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Friday, December 27, 2013

Cobbled-together Kimchi

Farmers Market Napa and Home-grown Daikon Greens

Late in the Fall, I finally got around to a couple of things. One was admitting that the daikon I planted was never going to make roots. Most of the summer planting bolted almost immediately, and the few plants that didn't never managed more than cracked, deformed, and undersized chunks underground. The second thing was realizing that I had a head and a half of napa cabbage yet un-used in the fridge.

So, kimchi.

There are plenty of recipes online, a suprising number of which make no sense. Some, because they are in Korean, which I do not read. Others, because they are in American, and are fake or wrong.

So I searched some more, and dredged up old emailed advice from a Korean friend of an Irish friend. This boiled down to: sweet rice flour is a good aid to fermentation, and you should use the greens you have.

Rinsing away the salt
So I stripped the greens off the straggling remnant of my failed daikon crop, a couple of stray mustard plants, and cut up the napa cabbage, then tossed it with kosher salt. Pressed out the liquid and rinsed repeatedly to get rid of (most of) the salt.

And so it begins.
Then I chopped in a mix of home-grown garlic and chilis (cayenne-ish, although NW peppers never seem to get as hot, and these were old), some store-bought dried ancho chilis (with their tobacco-raisin dimensions), and...maybe that's it. Except for the rice flour porridge, which I'm guessing is food to kick-start the microbes. Mexican anchos, Japanese rice flour, and bastard mustard may not be authentically Korean (also, I guess people used to fermenting in an onggi might look askance at my salvaged crock-pot), but somehow I imagined that using what was handy and seasonal would be acceptable to a fair proportion of Korean grandmothers, so I went with it.

The non-photogenic end result.

And before too long, I had the above. Not tongue-blisteringly hot, and oddly smoky due to the anchos, but tangy and tasty. These greens will not go bad, or be wasted. It's not bad, and that is good. It's probably even good for me. Hope so, because I've got a half gallon of the stuff. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Vinegar Time


Now that Stoic Week is done (in the time zones where it applied, anyway), a procrastinator like me can get around to writing about taking the world as it is. Putting things off makes sense, a lot of times. Like: I've put off writing blogs lately, getting things done, having more time with my family, playing in the real world, and dealing with the bounty of Fall.

Not that the more chore-like of these accomplishments haven't got some delay built in. I should have dealt with the garden a month ago, for instance. And the subject of today's post--vinegar--evokes among many Americans all things sour and past due. There's a Cracker song about a downer of a person, who sees "Roses and wine" as "Thorns and vinegar." I've been accused of being that person, not always without reason.

Wine, cider, and any number of fruits, however, aspire to vinegaration. Humans arrest this development for their own tipsy ends (myself included), but there's no sin in letting the process keep going a bit further (especially with headache-inducing red wine). The Acetobacter microbes feast on alcohol, and piss vinegar. And if you are stoic, seeing that this cycle wants to happen, you can embrace the waste, wringing from it something sweet...figuratively if not chemically.

If I had the extra cider, I would have let some turn to vinegar. But I am a stoic who has also been accused of being cheap (Must I utter it? Not always without reason), and so my eyes turned to the pomace, the "spent" wheel of packed pomes pushed from the press. This year instead of turning it upon yon worm-heap, I dumped pomace into bins, poured in a bunch of Olympia water, and let them steep. Sure enough, bubbling ensued, signalling the emergence of alcohol from the old time + sugar equation.

After the action subsided, I strained out the fruit, and let the liquid keep doing its thing. The result was a jug of apple water, and a tub of pear syrup. I didn't stir either as much as you're supposed to, but after a couple or more monrths of inattention, I got to them in the slack time after Turkey Day and before returning to work. The results are a gallon of clear-ish sharp apple cider vinegar and 3-4 gallons of amber pear product.

The pear vinegar, coming in such quantity, led me to step in and halt to process for part of the batch. I pasteurized a bunch and bottled it in re-used and sterilized beer bottles. The rest is in half-gallon growlers in the fridge and garage. So if anyone wants a trade, let me know via the comments section or an email. I'll be hanging on to a fair amount, though, since my goal next summer is to make pickles with my own vinegar.

So yeah, sometimes I put things off, and sometimes I am sour. But one thing spoils and a new one emerges. Recognizing that the process will do what comes naturally and suspending belief that there is a hard and fast expiration date, allows time to keep flowing, to make December as fruitful as Summer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Salt-Dried Garlic Update

In the beginning.

Back in January, as knobs sensed the lenghtening post-solstice days, I got around to preserving garlic for the rest of the year. As much as I love cutting into a fresh clove, there's no way I know of to extend that in the period from Winter til Summer Solstice, when the fresh snap softens and the white cloves develop a green core bent on autophagy.

As usual, I peeled a sizable portion of the crop and dropped it into olive oil. Over the years, I've occasionally read that this method carries a risk of botulism, but it's never happened to me--beware if you intend to eat some home-cooked garlic-rich meals cooked in my kitchen--and my main objection is that there's a bit of sulfur phunk to this technique.

This time, though, I took some of the peeled cloves and nestled them in layers of kosher salt. Seemed like it could work, but not knowing, it was a gamble.

At the end.

Just this week, after 9 or 10 months in the jar, I peeked at the result. The garlic dried to a pliable leathery texture without making the salt gooey or brown. Bite into it, and it's clear that some of its own bite has fled, but the result is a mellow richness, more of a complex flavor. Like replacing raw jalapeno with dried ancho, maybe. Sliced and cooked into a meal, it tasted like,...garlic. I have yet to taste the salt, but I have to think it will be pretty damn good.

So as experiments go, I'm happy how this one turned out.
Does it preserve my home-grown garlic? Yep.
Is it easy? Uh-huh.
Did the garlic sprout? Nope.
Is there a side benefit? Salt.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Land Tobiko - Poppy Roe

It's a little late to tell you now, but you can haz pappy roe. Like many esocteric gustatory treats, this treat is only available for a few weeks in any one place. This photo is a month or more old, and shows immature poppy seeds spilt 'pon yon plate. The green seed pod of the breadseed poppy (Papaver icannotrememberensis), can be split asunder to yield these seeds. In sushi or salad, or on top of a hotdog for that matter, the unripe seeds lend snap with a bitter crackle with a flowery aftertaste.

Leave 'em out, and they will begin to yellow and harden, and then it's too late.

The only way to eat these (other than blind-stupid early harvest) is to willingly sacrifice the promise of bagel or pastry with the black-seeded crunch of poppies. The pod cut open to free this caviar will not mature, cannot recover. Scoop out all the seeds and add them to whatever it is you have going that needs a light plantiferous crunch. There will be thousands, but not many.

You cannot buy this, and must grown it. A cold February casting seed. April thinning the progeny. June watching for the big-but-not-mature heads to offer up the bounty. Harvest only what you will eat within the hour. No prep time, but no shelf life either.

The unique snap of exocarp full of liquid so small in volume that it only regesisters as the snap against the skin. Like flying fish eggs - tobiko - this plantiferous roe gives the raw dish a crunch unlike almost anything else.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ozettes! (and Other Potatoes)

This has been a good garden year here so far, and mid-July brought with it a good harvest of potatoes. But I have a garden blog somewhere else, and it's the food that interests me here. Especially since this year was my first attempt at growing the Ozette potato.

Ozettes are what people call a 'fingerling' potato, mostly smaller than what you see here. This one has side sprouts, and looks as much like a Jerusalem artichoke as a potato. But that's the beauty of potatoes--a beauty hid from me for decades, growing up on nothing but Idaho Russets--that they come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors.

This variety gets's it's name from a place called Ozette, which also happens to be an archaeological site of huge significance. It's a site because Makah people lived there, and they've been growing these potatoes for centuries. Unfortunately, I don't have their origin story, but it's likely that Makah territory was one of the early landing points for the great Peruvian Potato Migration that spread tubers across the globe once Spanish ships started plying Pacific waters. But if the potato has not been here as long as the tribe, since time immemorial, it's been adopted by them for long enough to be a part of the culture now.

So yeah, it's a good variety for an archaeologist to grow, and it did well down here in the South Puget soils. And now that I have about 4 gallons of them, I'll get to try them in all sorts of ways. Ozettes, coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, roasted just short of crisp, chewy with a tough caramelized outer layer and a rich interior, mmmm. Simple can be best.

There's gold in them there hills.

The other varieties I grew this year were less interesting. Yukon Golds (above) were one of the first "other" potatoes available in regular American grocery stores of the late 20th Century, but to be honest the only reason I grew them was because I had some extra space and tubers that were sprouting. They're doing well, it seems like, but I haven't harvested them yet. When the time comes, they'll be the workhorse potato, boiled, mashed, roasted, whatever. Hopefully, they'll taste a little better for having been homegrown, but they're not exciting.

A basket of mascots.
The other kind of potato this year also came about as the result of profligate potato purchasing and the oversupply of aging tubers that follows for unambitious cooks like myself. This time, it was the only non-russet potato that I can remember way back into childhood: the Redskin. Yes, football fans, this is the way to use this word without being a racist asshole. I know, you don't want to walk away from your proud tradition (which has lasted, oh, not even 1/100th of the time Native people had their own traditions along the Potomac), and sports fans are not to be bullied by political correctness, but its mean and racist to keep calling your team that.

But yeah, redskin potatoes are fine. I'm looking forward to eating them. At least a few will go into sour cream and tarragon style potato salad. Tastes like summer.

And finally this year, there was a stealth russet, flourishing despite me. Potatoes actually came up unbidden last year from a previous renter's garden, but even though I hilled them up, they didn't produce. This year when it happened again, I ripped the shoots and thought no more. I did notice a survivor lurking among the raspberries, but didn't bother pulling it. Of course, I didn't bother helping it any, either, no weeding or hilling.

Then last week, because I wanted to clear some space for fall spinach, I did pull it out, and found about 7 pounds of potatoes hiding under the now luxuriant vine. I might not choose russets intentionally, but when a few meals worth drops in my lap, I'm grateful.

Now, all these potatoes (about 6 gallons and I have no idea how many pounds) are sitting in my archaeology screens in the garage, curing a bit before I stash them in the darkest coolest spot this hacienda has.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Homegrown Lion's Mane

This Spring, I got a Lion's Mane mushroom kit at the farmer's market. It's a bag about the size of a fat gallon of milk, loaded with sawdust impregnated with mycelia. Having failed before, I tried a new set-up, consisting of a 5-gallon bucket with a rock in the bottom for the shroom-bag to sit on, just above an inch or two of water. Sitting on top of it all was my broad-brimmed field hat, holding in the humidity.

All you have to do is poke a few holes in the bag and set it in a humid place (well, you also need a certain amount of free airspace around the bag, and not too much water, heat, cold, light, or spores of more aggressive fungi, slimes, molds, and bacteria). When they reach baseball size, the instructions say, it's time to harvest. But I let one go to see what would happen, which turned out to be pretty interesting.

It goes fractal. More like sea-life than a lion's mane. There's still a core (the cut 'stem' at the center of this photo), but branches proliferate, more and thinner with each iteration.

After cutting them loose, I did what I do with most fung-food: sauteed with butter and garlic (or onion, shallots,...all alliums). Next time around, I'll try some other preparations. Those tendrils in broth would work like egg-drops in soup, weaving well with sprouts and delicate vegetables.

The center, or the whole mushroom if you follow instructions and pick it small, is meaty. To me, there was a chewiness beyond what portobello achieves, and I'd like to try using these for burgers. Slices in the sautee ended up more or less like meat. I'd use this in stir-fry in place of chicken--the texture was better than tofu or other mushrooms in that respect.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Accidental Yum.

Somehow yesterday, I moved slowly at everything and allowed myself to become distracted so many times that it was nearly 10:00 before I got to cooking dinner. There were some potatoes sprouting eyes and begging to be eaten, a few hundred cc's of beans, and not a lot else. But at that point, culinary creativity and gustatory inspiration were far less important than filling my gut, and I set to cooking.

The beans only needed heating, so the first thing I did was dice the potatoes and throw them in a hot skillet with some oil. Every few minutes, some spatula action and maybe a toss or two to avoid the raw-on-one-side crispy-on-the-other syndrome. In between spatulations, I'd scatter some salt, grind some pepper, shake on some powdered garlic, or dump in some taco seasoning from Buck's (one of the few plug-links you'll ever find here--they are so good I suspend my fatwah against commerce here on the blog), an Olympia treasure. For some reason, I decided that a dash or two of cinnamon would be a good idea.

Even with the creative outlet of adding another spice at each turn, shallow-frying potatoes takes a while. During that while I decided that the increasing difficulty of scraping softened starch and a growing amount of spice-skudge, not to mention the desire to get the still crunch-raw tater-centers to cook, dictated a switch to braising. So I readied a couple cups of chicken broth, and let the potatoes sit and fry until on the brink of burning, then deglazed with the liquid.

As this came to a boil, I dolloped in some sour cream, and dropped in a handful of homegrown tarragon. As the sauce reduced, a couple of samples told me that this time, my near random addition of ingredients had worked. By the time it was thick, the potatoes were done.

I'd write a recipe, but none of the amounts were measured, and I've described the process. Now that it's posted, there's a fair chance that I won't forget this discovery, which is enough for me. If any of you try it, I'd be interested to hear how you like it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Morels Now and Later

Fruit o the Morel

The "naturals" come before the wild-fire borne morels, so says the picker, and I have no reason to doubt them his expertise, although I did walk away shaking my head as he continued to rant about Obama and what "they say" are his impeachable offenses.

The guy's politics are not enough to make me pass on the fresh mushrooms in a bin propped up under the shade of his pickup canopy. (If it were a Dodge, I'd pass, but it's a Ford, so OK.) Also, his price is 33% below that in the stores and farmers market, and they're clean, firm, not too old or bug-eaten at all.

Shallot Scapes

Not irrelevant to this decision is the fact that I felt the need to go harvest shallot scapes and make use of them before they got too big and tough. And so it was that a few hours later, an age-old skillet that got my dad through grad school many long years ago got a taste of allium-mushroom-butter. Attacked by a bout of forethought, I decided to slice up the bigger (less likely to quickly dry) morels first. Here is what that kind of fresh looks like:

But the kind of deal I got feels too good to fritter away on a few ounces of fungal goodness, and I purchased a pound. Which in turn is too much to fritter away on a meal eaten alone. With all the big scapes cut, I could've tossed the shrooms in a paper bag in the fridge and reapeated this gistatory goodness in a few days, but the cheapskate in me has touble eating that high on the hog twice in a week. So the tuna can came out of the cupboard and the remaining morels went into the oven to dry out.

You may have guessed by now that I am not the kind of guy to have a food dehydrator, and the day in question was cloudy with intermittent rain, so sun-drying was not an option. So into the wee convection oven they went. Various web pages dedicated to mushroom-drying advise against exceeding 175 degrees fahrenheit, lest the psychoactive chemicals degrade, and even thought I am in a different genus, interested only in food, I figured 150 was good. The fan keeps the air circulating, and a fork propped in the door lets moisture escape. This particular oven shuts off after 30 minutes, and I just kept rpeating the process until the mushrooms were hard little nuggets, like this:

Drying morels this way realeases and maybe bakes the spores, causing this nice pattern to appear on the pan. The cooled morels went into a mason jar for later use. They smelled intense, no hint of burn, and it seems like my ad hoc dryer worked just fine.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Metric Beans

Do this once.

Beans are simple, and so is the metric system. Put them together, and eat simply, cheaply, low on the food chain and carbon emission spectrum.

I've written about it before, but that was a while ago, and for new readers, here's the logic: cook a big mess o' beans in the crockpot, and you've invested minimal effort in return for several meals' worth of protein.  

Do this twice.

In case the photos are not obvious enough, here's the recipe:

1000 cc beans (cc= cubic centimeters, because volume's the quickest measure to make)
2000 cc water
Put all this in a crockpot with a metric toss o salt. Turn it on. Wait til the beans are soft before you eat them. 

That's it. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Northwestest Salt

A few weeks ago, I worked at Point Roberts, which is a landform (not a 5-4 decision written by the SCOTUS Chief) that is part of the Canadian mainland, but part of the US. It's the western end of Boundary Bay, and because it noses south of the 49th Parallel, is part of the Lower 48, if not the contiguous United States. It is the northwesternmost part of the US outside of Alaska, and therefore I resolved to make some salt from this place. 

Because I was camping, and because making a couple of international border crossings with a bag of white powder seemed like not such a good plan, what I brought back to Olympia were a couple of growlers filled with sea water. [Growlers being jugs--half a gallon in this case--that we Cascadians keep handy to fill with beer at the brewpubs spaced and conveniuent half-mile intervals throughout our land.] Customs and Border Patrol are unconcerned with this, although in the line-up I was wondering if I'd have to explain why I was transporting seawater.

Making the salt is pretty straightforward, as I've figured out before. It looks something like this:

This time around, I learned a couple of things. One is that you can burn salt. Set it to boiling, and get sidetracked by a phone call, and you end up with this:

Add caption

The grey crust at the bottom bothered me, so I scraped off the good part, added water, and filtered it before starting over, paying more attention to the boil this time. Eventually, enough water boils off to leave a bubbling white paste, which with some stirring can be relieved of most of its water.

But not all. The penultimate phase is paste. This goes onto a stone tile that I use for baking and pizza:

My favorite salt shot yet.
 I've kept salt (from South Carolina, in that case) at this paste stage before, and it' s actually a nice texture to work with. Fine grained but cohesive, easily dissolved into water or sauce. What makes salt at the penultimate drying phase best and most unique is that it is spreadable. Excellently easy for salt-crusting a piece of chicken.

But for whatever reason, I wanted this northwesternest US salt to be totally dry. So I spread it on the stone and cut furrows through it to maximuze surface area and make the drying quicker and more thorough. Popped it in the oven on the lowest setting, and when it felt dry left it in with the door open. It didn't take much. I'm pretty sure if I'd brought it across the border looking like this, I would have been arrested:

So, that's the story of making salt from the Salish Sea west of Boundary Bay. It's good,...salty. It came with less grit and arthropods than some of the salt I've made. Maybe not a fancy gourmet salt, no color or extra flavor, just the good clean merroir of the northwestest salt I could reach.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bottom of the Barrel

Most of us buy our food, and have little or no connection to times of plenty and famine, cycles of harvest and lean times. Often as not, modern people asked to name the hungriest time of year will name Winter. But before global transport of food from wherever the harvest is coming in to suburban USA, before food preservation technology took hold (nostalgia for canning gets us, oh, a fraction of a percent back toward the dawn of the human appetite), Spring's beauty was draped over the harsh reality that the livestock were yet lean and the crops were mere aspirations, months from fruition.

Stocking a larder and avoiding losses from it, therefore, was a matter not just of avoiding guilt over waste, it was crucial. I've availed myself of canning, a bit of freezing (I may have bouts of nostalgia, and experiment with ancient foodways, but hey, I'm not gonna forego modern conveniences entirely), and have transformed part of my garage into a cellar with hanging mesh sacks of shallots and onions hanging, potatoes stashed in dark places, and crates of apples. Recently, the Winter Solstice a fading memory and sunlight growing every day, the apple scent experienced a slight change, the sweet lilt got a tangy edge, mellowing turning into fermentation and, if I did not move, outright rot.

Sure enough, the last milk crate of apples purchased just before the Farmers Market shut down for the Winter had a few bad ones. Many of the remainder had bad spots, and passive preservation clearly could not continue without spoilage loss. 

So I did what any reasonable person would do. Handed my eight-year-old a knife and told her it was time to learn how to cut. She's had some practice with avocados, but even an old apple is harder than that, and we worked together, me teaching her how to hold the knife and the food, pointing out when she was about to risk slicing herself instead of the fruit, and how to avoid that. Adding blood to the applesauce is no way to get your iron.

We had a great time, and in the end we had a bunch of applesauce, which can be put in the fridge, the freezer, or even canned so that the apples season of 2012 can last past the lean months. The compost got a meal of scraps, and we got enough delicious sauce for a bunch more meals.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Carb Dogs

Back off!
Recently, scientists published the results of a study on the canine genome. One of the crucial differences between dogs and wolves, it turns out, is that only the dogs can digest carbs. For a very long time, scientists and common sensists have reasoned that the domesticated dog as originally a wolf that followed humans around and fed on their middens or kill sites. A few people, sly as foxes, reasoned that both humans and wolves congregated around kills and carrion, and that the domestication process may have been more commensal than unidirectional. 

But now the genes tell us that the domestic dog can consume carbohydrates to some benefit, whereas los lobos cannot, and we move from an understanding of mutual carnivorism or scavenging to four-leggeds hanging around two-legged gatherers or farmers. [Eventually, I have no doubt, I wil learn of the legend in which farming is just a trick that coyote plays on humans so he can eat for free.] Whether it was people growing grain or digging roots, odds are that this imputes a greater role to women than the meat-eater model would have suggested, since women have long dug the wild roots and tended the gardens while men went off to hunt, or whatever it is they did when game was scarce and beer was not yet been invented.

The dog-carb connection comes as no surprise to me. I have a dog that is healthy, and a huge fan of bread. Serendipitously (or, honed by evolutionarily), the mutt likes her bread stale and hard. She is a huge fan of old bagels, and the photo above is her eating a burnt and aged loaf of soda bread, inedible to humans. In that shot, she is slightly blurred because she senses a threat and is springing into action, she feels like the photographer is coming after her precious lithified loaf. Never have I seen a dog of my acquaintance so viciously protective of something not made of ham. 

So thank you, scientists, for vindicating my non-obese, non-diabetic hound.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Preserving Garlic*

Garlic Unclad

If you tuned into the Garlic Calendar, then you know that the cloves sense the Winter Solstice, and commence to sprouting, threatening your year's supply of homegrown flavor. But I'm such a procrastinator that I cannot follow my own advice, and it was only in the new year that I got around to peeling and storing the dozens of cloves that were sitting in the garage. Just these couple of weeks had the garlic doing this:

Hot erotic garlic, or just reproduction?

While they're starting on the new cycle that would birth a new plant, the cloves are not yet too far gone (besides, I kinda like the look of slices with the green circle in the center). But before the sprouts get as long as the cloves from which they spring, before the flesh gets soft, before pungent aroma becomes putrid regret, I need to somehow stop the process. In years past, this has been a matter of dropping peeled cloves into a jar and drowning them in olive oil. I did that again, but this time I'm trying a couple of other methods.

Salt and the earth.
Here's experiment #1. Good old fashioned salting. Pour pickling salt into a jar, put in a layer of peeled cloves, then bury them in salt, then more garlic, more salt, get the picture. The cloves are firm, and I did not irrigate, so I don't expect osmosis to create a saline slush, but it's an experiment. For reference, the majority of the cloves in the first photo and a bunch of salt filled a pint jar. I'll check back in later to let you know if this is a fail, but I suspect that what will happen is that the cloves stay intact, and I get a batch of garlic salt.

Experiment #2 is yet to be done. I had a bunch of large-cloved heads of garlic this year; some are elephant garlic, but not necessarily all. The plan is to roast them, smoosh the result, spread it out on parchment paper, and dehydrate it. I'm aiming for something like fruit leather, a hide of garlicky goodness that I can snip into strips or drop into the pot whole whenever I want that twice-roasted garlic flava.

Winter Morning Sun Dawns on Evening's Leavings

And then there's this, the old standby: cloves in oil. Chopped or pureed garlic tastes harsh and goes bad quicker. Drowning while cloves in oil and keeping them out of direct sunlight seems to halt the sprouting process. I'll remove the rubber gasket from the jar above so that the occasional fermentation fart can escape. In time, the cloves will soak up the oil and become beautifully translucent, edible amber. 

There are other ways to preserve garlic, but I don't like them (pickling? I just throw some in the cuke pickles I make, and that's plenty for my taste), or I don't know them. If you want to write in with others, I'll listen.

So if you have not yet dealt with your garlic, do it now! 

* [For whatever reason, it took me a month to think of my Greenstead post as food-ish, and post it here.]