Category Archives: Recipes

How NOT To Brew Beer

My first brewing experience was a disaster learning experience.  The first bottle of beer I tried over the weekend was flat and had a hint of yeast, so it didn’t fully ferment.  I do have a second bottle in the fridge being “conditioned” that I put in a couple days later, so we’ll see if the extra fermentation/carbonation time helps at all.  Since I hate waste, I’ve been doctoring it up Michelada style so that I can tolerate it.  From what I’ve read, it’s not going to kill me, and I’ve downed one bottle with no adverse effects.

I did start with a clearanced Mr. Beer kit, too, with a beer style I don’t drink myself and with a best by date of a year ago (noticed that after I got home), so I didn’t start with the best of ingredients.  I did have the foresight at least to figure my first go would be a learning experience no matter what, and I didn’t want to shell out more than $50 for my first batch, and the Mr. Beer kit gave me a way I could do it for even less than $50.

How do you get your Mr. Beer keg to look so funky?! Read on . . .

Now, I had the pre-fermentation process down pretty well, if I do say so myself, and sterilized everything as directed.  I had started making my own yogurt a few months ago, which is simply a different fermented food, and only had one mishap which I was able to correct by just re-doing the incubation process, so I started brewing with some fermenting experience under my belt.  I still have a perfect yogurt record, knock on wood.  Fermenting things that start with BEE are still taking work (I had a less than perfect fermented beet issue last week), but I’ll be posting on my various fermenting projects during the summer.  I still take issue that beer isn’t considered a healthful fermented product like yogurt, kombucha (fermented tea that can have alcoholic traces), and other fermented foods, but whatever.

Anyhow–here’s what I need to work on for a better beer:

  1. Be careful of your ingredients’ ages.  The mix was a year past the “best by” date.  The wort was probably OK to use, but yeast can get finicky.  For those of you that bake yeast breads, you know what I’m talking about.
  2. Be obsessively mindful of the temperature.  Even though I started the first week in June, the nightly temps here were not warm enough to keep our old farmhouse in the optimal 68-78 degree yeast fermentation stage, and I wasn’t diligent about checking the room temperature for the first few days, and even longer before I figure out where I could put it to regulate the temperature.  Even old yeast may still give it a go if the conditions are right.  After my yogurt mishap, I realized how to solve the “too cold at night” temp problem, but I’m sure my yeast was already dead by then (and when I finally did try my method, I didn’t quite do it right, which you’ll see in # 4).  Even though nights were cool, my elderly yeast did give a good try the first week–there was minimal bubbly yeast activity at least, but it never reached the level described.
  3. Try a type of beer you actually like.  You may actually know if your beer tastes like the real thing or not.  Granted, I got what was on clearance, and they were all American Light style.  I don’t drink big-name American beers, much less light/lite styles, so this really could be how the beer should taste, just with more carbonation.  I do have some MIlwaukee’s Best on hand for when we cook up brats (that’s bratwurst, folks, not bratty kids).  I may have to do a reluctant taste test for comparison.
  4. Never, EVER, turn on the oven with a Mr. Beer Keg IN IT.  The keg is plastic and doesn’t do heat well (plus, the brew should NOT get over 78 F anyway, regardless of what it’s in).  Even if you say “I’ll just turn in on for a few minutes and then turn it off when it’s at the right 70 degree temp.”  Only takes me a few minutes to get busy with something else and remember to check it AFTER I smell melting plastic.  My photo is the result.  The keg used to look like a smooth barrel and the lid used to fit.  Fortunately, my beer was already “done” with it’s keg time at that point, and the yeast was already dead prior to this debacle, so I was able to still bottle it.  I’ve heard of keeping the oven light on to keep a nice temp, so guess I should finally replace my oven light.

So, all in all, not a bad first attempt.  There are tons of things that can give beer an “off” flavor during brewing, so I’m satisfied with my end result considering it could have been worse.

Thanks to learning the hard way I’ll be OBSESSIVE with temperature control next time–and remember to NOT turn on the oven with a brew fermenting inside.

Anyone have any good beer or fermenting stories?  Please share!


Lazy French Onion Soup

photo credit: 3 cebollas via photopin (license)

I love both French onion soup and caramelized onions.  Sometime last fall, I came across  Foodie With Family’s recipe for both, in the SAME post!  If you are a French onion soup fan too, you NEED to check her post out!

I tried the slow-cooker onions right after I read the post.  The cooking does take a long time, but the benefit is that the entire house doesn’t smell like you’re cooking onions.  When you have a smell-sensitive person living with you (even one that loves onions) and an old house with horrible ventilation, that’s a HUGE bonus.  I did have to take the lid off at the end of cooking to evaporate some of the condensation, but the smell was still minimal.

When I was done, I just stuck the onions into sandwich sized ziploc bags, froze them, and forgot about them until I was cleaning the freezer out on Sunday.  I’m the only one in my household that likes french onion soup, so before then, I hadn’t made it for almost twenty years.


When I was single, I made a vegan version using soy sauce as the flavoring agent (from a PETA cookbook, so it’ll probably be on their website).  My taste for soy sauce has waned over the years anyway, so I don’t expect I’d like it the way I used to, and there was never really a beef base that I thought would be suitable for the soup. I did recently watch a Cook’s Country episode where they used dried shiitake mushrooms for a vegan beef-style soup base, so I may try that if I get around to growing a patch of shiitakes.

Growing shiitakes seems to be pretty easy. We have a mushroom farm in the area, and last year I had gotten a great harvest out of their “table top farms.”  Even if you are like me and NOT a mushroom fan (I usually avoid ‘shrooms at all costs), shiitakes are tolerable, and I have no doubt they would make a good, meaty soup base that won’t taste like mushrooms.  However, unless I’m growing them myself, they can make a good dent in the pocketbook.

Back to the French onion soup–since I’m not a practicing vegetarian at this time, Sunday night I made a more normal French onion soup, only I put next to no effort in it.

For the “real” recipe–go to Foodie with Family’s link at the top of the post.  For the lazy recipe, continue.

I had no suitable cheese for the soup, nor had I the patience to make the crouton topping, so this is my compromise:

Lazy French Onion Soup for 2

Adapted from Foodie with Family

2 packs of frozen caramelized onion (the size of sandwich Ziplocs)

1 500 ml tetrapack of chicken stock (or homemade veggie or chicken stock)

approx 1/4 cup of Better than Bouillon beef base (or your favorite beef or beef-style base)

A cheesy bagel, toasted (and buttered if you wish)

1.  Put the onions, stock, and base in a saucepan.  Cover and cook on high until just starting to bubble, stirring occasionally.

2.  Pour into your bowl, serve with the bagel.  Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for an even easier lunch.

My soup (bagel not in picture).

Happy Hour: Michelada Experiment

The thought ofIMG_20150609_183440 beer cocktails never appealed to me, as for whatever reason mixing anything in beer just sounded bad.  Even to me, who loves to experiment and try new things.

But . . . recently I heard about an Ancho Chile Stout.  I love spicy, and I love dark beer.  Unfortunately, it’s a seasonal thing and was not available even for special order by that time *sigh*.

So, I resolved that it was finally time to start brewing my own just so I could try it and other experiments.  I’ve gotten as far as purchasing a Mr. Beer kit on clearance just to get a batch down my belt before I invest in my home brewery.

Meanwhile, I find an entry for “Mexican beer” when I’m browsing through our newly purchased Pati’s Mexican Table cookbook.

It’s for a Michelada.  Beer, lime juice, hot sauce, something salty, along with a salt lined glass.

OK, so that no longer sounds bad.  Especially since all we have is a variety of the light colored Mexican beers (Sol, Corona, etc), and I’m trying to save money and not buy the spendier specialty brew 6 packs anyway.  Worth a try.

And it was worth it!  For me, it’s actually a refreshing drink and the taste combination is delicious.  I just have to be careful and not have too many.

I’ve since looked up several Michelada recipes–and most are specific and say any deviation would be gross.  However, I find that my Michelada experience is based on taste and how much salt and spice flavor I want at the time.  It’s more like a Thai recipe–you have a guideline for the different flavor types you will use, but adjust it all to taste and it’s never EXACTLY the same.

Pati’s site has a Michelada recipe, which is more of a guide, and she calls the spicy version the playful version, although looking online Michelada’s are normally spicy.  If you need a “real” recipe that tells you exactly what to use and how much, you’ll need to do your own searching.

My Michelada Experiment

The Ingredients:

IMG_20150609_183202Light colored mexican beer (we usually have Corona Extra around, but your favorite will work.  I haven’t tried it with a dark like Negro Modelo, but feel free to experiment)

Hot sauce (start with your favorite Mexican hot sauce–for me Cholula is it.  I tried sricha and frank’s, neither worked for me)

Something salty (I use Maggi sauce, which Pati turned me on to– you can try Worcestershire sauce, Soy sauce, or just add a pinch of salt)

Optional:  Juice from a freshly squeezed lime (I skip this as it doesn’t add to the flavor for me)

Optional:  Rim the glass with salt, like a margarita (I skip this as well since the drink is salty enough)

I pour 1/4 of the beer into a frozen mug, add the other ingredients to taste (you will want the taste to be on the strong side at this point).  Stir well.

Add the rest of the beer slowly.  If it develops a large head, then just wait a minute for it to go down, then stir again.

Do a final taste test, add more of any ingredient you want stronger, and ENJOY!

Have you made a MIchelada and have your favorite take on it?  Please share!

Happy Hour: Rhubarb Collins!

Just in time for the weekend, and as promised—my improved Rhubarb Collins!!

As I mentioned in my last post for Rhubarb Lemonade (which you can probably add vodka to for a nice cocktail), my attempt at the Epicurious Rhubarb Collins recipe was a disaster. All I could taste was gin, so if that’s the case, why not just drink the gin straight up instead of bothering to make a cocktail?

So, I reduced the gin and now I have a Rhubarb Collins that I like just as much as my Tom Collins.  I’m also not a big fan of carbonated waters, so I’m weird and use regular filtered water and it tasted just fine in my altered version.  I used regular water each time I’ve made the Rhubarb Collins, so I doubt that was the issue with gin overpowering the taste originally.

I also like to use the BIG side (i.e. 1 1/2 oz) of my jigger, so if you prefer to use 1 oz instead, then the ratio is 2:1:2 (2 parts syrup, 1 part gin, 2 parts water).  It won’t hurt to add an extra splash or two of gin in this recipe, either.  I’m sure I’ll be doing that on occassion.

The Existential Farm Grrl’s Rhubarb Collins

3 oz Rhubarb Syrup (recipe is here at the bottom of the page)

1 1/2 oz Gin (feel free to add an extra splash or two)**

2 to 4 oz of water or club soda (club soda is traditional)

1.  Put everything in a cocktail shaker (or mason jar in a lid), shake well.  Pour into a glass with ice (optional if you’re weird like me), and Enjoy!

Alternate mixing method for those without a cocktail shaker or jars with lids:  put everything in your empty glass, stir well, then add ice if so desired.


**I use London Dry Gin since you can get fairly inexpensive versions of it.  If you have a Costco membership and don’t want to pay high end prices, the Kirkland gin is recommended and it really is better than the cheapest stuff you find at the grocer or liquor stores and it’s reasonably priced.

It’s Hot: Time for Rhubarb Lemonade

The Rhubarb Patch

Last month, we had a delightful surprise when we were at our income property to mow the lawn–there was a healthy rhubarb patch in the back yard!  See all the leaves?  That’s the remaining rhubarb plants after I had 2 harvests, so we will have a plentiful supply all summer. I also pulled up one of the whole plants by accident that I proceeded to transplant at my house.  When rhubarb starts are planted, they cannot be harvested for 3 seasons, so now that I have a full plant I’ll be able to harvest this next year.

I love the tartness of rhubarb, so I like pretty much anything with rhubarb, doesn’t have to be sweet.  My partner, on the other hand, likes SWEET.  Last week, I made what I personally thought was the perfect rhubarb crisp from Martha Stewart (recipe here), but it was too tart for her.  I thought the sweet/tart combo was spot on.

Last Saturday’s Rhubarb Harvest

I knew all along that it’s not the rhubarb alone my partner loves–her professed love of rhubarb came from strawberry, rhubarb pie (which I’m going to make after I get some tapioca that the filling in Smitten Kitchen’s filling needs–an apparently common ingredient I never use).

My Rhubarb Simple Syrup

I decided that besides the occasional dessert (which we really don’t need a lot of), I was going to try drinks.

Saturday, I made an excellent rhubarb simple syrup that I found on Epicurious.  It’s actually for a Rhubarb Collins (recipe is here).  I assumed since I love a good Tom Collins that I would love this.  Wrong.  I loved the rhubarb syrup,  it has the sweetness a simple syrup is supposed to have with the added rhubarb flavor (and none of the rhubarb tartness).  However, the gin overpowered the rhubarb taste in the Collins recipe–my second drink I used a 1:1 ratio for the rhubarb syrup and gin and skipped the lemon juice, still too ginny and not enough rhubarb flavor.  This weekend I’ll give it one more go, cut down the amount of gin itself and see how that goes.  If I have any success, I’ll post my Rhubarb Collins later.

Since I needed other drinks to use this syrup in, yesterday I thought homemade rhubarb lemonade would be a great refresher.  I already had the rhubarb part, so I just needed a fresh, single serving lemonade to test it out (luckily I bought a bag of lemons at Costco over the weekend, which is unusual for me).

After a google search and a peak at some of the results, I decided to try the recipe I found on The Live in Kitchen (recipe here).  The combination was perfect!  I still had the refreshment of lemonade on a hot day with the added taste of rhubarb.  My partner even had a sip and liked it–although next time she’ll want a little more of the rhubarb syrup in hers.


For the rhubarb simple syrup (make this well ahead of time, it will need to cool!):

 3/4 cup fresh or frozen rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

For the lemonade (don’t try to substitute your own favorite pre-made lemonade here unless you want an overly sweet drink) :

3 Tablespoons of rhubarb simple syrup

1 cup of water

3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 1/2 small lemons do the trick).

  1. To make the rhubarb syrup: combine the rhubarb simple syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until slightly thickened and bright pink in color, about 20 minutes. Let the syrup cool then pour through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl (or canning jar, which is what I did).  Lightly press the rhubarb to release remaining juices.  “Discard” the rhubarb left in the sieve (compost it, use in another recipe, or eat it with ice cream–it’s actually very tender and yummy).   You can store the syrup in the fridge for a week.
  2. To make the lemonade:  in a large measuring cup (or large glass, if your serving glass is big enough to mix in), stir together the 3 lemonade ingredients (rhubarb syrup, water, and lemon juice).
  3. Serve in a glass with ice and enjoy!

The recipe can be doubled, tripled, or increased to whatever you need!  If your family or guests want a different sweetness and/or rhubarb-to-lemon ratio, make a big batch of the lemonade, minus the syrup, then stir in the rhubarb syrup to taste after each glass is poured.

Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tam Esan)


Papaya Salad is my favorite salad–spicy and served with a side of sticky rice, it makes a tasty and healthy meal.

I learned to make it at a Thai buddhist temple in Utah.  Unfortunately, it was yet another rough period in my life, my worst period for rightful guilt, so I didn’t actually enjoy my time there like I wanted.  I also felt trapped (which I still do, but in a different way) and didn’t feel like I deserved to have them help me.

However, I still enjoyed the food and the rituals.  I do miss listening to the monks chant in person.  While there are plenty of videos out there, it’s not the same as being there.

IMG_20150213_190224Several years back my partner found Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook, which is indeed a very beautiful cookbook with truly authentic Thai food and information about the regions and culture.  Here I found my favorite recipe for papaya salad that helped me tweak the version I learned.  I prefer to use tamarind over lime juice, as it helps balance out the heat, and I have yet to prepare it with green beans.  Good thing is, I’ve found that Thai recipes are more of a guide and it’s typical to change up the ingredients and their quantities to your own taste.  Read about the Thai Food Philosophy at, which I found to be helpful.  Our local area has a strong Hmong community, and the Hmong people are from a region that covers Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and they’ve tweaked recipes from those three countries into their own.

The recipe from the cookbook is to the right, my tweaked recipe is below.  You will more than likely need to get green papaya at an Asian market, along with the tamarind and fish sauce.  The sauces you may get lucky and find a grocery store with a real asian section, as I have been surprised at the selection of some stores I’ve visited recently.  You will probably need to get the Thai chilis from the asian market as well, and I recommend fresh–but you can naturally grow your own as well!  My preferred peeling and shredding tools are from the Asian market as well.

The Tamarind concentrate I use (sorry for the blurred pic).

Papaya Salad (Som Tam Esan)

1 medium dark green papaya

4 garlic clovesIMG_20150213_183855

6 green Thai chilies (if you are brave–I use 3, which is still pretty spicy)  Red chilies work fine if you don’t have access to green

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges or a handful of grape tomatoes cut in half (I usually add extra tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped green beans (optional)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (can be omitted if you are vegetarian or the fish odor is offensive, just use more salt to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lime or tamarind juice (my preference is tamarind, and it may be called concentrate or paste as well)

  1. Peel the papaya and rinse with running water to remove the acid, then dry with paper towels (can be omitted–I haven’t found a difference when I’ve skipped it).  Remove the seeds and then shred/grate the papaya and set aside.
  2. Place the garlic cloves and the chilies in a mortar and mash with a pestle until crushed into chunks.  Add the tomatoes and lightly mash to “bruise” them–this seems to make the tomato more susceptible to absorbing the other flavors, plus helps impart the tomato flavor.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and combine everything with the pestle and a spoon.
  4. Serve cold, preferably with sticky rice.


Integrating the tomatoes with the chilies and garlic

All photos in this post are my own.

Meatless Monday–Five Alarm Chili!

This is a recipe I modified from Cook’s Country’s Five Alarm Chili.  It’s a very easy recipe, and so far the best I’ve made (my partner even likes it, which is saying a lot).

Chili ingredientsIngredients (note:  only drain the canned ingredients where noted):

1 dried ancho chile, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 16-oz can Bush’s chili beans in medium chili sauce (can also use hot or mild to vary the spiciness)

1 16-oz can of kidney beans (drained)

2 10-oz cans Ro-tel tomatoes with green chiles

1 4 oz can diced jalepenos

1 4 oz can diced green chiles

Optional:  1 tablespoon beef or vegetable base

Add the oil into a dutch oven and heat on medium heat until starting to smoke.  Add the ancho chile and stir for a few minutes until the chile softens a little bit.

Add all the canned ingredients and the beef/veggie base (if using), bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer for about an hour.  If sauce isn’t thickening up enough, stir in a tablespoon or so of cornstarch OR slowly add instant mashed potatoes and wait a few minutes to thicken.

Quick and easy–a perfect winter weeknight meal!