Monday, October 26, 2009

Vegetable/Spinach/Shrimp/Water Chestnut Dip

Using that Knorr Vegetable Soup mix in the meat loaf a few days ago reminded me of a dip that can be made with that same mix. Seeing that I had an additional box of soup mix in the cupboard decided me to put some together.
Of course, as you may have come to expect, I have to add my own touch to the excellent recipe on the box.

A suggested variation on the recipe is to add sliced water chestnuts. We had a can of whole water chestnuts but no sliced. No worries, mate. I have sharp knives and I know how to use them.

After mixing in the suggested amounts of sour cream, mayonnaise, soup mix, and shrimp (that's my variation tonight, tastes great!), I realized that I'd need a bigger bowl before adding in the newly sliced water chestnuts and the last ingredient, frozen spinach.

Since I needed to thaw the spinach in a seperate bowl and press out as much moisture as I could, I just used that bowl to finish the mixing.

Next, I wanted to make this a little more special than just plopping it into a bowl and diving in with potatoe chips. The grocery store today had some great olive oil and rosemary artisan bread. Kind of surprised me because we're not in a neighborhood that appreciates things like that.
To get that ready I cut the top off and dug out some of the bread inside to make a nice little bowl. Because I knew we'd be eating the bowl I also sliced the sides a bit to make it easier to tear the pieces out.
I'm pretty short on fancy serving plates (donations accepted) so a round cake pan had to stand in for that duty.

It must have been pretty good, we laid waste to that field.

I'm wondering how this would be with some fresh roasted garlic added to the mix, and maybe some finely chopped cilantro to give it a little bit of a kick... I'll bet a fire roasted jalapeno would be good... and a fire roasted red bell pepper would really add a nice splash of color. Lots of variations to keep in mind for next time.

One suggestion... a really big suggestion: when you buy frozen spinach for anything you want to eat, buy the good stuff. Frozen spinach is cheap, spend the extra dollar and get a well known brand. The store I bought the frozen spinach for this dip at only had one brand, the cheap crap. The spinach was stringy and I found a couple of crunchy bits in it. I don't want to think about what could be crunchy in spinach so I didn't examine those closely.
Save yourself some grief, buy the good spinach.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Love Tri-Tip

Remember how I buy meat on sale? Well, this week a local grocery chain had tri-tip on sale for $1.97 a pound. Oh, man... you can't beat a price like that for a cut of beef that is so easy to cook and tastes so good.
I bought 2.

The tri-tip cut has a pretty good layer of fat on one side. I like to leave most of it on as it contributes to the taste and juiceness of the meat. If it's really thick I'll trim it down a bit.

On top of that fat there is usually a membrane that should be cut away. If it's left on it can get pretty chewy. Trimming away the membrane also gives an easy opportunity to take of some excess fat.

There are lots of ways to cook tri-tip. One of the most popular is on the barbecue. In fact, Santa Maria Tri-Tip (this is just one recipe, Google will show you dozens more) is one of the absolute best barbecue meals you'll ever have. If you ever get the chance to have that at a county fair, carnival, flea market, etc., take it! Your taste buds will be doing somersaults.
But, I don't always feel like starting the barbecue grill. Sometimes I just want to throw the roast in the oven and not do a lot of fussing.
For those times I drag out that faithful cast iron frying pan, pop the roast into it, coat both sides generously with a good seasoning like Lindberg-Snyder Porterhouse and Roast Seasoning, and get it into the oven.

About 40-45 minutes later...

Dang it, I'm drooling. Gotta go get some leftovers... thanks for reading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's on sale today?

I need to make a confession and an observation: I'm cheap and meat is expensive.
These two combined mean I buy meat on sale.
I hardly ever buy meat at the regular price. But if it's on sale... I am there.

Earlier this week I had to go to Sam's Club for cat litter. Of course, I had to wander through the meat department while I was there. Lo and behold, there is a package of ground beef marked down for quick sale.
I love seeing those stickers on Sam's Club meat. They've usually got pretty good prices on ground beef in the first place but that sticker brings it down even further and the package is still well within its sell-by date. Into the cart it goes. What will I do with it? Beats me, I'll figure that out on the way home. Ground beef is one of those staples that we can always figure out a use for.

As it turns out, one night we have simple hamburger patties with cheese melted on top. Last night I made a meat loaf and put the rest of the ground beef in the freezer for later.

Meat loaf is one of the simplest dishes there are, and it's difficult to screw up.
Here's what I did: mix meat with two raw eggs, seasoned bread crumbs, chopped onion, ground pepper, salt, and some dry soup mix. Usually we use onion soup mix but I neglected to get any after using the last one a few days ago. Rummaging through the cabinet found some Knorr Vegetable Soup mix. What the heck, let's see how that works.

Now comes the fun part: dive in there with clean hands and get that stuff mixed up.
After that I form the loaf in a cast iron skillet. I used to use a loaf pan but I've found the iron spider works really well and gives a nice crust on the bottom of the meatloaf.

Some time in the oven and Bob's your uncle, dinner is ready.

I am happy to say the Knorr Vegetable Soup mix turns out just fine in meat loaf.

Pass the ketchup!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What are you making that smells so good?!

When I went to Sam's Club today I found some pork stew meat on sale. Couldn't resist, looks like we'll have chili for dinner tonight... and tomorrow night... and maybe even the next day, too.

For chili spices I've had really good results using a pre-packaged mix from the grocery store. It's Carroll Shellby's Original Texas Chili mix. To write this post I looked up their website for the first time. I was hoping for some good info and additional recipes. Alas, no such luck. It's just a corporate site for the company that markets the mix, pretty dissappointing but at least you can see what the package looks like in case you want to find it in the store yourself.

I don't usually follow the package directions for this mix. I just use it to season my own recipe. So, let's see what that is...
Note: I'm not always a cook who measures things. I do when it counts, but this isn't one of those times. You're going to have to bear with me when I say it "looked about right" or "season to taste."
First, I browned the pork stew meat in a frying pan on the range. As it browned I transfered it into a deep casserole dish in the oven (my mom gave us this casserole dish last night and it was just begging to show me how well it would work). I also tossed in the leftover London broil from the rib dinner the other night. It was a little bit too tough to just eat as-is so I wanted to take advantage of its flavor here.
The one problem I saw with this pork is that it's pretty lean. I usually use pork shoulder or picnic shoulder when I make chili and shred the meat after a few hours in the slow-cooker. Those cuts have plenty of fat so the meat is juicy and tasty. This meat I got today is dryer and not quite as tender, even after a long cook in the oven.

After everything was browned and in the casserole dish I poured in two cans of chicken stock and dumped in a large onion that I'd cut rather coarsely. Oven temperature was set at about 250 degrees.
Once the meat had a couple or three hours to get tender I put in a can of diced stewed tomatoes and a larger can of whole stewed tomatoes. For the whole stewed tomatoes I crushed them in my hand before dropping them into the chili. This is a great way to break these up, just be sure your hands are clean and watch out for the inevitable squirt of tomatoe from between your fingers. I didn't do too bad this time, I only needed two paper towels to clean up afterwards.

Ok, here's where it gets fun... I use fire roasted chilis in my chili.
For this chili I got a bag full of Anaheim chilis and one red bell pepper so there would be some nice color. Roasting chilis is really easy but it's something a lot of people are leery of. Just turn on your range burner and set a chili or two on the burner ring. As the chilis blacken you'll want to turn them with a pair of kitchen tongs until the whole outside is charred. Drop the roasted chili in a paper or plastic bag and close the top. This lets the chili steam and continue to cook. Now do the rest of the chilis.
Once all the chilis are roasted and cooled enough to handle, I cut off the stem end, slice up the side, remove the seeds, and scrape off the charred skin. If you've done the roasting right the skin will slide right off. I don't worry if I don't get it all off but most of it should come off. Sometimes a rinse under the tap will aid in getting the skin off. After all this I diced the cooked chilis. The red bell pepper got cooked the same way but I cut it into thin strips rather than dice. At this point all the chilis got dumped into the pot of chili and I finally remembered to put in the chili seasoning.

I have to be careful when I make chili or salsa. I like them with some good kick but if I do that then Fayme can't eat any. I really enjoy cooking for her so I try to tone things down so she can enjoy them. For this batch of chili I used all the cayenne pepper in the chili mix. The amount I was making was way bigger than the mix is meant for so I didn't think it would be too hot. As it turns out, I was right. This was a one glass of milk bowl of chili for Fayme.
Actually, this is a picture of the whole batch in the new casserole "dish." I didn't mean to imply that this is the bowl of chili Fayme ate. Wow... can you imagine eating that much chili?

To go along with the chili I decided to make some garlic bread. I typically keep a butter and garlic mix in the 'fridge so I dug that out and spruced it up. I added about 4 more cloves of minced garlic, some fine chopped fresh parsley, and another stick of butter. A few seconds in the microwave and everything was soft enough to mix and then spread.

If you'd like to make this mix for yourself it is simplicity itself. Grab an old jar and put in butter, minced garlic, and mix it up. I also add in oregano, chopped parsley, and sometimes some garlic powder if I don't feel it's garlicky (is that a word?) enough. I keep this jar in the refrigerator and pull it out whenever garlic bread sounds good. When it gets low I just top it off with more butter and garlic.
A quick trip under the broiler for the garlic bread, a little green onion, cilantro, and sour cream for the chili, and we're good to go!

The only problem now is who is coming over to help us eat all this chili? You know, way back when I was a kid my mom and dad had a coffee shop in southern California. I think that "cooking for crowds" thing really sunk into me because I find it almost impossible to cook an amount reasonable for two people.
I really need to open up a bed and breakfast in Arizona so I can cook for more than just Fayme and I.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tried a New Rib Marinade

Pork ribs were on sale at the grocery store yesterday so I got a small rack to bbq.
Watching BBQ University the other day I saw a marinade made with hoisin sauce that sounded pretty good (search for Chinatown Ribs on the BBQU site). Of course, being who I am I didn't look up the actual recipe but went off memory. I used about 3/4 jar of hoisin sauce, some soy sauce, chopped green onions, crushed garlic, light brown sugar, and fresh ground black pepper. I missed a few ingredients so definately look up the recipe on the site. I cut the rib rack into three pieces and put them into a plastic bag along with the marinade to sit overnight.
This evening I started the grill and put the rib pieces off to one side for what is called indirect cooking. Every once in a while I lit the burner under the ribs at a low setting to help them along.
When the ribs were just about done I also plopped a London broil over the lit burner.
Unfortunately, I never thought of taking any pictures of all this until Fayme reminded me just before I sat down to eat. So we've only got one picture of some ribs and sliced London broil on my plate.

That little bowl of purple things is pickled onions. I've wanted to try those ever since I saw them served on Mexico, One plate at a Time. They were great. Again, I didn't find that particular recipe but did a quick Google search for one that sounded good. And, of course, now I can't find that one to link to... damnit.
The ribs were really good and we'll definately have those again. But I'm still struggling on London broil. I know I undercooked it a bit but I always seem to have tenderness issues with this cut. Although, it makes great beef jerkey. I really need to look into cooking this cut better, it's a great value when it's on sale.

Happy cooking!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cooking Shows on PBS

I mentioned recently that regular broadcast television bores me and I watch a lot of public television, PBS. Since the advent of digital broadcast the selection of programs has really grown. One PBS channel in particular has really caught my attention: the Create channel bills itself as “the TV channel for cooking, arts & crafts, gardening, home improvement, and travel.”
As appropriate for this blog, the cooking programs have just sucked me in. Here is a rundown of those I enjoy the most:

Mexico, One Plate at a Time - Rick Bayliss
In a sense, I hate Rick Bayliss. The guy has it all: he’s got a great presence on the screen, he gets to travel all over Mexico eating foods from the most humble street vendors to the fanciest resorts, he’s a great cook and author, he wears the coolest super hero t-shirts, and he’s living the life I would have wanted for myself. But even if I hate him (and I really don’t… much) I love watching his show.
If you think Mexican cooking is limited to burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, watch Rick and expand your horizons.

America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country
By the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, these two shows are kind of the Consumer’s Report for cooking and kitchen activities; but they go so much deeper…
Rather than just test a recipe and say it’s good or bad, America’s Test Kitchen figures out how to make it better and easier. Cook’s Country does the same thing but concentrates on American home cooking. They know where to cut corners to save time, calories, or cost without affecting flavor or convenience, and they know when to leave well enough alone. These two shows will never give you something that has been so reduced in calories - and flavor - that you’d rather eat a brown paper bag.
Along with their recipes and cooking you’ll also find equipment testing and taste tests. Which tabletop mixer is worth the money? They have that. Is real vanilla better than artificial vanilla? They have that, too.
I can’t recommend these two shows highly enough.

Food Trip with Todd English – Todd English
India, Bangkok, South Africa, Peru, Thailand, Italy… Todd English travels the world looking at regional cooking to meld with his own talents to develop dishes.
Todd English is very talented and creative and one of America’s top chefs. Even with his lofty achievements he still has respect and enthusiasm for street food and the simple home food he finds in his travels.

Lidia’s Italy – Lidia Bastianich
As the name suggests, Lidia Bastianich focuses on the Italian food she grew up with as well as that which she finds on her trips to various parts of Italy.
The pace of the show is good, the recipes and techniques are easy to follow without being overwhelming, and the food is great. Along the way you’ll also be introduced to some Italian history and culture as well as professional and home Italian cooks sharing their recipes and techniques, many of them passed down through generations of family.

BBQ University – Steven Raichlen
If it can be cooked on a grill, gas or charcoal, you’ll see it on this program, and even if you don’t think it can, you may still see it! This show is a carnivore’s dream.
Cooking meat over coals may be man’s oldest cooking method, and Steven Raichlen does it good. But he still finds room to cover grilling vegetables, seafood (grilled mussels, anyone?), rubs, sauces, and desserts.
Watch this master of grilling do his thing and you will be visiting your butcher for something special.

Simply Ming – Ming Tsai
Ming Tsai obviously grew up with a good influence; his mother, Iris Tsai, visits and cooks on many of his show’s episodes. With her dry wit and great cooking skills, she is a real joy to watch.
Many of Ming’s shows focus on two basic ingredients that change from one episode to another. It may be soy sauce and olive oil on one show or thyme and ginger on another. Some of Ming’s recipes are a little expensive for my pocket book – scallops, lobster, sushi-grade tuna – but I still love to watch for ideas and because it’s so obvious that he just plain loves what he’s doing. Ming’s enthusiasm for cooking is infectious.

So, there you have it, some of my favorite cooking shows. There are some others that are good, but these are my favorites.

One show that I did not list but that absolutely can not be passed up is anything with Julia Child in it. While Ms. Child passed away in 2004 her shows are still run with great frequency. A ground breaking and talented cook, her wit and humor is a real joy to watch. Many people don’t know it, but Ms. Child was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the CIA, and served overseas during WWII.

New Batch of Sauerkraut

I just took the latest batch out of the bucket this morning. It tastes great.
The big bottle is for my refrigerator, the middle size bottle will go to the Pasadena PaleoPlanet gathering with me this coming Sunday, and the small one is for my mother. It's too bad we can't have a grill at the range Sunday, some Polish dogs would really go well with the sauerkraut. Unfortunately, fire restrictions say no open flames due to fire danger... better safe than sorry.

Happy cabbage!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Adventures of Curry

For some unknown reason I got thinking about curry a couple months ago.
I’m not sure how it’s slipped by me over the years but I’d very rarely had curry… yet here I was thinking about it.
We visited Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa and had lunch in their food court where I had curried pork cutlets over rice and really enjoyed it. But it didn’t satisfy my craving for more.
Then, when we went to Super King Market recently for the pickle ingredients I found a great selection of curry mixes. One of the packages was labeled ‘mild,’ was less than a pound, and had a recipe on the back. Into the shopping cart it went.

Now, I figured that following the recipe on the back of the curry package would work good and we’d have a great dinner. I mean, if the company that makes it doesn’t know how to make a good meal with it, who does? Well, all I can say is that perhaps something was lost in the English translation. For starters, the recipe had me putting eight tablespoons of curry into the pan. That seemed a little excessive even to my un-curried eye. Then there were no liquids added to the dish. At this point I had a pan of rapidly browning onions, garlic, and chili that were all coated with a thick curry paste – and I was supposed to let it sauté for another ten minutes before I added the browned chicken back in and let cook until tender. This wasn’t going to work at all. I added some water and made the best out of the dish as I could but this was far and away not the best dinner I’ve ever made.

I turned to my reliable Google and found this recipe for Pakistan Punjabi Chicken Curry that sounded good. A package of chicken thighs that were on sale and we’re ready to do battle.

Let me interject here, if you don’t know how to bone chicken you’re really shorting yourself on the kitchen experience. I usually use whole chicken thighs because they are more flavorful and don't dry out like chicken breasts can, and they are a whole lot less expensive. Upon occasion, like this one, I want boned chicken meat. A couple swipes with a sharp knife and chicken thighs are boned and ready to go. If you've never boned chicken thighs you owe it to yourself to at least look at a site like this one from and give it a try. It really is easy. Almost as easy as cutting up a whole chicken, another valuable skill.

If I was truly thrifty I'd save the bones and skin to make a nice chicken stock. But to tell the truth, I pitch them in the bin. I buy chicken stock by the case at either Costco or Sam's Club. I just don't have the room to store home made stock until I need it.

This meal turned out pretty good. This was a two-glasses-of-milk dish for Fayme so it wasn’t too terribly spicy, and the curry flavor itself was not overwhelming. However, it left me somehow unsatisfied. It didn’t really reach out and grab me by the scruff of the neck. I think next time I’ll try this with some chopped cilantro sprinkled over the top and also use some Mahatma Saffron Rice instead of plain white rice. Just those two items alone may brighten this dish into something more special. If they don’t, I’ll think of something else to try.

Happy cooking!

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Batch of Sauerkraut Started

I was speaking with my mom on the phone this morning and finally remembered to ask her if she likes sauerkraut. After hearing that she does I said I'd bring some along when I see her next Sunday.
There's not a lot left from the last batch I made so I ran down to the farmer's market and got three heads of cabbage to get some more going.
These cabbage heads are about 1 1/2 times the size of the last ones so I'm going to have a lot more sauerkraut when this batch gets finished.
Mom, I sure hope you do like it because I'm going to need to get rid of some!
Come to think of it, I think I'll also take some of this new sauerkraut and some pickles to the Paleo Planet gathering in Pasadena next Sunday. Snacks are always welcome there and the gang may get a kick out of home made 'kraut and pickles.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cautionary Note

When working with dried herbs it is frequently advised that the herbs be rubbed between the palms of the hands to release their oils and flavors before they are put into the dish. I've been doing this a long time with no adverse effects... until tonight.
While preparing a rub for a chicken dish I poured a quantity of dried oregano into my palms and proceeded to rub my hands together to crush the pieces. After dumping the oregano into the bowl I felt something odd in my palm and took a close look. I was surprised to see a splinter of some kind sticking out of my skin. I grabbed it to pull it out and couldn't get the danged thing to budge. I finally had to get a pair of tweezers for a really good grip and managed to tug the little bugger out. Imagine my surprise to find that it wasn't just a splinter but something akin to a cactus spine! The reason I had such a devil of a time removing it was the tiny barbs on the spine.
Upon showing it to Fayme she suggested that I use a mortar and pestle next time instead of my palms. The only mortar and pestle we have is pretty tiny so I think I'll be on the lookout for a larger one. That little spine hurt and I don't want to repeat that experience if I can help it.

Jeez... I know to be careful with sharp knives and I don't cook bacon naked... but I never expected to get hurt by oregano!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do You Know Where Your Food is Coming From?

I was watching a PBS show, Craft in America, tonight and an artist mentioned that one of the things she loves about the art she creates is knowing where it came from. It’s not something mass produced or made by some anonymous company, it’s something she has made with her own hands, her own skills, and her own love.
That really struck a chord in me. It’s one of the reasons I love cooking and making my own food. It’s why I’m trying new things like making sauerkraut and pickles. It’s because I know where the food is coming from and what has gone into making it. Not just the ingredients, but the skill, the work, and the love.
As a side note, this is also why I very rarely use a food processor. I enjoy using a knife that I have cherished and sharpened over the years to cut my food. I value the skill with my knives that I have developed over time. When I make two gallons of salsa I know how much time and effort has gone into cutting all the ingredients with my own hands and a sharp knife. It makes it taste all the better to me.
We don’t have cable TV. Frankly, I’m too cheap to pay for it. Regular broadcast TV programs bore the hell out of me so with the exception of Star Trek re-runs we tend to watch a lot of PBS. I’ve been seeing quite a few programs that show people getting back to the Earth; people who are growing their own food, in both small farms and urban gardens. These people are keeping alive heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits that do not do well in commercial settings. They also know where their food is coming from. Big city famous chefs are patronizing farmer’s markets for their restaurant’s dishes and building relationships with small growers in their area. They know where their food is coming from.
Additionally, “carbon footprint” is a popular phrase these days and while I don’t necessarily agree with all its permutations it has to be better for the Earth and us to not use so many trucks and processing plants to get food to our tables.
Do you know where your food is coming from?
When you open a bottle of sauerkraut do you know how it was made? If you think too deeply on this do you get factories and giant stainless steel vats in your mind’s eye and end up putting the jar back on the shelf? Or, do you remember the joy of chopping heads of cabbage and the excitement of seeing and smelling it ferment and turn into something beautiful?
Instead of running down to the fast food place during lunch do you open your lunch cooler and pull out a pickle from your own kitchen?
What, bringing lunch to work isn’t cool?
Maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t cool but how about if you have a small loaf of artisan bread from the little bakery where the guy behind the counter remembers your name, and you know he’s the one who got into the bakery at 3 o’clock in the morning to make that bread, and you’ve got a couple things from the farmer’s market last weekend to put on the bread, and you’ve got some thin sliced roast pork for that sandwich ($.87 lb on sale and you do have a sharp knife… don’t you?)?
Now you’re not just that strange person who doesn’t go out to eat with everyone else. Now you’re that connoisseur who enjoys making things. Now you’re the craftsperson who cherishes skills and good tastes. Now your workmates are wishing they were on your small invite list for those little dinners you put together.

Now you know where your food is coming from.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stuffed Grape Leaves

While gathering the ingredients for the fermented pickles I got a jar of grape leaves. I only needed a few for the pickles so now I had a whole bunch of grape leaves left over. I've never made stuffed grape leaves, but what the heck? Here's a good enough reason to give the little rascals a try.
Google came through for me again when I found this recipe for Lebanese Rolled Stuffed Grape Leaves.
Now, I've got to tell you how I look at recipes... I see them as guidelines. If I want to replicate the dish exactly or if there is a necessity for something in particular, then I follow the recipe closely. But many times I use a recipe as a general guide rather than as a strict formula. Such was the case here.
Here are the basic ingredients for this recipe:
16 oz. jar grape leaves or fresh grape leaves
3/4 c. long grain uncooked rice
3 tbsp. fresh dried mint
1 c. water
2 lbs. ground lamb, beef or pork
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
3 lg. garlic cloves
2-3 lemons
I picked up some ground beef at the store so we're good there. I don't care for mint or cloves that much so those two were axed. I added onion, garlic, and oregano to the meat as they all sounded better than relatively plain meat.

Everything got mixed into the meat and it was looking a lot like meatloaf.

I wrestled a handful of grape leaves out of the jar and got them rinsed off and ready to wrap.

Now came the fun part: wrapping the meat into the leaves.

And into the pan they go!

I poured the garlic, lemon juice, water mixture over the pan's contents and set them on the range. After bringing things to a boil I reduced the heat to a low simmer, covered the pan, and set the timer for one hour.
After about 45 minutes I tested to see if the grape leaves were tender. They were so I removed the pan from the heat and got out the plate.

When I cut one open I could see that the meat and rice are both cooked. 
I am happy to report success with our first stuffed grape leaves! Between Fayme and I there were only about half a dozen left to put away.
Things I'll try next time:
Ground lamb would really be good in this. The ground beef was a little bland.
A little less lemon juice. I used 2 1/2 lemons and it was just a little bit too tart.
I may try chicken stock instead of water, that feels like it would be a good idea.

This was a really good dinner and it was fun to make. I got to try something I've never made before and it's always nice when that sort of endeavour turns out well. Fayme mentioned that this would be something good to take to pot luck dinners. I absolutely agree with her. If you feel guilty about just bringing a loaf of Trader Joe's bread when you attend a pot luck, give something like this a try. It's way easier than it looks, tastes great, and you'll really impress people with your culinary skills and international flair.

Thanks for reading - Good Cooking!

Pickle Update

It's been three days since I started the fermented pickles so I checked them today.
There was a bit of a bloom on the surface of the water, I skinned that off with a spoon. The two spots of mold I thought I saw turned out to be two errant peppercorns that had escaped from beneath the pickles, nothing to worry about.
I took one pickle out and cut the end off to give it a taste. I've never had a fermented pickle so I need to be careful about judging these against the supermarket style I'm familiar with.
Verdict: they're a little salty, very crunchy, taste great and are very much on the way to being a true pickle. I think this is going to be another winner!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sauerkraut Accolades

Remember the mention I made about doing a batch of sauerkraut?

Earlier this week I went down to Laguna Canyon to David Brunetta's studio to do some work with him. Since I'd been bragging to David about the sauerkraut I took along a bit for him to try.
Tonight I received an email from David with nothing in it but this picture:

Now that's the kind of feedback a cook likes to get!

First Post, Fermented Pickles... MMMmmm...

A couple weeks ago I made some sauerkraut. I've made sauerkraut at home before but this turned out so good it kind of got me interested in taking another step: fermented pickles.
So today, using a recipe and instructions from Wild Fermentation, I got it started.
First, I had to find some pickling cucumbers. This may not always be as easy as it sounds. After checking a couple of our regular grocery stores and one farmer's market, Fayme and I visited Super King Market in Anaheim, CA.
Note to self: never, ever, visit a new market at 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon. The place was packed with people getting food for dinner and for the weekend. And I mean really packed!
Super King Market is a great store that reflects our ethnically diverse area. I found the pickling cucumbers I was looking for, some olives I craved, some curry mix for a later dinner, and Fayme got pita bread, humus, and tahina sauce that she's been looking for forever. For the future, I also found a good source for lamb in their butcher department.
So today I got the cucumbers all washed off, the garlic peeled, and the water and salt mixed.

I ran into one possible problem. The recipe calls for fresh grape leaves or a variety of other fresh leaves as the tannins help the cucumbers retain their crispness. I was unable to find any fresh leaves so I got a jar of grape leaves in the hopes that they will do the job. If they don't, I'll know better for next time. And in any case, now I have most of a jar of grape leaves so I can try making stuffed grape leaves in the near future. That'll be another post.
I mixed the salt in an empty apple juice bottle for the sake of convenience. After getting the seasonings into the big jar I packed in the cucumbers and poured in the brine.

Now I've run into another problem that I should have foreseen. In order to ferment properly the cucumbers need to be under the brine solution. Typically this is done by putting everything into a ceramic crock and putting a clean plate on top with a weight of some kind to push it all down. Having packed things into this jar there was no way for me to push the cucumbers down.
For Plan B I just transferred everything to the bucket I used for the sauerkraut and put the cut-down lid on top with the jar full of water to hold it all down.

 Now, we wait. As the fermentation process starts I'll keep any mold that forms skimmed off the top. After three or four days I'll take out a cucumber/pickle and see how they are going. At some point I'll put everything into the jar and make room in the refrigerator.
Pickling is a preservation process for food so I could leave it all out of the 'fridge. But I live in a rather warm climate so the fermentation may get to a point that the pickles won't taste as good to me and I can stop the process at a good taste with the refrigeration.

I'll make updates as this project runs its course.
If you'd like to read about the sauerkraut I made just click on Something Fun That Tastes Good and read all about it.

Thanks for reading!