Category: cooking



I’m sure I’m not the only person who likes bubble tea, (A.K.A pearl tea or boba tea) but doesn’t like paying three to four bucks for a drink. If you don’t know what bubble tea is, it’s a drink – tea, coffee, fruit smoothie, etc. –  but with large tapioca pearls (bubbles) in the bottom.

The black things at the bottom of the cup.

The drink part is easy, you can use anything, but the bubbles aren’t the sort of thing you normally find laying around the house. But if I can make them, anyone can – I’m surprised I don’t set coffee on fire.

First, you need large tapioca pearls.

These were a birthday gift from GhostSister.

You can find them in white, black, or multicolored, in Asian markets and most large supermarkets in either the Asian foods section or where the pudding and custard mixes are, make sure it’s not the instant or minute tapioca. It will end badly. (You will probably have to go to the Asian market to get the special giant straws required to drink them, or you can just fish them out of the glass with a spoon.)

You also need a large pot of water, at least seven cups to each cup of pearls. It sounds like a lot but they need lots of room to move to keep from sticking together. Bring the water to a rolling boil and pour the pearls in.

They will float almost instantly.

Let boil for fifteen minutes with the lid on, stirring to prevent them from sticking to each other or the pot. (It happens.) They will look different after fifteen minutes.

They will look like frog spawn.

Put the lid on the pot, remove from heat, and let them sit for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The pearls will eventually sink.

After twenty minutes drain the pearls, rinsing well in cold water. You can put you hand in and swirl them around, but be warned – it will feel like a bowl full of tiny eyeballs. Warm eyeballs.

Now they look like pastel frog spawn.

To keep the pearls from clumping up, put them in a syrup solution. You can use any syrup from a simple sugar syrup (boil together one part water and one part sugar) or honey or a mixture of anything. For this batch I used one cup of water with one-third cup sugar and one-third cup honey.

Their appearance is a bit … odd. Honestly, if I hadn’t tried them and thought they were delicious, I’d take one look at this bowl of gummy testicles and laugh.

Doesn't that look yummy?

Truthfully they have very little taste on their own, but once you put them in syrup they will absorb the flavor of what they are sitting in.

You can keep them in the syrup for a couple of days in the fridge but they are really best when used fresh, within a day or so. The texture is soft and squishy like thick jam, once they’ve sat in the syrup solution they get a bit harder and closer in texture to a gummy bear. They will absorb the syrup, making them less like flavorless starch balls and more like tasty bits of awesome, but they do get much harder and more opaque.

You can remedy this by scooping out a portion (about one third to one half of a cup) syrup and all and microwaving it for about a minute or so. You’ll know they are done when they take on that frog-spawn look again. They will be softer than a straight-from-the-fridge pearl, but not as soft as a fresh batch. Since it is a bit of a hassle to make a batch up every time you want some, I usually freeze half the batch in a plastic bag. To use you just microwave a portion in the syrup.

The sugar syrup keeps them from freezing solid.

Recently thawed pearls, looking like frog spawn again. I didn't add enough syrup so they were harder than they should have been.

For size comparisons, here’s a couple of raw pearls and a couple of freshly boiled ones. They go from about the size of a pea to the size of a garbanzo bean, and will get slightly bigger after absorbing some of the syrup.

Ye gods, are my hands really that pink?

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It’s time once again for Cooking With Ghostie!

Today we will be making powdered drink mix, which is super-easy. You only new a few items and there is almost no prep time. My cats could probably make this if they had thumbs. I’m sure Martha Stewart or that chick with the cooking show, Whatshername, has done this before – but I haven’t, so there.

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • approx. 1 cup sweetener of choice (I’m using sugar)
  • 1 envelope unsweetened drink mix
  • airtight container
  • funnel (optional, depending on container)
  • candies (optional)
  • grinding apparatus (optional)

Mmmm, peach mango.

Measure out about two-thirds of your sweetener into your container and add the drink powder on top, using your funnel if the opening is narrow.

It will look a bit like bad sand art.

Add remaining sweetener and place lid on container. Small jars and bottles work best, I love this one I picked out of the break room trash can because the top is wide enough for a spoon, but anything that you can close up tight will work.

Now shake! You really have to work it to get the fine powder to disburse evenly into the sweetener. You could also pour everything into a bowl and stir, but that’s not much fun.

And that’s it; just add 2-3 spoonfuls to a glass of water, stir, and you have a ready-made drink.

It's like a tiny waterfall of sweetness.

A few tips;

  • Replace some of the sweetener with ground-up hard candy – I like mixing in Dum-Dums but any candy should work. If you do not have a mortar and pestle you can put the candy in a plastic bag and crush it into a powder with a rolling pin or canned good. You can get an interesting mix of flavors this way.
  • The 1 cup measurement is just a guideline based on the instructions on the drink mix packet, you can use less if you prefer your drinks less sweet.
  • Use the mix to sweeten your tea, unless you are one of those heathens who drinks it unsweetened.
  • Make sure the container you use is clean and throughly DRY before mixing up the powder. It will clump.
  • You can make up pre-measured packets using a bit of plastic wrap, I suggest adding a “jacket” made out of paper and tape to keep them from getting punctured.

Be prepared to get some odd looks if you whip out a small packet of white powder in public.

Enjoy!

Please do not attempt to drink your monitor.


Just a quick update on my recent homebrewing adventures.

The plum wine is bubbling nicely – I moved it into the closet after racking it the week before last and there was a sudden flurry of yeast activity. It has since settled down but is bubbling quite nicely.

Doesn't that remind you of a freshly poured soda?

I’m sure the specific gravity has changed, it was very cloudy and now there’s about two inches of sludge on the bottom. I might rack it early just to get it off the gunk so it doesn’t pick up any bad flavors.

Inspired by my net-friend Moira, I have decided to make a gallon of mead. I found a really easy recipe that is supposed to be good, if made completely different from real mead. It’s called Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead and was super easy.

The ingredients were simple – warm water,three pounds of honey, twenty-five raisins, a cinnamon stick, a whole orange cut into pieces and (of course) yeast. Basically you toss everything into your carboy, cap it with an airlock, and wait. No stirring, no racking, the less you touch it the better. After a couple of months, it’s ready. I’m curious as to how it will taste.

On the left, the plum wine. On the right, Joe's Ancient Orange Mead. You can just barely see the band of lighter color at the bottom of the plum wine - that's the gunk.

I left quite a bit of head space in the mead’s carboy – I was expecting a much more vigorous fermentation. (The plum wine frothed like a bottle of soda someone had dropped.) If it doesn’t foam up in a few days I’ll add more water. It is fermenting, the airlock is bubbling very steadily, it just hasn’t gone crazy like I had expected.

BUBBLES!

Something’s Brewing


An update on the jam fermentation – Friday morning I checked on the solution and saw a few bubbles, not what I had expected. It was still really thick, even after adding an additional quarter-cup of warm water. I could still see the individual yest-pellet-things from the night before. It was a bit on the hot side when I added the yeast, so I could have killed most of it, or it might have been too acidic (the jam is very tart, almost like cranberry sauce) at the strength I had it. There were a few half-hearted bubbles so I was encouraged. I put a few tablespoons of the thinned jam in some warm water, scraping up the most active fizzy spots and adding another pinch from Mother Dearest’s stash. I left it while I did my usual morning stuff and when I came back in a few minutes there was a nice thick plug of foam on the top!

Success!

I poured the failed water/jam solution, a bit over a cup, into a larger mixing bowl and added two cups of warm water and the bubbling yeast mixture. Off I went to do more morning things and let the yeast do their business. When I left for work there was about a quarter of an inch of foam on the top and it was still bubbling nicely.

Very foamy! It looked a bit like a chocolate cake.

So after quite a bit of searching around on the Internet, I found out what I would need and I made a trip to the local homebrewing store, which I did not even know existed.

It is one of the best smelling stores I’ve ever been in, very malty and yummy.

So I’ve got some gear and a big jar of the plum preserves that I’ve boiled with water in a sterilized jar with something called peptic enzyme to break down the pectin so it can eventually become wine. I hope.

I’m using Jack Keller’s recipe from his incredibly helpful website – he has all sorts of recipes for everything from jalapeño wine to maraschino-chocolate mead. All of them sound absolutely yummy.

The Santas make it festive! And I probably should have cleaned that spill up before taking the picture. My bad.

*hic!*


About a month or so ago I bought three boxes of glass canning jars, pint size, for five dollars at an estate sale. About half of the jars are full of homemade damson plum conserves from the mid Nineties. I’ve tasted it and it tastes fine, but I don’t really use that much jam. I have been trying to think of something I could do with it. A conversation on YSaC that took place on Wednesday got me thinking about it again. A couple of the regulars were talking about homebrewing and it got me thinking – jams and jellies are nothing but sugar and concentrated fruit juices. So I started wondering if I could thin the jam with hot water and get it to ferment. I checked out a few posts at a homebrewing forum and saw recipes for frozen juice concentrate, but nothing for jams or jellies.

If there is a  homebrewer in the peanut gallery – have you ever heard of anyone doing this before? I’m curious.

I added about a quarter of a cup of the jam to three-forths of a cup of hot water and added a bit of Mother Dearest’s bread yeast. I know, that’s not the right kind of yeast. I’m just testing a theory – it if actually works I’ll get the real yeast. I’m going to let it sit for a day to see what happens.

Speaking of homebrewing, I was browsing through the Beer & Wine making section of eBay when I found something odd.

I know what that is!

For $280.36 you too can own this fine apparatus for distilling water and making herbal extracts. It comes with a CD packed with recipes for various hard liquors and instructions for making them that is included for “educational purposes” only.

And on the seller’s website it is listed as the

Moonshine Still The Ultimate Column Copper Alcohol Moonshine Still

But it’s for distilling water. The kind of “water” people sell out of the trunk of their car in old milk jugs and mason jars. After mentioning how much cheaper it is to make your own hootch, the seller slaps a disclaimer on the bottom.

Purchaser assumes all liability and risk of operation and ownership.  It is illegal to distill alcohol in the United States without proper licensing.  This unit is sold for distilling water and for distilling essential oils from those things that are typically steeped in water first.

This unit is being sold as a water distillation and herbal essence extractor only.  Please, do not use this item for the distillation of alcohol unless you live where it is legal to do so or have the proper permit.  Fermentation instructions and materials are provided as educational material only to create a beer or wine product, which is legal in the United States.

I know the seller, bigorangesteve, is just covering his own ass, but c’mon. If you buy something like that you aren’t going to clean dirty cleaning fluid with it, which is one of the suggested uses.

I don’t know why you would buy something like this over the Internet. You are forking over a chunk of change to a total stranger, who may or may not be a government agent, to purchase a piece of equipment that could potentially be used to break the law.  It would be like someone selling a meth lab with the caveat that it only be used to make Pop Rocks.

It’s not like it would be that hard to make yourself, all you need is a stock pot, a metal mixing bowl, some assorted copper pipe, and other bits. In theory.

And bigorangesteve isn’t the only one selling stills on eBay, a quick search pulled up over four hundred items. Most were made from stock pots and clamped-on mixing bowls or modified pressure cookers, but a few were antiques and there was one seller offering beautifully made all-copper stills. (for display purposes only)

Not that I would ever actually buy one.

Brrrr…


It’s Monday again, a day most people (including myself) head back to work and are not terribly thrilled about it. For many (again, also including myself) this means coffee.

Ahhh...coffee! The nectar of the gods.

Or, if you really need a jump-start – espresso.

Ahhh...espresso! Nectar of the twitchy gods.

The only problem with this is that in the summer, when it’s so blasted hot, drinking hot coffee will just make you hotter.

“But Ghostie!” You cry; “Coffee is always served hot!” Not always, my dear deluded reader. In recent years there has been a rise in cold coffee drinks made available at various fast food and gourmet coffee shops. The coffee is still brewed in the traditional manner, but is poured over ice and tarted up with cream and sugar. All that fat (from the cream) and sugar adds a lot of calories, making your daily dose of caffeine into something closely resembling a milkshake. All that ice also dilutes the coffee once it melts, which affects the taste.

Now, you can do this at home (brew your coffee as you normally would and pour it over ice) which is a perfectly acceptable solution. You could even make your own coffee ice cubes if you don’t want to dilute your brew with water ice. If you are especially good at planning, you can brew your coffee the night before, adulterate it as you see fit, and then store it in the fridge overnight so it will be icy cold in the morning.

There is also another option, one that doesn’t use a coffeemaker at all. You can cold-brew your coffee. You may have never heard of this method, it is not widely used because of the time involved, but it makes a tasty cup of coffee that is actually less bitter and a bit stronger than a hot-brewed cup. All you need is a clean container, coffee grounds, water, and some method of straining out the grounds. (I use a sieve lined with a coffee filter, but anything that will get the grounds out will work fine. If you have a French Press, you can use that.)

I'm using a clear jar, but any container with a lid will work. Large yogurt containers are good; they can be stacked easily if you want more than one batch going at the same time.

Here’s what you do;

Step 1:

Add your grounds to your container.

Like so.

I’m using two scoops (about four tablespoons) each of Folgers Black Silk roast and Cafe Bustelo espresso roast in a quart jar. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but there is a reason for this. The end result will be a concentrate that you mix with cold water or milk to make the final beverage. You could use less to make a weaker brew, but instead of being able to make a half-gallon of cold coffee drinks, you would only have a quart for all your troubles. You could also add more grounds if you wanted it stronger, but the more you add the more water they will absorb and the less actual coffee you end up with. It’s a fine line, really, and I’ve found this amount works best for me.

Step 2 –

Add water to your container.

Like so.

The grounds will float at first; you can either put the lid on, if you are using a container with a tight-fitting lid, and give it a few vigorous shakes, or you can just stir it throughly.

Oooh ... swirly.

There’s a tuft of cat hair on my knuckle because Fearless kept jumping up on the counter to see what Momma was doing and I kept having to get her down until she got bored and wandered off to take another nap.

I dream of ... cheese balls and ponies.

(The cat hair is an optional ingredient.)

Once the grounds have been stirred or shaken in, they will absorb some of the water. You can add additional water if you like.

Like this.

Step 3 –

Put the lid on and wait. You can leave it out at room temperature or stick it in the fridge, I do a little of both. I’ll make the coffee in the morning, after I’ve used the last of the previous batch and cleaned out the jar, and leave it on the counter while I’m at work. Before I go to bed I stick it in the fridge so that when I strain it in the morning it will already be cold. The time you leave it can depend on your schedule, I would recommend at least eight to twelve hours, twenty four is ideal. You can leave it longer than that but it won’t really make any appreciable difference. There’s only so much coffee you can get out of the grounds. Giving it the occasional shake, if your container will allow vigorous shaking, will help. If you are using a French Press to brew in, I recommend removing the inner plunger workings when you put it in the fridge, just as a space saver.

Step 4 –

Using the straining method of your choice, strain the grounds out of the coffee concentrate. As I’ve said, I use a sieve lined with a coffee filter resting over a mixing bowl. The sieve alone would catch most of the regular grounds but the finer espresso grind would go right through and leave a thick sludge in the bowl. If you have a French Press – just pour everything in, depress the plunger, and pour.

A word of caution – most of the grounds will be on the top of the container, forming a thick plug. Either shake the container or use a utensil to break up this plug before pouring or when you try to pour out the coffee (maybe, let’s say, while trying to take pictures for your blog) the plug will be forced out all at once and grounds will go everywhere.

Before straining. You can see the plug in the neck of the jar - the slightly lighter, bubbly-looking band of brown.

During straining. It's best to do a little at the time.

Almost finished straining.

Once as much of the liquid has strained through as you can get to, gather the edges of the filter and twist into a pouch, GENTLY squeeze the remaining liquid out of the grounds as if it were a tea bag. Discard grounds and filter as you normally would.

Once most of the grounds are in the filter you may notice that the volume of the stream dripping out the bottom is reduced. I’ve found that tapping the edge of the sieve or shaking it slightly will help the liquid strain easier. While it’s dripping, clean the container you plan on keeping the concentrate in, either by washing the container you made it in or getting out the container you plan on storing it in.

Step 5 –

Pour your concentrate into the storage container and place in the fridge. You can keep the concentrate for at least a week, but I usually drink all mine in two or three days.

The final product. Notice the level of liquid is lower than before it was strained, this is the amount of liquid absorbed by the grounds. (and some that spilled out when I forgot to break up the plug)

Using this volume of grounds and water produces almost a quart of brew that is stronger than regular coffee, closer to espresso, but with a less bitter taste. If you wanted it very, very strong you could add more grounds after the straining process and leave it for another day. I’ve never done it, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.

The concentrate can be used full strength like an espresso shot, or diluted with water, milk, or creamer. I would not use the powdered non-dairy creamer (or coffee whitener if you live in America’s Hat) in this because the fine powder doesn’t dissolve readily in the cold liquid. If I run out of regular milk or liquid creamer I’ll use the powdered NDC but I’ll dissolve it in warm or hot water ahead of time and let it cool. The same goes for sugar; it will dissolve in cold liquid but it doesn’t like to so it’s a good idea to dissolve it ahead of time. My personal favorite serving method is to mix the concentrate half and half with chocolate milk, it has a nice mocha flavor.

Mmmmm...

Like most things you can do yourself, making cold-brew coffee at home versus buying it elsewhere will save you a lot of money. Even if you use only premium beans you can still make gallons of of coffee for the price of a few cups from a coffee shop.

You can buy fancy cold-brewing apparatus, but the idea is the same; mix grounds and water, wait, strain.

Some set-ups are fancier than others.

The only different between making one yourself out of a jar and buying one of those expensive cold-brewers is the money you spend. It’s also fairly “green” since you don’t use any electricity for brewing the actual coffee, only chilling it. The granola-licking hippies out there should like that.

If you decide to try cold-brewing, please leave me a comment letting me know how it worked for you.


Today on Cooking with Ghostie, I’m going to show you how to make flavor extracts.

Now you might be saying, “But Ghostie, why would I want to make my own extracts?”

Who’s writing this blog, me or you? You’ll damn well learn what I tell you to learn.

Also, it’s a great way to have flavors you would not normally be able to find in a grocery store, as well as the more “normal” flavors like orange, vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, and the like. Love lavender? Crave cumin? Desire dill?  Make some extract. (Technically this process makes an infusion, but I’m calling it an extract because they are used interchangeably with store-bought extracts.)

Here is what you will need;

P6050008.JPG

This stuff.

– A clean jar

– The herbs and/or spices you wish to make the extract with

– booze

Now here is the labor-intensive* process by which these extracts are made.

Step 1.

Place the herbs and/or spices in the jar. I’m using a mix of four teaspoonfuls of peppermint and four teaspoonfuls of spearmint in a pint jar. You can use less, but the flavor will not be as intense.

P6050009.JPG

Like so.

Step 2.

Fill jar with you booze of choice.

P6050010.JPG

Like so.

I’m using vodka since it’s “tasteless”, but you can use anything really. Lavender made with brandy, rosemary made with gin, vanilla made with bourbon;depending upon what you are making the extract from, your choice of alcohol can improve the flavor. Mother Dearest has made some vanilla extract using my good bourbon and it’s amazing. You can use the cheap stuff and get very good extract, but if you spring for the higher shelf stuff you can make some wonderful extract.

Step 3.

Put lid on jar.

P6050011.JPG

Like so.

Step 4.

Label jar with contents and date, and then put somewhere dark for several months.

That’s it.

You can make a stronger extract by straining out the material after a couple of months and adding more, topping off with more booze if desired, and letting it sit for longer.

Once your extract is at the strength you desire, you can use it in the place of store-bought when cooking. Just use your imagination. Substitute lavender for vanilla when making cookies, add a bit of rosemary and lemon when you roast a chicken, put some garlic in your bread dough, anything. I personally like to add a teaspoon of lavender extract to a glass of water; Mother Dearest says it’s like drinking perfume but I think it’s very refreshing when I get tired of plain water. It’s kinda like a homemade version of those flavored waters that are so popular now.

*Not really.


Yum.

How is this not a thing yet?

I saw a commercial not long ago, the smiling mother opened up the cupboards to reveal plain bags marked “DINNER” and proceeded to pour out a bowl for each of her children. It was implied that since people don’t like to eat the same thing every day, our poor pets shouldn’t be expected to do the same.

I call bullshit on that.

I can competently cook about a dozen things without fear of poisoning myself and I can follow a recipe. Most of the ones I have seen are variations on a theme; different combinations of proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, and the like.

Kinda like pet food.

And you can’t tell me that it’s because it can’t be done. I’ve been to a pet store, they have food that does everything from regulate your weight to improve your joints. The technology exists; it’s used to make pet food now. All it would take is one manufacturer to see the potential market in college students and singles. I got some gourmet canned cat food on sale for thirty cents a can the other day and some of it looks and smells better than anything I could afford when I was broke. (Well, more broke then I am now.)

They even have dog food made from roasted bison and venison.

I shit you not.

I lived alone for several years, and while I do have all the arcane bits of female plumbing, the possession of such did not give me an overwhelming desire to cook even for myself.

Cooking for just one person is tricky; there are very few recipes that make fewer than two servings. And my doll house-sized fridge wasn’t really up to the task of holding a lot of leftovers. So I ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and made hundreds of sandwiches, after being at work all day I rarely had the energy for anything else. If I was feeling particularly domestic, I’d pull out my tiny crock pot and make curry or red beans, something I could just pour over rice when I got home.

I would have loved to have been able to go to the store and buy a great big bag of Bachelor Chow in those days. Even now I’d buy a great big bag if I could find it.

And if it could make its own gravy I’d be set for life.

Cooking with Ghostie!


Hello everyone and welcome to Cooking with Ghostie! I’m your hostess, Ghostcat, and today we will be making a single chocolate chip cookie!

(This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m kinda making it up as I go.)

Here’s what you will need to cook using the patent-pending Ghostcat Method.

equipment

No, not the hot plate - the clamp lamp. Also some aluminium foil and a heat-resistant surface. Knowledge of how to extinguish an electrical fire is a plus.

Step 1. Preparing the surface and thawing the dough.

starting

I cut a slice of frozen cookie dough and thawed it a bit, smooshing it flat so it wouldn’t touch the bulb (a standard soft white 60W) and put it on a piece of foil so it wouldn’t stick to the plate. After that, I just put the lamp over the cookie and waited.

five minutes

After five minutes.

ten minutes

After ten minutes. It started getting that yummy fresh-baked cookie smell right around the ten to twelve minute mark.

fifteen minutes

After fifteen minutes. Starting to look very cookie-ish, but not quite done.

twenty minutes

After twenty minutes. Getting very done on top but not quite there.

twenty five minutes with flash

After twenty-five minutes I switched the lamp off and let it sit for about five minutes. Got a bit too done in the center, I think.

next time, grease foil

It stuck. Yay planning!

Final verdict – It was a bit crispy on top and not quite done on the bottom, but it was a cookie and quite good. I think when I do it again (and you know I will) I’ll make a few tweaks to the process. If I I preheated the plate it would probably cook faster and be less likely to have a repeat of the burnt-on-top-raw-on-bottom phenomenon. I’m working on it.