Monday, August 30, 2010

My Weekend in Food

Pantry and refrigerator destashing was this weekend's cooking theme. Since I was horrified at the quantity of produce I can throw out if a week doesn't go as planned (dinner cooked at home aborted due to long work days or nights out with friends), I was determined to not do any substantial food shopping until I used up what was perishable. It's just such a waste that all that produce ends up in the worm bin, compost bin, and garbage if I don't have a plan. "Use what I have" has become my mantra.

For me, this means making two small trips to the produce store instead of one trip at the beginning of the work week. I enjoy it, so it's not a chore, but it does require a bit of meal planning and scheduling. But, so far, this has led to less waste and some unexpected treats.

Pantry diving led to this salted caramel cinnamon ice cream, and it just may be my new favorite flavor (but I say this about almost every ice cream I create). I think I'll sprinkle some salt flakes or coarsely grind some Himalayan pink salt on top of my next serving to make it pop more.

I also found this steamed bread mix, an impulse purchase from Ranch 99. I didn't stuff the buns with anything, rather I made the whole batch and froze what we could not finish in a day or two. They came out more dense that I like, but perhaps that's the downfall of starting with a mix. I have no idea if the baking soda and baking powder were too old, which could explain part of it. Still, they were good enough to eat with some Korean BBQ chicken. And I'm sure it cost all of $1 to buy.

I also played with my pickle press some more, this time buying skinny Japanese cucumbers for a simple salt pickle. After I let the pickles sit for a day, I  packed them in white miso and put the whole concoction in the refrigerator. These pickles should be ready to eat in two months.

While I was busy making food and cleaning up around the house and yard, the boy was busy making some shelves for our bathroom and replacing older fixtures. I'll have to post pictures when he's done, because it looks amazing! He figured out how to match the finish of our table so we can start designing and making custom furniture for our place, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I may have to make him a hand knit sweater after all.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mexican Carrot Pickle Recipe

The Mexican pickle experiment is ready to eat, and I'm pleased to report that they were every bit as addictive as I dreamed: slightly spicy, slightly tangy, and crunchy! The tang comes from fermenting the pickles for at least week, so these have a different taste than those carrot pickles served alongside tacos because those carrot pickles get their tang from vinegar (acetic acid from the vinegar vs. lactic acid from wild fermentation). However, don't be scared to make these yourself because they are really simple.

Mexican Carrot Pickle Recipe
makes a pound of pickles

1 pound (16 ounces) of carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3-inch sticks
1 or 2 jalapenos or serrano chiles, sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch rounds
8 garlic cloves, halved
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
3/8 ounce salt, do not use salt with iodine

Gently toss all ingredients in a bowl. Loosely cover and let sit on the counter for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. Transfer the carrot mixture and the resulting brine into a crock or pickle press and weigh it down. If there is not enough brine to cover the pickles, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt with one cup of water and pour enough of this brine over the to to submerge everything.

Keep the crock in a cool room. After a few days, you can start sampling the carrots to taste how the flavor is developing. I refrigerate my pickles once they have a strong tang, about one week. The longer you let the carrot mixture ferment, the stronger the flavors.

For more carrot pickle making pictures, click here.

Enjoy your pickles! You can adjust the seasonings quite a bit. I'm a ginger fiend, so next time I'm going to add grated ginger and some curry powder. Mmmm, curry pickles!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Braised Lotus Root (Renkon Kinpira) Recipe

During our last trip to Pismo Beach, I had a braised lotus root dish at Izakaya Raku, a chummy neighborhood Japanese restaurant that specialized in izakaya, Japanese small plates. The renkon kinpira was the standout of the appetizer sampler plate. I've eaten plenty of lotus roots, but mostly deep fried and stuffed with ground pork. These lotus roots were crunchy and they had an addictive sweet, salty, and spicy bite.

Two days later,  the boy and I tried a hip new izakaya in Berkeley, Ippuku. And for the second time in my life, I ate renkon kinpira. I had to make this dish.

Luckily, renkon kinpira is really easy. The hardest part is peeling and slicing the lotus root, which is to say, it isn't a hard dish at all.  After the lotus root slices are lightly sauteed, they are braised with soy sauce and mirin until done. It may be consumed piping hot from the wok, or at room temperature.

Renkon Kinpira
serves 4 as an appetizer

1 lb lotus root, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/8" rounds
 4 Tablespoon sesame oil
3 Tablespoon light soy sauce
2 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
3 dried chilies, each broken into 2 or 3 pieces

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the light soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Set aside this sauce.
  2. Heat a wok or pan over medium high heat and add the sesame oil.
  3. Saute the lotus root slices for a couple of minutes, or until the edges of the lotus root start to become translucent.
  4. Add the sauce and chilies and simmer the lotus roots until the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.
That's it! A sprinkling of toasted black or white sesame seeds can be added to fancy this dish up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yard Scrap Love Seat

Sunny summery days get the boy's creative juices going. Since air conditioning is not a standard household system in these parts, hot days = hot house = refuge in the backyard. Our lovely backyard stays shady and cool due to a coastal redwood that eclipses the rest of the yard. We love our tree, in fact it's the reason we moved here, but it does require lots of trimming.

During this last round of trimming, the boy saved the more choice branches and made us a love seat. I'm always surprised at what he can just up and do, having never done it before, but also inspired that he never thinks he can't do it. I've put in a request for some redwood buttons I can use for sweaters, so hopefully that will come to fruition once the wood cures some more.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mingus of the Oregano

After a summerless summer, the heat is ramping up! It was a perfect time to cull my oregano and dry it.

All that oregano ended up fitting into one tiny spice jar once dried. Visions of posole and simmering tomato sauce are triggered when I look this jar.

Pickle Making Made Easier

The back story: I'm watching Hoarders on DVD, and every time I watch the show, not only do I become increasingly agitated about two boxes of electronics the boy stores in our office (they must go!), but I have the urge to do some crazy cleaning and purging. Like, take-apart-the-range hood-and-clean-it-at-midnight crazy.

So, I find myself at Ichiban Kan because they sell Mr. Clean Eraser knock-offs and microfiber cloths crazy cheap, and what do I find? Japanese pickle making containers! For $1.75 each! I've never seen such containers, but judging by the animation on the label (imagine talking cucumber slices and a talking salt shaker), these are for Japanese pickled cucumbers.

Although I prefer to ferment in glass or ceramic, these were too darn cool to pass up. And because I seem to be learning nothing by my nightly prescription of Hoarders, I bought the last two pickle makers in stock. But, unlike a hoarder, I'm using them immediately! See? You all are my witnesses! I am not becoming a hoarder.

These are so dang cool. I can hardily stand it. So tidy!

If these Mexican carrot pickles turn out any good, I'll post the recipe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fried Gluten Recipe

Ranch 99 is a place of wonder, even for those of us familiar with Asian grocery markets. The aisles are clean and well lit! The food is stacked neatly on shelves! Although I still maintain that Oakland Chinatown is the best place for produce (Ranch 99 has an annoying habit of wrapping its fresh produce in Styrofoam trays, much like Trader Joe's), Ranch 99 is a good source for pantry items. You mostly likely will not find an item where you think it should be, but if you have patience, you will succeed.

While looking for something else entirely, I came across a pound of gluten flour for a smidgen over $1. Why not?, I thought. Into my hand basket it went. Although I can buy fried gluten balls in the refrigerated section, the balls are fried with soy or cottonseed oil, and I find that they often taste stale, so I never buy them.

Fried gluten balls are one of my favorite things to eat. Plain, they're bland. But if you pair them with seasoned pork, OMG! Biting down into a gluten ball, you get the satisfying chew of the gluten combined with all the juices from the seasoned pork. It's what I imagined Willy Wonka gum would be like (meal in a gumball!), without the side effect of turning into a blueberry.

To make gluten from gluten flour, or any wheat flour really, you add just enough water to make a dough, then knead away! Although I used to do this by hand, back in the days when my grandmother didn't know what to do with my brother and I hanging around her space, I now use my handy dandy mixer.

Once your dough is springy to the touch, it's time to gather it up and give it a good rinse. Rinsing away the flour yields a brainy looking ball of gluten.

I really was not sure what to expect since my bag of gluten flour had very little English writing, but I am happy to report that a 17.7-ounce bag of gluten flour produces 7.25 ounces of gluten (a 41% yield). Back in the olden days, I'd get a ball this size from a 5-pound bag of flour!

Once the ball of gluten rested and relaxed, I pinched off pieces of gluten and formed them into balls about an 1" diameter.

Then, the balls were fried in my wok in 350 °F peanut oil. If you press gently roll the balls against the side of the wok, they'll puff up more. Since the raw gluten balls are wet, a pair of foot-long chopsticks are handy to avoid splattered oil on your person.

When the balls are golden, remove them and let them cool on some paper towels. The fried balls are great in soups and stews since they soak up the flavorful liquid without falling apart or losing their texture. My favorite preparation is to cut them in half and stuff them with seasoned pork. After they are stuffed, I steam the stuffed balls for 30 minutes (see pic at the top of post).

Green Radiate

Against the backdrop of our living room curtains, once again, I present to you: Radiate.

I finished this cardigan back in May with the notion that it would be the perfect for the summers here. Unbeknownst to me, this year's "summer here" is covered in a marine layer. Yep, fog. Now, to be fair, fog in the summer is a usual occurrence, but peaks of the sun do shine through and temperatures are slightly warmer. The summer cardigans I've been sporting lately are no different from the winter cardigans I wear, so I suppose I should take a glass half full approach and appreciate the unexpected extended wear I am getting out of my favorite cardigans.

This was knit with 5 skeins of Karabella DK Merino Silk, another 50% off yarn I bought at Stash's moving sale last year.

I made a few mods, namely casting on more stitches for the neckband, knitting the neckband and sleeve bands in seed stitch, and crocheting a couple of closures instead of adding buttons. More details on my Rav project page. I'll fill in more details when I can find my knitting notebook.

Overall, I'm feeling meh about this cardigan. I love the color. I love the yarn. I'm not in love with how it hangs, and I wish I would have done less increases on the body. As it is, I knit one less increase to compensate for the wider neckband.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hot Braised Fish and Sad Lemons

When I cook whole fish at home, I opt for simple. The fish is either steamed, baked, or grilled, and I serve it with a simple treatment of salt and pepper and perhaps some aromatics like cilantro and ginger. However, when I go out to a Sichuan restaurant, a hot braised fish always makes its way to my table. Chopstick wars ensue as everyone at the table forgets the other dishes on the table and attacks the fish.

Hot braised fish, at its best, has crispy skin, sweet flesh, and a pungent, spicy chili sauce adorned with flecks of ginger, garlic, and green onions. No wonder it makes people crazy.

Armed with Land of Plenty, I decided to make my own hot braised fish so I wouldn't have to share it with anyone but the boy. (I bought two trout so we had one each - no fighting.)

The secret in the sauce turns out to be, no big surprise, the chili paste. I spent 20 minutes reading all the chili paste labels in Ranch 99 before finding the secret sauce: Pixian doubanjiang, a chili sauce made with fermented fava beans instead of soybeans. The only ingredients should be chili, broad beans (fava beans), and salt. The brand I bought, wrapped in paper and tied together with twine, has "Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd."on the label. There was also wheat flour in the ingredients list, but I couldn't find any other brand at Ranch 99 that contained fava beans sans flour.

My first attempt at this recipe turned out delicious, but I would do a few tweaks next time, like dredging the fish in tapioca flour or rice flour before I fry it, and adding less light soy sauce - the chili sauce was pretty salty by itself, so the soy sauce made it over the top with salt. Exacerbating the saltiness of the meal was the homemade cabbage kimchi I served as a side dish.

My next Sichuan ingredient scavenger hunt item is "facing-heaven" chiles. I spent another 5 minutes at Ranch 99 in the dried chili section trying to find them, but my desire to drink a taro root flavored tapioca tea trumped my desire to find these particular chiles. Next time I'll take a longer look.

Sadly, there will be no meyer lemons for me this year. This is what my lemon tree currently looks like.

I even watered, fertilized, and lovingly talked to the darn thing, but something got to it. Until today, I blamed the local deer. They seemed like the obvious culprit, although nothing else in the front yard has been touched by a deer.

Today, after doing much yard work (this weekend, the boy and I were weekend chore-iors), the boy had theory that snails ate my lemon tree. I think he's right. There is a disgusting amount of morning glory and ivy creeping from a nearby wall onto my tree. I have to periodically chop back the morning glory, or else it will choke my plant. You know what else lives in that disgusting morning glory? Snails. Tons of snails. I chopped the morning glory back today and found at least 10 of them in less than 1 square foot. Blech. Where's a duck when you need one? I'm hoping that cutting back the morning glory means that the snails won't have freeway access to my plant anymore. Fingers crossed.

Damn snails.


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