Soap Making Down on the Farm

As I have mentioned multiple times before, taking classes and learning new skills is one of my favorite things. In just the past year I have learned or taken classes for pearl knotting, flower crown making, basket weavingcalligraphysewingbutter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.

soap

I’ve wanted to cross soap making off of the list for a long time, but it has been difficult to find a class that was hands-on rather than demonstration only. You learn a lot more (and have more fun) when you get to do things yourself. Fortunately, I found a class at Three Creeks Farm where not only could I get my hands dirty, but I could design my own soap.

soap-making-lye

We started with mixing the lye. This was the only part of the process we didn’t get to do on our own and our instructor, Seth, did it for us. Lye can be very dangerous and can burn your skin, blind you, and even kill you if ingested. Once it is combined with water it almost instantly reaches 180 degrees and therefore should not be handled indelicately. However, it is a vital part of soap making as its chemical reaction with the oils is what produces a solid soap (a process called “saponification”).

soap-making-fragrance

The first step was deciding what to put in our soap. I opted for coconut lemongrass for the fragrance oil, ground oatmeal and buckwheat for exfoliants, and a little bit of clover honey just for fun. Everything requires very exact measurements. After all, science.

soap-making-coconut-oil

Once we selected our special ingredients (and set them aside to use later) we started to mix our oils. Our soap included 7 oz of olive oil, 6 oz of coconut oil (yum), and 1 oz of canola oil.

soap-making-gloves

Once the oils were mixed it was time to put on my sexy safety goggles and add the lye and water to the oil mixture.

soap-making-mixing

The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.

soap-making

To thicken the mixture and help it along its journey to magnificent soapiness, we used an immersion blender to save time. It did not take long for the consistency of the oil and lye to start to change and become custard-like.

soap-making-exfoliant

Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.

soap-making-pouring

After some more blending, I poured the mix into a one pound mold where the soap began to harden over the next few hours. I was supposed to wait a week before removing the soap from the mold . . . I waited approximately 24 hours. I have never been accused of being patient. Fortunately it turned out ok.

soap

I wanted a soap that was earthy, but sweet, and with a nice texture. I think I accomplished that. I still need to wait 2-3 weeks for the soap to cure through the saponification process before I can actually use it. (Waiting will be torture). Until then, every time I walk by the soap I pick it up and smell it. Mmmm!

Three Creeks Farm has an array of interesting class offerings including blacksmithing. Plus, they have a farm filled with alpacas, llamas, fainting goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, guineafowl, and a very large mastiff named Hugo that you can pet and snuggle on . . . so you know I’ll be back.

Butter Making & 11 Delicious Recipes to Make Your Own

The holidays are approaching and that means endless meals with friends and family. To kick off the season of eating I got together with some girlfriends for an old fashioned day of making butter. Except instead of churns, we had mixers. And wine. We had a lot of wine.

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Butter making is simple and you only need a few items: heavy whipping cream (1 pint will produce about 1/2 pound of butter); cheesecloth; a food processor with a mixing or paddle blade; plenty of bowls and forks to stir in ingredients; containers for the butter (4oz mason jars work well); and salt and other ingredients as desired.

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The process is easy. You start by pouring the cream into the mixer. Lower the whisk into the cream and turn it to about half speed. Mixing typically takes 3 to 10 minutes. You can also make butter by shaking the cream in a sealed container (read about that process here). Shaking takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes (and results in a super tired arm).

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As the cream is processed it will separate into butter and buttermilk. (You can save the buttermilk for other cooking projects if you so desire). Once this happens, pour the buttermilk and butter into a bowl with a colander or cheesecloth.

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Use the cheesecloth to squeeze out any liquid and then rinse the butter. This process feels really weird and you get your hands covered in butter.

If you don’t press out all of the buttermilk the butter will spoil faster. Homemade butter will last in the refrigerator for 1-3 weeks, depending on how well you squeeze the buttermilk out. If you store the butter in the freezer, unsalted butter will stay good for 5-6 months but salted butter can last up to 9 months.

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Once the butter has been pressed and washed you are ready to add your ingredients. You can just add salt for simple plain butter, or you can add fresh herbs, spices, garlic, cheeses, wine, lemon/lime, peppers, jam, and the list goes on. Each ingredient adds its own unique flavor and flair.

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We made 11 types of butter, all ingredients are to-taste, so add as much of each as you like:

  • Lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Basil, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Brie, roasted garlic, and salt
  • Rosemary, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper (delicious)
  • Organic basil, espresso sea salt, and pepper (my favorite)
  • Honey, honey goat cheese, blue cheese, and salt
  • White wine, thyme, honey, and salt
  • Peach brandy jam
  • Nutella (life changing)
  • Maple peanut butter
  • Pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and all spice

If you have any recipes you like add them in the comments below! It looks like this may be an annual tradition so they could make their way on to the menu next year.

Flavor Tripping: The Miraculous Power of the Miracle Berry

It sounds like something only Willy Wonka could dream up: a berry that makes everything sweeter. Well, it is real and it is magical. Or, I should say, it is miraculous. The miracle berry causes sour, tangy, or tart foods to taste as if they have been dipped in sugar.

miracle berries

Photo by MiracleFruitFarm

It is called “flavor tripping,” and no, miracle berries are not a drug. This little red marvelous fruit originates in West Africa and its use was first documented in the 1700s. Local tribes used it before consuming sour cornbread, bland oatmeal gruel, and palm wine.

Miracle berries contain the chemical “miraculin,” which turns your tastebuds topsy turvy. Miraculin binds to your sweet taste receptors and sends them into overdrive if the pH of your mouth drops into the acidic range from something sour. In other words, it turns lemons into lemonade. The sweet effect lasts for 1-2 hours.

If you don’t have access to miracle berries you can buy them in pill form (the only ingredients are miracle fruit powder and corn starch).

mberry tablet

You place a tablet on your tongue and let it dissolve. As Morpheus explained, “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

morpheus-red-pill

We tried an assortment of lemons, limes, blackberries, strawberries, kiwis, apples, grapes, prunes, cranberry juice, and balsamic vinegar. I reached for the lemon first. It tasted like it was covered in sugar and the normal tartness of the fruit was nowhere to be found. The same was true for the lime. It reminded me fruit slice candy. All of the fruit tasted sweeter than normal, but the strawberries tasted like they were sprinkled with fine powdered sugar. The most interesting flavor transition was that of the balsamic vinegar. The miracle berry transformed it into a sweet, thick, grape juice.

A few days after my first experiment, I did a second tasting of grapefruit, pomegranate, more lemons (yum), jalapeños, onion, pickles, and coffee. Once again, the fruit tasted extra sweet and the pickles did as well. The onion still tasted like an onion (yuk) but the jalapeño was rendered virtually tasteless, it lost all of its kick. The best part of experiment number two was the coffee. The straight black coffee became creamy and sweet.

miracle-berry-tasting

If you want to try flavor tripping, just make your own tasting menu with a variety of foods to explore. The miracle berry can have some lingering effects so it is best to try it at the end of the evening when you are done eating for the day. In other words, don’t try to have a glass of wine post-tasting. It will not go over well.

Cooking & Eating a Ghost Pepper

The ghost pepper, or the bhut jolokia, is insanely hot. In fact, it is one of the hottest peppers in the world. At 1 million Scoville heat units, the ghost pepper is 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. It is so hot it has been weaponized for use in pepper spray and it is even used as elephant repellent in India. Yes, elephant repellent. As a spice lover, this intrigued me. I have always loved spicy food and I am a firm believer that if I am not physically uncomfortable eating then the food isn’t hot enough.

Ghost Peppers

This weekend, while visiting Nashville’s farmer’s market, I discovered Swafford Farms selling a variety of fresh peppers with beautiful ghost peppers front and center. I remembered I saved a ghost pepper recipe for just such an occasion and pulled it up on my phone to see what else I needed.

Ghost Pepper Recipe Ingredients

Fortunately, Fresh and Local Produce at the farmer’s market was able to provide me with the rest of the vegetables. The recipe called for:

  • 6 ghost peppers
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, pureed
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon organic sugar

Ghost Pepper Copped Ingredients

I prepared all of the ingredients and saved the ghost peppers for last. Before I chopped them I had to taste one for myself.

At first, it tasted like every other pepper I’d had and was a pretty mellow experience. Then, I bit into the inside of the pepper and and one of the seeds. The heat had a delayed reaction. Initially there was nothing, and then the heat slowly took over my entire mouth. It was not nearly as bad as I excepted, but I cannot deny that the peppers had some serious heat. No tears were elicited, but I did turn to a large glass of milk for relief.

Ghost Pepper After Effect

Here is your science tip for the day boys and girls: The chemical that causes the heat in peppers (capsaicin) is not water soluble so drinking a glass of ice water will not soothe your tongue. In fact, water will only spread the heat. Instead, you need something that will break down the capsaicin. Casein, the protein in milk, helps break the bonds capsaicin forms on nerve receptors.

Bonus science tip: Vegetable oils will also break down the capsaicin. If you deal with peppers with your bare hands (which is not advisable) be sure to wash your hands with oil a few times. Soap and water alone will not do the trick and will leave you pretty miserable if you rub your eyes with even trace amounts of the capsaicin still on your fingers.

Ghost Pepper Chopping Gloves

When I began cutting the peppers I followed the rules and used gloves to protect my hands.

Ghost Pepper Chopping

However, I quickly realized that the gloves made dicing nearly impossible and decided to risk it. The peppers definitely made my fingers burn a little, and even a day later, after washing my hands with oil several times, I have not attempted to take out my contacts. Ghost peppers are powerful stuff.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Making

Finally, it was time to combine all of the ingredients to make the salsa.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients

You just throw everything in a pot, bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients Stove

The salsa made the house smell amazing. The fragrance still hung in the air when I got home from work the following day.

Safety tip: Do not put your face over the pot while you are cooking. It is essentially steamy pepper spray. (Fortunately, I did not have to learn this the hard way.)

Ghost Pepper Salsa

I varied the recipe slightly. The recipe calls for the ghost pepper seeds to be removed. This is because the capsaicin is very prominent in the pepper’s seeds. I, however, love spice so I left them in. The recipe also called for the salsa to be blended until it becomes a smooth sauce, but I preferred to to be chunky so I could enjoy it with chips. If I were to make it again, I would definitely add more ghost peppers, more bell peppers, chunkier tomatoes, a heavy dose of cilantro, and a little bit of chopped garlic.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Spicey

The salsa had some kick, but after the first bite (captured above) I got pretty used to it. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop eating it. My friend Tina, however, had a different reaction. She took one bite, shouted “THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE,” and then ran for a drink to cool her mouth.

So, in the end, the ghost pepper experiment went well and just confirmed my love of all things spicy. Plus, now that I know that making salsa is a simple as a quick trip to the farmer’s market, I am not sure I’ll ever buy it from the store again.

Making Tiramisu

This week I attempted to make another dish that looks more complicated than it is (see pies 1 and 2). Tiramisu seems deliciously complicated, but it is really made with 6 simple ingredients: mascarpone, eggs, sugar, coffee/espresso, cocoa powder, and lady fingers. (Some recipes also call for rum or marsala, but skipped it this time.)

Tiramisu Ingredients

Tiramisu, which means “pick me up,” was supposedly invented in Italy in 1969. If you haven’t had it, well, then you just haven’t been living. It is a scrumptious creamy dessert, and one of my favorites.

Tiramisu Egg Yolks

This recipe contains a lot of room temperature raw eggs. This, of course, did not stop me from licking my fingers throughout the process. We’ll just call it quality control. First, I mixed 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. This took several minutes to get it thick enough. A consistent complaint I saw while searching for a recipie was that the custard came out too runny. Apparently, the eggs are the culprit. Once it seemed thick enough I added in the mascarpone (basically an Italian cream cheese).

Tiramisu Egg Whites

Some recipes skip egg whites. However, this helps give the custard its thickness. The recipe said to beat 4 egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks formed. I had never beaten eggs for a dessert before so I was surprised just how fluffy they got. This took a while to accomplish. Although my recipe didn’t explain this, the egg whites should be at room temperature and the sugar should be added in gradually. I probably should have beaten them longer, but I was concerned about over-beating them and having to start over.

Lady Fingers

Once the eggs, mascarpone, and sugar were combined, it was time to prepare the pastry portion of the dessert. The recipe called for 36-48 lady fingers, but it took 60 for me to do two full layers in my dish.

Tiramisu Lady Fingers

The lady fingers (make sure you get the hard rather than spongy ones) are dipped (very quickly) in coffee or espresso, just long enough to cover them. If you let them soak they will get too soggy.

Tiramisu Lady Finger Layer

Then it was just a matter of building the layers. Two of the coffee-soaked lady fingers and two of the custard.

Tiramisu Layers

I’m really glad I got an extra box of the lady fingers “just in case,” though I was hoping to have extras to snack on. No such luck.

Tiramisu Finished

Finally, it was time to put tiramisu in the refrigerator for 8 hours and try to pretend it wasn’t there.

Tiramisu Unsweatned Chocolate

When it was ready, I added a healthy layer of unsweetened chocolate to  finish it off. I may have gotten a little overzealous with it, but you can’t blame a girl, can you? While I definitely do not have a career ahead of me as a dessert photographer, it was rich, creamy, and delightful.

Homemade Tiramisu

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe I used here.

Baking a Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This week’s New Thing is actually an old New Thing that I didn’t have an opportunity to post about before. However, given that we are well into autumn, and Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share it.

Pumpkin pie is my favorite holiday treat. I can’t get enough of it. (Though oddly enough, I may be the only girl who does not go crazy over all things pumpkin spice.) I casually mentioned to my friend Lilas (who joined me for my juice cleanse a few months ago) that I was curious about how hard it was to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. Lilas, who seems to know all there is to know about everything, responded that it was not hard at all and she had a recipe I could use.

Pumpkin Pie Ingredients

It turns out, other than a pumpkin and condensed milk, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry. The recipe called for sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla extract, some salt, eggs, evaporated milk, and of course one pie pumpkin (which, it turns out, you can find in most groceries this time of year).

Pumpkin Carving

Cutting open the pumpkin was not easy. It took quite a bit of sawing and hacking before I was able to split it open. I was convinced I was going to lose a thumb in the process. In fact, I managed to nick my finger. Don’t try this at home, kids. You should use a serrated knife rather than a smooth knife because, ironically, a smooth knife might slip and cut you.

Inside Pumpkin

After a fair bit of work I was finally able to split the pumpkin open. I used an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds to get it ready for steaming. Unfortunately, I forgot to save the seeds, which is a pity because they are delicious when roasted.

Steam Pumpkin

Once the pumpkin was sliced and cleaned, it was time to soften it up. You can do this in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. We chose the microwave because it was the fastest method. Even with the quick option, it took 15-30 minutes for it to fully soften.

Pumpkin Pie Crust Ingredients

While the microwave was doing its magic, we started on the pie crusts. You can’t make a homemade pie using store-bought crust.

Making Pumpkin Pie Crust

Instead of making the crust completely from scratch, we cheated a bit and used gingerbread cookies. (This also made for a yummy mid-baking snack.) We threw a box of the cookies in the food processor and crushed them until all that was left was crumbs. This took longer than expected, apparently food processors are not made to crumble cookies.

Gingerbread Crust

All it took was cookie crumbs, a lot of butter, and some eggs.  We formed our crusts and put them in the freezer to harden and help prevent them from burning while baking.

Cooked Pumpkin

Finally, the pumpkin was softened and we were able to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the skin. Lilas said that the pumpkin skin was tasty, so I decided to give it a try. She was right, it was delicious. The great things about making pumpkin pie is that the entire pumpkin is scrumptious.

Pumpkin Puree

We threw the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and pureed it until it was nice and smooth. This is what is affectionately known as “pumpkin glop.”

Pumpkin Pie Filling

We combined the pumpkin glop with the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla, eggs, and evaporated milk. I expected it to be a thick consistency, since it had to harden up to be a pie, but it was practically liquid. This concerned me, but Lilas said it was normal.

Pumpkin Pies

That one small pumpkin was enough to make 3 pies! I was shocked!

Pumpkin Pies in Oven

The pies took about an hour to bake and made the house smell like heaven. They probably would have cooked faster but I kept obsessively checking on them. The entire process took a while and, like the last time I baked a pie, they had to cool before we could enjoy them.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

The pies turned out even better than I expected. They tasted absolutely perfect! And the great thing about having 3 pies means you can give them away to friends.

In conclusion, if you want a delicious homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving but you don’t want to risk slicing off your own digits, just send an invite my way.

Photo Scavenger Hunt & Kale and Mushroom Hand Pies

Photo Scavenger Hunt
For this week’s New Thing I went on a photo scavenger hunt. We met up in downtown Knoxville and split up into groups. Our team consisted of a guy named Trevor, my friend Cheryl (the one with the shotguns and chickens), and me. Each team was given a list of over 100 challenges worth various amounts of points, the harder it was the more points you got. For example, a human pyramid was worth 5 points, hanging upside down on the monkey bars was worth 10 points, a teammate with a death wish was worth 20 points, and a 60-second video of a guy trying on a dress and asking what shoes went with it was worth 100 points.

Here are some of some of my favorite shots of the day:

Conehead

Teammate wearing a road construction cone – 10 points.

Garbage Disposal
Find a sign and act it out – 20 points.

Piggyback
Teammate getting a drink from a water fountain while someone is riding piggyback – 10 points.

Enzo
Our team mascot, “Enzo” – 20 points.

Statue
Group members mimicking a statue – 5 points.

Edward Chopstick Hands
Edward chopstick hands – 20 points.

Running around downtown was great fun. It was a beautiful day and everyone was out enjoying the Dogwood Arts Festival. We discovered that if you tell someone that you are on a scavenger hunt that they will do almost anything for you. This is dangerous knowledge.

When we got back to base and all the points were tallied we were crowed the winners by a landslide! But, our victory celebration was short-lived. One team forgot to turn in their score sheet. When their scores were added up they just squeaked out first place. Boo. However, the winning team was very gracious and shared their bounty with us (a pack of Payday bars).

I would love to do a scavenger hunt again, but next time I’ll have a winning strategy. I hate losing.

Kale and Mushroom Hand Pies
In addition to doing the scavenger hunt I wanted to try out a new recipe this week. I was looking for something a little different and a friend suggested Martha Stewart’s Kale and Mushroom Hand Pies with a Cheddar Crust. The recipe calls for chicken instead of mushrooms, but I went with her suggested vegetarian substitution.

I started with the pie crust, hoping that things would go a little more smoothly than it did when I made the Three Berry Pie on Week 1. The Flakey Pie Dough recipe called for flour, salt, butter, and sharp cheddar cheese. I learned my lesson from last time and cut the butter in smaller squares to make mixing the dough easier.

Butter and Flour

Pro tip: Don’t use a tablespoon of salt when you are supposed to use a teaspoon of salt. This almost happened before I thought, “hmm this seems like a lot of salt, I should double check this.”

Confession: I may or may not have consumed an entire cup of shredded cheddar cheese while baking.

Flour Mixture

I learned last time that dough is extremely difficult to manipulate when it is cold so I flattened and cut out the pastries before refrigerating to cut down on my cooking time and swearing.

Pastry Rounds

Once done with the pastries, I moved on to the filling. First, I cooked the mushrooms in butter and set them aside.

Mushrooms

I never cooked with leeks before and thought they were small, similar to wild onions. But apparently they are approximately the size and length of my arm. I am usually not a fan of vegetables from the onion family, but the leeks smelled a-ma-zing while they were cooking in the butter. Side note: Leeks are toxic to dogs and cats, so keep them out of their reach. I threw in the thyme and kale and was finally ready to fill the pastries.

Kale and Leek

The filling recipe makes enough for an extra 2-3 pastries. Next time I’ll make larger rounds or make more of them. Finally, I put them in the oven and began my wait. The recipe called for 30 minutes of baking, but it took over 40 to get them nice and brown.

Filling

Finally it was time to sit down and try my creation with a yummy viognier. It isn’t the most photogenic dish out there, but it was absolutely delicious! The crust was crisp, flakey, cheesy, and was firm enough to pick up and eat with my hands; the filling was piping hot and absolutely delicious. The recipe is a little time consuming to make regularly (at least if you make your own crust) but the filling is simple to whip up and super yummy on its own.

Kale and Mushroom Hand Pies

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