Monday, June 21, 2010

he poos clouds

Okay, where to start here.

Fu Lu Yuan Bing Cha puer tea from

Well, here's the thing.  I've been discovering puer tea lately -- also spelled pu'er, pu'erh, pu-erh, etc, and I will spell it puer except when I forget and spell it some other way -- and that seems like a good thing to be blogging about, right?

But I better explain what puer tea is, and I am far from an expert on that -- at best, I know more than you do, if you don't know what it is.  Off the top of my head, without looking up a more articulate explanation, this is what I know: puer tea is a fermented tea which comes either raw or cooked; is known for its earthy and pungent characteristics; can be bitter but develops a natural sweetness with age; is often aged for years and years and years, the flavor developing over time; and over the last few years has been subject to a speculative market which a) has driven prices of many puer teas up but b) has made them much easier to find in the United States.

Hm, that's not bad, actually.

There is a better explanation here, at the website of Royal Puer, where I've most recently bought some tea.  And of course there's a Wikipedia page.  Key additions to the explanation I've just given: raw (sheng) puer is "roughly classified on the tea oxidation scale as a green tea," while cooked (shu) puer is "post-fermented tea."  Furthermore, the older puer is, the milder it is.

Reading the page on "post-fermented tea," we find that it is often the basis for Tibetan butter tea, which in fact I've had, having gone to grad school in Bloomington, Indiana, home of two Tibetan restaurants.  Butter tea uses butter instead of milk or cream as the dairy element.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't it.  It was interesting, but I didn't have it often enough to get used to it.  Just seemed like, living in Bloomington, it was something I needed to at least try once.

Anyway, puer tea.  This is way outside my tea familiarity.  I've never been a huge tea drinker to begin with.  I make sweet tea with Luzianne quite often, but that's a whole nother thing, and I've loved lapsang souchong since I was introduced to it some ten years ago.  I never used to make hot tea very often except for the occasional cup of lapsang souchong or genmai cha -- green tea with roasted brown rice, which tastes a bit like Cheerios.  But then I couldn't find genmai cha around here anymore, so I looked online, and since I was ordering tea online anyway, I tried some puer.

It was excellent.  Earthy and a little sweet, tasting sort of the way the forest floor smells.

But I thought, well, if I'm going to explore puer further, I should get it from a shop that specializes in puer -- especially since there are so many now.  One that gives me lots of options, not just one or two to sample along with my green tea orders.  (For the record, that first puer was from Culinary Teas, and I'm very happy with the tea I get from them, especially their genmai cha with matcha, and the hojicha gold).  So I've ordered a few teas from Royal Puer, linked to above, which ships direct from China, which might explain their reasonable rates.  I'll try to find SOMEthing articulate to say about them, as I try them.

First up: Fu Lu Yuan Bing Cha.  (You see "cha" so much because it means "tea.")  Sold loose-leaf, I bought two packages because the reviews are so high relative to the price.


Puer is traditionally prepared gongfu style rather than Western style (put tea in bag or ball, add water, steep for three to five minutes).  I'm still getting the hang of gongfu style.  You add a pinch of tea to the gaiwan (the little pot in which the wet leaves are) and, after rinsing the leaves, brew for very short periods -- like 10 to 45 seconds.  Remember, though, good tea is meant to be used more than once, and you often get five, six, seven infusions out of tea like this.

Anyway, at the far right are the dry leaves, and the far left, the brewed tea.

So, the Fu Lu.  It's a bit bitter, which might be from my temptation to brew it a little longer than gongfu instructions tell me to.  The bitterness is on the nose a bit, along with those forest floor smells, and then in the finish -- not a strong bitterness like Campari, and not a tannic mouth-drying bitterness, just a pleasant strength.  I didn't add any sugar -- you typically don't with puer, I don't think, though I'm not TOO concerned with authenticity, so if it turns out I like it with sugar, or sorghum, or blackstrap molasses, then that's how I'll drink it.

Right now, I don't know what else I can say about it!  This is sort of practice, figuring out how to talk about tea.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

well dammit

Sadly, the ham failed.

Now, this is an important part of this blog, because after all, it's only my second ham, and though I've been curing and/or smoking meat for years now, a ham is a much more involved endeavor than the others.

What happened was, near the center of the ham by the bone was a significant area that was clearly undercured or not really cured at all -- a section that had "gone bad."  This was something that couldn't be discovered until the ham had been soaked and simmered.

Now, chances are it's fine.  Chances are it's edible.  There's no putrescent smell indicating rot or anything like that, and this isn't an uncooked meat product.  But because I'm not producing food under controlled conditions, and because the initial investment was only $35 or so with less labor than you'd think (mostly you just wait through the seasons), I can't really take the risk.  I mean, I've read food safety brochures that tell me if I just excise the affected area, the rest is fine -- but those are brochures written for commercial producers, who a) have been following temperature control guidelines that I haven't been, and b) have a profit margin to watch out for.

What I'm getting at is that this blog entry could have been different, could have said "well, there was this one bad bit I had to cut out, but all in all, A+ work," but I'm not going to play it that way.  Somewhere along the way I screwed something up.

What I'm betting is that I didn't drain the liquid runoff often enough during the curing process, and didn't take special pains to make sure the salt equalizes (which is when the salt on the surface is pulled to the core of the ham).  Those are two things I was exceptionally careful about the first time around, and because that first ham was such an over the top success -- because my "oh man what if this turns into a rotten hunk of meat, sharkbait in my bedroom, WHAT IF I AM EATEN BY JAWS, WHICH WOULD BE IRONIC SINCE I WAS BORN THE DAY JAWS PREMIERED" fears had been abated, I was more casual about the second ham.

I mean, it could be other things.  The dimensions of this ham could be different enough from the first that it just happened to need an extra week in the salt that I didn't give it.  The weather was much different in 2009 than in 2008, and that could have something to do with it.  But I know there are things I did differently, and that's enough to assume responsibility and ditch the thing.

Ah well.

One of the important things to take away from this is that you don't need to worry about country ham being dangerous, see, because the things that go wrong with it are easily identified long before anyone's serving it to you.

professor, what's another word for pirate treasure?

Put your Doc Martens on, I don't want anyone to break a toe when I drop some science.

From a cocktail perspective, the problem with orange juice is that it's not very strongly flavored.  Grapefruit, lime, lemon, and the various high-acid exotics all stand up to liquor just fine.  Orange, tangerine, and their variants do not.  They quickly become drowned out.

Over the winter I froze some satsuma juice.


What happens when you start to thaw juice is you wind up with this:



From a partially thawed container, I poured off the juice.  Look at what's left in the container -- look at how much clear ice is there.  You in the back, what's clear ice once it's thawed?  Right, water.

So what we have in the measuring cup is concentrated juice, see, but it's concentrated without cooking anything down and boiling anything off: a lossless concentration, more or less.  Technically, if you repeat this over and over again you can make a syrup -- you can make grenadine that way, starting with frozen pomegranate juice.  There's quite a lot of volume loss, and it's a time-consuming process.

But a single run through the freezer?  Think of it this way: you have just as much sugar, just as much acid, just as much of the flavor compounds, in less volume.  You've removed water.  When you add the alcohol of a cocktail, you bring the juice back up to its original volume, and you've replaced that water, that clear ice, with your gin and Campari, or your Aperol and genever, or if you're making a Union Club, your 2 oz bourbon, 1 1/2 oz juice, 1/2 oz maraschino, 1/2 oz Campari. 


Saturday, June 19, 2010

the spiderman is having me for dinner tonight

2010 ham
2010 ham

2010 ham

I believe my first post on this blog was about home-cured (bedroom loft-cured) country ham. At the time, my second country ham (I've previously done corned ham, many pork bellies, and several lamb hams) was hanging from the loft, and had been for some months.  It's nearly a year later, and I've just taken it down.

This ham has cured for about 19 months, about 16-17 of which was spent air-curing (the early period being spent under refrigeration) -- which makes it twice as old as the previous ham.  I suspect this is a significant age difference -- that the flavor will be more developed, but also saltier.  Though I used dried New Mexico red chile in the cure for this second ham, I don't think it will be noticeable, except maybe, possibly, in the fat -- the inclusion of black pepper or chile in country ham recipes, real ham recipes, is really for anti-pest purposes more than flavor.  But we'll see!

This time of year I can't get a fresh ham to start a new one, so the fishing net duct-taped to my loft railing sways, empty, in the master bedroom.  Who knows what the next ham may be like!  Maybe I'll use mesquite and cocoa powder to enhance earthy notes, or start with a wetter cure heavy on fresh garlic.  For now, it will take some days just to discover this ham and see what it's like.  My birthday's imminent.  I aim to have some biscuits, some cold fried chicken, a slice of ham, and some good whiskey.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

fly me courageous


I know they look nice, but this actually wasn't the best year for strawberries, especially when a container of locals costs six bucks.  They just don't have the full flavor of previous years -- they're still strawberries, they're still good, but I elected not to make strawberry jam this year, for instance.  It's expensive to make since the way I make it is like 90% berries, so I'm just going to use up other jams from other seasons instead.

However.  Like I said: they're still strawberries.  There are still things to do.  While I ate most of this year's berries plain, on ice cream, or with yogurt for breakfast, there's also this:

Strawberry chartreuse sorbet

Strawberry-Chartreuse Sorbet.

Macerate sliced berries with sugar.  That just means toss them with sugar and let them set a few hours, stirring once in a while.  Blend berries and more sugar -- taste it; does it taste as sweet as sorbet? add sugar until it tastes a little sweeter than that -- and add a little Green Chartreuse.  How little?  Use the Chartreuse the way you would vanilla extract.  Chartreuse and strawberries just go real nicely together.

Blend, freeze, kapow.

What else goes with strawberries?  Campari!  As you can tell, this photo from 2008 was taken on an overcast day, so the red's not popping, but this ain't a photoblog:

Strawberries filled with Campari, in Limonata jelly

Those are strawberries in Limonata gelatin, stuffed with Campari.  I don't have proportions for you here, because I did it by ear, but essentially:

Proof gelatin by sprinkling it on some Campari; heat up just enough water or Campari to dissolve that gelatin so that you have a Campari jello.

Remove tops from strawberries and hollow them out.  Fill with the Campari jello and crowd the strawberries together in a container with sides, so that they're all keeping each other upright.

Proof gelatin in Pellegrino Limonata soda -- or Orangina or Sun Drop or Dr Enuf or what have you -- and add heated soda to dissolve that gelatin.  As you can see, I made this gelatin softer than the Campari gelatin -- I wanted it to just sort of cling to the strawberries.  Pour the Limonata gelatin into the sided container so that it comes partway up the strawberries.  Chill the whole deal and allow to set.

But what goes best with strawberries?

Honestly, I've found nothing better than Vic Cherikoff's Australian Fruit Spice blend.  It's ridiculously expensive because of the shipping cost from Australia, but you can make it last a long time.  Sprinkled on melon or strawberries, the blend of forestberry herb, sumac, forest anise, and mountain pepper (indigenous Australian spices, apart from the sumac) highlights the berry notes of the fruit without covering anything up.  It's a crazy synergy, and I wish I had more of the stuff, and could find it more cheaply.

pizza paparazzi

Pepperoni pizza

I made a pizza the other day and liked it enough that I decided to recreate it today, with some photos, so that I could blog about it.  

The idea is basically to direct all the elements of the pizza towards the ideal of a homemade pepperoni pizza -- from the ground up, every part of the pizza is chosen with "hey, this will make a great pepperoni pizza" in mind.


This is my standard crust recipe lately, for four pizzas of the size you see here, or two larger (or thicker-crusted) pizzas: 

3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina.  The one change I made was this time I used a little bit of rye flour instead of some of the semolina.  About 1/8 cup rye, the remainder semolina.

Combine, knead, let rise a little, cover with moist towel, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least a day.

A slow rise in the refrigerator leads to a better-tasting crust -- more flavor develops -- and in many cases seems to make the dough easier to handle (once it's brought back to room temp).


Preheat your oven to 500-550, with a pizza stone or overturned cast-iron pan in the hot oven for at least an hour.

Take a piece of dough out of the fridge, keeping it covered with a damp towel, and let it come up to room temp.  Stretch it out.  Let it rest for 15-20 minutes.  Assemble your mise en place.


I've been obsessed with miso lately.  That'll be a whole nother blog.  It has a crazy umami character that seems to make everything better -- barbecue sauce, rice, Buffalo wings, soup, the other day I even made homemade "Hot Pockets" with ground beef, cheese, and miso in a soft pretzel crust.

This sauce is super-simple: half canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano tomatoes specifically), half roasted peppers, a hefty spoonful of red miso.  Blend it up.  Taste for saltiness -- if it needs to be a little saltier, add a little more miso.  Add a few herbs -- I used pebrella (a wild thyme-like herb) and marjoram -- and a sprinkle of crushed red peppers.

I suspect you could go heavier on the peppers and still have good results, but I happened to be using Spanish piquillo peppers and didn't want to use them up on an experimental pizza.  I think peppadews could also be good, in moderation and in combination with other peppers: the peppadews are lightly pickled, after all, and you don't want a ketchup pizza.


Pull the hot pan out of the oven and work quickly: sprinkle it with cornmeal, drape the dough across it, sauce it, top it.

This is an extra-sauce extra-cheese pizza.  If I weren't using a pizza "stone" (a pan in this case), I absolutely wouldn't use extra cheese, and would go lighter on the sauce.  You want to do everything you can to keep your pizza from needing more than 10-12 minutes to cook (depending on the doneness level you prefer).


The toppings proper are pepperoni and peppadews, both of them torn up (because on the first pizza, the pepperoni rounds kept curling upwards).  I happen to be using Vermont Smoke and Cure pepperoni, which I love, though it is milder than the imported brands I like.

For cheeses, I shredded the leftover hunks of clothbound cheddar, super-aged gouda, and 4 year old cheddar that I had, and mixed that up with shredded dry mozzarella.  The shredded mix is tossed with chopped onion tops (including a blossom).  There's also a careful, moderate amount of locally made fresh mozzarella and some chunks of feta.

Pizza before cooking

If you look at the edges of the pizza, you can see the crust is already cooking.

Get the pizza back in the oven for 8-12 minutes.  Took closer to 12 on this one because of the amount of cheese and sauce.

Pizza after cooking; yes it is sort of like a Florida-less America