Let’s Play Catch Up!

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Family,Links,Rambling | Monday 8 February 2010 4:03 pm

Ok, ok… I’ve been lazy.  I admit that, you expect that… so let’s not dwell on it, hmmmm?

What has happened in DmentiA since last I rambled on at random?

Christmas came and went, and left many wonderful things in its wake… including (but not limited to) a new art print for the wall, books, and seed money to procure the bulk of my start-up gear to begin home brewing beer.  *squee* Much intense and focused research was done and equipment was bought.

We made many delicious things as Christmas gifts this year, and Sweets has a great write-up about it all HERE.

Austin saw much rain, and very cold temperatures.  Much of the garden did the usual die-off/leaf drop gig, and the yard started looking bleak.  A few plants were protectable, and even fewer actually prospered form the cold (our garlic, to be specific).  Leaves dropped from trees and littered the yard.

The new year came and went, and left me with a kidney stone as a parting gift.  Thanks… it’s what I’ve always wanted.

Sweets’ family came to the States, and after a week in Disneyworld, they trekked into NOLA where we met them and stayed a few days, then made our collective way to Austin.  They stayed for a week — it was a lovely week at that — and I think I managed to keep from frightening them sufficiently with my crass American ways… I was on my best behavior, and didn’t disgrace my family.  Suckers!  Fooled you all.

They specifically came in to attend Sweets’ graduation from Culinary School, join us in a bleated (very belated!) wedding party, and basically make sure I wasn’t keeping Sweets in squalor (I kid!  I kid!).  The graduation was very nice, and I can’t adequately express how fiercely proud I am of her.

Sweets has written up the visit, complete with pictures, HERE.  She’s done such an elegant job of it, that I won’t shame myself by endeavoring to do it again. (see paragraph 1, i.e. “being lazy”).

And, most recently, Sweets and I finally brewed our first batch of beer.  It’s a lovely Belgian Golden Ale, similar to Duvel, and it was a blast to make.  I spent the preceding ten days doing massive research into the brewing process, basically discarding the generic process that comes along with the recipe kit.  I learned a tremendous amount about the overall process, what shortcuts can be taken, the very specific stages of mashing grains and making a wort, the hows and whys of the specific gravities of the liquid at every stage, and so much more.  I also learned that for all the minutiae that can and should be paid attention to, that you can just chill and not worry about it.  There is a popular phrase I’ve read a lot while doing my homework: “RDWHAHB Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Homebrew.”

The hooch is in the primary fermenter where it will live until the yeasties have done most of their work converting the sugars into alcohol (about a week), then it gets moved into a secondary fermenter where it basically clarifies for two weeks, then into bottles for conditioning and natural carbonating for 3-4 weeks.  Yup, it’s a lot of time to wait, and that’s why most home brewers have multiple batches going at once.  Time, equipment, and experience will eventually allow us to do that to.  Eventually.

For now, I’m enjoying the sheer adventure and creativity of the process, and I’m learning a hell of a lot of new things as well.  When you stop learning, you may as well lie down and die.

That’s it for now, kiddies.  Expect to hear a lot more about homebrew from me.



Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Rambling | Wednesday 9 December 2009 9:00 am

Our jalapeño plants have just about reached the end of their pepper production for the year, and we found ourselves with a nice collection of peppers to do something with.  All told, we ended up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 – 175 peppers from five plants that didn’t start producing until late in the season.  We anticipate more next year.

After having used 30 or so while cooking, we were left with about 135 peppers to do something with before they went off.  I have a dehydrator, and that is the best choice for preserving the peppers long term… you can store them in an airtight container almost indefinitely, they can be re-hydrated for use in recipes, or ground up and sprinkled on like salt.  But what about making chipotles?

I used this as an opportunity to experiment with a little project I’ve wanted to work on for a little bit.  I have a gas grill with lots of acreage, and it’s everything I need for most of my outdoor cooking needs.  I’ve never desired a full-blown smoker as I don’t feel I’d get as much use out of it as I’d spend on it, and storing it is another consideration.  What I wanted was something that was cheap, I could store in a small space, and could easily pull out on the few times I wanted to smoke something.

Enter the “ghetto smoker”.  It’s a concept I first discovered while watching Good Eats, and I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations around the web as well.  Basically you take a hot plate and a cast-iron skillet and put it in a “something” (garbage can, large box, a large terracotta pot with another pot inverted over it, etc), and add wood chunks/chips/sawdust to it and turn it on, then place a rack over it and close the whole thing up and go, occasionally adding more wood to it as it runs out.  That’s the gist.

I wanted to spend as little as possible on the whole shebang, otherwise it wasn’t worth my time or money.  I have a large grill, so there is my smoking chamber already accounted for, and it’s now a multitasker.  I picked up a cheap-ass hot plate at the grocery store for $7, and an 8″ cast-iron skillet at Goodwill for $4.  Done and done.  Wood for smoking can be had at Home Depot year round.

A few notes on making and using a ghetto smoker:

  • Whatever you’re smoking must be at an elevation above the smoke/heat source or you’ll get no love.  This elevation cannot be too close to the heat/smoke source or you’ll cook too quickly.
  • Wood chips soaked in water for 30 minutes or so will start smoking quickly, generate more heat, but will be exhausted in less than an hour… wood chunks however will last considerably longer — soaked will last up to 3 hours but are slower to catch and start smoking, dry will catch and smoke right away, but only last about 60 – 90 minutes.  The trick is to refuel with soaked wood before the old wood is completely used up.
  • Eliminate as many air-drafts as you can to keep heat and smoke in, but make sure there are some small holes to let some smoke out.
  • Keep a probe thermometer near whatever you’re smoking to monitor the ambient temperature.  You want this to be between 170 and 200 degrees (depending on what you’re smoking).  Adjust the wood, or the location of the smoked goods to change this.
  • If you’re smoking meat, put a second probe thermometer into the meat to monitor the internal temperature.  There are no set times to follow, temperature is the only way to get it right.
  • Anything that is in the smoke will get smoked.  Thermometers, grills, etc will get covered and stained by a layer of smoke.

So, armed with all this I smoked about a third of my red, ripe jalapeños.  It took about 8 hours, and lots of fiddling to figure things out, but it worked, and worked well.  I pronounce the grill as a ghetto smoker a success… with the caveats being that I cannot get the smoked material directly over the smoke as it’s too close, but to one side and just above, and I now have a very old towel that is dedicated to the task of draping over the back of my grill to close off the gaps that are there by design to let smoke out.

I’ll continue to use this as I see fit to try out some other smoker projects, and if I find myself enjoying it more and more, I’ll make the minimal investment in a $40 smoker from Home Depot.  Now that I have muddled through discovering the basics of what is involved in the process, I have found that I don’t need anything elaborate or huge, just something that satisfies the needs.

Even so, it’s been a fun and cheap project.


Chili Winter Evening.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Links | Monday 7 December 2009 11:37 am

I’ve been wanting to find a good, tried and true chili recipe for a while… a full-bore, proper chili that didn’t use chili powder or canned chili sauce.  The kind of recipe that’s handed down from person to person, not found on the web.

I finally got one.

A coworker friend of mine had been boasting about his chili, and how his wife had this dynamite chili sauce that was made from scratch, and well, that sounded about right to me.  The problem was that they hadn’t written anything down, they just made it “by feel”.  When I asked for the recipe, he used it as a good excuse to make a batch of chili and take down notes.  Those notes ended up in my inbox on Saturday.  I cobbled together a more formal recipe from what he sent and promptly went shopping.

Armed with this recipe I set to putting it all together, starting with the chili sauce.  The sauce is simple, and flavorful, consisting of sauteed onions, dried peppers and broth simmered for the better part of an hour, then blended to within an inch of its life then strained.  It’s thick, dark and powerful stuff… precisely as it should be.  This is the key to a good chili — this is the make or break part.

The second part, the actual chili, is straightforward as well.  Cubed stew meat, after being browned off, is combined with sauteed onions and garlic, seasonings and some water or broth, then allowed to simmer until tender.  The rest of the ingredients are added, as is the chili sauce.  Adjust the seasonings and heat to suit your tastes, then cut the heat to low and abandon all hopes of eating it for at least 5 or 6 hours.  Allow the whole melange to simmer slowly and thicken up, further tenderizing the meat and letting all those flavors co-mingle and mature.

Your patience will be rewarded.

Eleven people demolished 6½ quarts of chili, 2 loaves of fresh bread, and a pot of rice in record time.  It was worth every minute of bloating that came afterward.

The recipe can be found HERE.

I know there are some heat-hounds reading this, and I tell you now that this is a “½ alarm” chili that is suited for the widest range of pepper tolerances, so you’ll want to spice it up to suit your own tastes.  I strongly suggest doing it during the chili sauce phase.  You can either leave all the pepper seeds in to boost it a bit, or substitute hotter chilies in the “Optional Additional Peppers” section (habaneros or scotch bonnets perhaps?).  I used fresh jalapeños, half of them with the seeds intact to get the mild heat I like.  The ancho and cascabel chilies are necessary to get the right basic flavor and texture, so leave those be.  Finding the right balance of other peppers is your problem, not mine.


In Other News…

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Rambling | Wednesday 14 October 2009 12:15 pm

… hooray for taco night!  Take my advice, add diced mushrooms and grated carrots to your simmering ground meat.  Trust me on this.


Loaves And Dishes.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Domestica,Friends | Monday 28 September 2009 11:56 am

Sweets and I take a certain amount of pride in keeping our freezer stocked with homemade, pre-made meals that take the place of the old “heat and eat” style of junk we used to get from the grocery (Healthy Choice, Amy’s Organics, etc).  Typically during the week we’ll cook dinner with the intention of having enough left over for lunch the next day, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and I end up having to figure out another plan.  Time was, I used to keep a stock of the ready-made meals from the store, and just grab one of those… but not long after Sweets moved to our shores, we started weaning ourselves off of those and just occasionally making a large batch of something that we can divvy up into meal-sized portions and freeze.

Common favorites of ours are lasagna, chicken pot-pie, pasta and homemade bolognese, soup, slow-cooker chicken with gravy and veggies, the occasional fricken chickasee… and beans and rice.  Red beans and black eyed peas are our staple (and let’s face it, I’m a Southern boy, so that’s what I grew up with).  Our freezer was getting a little low, so we decided to pull out the big pot, and re-stock.

We cooked 2 lbs of black-eyed peas in the tradition that I was raised with… with more meat by weight than beans — a combined mixture of tasso, sausage and ham.  Now, 2 lbs is a hell of a lot of peas, so we had a few folks over to have a relaxed, casual visit and help us eliminate a little so we wouldn’t overflow our freezer later on.  All told we fed five people and divvied up two lunches for me this week, and we put into the freezer nine individual portions with rice, a portion for two with no rice and a portion for four with no rice.  That’s a hell of a good job, and considering the total cost of ingredients was around $20, I’d say it was a fantastic deal.

Oh, and breaking slightly with the bean/peas tradition, I added about a pound of sliced mushrooms to the mix near the end of the cooking.  It was a nice change-up, and added a slight earthy flavor to the dish.  Plus, Sweets and I just really enjoy mushrooms, so we put them in everything.

In addition the the black eyed peas, Sweets was on a mission to fix a dish from her side of the Atlantic, steak and kidney pie (and I have since decided that for the most part, English cooking is the same as Southern cooking… it may not always be the best for you, and you may not be able to — or want to — identify everything in it, but by Jeebus it tastes good).  Since kidney isn’t a popular organ for the average (Anglo, Caucasian) grocery shopper, she settled on steak and ale pie.  Beef cubes with onions were slow cooked for hours in a rich dark base that contained a dark mexical ale and beef stock, and was allowed to reduce down and condense it’s flavors.  Mushrooms were added near then end.  It was thickened a bit, then poured into a glass dish and covered with a crust and baked slow and low.  It was rich and powerful, the ale giving the dish a deep base note, and the beef was tender and delicious.  Definitely a winner, and it’s added to the list of things to make large batches of to divvy and freeze.

Sweets also baked two loaves of bread, experimenting with a new sourdough recipe she found.  The recipe was a bit of a flop, and the bread didn’t rise very well or have any tangyness at all (both problems owing to calling for not near enough sourdough starter).  It was dense, but straight out of the oven it was actually tasty with a bit of butter spread on it.  Not a complete failure, but the recipe didn’t give her any reason to keep it in her arsenal.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, all things considered.


ArtJournal Chai.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Links,Promotion,Spotlight | Thursday 17 September 2009 11:26 am

Here’s an ArtJournal Chai Tea Syrup Recipe by Lucy Knisley, presented as only an illustrator can.  Looks tasty, actually, and I know there are chai tea lovers out there that read my blog.  Enjoy.


Piazza d’ Breadytalia.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Rambling | Thursday 10 September 2009 10:34 am

Suffice to say, sourdough makes a mighty fine pizza dough.  Made pizzas last night with a homemade sauce (tomatoes, roasted garlic, and tons of fresh herbs from the garden), baby portabella mushrooms, pepperoni, thinly sliced sausage and topped with a mix of cheeses.

Sadly, no pictures of said masterpiece.

We’ve got our technique just about perfect for making crispy pizzas at home, and it starts with firing up the grill and finishing in the oven.  The grill lets you get a nice high direct heat that you can’t get in in your home oven, and lets you toast and “pre-bake” the crust. What also helps is when I bought my grill, I splurged for a few accessories and one was something I’d never seen before… a perforated pizza pan with a long, insulated handle.

Start your oven pre-heating at 425 – 450 degrees, and your grill pre-heating on high.  Spritz the pan lightly with cooking spray, spread and shape your dough on a flat surface (not too thick, not too thin) and brush one side lightly with olive oil.  Flip it over onto the pan and lightly brush the other side with oil.  Once your grill is pre-heated and rocket hot, place the dough and pan on it and immediately lower the heat to medium/low — you need that initial burst of heat to “set” the bottom of the crust and start the browning so that the dough doesn’t sag through the perforations in the pan.  Keep an eye on the crust by flipping up an edge every so often and check for browning — the crust will start to rise and firm up, and that’s a sign that the crust is starting cooking through — and once the crust is firm enough, rotate it around a bit to ensure even heat distribution.  Once the bottom is evenly and lightly browned, flip it over (I use a combo of a broad flat spatula and tongs) and toast the other side lightly as well.  If you’re doing multiple crusts, re-heat your grill to high between each one.

Once the crust is done, transfer it off the pan and onto a large plate, tray, pan or peel and build your pizza to your tastes, leaving about ½” – 1″ of unsullied crust around the edge.  Don’t overdo the sauce or the crust will get soggy again during cooking.  Try not to build a mountain of toppings, a few even layers of thinly sliced items is plenty.  Don’t go overboard with the cheese… ok, you can go a little overboard with the cheese.

Once your pizza is built, slide it off the plate/tray/pan/peel and directly onto your oven rack.

Yes, directly on the rack… don’t argue with me, just do it.

If you toasted the crust well enough on the grill, there should be sufficient structural integrity to keep the crust firm and prevent drooping.  Putting the crust directly on the rack rather than on a pan will let the indirect heat from the oven travel directly into the pizza and finish making the crust crispy, rather than insulating it from that heat with the pan — which, yes, does eventually get quite hot but that takes time to get so… and metal pans have poor heat storage, so that even if you pre-heat the pan, it’ll lose all that heat the instant you put the cool pizza on it.

Optimally, if you have a pizza stone, you have the best of all worlds.  You pre-heat the stone with the oven, it stores a lot of heat and transfers it into the pizza when you place it on the stone in the oven.  In the absence of a stone, put the pizza directly on the oven rack.  Trust me on this.

Your three goals here are to 1) heat all the ingredients through, 2) melt the cheese and brown it a bit and 3) make the crust nice and crisp.  If you have too much stuff piled up, you lose all claim to balancing those and will either burn your crust to a cinder and/or render the cheese on top inedible long before the ingredients heat up.  Show some restraint wouldja?  This is all done by keeping an eye on things, but aim for about 10 minutes as a general guideline.

Take your pizza out of the oven, and show about 2 minutes of restraint.  Let it cool for those 120 seconds before cutting, and you will be rewarded with slices of pizza that don’t miraculously heal themselves back together with molten cheese.  Again, trust me on this.


You know, I have absolutely no idea how this went from a “neener, neener… I had yummy homemade pizza last night” post to a “how-to”.  *shrugs* I went from no posts in a month or so, to “please, for the love of Jeebus, shut the hell up!

I do tend to ramble.


Nightmare On Yeast Street.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Entertainment,Links,Pictures | Wednesday 9 September 2009 11:07 am

My darling, dear, wonderfully odd wife has created a new mission for herself… to instigate the spread of a growing blob-like creature to the four corners of the Earth!

Wait… four corners?  Of a sphere?  Who comes up with this crap?

Anyway, about a year ago Sweets as part of her coursework at the TCA, created a sourdough starter from scratch and it’s been living and growing in our fridge ever since.  Its name is Bready Kruger, and he’s a happy, bubbling, alcohol producing amorphous mass of goo.

Bready Kruger

Her concept is this: send small portions of Bready Kruger to friends and family (and strangers) to grow and use and make bread from — a strong, healthy starter is a thing of wonder, and a good path to having a healthy starter of your own (and a hell of a lot easier than making one yourself).  Everyone we send it to will be represented by a pin on a map.  We’re encouraging these folks to in turn send a portion of Bready Kruger to their friends, family and strangers, then report back to us so we can put a pin in the map.  Etc, etc, etc.

It’ll be amusing and awesome to watch the map slowly populate with pins as Bready Kruger starts traveling the world.

Go HERE to read Sweet’s post and get all the details if you’re interested in participating.  The map lives as a link on the sidebar of both Sweet’s site and mine.


All You Texan Voters…

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Links,Stress | Tuesday 28 April 2009 10:56 pm

Most people I know have already been told about this, however, there is a bill trying to be passed to allow baking businesses from home in Texas.  Obviously Sweets and I are very eager for this to be passed.

Tonight this bill made it from the Public Health Committee to the Calendars Committee.  There is a call out now to inundate and overwhelm the Chair and members of the Calendars committee (and for the record Representative Lois W. Kolkhorst is one of the committee members actively, vehemently trying to oppose this — she’s a ball breaker — do what you will with that bit of information), with phone calls requesting that HB 3282 be put on the calendar immediately for floor debate and vote.  It must be out of committee by May 11 or it will die.  There are 7,000 bills filed this session, we must be BIGGER and LOUDER than all the others to get pushed to the front of the pack.

Please, please, please call them, it all helps, we want this to be passed.


Sweets, Celebrity And Grilling.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Domestica,Links,Pictures,Rambling | Thursday 21 August 2008 5:33 pm

Hello loyal readership (and by loyal readership, I mean my near countless minions numbering in the single digits).  So, while I do not have a trip journal to entertain you with yet, I do feel like blabbering.  So, why not?

First and foremost, the HMS Sweets has docked on our shores.  Her flights — in complete defiance of common practice — were all not only on time and effortless, but even had the audacity to arrive early in some cases.  I don’t know what we did to deserve this cosmic/karmic boon, but I sure as hell won’t be forgetting to toast DeJockamo any time soon.  I threw a “Belated Happy Birthday & Welcome Home” party in her honor the day after her arrival, complete with lots of grilled animal flesh, and a cake in the shape of a sheep.  Good food, good company, and puppies galore running around and being cute as can be.  Capped off by some homemade tiramisu ice cream (my own recipe, thankyouverymuch), the day was a success.

We then spent the following week getting her settled in: opening a US bank account, a cell phone, getting a dresser, unpacking, hanging pictures (I left them down so she could help me hang them, and contribute to decorating the house and feel like it’s her place too, not just my house that she is staying at), going to her orientation at the culinary academy, birthday present clothes shopping (for Texas-heat appropriate apparel), and other such things.

It’s spooky how well and easily we’ve settled into the house together, and have established a happy routine.  Mind you, this is only the second week, but so far it’s gone well.  As different as we both are, we see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially when it comes to keeping house.  She’s spent so long trying to keep her head above water — cleaning wise — in a house with three to four other housemates, that she’s developed basically the same housekeeping philosophy it took me thirty four years to evolve.  Neither of us are OC neat freaks, but we like a tidy house… and a clean and orderly kitchen especially.  Things get put away in a timely fashion, but we shun dusting unless absolutely necessary.  We keep house in such a manner that we would never be embarrassed if company stopped by unexpectedly.  So, we seem to be domestically very compatible at this point.  Check back, gentle readers, in a year.

Sweets’ first week of school is going well for her, all three days of it so far.  They’ve covered sanitary practices and health codes, temperatures and other things.  She’s covered all this in her UK courses already, but just needs to learn the Fahrenheit temps instead of the Celsius temps.  Day one, in the first few minutes alone, she charmed the pants off of her instructor for this first three week course, simply by opening her mouth and talking — her accent made the instructor nearly swoon, and now she’s telling the other instructors to just listen to Sweets talk.  I told her before she got here, that her accent is going to be key in charming and winning people over, well before her culinary talent is called to action.  Americans are predisposed to accept a smooth, posh English accent as a sign of culture, refinement and intelligence — and I’m not saying “ha, she’s going to have everyone fooled“, because she is wickedly intelligent and charming too, but that she should use our genetic weakness to make friends and contacts in the industry as it is a fantastic foot in the door.

And I must say, I have discovered a hitherto unknown fetish for cute, bespectacled women wearing a crisp, white, double-breasted chef’s jacket.

And on to thoughts that do not involve domestic bliss.

Been reading a lot of Kevin Smith’s blog My Boring Ass Life, as well as Wil Wheaton’s blog WWdN: In Exile.  It’s oddly quite comforting to know that two pop-culture icons of my generation, two moderately successful guys who occupy the limelight, are just a coupla’ normal schmoes like me.  If you remove their fame, money and notoriety — hell, in spite of their fame, money and notoriety — they lead relatively normal human lives.  They’re geeks, have everyday insecurities, do their best to hustle up work and provide a decent life for themselves and their families, get pissed off at the drive thru when their order is wrong, and basically are human to their very core.  They’re warm, decent guys, and I have an overwhelming desire to spend a few hours just sitting around and bullshitting over a few drinks with them (and Wil, I recommend PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale).

They make my list of “celebrities” I’d like to drink with, which is composed of people who are earthy and interesting.  As a result they don’t trigger that idol-worship reflex that causes one — when in the presence of someone famous — to sweat profusely, stammer uncontrollably, say inane things and give limp, damp handshakes.  Others on that list include Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth, Douglas Adams (now a long gone chance), Chris Elliot and Bruce Campbell.  All hard working, intelligent stiffs, and not infected with a prima donna complex.

Been grilling a lot.  I’ve always liked grilling, but have had a near three year hiatus due to some blowhard bitch that killed my home in NOLA.  The staples of grilling live in my freezer — boneless skinless chicken breasts and sirloin burgers from Sam’s — but I’ve started a meat-affair with my local semi-fa-fa grocery, Central Market (think Whole Foods with only half a stick up their ass).  They offer pre-marinated fresh animal flesh of all types that walk, fly or swim.  Their chicken is divine, especially the pesto garlic marinated variety, and dear Jeebus their dry-rub seasoned fajita beef rocked my world.

Have also grilled my fair share of veggies, too, most notably corn-on-the-cob.  And while I’m a sentimental, aesthetic fool and like the notion of grilling corn in the husk, I think the best method yet is to de-husk it, brush it lightly with butter, sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper, wrap in foil and throw that on the grill over medium heat, turning it two times at five minute intervals (15 minutes total).  You still get some color on the kernels, but you preserve most all of the moisture, and the butter can seep between the kernels nicely.  Even with soaking in cold water, the husks still dry out quickly, char and catch fire.

Aaaand, that’s what I gots for now.

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