Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Hot Smoked semi-candied Salmon at home: First attempt.

Having no recipe to guide me, working only from my own experience and fables of how they make that amazing smoked salmon in the northern part of Vancouver Island (Hardy Boys is one example you may have heard of), I decided to dive in and make smoked salmon.

My smoker, a mister to calm the fire, and home made maple syrup to brush on top

The first job was to cut up the salmon into long strips.

Then I made a mixture of salt, maple sugar, and black pepper.  I dredged each piece of salmon in the mix and cured it for about 20 hours.

after curing
At this stage the salmon feels very firm.  All that moisture came from the fish.

I should have rinsed the salmon at this point, but I forgot.  Because of this, it turned out to be excessively salty.

I dried the salmon using paper towel, and left it on a rack, uncovered, in the fridge for about 2 hours to dry extra well.  From what I have read, this stage is super-important if you want the smoke flavour to stick.

This is a charcoal BBQ/smoker so I started it up about half an hour before I was ready to get smoking.  The fire is in a separate box attached to the side of the grill.  You build up a fire with charcoal and then you put the chips (in a tinfoil bag with holes in it) or blocks of wood on the fire to make some smoke.

The problem I encountered with this is that it got too hot too soon.  The fish actually cooked instead of slowly gathering smoke.  But not a complete loss.  Each time I use this smoker, I learn something new.

In the end, I only smoked it for about 2 hours.  Next time I think I'll smoke it for at least 4, maybe 8 hours.

But it looks good, and if you can get past the over-salty-ness of the whole thing, it actually has a lot of potential.

I wonder if I should add the label 'kitchen failure' to this post or not.  I mean, we ate the fish, and I learned a heck of a lot about smoking salmon.  But to be completely honest with you, it wasn't exactly the best smoked salmon in the world.  In fact, I would be ashamed to serve this to someone, even a friend.

But then again, I tried something new, without a recipe, and had fun making it.  I discovered new information about my smoker that I never realized before.  And about fish, and about curing in general.

Eventually, I'll get it right and post the final recipe here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A special meal for a special day

I'm not big on holidays, unless they create a good excuse to cook up something special.  Today\s not an official holiday, but it is a special day for me.

I even made myself a present:

Okay, so it's not the most visually appealing meal in the world, but it sure is yummy!  I could have, and probably should have added some greens.

Duck Confit, apples stewed with rosemary in cider, and a quick and simple fettuccine with ham.  Of course a pint of cider goes really nice with the duck and the pasta.

It was extra delicious and a perfect treat for myself.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The lost 50 years of kitchen history, where did it all go?

There seems to be this huge gap of available knowledgeable from the turn of the last century to about 1954.  I spent hours searching for books or ephemeral from that time period with very little luck.

It all started when I wanted to learn about the icebox.  

I thought it would be a rather easy thing to learn about, but the internet is suspiciously mute when it comes to this subject.  Sure there are tutorials on how to put a block of ice in a non-functioning fridge, or how to use a camper cooler, but that's about it.  The wiki page has about the most useful info I've found so far, and this rather nice picture:

From the wiki page on iceboxes linked above

The icebox arrived as people moved to the cities from the country   Before the icebox, houses had cellars and larders, usually a room dug into the ground to keep food cool.  As population density in the cities increased, there was less and less room for cellars, but that's okay because there was always someone wiling to sell you something, and you could buy your food fresh daily.  Although buying food daily cost more than buying it when there was a surplus and keeping it in your home.  The idea of iceboxes sprung up, and were easy enough to make yourself or buy as your economic predicament dictated.  Having a place to store your perishables really helped save money and time.  

I've seen mentions of versions of the icebox pre-dating the Victorian period, but basically they took off during the middle of the 19th Century.  But the icebox has a rather short hayday.  It wasn't till the twentieth century that they really took off, and then as electricity moved across the nation, and houses were being wired into the grid, the icebox lost it's charm in favour of the electric refrigerator.  So, it seems that the rice and fall of the icebox corresponds to the same period of history that I'm having trouble finding information on.

You think about the time between 1900 and 1950.  There is a huge change in society in general, and this is reflected in the kitchen.  2 world wars, crop failures, Victory gardens, ration stamps, wide spread acceptance of industrialized agriculture, and industrialized pre-packaged foods. Go from the pantry to the icebox, to the electric ice box.  We moved from the country grocery store where you shop at least once a day and often had food delivered to your back door, to the once a week supermarket.  Microwaves were invented, a side effect of the atomic bomb I'm sure.  TV dinners.  Electric Freezers.  From wood, to coal, to gass, to electric stoves.  Mas transportation  highways, railroads, airplanes moving food not only across the country by around the world!  Perfection of canning techniques that no longer poison people with lead, and the creation of aluminium which allows lighter weight cans.  SPAM!  The fact that people were hungry enough to eat SPAM!  

Sure, we've had agricultural revolutions before that, and the major shift from rural to urban dwelling brought about by the 1800s, but I don't know of a time in history when so much changed in the way that people approached food.  It really surprises me that there aren't any books written on this topic.  At least I haven't found any.  I cornered the librarian and asked her to do a search, with no luck.  The next step for me is to brave the local archives and see if I can locate some ephemera from back then.  

Although I only started out wanting to know how people use to build and use an icebox, now I want to know more!  Project Gutenberg has a few wartime household manuals put out by the government (both US and UK) so I think I'll start there.  

Another place I'll start is asking old people about what life was like back in the day.  I bet there is a lot of good know how there that could be useful today, especially as a way to save energy in food storage.  

Taken at Fort Rod Hill park last summer.
A bit before the time in question, or maybe not,
electricity arrived quite late in many parts of North America.
I wonder how weird it would be if I went to the local old people home and asked 'hey, you got anyone old enough to remember what it was like to be a housewife pre 1950, but still with-it enough to tell me about it?' Probably be turned out on my arse, but it would be a bit of a lark to try.  Maybe I should put an add up on UsedAnywhere, "anyone got an old person who was a housewife pre 1950 who I can borrow for a few hours and listen to stories about how life was like back then?"  

It is my goal to build a working icebox, using old timey knowledge and modern materials.  I'm very curious about how efficient can we make it and what the temperatures are for different parts of the icebox.  Using an icebox requires a whole different mindset and approach to food safety which I'm curious to learn about.  

Anyone have any ephemera or household manuals, or experience with the kitchen between 1900 to 1950, please let me know know (to donate or for sale at a reasonable price - or even scan in to share with me?). Any good links or books you can recommend?  Just leave a comment here, I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Quest for Bacon - Making Bacon at Home, Charcuterie Style.

My first attempt at making bacon at home turned out rather tasty.  It may not be the perfect rasher, but it is most certainly bacon.

Mmmmm, bacon.

I used the recipe from Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn for basic bacon.  I tried three different flavours, regular, pepper and maple.

You mix up a basic curing salt (sugar, salt, and pink salt) and coat the pork belly with the mix.  If you want a flavoured bacon, it's a good time to add the pepper or maple sugar.  Put the meat in a ziplock bag and keep it in the fridge for about a week.  Massage the juices that come out of the meat around the outside of the meat every day.  And that is how you cure the bacon.

cured bacon, read for smoking

Next you rinse it off, and if possible dry it for a few hours uncovered in the fridge.  Then pop it in the smoker.

I really wanted to use this smoker, an electric one that takes hardly any wood chips to make the smoke, but it's not working at the moment.  so, I got out the old BBQ smoker.

After about 3 hours, I still couldn't get the internal temp of the bacon to what the book said.  So I finished it off in the oven.

On the whole, I'm impressed with the fact that I made bacon.  It' tastes, um bacony.  It's over smoked and I cured it too long, so a bit salty.  But it is enough of a success to try again and soon.  

Price wise, it's a bit less than the normal bacon I buy from the speciality butcher, but more than commercial bacon (which I never buy).  The problem is I didn't get the pork belly on sale or at the right time of year.  So that's something I need to work on.  

The thing I like best about this is that I know exactly what went into making it.  Now, when the world comes to an end with the zombies or whatnots, I know I can survive, because I can make my own bacon.

I'm not going to write the recipe I used here because I followed almost to a T what's written in Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn .  But I plan to make more, and play around with some other recipes.  When I come up with one that's truly mine, then I'll be sure to share it with you.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chocolate Avocado Pudding - Raw foods and easily made vegan

Oh the mighty avocado, what can I say about you?  Except... I really think you suck!  I mean, you're slimy,  you are green, you sort of act like a fruit, but you aren't sweet at all.  I can never tell when you are ripe.  The only thing you are good for is for sticking toothpick in and making a tree thing grow.

I'm not a fan of avocados.  

So maybe I can be forgiven for being sceptic at the idea of combining chocolate with the slippery avocado. 

Then a friend told me about this chocolate pudding recipe I had to try.  I thought  why not.  It's been over a year since I attempted to eat an avocado, so why not give it another go.

chocolate avocado pudding with avocado heart
 The link to the recipe I used is: Chocolate Avocado Pudding Recipe.  The 6Tbs of milk (which can be vegan milk substitute to make this a vegan friendly treat) adds up to just over 1/3 cup.  But I used half that and got a nice consistency.

There's no cooking, so good to serve to raw food people.  Just get stuff into blender, blitz.  Try and get stuff out of blender into bowl without eating it all.

stick some sticks on the pit and put it in water like this, should make a tree.

My thoughts on this recipe: It's very, very rich!  Exactly the right consistency  but a bit sweet for me.  Given the age of my blender, it was a bit difficult to get every bit of avocado blended.  But all in all, not a bad dessert.  

Affordable cooking?  Not really but not terrible. About $1 for the avocado, another dollars worth of maple syrup, and almost a third dollar of other ingredients .. given that it made enough for one, or possible two people, it seems a bit steep. 

As far as chocolate puddings go, it is a pretty healthy alternative.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sourdough Pancakes Recipe with optional Strawberries in balsamic glaze

Pancake Tuesday needs something a bit beyond the regular old powder from a box kind of griddle cake.  So today, I decided to make sourdough pancakes.

Sourdough pancakes with strawberries in a balsamic glaze
I realized the butter kind of melted while I was taking the photo,
oh well, tastes just as good.

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of pancakes.  American style pancakes are too sweet and fluffy.  The British ones, all flat like thick crepes that you eat rolled up with lemon and sugar, are just too big a serving size for me.  And just about any pancake are too heavy and too many.  The recipes make too much and encourage me to eat and eat and eat!

So over the last three days, I spent almost all my spare time searching for a sourdough pancake recipe that I would enjoy eating.  And what did I find?  Recipes that made way too many pancakes.

I decided to come up with my own recipe.  I wanted a runnier batter as a nod to the English Pancakes of my youth, but something that still resembled drop scones and American style pancakes.  This is what I came up with.  This will feed two greedy super-hungry people, or up to four more reserved people.  Makes just the right amount for 3 people in my opinion, with a couple of cakes left over for seconds.

The key to this is to have your sourdough sponge (or runny starter) at room temperature and well fed.  If you are making this in the morning, feed it the night before.

Sourdough Pancakes

1/2 cup sourdough sponge, active and bubbly, not too stiff.
1/2 cup milk (or milk like liquid  if you like rice milk or soy milk or whatever)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 Tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp maple syrup
pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp water
just about time to flip now

  • In a medium bowl, mix together all but the baking soda/water. It will be a bit runnier than regular pancake batter.
  • Heat up the frying pan/griddle.  Make sure it's nice and hot so that when a splash of batter hits the pan it starts to cook right away, but not so hot that the grease smokes.  Speaking of grease.  I'm of the firm opinion that pancakes taste best when cooked in lard.  I like to use a mixture of about 4 parts lard and 1 part butter to grease my griddle.  But to each their own.
  • When the griddle is ready and everything else is ready, mix the dissolved baking soda into the batter.
  • Now ladle, spoon, poor out your batter into the pan.  Keep in mind these will spread out a bit more than you may be use to, so leave room between the cakes.  
  • When the bubbles burst and don't close up again, flip the cakes.  It will take about 30 seconds to a min for them to cook on the other side.
  • You can serve them as you cook them or stick them in the oven (at about 250F) to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest, then serve them all together.  
Affordable cooking: YES.  I estimate it would be at most $1 for the entire batter, so that's somewhere between 25cent to 50 cent per person.  

But it really goes better with fruit.  Since Pancake Tuesday is out of season for most fruit, add another $1 per person, then maybe a couple of rashers of bacon, so for a complete meal, including toppings, I would give about $1.50 to $2 per person.  You can cut this down a lot if you use fruit that are in season.  Maybe make an apple and rhubarb stew with a touch of honey and nutmeg instead of the strawberries imported from the other side of the world (I'm not proud of that part, but it's a holiday, and I almost never buy fruit out of season).

Here's a simple and rather healthy way to make strawberries taste amazing.  I think the first time I saw this is on a Nigella Lawson cooking show.  It may seem weird to combine these two together, but give it a shot.  Even The Ancient with his excessively sweet tooth gobbles this up like it's made of sugar.  

Strawberry side dish for pancakes

Strawberries (at least two berries per person)
Balsamic vin

  • cut the strawberries into fairly small chunks, make them irregular shapes to maximize on the surface area.
  • drizzle a small amount of balsamic vin on the strawberries
  • mix
  • if you put too much vin, add a tiniest pinch of salt, and mix again
  • let it sit for at least five min while you cook the pancakes
  • done
It is so sweet and so easy.

Pancake Tuesday - search for the perfect recipe.

Today is Pancake Tuesday, and I am looking forward to making pancakes for dinner.

Often my 'pancakes' look like this, but not today!
Pancake Tuesday is a tradition that originates in Western Europe; directly related to the celebration of Lent and Easter.  But it's roots are something far more agricultural.

Back in the day before food that comes from a can or supermarkets, or refrigeration   Back when what you had to eat was what you grew yourself.  Back then, this time of year is the time when food is scares.  It's a period when the pantry is barren and there isn't much food to be had anywhere.  Not in the fields, not in the hedge rows, not in the cellar.

In a few weeks, the new shoots will come out on the hedge rows, which are very tasty to snack on.  The ground will thaw and we can dig up roots.  But in the mean time, for a traditional, agricultural society, it's a time to tighten the belt and be frugal with your food.

Which isn't such a bad thing, especially when you think about how much weight people put on in the fall and winter, especially in an agricultural society, but even in our modern age as well.   It's natural to stock up (both in the pantry and the belly) for winter, then sluff it off during the trim time in the spring.

But as sort of a last haza, it's nice to eat up all the eggs and other foodstuff that are at risk of going off after a long winter storage.

In some parts of Europe it's hot cross buns, in other's it was some other eggy bread, and in some places (like much of England and Scotland), it was pancakes.

As for me, well, I'm not picky.  I'll accept any excuse to make pancakes, and if I can make them for diner, so much the better.

What I need now is a good recipe.  A recipe for sourdough pancakes.

What I would like to make for dinner tonight is sourdough drop scones style pancakes, but to find a recipe that isn't too sour and not too rich, that only makes enough for 2 to 3 people, and not an entire army and their camp following.  That's going to be a challange.

Friday, February 1, 2013

pasta bolagna

 Pasta Bolognese, or pasta bolagna as some people I know call it, is one of my favourite sauces.   It's perfect for after a long stressful week.  I kick everyone out of the kitchen, blast some music and make my favourite dinner.  There is usually enough sauce left over for later, and it only improves in taste the next day.

I use the recipe from Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Food Revolution , with a few small changes (of course).  I'm not going to write out exactly what I do for this recipe because I think that everyone should go out and acquire a copy of this book.  It's my favourite recommendation to those new in the kitchen.  Just about every recipe uses things that (should be) are already in a standard kitchen.  There's no running around town searching for that specific olive that you will never use again.  In stead, this book is good, wholesome, everyday, easy to do, cooking.

Hurry up, I'm hungry.

well, if I'm putting wine in the sauce, why not poor a glass for the cook?

mess in place, or whatever the 'real' cooks call it

Today I used 1/2 pound of ground goat, and 1/2 pound of ground pork.  Omitted the celery, added extra garlic, used 1 large sweet onion instead of two regular ones, used goat cheese instead of parmesan, replaced the water with red wine, and changed the spices.

I don't have any dry oregano on hand, or any fresh basil.  So instead, I used fresh thyme.  This was amazing!  I kept taking photos trying to capture how great this was when frying up, but then I realized, it wasn't the image I was trying to capture but the smell.  Finely chopped fresh time with onions and bacon sizzling in a pan filling the house with the overwhelming feeling that a master chef had come to call.  I wish I could capture it and share it with you.

can you smell the bacon?
Such a small amount but makes all the difference
Veg and herbs waiting patiently to one side for their turn

This is what I'm talking about with the smell of the thyme.

steamy kitchen love

But other than those minor changes, I think I followed the recipe pretty close for a change.

Usually I would like to make fresh pasta with this sauce, but there wasn't enough room in the kitchen, so I did the next best thing:

Affordable cooking: oh, that depends on how much you pay for the meat.  Personally I have an extreme distrust of ground meat, so I spend extra money and only get it from somewhere I trust.  About $1 to $1.50 for veg and herbs, $3 for the tomatoes, let's say another $4 for meat = about $8.  This will server at least 6 generous servings, and this particular pasta costs about 50 cent for a serving.  That's about $1.80 to $2 per serving.  Which considering how incredibly yummy this is, isn't half bad.

Allergy friendly:  there are some potential problems with the dairy and some people have sensitivity to garlic, &c.  But so long as you can include the onions, tomatoes, and meat, the recipe is actually easy to adjust for allergies.

This is neither vegan or vegetarian friendly.  I've seen quite a few vegan versions of this sauce, but quite frankly, the meat substitute tends to distract from the overall taste.  If I wanted to cook a rich tomato sauce for a vegan or vegetarian, I would grab a good cookbook and start again from scratch instead of trying to imitate meat.  There are so many good vegan friendly pasta sauce recipes out there.  But that's just my