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Granola is one of those foods that is SO incredibly good, that I can’t keep it in the house, otherwise I’d eat it all the time. And in gigantic amounts. So when I was recovering from the stomach bug after Christmas, I was happy to see that my father-in-law Papa Amherst and brought some of his very own granola. Gosh darn, that man makes some damn good granola. Sweetened wee oat flakes, dried fruits diced up into wee bits, nuts, sesame seeds, and toasty soy beans.

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I couldn’t eat very much, but needed calories. This was the perfect solution. I really like granola, so I wanted to eat it, and it didn’t upset my stomach.

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Unsalted butter is a great treat, but rather hard to find with out “Natural Flavoring” in the list of ingredients. Seriously, check the label. It’s really hard to find an unsalted butter in supermarkets. There may be one available in the organic section, but sometimes not (or they’re out).

I decided to try to make my own cultured butter without any “natural flavoring”. My own results were… successfully interesting. I’ve made regular butter plenty of times as a kid – just shake cream until it turns to butter. But by lightly fermenting it with a starter, you can make a more flavorful cultured butter.

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I went to the Co-Op for cream from Meadow Brook Farms. $1.69 per cup. I bought 8 cups because I’m a cautious over-purchaser like that.

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You don’t need a scale, but I wanted to make sure I had my initial measurements straight. I only used 4 cups of butter.

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4 cups of cream purchased, a little over 4 c of cream yielded.

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Each cup was a little more generous than .5 lbs, so instead of 2 lbs of cream even, I wound up with almost an extra ounce of cream. So, very close to .25 oz extra per 1 cup container.

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So for cultured butter, you add something with live cultures in it. Some yogurt, or buttermilk, usually. I always have yogurt in the fridge, and picked up a Greek Gods yogurt from the Co-Op, too. It was on sale, and I think this is where my experiment may have gone a bit awry.

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The Greek Gods regular yogurt is really thick and creamy. Albany John tried a bowl and had trouble finishing it because “It’s thicker and richer than butter,”. For our household, it’s definitely not an eating yogurt, but more of a cooking yogurt. And it has pectin as a stabilizer in it, which I’m not fond of. It is so thick, the pectin is really unnecessary. And I think it bound too much with the liquids in my butter making.

Well, that’s what I get for not reading the container.

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Any way, toss a few tablespoons in (I did about 6 T of yogurt for 4 cups of cream, or 1.5T per cup), cover, and leave on your counter for about 24 hours, or until the top of the cream looks thick and maybe has a few bubbles.

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Then it’s time to whip it! I just used my electric hand mixer to turn this into butter. I was surprised at how little buttermilk it yielded.

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I figured I’d just press it out, and save the buttermilk for later iterations of cultured butter.

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Um, buttermilk. Is that all?

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Seriously? 1 tablespoon of buttermilk? That’s all I get?? Buttermilk is usually a 50-60% yield when making butter. I was expecting a pound of buttermilk. So, I am thinking this is where that pectin in the yogurt started to mess with the buttermilk retention in my butter making.

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I washed the butter a few times. Maybe I have hot hands, but I also had a hard time getting it to firm up.

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Wash, wash, wash. So much butter. Basically 2 lbs of whipped butter.

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Hello Kitty butter molds, because why not?

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The butter had a nice fluffy, whipped texture, and I enjoyed it salted and unsalted. I wrapped some up in parchment paper to make my own butter logs. But I wish more buttermilk came out…

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Rye bread as butter vehicle.

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I made some 5 minute bread and the chewy rye flour with white AP flour was a nice nutty bready excuse for slathering tons of butter on each slice.

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When I went to go visit my mom’s side of the family downstate, my uncle gave me a ton of venison to bring home once he heard I liked venison. Or, as he put it “If you like venison, I’ll give you a little bit to take home, and if you really like it, you can have a lot more,” Wow, if this is a little bit… I’m afraid of much more! Hee hee, so much meat!

Albany John made Swedish meatballs from the venison using Alton Brown’s recipe. Love that recipe – they always come out so tender.

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This was from about 5 lbs of venison meat that Albany John chopped up on a food processor. Venison added an extra meaty flavor to the meatballs.

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I love this Galbi marinade I picked up from the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave. No High Fructose Corn Syrup, and adds so much flavor to beef. I wondered how they’d do marinating mushrooms and the short story is: AWESOME.

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Here’s what the marinade looks like. Viscous stuff. A little goes a long way.

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Three mushrooms, a few tablespoons of galbi marinade, and 30-60 minutes of wait time.

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Albany John also dry-brined a chicken by rubbing it with salt and other seasonings.

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Yes, plate of deliciousness! Albany John said that the galbi marinade helped the portobellos retain their moisture on the grill. They also weren’t too sugary, so they didn’t burn on the grill. (This is cap-side down/gill-side up, for reference)

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Have you ever been tent camping? After cabin camping at Dippikill earlier this year in the winter, Albany John had me thinking that tent camping at Dippikill might just be fun. He reserved  campsites 3 & 4, which are  very close to each other and a great way to camp with a group. Campsites at Dippikill are only $10 per night! We had 2 other lovely couples (and pooches!) camping with us, and it was nice to have one site for the tents, and the other site for cooking and revelry.

The hike in is about 3/4 of a mile, which is pretty do-able since it’s mostly downhill. It’s the hike out that’ll kill ya, though.

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But first there was ice cream. Because I am bad at camping and so Albany John ice cream-ed me before we went in, kind of like bribing a child. Shitty picture, but this was a “small” ice cream with Reese’s pieces mixed into the soft serve at the Luck E Star in Warrensburg, NY just before we rounded the corner to Dippikill. Not very creamy, but a neat novelty to have candy mixed in the ice cream.

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We made it in, and boy was I ever a feast for the mosquitoes on the way in. I got at least 15-20 bites along the way. The rainy weather sure harbored a lot of mosquito families. I also discovered I’m fairly allergic to mosquito bites, because shortly after getting to our site and setting up the tent my face turned red and puffy and all of my bite-sites got incredibly red. It was like getting the Asian flush, but sober. YAY! I think it freaked out my friends, but I’d had a similar reaction to a different bug bite when I was younger, so I knew it would go away eventually.and be relatively harmless, but I let them know that I’d be happy to go to the hospital if I puffed up to a point that worried them further.

Thankfully face returned to its normal state of puffiness within 2 hours, just in time for Albany John to return from his second trip to the car for more schtuff. I’ve nicknamed him Albany “Just one more thing” John because he is not a light packer.

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There wasn’t as much readily available wood for burning at the campsites compared to the cabins, but there were plenty of downed trees, small branches, and pine needles.

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Albany John added some sort of lighter fluid to the wood.

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And one of zee other camping buddies properly layered the wood. FIYAH!

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Albany John and another one of the menfolk found a few split logs and brought them in on one of the canoes. And get this  – the canoes are all just on the lake and available for anyone to use! So fun!

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Albany John went to Helmbold’s for some hot dogs before we went. You can buy seconds for, like, $2.50/lb, and this 5lb vacuum-sealed baggie of hot dogs was about $12.50.

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And here, you can see that, yes, they are seconds. Imperfect, but still tasty guys. For some reason that makes me like them even more. Hot dogs of character.

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Campsite 4 had a grate over the fire ring, which made cooking relatively easy. Albany John and I both thought the others method of campfire cooking was ridiculous. I just opened a can and popped it on top of the grill to heat up, meanwhile Albany John brought a Calphalon pot (with cover!) to heat up one. ONE. can of chili beans. How do you heat up canned goods for camping? Which one of us is more ridiculous to you?

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We cozied up to the fire and tried in vain to spray ourselves with enough DEET to hide from the mosquitoes. I was fairly unsuccessful at this endeavor, but at least I provided everyone else I was camping with refuge from the mosquitoes.

We left the next morning, and the bugs went after me with a vengeance. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I weren’t so attractive to bugs, but it is really hard to be one with nature when mosquitoes are chomping away at you through pants you’ve sprayed several times with DEET.

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Husbear loves molasses. I don’t get it, but my health for the past month hasn’t been that great, and he’s been a real peach to me and being extra helpful and sweet. So now that I’m feeling better, i wanted to make him some cookies as a sign of how sweet I am on him.

The recipe was okay as far as molasses cookies go. Not my finest and not super molasses-y, but totally fine. I subbed half of the flour with rye flour. The only real difference I noticed was that the crumb was slightly more delicate, since rye flour has a lower gluten content than wheat flour.

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Rolled half of the cookies in pink sugar, and half in regular white sugar. BIG FAT SUGARY COOKIES!

Any way, thanks ‘bear for being there for me. I may have been even grumpier than usual and much sleepier, but I really appreciate you.

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The ole husbear and I went to Sushi Tei with a large group of friends. I love, love, love Sushi Tei, but it turns out that they are easily overwhelmed with a group. 2 hours for dinner for 10, and we all just ordered main courses. I say this so if you are planning to have a large group there, plan your time accordingly and enjoy a leisurely meal.

Husbear and I weren’t super hungry when we went, so we decided to split a few things. Got an eel & cucumber roll, prime tuna & scallion roll, and two cucumber cups of tobiko. Albany John loves eel rolls & tobiko.

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We split a main and opted for a salad. Man, miso dressing is so addictive! I don’t know anything that doesn’t taste amazing dressed in miso.

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Sake don. Loving sake roe and shiso. Albany John tried to grow some, but it all of the shiso sprouts died. :’( No garden-fresh shiso for me.

Salmon was pretty good. The rice was a little warmer than I expected, and so the salmon was a bit warmer than room temp. Different texture than I’d anticipated.

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Hotpot is a great meal to have any time of the year. In the winter, you get warming soupy comfort. In the summer, you can have a long & leisurely meal with minimal additional heat added to your surroundings.

I bought this Rosewill induction burner last year for $80.00, and it came with the pot. It’s okay, but it needs to be plugged directly into an outlet, and has a tendency to make a high pitched sound every now and then when heating up. The heating unit tends to cycle to keep the heat up instead of keeping the heat constant, but for an $80 induction burner, it does a pretty good job. The pot is pretty cheap and thin though, so I will probably have to replace it in the near future. The benefit to the thinness, however, is that it heats up lightning fast.

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When you eat anything spicy, you want to look for Tao Huabi’s face on the product. It’s Lao Gan Ma brand chili sauces, and everything this lady makes is AMAZING. A great balance between heat and flavor. It’s like the Chinese version of Cholula.

Tao Huabi’s story is actually quite inspiring. I wouldn’t do it justice: you can read it on Women of China for a small look into her company and life.

Albany John and I jokingly call it “Race car sauce” at home, because, ashamedly… when I first looked at her picture, I thought it was a famous race car driver in China. But then I looked up more information on this delicious product and found out how wrong I was. Her picture reminds me of pictures of my NaiNai – that time period that wanted stoic photos. And then you read about what a wonderful person she is.

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Emptied sauce packet into bowl. So many chilis! With a flavor packet like this for hot pot, you can use just water as your base. If you go for a non-spicy hot pot, you can use chicken broth to add a little extra flavor. I had a bit of extra broth left, so I put in about a cup of broth, and lots more water.

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Condiments are essential for hot pot. I don’t really ever remember using condiments as a kid, but then again, hot pot was for the parents and the kiddos got pizza when I was growing up. Partially because we were ABCs, and also partially because hot pot isn’t exactly the safest thing for energetic kids under 10 to do when the adults want to socialize. I still remember begging off shrimp from my parents when they did hotpot, though.

You may notice 2 more Lao Gan Ma hot sauces here. So good. Albany John polished off about half a bottle in 2 sittings of the “Spicy Chili Crisp” hot sauce. Which are just chili flakes in oil. I like the sting of her hot sauces, but I also like the gentle heat of chili oil. Chili oil isn’t all that hot, but it’s very flavorful. It also seems like Albany John can’t eat a meal without Sriracha, so that’s there too, in addition to some soy sauce, sesame seeds, and fish sauce. I don’t think either of us touched the fish sauce.

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Thin sliced beef. We usually buy this from the Chinese markets, so I worry about its sourcing and antibiotics/hormones in ot. I don’t really know any where else to buy beef so finely sliced, although it’s worth asking Roma, I suppose.

When you eat these, pick them up with your chopsticks and lightly dunk into the broth. You don’t want to cook it forever!

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Shiitakes! My favorite! They are so good. This is enough for several people.

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Tofu! Albany John and I both love tofu in hot pot. I’m usually ambivalent about tofu (the husbear loves it), but in hot pot it acts as a sponge for all of the flavors of the broth and becomes this delicious pillow of flavor. You can also toss in a bunch and forget about them – there’s really no overcooking them. They just keep absorbing more flavor.

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Scallions. For cooking, or tossing on raw.

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Squid, glorious squid! Hotpot needs some kind of seafood with it. I usually don’t like fish fillets because their delicate flavor often gets lost in hotpot. You want a seafood that can stand up to hotpot flavors. Squid is a good one, as are shrimp, clams, mussels, and bay scallops.

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Fresh rice noodles! Albany John got these at the counter at the Asian Supermarket (Ga Ga Lok (Cantonese)/ Jia Jia Liu (Mandarin)) on Central Ave. They also have refrigerated ones, but these were by the registers. They lasted a few days in the fridge and had a great chew to them. They’d also be great in other hearty soups.

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Fish balls! These are also great to add to your hotpot and forget about – they will just suck up all of the flavors of your hotpot. In a very good way.

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And last but not least – the greens! You have to have lots of veggies! I’d steer clear of bean sprouts because they are hard to pick out of a hotpot, but napa cabbage, bok choy, and chrysanthemum greens are great for hot pot. Chrysanthemum greens are nicely bitter and cook up very quickly. You’ll want to slice up bok choy & napa cabbage and let them cook for a few minutes.

And the most important rule of hot pot is… there are no real rules! Just cook up whatever you want that sounds tasty! It’s all personal preference.

Also, don’t forget to invite me.

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