Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dolsot cooking adventure continues - cooking in a Korean stone pot

We have enjoyed lunch cooked in our new stone pot almost every day this week.  I love how easy it is to cook rice from scratch in the pot.  It's almost as easy as my electric rice cooker.

Clockwise from the top: Leeks lightly fried then cooked in sake, chard namuru, bacon fried with chard stems and carrots, nuka pickles cucumber, carrots and daikon, and dry fried canned tuna.

Hiding underneath all this is a bed of chestnut rice.   I actually found the toppings to be a bit of a draw back as they hid the delicious taste of the rice, so the next day I made...

Much simpler toppings today: leftover shio koji chicken breast  and carrots fried with bacon (because everything is better with bacon), all on top of chestnut rice.

These are also perfect flavours for the changing season.  There is a cold nip in the air, fall is approaching  the body wants to eat more fats and root veg.  I think I need to dig up the last of the gobo tomorrow and make something extra special for myself.

Here are some things I've learned about cooking with stone:

  • It's surprisingly easy to burn food in this dish.  Medium heat is the absolute maximum temperature needed for this.
  • Scrubbing the pot with coarse salt takes very little effort to get the burnt crap off the bottom of the pot.
  • This is a very low fuss way to make rice.  It's right on par with my electric rice cooker for ease of making - so long as I keep the temperature low.  It isn't as fussy with the amount of liquid or cooking time as my electric cooker and I find myself experimenting more by adding different stuff to the rice.  But when it comes to cooking simple old white rice, the electric cooker wins hands down.
  • It gets hot enough to burn through one cotton heat pad, and to heat up one cork ceramic trivet enough to damage the table underneath!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Cook Rice in a Korean Stone Pot (and how to season it)

A dolsot or Korean stone pot is the latest addition to my kitchen.  A Korean friend of mine taught me how to cook rice in it (from scratch - instead of just adding cooked rice and heating like most people do) and after hearing her passionate description of how delicious it is, I just had to have one.

The pot is made of a single piece of stone, hand turned on a massive lathe.  It's a heavy blighter so you don't want to be dropping it on your finger like I did.

Before the first use, it needs to be seasoned.  You only need to do this the first time or if it's been sitting for a year or more.

How to season your Dolsot

Wash the pot with water and half fill with tepid water.  Add a couple of tablespoons of sea salt to the water and swish around with your fingers until all the salt is dissolved   Leave for a few minutes so that the temperature of the water and the pot can even out, than bring to boil on medium heat.  When the water is boiling vigorously, take the pot off the heat and carefully poor off the water.

When it has cooled a bit, poor some sesame oil on a cloth or paper towel and rub the inside of the pot and lid.  Lave it to cool completely and the oil to seep in.

How to Cook Rice in a Dolsot

1 cup rice
Kombu (kelp) - optional

  • Coat the inside of the pot with sesame (or any cooking) oil.  Do this every time, just before you cook in this pot.
  • Wash the rice really well.
  • You can add other grains with the rice.  I often replace one Tbs of rice with  Naked Oats.
  • Once it's well washed, add the water.  You can follow the amount of water on the back of the rice package or you can put the washed rice in the pot and cover with water so it's about 1.5cm above the level of the rice.  Or, you can do what I did, and measure the water in the rice-cooker then poor it into the stone pot.
  • Add a pinch of salt to the rice (swish it around to dissolve) and if you like, add some kombu.  
  • Let the pot stand for about five minutes before you start cooking, this allows the temperature to even out and reduces the chance of the bowl splitting or cracking.

  • Bring the rice pot to a roiling boil on MEDIUM HEAT!  

  • I repeat: MEDIUM HEAT!
  • Once the pot heats up, you can increase the temperature, but the important thing with these pots is not to change the temperature too rapidly one way or another. 
  • When the water boils, turn down the heat.  You can tell when it boils as some steam will escape through the lid.  You can even check it from time to time and stir it if you like, but I didn't bother.

  • When it's finished cooking (how long this takes depends on your stove and rice/grain - but basically it's when there isn't much steam escaping any more), you can eat it as is or put toppings on the rice, increase the heat until the rice starts to make a crackling sound and goes all crunchy and brown around the edges.  The latter is called Bibimbap in Korea and is extremely yummy.

Clockwise from the top:
 Leaks lightly fried and then simmered in Sake,
Salted Salmon, Cucumber nukazuke pickles, and Kim Chi.  

Of course, mine isn't real Bibimbap, I don't have the correct ingredients or sauces.  Basically I put a collection of things I like to eat on top of the rice.

After you finish eating the rice (toppings or no) there will probably be a layer of crunchy rice around the edge.  Before the pot cools down too much, add some HOT broth, hot water, or dashi.  NOTE: Please try and keep the liquid as close to the temperature of the pot as possible when you poor it in, when it doubt err on the hot side.

Adding the liquid makes a really nice soup (and makes it easier to clean later on).

Tips for Caring for your Dolsot

  • Do NOT use soap to clean this pot.  If you are having trouble getting it clean either scrub with coarse salt and water or boil up some water in the pot then allow to cool completely before cleaning.
  • Always allow to cool completely before cleaning.  Even though you may be able to handle the outside, the stone retains a lot of heat inside.
  • Always coat the inside with cooking oil prior to using (this includes the lid)
  • Do NOT change the temperature too rapidly   This includes putting cold water in a hot pot, or hot water in a cold pot, or cooking on too high a heat.  Sudden changes in temperature will crack or even shatter the bowl, and that's the last thing we want.

Some useful dolsot links
Korean Stone Pot Care and Seasoning
Dolsot Problems?
Yeongyang dolsotbap Dolsot Bibimbap recipe

Monday, September 24, 2012

A lunch for my first Transition

There is a group of people in town who are learning skills for what they call the Transition.  Basically their idea is that the way of life we have is heavily dependent on limited resources like oil.  Eventually these resources will start to run out and the way of life as we know it will drastically change.  Everything from pre-fab food shipped from long distances to fancy cell phones, to fuel for our cars, to readily available clothing... all these things will be gone!  Poof!  Or, more likely, fizzle.

To make this change easier, this Transition group hopes to acquire skills we need for our community to be (more or less) self sufficient.  They want to help people learn to grow their own food, save their own seeds, find methods of transportation that rely on as little petro as possible, and even make their own clothes.

Transitions group exist all over, and are a 'global grassroots movement supporting citizen action toward reducing oil dependence and building local community resilience and ecological sustainability' (Transistion Victoria).  Pretty cool eh?

And right up my ally.

So I've been helping to pull flax.  This is part of The Linen Project  where members of the community make linen from scratch.  Using mostly hand tools at this point, they do tend to complain about how much work it is - obviously they aren't homesteaders at heart - but in my opinion, learning that a way of life not dependent on a big industrial complex is hard work, the sooner they stop dreaming and idealizing the future, the better. (end of rant)

If pulling flax is hard work, I'm going to need a lunch!

First thing I did was run out to the garden and pick some grapes.  Delicious.  It is a Transition event after all, I should at least have one food in my lunch that I grew myself.

Two ume onigiri, one wakami furikake onigiri (they are the rice balls), home grown grapes (the best kind in my opinion), and a soy-free chocolate pumpkin made by Denman Island chocolate (a local company and my guilty little pleasure)

I warped my drink container in the cloth so it wouldn't sweat too much in my bag.

The wrapping makes it so that there is a handle on the other side.  It's very cute and convenient 

I also made a mini-bento for when I got home in case I was too tried to make a snack.

Wakami furikake onigiri and nukazuke carrots.

As a side note: I like the idea of Transition and will be looking into this further.  What Whole Wheat Pastafarian wouldn't?

But I worry that the people I met who are engaging in Transition activities are too firmly set in their middle class capitalistic mind set.  Living a life without oil is going to take more than a few mornings volunteering in a picturesque setting talking with your friends, complaining about how much hard work it is.

If things are really going to hell in a hand basket, maybe they should look to the past instead of spending all their free time reading books about the impending doom.  The idea of free time being another luxury that they would be wise to transition away from.

There are still people alive (I live with two of them) who remember harvesting in the fields by hand, know how to properly tie grain sheaths, &c.  There are also enough manuals and writings from the last two hundred years to provide the basic understanding.  There are also people like me who are already more than half way transitioned - I sew on a treadle sewing machine for goodness sake.  Relying on info from a couple of core books over those who have lived it and are living it now... that seems like a steady road to folly to me.

But simply my opinion.

Maybe transition needs to start like this?

I hope to participate more in this project, if only because I love textiles so much.  But as a first expierence, I'm a bit underwhelmed.

Yummy Bento Lunch shared on:

Bento Lunch

Home made hummus with Sourdough Bread Bento

This is a real quick bento lunch which is basically an excuse to try out my new box set from Bento&Co.  The small fish contains home made Hummus and the large fish has some home made poppy seed sourdough bread.  It's quite a refreshing combination.

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Bento Lunch

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to divide a Sourdough Starter, plus troubleshooting Sourdough troubles

A sourdough starter is a living thing and needs care to stay alive.  A starter can survive for hundreds of years if properly cared for.  I've even heard rumours that there are starters around that are over one thousand years old!  The longest I've kept a starter was 4 and a half years, although a friend of mine who I gave some too, still has it, so it's about 12 years old now.

That reminds me Sourdough starters are great gifts to give to friends (and a possible idea for Christmas presents... hmmm.)

How to Divide Your Sourdough Starter

To divide your sourdough starter, separate half of the starter in to a new bowl.  Feed as usual (1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, stir really well and leave out overnight or if during the day for about four hours).  Don't forget to feed your half too.

Usually I separate just before I give the starter away that way the starter can eat on it's journey to it's new home and be ready to put in the fridge when it gets there.

Troubleshooting Sourdough Troubles

Being a living thing, a sourdough starter can sometimes get a bit, um, temperamental.

Here are a list of problems I've come across from time to time and their possible solutions.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.  As more questions happen, I'll update this list.

I made a starter and it didn't get bubbly.

This means that the yeast didn't grow in your starter.  This could be for several reasons.  You might be using treated water, like city tap water, that has added chemicals in it that prevent the growth of bacteria and yeast.  Or possibly you don't have enough natural yeast in the air.  Or, it could be too cold where you had it.  Or, some bad bacteria might have gotten into the starter and overpowered the yeast. Or, it could just be a matter of luck.  Sourdough yeast is a living thing and sometimes it just doesn't feel like growing.

Toss out your first try and start again.  Make sure the starer is in a warmish place (average temp between 67 to 75 degrees F.) with plenty of airflow (but no draft).  Buy some fresh, organic fruit and keep it in the same room as the would-be starter.  This helps add yeast to the air as natural yeast likes to grow on fruit.  Make sure the cover on the sourdough is not airtight.

My new starter got really bubbly but then suddenly stopped 

This can mean that your starter is hungry.  If the weather has been consistently warm, the yeast may be super-active and ate up all its food. Feed it with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and an equal amount of water, then leave it stand for 12 hours.  If it bubbles up again, then you know it was just hungry.

This can also happen if the temperature has gone from warm to cool.  The cooler it is, the less active the starter.  Try to keep the new starter at a consistantly warm temp for the first few days while it gets established.  To save this starter, try feeding it (as above) and keeping it above 65 degrees F.

There is a strange liquid in my starter and it smells like alcohol

Congratulations, you have now made hooch.  NOT that I would recommend drinking it.  This happens when the yeast in the sourdough starter starts converting the sugars in the flour to alcohol.  It's not a good thing.  It's usually occurs if the starter has been left too long between feeding or at too warm a temp.

It is sometimes possible to save the starter, and well worth a try.  Drain off the hooch and feed the starter as per normal.  If it bubbles up after the usual feeding time, you know it can be saved.  Feed it again!  And after the required waiting time, feed it a third time.   (you guys know that when I say feed, I mean, feed it flour, water and wait a while for it to start working, right?).  If you don't want that much starter then you can divide it between each feeding.

This has saved my sourdough more than once, but if it's been left too long, then I'm very sorry to inform you, but your sourdough starter has passed away. Joined the choir invisible, pushing up the daisies. You need a new one.

My Sponge didn't bubble up overnight

Possibly too cold.  Did you do like me and leave it under an open window?  Put it out of the draft and somewhere a little bit warmer.  If it starts to bubble up then you know for next time not to leave it there.

Did you leave it too long?  More than 12 hours and the sponge will use up all its food and go dormant.  Feed it again and wait at least 4 hours until it goes all bubbly.

Bread didn't rise

Oh dear, you do like to ask the tough questions, don't you?

Did it not rise at all or did it not rise enough?

If it didn't rise at all, it might be that there is something wrong with your starter.  Try feeding it, and if it responds positively (with bubbles) over the usual period of time, then it is alive.  It might need a few feeding to get it active again.  This is assuming you did make a sponge the night before you tried to make bread.

If it didn't rise enough... well, there are many possible causes.  If someone hasn't written a very long book on the topic, please let me know.  I'm thinking at least 400 pages could easily be dedicated to why didn't my bread rise properly.

But, here are some of the more common solutions.

  • starter wasn't active enough
  • temperature wasn't warm enough/was too warm/was inconsistent.
  • Didn't wait long enough (sourdough takes longer than commercial yeast)
  • Didn't knead the dough enough/kneaded too much.
  • Not enough glutin in the flour for it to rise.  Even changing from bread flour to whole wheat will give you a noticeable difference.  Using something like rye, spelt, or a gultin free flour will give a heavy bread no matter what yeast you use.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment.  I hope to expand this page as the need requires.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cider making time

Last year we were inspired by an article on how to make apple cider (the hard kind) in Mother Earth News. We harvested all the apples off the large, heritage trees that live on our farm and juiced hand, using a kitchen counter juicer.  It took forever because you have to chop the apples by hand into tiny pieces in order for them to fit in the juicer.  Hardly seems worth it, that is, until you drink the finished cider... yummy!

This year, we are doing things a little bit differently.

Brand new, home made, apple press.  The Capitan spent a few weeks putting this together in his spare time. Considering that it's made from 100% reclaimed wood, it's amazing how well it works.

I think we got more juice per apple last year, but for the amount of work we put in (friends love to come over and help you press apples when you have a nifty toy they can play with), this is far, far, far less work per pint of juice.

We have two demijohns full so far and enough apples still on the trees to fill one or two more.  Notice the large amount of head space in the demijohn... last year, we learned to leave extra because it froths up like crazy.

How We Make  (hard) Apple Cider

There must be hundreds of different ways of making cider (note, just assume that I mean cider as alcohol made from apples in this context).  Ours is pretty simple.  We don't have a lot of gadgets to test for sugar or gravity or whatever.  We also don't mind if we get a huge jar of vinegar.  I use it for everything from rinsing my hair to cleaning the house.  Natural vinegar is barely affordable these days, so making our own would be just fine.  un/fortunately, we haven't managed to make vinegar yet.  Just really yummy, really strong cider.

Note: we don't juice anything that has touched the ground.  We have chickens, and sheep, and goats, and ducks that live under the fruit trees and they tend to poop a lot.  Although it probably isn't a big issue, we like to be extra safe as we are not pasteurizing the juice before we ferment it.  So if it's been on the ground, it does not go in the juicer.

What you need:

  • Big, food safe, sterilized vessel that can be sealed with an airlock (like a demijohn or carboy - aka, big glass jar, or a designated plastic pale with an airtight lid and airlock)
  • An airlock - something to let the extra gas out so that it don't explode and make mess, but not let the air in.
  • Lots of fresh, un-treated, un-pasteurized, apple juice.
If you are getting your apple juice from somewhere else, then it may be treated with chemicals, heat or UV light.  This won't ferment naturally.  Sometimes you can add yeast or other You-Brew goodies, but sometimes even this won't work.  See the Mother Earth News article for more info.

We simply juice our own apples, which are grown without chemical spray, and put the juice directly in the demijohn.  Then we put the airlock on top, carry it to the basement, and leave it to ferment at about 65 to 68 degrees F.  for a few months.

When we feel like it we rack it - transfer it to another similar container.  We are careful to leave any sediment behind and this helps to clarify it a little bit.

Then, about 4 to 8 months from when we first started, we bottle the cider using the honey method described in the article I linked to.  We melt some honey in hot water (how much depends on how much juice we have) and then add the cider to the honey.  Then we bottle it in high-pressure bottles, and leave it downstairs for a month or two.

That's it.  Tastes really good, but one does need to be careful when feeding this to guests that might be driving home later.  Last year's cider is what I call, three hour cider - aka, how many hours our guests have to wait until they can safely drive home after drinking one bottle on an empty stomach.

Note: if you want to make cider yourself, please do a bit of research on health and safety procedures.  I didn't go into them much here, but the article I cited earlier does have a nice overview.  Also, there are places in the world, including some rather large chunks of North America, where it is not legal to brew your own homebrew.  It's your responsibility to know the local laws before you start, or at least before you start bragging about it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chickened Out on Ginger Beer

I am looking for a drink that is refreshing after a long day working on the farm.  Something that doesn't taste like water and can help replenish electrolytes without being sweet.  Something more affordable than mineral water.

Home brew ginger beer might just fit the bill.

Instead of using commercial made yeasts, I decided to capture my own yeast using a ginger bug.  You put sugar and ginger in a jar, adding more each day and stirring it vigorously.  After a few days to a week, it gets lovely and bubbly.  It's like a sourdough starter in that it captures wild yeast, but it's for making ginger beer, it's called a bug.

Down to Earth Blog has a couple of recipes for Ginger Beer, this one looks the best.  Of course, being the crazy Pastafarian that I am, I decided to adjust the recipe a little... a little too much as it turns out.

I used honey instead of sugar, and being told by many people about how easy it is to have this drink explode, I opened them up several times a day to see if they were fizzy yet.

The flavour did start to transform from sweet to tangy, but developed these weird storm clouds.

It looked really gross, so I chickened out and tossed the whole batch.

Next time (yep, I already started a new bug with the leas from the old one) I will use sugar instead of honey. I figure that I should learn how it is suppose to act before I start changing up the recipe too much.

Anyone else out there made ginger beer?  Got any tips for me?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sourdough Questions?

Have any questions about sourdough?  Troubles?  Problems?

I'm putting together a troubleshooting tutorial on Sourdough.  Please post any questions you might have here.

Rye sourdough starter recipe

Late summer to early fall is the absolutely perfect time to grow a new sourdough starter.

Of course you can begin growing a sourdough starter any time of year.  I find that in the late summer and early fall, the air is full of natural yeast, especially if you have fruit trees near by.  That powdery substance on grapes - that's yeast.  For reasons I don't understand, yeast lives with fresh fruit.  So if you live in the city (like I use to) and you want to grow your own starter, make sure you buy some fresh, organic, fruit and keep it in your kitchen while the starter is growing.

By capturing the natural yeast that lives in the air all around us, you can grow your very own sourdough starter.  This starter can be used to create all sorts of different breads, make pancakes, even (I've read) beer!

This time of year, it is also warm enough to leave the windows open and allow the fresh air into the kitchen.  Although sourdough (or any bread for that matter) does not like to be in the draft, it grows better in a place with lots of airflow and I find it grows even better in a house with lots of activity going on.

There are two reasons why I perfer to use rye flour instead of regular flour in my sourdough starter.  First, it just seems to capture and grow the yeast faster and is less fickle than a white flour starter.

Second, I'm always eager to expand the nutritional profile of the food I eat.  (Hey, that sounds pretty good doesn't it?  I just made it up.)  Since I'm using white flour for the final bread most of the time, I find it comforting to think that I'm getting a few different nutrients by having a rye starter than I would get with white flour alone.

If you want to make whole wheat sourdough bread, that's fine.  I'm simply on a doctor ordered, low-fibre diet, otherwise I would be milling my own whole grains (again) for making bread.

This recipe is heavily inspired by the one in How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson .

Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe

  • 1 and 1/2 cups rye flower
  • 1 pinch commercial bread yeast (optional, but helps a lot)
  • a few drops of milk (optional, but helps a lot)
    • sour milk is best, but not so easy to come by these days given how processed store bought milk is - it just goes lumpy and doesn't sour like milk use to.  But any milk works fine.
  • Water (see note about water at the bottom)
In a medium bowl combine the flour, yeast, milk and enough water in the bowl to make a thick pancake batter.  Mix really well. cover with a clean cotton towel or cotton pudding cloth and place in a warm part of the kitchen. Leave there for three days.  It should be bubbly by the third day and ready to make the sponge.

If it shows no signs of being bubbly, you can try the sponge step, or just add a couple of Tbs of water and flour, mix vigorously, cover with a towel and leave for three more days.

When you are not using your starter, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge.  When you use the starter, keep back a couple of tablespoons and feed it with half a cup rye and half a cup water.  Cover with a towel, and leave sit overnight or, during the day for 4 hours.  A house is normally warmer and has more activity during the day so it doesn't take anywhere near as long for the starter to refresh.  

However, be sure to leave a plate under the starter in case you are away too long and it overflows.  It drys as hard as concrete and is a real *ahem* to clean off countertops!

A note about water:  If you are on city water, you might have trouble growing a starter due to the purification chemicals they use to keep the water safe for drinking.  You could buy some filtered water, but I find this doesn't seem to work well either.  What I do is to take my water, boil it in the kettle then leave out on the counter overnight.  This seems to get rid of whatever it is that kills the yeast but keeps enough of whatever it is that makes the yeast grow.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bento Breakfast & Lunch: Fall Fair

The Fall Fair is perhaps my favourite time of the year.  I usually spend Saturday there demonstrating arts and crafts, which I enjoy immensely.  It also means a long day away from home so I had better pack a good bento box or two.

My breakfast is in the cute-bunny box.  This box is actually designed to hold onigiri (rice balls) with an extra compartment for snacks or fruit.  This is my first time using this box but I found it to be excellent both is size and functionality for breakfast.  

pear, apple and grapes in the lower compartment. 

I sliced a gala apple and an Asian pair up thin, put them in salt water for a few moments, dry them with a paper towel, then alternated them for an interesting colour effect.  The fruit didn't brown at all and there was no hint of salt when I bit into them.  This works much better than lemon water for keeping fruit fresh.

The top compartment was just the perfect fit for a couple of home baked scones.  I use a variation on my Grandmother's recipe to accommodate my allergies.

Lunch was a real treat to make.  I actually made most of this for dinner the night before, and the bento box was quite literally filled with leftovers.

I love how the upper section has a lid to help prevent leaks
and keep everything in place.

Top level has nuka pickles (carrots and cucumbers), shio koji chicken, and chard namuru.  I'm super-thrilled that the nuka vat is healthy again.  I just wish I could get my hands on some more rice bran (without the germ added) to increase the size of the vat.

Bottom level has rice, ume, carrot gobo kimbira, and cheese stars.

Now this lunch box is huge by my usual standards.  Around 750ml (which apparently means about 750 calories when packed full up like this).  I usually eat about half that for lunch.  Yet, I gobbled it all down.  Something about being outside among people all day long... or perhaps it was the wicked cumulation of food truck smells... made me overly hungry.  So glad I packed extra everything. 

As it was a hot day and I worried about the chicken spoiling, I wrapped a frozen juice box next to my lunch to keep it cool.  By the end of the day, the juice had thawed and was ready to drink.  It's much better than using chemical ice packs.

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Bento Lunch