Friday, December 23, 2011

the papa tomato said

Odds and ends:

Sous vide pig's foot Sous vide pig's foot
Sous vide pig's foot, deboned (the pile of bones was about the same size), with copious amounts of rendered gelatin.

Dried satsumas
Dried satsumas. As simple as slicing them thinly - most satsumas are seedless - and putting them in the dehydrator at 135 for a night, maybe a day, depending on ambient humidity. (Harder to do in the oven - set it as low as it'll go and leave the door cracked.) They come out crispy, both the sweetness and the acidity concentrated. You can eat them as a snack - it's hard not to - or drop them into tea or coffee.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm not going to talk about judy at all

I'm not going to tell you how to cook anything sous-vide.

You can deep fry without a deep fryer. You can roast coffee without any tools designed for roasting coffee. You can make pizza without a pizza stone. But there is a hard limit on how seriously you can approach sous-vide cooking without dedicated, specialized equipment, and even the "low end" versions of that equipment is either something you have to build at home, or sells for a few hundred dollars - more expensive than anything in my kitchen except the refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher. I don't have that equipment, so I can't even tell you how to use it if you do. I am not the guy for this. Do not come to me for sous-vide.

Most food safety guidelines are horseshit.

Sometimes the idea is to protect the producer - the poultry factory, for instance - from litigation by minimizing the impact of their dangerous practices on the consumer. There's nothing inherently unsafe about raw chicken, and rare to medium-rare chicken is common in most of the rest of the world - but I'm sure as shit not going to eat a raw drumstick from the major American poultry producers. That's a problem with their practices, though, not with chicken itself.

Sometimes the idea is to adopt universal practices that protect a tiny segment of the population. Raw shellfish is a good example. Despite the warnings on all those menus, raw shellfish results in an exceptionally small number of hospitalizations, almost entirely among the immuno-compromised and elderly.

Hamburger cooking regulations are a little from column A and a little from column B. The risk of contamination can be minimized through safe practices, and some jurisdictions have the fairly sensible requirement that you can only serve a rare hamburger if you grind your beef yourself on a daily basis.

A large number of food safety guidelines and squeamish attitudes are just fucking stupid. I mean, I made country ham in my loft - you know I have a low opinion of squeamishness, you know I'm not going to fall in line with the turkey-burning FDA on many issues.

Sous-vide safety guidelines are not horseshit.

I want to make that distinction very clear.

Don't listen to me about sous-vide cooking. Don't use me as your authority. The guys at Cooking Issues are the ones to listen to. The most I will do is tell you what I've done and affirm that I lived to see another day.

Sous-vide means "under vacuum," but when we refer to sous-vide cooking we're specifically talking about cooking things which have been sealed in a plastic bag and immersed in a low-temperature liquid, typically a water bath, for a long period of time. The specialized equipment is necessary because the liquid is held at a low enough temperature that it's hard to keep it at that temperature. Temperature fluctuations are undesirable in this kind of cooking, and conventional cooking methods are chock full of them. A difference of a couple degrees will totally change the texture of a sous-vide egg, for instance; meat is a little less finicky.

By "low temperature," we mean like 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit, like 48-70 centigrade, a fistful of kelvins. The undersimmer. Far less than boiling, less than you ever cook anything. I've been judging water temperature by how quickly the water starts to smart when I dip my finger in it - don't do that! For a lot of reasons don't do that. One, because I don't want you to fucking sue me. Two, because I don't know you, I don't know the life of your finger, what you need from it, whether you're a surgeon or some damn thing, I don't need that on my head. Three, because I have no idea how to tell you how to do it, I just know that I can dip my finger in at three in the afternoon, do it again at five, and tell you if it's gotten warmer or cooler. Call it experience, call it half-idiot cooking, just don't do it yourself unless you were already on that page before today. It's terrible science. Ghostbusting nonsense. Don't be ridiculous. Get the special equipment instead.

These sound like insanely low temperatures, right? These sound like temperatures that don't even count as cooking.

That's because we're used to ovens. We're used to 400 degrees. We're used to putting the broiler on to get the son of a bitch hot enough to make a pizza.

When you cook something in an oven, you're cooking in a dry medium, and as moisture on the surface of the food heats up, it evaporates, and the surface is cooled - just like sweating. Evaporative cooling is basic elementary school physics, science with its Keds on and a tooth under the pillow, you know this shit. Air is a terrible thermal conductor. Think about it, you know when you put the thermometer in that roast, that turkey, whatever, it's not fucking 350 degrees. You have to heat the oven much, much, MUCH hotter than the temperature you actually want the food to reach.

With sous vide cooking you don't.

That's what a lot of it comes down to. You put the steak in a plastic bag with a little liquid to help prevent any air from remaining in the bag, you get the air out, you drop the bag in a hot water bath. The water conducts the heat better than air. Eventually the steak reaches the temperature of the water.

It takes a long time. Hours. Days. Literally days, I'm not blowing smoke. In that time, less fat is rendered than in the oven, but more collagen is converted into gelatin. A staggering amount, really.

As it says in that Cooking Issues link, you want to bring the meat up to a hot enough temperature within the first four hours. To avoid botulism, which you do not want to fuck with. This is one of the strikes against attempting sous-vide without dedicated equipment designed for the task, because simply dropping the meat into the water is going to bring the temperature down, and anything too big is not going to hit the mark in four hours. Do not fucking sous-vide a turkey in your lobster pot, you will ruin everything for everyone.

I cooked turkey wings sous-vide for about 15 hours - again, don't do this without special equipment and knowing what you're doing - with a little butter, Vegemite, and sriracha. Turkey wings have a lot of collagen, and come out too tough if you bake or deep-fry them. You can break a tooth for Christ's sake.

But sous-vide, they were as tender as pulled pork. The juices that rendered out were so rich in gelatin that they were solid at room temperature.

Often you finish a sous-vide dish by searing it or torching it, because this style of cooking, like boiling or steaming, lacks any Maillard reactions. I cooled the wings and then deep-fried them to reheat them and crisp up the outside.

They were ridiculously awesome and I'm going to do it again a million times.

I'm cooking some pigs' feet sous vide. I might take some photos depending on what I decide to do with them, and I made some salsa that I think will go well in a taco. But don't you do it!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

we sea beans and we eat them

Sea beans are one of those things - like many kinds of berries or mushrooms, like ramps, even like some cuts of beef - which are commonplace and cheap for 5% of the population, expensive and rare or unheard-of for the rest. Unlike strawberries, which can be grown big and styrofoamish and trucked across the country, huckleberries or sour cherries are too fragile for commercial freight; ramps, sea beans, and many black raspberries grow wild and are foraged rather than being raised commercially. Sea beans, like many of these things, have the additional expense-adding strike that they are somewhat perishable - while they won't go bad in refrigeration very quickly, they won't retain their texture as long.

Seabeans

They are normally bigger than what I have here - these are "micro sea beans," especially small and tender ones.

So you have the people who can simply walk outside and forage them for free, or pay a token amount to someone who's already done so, and can't imagine paying premium prices for them nor why they would show up on the menus of "gourmet restaurants." And you have the big middle, who's never heard of them. And you have the small percentage of people, probably about as big as the first group, who love them but don't have access to them, and are sometimes willing to pay that premium.

Seabeans
The reason sea beans are available in such a small part of the world is made pretty obvious by the name: they grow by the sea (or salt marshes), especially in the north. While "sea bean" sometimes means "drift seeds," in edible contexts we're talking about species of salicornia, sometimes called samphire, glasswort, or pickleweed. The "bean" they resemble is the string bean, not the shell bean, and they have a snappy crisp texture similar to haricots verts.

I love them. They're crisp, they're salty - the full-size sea beans can be too salty - and they have a slight marine flavor like seaweed, but not as pronounced. The combination brings up a thousand memories and associations, mainly with the ocean near my grandparents' house when I was a kid. I never had sea beans there, but the taste is a lot like the smell of being at the beach.

For lunch I'm just having them as an accent - more than a garnish - with ddukbokki:

Ddukbokki, seabeans
Ddukbokki, seabeans
Ddukbokki is just Korean ricecakes - dduk - with hot sauce. "Ricecakes" is a misleading term in American English - they're thick, chewy, nearly-neutral-flavored dumplings made from sweet rice flour, which soak up whatever flavors are around them (in this case a punishingly hot pepper paste). I'll have a post more specifically about them at another time - they're terrific with chili.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I have to thank my fellow bloggers, as well as Marx Foods. In that fregola sarda dessert recipe contest, there were two polls - one by the general public, and an internal poll voted on by the contest participants and Marx staff. While the popular vote deservedly went to Zestybeandog, the internal poll came down to a two way tie between me and Adesina's Kitchen (both of us made fried desserts inspired by rice dishes, interestingly) - and rather than make us settle the matter with a knife fight as bloggers did under Nero, Marx gave us each a $100 credit.

I know I'll sound like a shill, but I think tossing an extra $100 in the prize pot like that is pretty pretty cool. It's not like we're talking about Coca-Cola or General Foods here, with a bottomless budget.

Anyway, I used my credit on a large quantity of the Israeli couscous I blogged about earlier, because that stuff was just damn good and Caitlin and I have a lot of ideas for things to do with it, and a small quantity of micro sea beans, which I'm not sure I've blogged about before but will after the weekend. The idea was to reinvest in the blog, in other words - use the credit to get stuff I can't find locally, so that I have that many more things to blog about.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

kimchi garlic bread

Chili and kimchi garlic bread

Kimchi garlic bread and chili.

I had had kimchi garlic butter in mind for a long time, because Skimkim sells a kimchi butter, but it really front-burnered when Caitlin responded so positively to the kimcheese I made. Kimcheese is like pimento cheese or Kentucky beer cheese, made by simply blending together sharp cheddar cheese and kimchi liquid - ideally you use well-aged kimchi liquid, so you get the pungency and deep garlic tanginess mixing in with the sharp cheddar.

I wasn't actually sure Caitlin would like it, since she doesn't like pimento cheese and I was seeing this as something similar. But it was a big hit and we've had kimcheese burgers a couple times since.

The kimchi garlic butter is the same basic idea. I chopped a bunch of fresh garlic, put it in a pan on low heat with a stick of butter, added some kimchi liquid, simmered until the liquid had cooked off (if you're not confident of being able to judge this, just pour the garlic butter into a measuring cup before adding the kimchi liquid, return it to the heat with the kimchi liquid, and stop simmering when it has returned to the original volume), and blitzed it with the immersion blender.

The garlic is much more pronounced than the kimchi pungency, which is just a supporting player here - partly because my kimchi is young, partly because garlic is simply a stronger flavor than cheddar cheese. But it definitely works.

bahn whee

Caitlin (who took the photos) calls this the Bahn WHEE. The idea started when I made fennel kimchi while making a big batch of many other kimchis, and once it was nice and fermented and pungent and garlicky, I said, okay, what shall I do with it?

A sandwich, I thought. A steak sandwich.
Banh WHEE (not actual name)
So I started with a steak and fennel kimchi sandwich. Then this weekend we made the rounds of some of our favorite places in Cambridge - Flat Patties for lunch, Hugo in 3D at Loews Harvard Square, a stop at Colonial Drug, then onto the T to Central Square for Central Bottle (cheese and guanciale), Flour (Boston cream pie to go), Toscanini's (ice cream - espresso lemon and wort for me - yes, wort ice cream! so amazingly malty - nocciola and khulfee for her), and Lotte (the Korean market).

The sandwich developed.

Banh WHEE (not actual name)
Surprisingly, the fennel kimchi, as garlicky as it is, didn't dominate. A Portuguese sheep's milk cheese I now forget the name of did - it was sheepy the way goat cheese can be goaty.

Banh WHEE (not actual name)

Boneless ribeye, seared, rested, and sliced;
links of linguica;
fennel kimchi;
sheep's milk cheese;
blanched, sauteed mustard greens;
daikon sprouts (very sharp and peppery).

Banh WHEE (not actual name)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

couche couche and apple confit

Couche Couche and Apple Confit.

Couche Couche and Apple Confit

Apple confit:

Peel and slice a bunch of apples up thin. Lay in a baking dish, sprinkle with rum and sugar, place a star anise on top, and cover with foil.

Slow-cook in the oven overnight at 200 degrees, for 10-12 hours.

Uncover and continue cooking at 300 until the liquid has reduced some, if necessary. Probably an hour or two, depends on the apples.

Couche Couche, 2 servings:

Mix together
1/2 cup cornmeal
pinch baking powder
pinch salt
just under 1/2 cup water

Heat oil or butter in a hot pan, add the cornmeal mixture, and let a crust form on the bottom. Break it up and cook for 20 minutes on medium to medium low, stirring occasionally.

This is a basic hot cereal, like oatmeal, so you want to use good cornmeal from a mill, not the supermarket stuff, or you won't taste anything.

fregola sarda doughnuts with saffron-grapefruit caramel

The good folks at Marx Foods have again sent me some interesting things to play with. The challenge this time was to take Fregola Sarda and combine it in a dessert with any two of the following: star anise, vanilla beans, or saffron.

Fregola sarda, saffron, star anise
Fregola Sarda is like Sardinian couscous - it's little irregular balls of pasta which have been unevenly toasted. So if there are more than four or five participants in this challenge, there's going to be a lot of conceptual overlap - there's only so many ways you can cook this, and we're all going to be drawing on a lot of the same flavors.

Dessert is not at all my specialty - I am the guy who uses transglutaminase to bond chicken skin to steaks, cures a country ham in my loft, smokes hominy for posole, makes six kinds of kimchi, I just don't play with desserts as often. I kept thinking, as you'd have to, of various "warm hot bowl of a thing" dishes - rice pudding, oatmeal, tapioca pudding, that kind of thing. But then I thought of calas - Louisianan doughnuts made with cooked rice.

Still didn't have anywhere specific to go with it, until I happened to be eating a grapefruit the day after finishing a huge project, and saw the ingredients on the table. Grapefruit. Calas. Saffron. Ohhh.

Fregola Sarda Calas with Saffron-Grapefruit Caramel

I wound up not using the star anise, so nevermind it being in the photo there, but I will say: Marx's star anise is far and away the best I've had. It must get stale easily in stores, because it never actually occurred to me before that I was using lackluster star anise. But this stuff is strong.

Calas:
1/2 cup fregola sarda
1/2 cup cream
1 cup water
the seeds of 1 vanilla bean (slit it open, scrape them out)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
pinch of baking powder

Heat the fregola sarda, cream, water, vanilla bean, and sugar together in a pan over medium-low to medium heat, until the fregola sarda has soaked up the liquid and become very tender. You don't want it al dente, you want it really cooked through and soft, without being mushy. Add a little more water if it gets dry; cook it a little longer on high heat if it finishes cooking and has some liquid left.

Let cool. You can infuse the cream for the caramel while it's cooling, and then make the caramel while the calas are frying.

Once it's cooled, add the egg, flour, and baking powder, preheat your deep-fryer to 365, and fry in small spoonfuls for about 6 minutes, flipping if necessary. Drain and serve with caramel.

Caramel:
1/2 cup cream
Tablespoon grapefruit zest
big pinch of saffron
1/2 cup sugar

Heat cream, saffron, and grapefruit zest on low heat and hold for 15-20 minutes while saffron and grapefruit steep. Strain cream.

Add sugar to pan, heat on medium-high and allow to caramelize, and then remove from heat, reduce heat to low, and add the infused cream. Stir to dissolve caramelized sugar. Return to heat. If you have a pourable sauce, then you're done. If the cream reduced too much while infusing or when you added it to the hot sugar, you may need to add a touch more fresh cream in order to dilute the caramel enough to give you a sauce instead of a hard candy.

The bitterness of the grapefruit zest and the saffron work with that of the burnt sugar; that's what brings everything together, and offsets the sweet vanilla chewiness of the hot calas.

Saffron-grapefruit infused cream; vanilla fregola sarda
Infused cream on the left; cooked fregola sarda on the right.

Fregola sarda calas
Cooked fregola sarda calas.

Fregola sarda calas with saffron-grapefruit caramel
Calas with saffron-grapefruit caramel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend!

This photo barely came out.

Thanksgiving leftovers
Basic Thanksgiving leftovers feast, from bottom to top: turkey hash with hashed potatoes and turkey thigh confit; Welsh cheddar with shallots and chives; smothered leeks (cleaned leeks sliced lengthwise into quarters and cooked in turkey broth and butter); fried egg; crisped turkey skin; sage-garlic turkey gravy.

A cranberry cocktail
One of two cocktails using unsweetened cranberry juice (made with my juicer, but maybe available at fancy stores).  Let me think.  Yes, okay - this was 1 ounce Douglas Fir eau de vie, 1 ounce cranberry juice, and about 3/4 ounce St Germain elderflower liqueur.

The idea here was to get the Douglas Fir and cranberry together and cover neither of them up.  Worked very nicely, but it's an expensive drink.


A different cranberry cocktail
The other cranberry juice cocktail - 1 ounce genever, 1 ounce cranberry juice, 1/2 ounce Meletti amaro, 1 ounce St Germain elderflower liqueur, with cherries, Peychaud's bitters, and a dash of Chartreuse elixir de vegetal.

Cranberry and genever go surprisingly well together.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

poutine pizza: Bellagio

Wednesday night we had the classic pre-Thanksgiving meal - delivery pizza.

Poutine pizza, Bellagio
My local pizza place does poutine pizza, it turns out - they've sold poutine since they opened, so I guess adding a poutine pizza to the menu was a natural outgrowth.  We had to order it, obviously - gravy instead of tomato sauce, crisp French fries, cheese curds, and mozzarella.

Really good, in the way starch on starch can be - this is now the fourth different way I've had potatoes on pizza (mashed potatoes, thin-sliced potatoes, chunks of baked potato).  Probably even better with the addition of bacon or sausage.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Remember what I just said about picking up turkey while it's cheap?

3 turkeys, $20.

6 turkey wings, each of them at least one serving. Like duck wings, turkey wings have skin that can be leathery cooked by most methods, but they braise REALLY well. Plan on things like adobo or smothered turkey wings, or turkey wings braised in soy sauce and orange juice, with the braising liquid reduced into a glaze with the addition of chiles, ginger, and sugar.

6 turkey thighs, each of them two or more servings. I froze four of them. With the last two, I used the pint of accumulated turkey fat from all these endeavors and made confit of turkey thighs and popes' noses.

A few turkey breast cutlets to make sandwiches from, and a Zip-Loc freezer back of turkey breast chunks for something like white chili.

One turkey cavity I used to cook stuffing in.

Five lobster pots full of turkey stock.

A pint of "gravy base" - the fond from roasting all these turkey parts, loosened from the pan with a little stock.

I could have put aside MUCH more meat if I liked drumsticks or if I liked turkey breast more, but as it is I have about 25 servings for $20, in addition to a shitload of stock and much richer gravy than we'd otherwise be having at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I really only have two Thanksgiving tips, and I think people routinely ignore the first one:

1: Turkey is stupid crazy cheap right now. It's the cheapest protein in the store. It's cheaper than canned beans. So. Buy a bunch of turkeys.

You can freeze one and save $20-30 off what you'd pay for Thanksgiving In July. You can carve off a bunch of raw meat and use it instead of chicken in white chili, curry, etc. You can fry turkey cutlets.

But if nothing else, you should go buy a six dollar turkey and make sixty dollars worth of stock.  If you have a big enough pot - you probably don't, even my lobster pot is not really big enough - you can just put the turkey straight in it, bring it to a simmer, leave it until tomorrow night. This alone is well worth it! But more than likely you'll need to chop the turkey into smaller parts in order to make stock in batches, in which case you may as well roast those parts too, and add some celery and carrot and onion skins. This is still a minimal investment of effort and money. If you do it the weekend before Thanksgiving, you have a great stock to use to baste the turkey, make your gravy, etc.

2: Turkey sandwiches are an easy way to break up the monotony of reheating-a-plate-of-leftovers, because turkey is a pretty blank canvas and you can incorporate all sorts of flavors into a sandwich. Sharp cheddar and chutney. Goat cheese and tomato jam. Kimchi, roasted garlic, and bean sprouts dressed with sesame oil. Avocado and finger lime vesicles. Comeback sauce and pickled okra. Roasted eggplant, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts. All of it easier than turkey pot pie, turkey hash, etc., and much further afield in flavor.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

forest floor donuts

Marx Foods sent me a sample of dried candy cap mushrooms to use in another recipe contest, and man, these things are something else. Judging from Wikipedia's entry, I believe these are Lactarius rubidus mushrooms - there are three kinds of candy cap mushrooms found in North America, two of which have strong maple-like scents.

This is certainly one of those two. To be honest, I assumed the description of candy cap mushrooms as "tasting like maple syrup" was exaggerated, like when red wine tastes like haystacks and boysenberries. I expected something that would taste predominantly of mushroom, with a faint maple flavor that you might miss if you weren't paying attention.

I was so, so wrong.
Candy cap mushrooms
Even before the sample bag was opened, the package smelled like pancake syrup. I mean, it actually smells more like artificially flavored maple syrup - a stronger smell than the real thing - than like real maple syrup, despite obviously being purely natural. It's a strong, sweet smell, with a sort of cereal element to it - "pancakes with maple syrup" captures it more than just "maple syrup" does, you know?

So all of a sudden this became much more interesting.

There's still a mushroom element, an earthiness and pungency. My goal was to make something that wouldn't cover the mushroom flavor up in favor of that maple scent. I thought about a cocktail, because of Caitlin's experience with mushroom-infused gin, and I think that's an avenue to explore in the future.

I brainstormed, jotting down flavors I thought would work - carrot cake - pineapple - persimmon - squash - and was on the verge of making a root beer float with mushroom ice cream. But I decided because of the time of year, I wanted something warm instead of cold.

I stayed with what drew me to the root beer float, though - the earthiness of the sassafras, working with the earthiness of the mushroom. What I ended up doing was making donuts with "forest floor curd" - a filling inspired by the smell of walking in the woods in the fall. Pine needles. Mushrooms. Mulch. Dying leaves. Chimney smoke.

Spruce tips
These are spruce tips - the young buds of spruce trees when they're nice and tender. I froze a bunch in the spring. I used three of them in making the curd, and blended a couple more with granulated sugar in order to make a spruce sugar to coat the donuts in - it smells and tastes like Christmas trees. To make spruce sugar, just blitz spruce tips with sugar in a food processor, let dry uncovered overnight, and blitz again.

To make the forest floor curd, you're basically cooking egg yolks, infused cream, and sugar over simmering water until nice and thick.

First infuse the cream: simmer 1/4 cup cream
with a sample bag's worth of dried candy cap mushrooms (I don't know how much was in the sample bag - an ounce?)
and three spruce tips;
remove from heat, let cool, and strain.

Combine infused cream with
2 egg yolks,
1/4 cup sugar,
and 1 Tablespoon birch syrup,
in a double boiler and stir over simmering water until thick enough to coat a spoon. Thicken with a little slurry of cornstarch and cold water if necessary.

Add a pinch of tea from a Luzianne tea bag - yeah, tea bag tea, because you want the fine little particles, like flecks of vanilla bean adding that tannic dead leaf flavor.

Let cool.

Forest floor curd
The curd is incredibly tasty - kind of caramel-like, earthy, mushroomy.

Make 4-6 doughnuts:

Combine 1/3 cup warm water,
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast,
1 1/2 cups flour,
a dash of baking powder,
2 Tablespoons of sugar,

2 teaspoons of birch syrup,
a dash of vegetable oil,
1 beaten egg,
and a pinch of salt,
and knead.

Let double in size, divide into 4-6 rounds, let rest for 20 minutes, and deep-fry, cooking about a minute on each side.

Let cool slightly, fill with curd using a pastry bag, and dust with spruce sugar.

My donuts were still pretty warm!  You can see the curd became a bit runny.

Donuts with forest floor curd

Sunday, October 30, 2011

weekends

Last weekend, Caitlin picked up some za'atar burrata - while burrata is usually a little purse of fresh mozzarella stuffed with butter or cream and more fresh mozz, this had za'atar (sumac, thyme, and sesame) mixed in, along with some labneh (yogurt drained until the thickness of cream cheese). Very very cool stuff.

Za'atar Burrata
Pasta Closeup
We tossed it with egg noodles, Italian sausage, and some creamed broccoli raab she had made earlier in the week - perfect combination.

Greens, Sausage, Za'atar Burrata

As for more recently? The bizarre record-breaking October snowstorm that pummelled parts of New England left me without power for the weekend. Saturday night we cooked pieces of white pudding over a candle flame while playing Guillotine, and Sunday morning we had leftover apple crisp with rapidly melting ice cream for breakfast.

Thankfully the power is back on earlier for me than for many people, and in the meantime I discovered that if you make a pot of coffee at your brother's, pour it into an empty whiskey bottle (I have no travel mugs, somehow), and take it home and bundle it in blankets, it will stay warm for hours.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some of the things I do with kimchi are pretty traditional - various forms of "kimchi with rice" and "kimchi in soup." Some are not even close.

Like kimchi colcannon, for instance - the Irish dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage. If you can make it with cabbage, you can make it with kimchi. In this case, I went two further - the kimchi is the curry-flavored kimchi I made a couple weeks ago, and the potatoes are sweet potatoes.

Normally I use duck wings for stock - they're not much like chicken wings and don't take well to frying or roasting. But this time I'd put a couple duck wings in the freezer, and braised them with the curry kimchi, before mixing the kimchi with the sweet potatoes. Braised, they're delicious and tender - and the sweet potato colcannon is spicy with curry seasonings, tart from kimchi.


Braised duck wings, curry kimchi sweet potato colcannon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When I have a large project, I tend to make a lot of something and keep it in the fridge so that I don't need to worry as much about cooking. With my first two novels, the last acts were written on a diet of jalapeno cheeseburgers. I'd buy a package of ground beef, divide it into patties, and whenever I got hungry, I'd get up from the computer, slap a patty on the cast-iron, get a plate and a bun and a Barq's red creme, flip the patty and put a slice of cheese and some Old El Paso pickled jalapenos on it, wait for the cheese to melt, pop the patty on the bun, eat the burger, drink the soda, and go back to the book.

I am not finishing a novel right now. But it's a good time of year for spice, and I have a large project.

Smoky beef chili

Cover fresh shell beans (or dry, they'll just cook longer) with salted water and add a couple cloves of garlic and a couple dried mushrooms. Place in stovetop smoker and smoke until fully cooked. Let cool in liquid. Remove mushrooms. (The mushrooms add earthiness to the beans.)

Put six or seven cherry peppers in the smoker and smoke until roasted. Let cool. Remove stems.

Meat:
2-3 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes.
1 pound hot sausage

Dry ingredients:
Wick Fowler's 2-alarm chili mix (just the chili seasoning, not the rest) or similar chili seasonings
A little salt

Wet ingredients:
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles
Smoke-roasted cherry peppers
Smoked bean cooking liquid
15-20 cloves of garlic
Two kimchi garlic scapes

Vegetables:
Green tomato kimchi
Corn kimchi
1-2 cups butternut squash, diced

Blend wet ingredients together very well.

Brown meat in large pan, in batches. Really do it in batches - just enough to cover the bottom of the pan each time - so that the meat browns, instead of steaming in its liquid.

Combine browned meat, dry ingredients, wet ingredients, a handful of corn kimchi and a few diced kimchi green tomatoes, cover with water, cover pan with foil, and bake at 350 for a couple hours.

Smoky beef chili

Remove foil, add butternut squash, and bake for another hour or so, until chili liquid has reduced and squash is fully cooked.

Serve doused with cheese, cilantro, and sour cream.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Using up odds and ends - I had one onion, a few cloves of garlic, a spoonful of minced ginger, a bunch of eggplant, half a can of coconut milk and half a can of tomatoes, a bunch of ricotta gnudi in the freezer, and the coconut curry duck fat from that curry confit.

You could call this a curry composee.

Curry with eggplant and gnudi

Grind an onion, the cloves of garlic, and the ginger in a Cuisinart (or what have you). Cook on low heat with some of the coconut curry duck fat (or what have you) until significantly reduced in volume and moisture.

Add curry seasonings (I used a little bit of sweet curry blend from the Spice House, asafoetida, ajwain, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, and chile pepper). Add coconut milk and tomato puree. Simmer on low heat for a little bit. Strain.

Simmer the ricotta gnudi until they float - a couple of minutes - and then strain, one by one, and place in a hot pan with the coconut curry duck fat. Pan-fry until crisp. I pan-fried half the gnudi and deep-fried the others just to see if they deep-fried well (they do, but didn't pick up the curry flavors of the pan-fried ones, of course).

Sear slices of eggplant in the coconut curry duck fat.

Serve with vanilla soda because you have Fox's U-Bet to use up too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

when you're with a sweep you're in glad company

Hopefully this weekend I'll get more dduk in Boston, and then I can tell you how awesome dduk bokki is. Until then, I can tell you how awesome kimchi is.

Okay, check it out: making kimchi is pretty much the same as making sauerkraut. You add salt to cabbage and wait.

This is also basically the same as making traditional (non vinegar) pickles. You add salt and wait.

The salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria. That's, you know ... why we have salt. At all. People forget this these days, but we didn't start harvesting salt for the sake of French fries. French fries are just spandrels.

The bad bacteria is halted, and the good bacteria is waved on through to ferment the sugars, good lactobacillus guys, the same family responsible for the tartness and tanginess of yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, traditional pickles, and like I said, sauerkraut. And also silage, for that matter, the fermented cattle feed I grew up with the smell of. ALL ONE OR NONE.

After a period of time, the cabbage - or whatever other vegetable you use - turns tart. Pickled, but not vinegary-pickled. The tartness comes from lactic acid, not acetic acid. Like acetic acid, lactic acid is acidic enough to preserve foods in the long-term, by providing an environment that is inhospitable to all the shit that'll food-poison you.

The differences: sauerkraut is aged for a long time before it's used. Months. Kimchi sits on the counter for a weekend and then goes in the fridge, and is considered "old" before the sauerkraut is even ready. Which is not to say there's anything wrong with old kimchi, but usually, aged kimchi is used in cooked dishes and especially soups and stews, while younger kimchi is served fresh.

The seasoning is different too, of course, with sauerkraut being often unseasoned, and sometimes including caraway seeds, juniper berries, cranberries, beets, carrots, black pepper, and probably lots of other options I don't know anything about. Kimchi on the other hand is seasoned with a thick paste of Asian pear, chile pepper, garlic, ginger, and salt in the form of some kind of fish or shellfish paste or sauce. Since the 1970s, Korean fish sauce has been sold as an easier alternative to older ingredients, and today a lot of "artisanal" kimchis leave fish products out - using plain salt - in order to keep their products vegan and increase their potential customer base.

You can make anything into kimchi.

You can make anything into anything.

Here's the basic process:

Salt the cabbage.

Rinse the cabbage.

Season the cabbage.

Jar the cabbage.

Await the cabbage.

Salt the cabbage - Napa cabbage is traditional, but like I said you can make anything from anything, this isn't paint by number, this is adult by-God swim - either in a very strong brine (very very salty water) or just pack salt between and around all the leaves.

This is the part that gives me the most trouble, and I do not know why. I must have done something different the first time, because it's only been the subsequent times when it hasn't gone off without a hitch.

Ideally you want to keep the cabbage whole or quartered, and it'll age slower that way once it's in the fridge. But if you don't have containers big enough for that, then remove the hard stem end of the cabbage, separate the leaves, and proceed.

Salt it, by either means, and wait a few hours, until the salt has drawn out enough cabbage liquid that you can bend a leaf in half without it breaking. And somehow that continues to take all day for me. It oughtn't. Use more salt.

Which is why you then rinse the cabbage, to remove surface salt.

Season the cabbage! Now, white kimchi lacks red pepper, but normally you would use Korean red pepper flakes, and you can go ahead and substitute some other chile pepper if you want. Peel and core an Asian pear - I've used apple when Asian pears aren't available - and puree it with cloves of garlic, a little onion if you want, fresh ginger, your salt/fish source, and the chiles. You notice I'm not giving you amounts. I don't use them myself. You may want your kimchi especially garlicky or gingery, or sweeter than usual. It's all good.

Pack the paste all over every leaf of cabbage, and pack it into jars. Cover with additional paste and water if necessary, and cover it. Lactic fermentation is an anaerobic process: that means you don't want oxygen in there.

Await the cabbage, leave it sitting on your counter for a few days. At least two. A few more if it's chilly.

Boom, kimchi!

Many kimchis

From left to right: napa cabbage kimchi, Brussels sprouts kimchi, garlic scapes kimchi, green tomato kimchi, okra kimchi. Like I said, you can make kimchi out of anything.

And if you can make kimchi out of anything, by extension you can use any seasonings. I made some "Mexican kimchi" using napa cabbage seasoned with a paste of Asian pear, cilantro, garlic, coriander, cumin, and Mexican chiles:

Hanger steak, Mexican kimchi, pumpkin seed chile sauce

With hanger steak and pumpkin seed chile sauce (simmer salted roasted shelled pumpkin seeds - pepitas - in water with dried Mexican chiles, garlic, and Mexican oregano; puree once soft; strain; reduce if necessary; season with salt and vinegar).

What I said about roasting your own coffee not producing all that much smoke ... doesn't apply as well to dark roasts. For the record.

(I think I'll stick to light roasts in the winter.)

Cough cough.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

on a tropical island

Toasted couscous with lamb and eggplant

Backstory A: Marx Foods is having another contest, in which contestants received random assortments of ingredients and need to make something using at least two of them. I received two kinds of chiles, coconut sugar (actual coconut sugar, not coconut-flavored sugar - these days the differentiation seems necessary), dried black trumpet mushrooms, and Israeli-style couscous. I decided to use the couscous, because I hadn't cooked Israeli-style couscous before, and the mushrooms, because I didn't want to submit another chile recipe. It did occur to me that I could make chile-coconut doughnuts - desserts were popular winners in the last contest - but ultimately, nothing represents this blog better than playing around with something I haven't cooked before.

Backstory B: My family has a place on Squam Lake, in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, and New England happened to have an unseasonable, record-breaking warm Columbus Day weekend. Caitlin and I don't get a chance to go up to the lake very often, so it was nice that the weather was accommodating when we decided to take advantage of her three-day weekend. We had to build a fire Friday night, when overnight temps dipped to freezing, but during the day it hit the high 70s - and this is two hours north of Boston, in mid-October.

This is not a place in which you would normally engage in a cooking challenge:

Up at the lake

Up at the lake

(As you can see, I brought my French press and burr grinder with us for coffee. Also visible on the counter: bacon ranch popcorn from Popcorn Indiana. Good Lord. If your mall in the 80s was like my mall in the 80s, you may have had a popcorn kiosk selling popcorn in 40 flavors, from pizza to nacho cheese to watermelon to green apple. Most of it was not very good. Popcorn Indiana's bacon ranch popcorn and chocolate kettle corn, both of which we bought on an impulse, were amazing.)

Those photos give you some context, part of which is: the light will not be conducive to photographs here. Although there is a lake just outside -

Up at the lake

Up at the lake

- the cabin itself is surrounded by trees, which help keep it cool in the summer. (The weather was not nearly as hazy as it looks in that first photo. Though the moon was bright enough to mess with stargazing - to read by, for that matter - we did see a lone Draconid on Sunday night. And yes, we went swimming. Sort of. Okay, we got in the water - which was cold enough to make you numb - for a few minutes.)

I'll have a separate post later this week or next on these guys, foraged from right outside the cabin:

Wintergreen/teaberry

But in the meantime, the couscous.

Israeli couscous

And the mushrooms.

Dried black trumpet mushrooms

Couscous is a very small pasta, essentially, made from semolina. Israeli-style couscous is much larger than the couscous you might be familiar with. While couscous is traditionally steamed, the larger Israeli-style couscous is cooked like rice, soaking up its cooking liquid.

I decided to use that to my advantage, and also to aim for a good blend of autumnal flavors. Caitlin had picked up thinly sliced leg of lamb - thin like the steak in Philly cheesesteaks - at Super 88 in Boston, and I'd brought eggplant, butternut squash, a German green tomato (the kind that's green when ripe), and onions with me, as well as the Spice House's Baharat spice blend.

I steeped the dried black trumpet mushrooms in boiling water to make a strong mushroom broth, which provided the earthy umami backbone for the couscous:

Mushroom broth

While the mushroom broth was steeping and I managed to chop my vegetables with the spare knives I'd brought (the folding chefs knife I used to bring to the lake no longer unfolds!), I toasted the couscous in a cast-iron Dutch oven with a little bit of olive oil. This is key. Toasting any grain helps develop more complex flavors, and the semolina of couscous is no exception. I wanted a little smokiness that would go with the mushroom and the vegetables.

The pan got a little hot, so as soon as the tomato was chopped, that went in to slow the toasting and keep the couscous from burning, while I struggled to get the peel off the squash with an unfortunately dull cleaver. The vegetables came to about a cup of chopped tomato, a cup of chopped onion, and half a cup of chopped butternut squash (I didn't want the sweetness of the squash overwhelming everything, and knew the tomato and onion would lose more volume in cooking), which were added along with the mushroom broth, a little of the Baharat spice blend, and salt.

When the couscous was almost cooked, I pan-fried slices of eggplant dusted with Baharat spice and salt, and quickly seared thin slices of lamb. Garnished everything with pomegranate seeds.

Toasted couscous with lamb and eggplant

Eggplant's in the top right corner; the lamb's to the right of the couscous.

All in all, everything worked very well - a little heat from the spice blend, a good melange of autumnal flavors from the toasted couscous, mushroom broth, and squash, sweetness from the vegetables balanced by the tartness and astringency of the pomegranate seeds.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Biscoff

You're welcome.

Remember the first time you had Nutella? Maybe it was in college or at a slumber party or your aunt who's always borrowing money from your parents was visiting. It looked like chocolate frosting, spread like peanut butter, not as sweet as one and sweeter than the other. You wanted to put it on everything. Strawberries. Baguettes. Pancakes. French fries.

This is that again.

Biscoff spread is one of the brand names of Speculoos spread which has suddenly popped up on my radar in enough places that, if you haven't discovered it yet, I'm pretty sure you're going to any day now. Within a couple months of my hearing about it for the first time, on a Boston message board thread where people were looking for it, it was added to the shelves at my local supermarket, and LA newspaper food sections have run articles on it being the new thing. Maybe the sun has set on the cupcake. Maybe it's Biscoff time.

It's a spread made from cookies.

Maybe that's all you need to hear.

It tastes like Graham crackers and butter, and you'll be amazed at how many things you want to put that flavor on. Perfect for this time of year because it's a good contrast for tart apples.

Get on it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

loo loo loo

Without a doubt the best thing about this time of year in New England, the saving remnant, is the apples.

Apples

Off to the side: Swiss Gourmet.

On the plate, the large apple is Albemarle Pippin; the balancing act is Esopus Spitzenberg; hiding the back is something that was labeled as a Roxbury Russet but looks the same as what I know as a Golden Russet (and I have had Roxbury Russets that were red and green, not golden) - either way, one of my favorites; four o'clock is an Ashmead's Kernel, and at six o'clock is a Blue Permain, which I am now eating. It's crunchy and quite tannic, but otherwise tastes a lot like a Golden Delicious.

Modern apple varieties like you get in the supermarket are not very good.

They're very good at what they were made to do: like supermarket tomato varieties, they have been developed to travel long distances in crates without bruising or becoming too soft, to be sweet, to be bright, to be colorful, to be shiny, to avoid russeting (rough brown patches on the skin), to weather the weather and the insects, and to produce a good bit of fruit per tree.

And that's fine. It's also why Kimballs charges eighty cents a pound more for the heirloom varieties - they're often small, often less productive trees, and there's more waste when insects or diseases like cedar apple rust, fire blight, or powdery mildew claim some of the crop. Northern Spy, one of my favorite apples, doesn't produce any fruit until it's nearly a decade old, and doesn't produce it every year. That's a hard crop to profit from when you have Honeycrisp.

But flavor is not on that checklist. (Flavor gets added to the checklist when Big Aggro tosses funding at a few Midwest faculty members and grad students and says, generate some apple patents for us.) And with the exception of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Zestar, supermarket varieties have almost no textural interest at all.

Not all older varieties are better. And some of them were grown for making cider, or baking with a lot of sugar - two hundred years ago, nobody was eating them raw.

But a lot of them are especially tart, or juicy, or crunchy - I love crunchy, not just crisp but crunchy, which you never get from supermarket apples - and if they're not pretty in a bright red apple for the teacher's desk sort of way, they can still be pretty stunning.

More than anything, you just get more variety of flavor and texture when you can buy from actual apple growers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

neither holy nor roman

In the past few weeks, I've started doing two very different things for the same two reasons:

1: It saves me money;

2: It gives me more options and variety.

Those two things are making my own kimchi and roasting my own coffee, but let's just talk about the second one right now.

I could give you a long tutorial on roasting coffee at home, with lots of photos of every stage, but I think that would make it sound more complicated than it is. The truth is, it's very much like popping popcorn.

In fact, I'm using a popcorn popper to do it. You can roast coffee in a number of ways, but it all comes down to the same thing: make beans more hotter. The stovetop popcorn popper makes it easy to see the beans as they roast, and at $20 -free in my case, since I got a new popcorn popper last Christmas which replaced this one - it's by far your cheapest option. One of the problems I had with countertop coffee roasters is that at $150, $200, $500, it would take a hell of a lot of coffee before you've saved your money back. I realize saving money isn't the only reason to roast your own coffee, but I like that with the stovetop popper, it can be a reason.

Here's how you roast coffee:

You get beans.

You put them in the popcorn popper and roast them for a few minutes.

You blow the chaff off.

You wait a little bit.

You grind and brew your coffee.

I mean, that's it. That's what I'm getting at here: it sounds like a big deal, and it can scale to become a big deal if you want it to or if you get hardcore serious about it - but that's just the nature of coffee, you knew? Brewing your coffee is the same way - it can be as simple as a drip coffee maker, a little more involved like a French press or Chemex, or you can get a $1200 espresso maker.

I'm a French press kind of person, both literally and figuratively.

You get beans.

I use Sweet Maria's. The quality, price, and variety are good, and the website is informative. You may be able to find green coffee beans locally and avoid the shipping charge.

Green coffee beans keep virtually forever - certainly for years - so you can stock up, and you save a lot of money per-pound if you order in five or ten pound lots. I had already been doing this with roasted coffee. Do keep in mind that beans lose weight as they roast: a pound of green coffee beans doesn't produce a roasted pound's amount of coffee.

You put them in the popcorn popper.

Microwave them for a little bit to get them hot, and your roasting time will be shorter - Jason Baldwin pointed that out to me.

Keep the beans constantly moving. The popcorn popper has a crank. This part is just like making popcorn - you put the popper on the stove on medium heat, and crank it while the beans cook. Because you don't add oil like you do for popcorn, it's that much more important to keep the beans in constant motion, to keep them from developing scorchmarks, but this doesn't take a lot of work or muscle power or anything - you don't need to crank FAST, just keep the crank constantly moving.

It'll take a few minutes. The beans will retain enough heat to continue cooking after you've stopped, so remember that once you start aiming for very specific roast levels, but the main thing to remember is the stages of roasting:

Yellow, first crack, second crack, dark roast, burnt/Starbucks.

I mean, it's a little more involved than that, but those are the stages you need to know. The green beans turn yellow first.

As they keep roasting, they hit "first crack," which sounds like popcorn popping, as the sugars in the bean caramelize. You can stop any time after this point - although don't stop when you hear only one crack, because the beans won't all roast at exactly the same rate.

The beans puff out a little and continue to caramelize, and will hit "second crack," which is faster-paced, cracklier like static, and more violent - the beans may jump around in the roaster a little, little bean fragments may fracture off.

After second crack, you reach the dark roast zone. A lot of the flavors present in lighter roasts, especially what we refer to as acidity in brewed coffee, disappear, but chocolatey, roasty, smokey flavors and body develop. This is one reason I sometimes combine light and dark roast coffees in the same pot.

After dark roast, it's just straight-up burnt.

Right now I'm at the point where I'm just trying shit out. I hit first crack and then I keep an eye on the beans and pull them when I feel like it. I'll get a feel for what roast level I want with which kind of bean, and then when I buy more beans, I'll have to get that feel all over again. But you're probably not going to fuck it up. The ideal, best possible, roast level for a given bean may be FC+ (Full City+), right at second crack - but it's not going to turn into awful bongwater just because you pulled it before second crack or during dark roast.

Roasting coffee produces smoke, but to be honest it doesn't produce nearly as much as I was expecting. I don't even have decent ventilation in my kitchen. Sure, it makes the whole house smell like roasted coffee, but unless you have a small apartment or the smoke detector is in your kitchen, I don't think it'll be set off - I know I've produced more smoke from searing steaks and preheating cast-iron to bake pizzas.

You blow the chaff off.

Here's where it's different from popcorn. The outer layer of the bean has become a thin, papery thing that needs to be removed. When you pull the roasted beans off the stove, dump them into a metal colander. Go outside. (We'll find out how much this part sucks in the winter.) Shake the beans in the colander while blowing on it - the shaking helps dislodge the chaff, the blowing blows it away. It's light like ash, and I assume biodegrades easily. You don't want to do this inside, because it's just going to go everywhere.

I've tried fanning it instead of blowing on it, but it's hard to fan with one hand while shaking the colander with the other - my brain goes cross-eyed.

You wait a little bit.

Let the roasted beans rest for a few hours. Maybe longer. It's going to vary by bean - I see a lot of people on the Sweet Marias forums using rests of four to five days for Robusta beans and Monsooned Malabar - but at least wait four hours.

Now you're good. Make your coffee.

Ten minutes of work, a few hours of waiting that you don't need to be around for, minimal cleanup. Right out of the gate you have better coffee than you can buy at the supermarket. It's certainly better than anything I can buy at the price, and comparable to what I can get for twice the price.

Kimchi's different. We'll get to it.

Just grabbing stuff to use up from the freezer -

Black currant tart

Black currant filling (currants/sugar/cornstarch) in a yuzu/rau ram sugar cookie shell. I suppose it's a tart.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fresh water chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts are a pain in the ass.

The skin is just thin enough to be peeled like a potato, but just thick enough and slick enough to take more work, and they're small and you have to grip them pretty well to keep them from flinging out of your hands.

But they're really good.

I'm indifferent to canned water chestnuts. Don't mind them if they're in something I'm eating, but never bother buying them. They add crunch but don't seem to add flavor, and I'd as soon use carrot or celery root or something.

But the fresh ones - keeping in mind that the flavors in question are smaller and subtler, it reminds me of the difference between canned and fresh pineapple: canned is acceptable, but fresh is vibrant, and really something special. Like I said - definitely a subtle flavor, you're not going to bite into a fresh water chestnut and say "I had no idea they tasted like this!" - but you might say "I had no idea they tasted at all." Fresh, they're sweeter, slightly nutty, and the crunch seems more ... interesting, which I don't know how to explain further.

I used them in tacos: add the peeled, chopped water chestnuts to a pan with dduk (Korean
"ricecakes" - more like a thick rice noodle), gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), ginger, and kimchi-stuffed pork belly, add a little water, and cook down for a few minutes until the water is absorbed by the dduk and everything is coated in a sauce formed by the dduk starch, gochujang, and ginger. Toss into a tortilla with fresh chopped green onion and cilantro and roll up.

Kimchi-stuffed pork belly:

One pound of pork belly is enough for two tacos (you lose some of the weight of the pork belly in cooking, as the fat cooks out). Butterfly the pork belly by cutting it in nearly in half parallel to the skin, but don't cut all the way through, so that you can open up the "flap" and have a longer, thinner piece of pork belly. Rub on all sides with kimchi seasoning - either from the jar of kimchi, or in my case, seasoning you have left over after making kimchi: a puree of garlic, Asian pear, ginger, and Korean red pepper flakes, with fish sauce or brine shrimp.

Flip pork belly skin side down. Cover with chopped kimchi, ginger, and chopped cilantro. Roll up as tight as you can and tie it tightly with twine. Refrigerate overnight.

Roast in covered pan at 325 for 2 hours and let cool. Slice thinly before reheating with ricecakes and water chestnuts for the tacos.