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you bet your boocha

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Recipe: kombucha (plain, ginger, huckleberry ginger)

Happy Chinese New Year! The house has been cleaned, dumplings eaten, luck symbol hung upside down on the front door (translates to “luck arrives”), parents called, and red envelopes delivered to young friends. A low-key lunar new year celebration was just right for me, mostly because my February has been dedicated to fermentation. In addition to making delicious breads from my sourdough starter, I am also brewing kombucha!

Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. My motivation for brewing my own kombucha (booch) was more curiosity than anything else. I like the stuff, but drank it infrequently because it can become a spendy habit. Yet, kombucha is ridiculously easy and inexpensive to make. The only “exotic” component is the scoby, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Think of it as the equivalent to the mother for making vinegar. You can purchase scobys (try a local homebrew supply store or go online), get one from a friend, or make your own. Once you have a scoby, you’re set (unless you kill it – don’t kill it).

I got my scoby from my buddy, Erin (Canyon Erin), who grew hers from its infancy and split one off for me with some starter tea. I named it Scooby. Scobys are weird, ugly, and a little gross looking – at first. After brewing a few batches, you will come to love your scoby(s) like a pet. It feels rubbery and slippery, and all manner of random things float untidily off of it in the tea. But the scoby is what transforms plain old sweet tea into magical, fizzy, slightly alcoholic (less than 1%), tangy kombucha.

meet scooby, my scoby

Making kombucha is easy. I’m on my fourth batch now. The long instructions look daunting, but that’s only because the instructions are for newbies so they don’t kill their scoby. It basically comes down to: make sweet tea, stir in starter tea, slide the scoby into the tea, cover, ferment, bottle, carbonate, refrigerate. But there are tons of additional notes that go with that list.

I use purified water because our municipal water is chlorinated (I checked the town water quality report online) and chlorine can kill your happy bacteria. I read from a bread baker discussion that you can leave the water out on the counter for a day and the chlorine will evaporate because it’s rather volatile. So there’s that. For my first batches of kombucha, I stuck with organic black tea. Plain black tea works well. You can use other teas like green teas or white teas or a combination of teas, but avoid flavored teas – especially ones with added oils. And I make the sweet tea with organic granulated sugar. Please, people, don’t use artificial sweeteners. You will starve your scoby because it requires real sugar. The sugar is not for you, it is for the fermentation process. The starter tea comes from the previous batch of kombucha. If you bought or were given a scoby, it should have come in some starter tea.

sugar, black tea, scoby, purified water, and starter tea

The first step to making kombucha is to brew sweet tea. Boil your water, stir in the sugar until dissolved, and then drop your tea bags or loose tea in. Let the tea steep until the liquid has come to room temperature because hot tea is going to kill your yeasts and bacteria. If you are in a hurry, you can set your pot of tea in an ice bath to cool it down faster, but I prefer to leave mine in a cool part of the house for a few hours. My climate is quite arid, so while the tea is cooling I cover the scoby with a bowl or slip it into the starter tea to prevent it from drying out.

adding sugar to the boiled water

steep the tea until the water cools to room temperature

remove the tea bags (or strain the loose tea)

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i’ve been doing it wrong

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Recipe: carnitas nachos

I’ve been watching reports of The South receiving snow and frigid temperatures for the past week while the good people of Colorado have been enduring daytime highs nearing 70°F in parts of the state. This kind of slight from Mother Nature hits me squarely in the heart. But she had not forsaken us, the patient (but somewhat depressed) skiers and lovers of mountain snow. On Saturday night, our temperatures dropped into the teens, and beautiful fluffy white snow graced our mountains and forests and trails by daybreak Sunday.

our top priority is that neva is plenty snuggy and warm

skinning up in 10°f and falling snow – perfect

jeremy was equally delighted with the fluffy fluff

As of Monday morning, the storm has (sadly) moved on and we are back to sunshine and wind. It’s always like that here in the Front Range: snow and blow. What used to be a beautiful blanket of snow on my deck has been sculpted into an art installation of sastrugi. At this point in our terribly underperforming winter, we will take any snow we can get. I recently realized that the Super Bowl is on the horizon and checked the date. That’s the day I want to ski, when sportsball fans will empty the slopes to indulge in pre-game festivities, rabid fan chest-thumping, screaming at television screens, and massive consumption of alcohol and appetizers. I am a huge fan of appetizers, the ever-tempting noncommittal meal. But for the longest time, I made nachos the wrong way. I thought they were simply tortilla chips with stuff piled on top. While not technically incorrect, it isn’t exactly right.

corn tortilla chips, shredded carnitas, cilantro, cheddar and jack cheeses, red onions, black beans, pickled jalapeño slices

I was made aware of the discrepancy between my nachos and restaurant nachos when we ordered some at happy hour a few years back. My version was akin to a cold nacho salad – more vegetable matter than anything else. No wonder the restaurant nachos were so addictive! They arrived hot and greasy, dripping with cheese, and with fatty bits of pork piled on top. Things were never the same after that and I figured out how to make my own mountain of crunchy, salty, spicy, cheesy addiction.

Start with a good tortilla chip. Thick and sturdy chips give you the structural advantage of loading each bite with as much stuff as you can fit, but I have to say that I like the delicate snap of a thinner chip (my current favorite is Trader Joe’s organic corn tortilla chips). It’s a matter of personal preference. You can choose whatever protein you like: chicken, beef, ground beef, pork, shrimp, tofu. Shredded, seasoned, grilled, fried. There is enormous flexibility, so customize away! I love shredded carnitas (sous vide carnitas), but you can skip the protein altogether to make it vegetarian friendly. Probably the most essential component of nachos, aside from the chips, is the cheese. I should say cheeses. First off, you need to use more cheese than you might assume, as it serves to bind everything together. Second, while cheddar brings great flavor to the nachos, jack cheese produces the creamy meltiness that I find so desirable. A combination of the two is the ticket.

shredding sharp white cheddar

cheddar and jack

**Jump for more butter**

with an egg on top

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Recipe: sous vide poached eggs

The blahs managed to catch up to me this past weekend (rare, but I know it happens to the best of us). If we weren’t going to get outside, we figured we should at least make the most of it and chip away at our respective mountains of work in the hopes of clearing some time for fun later. I am actually cool with delayed gratification – a concept I read about and took to heart in fourth grade when boredom drove me to reading one of Dad’s self-help management books. The nice thing about working at home together is having lunch together. When the weather is grey, cold, and lightly snowing, I crave Chinese noodle soup or ramen. Jeremy and I have a couple of subtle differences in our noodle soup bowls. Mine will almost always have something spicy like kimchi. His will not. And I love love love a runny egg yolk. He prefers his egg hard-boiled.

a proud member of team runny yolk

Boiled eggs are easy. I boil eggs in batches to keep in the refrigerator for salads, sandwiches, Jeremy’s ramen or Chinese noodle soups, or a straight up snack throughout the week. Poached eggs always seem like a lot of extra work. I usually go the lazy route and crack an egg into my noodles and let it cook in the simmering broth until the whites have just set. But a couple of years ago we were eating at a Japanese restaurant in Steamboat Springs and I noticed a dozen eggs in a tub of water at the kitchen counter. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were in a sous vide bath. Theirs were soft-boiled eggs to top their ramen bowls, but you can use the sous vide to cook a bunch of eggs to any stage you want. I wanted poached eggs.


lower the eggs into the sous vide bath

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