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Monday, January 31, 2011

adventures with bacteria

FIRST STORY: So, I really like kind of thick yogurt. A lot of store-brands bother me, because they are weird and runny and also advertise how good they are for your digestion. I have nothing against good digestion, but I want to just eat yogurt because it's delicious and not because I am being Healthy. So, the other day I saw a brand that was just the ticket--Fage Total greek-style yogurt, made with whole milk. Sure, it was five dollars, but then everything is a little expensive in this store [side note: New Haven has no true grocery stores. Fun Fact. The place I get my groceries is a shop kind of like Broadway market only like a third the size. Actual stores like Trader Joe's or ShopRite or what-have-you are out in the boonies and hence inaccessible to carless me.] Guys, be warned: THIS IS THICK YOGURT. It was basically indistinguishable from sour cream, and while I love sour cream, it is not a breakfast food. [Fact: this school year, I have consumed at least 104 ounces of sour cream.] So, let this be a cautionary tale.

SECOND STORY: After hearing recommendations for "How to Cook Everything" from multiple independent sources, I became convinced that this was a book I needed, and, never having seen it in the flesh, ordered it off Amazon (the new, revised version). Cost me about twenty dollars, and, friends, that was money well-spent. It's pretty much the best ever. If you are the lone solitary person on this blog that has not yet gotten this wondrous book, well, you should.

COMBINATION OF ABOVE STORIES: Soooo, leafing through the cookbook I realized there is a recipe for making yogurt! Gosh, I thought, then I could make this kind of strange and overpriced yogurt go to good use! I too will make yogurt!

Making yogurt is, superficially, a pretty simple process. First you boil your milk , and then you cool it to about 110 degrees F (I discovered I had a thermometer lying around, and used it!). And then you add some room temperature yogurt. [Oddly, the internet seems to unanimously declare the rations to be 2 T yogurt to a gallon of milk, but the cookbook has 1/2 a cup.). Then you put this mixture somewhere and keep it at about 100 degrees. [Above 120 and the bacteria die; below 90 and they get drowsy and fall asleep again]. And then you wait for 6 hours at least--or a lot a lot longer--and disturb it minimally. And then you get yogurt.

SO. I don't have a nice yogurt maker or a thermos or whatever, so I wrapped the container up in some tea towels and put it in a slightly warmed oven, which I sort of reheated from time to time, nervously checking the oven thermometer.

THE RESULT. Well, I don't have any pictures, because this wasn't what you would call an unequivocal success. I don't know if maybe things got too hot or too cold by accident, or if this process just turns out funny, but my yogurt was kind of bizarre. It was really runny, with tiny yogurty lumps in places, and tasted--well, kind of like warm milk actually, even when cold. I mean, it was pretty good--I ate the whole container for breakfast--and it wasn't sour like a lot of store yogurt which I guess is a plus? (My original yogurt wasn't that sour either, which may have helped.)But it was a little strange--which is why I decided not to save some for the next batch of yogurt but decided to buy some more later, since I can't tell if I killed the happy bacteria or not. IN CONCLUSION I really want to try this again, because then I will have self-perpetuating yogurt. INFINITE YOGURT. Maybe someone else can try and tell me if it works?

I'm also planning to make cottage cheese some time. I was actually going to do this today, but you need buttermilk and the store was out of buttermilk, so it will have to be another time.

Somewhat apropos?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

YCL's future projects

Maybe we should also make "future projects" posts?  Certainly wouldn't mind your comments/suggestions.

Actual food:
  • Belgian beef carbonnade
  • Zhazhang mian--so going to happen, now that I have the sauce!!
  • Hong Kong-style pork chops (will have to ask my mom for the recipe)
  • Cantonese oxtail stew
  • Cantonese steamed fish
  • Hainanese chicken rice
  • Ants crawling up trees
  • Macanese style Portuguese chicken (going to choose from here or here)
  • A blood recipe
  • Pate (again, will ask my mom for the recipe)
  • Mousse
  • Crepes
  • Croque monsieur?
  • Quiche?
  • Quenelle?
  • Scallion pancake redo
  • Green tea froyo/ice cream--and maybe sesame
  • Various cheesecakes?  I've made cottage cheesecake, which was yummy; maybe I'd roll with ricotta this time.
Clearly I'm not a dessert person...

    They weren't as hard as rocks

    I had this notion I'd make scallion pancakes and mentioned it to my mom.  Immediately, she said, "Bad idea.  They're going to be as hard as rocks."

    My mom, by the way, is the type of chef who can make a mean paella without the cast-iron pot, schweinshaxe mostly on the basis of on one meal in Germany, duck liver pate with only pure intuition, and... I could go on.  Basically, she knows what she's talking about when it comes to food.  But hey, I got some things going for me:

    • The vast knowledge of the Internets, aka online recipes
    • Common sense
    • Derring-do or reasonable ability to improvise in the kitchen
    That said, I have some things against me:
    • There are about a million and one online recipes for scallion pancakes
    • Not enough common sense
    • Too much derring-do
    After culling the vast knowledge of the Internets, I settled on 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of boiled water
    Mix and knead; then let it rest covered for half an hour.

    Roll it out--the thinner it is, the more layers you can make.  Make sure to flour the surface.

    Lightly dust with oil and salt, and put scallions on it.
    Can you see the oil glistening from the surface?

    Roll it up.
    A little misshapen, but you get the idea.

    Coil it up like so:
    It kept uncoiling, so I had to add more water/oil--hence the glistening.

    Roll it out.

    For more layers, re-roll and coil.  I did this again, but given I don't have a rolling pin, it was a bit of a chore.  Next time, I'd do more layers.

    Final step: Frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry!

    Oil splatters--see what I'll do for food?

    It was definitely a lot crunchier than expected, which worried me a bit (recall the "hard as a rock" comment).  But my "scallion pancake connoisseur" friend assured me for a freshman attempt, it wasn't too bad :)

    He made the dipping sauce, too--I forget what's in it and will have to ask, but I think it was soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger powder.
    My friend with the sauce

    A close-up
    Oh silly me, I didn't post a photo of the food... j/k, just being coy.
    Om noms?
    This will happen again, and I will get it right!

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Lemon-Garlic Salmon

    2 slices salmon
    2 tbsp olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1 tbsp butter
    1 tbsp soy sauce
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the salmon, then coat in a thin layer of flour.
    2. Heat olive oil in a pan, then fry (?) the salmon until golden brown and cooked fully through.
    3. When salmon is done, remove from pan. Add butter and garlic to pan, and sauté on low heat.
    4. Add soy sauce and lemon juice, and when the sauce starts to bubble, add salmon back into pan to coat with the sauce.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Risotto-Stuffed Acorn Squash

    1 acorn squash (or another type of small pumpkin/squash)
    150 g steamed white rice (i.e. 1 small bowl)
    1 slice bacon/thinly sliced pork
    5 button mushrooms
    2 tbsp white cooking wine (or water)
    1 slice cheese
    dried herbs, garlic, salt, pepper
    1. Cut off the top of the squash and scoop out the seeds, and the bottom of the squash so that it can stand upright.
    2. Microwave the squash for 1~2 minutes.
    3. Cut the bacon/pork and mushrooms into bite-size pieces.
    4. First stir-fry the bacon/pork, and when the oil from the meat has greased the pan, add the mushrooms, rice, and wine/water.
    5. Continue to stir-fry the risotto until the liquid has been absorbed and/or evaporated, then add herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.
    6. Stuff the microwaved squash with the risotto from step 5, and place the cheese on top.
    7. Bake in an oven or toaster oven until the squash is soft and the cheese is golden brown.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    SOUP + polenta

    My last two cooking projects have been soup oriented and I think they have been interesting/instructive enough to post about. Also cold weather and soup seem to go together well.

    Let's start with a general method:

    1) Take an onion and some garlic and cut them up. They will turn to mush anyway so you don't need to obsess over the size of the pieces. Also if you are carnivorous cut some meat (of your choice) up into small pieces.
    2) Fry these up in oil until they start to brown. You want some bits to stick to the pan, they'll add to the broth (and also make it possible to make soup without going through all the fuss of making stock or alternatively the expense/fuss of finding a prefabricated stock that is both delicious and worth the money).
    3) Fill your pot with water (or stock from some source, or just add a bouillon cube) and bring everything to a boil. Then you turn the heat down and wait. At this stage you should also put in seasonings: herbs, salt&pepper, red pepper pods, bay leaves and the like.
    4) Put in slow cooking veggies: things to go here would be potatoes (these could also go a little later as they will thicken the broth considerably as the soup boils), carrots, parsnips, turnips and their ilk.
    5) Gradually add more of your veggies, keeping an eye on their cooking times. Red peppers go before eggplant which goes before cabbage and green beans. Mushrooms cook quickly but also maintain some of their shape when cooked over long periods of time.
    6) Adjust seasonings. If you want to put wine in now's the time. Keep going until the broth has a good amount of flavour and is well reduced. If you go too far you can put more water in.


    That is the basic template. The two details I did are the following:
    Beef with potatoes, eggplant (which turned to glop), peppers, cabbage, madeira wine (a good cooking wine because it keeps indefinitely, it's also delicious by itself).
    Pork with carrots, mushrooms, lots of cabbage, vinegar, and polenta added at the last minute. The vinegar and the polenta are inspired by romanian food that I had last winter when I went there on a lark for J-term.

    Polenta is cornmeal mush that's been pressed into a cake. It's common in southern Europe and I had bought some, fried some of it and then put my trusty sausage, onion, mushroom concoction on top. It's delicious, relatively inexpensive and very filling. I had some left and decided to put it in this soup.

    Final note: this sort of cooking takes a while, but you can also do other things while the pot's on the stove. Just don't forget about it because then you might end up boiling out all the water and that's very bad. Have fun with what you put in. This sort of cooking is very much about using what you have to make something interesting.

    Modified Veriohukaiset (Finnish blood pancakes--not for faint of heart)

    Apparently blood spoils fast, so I had to cook the leftover blood from yesterday ASAP.  That ruled out cabidela, as I still have to work through the turkey au vin.  I wasn't interested in buying yeast that I'd only use once, so that ruled out blood bread.  I settled on sanguinaccio dulce, but then discovered our milk smells like cheese.  Buying milk just for one dish seems kind of silly (we rarely use milk in the house), so that got 86'd, leaving modified Finnish blood pancakes, aka veriohukaiset.

    Here's the recipe from the blood recipes site I referenced before:

    4 dl (deciliter) blood
    4 dl milk [substituted with yogurt]
    4 dl barley flour [also don't have...]
    1 egg
    1 Tbsp dark syrup
    1/2 tsp salt
    dash white pepper [didn't have any, and aesthetically black pepper might be weird]
    dash marjoram
    butter for frying [call me a wimp, but I settled for non-fat cooking spray]
    “Mix the blood and milk together in a mixing bowl. Add the barley flour whist constantly stirring. Add the egg, syrup and seasonings. Cover the bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
    Brown the blood pancakes on a greased pancake griddle (2 to 3 minutes on each side) and serve with lingonberry jam [I didn't have any, so I used maple syrup].”

    Now for some pics!  This is step #1:
    Yogurt and blood--deeeelish.
    Now for step #2:
    Yogurt, blood, flour, egg whites, and marjoram.
    My roommate would be aghast if he knew this, but I deviated from the recipe: I added walnuts.
    My grandpa claimed that walnuts are good for the brain because they're brain-shaped.
    He might've been messing with me, but I've been fond of walnuts ever since.
    30 minutes later, I made them pancakes!  While cooking, I might've erred on the side of over-cooking--I think I was a little concerned about the blood aspect.  However, taste-wise it didn't taste very bloody--maybe it contributed to the texture or smell while cooking.  I'm wondering if I should re-do this without yogurt, just to taste the difference.  But it tasted fine, and as my roommate said, "just knowing that the blood is in it adds to the experience."
    I should've taken pictures of the less burnt-looking ones.  Oops.
    Just tea-time at my house ;)

    Future projects:

    • Belgian beef carbonnade, with parsley dumplings (that'll get rid of the parsley) and mushrooms.
    • Crepes for some other time.

    Turkey au Vin + future projects (suggestions welcome)

    My roommate and I had a turkey we just didn't know what to do with--so, following my mom's suggestions, we decided to make turkey au vin.  We used this recipe based off of Julia Childs' recipe.  The only big differences are that we:
    • added diced carrots 
    • used peach brandy for the flambe step--some parts of the turkey did have a bit of the peach flavor, but was otherwise ok.  Weirdly, it didn't flame very much, even though we tried twice (a letdown)
    • used a generous amount of parsley--we cooked the mushrooms with parsley
    We served it with rice.  I may have gone a little overboard with the salting of the turkey, but our joint effort was otherwise a success!  Here's a pic from my Blackberry camera.
    There's something about chopped-up vegetables that seems very pleasant.
    Future projects: 

    We have a lot of parsley, some of the mushrooms, and some of the bacon left over and I'm still in a French mood, so I'm thinking of making savory crepes.  It depends on how much time I have on Sunday.

    We also have a lot of the turkey blood left over, so any suggestions you have would be welcome.  After looking at a site with blood recipes, I'm considering:
    • blood pancakes, 
    • blood bread, 
    • sanguinnacio dulce, and
    • cabidela 
    I'm too lazy to get sausage casings, so no blood sausages.

    Still thinking thinking!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    delicious lentils: story cum experimental recipe

    Here is a story. The story is that I live next door to a schawarma place, which also has a convenience store of sorts. And while I was picking up milk at said schawarma place, my eye fell upon a can of Foul. Foul is delicious stuff--it's basically seasoned fava beans in a pita of deliciousness, and is maybe my favourite thing at the falafel place in Harvard square (and I've tried a lot of their things). So i thought, gosh, delicious! Except that this, being unseasoned, was basically a can of fava beans, so I thought I would wait until I had some seasonings, like maybe a lemon or whatever. And then later in the week I actually did my groceries, but then it was too late to buy the can of foul. And today I would have, but it was snowy and I'd already put on my pajamas owing to my clothes being soaking wet from going sledding, and so I did not go get any fava beans. However, I then thought, who needs fava beans anyway? I have lentils! Lentils are so useful. They are cheap and non-perishable and don't need soaking. So, I decided to make a lentil thing. Here is what I did.
    1. Cook desired amount of lentils, according to package. Side note: For once, the package didn't lie to me about serving sizes. It said a serving size was 1/4 cup of dried lentils, but usually the serving sizes assume you are a starvation artist midget who is also having at least three other items in their well balanced meal, so I made 1/2 a cup, but that was enough for two bowls. I was hungry and ate them both, but it's a word of warning.
    2. Meanwhile, cook up a small onion and some garlic. I had about three cloves that were no longer in a bulb, so I used them, but it could have had more. I mean it was ample garlic, but I also really like garlic. Anyway sautee that up in some olive oil (onions first!) and when almost done add a small tomato.
    3. Meanwhile, make yourself some dressing with lemon juice and olive oil. I started off with a 1:1 ratio, but that was wrong, so I added more oil, but didn't look to see how much. I think it was less than a 2:1 ratio. Maybe 3:2? Whatever. Season that up with some salt and basil and oregano and whatever you have around.
    4. When lentils are cooked, add the other stuff. Warm. Eat.
    I'd regard this as pretty successful, except that it turns out half a lemon is actually kind of a lot of lemon juice so I had too much of the dressing. So, yeah, don't make as much dressing. Or use more lentils.

    Anyway I am kind of excited that I have found a good use for lentils! So hooray!