Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Apple sangria

Huzzah for bad cell phone pictures!

My favorite sangria memory, hands down, is from the night before my friend Jenny's wedding, at the groom's dinner thrown by her now-husband Dave's Cuban family at a huge old house north of Boston, right on the ocean. It had been a busy, very very hot couple of days before that and I remember how wonderful that sangria tasted as a heavy, windy rainstorm swept in from the ocean. Stress? Bah.  I don't think it was a particularly alcoholic mixture (I recall a drinking game being played that resulted in 10+ cups of the stuff being slammed by a bridesmaid and groomsman, and there were no hangovers the next day, so it couldn't've been too potent) but it was delicious and sweet and had cherries in it. Also we talked about Cthulu for president, and horses, and at one point one of the groom's uncles, in possibly the best entrance ever, arrived in the monsoon on a motorcycle. 

This, however, is solitary sangria. Long-day-of-holiday-cooking sangria. Watching-Game-Of-Thrones-on-the-couch-instead-of-doing-dishes sangria.

Apple Sangria
I had apples, and some cheap red wine I'm not super fond of, and brandy. I also had a few hours' worth of cooking to do for tomorrow, so I put this stuff together to hang out in the fridge for later. I didn't measure anything, but a glance at some small-batch sangria recipes yielded amounts that look roughly like what I used.

1 apple, sliced thinly
1 cup red wine 
1.5 oz brandy 
A few squeezes from half a lemon
1 tbsp sugar (simple syrup would've been better but I wasn't in the mood to make any)
A splash of cider...less than 1/4 c
A tea bag of mulling spices that came with the cider I bought at an orchard - about a tsp of mixed whole cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.
Ginger ale, to top

Combine wine, brandy, sugar, cider, and lemon and stir to dissolve sugar. Add tea bag/mulling spices and apple slices and let refrigerate for awhile, a few hours if possible. Take the spices out after an hour though so it doesn't start tasting like a fall-themed candle. When you're ready,  pour over ice, making sure to get the apples, and top with a splash of ginger ale. Close your eyes and picture a storm rolling in off the Atlantic. Or something more appropriate to sangria, I guess, like Barcelona or something. Your call.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Channa, with masala

Alright, first things first: Let me warn that this pan full of chickpeas with tomato and Indian spices is probably not authentic. Chana means 'chickpea' and masala means 'spice' in Hindi (I believe?) though, so technically I guess the name is still correct, right?

Reasons you should make this:
1. It's delicious. Warm, filling, spiced, also did I mention that it's Indian food?!
2. It's convenient. It doesn't take much time to cook, and you probably have a lot of the core ingredients on hand.
3. It's healthy. Chickpeas are high in protein, fiber, and nutrients, the spices and tomatoes are good for you, if you make it with brown rice it's practically virtuous. 
4. It's cheap. Cans of chickpeas and tomatoes, an onion, oil, common spices you either already have or should just buy already, c'mon. 
5. It's easy. A very tiny bit of chopping, and then just stirring. 
6.. It's perfect for a crowd that includes dietary restrictions. It's vegetarian, but...dedicated carnivores: I promise you'll like it! It's also gluten free, and can easily be dairy free (and therefore vegan).

Lazy Chana Masala

 This is my fast version for when it's getting kinda late on a weekday - there are wonderful, more complex versions of this dish out there that are definitely worth trying, but this is tasty, filling, and pretty darn quick.

2 15 oz (or one 28 oz, close enough) can chickpeas
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp garam masala - See below
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 c water

Optional but highly recommended:
Chopped cilantro, to taste
Chili of whatever kind - a jalapeno would be fine, or dried whatever works too. 
Fresh ginger, 1 or 2+ tablespoons, chopped or grated 
Lemon or lime juice, to taste, but start with a few good squeezes or a couple tablespoons.
Plain yogurt or sour cream or whatever sour plan dairy thing you like, a few dollops 
Cooked rice (I like to add a little more onion caramelized in butter, a decent amount of tumeric, maybe a tsp of coriander, and a handful of frozen peas to rice cooker for yellow rice.) or naan.

Saute onion in butter and oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat until at least translucent, preferably somewhat caramelized.Add chopped fresh chili here, if using. Stir in garam masala (and fresh ginger, if using) and let the spices release the oils into the cooking oil for a minute or so. Drain and rinse the goopy stuff off of chickpeas and add to the pan, along with the tomatoes and water. Crush  a few of the chickpeas to release starch and thicken the dish a little. Cook everything together for at least 5 minutes ( much longer, 30+ minutes over low heat, is best.) if your rice isn't ready or you have the time), adding more water if the skillet gets dry, stirring occasionally.  Before serving, stir in lemon juice and cilantro, if using. Serve with rice or naan, plain yogurt or sour cream to dollop on top and stir in, and more lemon juice and cilantro.

Garam Masala

Garam masala is a spice blend used frequently in Indian cooking. You can buy it pre-mixed (Penzy's has it, as does the bulk section at the Whole Foods near me) or make it yourself. It can be extremely varied, and you can tweak the amounts of any of the spices to your liking. This is a simple version that I like - and you can throw together with spices that you already have, or at least can easily obtain. If you're interested in more complex versions, a quick Google search can be very illuminating. Also, it's delicious on squash or anything else you might use sweet spices with.
Spices called for are ground, because again, this is the lazy version. Whole ones ground yourself would, of course, be way more awesome.

1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cardamom
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp paprika 


-Tumeric - also good thrown in with the rice you're going to make with any of this stuff, btw
-Star anise
-Nutmeg (in small amounts, it can overwhelm quickly - I usually add a pinch, but I'm not a huge fan of it in general)
-Amchoor powder
-A bay leaf or two

Uh, mix them together. 

A few longer-form recipes:
Smitten Kitchen - I've made this one and I liked it

Manjula's Kitchen - Vegetarian Indian food blog

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Magic feel-better tea

Confession: There will be no original photography featured in this post because I can't figure out why my camera hates me. Yeah. To be fair, I lost the charger almost three years ago and just replaced it this week, so it really probably has a right to be mad.  :P I just need to figure out how to, y'know, do things with it.  So uh... Stock Photo Sundays? It could be a thing!

Sidebar: This is not a post about herbal medicine, homeopathy, or even alternative vs mainstream medicine.  I'm talking about controversy-free, safe, relatively common knowledge home remedies here. While I'm very interested in holistic medicine, I feel compelled to mention that natural does not equal safe, and education is extremely important on this topic. Which, again, I have no intention of tackling on my ramble-y DIY blog. ;) 

Anyway. I'm not any kind of expert in the world of herbal teas. I've read up a little on a few things I use, but I don't hunt down specialty ingredients, or even hit up the Whole Foods bulk section. I use what's around, inexpensive, and easily obtained. 
My first concoctions were made in high school in Bangkok, when I started making solo trips to the fresh markets. I learned the words for 'ginger root' and 'mint' and 'lime' - all very cheap and easy to find. 
Wikipedia says this is in China...apparently markets have better lighting there? :P

Most of the time, though, I kept it to a potent, nearly instantly-attainable brew made with three ingredients: Ginger tea packets (available at 7-11), limes (always already cut up in the fridge) and honey. It was the tea equivalent of Boom Pow, and I used it to wake up if I was sleepy or foggy-headed while studying...or for anything else really. I don't even like ginger all that much in sweet applications (Mom: I know, I know, I'msorryaboutthebrowniesokay?!) but  somehow that mixture did it for me.  I proceeded to make it for friends, telling them that it would help their cold, headache, insomnia, brain fog, cramps, upset stomach, etc. And for the most part, it did help, but not for any particular reason other than that a hot cup of tea is almost always a good idea when you're under the weather, whether or not it contains [m]any actually healing ingredients.

Yeah, that's right. Found at Halcyon Tea.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dyeing 100% Polyester Chiffon Bridesmaid Dress

One of my most recent projects has been learning to dye polyester fabric. "Dye" is probably the wrong word - it's more of a stain, since it's basically soft, woven plastic. 

It all started when I realized after some Google image browsing that the lovely bridesmaid dress I'd ordered for my friend wedding was probably not coming in the burgundy shade I had set out to find. The tiny fabric swatch and color block suggested a dark wine, but I was finding customer reviews with phrases like "oh and by the way, it's more of a true red than a maroon." Not encouraging.  Of course there are no returns on things like this, and while Jenny is ridiculously accommodating, not demanding, and probably the anti-bridezilla, I didn't want to wreck the lovely color scheme with my fire engine red dress. My options, it seemed, were to either buy a new dress ($$$, and probably too late anyway) or to try my hand at dyeing.
You can imagine my chagrin when my initial research turned up the fact that it's almost impossible to achieve a strong dye set on polyester fabric, even with harsh, toxic chemicals and very high heat. Both options would likely to destroy my delicate garment with the bossy Dry Clean Only on the label, but further digging revealed that a tint was possible. This tutorial from College Fashion for using Rit Dye showed that while a vibrant color was out of the question, I might be able to add enough of a tint to change the bright red to something darker.
Eventually, with encouragement from various tutorials, I bought two bottles of black Rit Dye (around $4/bottle, or $2.50 for the smaller boxes of powder) at the grocery store and a yard of similar fabric from Joann's and set to testing. The results were good, if not mind-blowing, so I nervously cut the tags off, grabbed Joel to take some pictures, and got to work.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A testament of efforts

When I was around seven years old, my growing discontent with the state of the salad dressing options in the world reached its breaking point.
I had long ago decided that oil, sugar, mayonnaise, dairy, and other such common dressing components were for sissies and had been using vinegar and vinegar alone on my lettuce. Irritated at the plainness and lack of imagination this afforded me, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and produce a real salad dressing, one for those of mature, discerning taste. So I got out the red wine vinegar, squeezed a lemon, and mixed it with salt and pepper. This, too, fell short; so I dug out an onion, sliced it, put it in a ziplock bag, and juiced it with a rolling pin. This (raw. onion.) juice turned out to be the perfect missing ingredient, so I added it to the other ingredients in the clean canning jar.
I was just about to present this for my parents' appraisal (and, I felt sure, to widespread future acclaim) when I realized that a label would really add that professional, grown-up touch. My first-choice name: "Humongous Explosion." I couldn't spell either of those words, though, and thinking that my credibility would be damaged by such amateurish mistakes - can you tell I may have taken myself too seriously as a kid? - I settled on my second choice.
A few minutes later, I gave my mom a jar of vinegar, lemon juice, onion juice, pepper, and salt, with the title scrawled proudly in the taped-on scrap of paper: "Boom Pow."

Yeah, of course it was terrible and spawned years of references whenever I made up a recipe growing up.  Maybe it's my massive bossy streak, but I've always been entranced by the idea of making things myself - because then I can make them exactly how I want them.  I realized recently that I really should be documenting my various attempts - if nothing else, so I can attempt repeat results in the future if desired. More than that, however, is the fact that countless personal blogs have given me invaluable advice in my adventures. Professionals are great resources, obviously, but their information frequently comes with technical language, and the assumptions of existing specific tools and proficiency with relevant techniques. The beautiful thing about the internet is that you can find tutorials and blog posts from every level of experience and success, and not only learn, but also create evidence-based expectations about what you can realistically achieve with your project.

So! Enough blabbering.  I am the worst photographer you know (yes, including your Instagram-addicted roommate and your 8-year-old nephew who always puts his finger in front of the viewfinder), but I'll attempt to include at least crappy snapshots of various stages with posts...and maybe coerce Joel into taking some decent pictures.

No promises, except this: You'll probably figure out exactly how spot-on this blog title is before very long.

P.S. A list of the origins for some of my more successful projects in the past follows!
P.P.S. One of my biggest blogging pet peeves is when links aren't set to open in separate windows (who wants to navigate away in the middle of a post? Seriously?) mine always will be. Also, I promise to get rid of the stock theme asap...

Homemade Crackers - Smitten Kitchen's Crisp Rosemary Flatbread - Really good. I made these without rosemary for a versatile, plain cracker.

Glue Batik T-Shirt - except all I had was Elmer's Washable so I used that and just dipped it quickly in a concentrated dyebath and let it dry flat.

Salted Caramel Sauce - just so delicious.

Henna For Hair - Boom Pow may have been my childhood crush, but henna was my first true love

Flour tortillas - Took awhile to get the hang of rolling them thin enough, but the efforts along the way were tasty, if misshapen, flatbread pita-y things.