04 December 2015

Home-Curing Sweet Potatoes

This is not a post I planned on writing, but when I pulled sweet potatoes out of the ground a week ago, I learned a lot of new things about sweet potatoes.
I still know very little about sweet potatoes. My neighbor had vaguely mentioned something about not digging them up until the plant had totally wilted/died, so I completely ignored them until a frost (which killed the plant) whereupon I sought the wisdom of the internet. Apparently killing the plant with frost is not great. That's when I decided to dig them up.
The first thing I did after digging them up (15 pounds!) was rinse them all off with the hose. Apparently this was a bad move (but much better than scrubbing the dirt off).  Right after washing them, I got online to read about how to store them, which is when I found out that a) you shouldn't wash them and b) they need to be 'cured' before they taste sweet.  Curing turns the starches to sugars and heals up all the nicks and bruises (sweet potatoes are very thin-skinned).  This is accomplished by storing them at 90°F and 85% humidity for 5 to 7 days - the further they are from ideal conditions, the longer it takes to cure.

I do not have a hot and humid place in my house, but luckily the internet is a great resource, and had a viable solution for the average gardening hobbyist.  It's a pretty simple setup, and works remarkably well.  A simple light bulb is used as a heat source, a pan of water to provide humidity, and a towel and thermometer to help keep things under control.  Note: you'll need an incandescent bulb, CFLs and LEDs aren't going to put out much heat.  I started out with a 60-watt bulb, and when that burnt out I changed to a 40-watt.

Place a 9x13 pan in the oven with a few c
ups of water in it. Turn the oven on for 5-10 minutes to heat everything up.  Wait until it cools down to 90°F, then put the light bulb in the oven - plugged in.  I tried to locate the light bulb near the center of the oven - it needs to be 6 inches away from the nearest sweet potato.  Despite the photos, no potatoes go in the oven until the temperature has stabilized.
I don't have an oven thermometer so I used our brewing thermometer.  I put it in a place where it was easy to read, but was as far from the heat source as practical.
I put the pan of water on the bottom rack, but if you need more potato space it can go in the bottom of the oven. After everything is set up, let the temperature stabilize. I kept the oven door cracked open with an old kitchen towel, adding or removing a fold as needed to keep the temperature at 90°F.
Once the temperature is stable at 90°F, place the (dry) potatoes in the oven. They should not touch each other, and should all be at least 6 inches away from the heat source. They should cure for 5 to 7 days like this.
It's not a particularly pretty setup, but it's effective.  When I first dug the sweet potatoes, a milky white liquid leeched out wherever the skin was cut.  After curing, that liquid looked clear and caramelized, which is probably a good sign that the starches have turned into sugars.
So that was an overly complicated explanation, which I'll try to recap below in a more concise format.

How to Cure Sweet Potatoes at Home (credit for the awesome idea)
1.  Dig the potatoes. Brush off the dirt. Let them dry out for a few hours (do not wash! I rinsed mine with a hose and they don't seem to have suffered any ill effects).
2.  Get a light bulb on a cord and a pan of water. Put the pan of water in the oven and let it the oven heat up to 90°F.
3.  Place the light bulb in the oven and plug in the cord. Crack the oven door open with a towel or similar. Let the temperature stabilize for about an hour - you may need to add or remove folds of the towel to achieve the desired temperature.
4.  When the temp is stable at 90°F, add the potatoes to the oven. They should not touch each other.
5.  Let the sweet potatoes cure for 5 to 7 days, periodically checking the temp and making sure there is water in the pan.

Easy as that!  I cured a few of the tiny tubers to maybe use as seed potatoes in the spring. One potato seemed to have started rotting a little during the curing process - the giant potato that was bigger than my trowel. I will eat that one first (probably for three meals!).  Other than that, the rest look great.
Oh, and a final note on storing cured potatoes - a cool, dry place like a basement is perfect. They should keep for several months this way.

27 November 2015

Black Friday Goals

I never do any Black Friday shopping - I rarely shop at all - but I am in the market for a new phone this year. I'm still on the hunt, I haven't found a deal good enough yet. Maybe on Cyber Monday?
November was extremely busy, we camped four out of the five past weekends, plus we urban camped last night (so no one had to drive after having a little too much...turkey). As such, the goals for November were pretty relaxed.
  • Get that ribs recipe out there!
  • First Friday Art Walk - we went, it was great, Art Walk is the best.
  • We had two volunteering gigs this month, Harvest Festival and then Festival of the Lights! Photos below.
  • Then we attended a murder mystery dinner party, which turned out to be a really good time. We met some new people!
  • A music festival campout, which was really hyped up and then turned out to be a bit of a letdown, mostly because so few of our friends could attend.
  • Thanksgiving Misgivings campout with the bus club. Part of Kyle's family also attended, and it was nice to see them again.
  • And after that Thanksgiving itself! We had some lovely friends invite us over and I'm pretty sure we overstayed our welcome, but we had a great time.
On Thanksgiving, we didn't eat all morning so when we got to our destination we were both hungry and went overboard on the appetizers. Then after that, there was homemade lowcountry boil (with crab legs! and oysters!), which was all really delicious. I think you can see where I'm going with this, but by the time we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, it was all anyone could do to try a few bites of each dish.  Luckily, we had it all again for breakfast the next day (including dessert!), so we got to really enjoy it. Anyway, December...
  • Get cabinets in the bus. Or get new door seals on the bus. Or replace the seals that are the source of our current oil leak. Just get something done!
  • I have a corner of the house that has been accumulating stuff and really needs to be cleaned. I need to clean it. Organize it. Get rid of stuff. 
  • Christmas cards! I don't do them every year but this is going to be a Christmas card year. 
  • Find a new phone. Is it ridiculous to buy a new phone, but then just keep it in the box until my old phone finally bites the dust? If I wait for my phone to die first, then I'll have to buy a phone on short notice and won't be able to hunt for a good deal.
Since we did a ton of camping this month, expect lots of bus pictures. Like this one from Halloween.
Next up is the Holiday Festival of Lights at JICP. I guess I didn't take any photos at the Harvest Fest except the pumpkin photo at the top of the post.
Then we went to a music festival, where we camped with Shawnee and her gorgeous huskies (her bus is very pretty too!).
The music festival was out towards the ICW, right on the marsh.  We saw a few gators but didn't get any good photos this time.
It got COLD at night - you can see the mist starting to settle in over the water in these photos. It even looks cold.
Then the bus club Thanksgiving campout. We were the first ones there and we made sure to find a good spot in the sun.
Thanksgiving, as mentioned above, was extremely bountiful.
I even ate some shrimp! That's kind of a big deal because I have not really liked shrimp until the past year or so, but mostly I am including this photo to show off my new 'wild streak' of purple hair.
And that leads us up to today! Kyle and I stopped at Aldi to hit up their Black Friday wine sale (just kidding, Winking Owl is $2.89 every day) and also grab a few essentials like arugula and salmon and gummy bears.
Alright, one last photo.  My neighbor had extra sweet potato plants this spring, so I planted 3 sweet potatoes.  I finally harvested them today, and check out the haul! Trowel for scale - that potato on the far left is HUGE. Right after washing them, I found out that not only are you not supposed to wash them, but they also need to cure for a week or two. So we can't even eat them yet!
Happy holidays, happy Thanksgiving, happy relaxing!

20 November 2015

Smoked Paprika Roast Turkey

The worst part about roasting a turkey is that no matter how many times you shower, you still smell like turkey.  The best part about roasting a turkey is the turkey, doused in gravy, and the mashed potatoes, and Grandma's rolls with a pat of butter, and spending the holiday with friends and family, and catching up with people, totally relaxed and sipping wine because we're on vacation!  I think the score is 1 to 8.  So.  We're roasting a turkey.
I like to go big with the flavor (previous years: Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey, Roast Turkey with Pomegranate-Orange Glaze) so this year I decided to go all out with a smoked paprika rub.
A dark red spice blend gets rubbed into the meat and the skin of the turkey, then glazed in with pan juices.
I let this one get a little darker than usual, but without anything getting tough or dried out.
The best gravy is made from turkey pan juices.  

Smoked Paprika Roast Turkey + Gravy (inspired by this recipe)
Dry Rub Ingredients:
  • 1.5 tbs smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp powdered garlic
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp pepper
Turkey Ingredients:
  • 12-15 lb turkey, completely thawed
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 med. onion
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 c. water
Gravy Ingredients:
  • 4 c. broth (turkey pan juices / broth)
  • 1/3 c. fat (either skimmed fat from turkey broth or butter)
  • 6 tbs. flour
  • salt and pepper, to taste
1.  Mix together the dry rub spices.  Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2.  Place the turkey in the roasting pan.  Then, gently loosen the skin from the breasts and thighs.  Spread the rub under the skin as evenly as possible, then sprinkle the remaining rub over the top of the skin.  I recommend gloves for this operation, because cayenne is spicy and turmeric turns things yellow.
3.  Tuck the thighs and wings into the bird.  Quarter or eighth the onion and tuck the pieces around the bird and in the chest cavity.  Do the same with the garlic cloves.  Drizzle the olive oil over the turkey, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add the water to the bottom of the roasting pan.
4.  Place the turkey in the oven.  Baste the turkey with pan juices every 30 minutes thereafter, and when the skin is sufficiently browned, loosely place tin foil over the bird.  Bake until the lowest internal temperature of the bird is 165°F (should be around 2.5 - 3 hours).
5.  Leaving the foil on the turkey, let it rest for 30 minutes.  While it rests, make the gravy.
6.  Gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan, then strain the pan juices in a fine mesh strainer.  Let the juices stand for 2 minutes so the fat separates out, then skim the fat off (I used a ladle).  At this time I made a quick broth from the giblets and neck by simmering 2 cups of water with the organs so that I had around 4 cups of broth when combined with the pan juices.
7.  Make a roux using 1/3 cup of the skimmed fat and 6 tbs of flour: heat the fat in a pot over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk.  Mixture should bubble.  Cook for 3 minutes, then slowly whisk in the broth.  Season gravy with salt and pepper, to taste.  Simmer gravy for 5 minutes then remove from heat.
Happy Thanksgiving!

13 November 2015

Easy Homemade Ginger Beer

This is not a wimpy ginger ale.  This is in-your-face spicy ginger beer.  Perfect for making a Dark'n'Stormy cocktail, or just drinking on its own.  My favorite part about this recipe is that there are no special ingredients - it's all easy to find in any grocery store.  And by "all," I mean the four things you need to make ginger beer: fresh ginger, brown sugar, lime juice and bread yeast.
This recipe does require a massive amount of ginger - 1.5 cups (believe me, I tried using less).  So while it can be peeled and minced by hand, I'm grateful to have a good food processor to handle the chopping for me.
Ginger and brown sugar get added to water then brought to a boil. Stirring occasionally.
As soon as it starts to boil, remove from the stove top and let steep for an hour.
Strain the ginger pieces out of the syrup, then pour the syrup into a 2-liter bottle.  Add in the lime juice then top up with cold water (ideally putting the temp of the whole thing somewhere around room temperature).  Add the yeast.
Screw on the top of the bottle.  Let the bottle sit on the counter for 1 to 2 days.  Give the bottle a squeeze occasionally - when it gets rock-hard, put the bottle in the fridge to stop fermentation.  The "beer" is fully fermented at that point, which means it has carbonated.  There will be very minimal alcohol content - I tried to measure it with a hydrometer but it was a negligible difference.
It will remain cloudy. We've been putting it through a clean coffee filter, which helps remove any yeast solids. 
Easy Homemade Ginger Beer (based on this recipe)
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • water
1.  Mix the ginger and brown sugar with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  When it starts to boil, remove it from the burner and let it steep for an hour.
2.  Strain the ginger out of the syrup.  Pour the syrup into a 2L bottle.  Add in the lime juice, then top up with cold water.  You want the mixture to be at or near room temperature before the next step.
3.  Add the yeast. Screw the lid onto the bottle.
4.  Let bottle stand for a day or two, giving it an occasional squeeze.  When the ginger beer is carbonated, the bottle will no longer give when it is squeezed.  Put the bottle in the fridge to stop carbonation.
5.  This non-alcholic beer can be served as-is, or with a shot of dark rum to make a Dark'n'Stormy.
Ginger has many health benefits, plus this ginger beer is made without any high fructose corn syrup.  It is the perfect amount of spicy and sweet, and since discovering this recipe we just can't stop making it.

06 November 2015

Dry-Rubbed Oven Ribs

The local grocery store had a great deal on ribs, which have never been something I've felt strongly about, but suddenly I wanted to try my hand at roasting a rack of ribs.  I've never done it before, but it seems like the type of thing that I should know how to do.
So I bought some.  Then I did what I do when I want to make sure something turns out well: I went to smittenkitchen.  Thankfully, Deb's recipe an oven recipe, because our grill has some...hot spots. It was a free grill, after all. I don't complain.
The dry rub recipe makes a full cup of dry rub, so the brown sugar, chili powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper create a pretty nice crust.
I spread it on the ribs and then tamped it down with a fork. It still all fell off when I flipped the ribs to do the other side.
Wrapping it in foil was another trick. We have cheap, tiny foil, but for this recipe you really want a large industrial roll if you can find it.
Lay it seam up on a cooling rack in a cookie sheet.  You want to trap all the juices inside the foil.
I baked this at 225°F for five hours, but I think one more hour would have really helped.  The ribs were pretty tender, but not quite fall-off-the-bone.
All those juices get drained into a saucepan then simmered until they have reduced by half.  This makes a very salty, spicy barbecue sauce.
Dry-Rubbed Oven Ribs (barely adapted from this recipe)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs paprika
  • 3 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tbs onion powder
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder (this makes it spicy, feel free to use less)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • One rack of ribs (3-5 lbs)
1.  Preheat the oven to 225°F
2.  Mix all dry-rub ingredients.  Lay out ribs on a large sheet of tin foil, meat side up, and coat with dry rub.  Carefully flip the ribs and coat the other side.  Wrap the foil tightly, putting all the seams on one side.  Place the ribs on a cooling rack on a cookie sheet.
3.  Bake for 5-6 hours, until fork easily pierces meat.
4.  Drain all the juice from the foil packet, then while the meat rests, simmer the pan juices until reduced by half.  They should create a thin syrupy sauce.
5.  Slice the ribs and serve with the sauce.  The sauce will be very salty.
End result: I like ribs. I probably won't make them too often, but it's nice to know that I've got a recipe in my back pocket, should the occasion arise.

30 October 2015

Turkey Month

Happy Halloween! We're enjoying the fabulous Charleston Fall weather by spending lots of time outdoors and doing a lot of camping! In between rounds of camping, we've managed to fit in lots of other stuff though...more about that in the photos. Instead, let's whip through these goals.
  • We volunteered at another event this month - a Latin American Festival. Except it got canceled due to the entirety of Charleston being flooded. Boo.
  • I made a couple recipes in early September to share.  See Zucchini Breads 1 & 2, and Zucchini Bread 3.
  • We had at at least one camping trip this month. Maybe two? So we camped one night, and we're slated to be camping again this weekend. Count it!
  • It would be pretty great to have refrigeration for our camping trip. We just need a house battery, a regulator, and some wooden stuff. We failed to get any of this done, we were waiting on new credit cards before we started making big purchases.
  • Ribs were on sale...so I bought a rack of ribs. Recipe forthcoming. Oh dang, I forgot to post that recipe. Next week?
Okay, I've obviously got some making up to do. Goals for November:
  • Get that ribs recipe out there!
  • I missed First Friday Art Walk last month (actually it was canceled when downtown was under water) so I do NOT want to miss this month.
  • We've got two volunteering gigs this month, including a Harvest Festival!
  • Then we've got a murder mystery dinner party, which is so far out of my comfort zone I don't even know where to start.
  • Plus a music festival campout.
  • And then Thanksgiving Misgivings campout with the bus club
  • And after that Thanksgiving itself! I'm not sure if I'm roasting a turkey this year, but last year I got pretty turkey-ed out after making one at home, then having some at work, then having some at Misgivings, then having some on Thanksgiving...
The first weekend of October had everyone talking about one thing: RAIN. It just didn't stop. We didn't flood much, but we both went pretty stir-crazy being stuck in the house for so long.
When the water cleared up, we found we had a new neighbor.  He lives uncomfortably close to my car, but we've lived in a peace for a few weeks now and I think we can be friends, providing no one strays onto the other neighbor's territory.  Besides, his web is pretty cool looking.
My mornings have been fueled by this. Will I ever stop missing Michigan? Probably never.
We ended up volunteering at an event called Bark in the Park Octoberfest, where I poured beer all day and Kyle corralled dogs. I couldn't resist snapping a pic of this cutie.
And then when everyone was cleaning up, I got suckered in by these sweet golden pups. They were just so soft and playful! (No, we do not own a dog now.)
Since we have actual friends now, we got invited to an awesome cookout where only one person got poisoned a little bit (and he lived, so it's cool).  Plus we carved pumpkins and made caramel apples!
We spent one night camping. We had planned on two, but we had a change of plans. Despite that, we still got to see people we hadn't seen in a long time and hopefully we can catch up more at November campouts!
Our change of plans happened when I won tickets to a music festival. Lest you think I have all the luck, the ONLY way to attend this festival was to win tickets, so they were doing big giveaways every day. Kyle and I had to stake out a gas station where they were drawing two names every five minutes. It only took half an hour for my name to be called, so we didn't wait around too long.
The festival was AMAZING. The bands were on point, the weather was perfect, and there were tons of free activities.
Kyle and I each won a free shirt (by playing the worst version of beer tea pong I've ever seen), plus, for the second time this year, we drank some Guinness world record iced tea. Only instead of locally grown saccharine sweet tea, this was heartless corporate tea. Sorry, Summerville. At least I actually got to drink some of this tea.
The festival was almost 12 hours long, and since reentry wasn't allowed we basically lazed around a park for a day and listened to bands ranging from B├śRNS to Outasight to The Roots to Passion Pit(!!!!!). Plus since we hadn't spent any money on tickets it was much easier to justify the ridiculous food truck and beer prices. Definitely an epic day. Ending with "Sleepyhead." At which point I declared I could die happy.
October was absolutely great, and November looks like it's going to be pretty amazing as well. Bring it on!