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Archive for June, 2010

Every now and then you make a meal, not expecting much, and you end up really suprising yourself. I had one of those tonight and figured I’d better blog about it before I forget what I did. And since I’m still trying to get into that dress for my niece’s wedding, I decided to keep the meal low-carb. Asian without rice. It is kind of wrong…

Braised bok choy and kale, marinated chili flank steak, asian style green beans and kimchi

I found this recipe for Asian Barbecued Steak a while back. It sat around until I thought, hey, I should try it. I obtained a flank steak specifically for this purpose. I marinated it in the chili sauce mix for about four hours or so. The recipe is for grilling, but I pan fried. My grill is still rigged for bacon smoking. I hit it for maybe four minutes or so per side (I didn’t really time, just felt the steak with tongs for doneness) then covered and let it rest for five or ten minutes. When it came out, I cut it on the diagonal, against the grain, and wow! It was tender, juicy and flavorful. Test subject Bill went back for seconds!

To accompany the steak, I braised up some bok choy and some kind of purple kale I got in my CSA box. Let me just say, I don’t really like kale. Or at least I’ve never had it in a way that I enjoyed. This time I sauteed it with garlic and ginger (the worst ginger in the world, thanks Publix), fish sauce, a little white wine and duck fat. I thought that by using some leftover duck fat from my very last duck (*sniff*) it would do something for it. It really didn’t. I even threw in a few teaspoons of sugar trying to do ANYTHING to make it enjoyable for me…but alas…nope. However, when I mixed it with a side of kimchi it was palatable.

The wilted greens may have been a bust, but the green beans were a hit! I got a bag of beans in my last CSA box so I cleaned and cut them and made a sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, worchestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and powdered mustard. I poured the sauce over the beans and roasted at 400 degrees for ten minutes or so. Very yummy! I’ll have to remember this because test subject Bill actually ate the beans, then made sure that I wasn’t thinking about tossing the leftovers. Success!

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It’s summer in Georgia. Temps are in the 90’s (a little too early for this kind of heat). Sweet tea abounds. And of course, there’s the peaches. A neighbor of mine has a peach tree in her front yard. Every time I walk by I’m soooo tempted to just reach out and grab one. I guess it runs in the family; I heard my mom was well-known for pilfering fruit from neighbor’s trees as a child…

In addition to straight-up peach munching, I’ve been dicing them up and mixing them with my homemade yogurt. No additional sweetening needed – these things are sweet and juicy and totally delicious! But of course, I can’t stop there. So I looked up a peach muffin recipe and edited it a bit (of course) and made myself some peach bread.

The recipe at Allrecipes.com calls for 1 1/4 cups of vegetable oil. My heart stopped at the thought of using that much vegetable oil, or even that much of any kind of oil. But the reviews were so good. So I replaced the vegetable oil with coconut oil, which is actually good for you. It also calls for TWO CUPS of white sugar. Egads! I used one cup and felt like a bad girl.

The bread turned out super moist, thanks to the coconut oil and juicy peach bits. I didn’t need to even put butter on it, and I definately did not miss that extra cup of sugar. In fact, I think all that sugar would have made it too sweet and ruined it. America is over-sugared. Just a little sweet goes a long way once your taste buds have stopped being inundated with sweeteners.

Since I’m trying to drop a few pounds for my neice’s wedding in a few weeks I ended up freezing most of the bread so I can fatten up on it later 🙂 But it was a yummy and fun use of the peaches.

Ok, so I didn’t pie…I breaded. But the post title wouldn’t have been so snappy with “then you bread.” However, pie sounds wonderful. I’m thinking about this one. Or little individual pies that I can freeze. Oh, the endless peachy opportunities…

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Pickled shrimp: sounds scarier than it really is.

My pickle frenzy resulted in a large variety of pickled items in my fridge. They are kind of taking over. So far I’ve pickled asparagus, butternut squash and pumpkin, shrimp, beets, mushrooms, broccoli, apples and onions. Yes, I pickled shrimp. The recipe calls for white peppercorns but I didn’t have any so I used black…I can see why she said to use white peppercorns. The black ones kind of look like…eyes…

Anyway, here are my findings:

Apple and Onion: I made this one too early. This really needs to go with Thanksgiving dinner. The cinnamon mixed with the vinegar is fun and suprising. I could totally see this going with any kind of a roast.

Asparagus: kind of disappointed in this one. I was hoping that it would be more like the dilled green beans. But it’s not. Somewhat blah. If I preserve asparagus again, it will be a straight up canning job.

Pickle buffet: broccoli in the ramekin and mushrooms in the jar. Shrimp, asparagus and butternut squash on the plate.

Beets: as I mentioned before, I really liked these ones. The Morrocan-style spices really make it interesting. Strong, though. You can’t just sit and munch mindlessly. Not that I ever do that.

Broccoli: this one is pretty good. Refreshing, a nice addition to a salad or a rich main course where the fat needs to be cut a little bit. I like it.

Butternut squash and pumpkin: Not bad on this one. Definately a better use than throwing out the pumpkin, which is what would have happened to it otherwise. Even test subject Bill liked this one. Sweet and sour…I should try it on ice cream. Wait a minute. Pickles and ice cream….NOOOOOO!

Mushrooms: these are very good – I would put these on a small plates buffet. Along side cheese and olives and crusty bread…oh yeah.

Apple and onion pickle. Looks rather refined, doesn't it?

Shrimp: they were not as creepy as I was thinking they would be. These could be little snackies to go along with the mushrooms in the above scenario. They actually kind of taste like the cooked shrimp they use at the sushi bar. Not creepy or freaky at all, even though it is pickled seafood. Rather messy to eat though.

All of these pickles were vinegar-based pickles. However, thanks to my successful kimchi experience I’ve been playing around with fermentation. Look for an upcoming post on dill pickles and sauerkraut. I have been absolutely devouring Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Wow! The world of microorganisms…who knew! And with the recent addition of a Gairtopf fermentation crock I’ll be a level 7 food freak in no time at all.

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In Korea, kimchi is a passion. Back in the day, Korean women would fill giant pots with kimchi and bury them up to their necks and eat the kimchi over the winter. Today, special refrigerators are sold for the sole purpose of keeping kimchi. Koreans are just wild about their kimchi, and for good reason. It helped keep them alive over long winters in years past. Being a fermented vegetable, it’s filled with nutrition. And hey, it’s darn tasty. Kimchi, gim chi, kim chee however you want to spell it in English, it’s a worthy endeavor.

Kimchi to go kit: napa cabbage, green onions, daikon, sample kim chi, garlic and ginger, starch mix, red pepper, fish sauce

My Korean tutor Tess and I have been discussing kimchi as I shared with her some of my pickling experiments. When she asked me again if I was going to try to make it, I said absolutely. The next thing I knew I was up to my ears in a veritable kimchi to go kit. Tess gave me just the right kind of cabbage, daikon, hot pepper powder, fish sauce, green onion, salt and a starch (flour and water mix) that she likes to use to thicken the sauce. Along with a loose set of instructions, she gave me a sample of her own kimchi which I prompty ate.

I had no more excuses. I was going to become master of my kimchi.

My Joy of Pickling book has a recipe for kimchi in it. As I sorted through my ingredients and tried to figure out my head from my tail, I ended up doing a bit of a combination between Tess’s instructions and the ones from my book. The first step is to brine the cabbage. I cut the head of cabbage in half and mixed the salt with the water. The amount of water Tess told me was no where near enough to cover the cabbage in the vessel I had (a giant steel mixing bowl). The book instructions used a lot less salt, so decided to split the difference and just poured more water over the cabbage. I weighted the cabbage down with a plate and a water-filled jar. There it sat for about six hours.

When the cabbage was done brining, I pulled it out, washed it and squeezed the water out of it. I then cut it in quarters. Tess says that good kimchi has to have the proper shape – long quarters of cabbage with the sauce stuffed in between the leaves. Since I didn’t want to disappoint her, I would do it the proper way!

Julienne of daikon

I assembled the sauce: the starch mixture, slightly heated, a huge amount of the red pepper powder, the fish sauce and a little bit of sugar. I sliced and diced the daikon as per Tess’s instructions. I mixed everything together and was ready to stuff. Tess recommended using gloves to handle the kimchi because of the heat of the peppers. Recalling the time I put in contact lens with a jalapeno-laced finger, I put on some gloves.

Stuffing was actually easier than I expected. The brine made the leaves pliable so I could pull back a leaf, rub the vegetable-sauce mix on the leaf and move onto the next. The real challenge came once the cabbage quarter was stuffed – getting it into the jar. All I had to use was a gallon jar, so I had to maneuver the piece through the relatively small opening and position it in the jar. Since it’s glass and therefore you can see through it, I also wanted it not to look like poo.

Stuffed quarter of cabbage

Once all four quarters were stuffed and positioned, I filled in some of the spare space with daikon cubes and pressed down on the whole thing to get it compacted a little. It sure seemed like there was a lot of empty space. I know oxygen is an enemy of fermentation so that made me nervous. So I made up a quick brine and poured in enough to fill most of the gaping holes. Bad form? Maybe. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Tess told me to leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. The book said 3 to 6 days. So I left it for 2 1/2 days. It was very cool. I could see bubbles coming up as the fermentation started. Sometimes I could hear the bubbles. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen, but it was awesome.

Kimchi ready to ferment!

When I finally gave it a taste-test, I was pleasantly suprised. It didn’t suck. It wasn’t as good as Tess’s, that much I could tell, but it wasn’t bad at all. But it didn’t matter what I thought. The real test would come a few days later when I gave Tess the taste test on our weekly sushi trip.

First of all, most of the employees at the sushi/hibachi place test subject Bill and I go to every week are Korean. So they know their kimchi. Tess was very excited when I showed up with my sample. She finished making her sushi roll and grabbed the container. She announced that it looked good. Her husband laughed, as he usually does whenever I attempt anything Korean. (I get laughed at a lot…) But I made a believer out of them both. Tess tried it and said, “It’s good! It’s amazing!” Her husband tried it and he, too, was amazed. Then one of the waitresses tried it so she could share in the amazement. I heard Tess saying something about she’d never seen an American be able to make good kimchi.

And that’s why they call me The Kung Fu!

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Bacon Fu

Of all the kung fu activities that have taken place in my kitchen, nothing garners more attention than bacon. In fact, it seems to trump every other accomplishment in my entire life. I have a black belt in kung fu. I have a 3.97 GPA. I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I went on a mission trip to Bolivia. No one could possibly care less. But the minute I say, “I make my own bacon” people come flocking over like a bunch of geese at the park and I have a loaf of bread.

Since there’s been so much interest I thought I’d put together another post with some more details about the bacon process and what I’ve learned so far. I’ve done it three times and it really does get easier each time. Generally less stressful except for when your heat source dies on you one hour into smoking (more on that later).

Pork side coming out of the three-day brine

So I use Alton Brown’s bacon recipe .  I may be ready to branch out soon. But for first timers (or third-timers) I recommend it because it is tried and true. And you don’t want to risk wasting your whole beautiful pork side on a brine that ends up being less than you expected.

The pork belly is in the brine for three whole days. I usually have trouble keeping the meat submerged so I fill an empty jar (like an olive jar) with water and rest it on top to keep it down. When you pull the belly out, it kind of looks like it’s already been cooked a bit – all nice and preserved with the salt in the brine.

Bacon getting blown.

For the next step, drying, I set up a fan in the guest bathroom (the room in the house with the least amount of cat hair floating around), point it right over my side (skin side down, on top of a rack sitting on a sheet pan to catch drips). I’ll leave it for a minimum of an hour to form a pellicle (kind of a dry film over the meat).

After the drying, the meat needs to be hung in the smoker. I use my hand-me-down Pit Master because it conveniently has two sections, one lower to hold the heat source and wood, an upper chamber to catch the smoke. I open the vent in the main section just a hair to keep the smoke being pulled through the unit. For hanging, I poke four holes completely

Blown bacon with the pellicle.

through the meat from the skin side and use the wire clothes hanger rig that test subject Bill invented last year. I noticed that there is some type of coating on the hangers, though, so I won’t use the same ones more than twice now. If it was a hot smoke I’d be worried, but since no heat is applied during the process I’m sort of ok with it. Alright not really. It bugs me and I’m thinking up a better hanging solution.

I use the tin can and soldering iron method to produce smoke with very little heat exposure to the pork side. The can holds the wood pellets (I’ve been using hickory), a hole in the lid holds the soldering iron in the wood. It heats up and the smoke

Bacon getting poked.

miraculously pours out and gets sucked through the Pit Master.

Now, about soldering irons. The one I used originally was a 30 watt super cheapie. One hour into my second bacon making experience, the piece of junk died. I had to drop everything and run out for a new one. Of course, they didn’t have the same one I bought before. I ended up paying twice the price for a less powerful model, but it may have been serendipity. My $15 25-watt iron has successfully smoked two batches of bacon and still gets hot enough to brand “Bacon Freak” into your skin. Don’t ask me how I know that. Also, the lower wattage iron seems to cook the wood pellets more

Can smoker to cooler set up

evenly, giving me more efficiency out of my pellets. With the 30-watt when I pulled it out of the can, half the pellets would be burnt to a crisp and half of them would be untouched. I get more even results with the 25-watt, lessening the possibility of my precious bacon being smoked with burnt-smelling smoke. It does seem to produce less smoke, though, so I made up for the difference by letting it go in the smoker an extra hour (about six hours total).

Even on cooler days, I put the blue ice packs into the main compartment with the hanging meat to keep it cool and the help cool down the smoke as it heads through. How often they get changed out though depends on the heat of the day.

Soldering irons for the can smoker.

Making your own bacon sounds like a lot of work, and it is although largely unattended and does get easier the more you do it. But when you munch down on a bacon cheeseburger that sports the bacon you made, it’s truly tasting the fruits of your labor.

Wire hanger hooks for bacon hanging.

Hanging bacon, pre-smoke. Post-smoke it looks pretty much the same.

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