Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rosie drinks in bed, recovering from surgery

Rosie had a mammary tumor in December, so she had the tumor removed and got spayed. (Spaying reduces the incidence of mammary tumors from 40-70% to 4% according to my/our research.) She had to tough it out without painkillers after surgery (our vet thinks painkillers can do more harm than good in such small animals), so she was really out of it for a few days.

I moved Rosie to a smaller, single-level cage while she was recovering so she wouldn't tear out her stitches by jumping and climbing. She quickly discovered that her water bottle was within reach of her sleeping pouch, so she would stick her head out to get a drink without getting out of her warm bed.

And in regards to spending money for surgery on a rat (I get teased about it a lot): I made a commitment to take care of her when I bought her, and she depends on me (and me alone) to care for her.

If she's hungry, I'm the only one who is responsible for feeding her. If she's sick, I'm the only one responsible for making her well. It's not humane to let her suffer and stay sick, and she's been happy and healthy since her surgery. If I had to do it over again, I would.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Burger night: fried eggs, aioli

I was craving a burger today, and since we had a laid-back night, we decided to draw inspiration from a few of the fancier burger places in the city. (Notably, at J. Wellington's, we really enjoy a burger with a fried egg and blue-cheese-aioli sauce. It's so good that Oscar loves it, even though he hates blue cheese.)

Oscar's burger awaits its fate.

We seasoned ground beef and patted out burgers and tossed them on my cast-iron grill pan. I cracked eggs into a separate pan and fried them with butter. Oscar sliced some onion into rings, and I wedged the onions into the spaces between the burgers on the grill pan. We had leftover aioli from when I made tapas a few weeks ago.

The partially-eaten burger.
When the burgers were almost cooked, I put cheddar on top of them, then took the whole cast-iron grill pan and stuck it under the broiler to melt the cheese. (This is one more reason why cast iron is great--don't ever try this with teflon.) We tossed the buns under the broiler for about a minute to toast them, too. Then we topped each burger with a fried egg, grilled onion, and aioli sauce.

This is aioli suace--it's basically mayonnaise with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Very tasty!
These burgers were absolutely great. We're definitely going to have more fancy burger nights in the future.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fancy brunch

On weekends when we have time, we love to cook a fancy, more complicated brunch at home. This week we made a really great skillet, so I thought I'd share. We try to use ingredients from the fridge, so we have fun cooking together and we save a ton of money, compared to going out for brunch. Brunch around here can easily cost $50. Ouch.

We chopped up some potatoes into cubes, seasoned them, and cooked them. Oscar chopped up some bacon. When the bacon was almost done frying, we dumped chopped veggies into the bacon and cooked them until they were tender.

I had tomatoes, onion, mushroom, and green pepper in the fridge, so into the pan they went!
When the veggies were getting tender, I poached some eggs. We put the potatoes on a plate, added the veggies and bacon, then topped it with the poached eggs. I'm getting better at poaching eggs (translation: I bought a candy thermometer and it's been useful for other things, e.g. poaching eggs), and these turned out perfect. The warm, runny yokes made the dish.

Here's our final dish, ready to eat.
Just add coffee, and we've got ourselves a great brunch!

We brew beer!

Oscar and I have been discussing brewing beer at home for a while now. We both enjoy craft beer, and we enjoy cooking, so we figured brewing beer would be a great combination of two things we love. So this year for Christmas, Oscar gave me a homebrew kit from William's Brewing. The kit came with a fermenting bucket, a priming bucket, liquid malt extract, hops, yeast, and most of the tools we'd need (We had to buy a brew kettle separately). This kit made a brown ale.

The fermenter and priming buckets
Brewing beer is pretty simple in theory--you give the yeast some sugar to eat and add hops for flavor and aroma. Originally, hops prevented unwanted bacterial growth in beer. Malt is made from the sugars in partially-sprouted barley. It is roasted to varying degrees to produce different flavors and colors in beer. (It's actually a little more complicated that that, but we can skip the details for now.) The yeast consume oxygen in the fermenter to grow and multiply and produce carbon dioxide. When they run out of oxygen, they go into anaerobic growth, and turn the sugars in the malt into alcohol.

We started by washing our equipment and sanitizing it. Sanitizing is probably the most important step in brewing, because the nascent beer has so much sugar that bacteria can easily grow and overtake the growth of the yeast.

Oscar is adding water to our brew kettle. You can see that we are boiling a lot of water to sterilize the water for rinsing the sanitizer off equipment. 
Next, we boiled four gallons of water. It turns out that boiling that much water takes about an hour on my stove. Yikes. Once we boil, we turn off the heat, and add the malt extract. The liquid malt extract is a thick syrup, and we need to dissolve it all the way into the water before we can turn the heat on again, or else the malt syrup can scorch onto the bottom of the pot.

(Sometimes, other grains are steeped in the water--this is almost exactly like this like steeping a teabag in hot water--to add color, flavor, and more fermentable sugars before the malt is added. We didn't do that on our first homebrew, but we did on our second batch.)

This is the wort, the liquid that you get after dissolving the malt into water.  The malt boils for an hour, and hops are added during the boil.
Once the malt is dissolved, the mixture is called "wort." We need to bring the wort back to a boil. The wort needs to boil for an hour. We added bittering (flavoring) hops five minutes into the hour, and aroma hops five minutes before the boil ended. There are many different varieties of hops, each with their own flavors and aromas. The timing of hop addition and the types of hops used is important for the final taste and smell of the beer. We will be learning how to use them correctly as we get more experience brewing.

Oscar stirring the wort. You need to stir almost constantly in order to avoid boil-overs and scorching.
After the boil, we need to cool the wort. This means that we need to cool four gallons of boiling water to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit in a reasonable period of time. (If cooling takes too long, you can get strange off-flavors in your beer.) Our brewing book says if you live in a cold climate (and oh yes we do), you can use a handy snowbank to cool off your beer. Unfortunately, Chicago has had no snow accumulation, which unusual for December (KNOCK ON WOOD), so we--I am not making this up--had to fill the bathtub with very cold water, add all the ice from the freezer, and put the whole pot into the ice-cold tub. Also, we had to make sure the wort stayed sanitized the whole time.
Our yeast smack pack was swollen up and ready to use. It was so swollen that we were a little bit afraid it would explode.

After the wort finally cooled, we poured it into the sanitized fermenter bucket, added sterile water to bring it up to five gallons total, and added the yeast. These days, beer yeast is sold in "smack packs," little foil packages that contain yeast food and yeast. Inside the foil pouch is a smaller pouch that you smack to burst, which releases nutrients into the yeast waiting inside the larger foil. The yeast eat the nutrients, grow, and release carbon dioxide, making the pouch swell. We cut the swollen pouch open and poured it into the fermenter, then capped the fermenter, and put on an airlock. The airlock allows the carbon dioxide that the yeast produce to escape (so the pressure buildup doesn't make the fermenter explode), but it keeps bacteria in the air from getting into the fermenter.

The fermenter sits in the corner of the closet for two weeks while the yeast grow and turn  nutrients into alcohol. The airlock on top lets air escape so pressure doesn't build up.
After a few days, we saw bubbling in our airlock and noticed a foamy layer on top of our beer. This told us that the yeast was growing and happy. I didn't take pictures of this.
The hydrometer measures the density (specific gravity) of the beer to tell us how much sugar has been converted into alcohol. It reads 1.019. We use this reading to calculate the percent alcohol of the beer--there are tables of numbers that we use.
After two weeks, fermentation was done, so it was bottling day! We measured the specific gravity (basically, the density) of the beer using a hydrometer to check that fermentation was done. Sugar water is more dense than alcohol, so measuring the density allows us to figure out how much of the sugar has been turned into alcohol. The hydrometer reading should be stable for a few days when we bottle.

These are the clean bottles that we put beer in. Cleaning and sanitizing them was a pain in the neck.
We had to clean and sanitize a lot of used bottles for five gallons of beer. We soaked the bottles in Oxiclean to remove the labels and glue residue. We scrubbed the bottles with a bottle brush. Next, we used a 20-minute soak in bleach water this time. (We bought a no-rinse sanitizer to speed things up for next time.)

Goodbye, cruel labels: we soaked old beer bottles in Oxiclean to remove the labels.

We took sugar, and made a syrup out of it. We added this to the priming bucket, gently added the beer from the fermenter, and then stirred them together, being careful not to mix air into the beer. We put this into bottles, then capped the bottles. There will still be yeast in the beer, and they will eat the sugar we added and turn it into carbon dioxide inside the bottle; this will carbonate the beer. We used corn sugar (the standard priming sugar) for half the beer, and brown sugar for the other half. We are excited to see how the different sugars change the final product!

Here, Oscar is putting beer into bottles.
We capped the beer using a capper tool. You use it by placing an unused cap on top of the bottle, put an opening in the capper over the mouth of the bottle, then push open the arms of the tool. This causes the capper to tighten around the cap, crimping it onto the bottle.

I'm capping bottles. The red plastic thing is the capping tool You don't need to tell me how cool I look after washing all those bottles. 
Now, we're waiting for the yeast to finish eating the sugars/carbonating the beer. This takes two or three weeks. Let's hope it turns out!

Our finished product! I can't wait to see how it turned out!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tapas Dinner for New Year's Day

To celebrate 2012 (despite the coming apocalypse), we made a bunch of tapas for dinner.

Patatas bravas: I modified this recipe to use more garlic. I got Spanish-style smoked paprika in my Christmas stocking, so the timing was perfect.

Bacon-wrapped dates in a tangy, slightly spicy sauce. This is my mom's recipe.
For my parents' last St. Patrick's Day party, Oscar rolled three full cookie sheets of these. What a guy!
I also tried stuffing some of the dates with an almond and cream-cheese. I'd do it again if I was missing the ingredients for the sauce, but the added complexity just gets lost with the sauce.

Stuffed tomatoes  are something new to try. It's kind of hard to stuff them without getting stuff on the side. The idea is similar to deviled eggs, but I like these better.
Getting a good picture of this was really difficult.

I had to make an ailoi sauce to make the stuffing for the tomatoes. It was so tasty it almost made me wish I ate sandwiches. Instead I gave it to Oscar to make sandwiches at work. 

Here's the whole meal:

We had enough for two separate dinners.

After dinner, we bottled our first home brew. All in all, a good (albeit messy) start to the new year.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shrimp with rosemarie sauce

This is a snap to make: it takes us less than 15 minutes to cook, start to finish!

It takes us even less time to eat it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

San Francisco, Day 1 (our first real vacation together = a very long post)

Oscar and I took our first far-away vacation together to San Francisco. Sure, we went to Milwaukee for a weekend alone, and we've gone across the country to see each other's families, but we hadn't gone across the country with only each other. We went to San Francisco because Asian Man Records was having its 15th anniversary celebration, and several bands that Oscar really, really wanted to see were playing reunion shows. I agreed because I had been to San Francisco for a conference last year and thought it was cool, but I didn't have much time to explore.

We arrived at SFO on June 14th (this post is very late!) and took a BART train over to San Francisco. We were staying at the Hayes Valley Inn. It is not a typical hotel because each floor shares the bathrooms and a shower, but it was inexpensive (for SF) and we had a sink in our room. Our room was pretty nice, and looked more like someone's spare bedroom than a typical hotel room.

Our room at Hayes Valley Inn.

Plus, we had free breakfast in the morning (fruit, cereal, waffles, muffins, bagels, coffee, etc), which was much nicer than most complementary hotel breakfasts. The breakfast rooms have shared tables, so we talked to people from nearby cities (most of them were in town for an opera) and got their opinions on what to do.

We managed to do a lot every day, so here is the recap.

DAY 1: Land's End Trail, Golden Gate Bridge, (WOAH HILLS), Sushi, Concert, Accidental Family Reunion

After breakfast, we took a bus westward and another bus north to the Land's End Trail. Although we are pros at public transit in Chicago, we got off the first bus to transfer to the second, and were confused because we couldn't find a sign for the next bus stop. We started walking, and then we saw it:

This telephone pole is actually a bus stop. Well, now we know.

The northbound bus came, and it was packed with about 150 little kids at summer camp. We tried to get on, but the bus driver said no space (in Chicago, they let you ride in front of the yellow line [standing next to the bus driver right by the windshield] if the bus is crowded, but in SF, I guess they are more concerned with that technicality). We shrugged, and since the next bus was in 20 minutes, we started walking north. We crossed the street, and noticed that a block ahead, the bus was letting most of the kids off! Hooray! Since it takes a lot of kids a long time to get off the bus, we were able to run and catch the bus!

Unfortunately, google maps put us in the middle of the trail, so we decided to head west to the ocean, and then double back and walk to the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail had some great views:

Oscar near the beginning of our hike.

We found a pretty rocky beach that had views of the ocean and of the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Us on the beach.

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean.

The bay and the Golden Gate Bridge

Flowers and the beach in the background, because I like flowers.

We doubled back and headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way, we stumbled through the Presidio neighborhood, where there were multi-million dollar mansions with bay views (wow), and across the Coastal Defense System from WWII. We climbed around on them, and it was pretty neat to see the remnants. (After I got home, my grandma told me that my grandpa was stationed in San Francisco on a ship for a while, although he wasn't a part of the Coastal Defense System.)

Coastal Defense System

Oscar looking tough inside the Coastal Defense System Buildings

 We finally reached the Golden Gate Bridge, and hiked about halfway out. The bridge is 1.7 miles long, and in the middle, it is really cold and windy! 

Distance walked so far: 5.2 miles, after walking across the bridge.

I wanted sushi for dinner. So we yelped, found a highly-rated, cheap sushi place, and hopped on a bus. 10 minutes later, Oscar says "wait, this bus is going in the wrong direction!" A rookie mistake, whoops!

Unfortunately, I get loopy and grouchy when I don't eat. Fortunately, there was a Taco Bell nearby, which are sparse in Chicago. So we had a couple tacos, regrouped, and found a sushi place in Japantown.

This place was a sushi boat place, which means that you sit around a little island, the sushi chefs are in the middle, the sushi floats around on plates on boats, and you grab the plates you want!

Sushi floating by on boats

We got to try a whole bunch of new stuff, and since it was Happy Hour, we got beer and sake very cheap!
We ate a lot of fish, but it was pretty cheap!

We headed back to our hotel and re-couped for half an hour before our first show.

Distance walked so far: 7.7 miles, including crazy hills

The show was the Chinkees, MU330, and Slapstick. There were a lot of hijinks at the show, and Oscar has a recap on his blog.

We also found Oscar's cousin, who he hadn't seen in years, at the show!

Total distance walked so far: 9.3 miles