Miso Mayonnaise

It’s always aggravated me that my home-made mayonnaise is heavy, and not very good.  Not nearly as good as Hellman’s and a lot more work.  While reading The Food Lab I finally made it to the mayonnaise section, and two new things caught my eye:  1.  The inclusion of water, and 2. Cautions about using 100 percent olive oil as it make the mayonnaise heavy.  Both of these changes should help lighten up my homemade mayonnaise.

dscn1072But, if I’m going to go through the work it takes to make mayonnaise, I want it to taste better and be healthier, so I bought a mixture of cold-pressed canola and olive oil.

Oil in hand, and eggs on the counter, and feeling a little impatient (never a good time to cook) I put the egg yolks and mustard into my Magi-Mix food processor and turned it on.  The blade barely touched half the egg mixture, but what can you do?  I proceeded to slowly drizzle in the oil — so far so good, it looked rather creamy — and then added a little water.  Just a very little.  NO.  I didn’t follow The Food Lab recipe, and they weren’t clear on the ideal oil-water ratio.  The mayonnaise broke, which means there were little clots of egg bound with water floating about in oil.  Disgusting.  So I looked up how to fix broken mayonnaise and the fix most discussed was an added egg yolk.

Egg yolks contain lecithin, an emulsifier that will allow oil and water (in the yolk, in the vinegar or lemon juice, etc.) to from a homogeneous, creamy and stable mixture.  Other emulsifiers include nuts and mustard, which is why mustard is included in most mayonnaise recipes.  Anyway, adding more egg yolk made sense, so, even though I was low on eggs I doubled down and added a yolk as directed.  The eggy islands floating in fat were bigger when I was done and kind of connected, but this was not even a little bit creamy.  Chicken food, I thought.

Then I had an idea.

Some time ago I’d bought on-sale, organic salad dressing labeled as miso-ginger.  Though I tasted no ginger, it was yummy, but there would be no more at Giant Eagle.  It was the kind of thing they tried, it didn’t work out, and were dumping it cheap six months ago when I impulse-bought it.  Joe said, “You’re usually smart about that kind of thing, I’m sure you can figure it out.”  I immediately thought of City on the Edge of Forever, where Kirk left Spock to figure out time travel while he want off la-de-da on a lark with Joan Collins.  Consequently, I had a sack of miso, that I really had no idea what to do with.


Is miso an emulsifier?  Did I look it up?  No, I grabbed a soup spoon and chucked some miso in there and blended.  The result was an amazingly creamy and tasty concoction, with no signs of breakage over the week it lasted.  Although it tasted only similar to the on-sale salad dressing, mixed with a little Parmesan cheese and red-wine vinegar, it was even better.  And by itself it was much tastier and creamier than Hellman’s  😀

Having just run out of this lovely accident, this morning was the morning to try to make some more.

I decided on a more mature approach, and pulled out the Magi-Mix cookbook and turned to the Mayonnaise recipe.  The regular type below is from them, and the bold type is from me.  I’m posting this because the result was fantastic.

  • “Use the mini-bowl.”  Hmmm.  Did this thing even come with one of those?  Found it, and it was indeed much more size-appropriate.
  • Put in 2 egg yolks, 1.5 tablespoons mustard and 1 tablespoon oil.  Blend for 20 seconds.
  • Drizzle in 3/4 cup of oil (canola-olive oil blend).
  • Add 2 teaspoons salt (since miso is salty this should have been omitted).
  • While blending dump in 1 heaping tablespoon of miso.  Slowly add 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Drizzle in 3/4 cup of oil (canola-olive oil blend).
  • While blending, slowly add 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
  • While blending dump in 1 heaping tablespoon of miso.  Slowly add 1 tablespoon of water.


This will make a little over one pint of miso-mayonnaise.  Reducing the oil by an ounce or two will make the right amount to fit in a pint jar, and will hopefully not result in disaster, but you never know.  Mayonnaise can be touchy.  (The specks you see are mustard, since I used mustard made from crushed-seed rather than finely ground mustard seeds.)

Limoncello: Christmas 2016 Beverage

UPDATE AND CAUTION!  We drank the first quart right after it was made, and it was delicious.  Perhaps I wasn’t quite as careful as I should have been about excluding white matter under the peel, since there was slightly bitter after-taste, but in any case, it was delightful.  I put the other two quarts away for the Holidays; Thanksgiving came and I opened one.  Major disappointment.  Most of the lemony goodness was gone!  I finished the Limoncello on 9/25, so this was after aging only one month.



This recipe will make three quarts of limoncello, a lemon cordial from Italy.  I’ve never had Limoncello before, and loved the result.

  • Peel three pounds of large lemons (I used a sack from Sam’s).  Remove as little of the white layer under the hard, yellow peel as possible, as this will add a bitter after-taste.
  • Empty 1.5 liter bottle of 100 proof Smirnoff vodka into another container, put the peels in the bottle, add the vodka back in and seal the bottle.  This will leave some vodka to use elsewhere.
  • Let sit for a month.  Periodically flip the bottle around to mix up the peels.
  • Strain out the peels and discard.  Pour vodka-lemon mixture into three quart jars — will fill each jar about half way.
  • Bring 4 cups of water just to boil, turn off heat, add 4 cups of sugar, mix until sugar is dissolved, cover and wait until cool — a few hours.
  • Fill the three quart jars the rest of the way with the sugar solution, which will fill the jars.
  • Add 1/8 teaspoon sea salt and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to each jar.
  • Mix and the Limoncello is complete.

Serve on ice.

The Limoncello recipes I have read don’t include the lemon juice or salt, but I tasted it before and after and these are excellent additions.

After the peel is removed from the lemons, that leaves a lot of lemon juice in the lemons, so juice them!  Freeze 2 tablespoons (strained) for use in the Limoncello a month later.  The rest can also be frozen, but fresh lemonade is easy and delicious:

  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 cups water

Mix until the sugar dissolved.  A little salt is great in lemonade, too.  As is left-over 100 proof vodka 🙂

Tasty, Well-Done Charcoal Broiled Burgers

Impossible! you may say, to have a well-done and tasty hamburger.  I thought so, too, but was determined to try as my husband likes well-done hamburgers.  If there’s even a hint of pink he will spit out the bite like it’s poisoned, scowl and call it “Raw!”  Unfortunately, he also likes burgers with flavor, and in a well done burger all of the muscle has contracted as much as it can, squeezing juice and fat out of the burger right into the coals.  Then there is fire, and the predominant flavor at that point — very strong — is char.  At the Labor Day cookout using charcoal I was condemned both ways:  first “Raw!”, and later “no flavor.”  To overcome the no flavor criticism, I use a variety of techniques; to overcome charring the burgers I used the “reverse sear” technique, as explained by a friend.  The result was a definite success, but they are still well-done burgers:  well-done beef is never the time to skimp on salt, and melt cheese melted on top if at all possible to help lubricate the old taste-buds.

Of course I know an experiment shouldn’t try to investigate several variables at once, but I did it anyway, and it worked!!

First the burgers.  I bought about four pounds of beef chunks at Sam’s.  The meat contained a reasonable amount of fat (necessary for burgers to have flavor) and most of the meat was a nice deep red.  Unfortunately, even though I used it within 24 hours by that time a few of the chunks were starting to grey at the edges.  I pulled the meat out of the package, drained it for a few minutes and put in a bowl.  Then I mixed in the following:

  • Four slices thin bacon, cut into 1-inch sections.  (added fat and flavor in the background)
  • Umami Bomb, cooked in a small skillet until the anchovies have dissolved.
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 anchovy fillets (strong umami flavor)
    • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite (strong umami flavor)
    • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (to combat the grey color of well-done beef)
    • 2 teaspoons soy sauce (strong umami flavor)
  • 1 slice toast turned to crumbs (1/2 cup) (to hold in some of the flavor, juices and fat when the muscle fibers all contract like a squished sponge)

There was a slight anchovy smell to the raw mixture, but this does not continue to the cooked meat.

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(My bowl is not dirty; I used it once with melted beeswax and it’s permanently discolored.)

Put all of the meat grinder workings, and the mixed meat, into the freezer at least 30 minutes before grinding.  Grind using the larger holes so the meat is in visible chunks to enhance the flavor.  Sharp cuts rather than smearing the meat requires cold, and this is critical to keep the fat in discrete chunks.  If the fat smears when grinding, it is then in very small particles and will all melt out of the burger when cooked — especially a problem for the well-done burger.  Think crispy bacon — the tastiest part of that fat stays with the meat.

Fill the charcoal chimney with charcoal and light it off before grinding the meat, so the charcoal will be ready when the meat is. Open the holes at the bottom of the grill first.

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I was not entirely successful in keeping everything cold!  I started to run cold meat through the icy meat grinder, but there was odd wobbling since I forgot to screw the housing down tight.  Disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the now somewhat cool meat grinder, but the meat came out smeary!  Disassembled, cleaned the slightly cool meat grinder and put the cutter in the right way.  The cold meat grinder was not to be; the perfection ship had sailed.  I got myself a beer.  Ground the cold meat, and  it looked pretty good.

Make the patties loose so there will be more surface area for browning and tasting when you bite into it, and also so the contracting of the muscles will be less coordinated resulting in a less tough burger.  (I made the middle of the burger about 1/4″ thinner than the rest, the idea being that as the burger contracts it will tend to hump up in the middle so starting with a thinner middle should result in a flat burger.  However, this was not needed for the loose burgers.)

The “reverse sear” technique calls for half of the grill to be covered in aluminum foul and half not.  Then put all the hot coals on the side with no foil.  The benefits of this technique are that the hamburger cooks slowly and uniformly, does not fall through the cracks in the grill, and does no leak fat on the hot charcoal causing fire and charring, and great clouds of smoke.  It is a very civilized and controlled way to grill with charcoal.

  • Put the burgers on the aluminum foil (three pounds of meat would have been right for my Webbler grill), put the lid on — holes open and over the burgers — and then leave them for eight minutes.
  • Flip them and move them around so the less done ones go in the hotter places and more done ones in the cooler places.  Sprinkle with salt or seasoned salt.  Put the lid on and leave them for another eight minutes.  Checking with a thermometer should be done for medium or medium-rare burgers as the times will be less.
  • When close to the target temperature, move the burgers over to the hot side of the grill and sear both sides.  This will only take minutes.  Since the charcoal is cooler, and a lot of the fat has already exited the burger there should be no fire and char-taste.  Pull off the burgers when seared and at the target temperature:  160 degrees F for well done burgers.  Flip the burgers as you take them off and add a slice of cheese to the hot side immediately so it melts.  (Some say to pull them off five degrees below the target, but I wasn’t going to risk being “Raw!” burgers, and I was putting them on a substantial cold ceramic plate.)

dscn1039     dscn1040

This is the instant thermometer I used, and I’m very happy with it.  Temperature readings are almost instantaneous.

The burgers turned an attractive reddish color when they were seared, and the meat wasn’t totally grey.  The taste was “worlds away” from my last effort, according to my main critic.

What I liked best about this method is that the charcoal behaved as it should.  No torching up and charring the meat.  During those eight minute breaks you can read a book, or if there are people over actually talk to them, as opposed to waving at them periodically from inside a hot grey cloud, all sweaty and distressed.


  • A huge contribution to improved flavor was (I believe) the home grinding.  This was also the most work (it would have been less had I been more familiar with my equipment).  I used the larger holes and there were bigger pieces of meat in the burger than store bought.  This also led to lighter burgers with more browned surface area, and I think the bigger pieces of meat also improved the texture and flavor.  Unfortunately, it can’t be done ahead of time or the meat will flatten and blood may pool.
  • The umami bomb and bacon significantly improved the flavor and color, and there was No fishy taste or smell in the final product.  The bacon was only noticeable in mild whiffs, if you knew it was there.
  • The depression in the middle of the raw hamburger was still in the finished product.  I would not do that again, with home-ground meat.

Next time I try this I’ll cook some burgers to different temperatures: 155, 150 and 145 degrees F.  Why didn’t I do this, this time?  Because someone came to buy a dirt-bike and the dogs were barking and howling and jumping about like they were on Pogo sticks, I turned to look and there was a woman and small child smiling and waving — evidently (in the dogs’ minds) planning to attack me and take the meat.  A bit of yelling at the dogs to shut up ensued which reduced them to growling for about two seconds before the barking returned.  And then the moment was lost and all the meat was well done.


Umami Bombs and a Savory Squash Casserole

Umami is a Japanese word for one of the five tastes we can detect, the word meaning “pleasant savory taste”.  The umami taste receptors sense the presence of glutimate, an amino acid used by our bodies to synthesize proteins.  The other four tastes are sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness (typically indicative of poisons).

The Food LabI first heard of the term Umami Bomb while reading The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I highly recommend this book:  he runs experiments on cooking!  And is an entertaining author, and of course there are numerous excellent recipes, based on the principles he has proven through analysis and testing.  The book is 916 pages and with steady progress I’m up to 785 — which is amazing for me for a non-fiction book.  In this book he describes the Umami Bomb as being a triumvirate of foods with very high glutimate concentrations that will also fade into the background of your dish and not overpower it:  anchovies, soy sauce and Marmite.

For years I’ve heard about the wonders of anchovies in dishes.  Periodically I’d buy some.  Then years later I’d decide they were too old and probably deadly and throw them out.  Having tasted everything-on-it-including-anchovies pizza once (a hideous experience), really, how could one tell if they’ve gone bad or not?  An Italian woman at work gave me a firm look while expounding on the virtues of adding anchovies to spaghetti sauce.  Kenji was talking up the non-anchovy tasting result of his Umami Bomb, so finally I tried it in a Savory Squash Casserole that I made up due to having Kabocha squashes on hand and no recipe that inspired me.  None of the three ingredients in the Umami Bomb could be tasted, and the resulting casserole had did have a savory meatiness beyond the amount of sausage present.


Toast slice of toast — I like whole grain

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coarsely chop:

  • 2 cups roasted winter squash.  I used Kabocha, but acorn squash or pumpkin would be fine.
  • 1 mild, cooked Italian sausage (2 might be even better)

In a skillet soften one small chopped onion in a dash of olive oil on low heat.  Then add and cook until mixed and anchovy dissolved:

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • one anchovy fillet (next time I may try two)

Soften 2 cloves chopped garlic in a little olive oil — I used the microwave

Mix everything plus 4 oz. of shredded Gruyere cheese, and salt (or seasoned salt) to taste.

Put in a meatloaf pan and pat down.

Tear the toast into small chunks and food process with:

  •  A drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of seasoned salt
  • Rounded teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese

Add in an even layer to the top of the squash mixture in the meatloaf pan and pat down.

Cook until breading is browned:  20-30  minutes.

There’s no escaping the slight sweetness of the squash, but in an effort to create a purely savory dish, I count this a success.


Below is a audio interview with Kenji going over some of his culinary experiments and describing his Umami Bomb.

Inside the Food Lab with Kenji López-Alt

KenjiThe first thing he goes into is the bread experiment, which caused me to do my own experiment and I think his experiment was set up incorrectly!

In the audio he describes that pizza crust from New York is thought to be superior.  In the book, it’s Rome.  The idea being that the location’s (New York or Rome) high mineral content water used to make bread makes superior bread.  In both experiments he uses mineral water versus low mineral water.  The mineral content of these waters were high in magnesium as well as calcium; whereas the mineral content of the water in Rome is very high only in calcium because acidic water percolates through limestone saturating the previously acidic water.  I suspected there was insufficient calcium in the Kenji experiment, and the added variable of high magnesium levels.  So, I crushed up a calcium carbonate supplement — the identical chemical found in limestone — and used vinegar to dissolve it.  Added some to one loaf of Italian bread and none to the other; each otherwise prepared and baked identically side-by-side.  The one with the added dissolved calcium did not brown as well, but was noticeably more chewy and wonderful.  I now have a pint jar of vinegar saturated with calcium carbonate for future Italian bread baking.

However, other than this one issue, Kenji was brilliant.  The audio also goes into the best way to grill hamburgers, and with Labor Day tomorrow, knowing that may be timely!


The Care and Feeding of Kefir

DSCN0954To correct intestinal disturbances, kefir is far more powerful than yogurt and you can make it yourself — which you will have to do if you want to experience the wonders of kefir since the store-bought lacks the impressive bio-activity of homemade kefir.  All the supplies you need to make a steady supply of kefir are shown to the left (the jars are quart-size) except the kefir grains.  Kefir grains, blown-up, are kefir grainsshown to the right.  Luckily kefir grains are re-usable for as long as you care for them properly, and this is the only tricky part.

Kefir, like yogurt, buttermilk and sour cream, is created by fermenting milk, which, handily, occurs at room temperature for kefir.  The problem lies in milk pasteurization, which partially denatures milk proteins.  Plain pasteurization is not a problem; however, ultra-pasteurization, or UHT, will not work well to make kefir.  Unfortunately, most milk is ultra-pasteurized these days.  Whole milk from United Dairy in Ohio, sold in Morgantown at Walmart, does not say it’s ultra-pasteurized, and it’s worked well for me.

I found out about the differences in milk pasteurization when I tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to make cheese.  The pictures on the website linked below show the differences in pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization in terms of cheese curd formation, due to the different levels of damage to milk proteins.  As for human consumption, cooking the milk (which is what pasteurization does) isn’t more or less harmful to us than cooking meat, but for sustaining kefir grain structure it’s a serious problem.  The kefir grains are not made from grain at all (“grain” describes the size of them) but are constructed from milk proteins by micro-organisms.  Perhaps this is why kefir can’t long survive on cooked milk.  It would be like trying to bake a cake with already cooked eggs.

Pasteurization vs ultra-pasteurization milk protein damage

So, to make kefir, gather up the items shown, and buy some kefir grains.  I chose to buy from Mrandmrskefir, through Amazon, and never had reason to change, since I’ve always received quality grains and they provide detailed instructions and troubleshooting information with the grains.  The other sellers may be just as good.

Kefir grains at Amazon

Newly bought kefir grains may have to be soaked in a cup of fresh whole milk, at room temperature, for a few days to become active.  Put your new kefir grains in a small jar, fill with fresh milk and put the lid on but don’t seal it.  Each day pour the old milk through the strainer to capture the kefir grains, and put the grains in a clean jar with new milk.  Put the lid on cracked, since kefir produces carbon dioxide as it ferments the milk.  When the kefir grains are active, the milk will become semi-solid, somewhere between yogurt and buttermilk:  this is kefir.  Strain out the kefir grains, and put the kefir in a jar and refrigerate.  After straining the kefir will have the consistency of buttermilk.

This is the process I use to always have kefir on hand, even if we go through a slow spell of using it:

  1. Put active kefir grains in a quart jar and fill with milk and put a lid on, cracked.  Leave out at room temperature to thicken.
  2. Leave out until semi-solid.  If the curds and whey have separated, it has been left too long, will taste sharp (still usable if you like) and will start to change the character of your kefir grains.  Be careful the next few times and the grains will recover.  I like it best when it just starts to thicken.
  3. Strain out the kefir into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate.
  4. Put the kefir grains into the second clean jar and fill with milk:  refrigerate.  I have kept this in the refrigerator for over two weeks with no issues.
  5. When the kefir in the refrigerator is getting low, put the kefir grains and milk on the counter, crack the lid, and start over at 2.


  • Kefir ferments more quickly at warmer temperatures, and at higher grain-to-milk ratios, and with more robust kefir grains.  Making kefir will typically take from eight to 16 hours.
  • Kefir is not stable at refrigerator temperatures and will continue to ferment, though much more slowly than on the counter — I suspect this is why true kefir can’t be bought in grocery stores.  If it becomes too sharp, toss it, or feed it to your chickens or dogs.  The process above can be reduced to pint jars, depending on your needs.
  • If the grains get larger and more numerous, good for you!  If the fermentation to kefir is going more quickly than you like, discard some of the grains (or you can eat them).  If the grains are getting smaller, something is not right.  Perhaps the milk you are using is ultra-pasteurized, or the fermentation was allowed to go too long too many times.  Simply buy new kefir grains and start over.

So, what are kefir grains?  They’re a yeast-bacteria combination living symbiotically on a substrate made of milk proteins, including over 30 types of beneficial micro-flora.  Kefir was first used by shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains who carried fermented milk stored in leather pouches.

Kefir can taste anywhere from mild to sharp depending on how long it’s left to ferment.  It can be drunk as it is, which is what I do, or as part of a smoothy, or sweetened with sugar/honey, or seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla.




Grandma’s Apple Crisp — Easier than Pie

Not only is apple crisp easier than pie, it tastes better, and there’s no risk of a soggy bottom due to an apple-moisture miscalculation.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice enough apples to fill a meatloaf pan.  I leave the skins on.  Not only is the skin good for you, but peeling apples is tedious.  If you’ll be feeding someone fussy about apple skins, perhaps they can peel the apples!  It will take about six very large apples.

Mix up the topping:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour (I use 1/2 whole grain oat flour)
  • 1/2 cup butter cut in 1 tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt

Reduce the butter to pea-sized pieces using two butter knives (like grandma used to do), a pastry cutter, or your fingers (like I do).  If you use your fingers the butter bits will be flat, but the crisp will not care.  You can use a food processor, but the time saved will be lost cleaning it.

Mound the topping on top of the apples.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Vegetable Chowder

Chowder cooked later with salmon (sauce has cooked down)
Chowder cooked later with salmon (sauce has cooked down)

Since the idea is to use up garden stuff, I’m only going to provide measurements for the stock and roux.

Start with one quart corn stock (water that ears of corn were cooked in).

Add green beans and new potatoes.  When cooked strain out vegetables and set stock aside.  Put vegetables on a cutting board.

In already used pot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 of flour (the roux) and cook on medium.  Mix up.  Add thinly sliced onion, chunks of jalapeno and garlic cloves.

In between stirring roux while it cooks:  chop green beans; smash potatoes; set aside.

When roux-vegetable mix is lightly browned, add the stock.  Use stick blender to blend.  Cook until thickened.

Add in set-aside vegetables, plus corn and a chopped tomato.

Add a handful of cheddar cheese and bacon bits.  Cook until cheese is melted through it.






2015 Christmas Beverage: Eggnog

Holiday Eggnog

8 eggs

2 cups Southern Comfort

2 oz Dream Catcher Legendary Irish Liqueur (chestnut)

½ cup honey

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Blend eggs thoroughly, mix in the rest of the ingredients, but don’t blend hard to avoid separation of the cream.  Put in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  Can be made the day before.

Makes 2 quarts

9% alcohol

2014 Christmas Beverage: Daiquiri

Every Christmas I try my had at making a Christmas Eve beverage that I make and bottle ahead of the event, and for 2014 it was Daiquiris.  For 2013 I made Manhattans, inspired by a trip to Charleston and they were very good, too, but unfortunately I have lost the recipe.  Below is the daiquiri recipe.

Fresh Lime & Honey Daiquiri

4 cups rum

2 cups fresh lime juice

2 cups honey

Zest one tangerine

Pinch sea salt

Mix a week in advanced, and strain before final bottling.

Serve on shaved ice