Sunday, October 30, 2011
We tossed it with egg noodles, Italian sausage, and some creamed broccoli raab she had made earlier in the week - perfect combination.
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
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.
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.
2-3 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes.
1 pound hot sausage
Wick Fowler's 2-alarm chili mix (just the chili seasoning, not the rest) or similar chili seasonings
A little salt
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
Green tomato 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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).
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
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:
(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 -
- 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:
But in the meantime, the couscous.
And the 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:
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.
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
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
Without a doubt the best thing about this time of year in New England, the saving remnant, is the 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
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.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
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.