Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Project #174 – Berries.

Monday, July 6th, 2009

All I can say is Hell yes, it’s berry time. And, holy crap, berries off the bush just make their supermarket counterparts seem like eating wet paper towels. Above are the pints of black raspberries, red raspberries and blueberries that I picked this afternoon.

I went to the berry farm this afternoon with some of my girlfriends. Most of them have plans to bake their berries into pies or tarts, but I know that mine will be lucky to make it through the car ride home.

The black raspberries were the most work out of the three; they were so tiny and picked over. There were a lot of black raspberries that weren’t quite ripe out in the open. I picked a few because I like having a little of the sour taste. The ripe ones were near the ground or required reaching past several branches lined with thorns

I have brambles embedded in the skin of my shins and hands, but it was totally worth it for an entire pint of something magical.

However my favorite turned out to be the red raspberries. I’m always disappointed by the ones at the supermarket; they are so soft and half rotted that I wonder why I ever bother. The ones straight off the bush, however, were big, firm, and had a taste balanced taste that perfectly set between sweet and sour. I could live off of these.

Project #169 – Emergency Brownies

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I spent much of my weekend as well as almost all of today doing my patriotic duty by evaluating stimulus package grants for the NIH. There was naturally a big influx of applications, and so many people, including myself, ended up on the other end of the grant evaluation process. I’ve written and consulted on plenty of grants, but I’ve never read strangers’ proposals before, and I’ve certainly never taken the time to write a critique.

I got through about 250 of the 300+ pages of grants I was supposed to evaluate before the midnight deadline. It was really educational reading, especially the not so good grants, some of which read like a checklist of what not to do. Still, it was one of the more tedious things I’ve done this year. At around hour seven I realized that I still had two grants left, one twice as long as the rest, so I made a pan of survival brownies from a box of Duncan Hines mix for sugar rush fuel. It’s not my usual tarts made from scratch, but it’s more than enough to keep me from giving up and taking a nap.

Grant writing tip for the month:
If you’re writing a grant about some technology and you don’t really understand it on more than a superficial level, just stop what you’re doing and place whatever you’ve written in the trash can. You will save everyone oodles of time. I try hard to be constructive, but sometimes it’s tempting to turn in a bulleted list of comments like: ‘Are you kidding me?’ and ‘You should have someone who knows what they are talking about rewrite this.’ and ‘No. Just no.’

Project #168 – Braised Pork Belly Pizza

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Yesterday I trimmed my pork belly to make it more square and I was left with a large hunk of meat, that was about 80% fat.

This was inspired by the the documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like which was saved to the DVR solely for its name. And, indeed, Clark and I were dying from the like of the sandwiches we saw on our screen. It’s about an hour of watching people cook meat in dozens of different ways and then place them on countless types of bread. It’s totally worth a viewing.

I felt inspired to use my pork belly piece for something. After reading I learned that I would need to cook the meat for at least four hours. Sheesh! I found an awesome recipe for a pork belly sandwich that would be exactly what I was looking for, something flavorful and a little exotic.

So I cooked and cooked and cooked and my whole house smelled like spices. I put my Braised meat in the fridge overnight because I was ready for bed by the time it was tender enough to use. The next day at lunch time I took out my meat and sliced it into little pieces. As, expected I ended up with about 80% of my cuts as pure fat.

I tried a little piece of fat just to check. It tasted good, but I realized that I would probably die if I ate a whole sandwich of them. So, I switched to plan B; I had just enough meaty slices to serve as a pizza topping.

I used my favorite olive oil flat-bread recipe for the crust. It was a happy accident that I switched to pizza because the taste of the meat is so strong that it should probably be limited to small quantities. Still, it’s a mighty fine lunch.

Project #167 – Home-Cured Bacon

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I’ve gone off the deep-end and decided to try my hand at the BLT from scratch Summertime Challenge. That means growing my own lettuce and tomatoes (check!) making my own mayo and bread (no problem!) and curing my own bacon (umm…). Wait, is that even possible at home without fancy equipment? Of course it is! I just need a little help from the New York Times.

Two days ago I went to the butcher at Wholey’s and bought my own pork belly, a cut called ‘fresh side’ oddly enough. Wouldn’t a pork belly be a ‘fresh bottom’ or a ‘fresh underneath’? It still has the skin attached, which is a little creepy, but I’m told it makes the best soup stock.

According to the New York Times I just need to rub my pork with spices, let it cure in the fridge for a week and then dry it out further in the oven. I think I can do that.

Okay, we are GO for bacon. I’ll post what cooks up when the cure is done in a week or so.

Project #162 – Sweet Cream Biscuit BLT

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

My house smells like bacon. Jealous?

I’ve been living off of the contents of our cupboards and whatever is ripe in the garden for the last two weeks. If I can make it to Friday without grocery shopping we’ll have enough money left in the budget to go out to eat. We’ve made some budget cutbacks and I’m getting sick of my own cooking.

However, I will never tire of BLTs or biscuits. I’m a Southern Girl, so biscuits are my kryptonite; I am weak against their buttery goodness. Everyone in the south, it seems, has a grandma that makes awesome biscuits. I have no sunbelt-dwelling, biscuit-making grannies of my own, but I managed to live off of the largess of other peoples’ Meemaw biscuits. Still, I have no recipe that I am beholden to, so I tend to try a new one each time. Recently, I heard about whipping cream as the magic ingredient for making those perfect dense, cakey biscuits.

I tried this recipe to make the sweet cream biscuits. Holy crap, these are so good! The bottoms burn easily, so I need to figure out some strategies to fix that. Still, best dinner ever!

Project #159 – One-Day Japanese Pickles

Friday, June 19th, 2009

When I was growing up I was the only person in my family who could stand to eat pickles. Whenever we would have fast food burgers I would always end up with a little pile of pickle slices that my parents and brother scraped off of their buns. I ate them between bites of chicken nuggets and savored the contrast of sourness to the taste of the sweet nugget dipping sauce. Man, I love pickles.

Today, I am married to a fellow pickle lover and we have no less than four jars of pickles in our refrigerator. Of course that won’t stop me from making my own. We have five cucumber plants in the garden spanning three varieties, so I should start strategizing how to use as many as possible before I start harvesting a dozens a week. However, I don’t have the patience or skills yet to do large scale, long-term cucumber pickling.

What I do have is the experience to do is make quick, Japanese-style pickles. They don’t keep more than a week in the fridge, but one won’t have to wait two months before having the first bite. Plus, the unique savory taste, in addition to the usual salty-sour flavors, will guarantee that these pickles won’t last more than a day or two.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sliced Asian style cucumber (pieces should be ~1/4 inch thick)
  • ~2 tbsp of sea salt
  • ~1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of katsuo pellets
  • 2 tbsp of dries wakame

Coat the cucumber slices in a light layer of sea salt. Place them in a bowl and add just enough vinegar to cover. Add in the katsuo and cover the surface lightly with dried wakame. Don’t stir. These last two ingredients will give the mixture a dose of umami that makes this recipe special.

Let the cucumbers sit for about four hours at room temperature. I cover mine with a screen to keep varmints away. After a while the kelp will rehydrate. You’ll be able to eat it, too, if you like. I prefer my lightly pickled kelp served over a hot, steamy bowl of rice.

This recipe makes strong, flavorful pickles so watch out!

Project #158 – Tres Leches Cake

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The stormy weather today gave us some extra cooking challenges today. We made dinner for six people, but due to the biblical weather conditions the power died during our prep and cooking time, and we remained without electricity for about an hour. Oh, and four inches of rain we got over the course of three hours caused the basement to flood. So I was down there holding a flash light an moving boxes and laundry to higher ground while Clark cooked upstairs by candlelight. Flippin’ fabulous! I vote that our next house should be on stilts.

It was also too dangerous for the animals to remain in the yard, so we ran outside and brought our soaked, scared birds indoors. The chickens were happy to have a chance to get warm, but the ducks are always indignant about being handled and confined. “Quack! Quack! How dare you touch our royal personages! Quack! We shall have you peasants flogged! Bring us more broccoli! Quack!”

Luckily, we have plenty of emergency candles, a gas stove and a sense of adventure. I chose this crazy day to make my first sponge cake, ever, though I did make that decision before the power went out. Still, even with the power on I tried to make the cake as much by hand as possible, beating the egg yolks and the egg whites by hand. Actually, I only lasted through a total of ten minutes of vigorous hand beating before resorting to electromechanical help. My biceps were KILLING me. I need to get in better shape so I’ll be ready to hand whip egg whites into meringue before the end of summer. Whee!

I used this recipe from tasteofcuba.com. I’ve eaten a lot of piece of tres leches, it’s a popular cuban dessert, but I’ve never even seen someone else make it, let alone tried on my own. The cake base is a sponge cake drizzled in a mixture of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whipping cream, hence the ‘tres leches’. The recipe also calls to top the cake with meringue, but I decided that was a little too much sugar for me, plus I was a little tired of whipping egg whites. Cakes should only take so much work before they’re not worth it.

I was surprised, but the sponge cake came out with the right fluffiness and texture. The only problem was that I had a little trouble flipping it out of the pan for the drizzling step. It was pretty stuck in there, so I lost some chunks. Still, between six people we managed to eat 3/4 of the total. Yippie!

Project #155 – Mango Sticky Rice

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Oh man, I think mango sticky rice is once of my favorite deserts. I love its simplicity and how the flavors blend together. I’ve been waiting for good, ripe summer mangoes to arrive so I would finally have a fruit to do this dish justice. The fruits are the big ones with a little bit of squish to them.

I’m thinking about making this dish another time when we don’t have dinner guests, because even though this recipe serves four I want it all for myself. MINE!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium ripe (slightly squishy) mango, diced
  • 1 cup of glutinous rice OR short grained rice
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1/2 of sugar

Cook the rice according to directions. A few minutes before the rice is done put the coconut milk in a sauce pan and cook it on medium heat, adding the sugar and stirring. Once the sugar is dissolved and the milk is just boiling take it off the burner. Separate the rice into four bowls and pour a ladle of coconut milk over each. Top with the diced mango.

This is definitely a dish even for people shy about making desserts, especially if they have a rice cooker. It doesn’t particularly care if you cook the coconut milk too long or cut up the mango weirdly. You just need to trow everything together in a bowl and there is no need to mix, even. You can even substitute fruits like peaches or pineapple if you can’t find a good mango.

Seriously, make this. You won’t regret it.

Project #150 – Shortbread Berry Tarts

Monday, June 8th, 2009

It’s berry season in the neighborhood and I want to stand under the trees and eat them ALL. Down the street, next to the neighborhood playground are a half-dozen mulberry trees, and one generous wild cherry tree. That’s FREE FOOD just waiting for someone to take it and eat it, otherwise the ripe ones end up crushed on the sidewalk.

It was raining this afternoon, but I spent about half an hour plucking berries and putting them in my basket/my mouth. I don’t think many other people on my street pay much attention to them. MORE FOR ME! IT’S MINE! ALL MINE, I TELLS YA!

The berries that made it home were combined with the day’s strawberry harvest and ended up as the filling for shortbread tarts. That’s all fruit that came from within three blocks of my house, FOR FREE.

The filling is similar to my filling for strawberry rhubarb pie, but with a lot more sugar proportionally because the cherries were still a little bitter.

Filling Ingredients:

  • ~1 cup of assorted berries
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 3 tbsp of tapioca pearls
  • 2 tbsp flour

Combine and set aside until you’re ready to bake the crust.

The recipe for the crust was inspired by a href=”http://www.joyofbaking.com/BerryTart.html”>this recipe<\a>, which is fantastic on its own, and doesn’t call for the use of tart pans. I adjusted the ingredients to suit what I had in my cupboard and my own personal taste.

Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of chilled, diced, unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of chilled water

Mix the dry ingredients and use a fork to cut in the butter until the mixture looks like graham cracker crumbles and there are no pieces of butter bigger than a pea remaining. Add the water slowly and while rolling up the dough into a ball. Separate into four pieces and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough into 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick disks touching them as little as possible with your hands. Place each disk on a cookie sheet and add a few heaping tablespoons (or more) of berries into the center of the circle and fold up the sides (see picture above).

Ideally, you would chill the cookie sheet in the fridge for a little while, but everyone wanted dessert ASAP so I popped mine right in the oven and baked for 25 minutes. They melted a little in the oven, but it was only a cosmetic flaw.

Mmmm, so yummy. Plus the ingredients only cost a dollar or two when you factor in the free scavenged fruit. I am going to eat so much butter this summer!

Project #148 – Nama Salsa

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

The term ‘nama‘ (生), is used all the time in Japanese to describe foods that are fresh, uncooked, or should be eaten as soon as possible. For example, Nama beer is draft beer, Nama cream is whipped dairy cream, and Nama chocolate is chocolate ganache. The meaning of nama, though, means more than just being really fresh. It’s something that tastes alive. After all, the 生 character is found in the verb 生きる, which means ‘to live’.

Today I made a simple salsa designed to capture that ‘alive’ taste in dip form.

Ingredients:

  • 3 diced medium tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons tobasco (we’re wimps) OR 1 small finely diced chili

All that chopping takes a while, but once that’s done you only need to combine the ingredients and you’re finished. No cooking necessary for the nama. I drove my dip immediately to a nearby party so that everyone could have it as fresh as possible. I was very pleased that some friends pounced upon it immediately and ate most of it within an hour of its arrival.

Oh, and I used three different kinds of tomatoes to add a little dimension to the overall taste: a vine tomato, a yellow tomato, and a red ugli tomato. I think using some nicer, less frequently purchased tomatoes added a little novelty in taste.