02 October 2014

Mapo Dofu with Asparagus! (Vegan)

1 package frozen asparagus (if in season, use fresh!)
6 dried whole shitake mushrooms
6 medium sized oyster mushrooms (about a half cup chopped)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp szechuan GREEN/brown peppercorns (not the red ones - they aren't as numbing)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp black bean sauce*
1/2 package tofu (silken preferred)
green onions
hot white rice
crushed szechuan peppercorns
chili oil

Thaw asparagus, drain, and cut into 2-3 inch pieces.
Place dried shitakes in bowl, cover with boiling water. 
After shitakes have softened, removed from the water. Retain the water and chop the mushrooms finely.
In a wok, heat oil on med-high heat. When lightly smoking, add the dried shitakes. Stir constantly.
After 5 minutes or after shitakes have browned somewhat, add the fresh oyster mushrooms, and onions (& fresh asparagus if you have it). Stirfry until the onions are fragrant. Add the thawed asparagus and try to cook off some water. If you want the asparagus to be browned a little, you could try to stirfry them separately, but it will be harder with thawed asparagus than with fresh. Or you could broil them before adding!
Add the peppercorns and garlic. Cook for less than 1 minute.
Add the black bean sauce and 1/2 cup mushroom water, from soaking the shitakes. If you would like thicker sauce, sprinkle in corn or potato starch 1/2 tsp at a time, mixing in between additions. If you would like it saucier, you can add more mushroom water and starch. (I ended up adding all the mushroom soak water, or about 1.5 cups)
Turn heat to low. Add the tofu, just to heat it up. Don't stir too often or you may break the tofu.
Serve on white rice. Sprinkle green onions, crushed szechuan peppercorns, and chili oil on top.

*You replicate the flavor of the black bean sauce if you have fermented black soy beans on hand (also found at Asian grocers). Mash them up with some water, garlic, and ginger into a paste consistency. The fermented bean flavor is the most important aspect. You can also add dried or fresh chilis, or chili oil.

This recipe is based off of Kenji's Vegan Mapo Tofu recipe on Serious Eats! You can read about his take on it and get more tips if you need. I added asparagus and onions for more greenery and fiber! You could also try other asian-style vegetables like water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Kenji's original recipe also includes a lot more mushrooms, which replicate the ground beef in authentic Mapo Tofu.

If you want to use fresh asparagus, go for it! Add it when you add the fresh mushrooms and onions so it has a greater chance to cook. The frozen asparagus are fairly mushy in comparison to fresh.

If you just love the flavor of the black bean sauce, peppercorns and chili oil like we do, you can really stirfry anything in it, right?! The silken tofu is great to contrast the textures and flavors, but other soft tofus can do.

25 April 2014

The yeast-laden cure for drunkenness: A biochemist's perspective

A recent article on Esquire has begun making the rounds on the internet touting a cure to alcoholic inebriation, allowing the user to drink with less constraint at ever-more-popular beer festivals. In the article, Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Company and creator of Sam Adams, says the solution is simple: Eat yogurt with 1 tsp of baker's yeast for every drink you plan to have that evening. And it turns out this may make biochemical sense.

Yeasts are well known for their ability to ferment simple sugars into alcohol, but it turns out they can also reverse this process in the absence of sugar. Producing energy from ethanol involves enzymes that are related to the enzymes in our livers, which are responsible for detoxifying ethanol when we consume it. These enzymes are called alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Respectively, they convert the toxic ethanol into an even more toxic byproduct, acetaldehyde, which is in turn converted into acetic acid. Enzymes then use the acetic acid to create acetyl-CoA for use in other biochemical applications like protein acylation.

As mentioned, baker's yeast and other microbes, such as lactic acid bacteria, utilize similar, evolutionarily related enzymes in order to extract energy from ethanol. Both of these microbes are present in Jim Koch's cure, but I am curious as to which has the dominant effect if both were to be present in equal quantities. Many people may be suspicious whether these microbes could survive the harsh conditions of the stomach, with its low pH; however, many microbes are able to survive this environment (1, 2, 3). In fact, lactic acid bacteria have been isolated from human stomachs (4).

Other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut could be tested for their ability to metabolize alcohol in the human gut, as the microbes used in these naturally-fermented foods are also capable of detoxifying ethanol (5). The consumption of vinegar concurrently with alcoholic beverages is another intriguing possibility, as the acetic acid bacteria in live vinegar are capable of converting ethanol to acetic acid, and this is in fact how vinegar is produced.

I originally thought that the sheer number of yeasts in Jim Koch's method may be the reason why it "works" (an assumption, given that I haven't actually tried it). 1 tsp of yeast contains approximately 2.8 g, and each gram has approximately 10^10, or 10 billion, cells. This translates to 28 billion cells in Jim Koch's "cure" (6). A good serving of kimchi or sauerkraut also provides a similar number of microbes, at 1 million to 1 billion lactic acid bacteria and yeast per mL (=~1/4tsp), depending on the length of fermentation (78). However, baker's yeast is known to have a highly active acetaldehyde dehydrogenase that is in fact purified for commercial uses (9)!

I suspect that this method may slightly reduce intoxication, especially if eaten with a lot of food that would slow the absorption of the alcohol. And although it would be nice to think there is a magical way to avoid a hangover, the microbes you consumed will likely be unable to help you out. Once the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it will be largely unavailable to microbes in your GI tract, though in theory they could help detoxify the alcohol byproduct acetaldehyde and send you on your way to recovery.

What do you think? Would you try Jim Koch's yeast and yogurt cure?


UPDATE: Some enterprising reporters at NPR tried it! ... It didn't work (Obviously their sample size is very small, but...). Alternating alcoholic beverages with water worked better, which is a tactic even your grandma may recognize! I suspect that this particular "cure" failed for a couple reasons:

  1. Unless you are consuming only (diluted) distilled alcohol, there will always be additional sugars present for the yeast to consume, and as a result, the biochemical pathways that allow them to uptake and metabolize alcohol may not be activated.
  2. Ethanol is a small molecule and is absorbed quite readily through the lining of the stomach and the small intestines. This process may remove the ethanol before yeasts and other microbes have the opportunity to take it up to consume themselves. 

15 April 2014

Sourdough crust PIZZA

Because WHY NOT?!

From my absolute favorite online chef EVER, Kenji Lopez-Alt, I got some ideas for vegan pizzas. Being from WI, its very difficult to move away from cheese, but hey. Ok so the Crown Jewel was not technically vegan, but falls in line with the animal-foods-as-a-seasoning. Unfortunately this post does not include the epic Vegan Mapo Tofu Pizza.

Pizza Dough (enough for two small pizzas)
1 c sourdough starter
2.5 c all purpose flour
0.5 c water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp sugar

Mix the starter, flour and water. Let rest for 20 minutes to let flour hydrate.
Add salt, garlic and sugar.
Knead for 10 good minutes.
Let sit until doubles, time depends on temperature (at low temp 60-65, can sit all day)
Separate into two chunks, hand stretch into desired shape.
Place on cookie sheet or peel covered in cornmeal or coarse grain, cover with saran wrap.
Let rest 60 min while preheating oven to 450 with cast iron pan or pizza stone (or heavy ceramic plate)
Once ready to dress pizza, take out preheated cooking vessel, place dough on it and dress pizza as quickly as possible.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and beautiful.

The Crown Jewel
Yakisoba Pizza やきそばピッザ

Yakisoba (based off NYTimes recipe)
6 oz of some kind of wheat or egg pasta like udon or ramen or Chinese egg noodle (not soba, strangely enough)
1 small head of cabbage, cut medium-fine
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
2 carrots, grated Veggies
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp ketchup
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c worcestershire sauce (not vegetarian)
2 Tbsp mirin
2-3 scallions

Pizza sauce
2 Tbsp vegannaise or homemade vegan mayo

Cook pasta in boiling water to al dente, drain.
Heat oil in wok, cook vegetables sans cabbage and scallions. Cook 3 min, add cabbage and scallion whites until softish, 3 more min. Add sauces, cook for 2 min. Add noodles, mix. Cook until the sauce is adhering to the noodles. Add greens of scallions.

For pizza, once pizza is in place on the cooking vessel, top with vegannaise. Add yakisoba. Put in oven, bake until wonderful and golden, 15-20 min.

Brussel Sprouts and shallots

Cook some shallots (or onions) until golden, taking your time. Boil water and cook the brussels until al dente. Top pizza crust with olive oil, garlic and salt. Throw brussels and shallots on the crust once the crust is in place. Bake for 15-20 min until golden.

Scalloped and Mashed Potato Pizza with rosemary and onion
Based off of Kenji's recipe.
No real deviations here.

Sun-dried Tomatoes, Olives and Onion Pizza
Also based off of Kenji's recipe.
I left out the crushed tomatoes, going for just olive oil. I also used less panko. The onions were also not pre-cooked here.

Sourdough starter, bread dough and oil

I've been experimenting with sourdough a lot recently. By a lot, I mean, I've had a sourdough starter going for a few months now, and make bread every once in a while. I would say I've only had one supremely successful and amazing sourdoughs that have resulted from this lengthy experiment, but I have learned a lot about bread.

At this time, my poor sourdough starter is showing a major sign of neglect: a strong acetone, nail-polish smell. The smell dissipates after it has been fed, but always returns. Per advice on the internet, I have started an aggressive "restarting" procedure on my poor starter, which involves feeding it twice per day. This in turn results in a lot of starter "waste."

I will say that my starter does have yeast and makes bread, but the bread is not that sour, filled with lactic/acetic acid goodness. Instead, it is rather boring bread. Additionally, the crust is seriously lacking with my bread, but that could also have something to do with my baking techniques. Either way, I'm going to try to use the sourdough starter to the best of my ability while we undergo this restarting process. The first experiment is burger buns!

I had a strong desire for burgers recently, and as I am a practicing animal-products-only-as-a-seasoning-arian, I have managed to squash these desires by using veggie patties. Yes, maybe I should make my own, but I don't have time to make everything from scratch*! Besides, Seriouseats has a nice breakdown of the commercially available ones!

So, instead of buying burger buns from the store, I have embarked upon making burger buns! Except that I didn't use a recipe or even look at a recipe, but went off my own sense of what would make a good soft burger bun! I'd say that's pretty good and shows some sense of my understanding of ingredients. A thorough analysis of my made-up recipe is impossible, however, as I measured nothing.

HOWEVER, I had a sense that oil is very important for making a nice soft bun, with a soft crust. And I have subsequently located the scientific reasons behind this: oil prohibits the formation of long gluten structures (apparently this is the source of the word "shortening"), which decreases the size of the crumb and the strength of their bonds. I would assume this happens because the gluten protein aggregates don't adhere to each other as well in a high fat situation because the fat molecules insert themselves between the unfolded proteins.

Oil is also important for flavor in many situations, such as foccacia, but this also benefits from the softening effects of the oil. Speaking of foccacia, maybe I will make some for our Easter event this Saturday, as a tribute to my grandma!

*Maybe I do have time, but I am tired of doing dishes...

Vegan burger buns

*Take amounts of a grain of salt, which I actually forgot to add to this batch...
3/4 c sourdough starter
3 c all purpose flour
1/2 c vegetable oil (I used peanut)
3/4 c water (or however much it takes to hydrate the dough)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

The oil will lubricate the dough so it can be more moist, without being sticky.
Mix all ingredients together, let sit for 10-20 min to let the flour hydrate.
Knead until you are tired of kneading (5 min?).
Let sit all day while you are working (only feasible if your sourdough starter is not very active, or if your house is cooler. Alternatively, you can put the dough in the fridge.)
Separate into 3 inch balls, place on cookie sheet to rise sprinkled with cornmeal or other coarsely ground grain to prevent sticking.
Smush the balls.
For sesame seeded buns, brush with oil and pour on seeds.
Let rise for 30-60 min.
Bake at 375 for 18-23 min.

28 March 2014

Pad Lao from Vientiane Palace. DELICIOUS.

Lo and Behold!! I have identified the recipe for the famed "Pad Lao" from the esteemed Madison, WI establishment Vientiane Palace. It is Khaw mee and the recipe found in this youtube video gets us pretty close. One of the keys here is to cook the noodles until they have absorbed all of the liquid and a few even start getting a little crispy. Also, you really need all that sugar. I'm not sure if they eat spicy food in Laos, but adding chili paste in order to eat it is also important.

This dish is literally served best cold. The leftovers are better than fresh, in my opinion. Something about the spicy sweet flavor being cold really puts it over the top. I also think its important to serve it with rice, in which case, more seasonings should probably be added to the noodles. I made ours with tofu cooked in the same sauce and vegetarian "lamb chunk" made from textured soy protein from the asian market.

From the YouTube video:
8 oz dried rice noodle sticks ( soak in hot water for 30 mins, drained)
2 eggs (beaten)
1 garlic clove or shallot (minced)
2 mid size tomatoes sliced thin ( optional)
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce or seasoning sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar 
1-2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 -2 Tbsp dark soy sauce( for color)
TOP with
1/2 cup beansprouts
1 green onion ( chopped)

1.You may add in slice thinly beef , chicken, pork or shrimp if you desire.
2:Do not set heat too high when you stir frying rice noodles. it'll make your noodle stick together. 
3; When all is done, leave to set cool..so the noodle can be separated..Top with beansprouts and green onion. garnish with cilantro and Enjoy.

*** UPDATE ***

If you want a real Vientiane Palace experience, triple the sauces, add Sriracha or red chili paste, and serve with rice. ALSO, it's seriously a dish served best COLD! The sweet, spicy, cold interplay is divine. 

16 March 2014

New fish, New Day!

Hi all!

I've been keeping goldfish for 11 years and recently lost two of my fish, leaving one sad guy left. I had my comet since 2003, and a common since 2006, so it was rough. But worst of all, Fifi the Fantail that I adopted the same time as the common, was now alone! I thought about adopting out Fifi and tearing down the tank but I really enjoy keeping goldfish, so I thought I would adopt some from ill-informed goldfish owners to prevent them from being flushed! I found someone on Craigslist who was trying to get rid of 9 goldfish he kept in a TEN GALLON tank, and picked them up. They are a mix of commons and comets, and even though my boyfriend made me make a solemn vow to try to adopt some of them out, we all know the likelihood of that happening...

What I hope to do instead is convert to a heavily planted aquarium, maybe with some aquaculture built in, to handle the goldfishes' waste needs. Instead of doing a complete teardown, because I have livestock that is important to me, I hope to introduce a soil underlayer slowly. I've started doing this by introducing peat compostable pots with 1" inch soil and 1" gravel that contain plants. I have submerged other soil so that they do their initial leaching before introduction to the fish (per Diana Walsed's Planted Aquarium). I have layered this soil with gravel in disposable plastic water trays, so that when I am ready to introduce it to the tank, I can cut a flap from the side of the tray and (hopefully) slide the soil/gravel layers intact onto the bottom of the tank. I may also start some plants partially emerged on these trays so that their root systems are intact when I introduce them into the tank as well.

For the aquaculture, I was thinking of buying aquaculture pots and attaching them to the back rim of the tank with hooks. I would then fill these with some leftover gravel I have and hopefully grow lettuce to feed the fish with! In that case, I'll have to take off the lids and turn off the heater. The heater is on right now to boost their immune systems after their introduction to the tank.

120G 60"x16" footprint
Eheim 2215 Canister filter
Aquatop 10W UV Inline sterilizer (only in for the introduction of the fish)
Finnex Ray 2 7000K 48"
Fluval M300 Heater
Currently 1 airstone

Current: Gravel, crushed coral, eco-complete planted aquarium
New soil: Black Gold potting soil

Creeping Charlie
Anubias Nana
Hygrophila salicifolia
Java fern
Eleocharis montevidensis (I think)
Unknown plant with 2mm thin, 2-3cm long willow-like leaves

Basically, I'm looking for guidance as to how to get plants to grow well in a low-tech type environment, with the needs of the goldfish in mind. I think with this number of fish, they should be able to get the CO2 pretty high without adding CO2 but then I start to worry about oxygen deprivation for the fish... which is why I am hesitant to turn off the airstone before I get healthy plants to replenish the oxygen. But then the plants needs more CO2 to grow bigger, etc. I have Excel but do not currently dose at the recommended level. The anubias, java ferns and hygro have survived in the tank for years with zero supplementation but they all reverted to miniature forms it seems like. I am hoping the soil will provide the necessary nutrients to grow bigger without dosing in a bunch of supplements.

Also, anybody have any advice on tricks (or different plants) to prevent the goldfish from uprooting them? They've uprooted three of my newly potted plants today alone! These young goldfish are significantly more vigorous than my senior goldies were!

09 February 2014

Thai "Chicken" Soup & Cast Iron Update

Made some truly wonderful thai "chicken" soup following this recipe. I think the real secret here is the Curry paste, which has fermented shrimp in it and is really quite flavorful. We used Quorn chicken cutlets, thawed them in the broth, and then took them out to cut into bite sized pieces. This allowed the cutlet to soak up broth as it was thawing, which is better than heating outside of the pot and adding after you cut it up.

We also made a more traditional curry following the same recipe with potato and red bell pepper added in. Its a pretty filling meal with rice!

The version I made was not actually vegan, what with the fish sauce and shrimp in the curry paste, but it can easily be made such.

* * *
In the cast iron pan corner, the pan has turned out quite well and lives in the oven. I have baked bread on it multiple times and also made some eggs in it. Although I am still a little unclear as to how to clean baked-on food off of it.... It is a beautiful black color though.

27 January 2014

Cast Iron Revisited

On further experimentation, I have deviated from the original method. The website I was following says to oil the pan with a very thin layer of oil and bake it for 1 hour at 500 F, after which you turn off the oven to let it cool. It is this cooling period that I don't see the point in. Once the oil has gone above its smoke point and polymerized, you should be able to add another layer of oil again, while the pan and oven is still hot.

This is what I did and what it accomplished saved energy and resulted in a very nice black pan in a more timely manner. Additionally, I focused on a cooking surface of the pan to try to get that glossy nonstick surface. Unfortunately, this seems to have resulted in an inadequate amount of oil on the bottom of the pan, so I am continuing the oiling and baking, this time with oiling the pan all over while it is still hot and allowing it to bake for 30 minutes before applying the next amount of oil. I am alternating between flaxseed oil and virgin coconut oil. A word on the coconut oil, it smokes quite a bit at that temperature so turn on the fan and don't be alarmed!

23 January 2014

Reseasoning my cast iron... Again.

Maybe I shouldnt have nice things.

After stripping and seasoning a cast iron skillet I found at a thrift store, I allowed the cast iron to sit in the sink with food stuck on it and it proceeded to rust. Granted, I was mad at it because after one great flatbread, the second one proceeded to stick.

This time, I am trying a new method by encouraging the production of magnetite or "black rust" on the cooking surface of the skillet before I season it with oil. I sandpapered off the rust and all-over generally, leaving the older seasoning in the pits. Maybe this will permit a smoother cooking surface? To get the magnetite to form, I am following a method I didn't research at all and only saw once, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (See Joseph R. Kennedy's comment about a third of the way down). This involves boiling black tea in the pot, filled up to the level you want to be wonderful and smooth.

The magnetite production will supposedly result in a more protective coating for the iron and will allow the oil to better stick to the iron. In the previous attempt, I obviously didn't get the pan seasoned well enough because some foods still came out greyish, likely from the raw iron leaching out. More layers of seasoning will hopefully alleviate this.

I am also thinking about alternating oils, organic flaxseed with organic coconut oil. The flaxseed is supposed to leave a wonderful smooth finish because you are heating above the smoke point and polymerizing it. I have no reason to add the coconut oil to the mix, besides for adding a wider variety of fats, but it seems like the right thing to do.

I should also be rubbing oil on it in between uses, so I will try to be better about maintaining it. I want to get it in tip top shape so I can try baking breads in it!

Just got done with the tea magnetite procedure. The tea water turned nice and black and so did the pan, just like advertised! Now I will bake it in the oven at 450 for an hour to possibly set the magnetite and dry out the pan. After that, the first coat of oil. Need to decide on linseed or coconut. The tannins in the tea supposedly do something with this process over just boiling regular water. My water didn't even get to a full boil, but the water was totally black, as were the sides of the pan, so I decided that was enough.

13 January 2014

Vegan Nachos!!!! & Sour Cream

Had some success today with Vegan Nachos. Inspired by the delicious nachos at Native Cafe, we thought, we can do this at home!!

Blue corn tortillas
Daiya cheddar shreds
black beans
black olives
Quorn grounds (sautéed with taco seasoning if you have time)

Arrange in layers to your desire.

On the side:
Vegan Sour Cream

I altered this recipe from food.com by adding Nutritional Yeast, which I think adds a sort of "animal" flavor that it was missing. What with yeasts being eukaryotes and all.

Vegan Sour Cream
1 block silken tofu (16 oz)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small lemon, juiced or 5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp apple cidar vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast

I blended up the liquids and 1/4 of the tofu, and then added the rest of the tofu a little at a time as it blended up. I used an immersion blender. The key to this is really the silken tofu, which breaks apart really easily and is so soft. The texture was great!

All in all, the flavors melded together into a very replica of some of my favorite nachos in town. Something about the olives I think!

The Daiya shreds are important, they are currently my favorite fake cheese. If you're going vegan, it's important to have useful tools to help you stay strong! Another one of my tricks is my recipe for Cheezy Sprinkles, which I would put on anything that I otherwise would have grated cheese on for flavor.

Cheezy Sprinkles
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sumac (optional)
1/2 tsp white pepper

The sumac is totally optional, and I only included it because I have it around. I'm still unsure as to what the flavor is, but supposedly its good for you!

11 January 2014

Amazing Hummus Recipe!

Tried out a new hummus recipe today! Have not had very good results in the past, perhaps from not following any recipe very closely. This one really does turn out smooth and amazing.


Maybe gonna try this pita bread recipe for tomorrow!


Here is a picture!:

The pitas are still amazingly soft. Overall, maybe my best baking experience EVER.