Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Peach Wine

This has been a real slow summer in the kitchen and garden, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t really work on too many garden or kitchen projects this year, and I definitely haven’t been updating my blog with the few projects which I did do. Shame.

I did make a gallon batch of wine from yellow peaches, but I didn’t keep any notes about it and I didn’t jot down a draft blog post at the time either (I typically draft posts long in advance, and then forget to publish them until much later. It’s a system, just not a good one.). From the best of my notes, here is what I did:

  1. I took about 8-10 lbs of peaches, “measured” in a very haphazard way because I don’t own a food scale. I stood on our bathroom scale, and then started picking up peaches until our total weight went up by about 10lbs. Of course, the scale gives a different number every time you get on it, swinging 5lbs in either direction depending on its mood. So the real amount of peaches I used could have been much larger or much smaller.
  2. I rinsed the peaches and sliced them with skins on. I added them to a pot with some water and boiled until soft
  3. When cooled, I dumped the peaches into a bucket along with enough water to bring the total amount to 1.25 gallons
  4. I added some sugar (I think it was about 3 cups, but we will never know for certain) to the mix, yeast and yeast nutrient.

One day the fermentation was going great, and the next morning (after a relatively cold night where we had the windows open) it was dead stopped. I assumed that it was stuck because of the cold crash, so I ran down to the brew store for a packet of rescue yeast and a hydrometer. I checked the wine with the hydrometer and it was indeed finished. So, needing nothing else, I racked it to secondary.

One problem that I ran into was that the soft, cooked peaches and sediment were clogging up the siphon. A large amount of sediment also made it into the secondary container. I need to find a way to filter that out at some point. Maybe I can get some cheese cloth or muslin or something. Here you can see the magnitude of the problem:

DSC_3912

One other problem I had was that the total amount of liquid was less than a gallon when all the siphoning and straining was done. The peaches made up much more of the volume than I expected and I didn’t add nearly enough water to it.

When I racked it the wine did have a very pleasant peachy flavor. I’m looking forward to tasting the completed product.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep notes.
  2. Use a fermenting bag to hold the peaches, so they can be strained off easily and won’t clog the siphon.
  3. Maybe consider not cooking the peaches, or not cooking them as much, if they’re going to create a lot of soft sediment.
  4. Write blog posts when you do the project, not weeks later when memory is fuzzing and other projects are demanding my attention.

 

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A Box of Scarlet Red Tomatoes

My brother Matt has a job working at a farm stand near my parent’s house and offered me a deal: Split a crate of bright, beautiful tomatoes for 10$ each. These tomatoes, called “Scarlet Red” were described by the owner of the farm stand as “the best tomatoes you can buy.” Those are big words, methinks, for any variety.

One concept I’ve seen floating around the interwebs a lot is tomato jam. I hadn’t heard about it before I started canning and reading related blogs, and didn’t initially have any plans to make it. However, the more I read about it, the more I needed to try. I took about a dozen of my new tomatoes, grabbed a good-looking recipe, and whipped up a test batch.

But let’s not forget that I am the great and powerful Andrew. I don’t need no stinking recipe. I can cut out some of the sugar to make it healthier and adjust the seasonings and use one of my fresh home-grown serrano peppers instead of the dried pepper flakes. I tossed all those ingredients in the pan and started cooking. I am lion, hear me roarForty minutes of cooking later without it thickening into a proper jam-like consistency, I remembered that the “Jam” comes together by having a correct ratio of sugar to moisture and bringing the mixture up to the “gel point“. My modifications to the amount of sugar used were going to screw this up. Badly. Too little sugar would either have prevented gelling or required me to cook the heck out of it. I waited until nobody was looking then added the extra sugar back. Don’t tell nobody.

While the tomato jam was simmering away, I started cooking up a batch of bruschetta. This recipe is much easier: Stuff a bunch of cold, raw, diced tomatoes into jars, cover with a boiling vinegar mixture, and process it. I’ve never tried a recipe like this before and Dana and I are pretty picky when it comes to bruschetta. In the worst case, I bet  it could be used over pasta with some pan-fried chicken and some Parmesan cheese for a light summery meal.

From left to right: The scarlet red tomatoes I used, a jar of bruschetta and a jar of tomato jam.

We haven’t yet tasted any of the bruschetta. We’ve used the tomato jam on some grilled cheese sandwiches and I was pleasantly surprised with the result. I wish it was a little less sweet and a little more savory, so I may try a different recipe next time. I’m especially interested in a re-try if we can find more uses for it throughout the year.

Of the remaining tomatoes, some went on salads and others went on sandwiches. Days later, as the final few tomatoes were  reaching end-of-life, I threw them into a big pot to make some Tomato chutney. Neither Dana nor I enjoyed the result, and since neither of us had ever eaten anything like it we weren’t sure where to lay blame. Do we just not like like chutney? Was this a bad recipe? Did I screw the recipe up, with my lion roars? With no frame of reference, there’s no way to know for certain. Regardless, it all ended up on the compost pile post-haste. When you’re trying new recipes sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

Overall the scarlet red tomatoes were winners. I tried to save a few seeds, and maybe I’ll try to plant them  in my garden next year.


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Fall 2012 Garden Plot

I dug out a second garden plot next to my first one in late July, 4×8 feet. I pulled out the grass and turned the soil over by hand, loosening up the dirt and ferreting out rocks (and trash!) to a depth of about two feet. I mixed in a few shovel-fulls of my own compost (the pile hadn’t produced enough usable compost for the entire task), a few bags of “Garden Soil” and two bags of a composted humus and manure mix to add some extra nutrients. We carefully selected some seed packets to plant in the ground starting around the beginning of August: Two varieties of lettuce, a spinach, and some carrots. I planted the seeds a little bit thickly, in rows spaced about a foot apart. The intention being that I would thin them out after things started sprouting.

This picture, taken a month and a half later, explains the results better than any words possibly could:

The ones on the left are a cluster of two or three small carrot plants. The ones on the right are some variety of loose-leaf lettuce. Everything everywhere else is dirt. WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL MY DAMNED PLANTS? Seriously. Look at this disaster of a garden. No spinach sprouted. None of my iceburg lettuce sprouted. I followed the instructions to a T: shallow rows, seeds planted very shallowly, watered, plenty of sunlight. Nothing.

By the end of the season I guess my wife and I will each get one carrot and a small pile of lettuce. Maybe we’ll make a party of it. Salads for everybody (So long as nobody else shows up)!

Actually, one thing did grow in this plot which isn’t shown in this picture: Tomatoes. Remember when I said above that I used a few shovel-fulls of compost from my pile? Apparently there were a few tomato seeds in there, and they sprouted right up. There were about a dozen of these, and while I was inclined to let them grow (since nothing else was as eager!) I knew they weren’t going to produce anything before the frost and they were starting to choke out the carrots and lettuce. Back into the compost pile they went. Seeds obviously will sprout in this forsaken little garbage pile of a garden, just not the ones I specifically planted there. Go figure.

In response to this failure of a garden I went out and bought a soil tester to make sure my pH and nutrient levels were good. The pH was a perfect 7 but the nutrient levels were low. I guess for next season it’s back to Home Depot for more compost, manure, fertilizer and whatever other crap they tell me I need.

First frost is probably coming up within a week or two, so this plot is going to be harvested soon. Shortly thereafter, if I can get the soil here fixed up, I want to get some garlic in the ground.


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I Can’t Grow Peppers

Around March I bought a couple packets of seeds from Home Depot, some biodegradable starter pots and some seed sprouting potting mix. We picked the seeds carefully, and only stuck with varieties that we actually wanted to eat. We had a few tomato seeds, catelope and a mixed variety of hot peppers. I planted a few of each, watered diligently as per the various instructions, put them next to the closest thing we have to a sunny window, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I would estimate that about half the seeds didn’t sprout, mostly the tomatoes, and of those that did the mortality rate was high. Most of what did sprout didn’t grow, and died shortly thereafter. In fact, by the time planting time came around we had only one plant viable enough to transplant into the garden: A sad little sprout of an unknown variety of hot pepper.

We panicked and ran back out to Home Depot to buy some replacements.  I wrote about this batch in a previous post, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

The pictures below show two plants as of mid September: The one remaining mystery pepper that we started from seed in March, and a pre-sprouted Serrano pepper plant that we purchased around early May. See if you can tell which is which:

GUESS WHICH ONE IS WHICH. Take your time. I’ll give you a hint: the Serrano is the big one and the crappy little turd pepper is the crappy little one with the one stupid pepper. And don’t let the similar scales fool you, I’m zoomed in pretty close on the turd plant. It’s about 6 inches tall total, the serrano is about 2 feet and very bushy.

Here’s the Serrano from a different angle, showing just how fruitful it has been in comparison:

The Serrano is kicking butt. The little turd pepper is, as I’ve said already, a different story.

And it’s a very sad story. This pathetic little crap of a plant hasn’t hardly grown at all all summer long. It has maybe a dozen leaves on it, has produced zero fruit, hasn’t grown vertically more than an inch per month, and ranks up among the biggest disappointments in my entire life. Actually, it hasn’t produced exactly zero fruit, the picture clearly shows a tiny little pepper trying to grow. This is the first, and it’s already mid-September. Sometimes I imagine that it’s supposed to be growing some big variety of pepper like a Poblano and it makes me laugh. Seriously, LOOK AT THAT PATHETIC LITTLE PEPPER! Look at it. What the hell is wrong with this plant? I planted it right next to the Serrano so the soil quality should be identical. I planted it carefully. I watered. I fertilized. It has plenty of sun light. All the other peppers grew great. The soil pH is almost at a perfect 7, nitrogen is high enough that the tomato plants nearby practically exploded into a mini rainforest, and this stupid turd plant refuses to grow.

If I knew what cultivar of pepper this was supposed to be, I would vow never to grow it again. I’d sneak into other people’s gardens where I knew it was being grown and I’d hit those with a stick. But I don’t. Your peppers are safe, for now.

I’m going to wait a couple more weeks before I pick the stupid little turd pepper. I’ll eat it, if it hasn’t been eaten by the bugs already. If it is a poblano I’ll jam a few grains of rice in there and pretend to enjoy the world’s smallest chiles relleno.