNOW! Which is why you can make a bunch of shit with the discard INSTEAD! I’ve made crackers, biscuits, pancakes, pizza dough and popovers. It’s so good but damn so many baked goods.

After about 5 days of this – your starter might be active enough to use in bread! To check if it’s ready, drop a little bit of starter in a glass of water. If the starter floats, you can make some bread!

Now, what if you can’t keep up with feedings? Slap that bad boy in the fridge! You can pull out the starter in the morning, feed it, leave it out all day, and then put it in the fridge overnight. Or just feed it once a week after putting it in the fridge. Whatever you want man, I haven’t fed mine in weeks and it’s probably fine.

So get real in touch with the yeast around you and make everyone you live with INSANE! Have fun, be yourself and also call me if something goes wrong at 1-800-is-ur-bread-fucked

These Anisette Cookies and a Pot of Coffee are a Match Made in Heaven

food, recipes

Everyone is getting engaged and married and truly I feel sorry. Because no one will have a stronger, more solid union than my great grandma’s anisette cookies and an entire pot of black coffee. Honestly, where’s that love comparison? I just want someone to compliment me the way anise biscotti compliments hot coffee. Where’s that romance?

“Ninety nine cents would get you a pound of these cookies.” Thinking about the light-weight of each crispy baked wedge made me realize the sheer volume that equates. “We would bring them home and drink a whole pot of coffee,” says my mom. It’s true, these cookies practically beg for a dunk before each bite, after which the harmonious union of coffee and anisette simply transports you to an old-fashioned Italian-American bakery of yore. So good you almost don’t feel bad about eating a few for breakfast. Oops.

This recipe, another mysterious find from my great grandma’s recipe box, was entirely written in English which could mean one of two things: it is once again not hers, or she had serious help writing it. In a comparison between this and her snippets of attempting English in other recipes, it appears that this is her handwriting. Impressive if so, but also curious. Someone definitely helped her, perhaps speaking the translation and showing her how to spell each word with some corrections on the way.

This recipe is also one of the rare recipes from the box that includes all measurements, oven temperature and a procedure. Truly miraculous when all others are written in at least two languages and have little clues pertaining to how the flour and baking powder eventually become a sponge cake. That being said, this recipe was also easy by most baking standards: add ingredients to the bowl, beating after each addition, then pouring the batter into a greased cake pan, baking until golden brown, slicing and baking again for maximum crispiness. This technically makes them biscotti.

Biscotti, though typically what Italians call a cookie, literally translates to baked twice. Most traditional biscotti have nuts or candied fruit in them and turn out just a touch drier, denser and tougher. Still absolutely delicious, but this recipe is unlike those cookies. These cookies are lighter and more tender. Still crispy, but you won’t have to clamp down on the cookie with your molars in order to take a bite. The coffee isn’t necessary to soften the cookie, it just tastes good.

I prefer espresso in general over coffee, but, as Ina Garten would probably say, if you can’t make espresso then regular coffee is just fine. Just try to resist eating them all.

My Great Grandma’s Anisette Cookies

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

3 tsp anise extract

3/4 cup cooking oil (canola oil)

1-1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add all ingredients in order given beating well after each addition. Pour into greased 9×13 pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan and slice into 1 inch strips.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for another 10 minutes to toast.

Garlic and Ginger Hot Sauce to Spice Up Your Life

food

I used to go to a Zumba class and we would dance to a song with lyrics “you got da sauce, you got da sauce,” and I’d be like yeah I DO got the sauce. Anyway, the hot sauce making continues and this time I added a few twists.

As always, I followed Joshua Weissman’s lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and added my own spin on it. Previously I’ve used this recipe to make a green version and I’ve encouraged other people to add their own flare, including my mom who made a version with roasted tomatillos. For my sauce I knew I wanted to incorporate another toasted flavor in addition to the garlic. Enter ginger. Instead of the original recipe’s eight cloves of garlic, I used six cloves and about an inch of ginger root cut into thin disks. Like the recipe says, I toasted the garlic in a neutral oil with the ginger to create this aromatic, infused oil. Since this gets drizzled into the sauce at the end, the flavors become amplified.

For the peppers I also wanted to try something new. In addition to fresno chilis I found some long hot peppers. Initially I was only going to use the long hot chilis but I tasted a teeny tiny piece and thought it would be a bit much. I fermented these peppers in the same jar for six days. Water got cloudy. Some bubbles developed. All that good stuff.

But what will this be for? When it comes to hot sauce some may say I have it all. Although, chances are, no one is talking about my hot sauce collection. While the standard hot sauces tend to pair well with anything (I’m talking from lamb barbacoa to boxed mac and cheese) I wanted something a little more niche. You can find gourmet hot sauces with all sorts of additives like peach, blueberry and smoked peppers. I wanted in on that with something almost exclusively for noodles and rice. I’ve been on an Instant Pot rice kick and the leftover rice is ideal for fried rice. A little kick from this would knock leftover stir fry out of the park. Not to mention, the spicy, ginger flavors would kill any cold immediately and be a welcome addition to winter soups.

So stoked to once again have da sauce.

 

Bowl of Pasta with Red Sauce

My Non-Recipe Recipe for Tomato Sauce

food

Every Italian person can make a red sauce based on pure instinct. Period. It doesn’t mean it’s the perfect sauce for everyone but damn it’s a sauce that makes you proud. Maybe it’s inconsistent, but Italian cooking has always been about availability and making something work. It’s about utilizing what you have to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Folks get very caught up in validating or invalidating Italian food when in reality, Italian food isn’t one cuisine but a holistic way of cooking. In reality, nothing about tomato sauce is Italian. Tomatoes are from Mexico, and Italy didn’t even exist when tomatoes traversed the Atlantic.

So cook with what you like and what you have. If you don’t know where to start, here’s what I always and never do to make my sauce distinctly mine.

Always:

  • I always start my sauce with onion and garlic. I slice the onion nice and thin and let it sweat out in olive oil and salt until it becomes translucent. Garlic goes in after the onions have released some liquid (garlic can burn easily so don’t add it at the same time as onion). Sometimes it’s 3 cloves, sometimes it’s more.
  • Salt throughout! Don’t wait until the end to add salt. Build the flavor starting with salting the onion and taste as you go. The sauce should reduce so constantly check your seasoning.
  • Use three herbs: basil, oregano and bay leaf. I find that these three (any variation in any amount) imbue the most iconic flavors to the sauce. If I have fresh basil, I’ll definitely take advantage of it, but dried basil and oregano do the job just fine. The bay leaf seemingly doesn’t add anything, but I was always told to add a bay leaf to take some of the acidity out, reducing the chance of heartburn and indigestion. I thought it was some Old Nonna Tale, but apparently bay leaves reduce inflammation and can aid digestion.
  • Let the sauce cook down! I don’t always add tomato paste (because I don’t always have it on hand) but cooking down your sauce and scraping the concentrated tomato that builds up along the interior sides of the pot add more flavor, basically mimicking tomato paste!
  • Whole, crushed or pureed tomatoes are my favorite. It depends on what else is going into the sauce (i.e. meat) or what’s available. I don’t typically use diced tomatoes. I don’t know why. Yes, the can is fine unless you’re living the dream and making fresh passata all summer.

Never:

  • Use anything but olive oil. Unless it’s Marcella Hazan’s butter and onion sauce. I just like the flavor of olive oil and the higher smoke point gives you some wiggle room when sweating those onions.
  • Rosemary. I don’t know why people put rosemary in sauce. To each their own, I guess, but it’s a little too hearty for something as rich as a tomato sauce. Bright herbs only for this girl.
  • Use pre-seasoned tomatoes. Maybe it’s a quick way to get dinner on the table on occasion, but if you’re going to simmer a sauce use the unseasoned tomatoes.

So my order of operations is:

  • Sweat the onion in olive oil. Season with salt.
  • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, bayleaf, salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  • Remove bay leaf and basil (if fresh and whole) before serving.

The simplicity is what makes this work. Add your extras like red pepper flakes, anchovy fillets or tomato paste, but consider those the icing on your weird, savory, already-delicious cake.

Vintage Amaro

Wipe Off the Dust and Drink the Old Amaro

drink, Vintage

Infatuated with the bittersweet, syrupy allure of the Aperol spritz, Americans have rediscovered a taste for aperitivo and digestivo bitters. Enter amaro. While Campari is the ruby red king of bitter aperitivi, other darker, herbaceous digestivi have resurrected in it’s wake, ready to tackle cocktail menus and bar carts across the country.

But the history of amaro goes back. Waaaay back. And in cleaning my great grandma’s house my grandma found a cardboard box of amaro from yesteryear. You see, my great grandma didn’t drink. Her amaro stash grew from generous house guests who graciously brought a bottle upon each visit. Stubborn enough to not indulge in a drop but kind enough to hold on to each bottle, my great grandma unknowingly bestowed a treasure trove of flavors unto me. Thanks Grandma Maria.

Now normally I would not condone eating old food. Don’t eat the candy you found in your closet from a Halloween of yore. But properly stored vintage alcohol? Dive in. A barrel aged bourbon develops its unique flavor because of age. A vintage red wine has subtleties that a younger wine has not yet developed. Not to say all old alcohol remains drinkable, proceed with sensible caution.

What’s in amaro?

I realize I’ve been drinking this stuff for a while and have no idea what’s in it. Oops. Each one is different, ranging from sweet like caramel to bitter like licorice, with unique secret recipes like mystical potions. Some even taste medicinal.

I’m lucky to have two vintage amari in my house: Amaro dell’Etna and Cynar. Amaro dell’Etna‘s ingredient list contains orange peel, licorice and vanilla. The recipe dates back to 1901, but is still available new in sores today. Cynar, a name derived from the latin botanical name for artichoke, is surprise surprise made of artichoke along with 13 other herbs and plants. Younger than Amaro dell’Etna, Cynar debuted in Italy in 1952.

The bitterness makes them adequate swaps for bitters in classic cocktails. Each unique blend also can suffice as the base for a contact and/or enjoyed on it’s own or with seltzer. The versatility alone makes a no-brainer case for keeping amaro in your home bar. Don’t worry, there’s one for everyone.

Is old amaro safe to drink?

Short answer, yes. Finding a bottle of Campari from 1950 is an incredible feat for negroni aficionados. But proper storage can make or break a vintage. Like Campari and Cynar, liqueurs don’t need to be refrigerated due to the sugar content. Approach vintage vermouth, lillet and any other fortified wines with caution. Opened or unopened, when exposed to light and heat, fortified wines can lose umf.

Where to store vintage amaro?

To reiterate, amaro’s sugar content keeps it shelf stable. So room temperature storage should not be a problem. However, take caution when drinking an old amaro that’s already been open. While oxidation won’t harm you, it will impact the thickness as the sugars turn into glycerin. It’s just a recipe for meh amaro experience. Best to keep vintage amaro unopened and out of direct sunlight until ready to drink.

What happens to the flavor?

The resulting flavor of aged amari varies greatly between styles. Additionally, due to changes in machinery and ownership, while ingredients might be the same every time, amari can vary between decades as well. Flavor can become sweeter and more syrupy or mellow as the bitter herbs meld together further. It’s an adventurous way to taste beyond switching between styles of amaro. Trying today’s version of Cynar, for example, alongside my beloved found bottle can showcase how the flavors evolved over time.

Let’s talk labels

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had an infatuation with vintage alcohol labels for a very long time: the art nouveau styles of absinthe ads to the futurism era Campari posters shaped my appreciation for the liqueurs. The text and colors of these labels tell so much about when they were conceived. The Amaro dell’Etna, with an older formula, uses embellished text and a painted landscape paying homage to a classic style, while the Cynar label uses block text and a modern design ringing in the 1950’s idea of the future. While both labels now reflect the past, each exists in its own era forever, reflecting the art and sentiment of each era.

Cocktail connoisseurs and vintage collectors can appreciate the impact these liqueurs have had on the culinary and advertising worlds. If you aren’t lucky enough to inherit a dusty cardboard box of amaro, you can taste older bottles at specialty wine shops and cocktail bars. If you’re curious to try an amaro at all, the next time you’re interested in an Aperol spritz at the bar, ask for one with a different bitter liqueur instead.

We can’t storm Area 51 anymore so I stormed Area 2

beer, drink, Travel

I hate it when someone tells me something is overrated after I express interest in going. Let me find that out for myself. Or not. I felt that way about Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, CT.

Two Roads is Connecticut’s largest brewery occupying 10 acres of land for brewing, tasting, entertaining and growing. Pretty impressive. The building’s post-industrial aesthetic and the collection of branded Air Streams gave the OG Two Roads an injection of 2010s zeitgeist. The tattoo event and french fry food truck added to that millennial vibe. So yeah, I guess if you’re over that crowd, then this place isn’t for you.

However, who cares what the place looks like when the beer is this good. Now, Two Roads is fun and the standards are abundant whether you like IPAs, sours or even hard seltzer, but if you want a wild time head over to Area 2, Two Roads’ experimental facility accessible via walkway from the brewery. While Two Roads might be perfect for tossing a frisbee, crushing a beer and dog watching, Area 2 is ideal for finding something rare and new.

In my 5-beer tasting I tried a farmhouse ale, a saison and a “hard kombucha” among the long list of uniquely funky and off-beat varieties. Of course, this is a lot of beer to drink without having any food so be sure to grab some cheese and crackers while you’re sippin’ and maybe pack a snack so you aren’t like us, waiting for french fries to sober you up.

Now for the run-down of all the beers:

  • Norwegian Farmhouse Ale (5% ABV) – this beer satisfied a craving I had for months. After leaving the Hudson Valley, a land abundant with beers and wines that taste like a full on barnyard, I needed a refreshing beer that still delivered that sour, earthy stink. This was it.
  • Table Terroir (3.7% ABV) – table wine feels like a lost tradition. In Europe, it’s easy to walk into a restaurant or tavern and grab a cask of inexpensive table wine. It goes with everything in a complimentary way, not an overpowering way. This low ABV, easy drinking beer is a three-way crossroad between an IPA, a wheat beer and a saison.
  • Brett Saison (6.6% ABV) – dude, I know I love sours and fruity beers, but the french farmhouse saison is really rocking my world. As I constantly yearn for funky flavors, I find myself ordering saisons more frequently and finding more to love with each sip. You’ll want to tuck into a wheel of brie after taking one sip.
  • Hard Kombucha (4.5% ABV) – did someone say pink beer? This deep magenta rooibos and sour cherry concoction tasted just like unsweetened iced tea. My mom introduced me to rooibos years ago and it always had a magical quality to it: earthy and beet-like. This felt remarkably healthy to drink, justifying its name.
  • Crooked Roads (5.7% ABV) – AKA the fried chicken beer. Now, I’m not sure if its because this was our last beer of the day (after a full pour AND 4 tastes) but we took a loopy turn upon tasting this. “It tastes like fried chicken.” What? Nick said this and I was confused at first until it hit me. It tasted like fried chicken. A thigh. Right off the bone. I deduced that this was from the oak aging, giving the sour ale a woody, meaty flavor.

These were only five of the 16 possibilities and you bet I’m going back for more. Area 2 can abduct me into their spacecraft of dope beer any weekend of the year.

Get Into Breakfast Salad

food

I unintentionally fell in love with breakfast salad while I stubbornly ate a leftover lunch that I refused to throw away. It was an arugula salad with Italian tuna on it. I haphazardly forked the salad in my mouth, hoping to distract my senses from the early morning roughage. But instead it was delicious. And I didn’t feel weighed down by a heavier breakfast I would’ve grabbed on my way to work.

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Get into breakfast salad ✨

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Hence, this ode to the breakfast salad.

Now I’m not saying eat a full on Greek salad for breakfast. Red onions? At 8am? Pass. But I am saying that your leftover salad from dinner would be dope with some scrambled eggs. Think about it? A nice creamy scramble with a side of acidic veggies? That’s some hot girl summer dining.

It’s also a great way to avoid letting a leftover dressed salad get weepy and slimy. We all know I’m a fan of reducing food waste, so this perspective adjustment helps reduce the amount of salad you may be prone to throwing away.

Now I know my first encounter with breakfast salad had tuna on it and that may sound less than appealing to the masses, but fish isn’t totally out of the question in terms of breakfast options (hello, lox). However, eggs might offer an easier transition into breakfast salad.

While I had a solid slice of bread toasting in the oven (I used Dakota bread), I scrambled two eggs in butter. I left the eggs runny and creamy so they would almost spread over the toast. This requires a low and slow approach. Don’t get impatient and raise the heat, I promise it will be worth it. Don’t forget to salt your eggs.

I took my leftover salad out of the fridge. I made a tomato and tomatillo salad with baby lettuce and a vinaigrette of lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated garlic. This mingled with the tomato juices and the whole thing marinated overnight. Delish.

Once the eggs were set enough and the bread was toasted, it was time for assembly. Now you can leave all components separate, but I spread the eggs on the toast and placed the salad on top. So I guess I turned this into a toast? Whatever.

Not only was this a quick breakfast, but I feel satisfied. Plus, riffing on this is easy as long as you have salad + protein + toast. Try swapping in a slice of sourdough and a smear of a thick and tangy Greek yogurt. Or pita and hummus. The sky’s the limit. Do your thang.

Obercreek Brewing

Hudson Valley Hidden Gems

Travel

Diamonds in the rough. Underdogs. After living in the Hudson Valley post-college, I ventured to those smaller places off the beaten path that promise personality and uniqueness compared to the busy hot-spots covered by big New York City publications. Though those spots deserve the coverage they receive and I adore them, let’s give it up for the little local spots that more than hold a candle to competition.

Obercreek Brewing Company

Located on Obercreek Farm, this brewery barely distributes which makes my proximity EVERYTHING. I first visited in the winter and remember the beers were deep gemstone colors. The style I tried was deep magenta and flavored with currants. The IPAs are refreshing and floral, unlike the bitter IPAs that I tend to avoid. Some beers are peachy and sour and some are thirst-quenching, but all deserve a taste. A newcomer to the craft beer scene, only in the game for just shy of 2 years, Obercreek is a contender against Hudson Valley Brewery and Plan Bee, two phenomenal breweries in neighboring towns.

Palace Dumplings

Honestly, I thought this place was just called “dumplings.” From where it’s visible on route 9, the large block letters against the green background are all that’s legible. The exterior is underwhelming. It looks like a run-of-the-mill take-out spot. But there’s wizardry in that kitchen. Plates of steamy dumplings arrive, wrapped in the thinnest dough wrappers so the plate of 12 is manageable. The pork and scallion are classic, but the flavors get more interesting: lamb, egg and sour cabbage are only some of the options from multi-page menu. You’ll wait a long time on a busy night, but the result is worth the wait ten-fold.

Armadillo

I remember the first time we ever visited Armadillo. It was our first time in Kingston and we were hanging out at Rough Draft (a noteworthy spot) looking up places to eat. Stomach rumbling, I said “fine, let’s just go there.” Enthusiastic, right? I should’ve been. Hands-down the best house margarita, neither skimping on quality nor tequila. Portions are huge and of equally high quality. I remember the burrito I ordered fed me for days and I only craved more. The creamy green sauce served with chips? Life-changing. It’s just the perfect low-key spot meant for nothing but good times.

The Vinyl Room

We all know I love multi-functional spaces. Maybe it’s from Alton Brown’s aversion to uni-taskers and my affinity for Good Eats. Regardless, this vinyl shop/bar combo is genius. The beer on tap is a mix of stellar local beers and in-the-moment craft brews. You want food? There’s a pizza window. There’s constantly good music spinning, creating the ideal ambiance for flipping through rows of vinyl. Not looking to buy? The arcade games are already loaded and ready for play. So yeah, you could go there, drink beer and play PacMan.

Kettleborough Cider House

So I’ve only been able to visit this location once, but it’s somewhat of a seasonal treat. One crisp fall day we wanted to try some of the smaller cideries in the area. No offense to Angry Orchard, but we wanted a quieter experience with a different cider variety. This honestly came up in a quick map search while we were driving through New Paltz, and I’m so glad it did. The orchard sells donuts and apples, but the shack out back does cider flights. The seating area overlooks the beautiful Shawangunk ridge, an unexpected, breathtaking surprise, and the cider selection ranged from farmy to dry. Next time, I’d bring a blanket and sit outside overlooking the foliage all day.

I move out of the Hudson Valley in a week. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I’m so fortunate to have been able to find these places and support the amazing work of the folks who put their whole hearts into a craft. Do me a favor and keep these places packed while I’m gone. Okay?

Homemade Lactofermented Hot Sauce

I want to pickle and ferment everything now

food

I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of fermentation. Keeping something in a jar on your counter in hopes it’ll become a bubbly science experiment excites me in a little kid sort of way. Five year old Marcella would never get away with making this kind of mess in my family’s kitchen. But 22 year old Marcella pays her own rent and can leave jalapeños in a cloudy brine on her counter for as long as she likes.

Now I didn’t just enter the world of fermentation and nail it. I wanted to ease into it. I started with a quick pickle. A quick pickle method emulates the flavor of those crispy summertime pickles you want to slap on burgers or just eat out of the damn jar. It’s basically a long, vinegar-based marinade. The sugar/vinegar combo gives it that pseudo-funky flavor but without all of the benefits of natural lactobacillus fermentation (big words, we’ll get there). The gist of a quick pickle is submerging the vegetable in a heated mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. Dissolve salt and sugar in the liquids and add aromatic spices like bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns and really whatever hearty spices you want to bring out. Then pour the hot mixture over the vegetables. The vegetables can get spruced up with some added raw garlic and other softer aromatics like leafy herbs or ginger. Let all the contents marinate in that jar for a few days before cracking it open and putting those crispy and delicious veggies on EVERYTHING.

Now fermentation is a metabolic process in which natural sugars are broken down and carbon dioxide is released. I remember a biology experiment in eighth grade involving a packet of yeast, juice and a balloon. As time went on the balloon fixed atop a bottle containing the juice and yeast started to fill with air – fermentation was happening and the yeast was, essentially, breathing. We also straight up made wine in class so that was cool.

The chemical process is initiated by yeast which exists in the air, not just in those handy packets at the grocery store. Lactobacillus fermentation breaks down glucose and transforms it into lactic acid. No, this doesn’t involve dairy (but yeah, it could). The transformation is what turns wheat and grapes into beer and wine respectively. It preserves these foods and actually makes them safe to eat even a year after purchasing them fresh. Also makes them funky as hell.

I chose to quick pickle jalapeños using the recipe above (plus turmeric) and ferment jalapeños to make my own hot sauce. I followed this hot sauce video but used jalapeños instead of fresno chilis. Yes, the brine will get cloudy and yucky looking. That means it’s working. However, and I cannot stress this enough, keep the peppers submerged otherwise that cloudiness could become mold, fuzzy stuff on top of exposed peppers.

The result is a tangy, spicy and funky sauce that seems to get spicier as it sits. The two pickled products provide that welcome kick to many dishes (some favorites are tacos, eggs and salads) but the difference is in the nuanced flavor. The fermented peppers are complex and spicy with the sourness of vinegar present but not overwhelming. The quick pickled peppers remain crunchy but the vinegar plays a crucial role in the bright flavor.

Both have their places. I definitely would make both again as they require little active time and the payoff lasts. Different spices and additions can breathe new life into these pepper, or different vegetables can be used to hold onto spring and summer’s bounty long into the winter.

Tofu, meet the omnivores

food, lifestyle, vegetarian

My first encounter with tofu was neither pleasant nor life changing. I ordered a miso soup that accompanied a sushi dinner. I remember dunking my spoon into the cloudy amber liquid and lifting jiggly chunks of tofu out from beneath the brothy surface. The flavor was nothing spectacular but the texture was just a little off-putting. I had little to no desire to give tofu a second chance.

But this wouldn’t be a good blog post if I didn’t try tofu again. Many years later I tried tofu in a rice bowl, cooked until crispy and drenched in creamy coconut curry sauce. I thought “man, this is good.” For a second I thought vegetarianism was possible for me.

But the truth is, I love meat. I grew up in an Italian household and that meant fish for Christmas, lamb for Easter and fresh vegetables on the side. The comforts of a Sunday sauce simmered with meatballs or a fried chicken cutlet at my grandma’s house could never be replaced by vegetarian alternatives.

Though I love meat, I have no desire to try something marketed as a “meat alternative.” It’s not meat, don’t try to make it meat. What do I want? I want to highlight plant based proteins and meals for their naturally, non-meat flavors, which brings me to tofu. Let’s edit the dialogue…

While some “meat substitutes” capitalize on tofu’s ability to crumble like ground beef, I prefer to savor this jiggly soy protein for its naturally appealing qualities, and that means heavy handed seasoning and crisping the edges until golden brown. Since tofu is a blank canvas seasoning is everything. It’s not the time to be timid in the kitchen. In my experiences, tofu tastes best with a sweet and salty sauce (like here in this vegan noodle bowl). The tofu’s creamy texture also compliments a bit of spice nicely, so go ahead and add those chili peppers.

When cooking tofu, at least for a crispy result, it is imperative to really squeeze that liquid out. Put the block under some weights and let it just release liquid for as long as possible before cooking. This will ensure maximum flavor absorption and minimal spongey texture.

The downside to tofu? Not great for leftovers unless eaten cold. In my experience reheating tofu results in that rubbery texture. Certain things (like the aforementioned noodle bowl) don’t taste spectacular cold or reheated, but a cold tofu dish tastes great. These shawarma spiced tofu pitas tasted arguably better the next day cold: the tofu maintained crisp edges and didn’t seize up and become little morsels of rubbery nightmares.

Takeaways to this tofu rant: vegetarians and non-vegetarians can enjoy tofu. Period. If you try tofu and it’s spongey or jiggly, give it a shot elsewhere. Season it aggressively and don’t expect a meaty flavor. Instead, approach tofu with open-mindedness and interest to try something new. You might be an omnivore like me and begin incorporating more plant based meals into your diet too, no disguise needed.