Friday, November 9, 2007

Best, Creamiest Papier Mâché Paste ever



I've made many, many batches of papier mâché paste (wheat paste) in the past year, and most recipes are lacking in a number of ways, they're lumpy after a night in the fridge, and never quite recover, or they start out lumpy, or they turn stinky way to soon. I've finally settled on a recipe of my own invention that is lumpless, mold resistant, is just as good the third day out of the fridge as it was straight off the stove, and always creamy. The real key here is the rice flour, so don't imagine you can leave it out and still expect the best, creamiest papier mâché paste ever.

Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp rice flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup cool water

1. Mix the dry ingredients.
2. Mix in the cool water with a fork or whisk, adding the water a little at a time to keep it as smooth as possible.
3. Stir the flour mixture into the boiling water.
4. Allow it to boil for two or three minutes.

Options: After a night in the fridge just stir it up with a fork.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pizza Dough



It's been a while since we've been able to make pizza, but the other weekend we spent all of Saturday at the home of our friends AZ and D, and pizza was the result. I had fun shopping for toppings with the girls (D's daughter, her niece, and their live-in school buddy). The ham, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, mozzarella, and Parmesan pizza above is their creation (Thai kids actually like vegetables). The adults had anchovies and pepperoni.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar, or honey, or molasses (optional)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, or lard
  • 5-7 cups high protein flour
  • a handful of cornmeal
Equipment
  • a big bowl
  • a damp cloth
  • someplace warm
  • a baking stone (or a baking sheet, if you're lame;)
1. Sprinkle the yeast and your sweetener of choice into the warm water. For a longer rise time (and a richer flavored crust) use only 1 tsp of yeast.
2. Let the yeast proof. If it's in good shape it should start to foam a bit after seven to ten minutes.
3. Add the salt.
4. Add your fat of choice. If using lard you might want to soften it a bit.
5. Mix in one cup of flour. Don't worry about lumps.
6. Begin mixing in the rest of the flour, use your hands once it begins to get stiff. The 5-7 cups is exactly approximate. Just make sure the dough is good and stiff before you start kneading.
7. Transfer your dough to a clean working surface, dusted with flour.
8. Knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour if the dough gets sticky. If you have kids around this is a great time to let them get their hands dirty.
9. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, with plenty of head room. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth, and leave the dough in a warm place until it has doubled in size. Depending on how much yeast you used this should take 45 minute to 1 hr and 1/2.
10. Preheat your oven to 400˚ F or 205˚ C. If you're using a stone you should throw it in there.
10. Punch the dough down and knead it again for a minute or two. If I'm making pizza for just two people I usually cut it the dough in half at this point and freeze one of the halves.
11. Roll or throw the dough into your desired shape.
12. Sprinkle cornmeal onto your baking surface, and slide your dough on. I usually coat it with some olive oil at this point.
13. I hope you have toppings ready.
14. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crust begins to brown.

Options: All by itself this dough makes great focaccia.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Easy Chocolate Pudding



I don't know where Jami found this pudding recipe, but it's easy and fast, and I like it just fine.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp corn starch
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix the dry ingredients.
2. Whisk in the milk.
3. Stir over very low heat until the pudding begins to thicken.
4. Add the vanilla extract.

Options: Try adding a little cinnamon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Food, Ethics & the Environment



Princeton University has the audio from a conference, held last November, concerning ethical food on its podcast feed. Since they're Princeton, they were able to coax a number of the big names into speaking on the panel. The first session features Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation. Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating, and Gary Nabhan, speak in session two. They discuss healthy eating and local/regional foods. In session three Becky Goldburg, Gidon Eshel, and Paul Shapiro talk about collapsing fisheries, climate change, and animal welfare. Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilema, and Bob Langert, McDonald's Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, talk in session four, while session five is dedicated to a panel from the Princeton community and the discussion of their own strivings for ethical food practices. All in all it is an excellent introduction to issues regarding the ethics of our food system, and a number of the speakers give good suggestions for individual action on those fronts.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shortbread



When I was a kid my mom had some sort of party (Tupperware?) at the house. We kids had to stay in our room, but our dad sneaked back bars of shortbread for us. No shortbread has ever tasted as good as those clandestine cookies, but that doesn't keep me from trying every once in a while. I usually use the basic Scotch Shortbread recipe from The Joy of Cooking, so here it is with some variations garnered from Chocolate and Zucchini.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup/227 grams salted butter, somewhat softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour, or substitute 1/4 cup with cornmeal or rice flour
  • pinch of salt (if needed)
  • insides of a vanilla bean, or zest from a Meyer lemon (optional)
Equipment
  • mixing bowl
  • whisk
  • big spoon
  • 9x9 baking pan or near equivalent
  • fork
1. Preheat oven to 325˚F/160˚C.
2. Cream the sugar and butter with the whisk or a fork.
3. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients. Unless it's hot the dough should be somewhat crumbly and stiff. If not add a little extra flour.
4. Press the dough into the pan and prick it with the fork every half inch or so.
5. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden.
6. Cut into bars or wedges immediately upon removing from the oven. Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Options: Chocolate chips or nuts, pecans especially, are nice with short bread. You can mix them into the dough, or press them into the dough after you prick it with a fork. That's my preference. You can also sprinkle crystal or turbinado sugar over the top before baking. These make a great breakfast with hot chocolate or tea, if you plan on having a sluggish morning.

More options (added 27 April 2008): I'm experimenting with lavender sugar, which I intend to add to this recipe if it works out. However, a pinch of lavender added to the butter and sugar while they're mixing mixing makes for a lightly lavender flavored shortbread, which is just delicious.

Healthier (‽) Powdered Sugar



We try to avoid refined sugars so that when we do use sugar we can at least pretend it's not doing us any harm. Powdered sugar was the major stumbling block, but no longer.

Ingredients
Equipment
  • blender or food processor with a spice attachment, or coffee mill
1. Pulse.
2. And pulse.
3. And pulse, and pulse, and pulse.
4. As the sugar becomes a powder its cohesion increases, and it will begin to climb the sides. If it starts to hit the top of the spice attachment, that's probably good enough. In the picture above it's almost to that point.

Options: I wonder if you could do this with sucanat? Or granulated maple sugar? That would be weird.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tomate Frito



This is a typical Spanish tomato sauce, and it was all I used when I lived in Spain. When I couldn't find it back in the States I sadly put it out of my mind hoping that the inferior, over-sweet flavor of Hunt's or Hill Country Fare would again become familiar. I don't know why it never occurred to me to make it myself. Probably the fact that tomatoes are outrageously expensive in the States, while I can get 3 kilos for 25 ฿ (about 70¢) here in Thailand. I'll have to talk J's Papa into growing more Brandywines for me (no one there likes to eat them since they look lumpy).

Ingredients
  • 3 kilos/6.5 lbs of ripe tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp evaporated cane juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a sprig of parsley or basil
Equipment
  • 2 sterile quart jars or 4 pint jars
  • large pot
  • sieve
  • knives and stuff
  • blender
1. Seed and chop the tomatoes. Save the seeds so you can strain the juice back into your chopped tomatoes.
2. Add the oil to the pot, then the tomatoes and everything else. Don't bother chopping the garlic or parsley.
3. Heat to a boil, stirring and mashing the tomatoes occasionally.
4. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover for 30 minutes. Continue stirring and mashing.
5. Run it through the blender, and mix the results (it will take 3-4 batches) for the sake of homogenization.
6. Can the results. Since this is an acid food all it needs is 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Options: You can render a chopped onion or two in the oil before you add the tomatoes. Some recipes call for a dash of pepper. Use this like you would any tomato sauce. You'll never go back.

Yum, wolf-peaches.

Spaghetti "Pad Grathiem"



The pollution here in Chiang Mai can wreak havoc on your body. Right now, at the height of the dry season with everyone burning the stubble off their rice fields, the air quality is wretched. Visibility is about 500 meters, and breathing the air is the equivalent of smoking 5 packs a day. Back when it started getting bad J began getting a rash on her legs. We asked around and a lot of people said it might be related to the pollution, but no one knew of anything that might help other than antihistamines. After getting the rash every night for a week, there was one night of relief, and then another. J realized that both days she'd eaten mu pad grathiem (pork with fried garlic, charmingly referred to as "murinated pork" on the menu) for lunch. Somehow the garlic neutralizes the toxins, allowing her to get an itch free night's sleep. Thus began the garlic fest, mu pad grathiem for lunch, roasted garlic on toast in the afternoon, spaghetti with garlic for dinner.

Jokingly we call this dish spaghetti "pad grathiem." Jami says that she originally got the idea from Nigella Lawson, which makes my heart sink. Most of her recipes are tasteless and bland, and after being betrayed by her ham in Coke and hopeless black beans, I no longer trust her. Every once in a while J will try to sneak one past me, and invariably I ask why a tasty key ingredient seems to be missing. However, according to J this one almost got left out of Nigella's cookbook on the grounds that it was too simple, and probably too tasty. Naturally my version has mutated somewhat, and is no longer a mere descendant of the original.

Ingredients
  • enough spaghetti for 2 people
  • a handful of sea salt of kosher salt
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 6-9 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2-3 dried peppers, crushed
  • salt to taste
1. Bring the water to a boil and pour some over the sun-dried tomatoes (they should be in a bowl).
2. Throw a handful of salt into the boiling water, add the pasta and cook it al dente.
3. Chop your garlic and crush your peppers.
4. Drain and rinse your pasta.
5. By now (about 10 minutes) your tomatoes should be soft. Chop them up, and reserve their liquid for stock.
6. Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat, and fry your garlic and peppers until the garlic is golden.
7. Add your tomatoes, coat them in oil, then add the pasta and coat it in oil.
8. Add salt if the pasta didn't absorb enough while you cooked it.

Options: This is an easy base to build on. You could add some finely chopped onions with the garlic and peppers, then add 1/3 cup of tomate frito, or two tablespoons of tomate frito and some cream. Maybe a little basil?

Nigella, non ti voglio bene.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

How to Cut a Mango



Mangoes are a juicy, slippery fruit with leathery skin, and getting that skin off without turning your mango into an orange pulp can be a challenge. My favorite way to peal a mango is to: 1) find a tree full of ripe mangoes, 2) climb it, 3) pick a ripe mango, 4) bite it at very tip of the small end, but not all the way through, 5) peel skin off in strips with your teeth, 6) devour mango, 7) suck on seed, 8) descend tree, 9) wash face and hands. That technique may not be ideally suited to all circumstances, so you can use this trick I learned in the town of Esperanza in the Dominican Republic instead.

1. Begin at the back of the mango, next to the stem, slicing along the seed. Mangoes are bilaterally symetrical, and your mango should be laying on its side, looking for all the world like a bloated comma, as in the picture above.

2. Lay one half to the side and begin on the second.

3. Ok?

4. Peel the central portion. If you begin next to the stem again, it should all come off in one piece.

5. Slice through the flesh left on the seed on all sides, as seen above, cutting across until your knife hits the seed. Then slice along the seed, going with the grain (cuting from stem to tip) to liberate your cubes.

6. Score the remaining two pieces in a grid, being careful not to cut through the peel. Then invert the piece by pushing on the peel side, making two little exploded mango hedgehogs. This is a great place to stop if you're preparing the fruits for presentation. They are also easy to eat at this point.

7. Slice cubes off the two halves into a bowl.

8. ¡Se acaba, ya!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rendering Lard



We miss flour tortillas something awful, and if we're going to make them right we need lard. I'm sure we could find some at one of the local, farang oriented stores, but store-bought lard tends to be hydrogenated, and therefore full of transfats. Also, our weekly market sells fatback and porkbelly for about 80 ฿ a kilo, not that you end up with a kilo of lard, since the cuts have a lot of meat on them (we just save it for fajitas). This recipe is for dry rendered lard.

Ingredients
  • leaf lard (fat from around the kidneys and loin), or fatback (as much as you think you can manage)
  • a tablespoon or two of water
Equipment
  • knife
  • chopping block
  • a pan of manageable size
  • a clean piece of muslin
  • a sterile glass jar with a lid
  • a rubber band
  • oven preheated to 150˚ C, 300˚F
1. Chop the fat into small cubes, removing any meat, especially from the fatback. You can leave the skin on if you like, since it will fry and be delicious with a dash of salt.
2. Spread the fat evenly in the pan with some water, and stick it in the oven.
3. Cover the top of the jar with the muslin, attaching it with the rubber band.
4. As liquid fat begins to form pour it off into the the jar. This doesn't take that long, so keep a close eye on your lard.
5. Eventually less and less fat will liquefy, and you'll be left with a pan full of cracklings.
6. Cap your jar, and once the lard has cooled to room temperature place it in the fridge. Many people freeze their lard, but if you have a small quantity and will use it soon, don't bother.

Options: There are some instructions for wet rendered lard here, and some traditional recipes here.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

On the Art of Whipping Cream, or "Just Knowing When"



When I told Jami she should help me write up some tips for whipping cream, her response was, "How? You just have to know." I guess you do, but since I don't, I imagine there must be a trick, or a secret word, that will allow troglodytes like myself to join the ranks of that mensa chrismata.

Ingredients
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 4-6 tbsp evaporated cane juice, to taste
Equipment
  • a mixer with whisk attachment, or even a regular old blender
1. Add the cream to the mixing bowl or blender.
2. Mix on high, adding sugar 1 tbsp at a time.
3. The cream is whipped when it has enough body to stand up on its own without collapsing back into a liquid, but before it becomes dense. If you use a blender the whipped cream might tend somewhat to the butter end the spectrum.

Options: Skip the sugar and just keep mixing until you have butter. Try it just for fun. If you use confectioner's sugar instead, which contains cornstarch, it will help stabilize the cream, and reduce the risk of over-whipping.

Strawberry Mango Crêpes Filler or Pancake/Waffel Topping



Yum!

Ingredients
  • 1 large mango
  • 2-3 handfuls of strawberries, as many as you like
  • evaporated cane juice, or sugar, as much as you like
1. Quarter the strawberries, or slice them into smaller sections if they're large.
2. Cut up the mango. There's an easy way to do it here.
3. Mix fruits in a bowl with the sugar. The sugar draws moisture from the fruit, making a watery syrup--so, the more the merrier.
4. Allow the sugared fruits time to sit. About 10-15 minutes.

Options: Any fleshy, juicy fruit should work treated like this: kiwi, papaya, peaches, apricots. If you try this with anything in the genus Rubus (blackberry, dewberry, raspberry, boysenberry, salmonberry) just bruise the fruits slightly by mixing in the sugar with a blunt instrument.

Mangoes are in the Anacardiaceae, along with cashews, pistachios, sumac, and poison ivy. Strawberries are in the Rosaceae along with peaches, plums, almonds, pears, apples, quince, hawthorn, the above mentioned fruits in the genus Rubus, and, of course, the rose. I used to think that the mango might be in the Rosaceae since it is a drupe with a structure much like a peach, but the taste of the sap in the skin should have helped me catch on to the fact that it is related to sumac.

Sweet Crêpes



We miss our nice crêpes pans. They're hidden away in a garage, missing us back, I'm certain. There's nothing quite like blue steel that has never seen soap. We've been having to use a crummy fry pan coated with flaking Teflon. Yuck.

This recipe is fairly standard, and probably came from Cook's Illustrated. Maybe. There are others that include more eggs, or less milk, or no sugar. This one works well for us.

Ingredients
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp melted butter
Equipment
1. Throw all the ingredients in a blender and pulse several times, then blend for about 20-30 seconds. Don't whip the eggs.
2. Alternatively, mix the liquid ingredients in a bowl then stir in the dry ingredients with a whisk.
3. Let the batter rest, covered, for an hour, or even overnight in the fridge. This allows the particles of flour to completely absorb the liquids.
4. Blend/stir the batter one last time before cooking the crêpes.
5. Heat your pan over medium heat, and wipe some butter into it with a paper towel. There should be enough butter in the batter not to need any more. If the crêpes start sticking whipe in a little more.
6. Pour one sloppy, sacrificial crêpe to get your swishing wrist in practice (you roll the pan to coat it with a thin coat of batter), and to make sure the heat is right.
7. I never measure out my batter, but a scant 1/4 cup should work.
8. Turn the crêpe once the edges begin to brown lightly by running the crêpes turner under the edges before going for the center. This is where a genuine crêpes pan will come in handy since the edges are so low.
9. Brown the other side lightly.

Options: We have yet to experiment with savory crêpes, when we do we'll post a recipe. These are great with all kinds of fillers. Lately we've been using fresh strawberries and mangoes. Homemade whipped cream is a must.

We'll hêv no more of your crêpe.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Jami's Minestrone



This is a simple minestrone that Jami makes. For the recipe she looked at several different ones online, and in books, figured out the basics, and went from there. She used to be a slave to recipes, but there are only two cookbooks in the house, one of them an exceptionally bad vegetarian cookbook. Thanks to those miserably bland recipes, she's taken to modifying them, and this minestrone is one of the results of that learning process.

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup dry kidney beans
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 cup peeled and diced potatoes
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 cup pasta shells
  • 3/4 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
Equipment
  • you know, knives , pots, stuff like that
1. Begin soaking the beans in the morning, or the night before you plan on making the soup.
2. In a quart or so of water, boil the beans until soft, then strain and rinse.
3. Sauté onions and garlic in the olive oil.
4. Add the dry spices.
5. Add potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes and stir to coat with oil. These should be cut fairly small so that they cook quickly.
6. Add the vegetable stock and beans, and bring to a boil.
7. Salt and pepper as needed.
8. Add pasta and reduce heat to a simmer.
9. When pasta is cooked al dente, add the green beans. When the beans turn bright green, you're done.

Options: You might play around with different kinds of beans. Substituting 1/4 cup of red beans for garbanzos would be nice, they're just way expensive here, even dry. Minestrone, like much Italian food, is a great way use leftovers. You should use whatever ingredients are seasonally available. Zucchini and yellow squash would be great. Really, if you've been chopping vegetables for something else, and have a can of beans on hand, throw some in a pot with a quart of stock, and there you go. Don't be afraid to add meat (cooking it with the onions) if you like. Jami never cooks with meat because she hates to touch it when it's raw.

Minestrone means "big soup."

Sleepy Tea



This was another component of my installation Un Lugar Donde Comer Sopa. The tea (infusion, actually, since no parts of the tea plant are involved) contains ginger, red poppy petals, and hops, and relaxes or depresses your digestive system, circulatory system, and higher brain function. In other words, it's guaranteed to make you dopey. So don't use it every day. This recipe makes a lot (I was counting on giving it to about 20 people), so modify accordingly.

Ingredients
  • 3 quarts of water
  • 3 to 4 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup dried red poppy petals
  • 3/4 cup dried hops
  • sugar to taste (optional)
Equipment
  • um, a kitchen
  • a strainer
1. Add the ginger and water to a large pot and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes.
2. Add the hops and poppies and allow to boil another 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Turn off heat and steep 15 to 20 minutes.
4. The hops are bitter, and the ginger is hot, so you really might want to add some sugar.

Options: Remember, hops are a frontal lobe depressant, so don't use them with any kind of regularity. The amounts and proportions here are infinitely fudgable, so adapt them to your needs and/or palate.

Did you know that hops are in the Cannabaceae?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Chicken Soup



I started making my own chicken soup years ago in Spain as part of an installation called Un Lugar Donde Comer Sopa. We lived down the street from Valencia's historic Mercat Central, so we had ready access to the best ingredients in town. Back then I probably invented and forgot more dishes in a week than I do now in a year. My current chicken soup recipe is a direct descendant of those feet up top.

Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken
  • enough water to cover
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 1 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup dried mushrooms (these should be a mild flavored mushroom, like field mushrooms, dried shitake would be way too strong)
  • 1/4 cup dried tangerine peels
  • 1 or 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
Equipment
  • a large stock pot
  • tongs
1. Clean and rinse the chicken well, and place it in the pot. Fill pot with enough to cover the chicken with an inch of water.
2. Bring water to a rolling boil.
3. Add the chopped onions, parsely, dried mushrooms, and oregano.
4. Tie the tangerine peels and cinnamon in a scrap of clean muslin and drop it in the pot.
5. Cover and let boil until the chicken's flesh begins to fall off the bones.
6. Fish out the spice packet and the chicken.
7. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and remove the bones and skin. Shred the meat with by hand and return it to the pot.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Options: This soup is great with homemade noodles or dumplings. You might try adding a couple of carrots or some celery. Peas might be good, too.

I recently made this soup with just a chicken, two onions, a handful of parsley and some thyme from the garden, and four or five cloves of garlic, smashed, skinned and roughly chopped. It went very well with dumplings.

Cinnamon Vanilla Syrup



A cup of real maple syrup costs about 400 ฿ ($11) here in Chiang Mai, and I hate butter flavored syrup, "maple flavored" syrup, and all the rest. We've been exploring our options, and this was an experiment that stuck. It beats spending 400 ฿ for a cup o' juice. The syrup is based on cinnamon tea, a real treat with milk when it's cold.

Ingredients
  • 2 or 3 cinnamon or cassia sticks
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cups of evaporated cane juice or turbinado sugar
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Equipment
  • medium saucepan
  • a strainer
  • a sterilized glass bottle
  • a funnel
1. Make a strong cinnamon tea with the cinnamon sticks and water. Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for 7 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and allow it to steep for ten minutes.
2. Strain the tea, then boil it down to two cups of liquid.
3. Add the sugar to the boiling tea. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Add the vanilla after turning off the heat.
5. Pour the syrup into the bottle and refrigerate once it has cooled to room temperature.

Options: It might be nice to try this with a real vanilla bean, perhaps adding it to the cinnamon tea. The cinnamon compliments fresh strawberries nicely, especially if they're a bit tart.

Sugar is bad for you.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Vegetable Stock on the Cheap



This idea came to me when I was working as a private gardener for a crazy woman. Really. Crazy. Full on paranoid neurosis. I had to go crap in the woods because she was scared of getting my poopoo germs in her toilet. Anyhow, once I got to come in from the cold for an hour and help prep vegetables for her "special spaghetti sauce." There must have been fifteen pounds of vegetables on the counter, awaiting cleansing and processing. I got to skin the mushrooms. I had never known anyone to skin mushrooms before, and these were just regular old Agaricus bisporus. By the time we were done there must have been ten pounds of perfectly edible vegetable scraps in the sink. It was a bit like watching a sushi master prepare fugu. I remarked that all those vegetables would make great stock, which earned me a grimace. So at home I started saving my own vegetable scraps in a gallon sized ziplock in the freezer, and when it was full I'd make stock--a practice which Jami and I continue to this day.

Anything can go in your scrap bag, almost. I cut out squishy parts, and I cut all the green parts off anything in the Solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers). This might not be necessary with the peppers, I just have a healthy respect for the genus Solanum. If you look at the picture above you'll notice onions, celery, lettuce, garlic, broccoli stems (I have yet to convince Jami that it's the best part), cardamom pods, tomatoes, peppers, dill, carrots, cabbage, turnips, and potatoes. We also add natural (unwaxed) cheese rinds, and fresh herbs we might not get around to using. Recently we began using some fruit scraps, like apple peels, and apple cores, and the liquids left over from reconstituting dried fruits and vegetables, like sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms.

Ingredients
  • 1 gallon bag of vegetable scraps
  • water to cover
  • salt (optional)
Equipment
1. Fill a large stock pot (or its corresponding pasta insert) with the vegetables and cover with water.
2. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. If your stock consists largely of greens 5 to 10 minutes at a simmer should be enough. If you have larger items, like onion halves, or whole vegetables, or whole heads of garlic, you can go 15 to 30 minutes. Remember, you're extracting nutrients, not making mush.
3. Add salt if you must. I usually wait until I know how I'm using the stock.
4. Allow the boiled stock to steep for a while, 20 minutes to an hour. I've even left it out over night and not died from it. All the solids will keep it warm for a long time.
5. At this point you need to decide how you want to keep your stock. You can freeze it in ziplock bags, or plastic containers. We like to can it in quart jars while it's still hot. Stock will keep for about five days in the fridge. Strain it as you pour it into its container.

Options: Each batch of stock you make will be unique, depending on what kind of vegetables you've been eating. Greens will give you a nice clear stock, root vegetables will make it brown and hearty, and potato scraps will make it cloudy and starchy. If you would like to strive for some consistency you might separate your scraps according to kind, using different bags in your freezer, and settling on a mixture that you like. Sometimes I make two batches at once, and mix the results. It gives me some consistency but spares me the trouble of sorting. If your freezer space or ability to process large amounts of stock is limited, just keep your scraps in a sealed container in the fridge (they'll keep for about five days), and make stock as you need it, one quart at a time. This is what we've had to do lately. Jami got the idea from a Deepak Chopra cookbook of all places. It takes all of ten minutes, and is better than spending two dollars at the store for the salty, over-spiced slurry they sell there.

Compost the remainders.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lentils with Pork



This is one of my made-up-on-the-spot dishes. I've made it twice, and it was pretty good. Jami likes it. The cat likes it. I'm sure the neighborhood dogs would like it, but I won't share.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 to 1/2 pound very fatty pork cut into 1 inch cubes (try to get a strip of side or back, with the skin still on)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced (depending on the size of the cloves or your feelings about garlic)
  • 1 or 2 plum tomatoes finely chopped (tomatoes add acidity to the dish, not much, but too much will kind of flatten the flavors)
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • a pinch or two of "Italian spices" (this is a packet of mystery herbs someone gave us), or fresh or dried thyme, oregano, and rosemary (but not too much, you want to taste the lentils, not the herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • some extra water (in case the liquids boil off too much)
Equipment
  • a knife
  • a cutting board
  • a pot
  • normal stuff
1. Heat the pot and add the olive oil.
2. Add the cubed pork and cook the heck out of it. Don't blacken it, but it should be crispy, and your kitchen should fill with smoke.
3. Turn the heat down and add the onions.
4. Once the onions begin to release some of their moisture add the minced garlic. This keeps the garlic from burning and becoming bitter. If you cook it slowly it'll add some sweetness.
5. Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to fall apart.
6. Pour in the vegetable stock.
7. Add the lentils and chopped carrot.
8. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer until the lentils are cooked. About 30 minutes. Do not overcook the lentils. Check on them yourself, don't rely on a timer.
9. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper during the last ten minutes or so.
10. Add some of the extra water if you need to. This is supposed to be a lentil soupy-stewy sort of thing, not lentil gruel.

Options: This is great with polenta. It would probably be really really great with sausages cooked in beer or white wine. This serves four to six.

Oh. . . sausages.

Polenta: Living the Principle



When I told Jami that I was going to write about polenta she objected saying, "But that's not a recipe." I quipped back, responding that it was a principle, and that I would teach people correct principles, and let them govern themselves. The principle of polenta is actually a ratio, 1:4. That's 1 part polenta to 4 parts liquid. I can't say which liquid. The recipe that follows feeds us twice--fresh polenta the first day, polenta fried in olive oil on the second. You can double it, halve it, reduce it by a quarter, whatever you like, just as long as you follow the 1:4 ratio.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup polenta (or regular old corn meal if you're desperate)
  • 1 quart liquid (this can be chicken or vegetable stock, water, or water and milk)
  • a pinch of salt, unless you have cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup or a mere handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, or pecorino stagionato (when aged Italian cheeses are unavailable I add 1 1/2 cups of milk to the liquid instead)
Equipment
  • a medium sized saucepan or pot
  • measuring cups
  • a whisk or fork
  • a large spoon
  • a cheese grater
1. Boil your chosen liquid[s], adding salt if you need it.
2. Pour the dry polenta into the boiling milk/water/stock in a steady stream, stirring constantly with the fork or whisk.
3. Trade out the whisk for the spoon and reduce the heat. The polenta is done once it begins to pull from the sides, or when the spoon can stand up in it. This should take seven minutes or less, unless you somehow managed to get traditional polenta, in which case, see you tomorrow.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.

Options: You can eat your polenta hot off the stove if you like. Leftovers can be sliced up and fried in olive oil until golden, or grilled. Polenta goes well with meats and mushrooms, anything with savory brown juices for it to soak up. I especially like it with lentils. By the way, for those of you not in the know, the title of this post is a Mormon joke about polygamy.

Siete maledetti polentoni.

Plain Jane Granola



Jami found this recipe on one of her favorite craft blogs, Little Birds Handmade. It's been quite a success, and goes nicely with our homemade yogurt for breakfast. Our housemate LB has even started making her own. I've modified Little Birds' recipe in accordance with my own prejudices and imaginary morals.

Ingredients
  • 8 cups rolled oats, or 6 cups oats and 2 cups rolled barley
  • 2-3 cups seeds, nuts or other add-ins (it is a sin to make granola without coconut)
  • 1 cup maple syrup, honey, molasses, or combination of the three
  • 1/2 cup cold pressed sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 cups dried fruit, your choice
Equipment
  • a large bowl
  • a large cookie sheet or small pan
  • an oven preheated to 175˚C/350˚F, or a toaster oven
  • a really big spoon
  • a small saucepan
1. Mix the dry ingredients, minus fruit, in the bowl.
2. Heat the oil and sweetener together in a small saucepan until both are watery and well mixed. The first time I helped Jami make this my selective hearing cut out at this point. Heating the oil and sweetener aids adsorption by the dry ingredients. If you skip this step, even with just half the sweetener, the end product will be a sticky, rock-hard mass. Something like a granola popcorn ball.
3. Add vanilla and salt to the syrup mixture.
4. Mix the syrup into the dry ingredients until well coated.
5. Spread mixture onto a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. If you use a toaster oven, divide your mixture into three or four batches, toasting each one for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
6. Allow granola to cool before mixing in the dried fruits.
7. Make some yogurt if you haven't already.

Options: Granola is great by the handful as a snack. If you eat it over sliced apples it will cure both depression and acid reflux (maybe). Jami likes sesame seeds in hers. My dad sprinkles ground flax seed over his. I've used orange juice as a sweetener, but it wasn't up to my standards. If anyone has any suggestions about OJ, I might give it a try again.

Eat your whole grains. They will contribute to a healthy and satisfying bowel movement.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes



You'd think this would be a no-brainer. It is, as long as you take your climate into account. In Thailand our climate is hot and dry about three months of the year, so we've been buying a bagful of tomatoes every Monday at our weekly market (10 ฿ a kilo, or about 30¢) and setting them on their way to deliciousness while our window of opportunity is still open. We use romas. Any plum tomato will do, so will grape or cherry tomatoes. If you try anything bigger, be sure to cut them into small enough sections. If you have an over abundance of a large variety of tomato in your garden, it might be better to can them, or make tomato sauce.

Ingredients
  • as many ripe tomatoes as you can economically muster or have room for
  • 1/2 cup (or more) 1 to 1 water and vinegar solution
Equipment
  • nonreactive trays, either plastic or fabric
  • a bowl
  • a knife
  • a cutting board
  • a few pieces of loosely woven cloth, either muslin or cheesecloth
1. Wash and quarter your tomatoes. Traditionally they should be halved, but this increases your drying time, which increases the likelihood of something going wrong. This is especially true if you have to dry them from the third and fourth floor balconies of your rundown rental townhouse. Some people cut out the seeds at this point, I say why waste sugars that could otherwise go into the final product. You can also slice them into sections as long as you don't mind paper-thin tomato chips instead of plump and yummy sun-dried tomatoes.
2. Dip your tomatoes in the vinegar solution. Most recipes I researched called for this. My guess is that the extra acidity discourages bacteria, while the sun discourages mold.
3. Place your tomato quarters on a nonreactive tray that will allow air to pass through it. A plastic mesh like the one in the picture is ideal. Don't use metal. It will react with the acids in the tomatoes and you'll end up in oxidation town.
4. Place the trays outside in the sun.
5. If flying insects will be a problem line the trays with a loosely woven fabric like muslin or cheesecloth and cover them with the same, or use a screen, or a fancy little mesh umbrella thingy for cakes. If your situation is like ours, and you can count seven species of ants just by walking across your bedroom, then you might try balancing the trays on top of bowls or cups sitting in a saucer of water. Use your common sense.
6. Bring the trays in at sunset, and don't take them out again until the dew has begun to evaporate.
7. The tomatoes are done when they are dark and dry, but not brittle. There shouldn't be any squishy-juicy pockets left. This should take a week or two. After you bring them in you might leave them exposed to the air for a few more days to allow the moisture content to even out. You don't want one moist tomato to spoil the bunch.
8. Store them in a sealed container in a cool, dark place. A glass jar might be a good idea since not all plastics are nonreactive to acid. Try to use them all before the next tomato season--about 6-9 months.
9. Reconstitute before using by soaking for 30 minutes in warm water, wine, or diluted vinegar.

Options: If you live in a cool or humid climate you can use a food dehydrator. Yes there is something mythical-magical about letting Helios do the job, but the real joy of sun-dried tomatoes is the meaty flesh full of concentrated sugars. A dehydrator will do the job perfectly well. There are lose parameters for a passive-solar convection dehydrator on our other blog. If we decide to preserve any of our tomatoes in oil we'll post the recipe here as well.

A tomato is a berry.

Basic Yogurt



Depending on how much you think your time is worth, making your own yogurt can be a great money saver. Since we live in Thailand, where time is abundant and money is scarce, this more than halves our yogurt bill. In the States we just did it for the cachet. No, actually, it tastes better this way since you get to pick the milk you use.

I took this recipe from David B. Frankhauser's nifty site all about cheese making. I present it here essentially without modification, except to say, if you don't have a fancy thick bottomed pan or double boiler, don't worry. Just don't scrape the crud off the bottom after scalding the milk. This recipe is for 1/2 gallon of milk. The recipe for a whole gallon, with pictures, is here.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 gallon milk (I prefer whole milk for the taste, but it doesn't matter since the bacteria metabolize the lactose, not the fat)
  • 1/2 cup fresh plain yogurt with live culture
Equipment
  • 2 big old pots or pans
  • thermometer
  • sterilized jars with lids
  • an insulated cooler
  • a funnel
1. Sterilize your jars and lids in a pot of boiling water, and pour the water into the cooler, leaving the lid open to let it cool.
2. In the meanwhile begin heating your milk on medium low heat. Scald the milk. That means let it start to boil until it begins to climb the sides. Do not stir it, but remove the skin from the top when it's done.
3. Begin heating another pot or two of water (depending on the size of your cooler and height of your jars) to about 55˚C or 130˚F.
4. Cool the milk to about 50˚C/122˚F. You can speed this up by placing the pot in a sink full of cool water while monitoring the temperature.
5. Mix some of the warm milk into the 1/2 cup of yogurt, then inoculate (or infect, depending on how you want to look at it) the pan of scalded milk with that mixture, being careful not to scrape burnt milk off the bottom and sides as you stir.
6. Pour the inoculated milk into the jars and put the lids on. This is where a funnel might come in handy. We use a 1/2 gallon milk jug with the bottom cut off.
7. Put the jars in the cooler, filling it with enough 55˚C/130˚F water come up to the necks of the jars, but not over the lids.
8. Seal the cooler and wait 3 hours. Don't open it or disturb the jars until it's done, because you'll lose heat and piss off the bacteria. Pretend you're making dumpling, or popovers, and that they'll be ruined if you peek.
9. Allow the jars to cool before placing them in the fridge.

Options: Some yogurt cultures contain both mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria. This recipe favors the thermophiles in order to kill any unwanted mesophilic contaminants (like Streptococcus) lurking in your kitchen, evading your sloppy sterilization technique. 55˚C is actually the cutoff point for yogurt cultures. If you want a more diverse mix of bacteria from your original culture to survive in your yogurt, you might try lowering the temperature of your milk to 43˚C/110˚F (this is the "correct" temperature for yogurt making) and water bath to about 47˚C/116˚F. It takes the same amount of time, and results in a milder, less acid yogurt with a smoother texture. If you would like to sweeten your yogurt (gross!), add sugar to the milk before you scald it. For "fruit on the bottom" yogurt use smaller jars, and put a spoonful or two of pasteurized (canned) jam or fruit preserves in the bottom before you pour in the inoculated milk.

Yogurt is good for your tummy.

The What and the Why



As much as we love Dave Hickey, we have to admit that his writing can be somewhat mannered. Just try counting the appearance of "quotidian" and "efficacy" in his essays. That said, they're great words, aptly invoking the efficacy to which we all aspire in that most quotidian of tasks. Cooking.

In other words, we're going to post recipes here. The most efficacious. The most tried and true. Some of them will be our own. The rest will be properly referenced, and, more likely than not, bastardized, since we can't help but tinker. Most will be food related, unless I get the urge to throw in some ink recipes, or paper, or counter-top explosives (try 1 part brown sugar, 1 part salt peter, mix well, apply match). Primarily this is to provide ourselves with a light-weight and mobile recipe book of our own best-beloveds. Also, I get asked about recipes often enough that it might be nice to put them all in one place for others to find, use, and improve. Happy cooking.