Impatient Garlic; Heavenly Jam

Posted on June 26, 2012. Filed under: garden, local, patience | Tags: , , , , , , |

Gardening can be risky business.

I nicked my arms pawing through my raspberry bramble yesterday; I suffered no serious damage, but I’ll certainly wear long sleeves from now on when I pick berries. Two days prior to the bramble burst, I, a la cartoon, stepped on the spiked side of a rake. The result was just as you’d expect–a long wooden handle unexpectedly flying toward me at light speed (note: the expected comedic outcome is not at all hilarious when it happens to you). I was able to block the handle before it broke my face, but my left forearm still evidences the incident.

Worse than the brambles and the bruises, though, was what I did to my garlic: I harvested too early.

Last year, I waited 20 days between cutting the scapes and harvesting the garlic heads. The end result was that I had a number of small, but fully formed, heads of garlic. So I figured I’d proceed in the same way this year. As I thrust my hand deep into the garden soil, the heads felt firm and full. So I pulled all of them, except for one. Most of garlic was huge, bigger than ping-pong balls. There was cheering and photo-taking. And then there was sadness.

I looked at the garlic heads. All of them were covered in just a thin layer of paper skin, and some seemed malformed. Garlic shouldn’t be flat on one side, right? Two from the harvers were still…bulbs. Like a small onion, except layered with inedible pre-paper instead of savory flavor. Why did this happen?

Lack of patience. Gardening, just like cooking, requires patience for the best result, and I blew it. Five of the heads look salvageable, but I won’t have certainty for another two weeks. All I can do now is be extremely…patient…with the curing process.

Happily, I had a pick-me-up designed to comfort me after my gardening woes: Strawberry Jam!

I’ve started playing with canning and preserving, and, after a questionable chicken soup experiment (nobody died, but nobody volunteered to eat more than one bite of the soup, either), I decided to make jam. Strawberries were in season, and I bought a lot of them from several farms. The jam making process is straightforward: crush berries, boil with pectin and butter, add sugar, and then jar. I’ll leave the specifics to the experts.

Best way to serve the jam? Take a thick slice of crusty bread. Toast it. Slather with a little bit more butter than you think is good for you. Top with thicker layer of jam. Smile.

Looking for something to listen to while you eat your toast and jam? I have two stories on this week’s edition of Essential Public Radio’s Allegheny Front:
An Interview With Legendary Environmental & Social Justice Activist Vandana Shiva
Seed Savers & Seed Libraries Aim to Restore Biodiversity and Preserve Unique Flavors

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Guest Blog: Vincent Rendoni, “Maturity.”

Posted on September 19, 2011. Filed under: drinks, hodgepodge, patience | Tags: , , , |

Writer Vincent Rendoni explores the virtues of aging beer (and testing patience) in this guest post.

I’ve been waiting for this beer all year.

For a beer nerd, I’m quite unusual. Brewing requires precision, practical knowledge of chemistry, and patience. I severely lack all of those things. Especially patience. To my fellow beer nerds, this may explain why unlike the rest of them, I don’t even bother with brewing and lack a true cellar.

Much like wine, some beers benefit from aging. Often beers such as pale and India pale ales are best enjoyed as soon as possible to get the most from their hops as that flavor is often the first to go. Although there are exceptions, usually beers with active yeasts in them or a high alcohol content (your Belgian strong ales, your barleywines) age quite well. After covering a lot of ground in my beer drinking, purchasing proper glassware, and becoming familiar with Michael Jackson’s (the beer/whisky writer, not the singer) books and philosophy, I decided in June 2010 to tackle cellaring. Working at a bottle shop at the time, my boss was happy to oblige me and started me off with an already year old 2009 vintage of The Abyss of Deschutes Brewing.

Of all my favorite styles of beer, the Russian Imperial Stout remains my favorite. Best drunk in winter, they’re remarkably heavy with dark flavors and high alcohol content both apparent from the first sip. It’s one of the few types of beers that can’t be paired with any other food than foie gras due to its overpowering taste.

The only way these already powerful beers can become stronger and let’s face it, more absurd, is to age them in bourbon barrels. Some beers of this style such as Port Brewing’s Older Viscosity have an abundance of smoke and cookie sugar while The Lost Abbey’s Angel Share (same brewer, just different persona) has more of a gentle vanilla to contrast the dry whiskey. Unlike these other two, The Abyss has more of a hop profile, and as you can see from the label, anise and molasses flavors added, something I personally enjoy when balanced. Usually in the priciest range of beer, I save bourbon-barrel aged imperial stouts for very special occasions. Although to echo Sideways, the day you open something like this, that’s the special occasion.

After breaking The Abyss’s near-insurmountable wax seal with a corkscrew and butter knife (see: lack of patience), I prepare a snifter glass to get the maximum amount of flavor. Before I properly open it, I recall when I last had this beer, fresh, before the best-after date. The anise flavor was strong enough to induce nausea and the hops far too bitter. The beer did its job: It was cold and I needed heat, even if the roast nose stuck to my hair and gums the next few of days. But with the lack of balance, my boss and I both agreed that it seemed to be a candidate for cellaring.

But even then, I still asked myself why The Abyss when I could’ve gone with something I loved and was sure-fire like Older Viscosity. Call it brand loyalty. In the Northwest, Deschutes is hard to avoid much like New Belgium in the Rockies, Samuel Adams in the East. For my generation, either Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale or Black Butte Porter was often the first craft beer outside of Pabst we got to try, the first craft beer sold in our QFCs and Haggens. Two of my closest friends had their wedding atop the brewery in Bend, Oregon. One hot, underaged summer in Central Washington, I was served their Twilight Summer Ale, the beer that would get me into craft beer. We beer nerds always remember our first. It was only right that the first beer I ever aged, that first bourbon imperial stout I ever tried would be Deschutes.

Taking a superficial whiff of the now aged Abyss, I notice that beer too mellows with age. After holding the beer to light to see its opacity, I smell the beer and notice the nose is of roasted, earthy Sumatra coffee grounds. The aroma is strong, but not overwhelming as it was in its immaturity. Inhaling deeper, one can notice the molasses and even feel the bourbon. I spin the beer in my glass, noting the muddy head and take my first sip. The first thing I notice is the absence of the hop, something I loathe in my imperial stouts, now killed off with age. The oak barrel aging gives it a frothy feel in the mouth. The licorice essence has now evolved into allspice, the molasses to rich brown sugar—complexities attributed to aging. The bourbon is constantly humming in the background, raising the temperature of this surprisingly cold summer night. The finish is tall and smooth, all nutmeg and whiskey. I try not to think about the possibilities if I had waited longer. But let me assure you, there’s no regret.

So why did I wait to open this beer? Besides proving to myself that I can actually wait for something, I also promised myself I wouldn’t open it until after I completed my first year of graduate school. It sounds silly, I know, but sometimes I’m rather surprised I’m getting my Master’s degree. Nearly dropping out of high school, flunking English in my junior year, and being told by that teacher to give up still doesn’t feel like it happened all that long ago. Before I take a sip, I wonder if being at Chatham alone is enough to deserve this. Then I remind myself that it was also my birthday two days ago and put it out of my mind.

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Home Cured Bacon, Second Attempt

Posted on May 11, 2010. Filed under: bacon, hodgepodge, patience, recipe, slow, smoke | Tags: , , , , , , , |

When Thomas H. Palmer wrote “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” I doubt he was thinking about turning uncured pork bellies into bacon. (He was encouraging school kids to do their homework.) It’s good advice, though. My first attempt at curing bacon was a bit of a failure. It was a great first try, but too too too salty. So I tried again. And this time, it turned out much better.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of time involved. You’re not actually doing much. Honestly, the most difficult thing about this project is slicing the meat to into strips.

Begin with:
Three Pounds Uncured Pork Belly*

Wash and pat dry pork belly.
Cover completely with:
One Head of Celery, juiced
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Sugar

Leave pork in celery juice for 48 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove pork from juice, rinse, and pat dry.
Paint pork with a thin layer of:
Pure Maple Syrup

Crush, and then rub pork with:
3/4 Cup Salt
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Clove
2 Bay Leaves
1.5 Teaspoon Whole Black Pepper
1.5 Teaspoon Whole Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Caraway Seed

6 Juniper Berries

Place rubbed pork in plastic bag, and then refrigerate for one week.  (One week!)
Turn it every day, draining excess liquid.

After one week, rinse and dry pork.
Smoke, over very low heat, for 6 hours.

Slice, and cook as you would normally cook bacon.

*Uncured pork belly can be a bit of a challenge to find. Best bet is to ask a neighborhood butcher. Yes, there are still some out there. I got an amazing cut from McCall’s Meat and Fish Company. You really will notice a difference in quality.

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Making Yogurt

Posted on November 24, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge, patience, recipe |

A few days ago Karen updated her facebook status to something like “Thinking about making yogurt from scratch. Wondering if I’m becoming a hippie.” Well, I’d argue that anyone that titles their blog “Off the (Meat) Hook” probably is in no danger of becoming a hippie. I think she’s safe. More interestingly, we agreed to both conduct yogurt making experiments.

So I experimented. The result was not a terrible failure, as I had first thought, but, I wouldn’t call it a grand success either. What happened was:
I started with whole raw milk. Since the first step was to heat the milk to 180F, I felt it would be an interesting and wholesome choice to go with unpasteurized milk. If you’re at all freaked out by this, use the pasteurized stuff, by all means. I’ve never tried raw milk before, and you can taste the difference. It tastes somewhat fresher and cleaner, if that makes sense.
Why heat the milk to 180? Well, you want to kill off any unwanted bacteria, so you can introduce your own desired bacteria. This is best done over a double boiler, to prevent scorching, but I used a regular pan and that worked just fine. Heat to 180, once it reaches that, remove and cool.
Now comes the tricky part. Really tricky. And, not terribly fun. You need to monitor the milk as it cools. Yeah. Annoying. The goal, a temperature between 108 – 112 degrees. Why? Well, that’s the temperature that the good yogurt making bacteria does best.
So, when you get there, which will take tedious time, stir in two tablespoons of organic plain yogurt. I know, why not just eat that yogurt instead?! Well, maybe you should. But for the sake of the experiment, stir it in. This introduces yogurt cultures to the milk, starting the process of fermentation. If you decide you love making yogurt, you can save a small part of each batch to use as a starter for the next one.
Now comes the tricky part. Really tricky. And, not terribly fun. Wait, did I just say that? I did. Like I said, this is a tedious experiment. Now, you have to keep the fermenting pre-yogurt at the same 108 – 112 degrees for 4-6 hours. Fun!!!!!
I took my warm milkgurt and put it in the oven. Luckily, I have an old timey 1950s gas oven. The pilot flame keeps the inside of the oven at about…110 degrees! Lucky me. So, I just left it there, stirring and taking the temp from time to time. After 4 hours, nothing. After 6, it smelt and tasted a little sour (good) but the consistency remained about the same (bad). So, I went out for a beer.
Two hours later, not much had changed. The whatever it was now became a bit thicker, but not very yogurt-like. I figured what would be done was done, so I removed it from the oven and put it in the fridge.
The next day, things looked better. A decent sized pool of watery whey had formed on the top. I poured this off, stirred the mix, and, found I had indeed made something that kind of resembled yogurt. It was a little more sour than the commercial yogurt. I added a fair amount of honey and agave, and it was pretty good. Grainier texture than I would have wanted, but pretty good.
Was this worth it? Probably not. The flavor, once sweetened a bit, was slightly better than commercial yogurt. The texture was not. This was a lot of tedious work. There are very good small batch yogurts for sale just about everywhere. I’m going to continue to buy those.
Maybe Karen will have better luck. She’s much more science-minded than I am. (Her dad is some kind of world famous neuroscientist, and that clearly has rubbed off.) Also, she’s a dirty hippie.
I should add that whatever it was I made was fine with my belly. So, although I didn’t make perfect yogurt, I didn’t make myself sick, either!
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Beef Lasagna

Posted on October 29, 2008. Filed under: bake, beef, pasta, patience, recipe |

Lasagna is awesome.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It takes a wee bit of work, sure.  So worth it, though.  I encourage you to use grass fed beef.  It really makes a huge difference, both in flavor and in the way we treat the enviornment.  More about that soon.

2 lbs. Ground Beef, 15-20 % fat content
6 Cloves Garlic, smashed
32 oz Ricotta Cheese
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
1 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
1 Egg
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg (optional)
64 oz Tomato Sauce, homemade or your favorite
Lasagna Noodles

Begin by mixing all the ricotta cheese and half of the other cheeses in a bowl.  Add egg, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, nutmeg, salt, and half the garlic.  Set aside.
Season ground beef with salt, pepper, and the remaining Italian seasoning & garlic. In a large pan, lightly brown the beef.  While browning, break the beef up into small bits.  This will get easier as the meat cooks.  The whole process should take about 4 minutes.  Don’t worry if all the beef isn’t brown- it’s best not to overcook it.  Drain fat, and stir in about 1/4 of the tomato sauce.

Cover bottom of lasagna pan with sauce.  Add lasagna noodles (check package to see if you need to pre-cook).  Add a layer of beef, then a layer of cheese, cover with sauce and a new layer of pasta.  Repeat the process twice more, so you have three layers of goodness.  Cover top layer of pasta with more sauce, then top that with the remaining mozzarella & parmesan cheese.

Cover lasagna pan with foil.  Poke a few tiny holes in the foil with a knife.  This will allow some steam to escape, and help prevent the foil from sticking to the top layer of cheese (a sad sad sad thing).  Move to a 375 degree oven, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove foil, and broil an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown. 

Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Seriously.  After all this work and time, you’re going to be tempted to dig right in.  Don’t do it buddy.  Everything will fall apart if you do.  Give it time to cool a bit and settle.  Life will be better that way.  It always is.
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Duck Confit

Posted on April 29, 2008. Filed under: patience, poultry, recipe, slow |

Duck Legs
4 Cloves Garlic
3 Shallots
6 Sprigs Thyme
Two Cups Duck Fat (!)
Ingredients per two legs

Welcome back to the world of dishes that take a lot of patience,
 but very little effort.  So, this might seem like it’s a chore.  The reality is, this is amazingly easy to make.  Added bonus, your kitchen will smell more amazing than it ever has.
Here’s the most challenging part of the dish- finding duck legs!  You’ll be able to get them fresh at upscale markets like Whole Foods.  Ask the butcher if you don’t see any out there.  You’ll also be able to find them frozen at most decent grocery stores.
Once you’ve acquired the legs, it’s time to cure.  Give them a decent coating of salt, rub it all over.  Crush garlic and shallots, stuff some under skin with half the thyme.  Place the remainder on the flesh side.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 48 hours.  Yup, patience.  After 48 hours, rinse the duck.
Now for something you’ve never done before…cooking in duck fat!  Where you find the duck, you’ll find the fat.  Melt the fat over low heat, add the duck, and place in a 225F oven.  Let the duck cook slowly for about 3 hours.  Trust me, you’re going to be a happy camper.  My whole apartment smelled like heaven.
Remove the duck from the oven, remove from fat, pat dry.  Happiness.
If you’re totally against cooking in duck fat, you can use olive oil.  Fear not, the duck will still taste great.  Perhaps not as great, but pretty great nonetheless.  If you do (and you should!) go for the fat, you can strain it and refrigerate.  A little duck fat when cooking will make everything taste better.  My chef friends agree!
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