hrj: (doll)
I don't think I've blogged here (as opposed to on facebook) about my experiment in growing medlars. This is an interesting fruit with a long history in Europe that has essentially no commercial viability due to its ripening behavior. In short: to become edible, the fruit must undergo a process known as "bletting" which is a sort of edge-of-going-rotten state in which it becomes very soft and mushy. Before bletting, it isn't edible; after bletting, it isn't shippable.

So when I was brainstorming fruit trees it might be fun to try, I settled on medlars because they met my key criteria: foodstuffs appropriate to pre-1600 Europe where I can reasonably grow a sufficient quantity for use and that it is difficult to obtain commercially.

I planted two bare-root trees two years ago, and was somewhat surprised to get half a dozen fruit in the first year. This was just barely enough to share around for tastes with a bunch of historic-foodie friends last year. This year, the two trees presented me with a generous four dozen or so and I was able to make some more general observations about how to handle and treat the fruit.

The fruit are around the size of a ping-pong ball, brown and with a very prominent sepal-end that's prone to splitting under some circumstance of growth yet to be identified. Last year, I picked them when I saw cracks begin to develop on one of the fruits, then stored them in a cool dark place (in a cardboard egg carton in the garage) for about a month. As I recall, they were soft, a couple had split (which makes them prone to mold), and maybe three looked to be edible. I carefully peeled the thin rind, leaving about one tablespoonful apiece in seedy pulp.

This year, I picked them when I first spotted a fallen fruit (since one of the traditional bletting methods is to leave them on the tree through a frost). A couple fruits were already soft, but the rest needed to sit for a while. I simply piled them in a basket in the kitchen (not too warm, but not cool) and checked them every couple of days for softness, transferring the soft ones into a separate container. (This was more to monitor the progress than from any expectation that the bletted and unbletted fruits would affect each other.)

When I first picked them, I tried the few that were soft and discovered that a much more efficient method of processing is to gently split the rind from the stem end, then scoop out the soft part of the pulp from this back end. This avoids having to pick out remnants of the sepal area which greatly increases the labor. The result is about 50:50 pulp and largish seeds and I simply ate it plain, straining the seeds out with my teeth.

I can see why the taste is described as a sort of "apple custard" taste. Definitely an apple-ish flavor, but the bletting process seems to add an overlay of "oxidated apple" (what you might expect if you let apple slices brown overnight). This is probably a fairly accurate description of part of the results of bletting, as the bletted flesh is also a medium brown in contrast to the more whitish unbletted flesh. It's a very mild, subtle flavor.

When all but about half a dozen of the rest of the fruits were soft, I scooped out the pulp into a bowl. At least, I did that for the properly bletted ones. Successful bletting seems to require a completely unbroken rind, for the fruits that had developed cracks around the sepal area were a bit dried out and spongy but not soft and pulpy. It may be that picking them earlier will prevent this, but it's also possible that watering and temperature conditions during ripening are relevant. At this point, the remaining half dozen fruits probably will not blet properly as they're beginning to shrivel a little without general softening.

I wanted to see if I could find a way to separate the pulp and seeds easily in order to do something more interesting than simply direct eating. First I tried squeezing it through several layers of cheesecloth. This might be successful and efficient for larger amounts of pulp, but for what I had (about one cup in all), too much of the pulp was staying stuck to the seeds. So I switched to the very inefficient method of squeezing the seeds out of the pulp between my fingers and periodically wiping the pulp off my fingers into a container. This took maybe 20 minutes for the cup of pulp. It occurs to me that mixing in a bit of water and agitation to separate the pulp from the seeds may help. Next year I hope to have enough fruit to try several options. At the moment, I popped the half cup of de-seeded pulp into the freezer to contemplate what I want to do with it.

The literature suggests that unbletted fruits can also be used to make jelly and I may try this option some year when I have a large enough harvest for it.
hrj: (doll)
As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon, enjoying the 75F weather on my patio and looking out over my garden (hey, look! I've got flowers on the quince, cherry, and medlar trees!), it occurs to me to post a review of the Adult Beverage in my hand, since it represents an interesting variant on the plethora of hard ciders that -- much to my delight -- are infiltrating the adventurous end of the local market. The bottle notes say, "First sampled on a warm winter day while grilling, this dry, tannic blend gets tilted with smoked apple. Racy, with notes of earth, spice, smoke, and of course, apples. Pair with aged cheese, burgers, and a side of derring-do."

Let's see: paired with aged cheese, check; burgers, nope have to settle for smoked salmon; and a side of derring-do, (peeks at novel in progress) check. Alas, I can't say that the smoke flavor does anything much for me. I mean, it's an ok cider. Quite pleasant and nicely dry. Perhaps it would pair better with a robust red meat than my current crackers-and-cheese lunch. But it seems more like an interesting gimmick than a real flavor winner. Ok, ok, and I'm really more of a light and fruity sort of gal. Still, it's nice to have a lot more selection than good ol' Woodchuck like in the bad old days.
hrj: (doll)
One of the two large groceries most convenient to my house is a "Ranch 99" which, for those of you not resident in one of the four states the chain appears in, specializes in groceries for Chinese cuisine (and a number of other SE Asian cultures). One feature that definitely distinguishes it from your average American chain grocery is the variety and selection of animal species featured in the meat department. (This is where I got the whole kid that I roasted last year at the WAT cooks' play-date.) I've had a mind to start working my way through the non-chicken poultry offerings, so for the picnic dinner at yesterday's Crosston Dance Ball, I picked up a partridge. It did not -- alas -- come with feet attached (although you can get chicken and duck in that form) but did come with head affixed. This was part of the attraction: a major aspect of the esthetics of medieval roast birds in art is that they are served with feet and head intact.

There are plenty of recipes for roast partridge in 14-15th c. European cookbooks but they are all quite simple.  See e.g., Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks p. 78:

  • Partrich rosted. Take a partrich, and sle him in the nape of the hede with a fethur; dight him, larde him, and roste him as thon doest a ffesaunte in the same wise. And serue him forth; then sauce him with wyne, pouder of ginger and salt, and sette hit in a dissh on the fuyre til hit boyle; then cast powder ginger, anell, thereon, And kutte him so; or elles ete him with sugur and Mustard.

Relevant to this is the directions immediately preceding for roasting pheasant:

  • ffesaunte rosted … kutte away … the legges by the kne and putte the kneys in at the vente, and roste him ….

Since the market had already taken care of the slaying and dighting, and this was a domestically raised bird so there was enough subcutaneous fat that it didn't need larding, I simply tucked the ends of the legs into the vent as directed for the pheasant (I had to wedge the end of the bone into the hollow of the pelvis for them to stay -- this made the legs splay out a bit). I dusted the outside with a little saffron salt and then roasted at 350F for 60 minutes on a rack. Because I was being a little lazy and had a small jar of honey-mustard sitting around, I went with the "sugur and Mustard" sauce.

Several of us were having an impromptu shared meal at the Ball so I carved the bird up into a dozen or so tasting portions and served with mustard or plain as requested. Everyone declared it quite tasty and definitely not "just like chicken". I found the taste pleasantly a bit stronger than chicken and vaguely reminiscent of duck, but in a much milder way. The roasting time may have been longer than necessary and the wings and drumsticks were turning a little on the dry side.

My imagination is contemplating the concept of a medieval dinner with as great a variety of bird species as I can lay my hands on.
hrj: (doll)
I'm not the only person who brings "the produce of my estates" to 12th Night to give out as presents. I was the grateful recipient of a cheese produced by Duquessa Juana (as well as some candied ginger and onion marmelade from other friends) which I will review herein. I tried to hunt out on her fb page the description from when she was doing the cheesemaking, but evidently there were several batches around the same time with slight variations, so I'll have to wait to be corrected. I <i>believe</i> it's a cow's milk cheese. It definitely came wrapped in a grape leaf and with a light white mold on the exterior of the leaf but not on the rind inside. It's a young, semi-firm (but moist) cheese with no perceptible rind (due to the wrapping) and maybe the slightest beginnings of interior ripening. The taste is nicely sharp without (as noted previously) significant ripening changes, so more of an acidic feel than the beginnings of ammonia. A faint bitterness that gives it a robustness that stands up well to other flavors. (I'm having a hard time not slathering it with the onion marmalade for every bite -- the two go together extremely well.) It would pair well with strongly-flavored red wines and goes excellently with cider (probably also with beer, but I'm not a beer drinker so I can't make specific recommendations on that end). As noted, it pairs well with caramelized onions and to my mind would also go well with kippers or sardines. As I say, very robust. There's a slight herby flavor that I can't quite identify -- possibly the influence of the leaf wrapping, but I know some of the cheeses from this general batch had additives and I'm not sure if this one did.

Definitely a cheese I'd try again, given the chance.
hrj: (doll)
This is a French cow's milk cheese in the general "brie-like" family with a white mold rind and a ripened, creamy, almost runny paste. Like many in that family, the taste will no doubt vary depending on the precise amount of ripening time. The one I picked up was definitely on the side of nearly liquid but without any tinge of the ammonia that can develop in some cases. It almost dissolves on the tongue with a very buttery mouth-feel. The main taste is a mild milkiness but with a little acidity around the edges.  When smeared on a plain whole-wheat cracker, it goes very nicely with an acidic dried fruit (e.g., berries or cherries) or even a bitter orange marmalade. It needs some sort of contrast of that type to avoid being insipid. For similar reasons, I'd recommend pairing it with a fairly acidic red wine, but since my prejudice leans heavily to reds, this recommendation should be suspect.
hrj: (doll)
Hey, any excuse for content, right?

In case anyone didn't know: I am a cheese whore slut fan. Furthermore, it is my position that while it is possible for a cheese to be too aged, too runny, or too smelly, it has to really work at it.

Brillat Savarin was developed in France in the early 20th century and named after the famous 18th century gourmet. (Unaccountably, the store where I bought it labelled the cheese "Brillant Savarin", perhaps by some unconscious assimilation to "brilliant".) It is a brie-type and while it's evidently available as a fresh cheese, I bought it in a well-aged state with a very smooth creamy paste that melts on the tongue like warm butter. Usually I'm equally fond of the rinds of soft-ripened cheeses (a preference that I apparently share with Charlemagne) but this one was unpleasantly ammoniated, no doubt the trade-off for the delicious state of the interior. Mushroomy notes and a bold taste that would stand up to even a robust cracker such as rye-crisp. Not a cheese that would travel well, e.g., for a picnic, due to its softness.
hrj: (Default)
My new house came with an apple tree. When I took possession, the tree was rather sad from underwatering and the little green apples on it had a tendency to drop despairingly to the ground untimely. Not having any idea what variety it was, I wasn't sure what signs of ripeness to look for, but today I gathered up the dozen or so apples still remaining on the tree and decided to do some investigation.

One of the problems turns out to be that it's a green apple -- that is, green when ripe. A few of the fruits have a yellowish cast, but I think that means they're over-ripe. Some minor speckling on the upper side. I cut and peeled the nicest-looking of the bunch and gave it a taste test. Crisp and firm; sweet -- definitely not meant to be a pie apple. It's a pity I have something of an aversion to eating apples plain and raw. (I think it's a childhood trauma from too many tasteless, mealy Red Deliciouses in the lunch box.) I've peeled and cored the rest of the lot and turned them into applesauce (plenty of cinnamon, no added sugar).

Assuming it's a common variety, it seems likely to be a Golden Delicious, but if it's an unusual variety I'd need someone more expert to narrow it down. I'm still debating what I might want to add in the way of apple trees. (This would be as part of the pre-1600 fruit trees plan.) Something that would be a good cooking apple would be nice.
hrj: (Default)
As soon as I set to slicing the shirataki block, I knew that the idea of turning it into something lasagna-like was hopelessly doomed. As a solid block, the stuff is tough, rubbery, and extremely difficult to slice thinly. But I decided to see the experiment through and layered the slices (ca. 1x1.5 inches by however thin I managed to get them) with commercial marinara sauce, ricotta, and grated mozzerella, with some mixed "Italian seasoning" sprinkled over each layer. I microwaved it rather than baking since I hadn't started cooking until 8pm and was starving. Rather than anything coherently casserole-like, it ended up being slippery slices of shirataki floating around in cheesy sauce. Quite tasty, but not the intended physical form. In these larger slabs, the resemblance of the shirataki to slices of octopus or squid is even greater than in noodle form. (Keep in mind that I love squid.) I think I'll stick to the smaller noodles.

I've set the last experimental form (the gray-flecked thin noodles w/o tofu) to marinating in a balsamic-soy salad dressing again, since that worked very nicely with the first batch. I skipped the boiling step since I don't think it makes much difference -- just drain and rinse. And this time I chopped the noodles into shorter lengths so they'll integrate more with the rest of the salad ingredients.

I think I really must try a pad thai dish using them, now that I've gotten the idea stuck in my head.

Overall conclusions of the experiment: I can see this ingredient being useful as a "bulk filler" for those who want a low-calorie stomach filler but don't care for vegetables. (As long as you don't to irrationally crazy with high-calorie sauces.) But that doesn't really apply to me, since I love vegetables. And there's the issue that, in addition to lacking calories, it lacks pretty much any nutritional value at all (no vitamins or minerals). As others have noted, it doesn't entirely satisfy as a traditional pasta substitute, although it could grow on you. And as an additive to dishes with a variety of ingredients (e.g., a noodle bowl) it could add some useful bulk without having the odd texture overwhelm the meal.

I could also see it inspiring some really ... interesting ... illusion food, given the physical properties. (You could carve the solid blocks into shapes or containers or mock body parts or ....)
hrj: (Default)
Follow-up to Part 1: The noodles from last night that I marinated in my balsamic/soy salad dressing and then had as part of my lunch salad soaked up the dressing like a sponge and were quite tasty. I can see that combining them with low-cal highly-flavored sauces will be a useful approach.

Part 2: Shirataki-tofu noodles (fettucini style)

Rather than being translucent, these are visually quite similar to egg noodles or regular wheat pasta. The instruction again call for draining them then boiling in fresh water, then draining again. This time I had the noodles plain, tossed and heated with a small amount of pesto.

Results: The texture is still definitely not pasta. (In an odd way, the mouth-feel is more like a meat product, like flavored collagen or non-fishy cephalopod.) But they take up the sauce nicely and are quite pleasant as long as I'm not expecting them to be something they're not. From a psychological viewpoint, they fulfill the desire to spend time chewing something. I can't help but feel some sort of artificial guilt about eating a fairly processed foodstuff that is designed to be, in essence, non-nutritive. Somehow it's different from, say, eating celery. But as I say, I think this is a manufactured guilt.

Reality check: The 8 oz package (both Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 came in this size) claims to hold "2 servings" but for me one package is a normal meal side-dish amount. The plain noodles (Exp. 1) are 20 calories per 8 oz. while the ones with tofu (Exp. 2) are 40 calories for 8 oz. The 2 Tbsp of pesto that I tossed them in add another 150 calories.

If I have the time, tomorrow I may try turning the solid block into something lasagna-like.
hrj: (Default)
A post from [ profile] lifeofglamour (f-locked, hence no link) brought to my attention the potentially interesting item "Shirataki noodles". Cutting to the chase, these are more or less an edible hydrogel derived from glucomannen polysaccharide naturally occurring in the corms of the konjac (devil's tongue) plant. I'd noticed them previously in the Japanese foods section of Berkeley Bowl but hadn't realized their most interesting property: they are, for all practical purposes, a calorie-free pasta-like substance. So what the heck, why not give them a try?

I picked up four different versions and will be reviewing them in turn as I try them out. 1) plain white shirataki noodles of a spaghetti-like or rahmen-like form. 2) the same but the "gray flecked" form that evidently adds stuff to mimic the appearance of the original non-purified version of the product. 3) the plain white version but in a solid block. 4) a version with tofu blended in and shaped more like fettucini. In all cases, the eater is cautioned that the noodles themselves are essentially tasteless (when properly rinsed) but will pick up the flavors of sauces and other ingredients.

Tonight we try item #1 (plain white spaghetti-type). Following the instructions on the package, I drained the packing water then boiled them for a few minutes in fresh water then drained them again. About a third of the 8 oz package went into the dressing for tomorrow's lunch salad (equal parts balsamic and soy sauce) to be added to the salad. The rest went into tonight's standard bacon & greens stir fry (also contains onion and sliced tomato), but with a dollop of pesto added for additional flavor. I heated the noodles in the pesto separately then stirred the whole into the stir fry after all the greens were properly wilted.

Results: As warned, the noodles have an entirely different texture than any other noodle-like object. They're a bit rubbery (although easily chewable) and might benefit from being chopped into shorter lengths during cooking. They did pick up the pesto flavor thoroughly, promising hope for treating them with a variety of sauces. (Although the low-calorie advantage can be lost quickly if the sauce is used too generously.) The noodles tended to keep to themselves and not mix well with the greens, although chopping them shorter might help with that as well. I could see them working excellently in a pad thai type of dish or any other dish calling for bean threads, due to the similarity in texture.

Musings: I think the next experiment will try them as a side dish with a little sauce, rather than as an ingredient in a more complex dish. They might also work nicely in a noodle-bowl type approach.
hrj: (Default)
A year and a half ago, I posted some reviews of commercial almond milks with an eye to their potential usefulness in medieval cooking. One of the complaints I had at the time was that all the ones I could find included added sweeteners. It wouldn't be that critical if you were using them for a sweetened dish, but it was non-idea for savory dishes that didn't want that level of sugar.

Passing through the relevant aisle at the Berkeley Bowl West market today, I noticed that several brands were now featuring unsweetened variants of their almond milks, so I thought it might be time for some further comparisons. (Amusingly, one of them also promotes itself as "low fat" and yet has essentially identical fat content to the other two brands.) I didn't do a direct comparison of these with their corresponding sweetened versions, but I did make up a basic home-made version (one part ground blanched almonds to two parts hot water, blend several times then strain).

Pacific Natural Foods "Organic Almond Non-Dairy Beverage"

Ingredients: Filtered water, organic almonds, organic rice starch, sea salt, organic vanilla, natural flavor, carrageenan, misc. vitamins. 35 calories/cup.

Color: ecru -- the only one of the set that was noticably off-white. Aroma: Alas, the vanilla really stands out. Nothing else is particularly notable. Texture: only slightly thicker than water, probably about the same as milk. A little chalky. Taste: meh. No real almond flavor. Not even much vanilla flavor.

Almond Dream "Unsweetened Almond Drink" (Original flavor)

Ingredients: Distilled water, almonds, tricalcium phosphate, natural almond flavor with other natural flavors, sea salt, gellan gum, misc. vitamins. 30 calories/cup.

Color: white. There was noticeable separation/sedimentation in the glass by the time I started the taste test, so I had to stir it up. Aroma: strong almond scent. Texture: Similar to the previous but without the chalkiness. Taste: Less almondy than the aroma. Fairly insipid.

Almond Breeze unsweetened "Original" non-dairy beverage
(I guess they don't feel the need to specify "almond beverage" given the brand name.)

Ingredients: Purified water, almonds, tapioca starch, calcium carbonate, sea salt, potassium citrate, carrageenan, soy lecithin, natural flavor, misc. vitamins. 40 calories/cup.

Color: white with no noticeable sedimentation. Aroma: very slight almond scent. Texture: somewhat thicker/more viscous than the preceding two, but smooth. No chalkiness. Taste: a slightly stronger flavor than the others. Not strongly almondy, but definitely not watery.


Ingredients: Tap water, almonds. Caloric value undetermined.

Color: white with a little bit of sedimentation. Aroma: fresh "raw" almond scent. Very nutty. Texture: similar viscosity to the Almond Breeze. No chalkiness although there's some grittiness when you get to the bottom. Taste: The first thing I noticed was a bit of a "bite", almost an acidity. Definitely nutty and the same "green/raw" taste that shows up in the aroma.

Comparison with sweetened versions

Going back to my previous review, I had sweetened versions of the Almond Breeze and Pacific Natural Foods brands. The Almond Breeze I noted as tasting "toasted" and the Pacific Natural Foods as "more delicate and flowery". (Interestingly, the sweetened version of PNF doesn't include vanilla flavoring.) In my previous comparison I found the home-made version to be thicker in texture than the commercial milks and -- as I found again this time -- with a more almondy and "raw" flavor. (I don't mean "raw" in any negative sense, simply that it made me think of raw fresh almonds.)

So I once again come back to my conclusion that, given how easy the home-made version is to produce, there's very little reason to prefer the commercial variants. (I could see taking the commercial route if you needed very large quantities and time were short, or as something to keep on hand in a camp kitchen, since the containers need no refrigeration.) The unsweetened versions are definitely preferable to the sweetened, if only for ingredient control, but avoid the Pacific Natural Foods unsweetened because of the vanilla thing. Overall, the Almond Breeze unsweetened would be my pick for medieval cooking due to the slightly stronger nut flavor and lack of unwanted non-almond flavorings.
hrj: (Default)
It's not that I'm dreadfully monotonous in my usual eggplant purchases. Depending on whim (and special pricing) I'll pick up the standard "big purple" variety, the skinny elongated Japanese/Chinese variety, or the cute little miniature Indian variety (yes, I know there are lots of different varieties of eggplants in India, but these are the ones labeled "Indian" in the store). But since the stall at the farmers' market offered all sorts of shapes and sizes at a single mix-and-match price, in addition to a long-skinny-purple and a medium-bulbous-purple, I got one of the pure white egg-shaped ones (well, if we're talking something on the scale of a turkey egg or so) and a medium-sized white-and-purple striped one.

Each was either split in half or in quarters (depending on size), brushed with olive oil, and sprinkled with seasoned salt, then roasted at 350F for about 40 minutes.

Alas, like many other colorful vegetables, they came out of the oven all looking the same, with the variously-hued skins having all turned darkish. I couldn't notice any particular difference in taste between them -- they were all quite delicious, with only a slight variation coming from differences in thickness (and so, in internal heating).

Conclusion: while exotically colored eggplants make for a nice still-life, and are impressive in the market basket, just go for whichever variety is on special and matches the intended use.
hrj: (Default)
I went with a dish inspired by the recipe that [ profile] hudebnik offered. Wash and trim about a dozen ramps (comes out to about a quarter cup in the end), slice the thick part into coins and the green part into manageable pieces, but keep the two separate. Mince a thick slice of bacon and heat it very gently in a skillet, then add a little water (maybe a quarter cup). Add the sliced ramp bulbs and cook over a very low heat (covered) until tender. In the mean time, cook about 100 g pasta in rapidly boiling, salted water. When the ramp bulbs are tender, add the greens. Instead of the pepper, I added some grated fresh galingale (kept in the freezer from a previous mystery produce adventure). Continue simmering until tender. Drain the pasta then add to the ramps and toss (still heating) until the liquid is gone. Serve with grated hard cheese.

The ramps have a very delicate, but clearly oniony, flavor. The dish was good, but not quite good enough to merit the "exotic produce" price on the ramps. If I were really into them, I'd try growing my own.
hrj: (Default)
I have succumbed to temptation and purchased a propane grill with rotisserie to reside on my deck. Now I must pledge to grill regularly to justify it. But I can play with all sorts of medieval spit-roasting recipes, so it's all good.

Review: New Produce of the Week -- Fresh Chickpeas

Read more... )
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I finally got around to doing a comparative taste test on almond milks when cooking last Thursday for this weekend's event. This was purely a "drink it straight" taste test and doesn't compare the various items as used in actual dishes. The items being compared are two commercial almond milks and a simple home-made one. The biggest problem with the commercial almond milks was finding unflavored ones. Most of the groceries I frequent carry at least one variant, but it will commonly be chocolate flavored or at the very least vanilla flavored. Only the Berkeley Bowl supermarket carried plain, unflavored almond milk. Probably other "natural foods" markets would be a good bet as well.

1. Almond Breeze "Original" flavor almond non-dairy beverage from Blue Diamond

The ingredients list indicates: water, evaporated cane juice, almonds, salt, and a bunch of chemicals, vitamins, and thickening agents. 60 calories per 8 oz cup.

The viscosity was relatively thin. The taste was sweetish and slightly "toasted".

2. Pacific Natural Foods "Original" flavor almond non-dairy beverage

The ingredients list is identical to the Almond Breeze one until you get down to the specific ordering of the vitamins. 70 calories per 8 oz cup. Amusingly, the PNF brand advertises itself as "low fat" but the calories from fat are identical in each (25/cup) and the PNF is higher calorie overall. There's a lesson here about the usefulness of self-serving labeling.

The viscosity was similar to the Almond Breeze. The taste was sweetish again but without the toasted flavor -- more delicate and "flowery".

3. Home-made almond milk ... ok almond non-dairy beverage

Ingredients: water, almonds. Hard to know the calorie content since I don't know how much caloric value remains in the almond "dregs" after the milk is filtered off. My recipe would use 1/2 cup ground almonds to make a cup of milk, which my references tells me would be ca. 270 calories worth of almonds, so if you figure the calories end up half in the milk and half in the dregs, that would make it about double the commercial almond milks (which makes sense, since the home-made isn't processed to be low-fat).

Roughly following the proportions in one of Terrence Scully's books, I mixed one volume of ground blanched almonds (for some reason I can more reliably find blanched almonds in ground form than in whole untoasted form -- at least in volume rather than in the small packets in the baking section) with two volumes of warm water. Mix in a blender for a couple of minutes. Let sit for about five minutes, then mix again and strain. The first time I did this, I strained it through a cloth, but the second time I just strained it through a medium sieve. Both seem noticeably thicker in viscosity than the commercial milks, but the sieve-strained one moreso. (Thicker without being gritty.) The taste was relatively mild without any strong flavors predominating -- definitely more reminiscent of fresh raw almonds than the commercial milks.


Given how easy the home-made recipe is, as long as I'm able to obtain ground almonds, it makes more sense to make my own -- especially since I can make the specific volume I require rather than opening up a one quart box of it and then worrying about using it up. On the other hand, if I were aiming for a reduced calorie version of some medieval recipe, I might want to try one of the commercial versions. Probably the PNF unless I specifically thought the toasted flavor would add something.
hrj: (Default)
As promised, my experiment with a produce item I've never cooked before: green garlic (i.e., immature garlic bulbs). In my initial brainstorming of what to do with it, I was feeling rather soupy, and when I fed green+garlic+soup into Google, one of the hits was for a garlic-asparagus soup. Since I already had a bunch of asparagus pencilled into the food plan[*] for today, I took the basic idea and then torqued it all out of recognition. Mushrooms were also pencilled in for today, and I still have a couple open containers of commercial almond milk to use before they go bad, so I thought of doing a sort of chunky-creamy soup with an almond milk base, pureed asparagus, and the garlic and mushrooms sauteed but left chunky. There was also a duck leg pencilled in for today, and that got worked in as well.

Green Garlic and Asparagus Soup

Take one bunch (ca. 1 lb) asparagus, remove and reserve the tips, and chop the stalks into approximately one-inch pieces. Simmer the asparagus in 2 cups almond milk until tender.

In the mean time, peel the outermost skin off a bunch of green garlic (my bunch had a finished weight of ca. 100 g) and trim the stalk where it stops being solid (this leaves about 6" of stalk as well as the bulb). Slice the garlic across in thin slices. Also slice about 150 g of mushrooms. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet, sear a duck leg on both sides then add the garlic and stir about while it softens, then add the mushrooms and asparagus tips and ditto. Add about a cup and a half of hard cider (my usual substitute for white wine, since I keep the former around for drinking but not so much the latter) and simmer covered until the duck leg is well cooked and the cider is nearly all reduced.

When the asparagus in the almond milk is tender, puree it. Remove the duck leg (and do whatever else you're going to do with it) then combine the puree and the other ingredients and simmer long enough for the flavors to mingle. (My standard unit of time at this point is "while I change out of the gym clothes and shower".) This recipe made about a quart and a half of soup.

Results: I like it. The texture is just what I had in mind: a thick, creamy (in the texture sense) base with suspended chunks of garlic and mushroom. When I tasted it for seasoning, I decided not to add any salt which is a bit unusual for me. The overall taste is both mild and complex. You can smell the garlic more than taste it but it's definitely there underneath the asparagus, and there's even a perceptible hint of duck. There's a bit of sweetness due to the cider which probably wouldn't be there if you used wine, but I like it. If I weren't trying to use up the almond milk, I would have used chicken stock for cooking the asparagus, which would alter the balance as well.

[*] "The food plan" is partly about shopping-planning and partly about food-journaling. At the start of the week I do my major shopping without necessarily having specific meals in mind, then I sort out the results in to the food-journal spreadsheet to make sure I have something interesting and filling planned for each dinner. Things get moved around in the spreadsheet as the week progresses and plans change, but having it all pencilled in helps me keep track of what's in the refrigerator and needs to be used.
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As previously noted, this week's Mystery Produce Item was a peculiar Asian seed pod listed at the grocery as "drumsticks" (and located in the vicinity of the bean section). The instructions I found online (notice that I bypassed attempting to find anything useful in Joy of Cooking or Larousse Gastronomique this time) indicated that the skin was tough and fibrous and should be chewed but not eaten, while the edible part was the interior of the pod. It suggested using a peeler to scrape off any dry looking parts of the skin, then cutting the pods into finger-sized lengths and cooking in lightly salted water. When I began wielding the peeler, it seemed happy to take off the entire dark green part of the skin without doing much to the interior (sort of like a very skinny cucumber) so I had hopes that I'd reduced the inedible portion without throwing out any of the edible part. I cut them into 1.5 inch sections and simmered in salted water for about 15-20 minutes.

The web site indicated that they would then be cooked in sauce, but I went for the naked vegetable to get a sense of the basic taste. They were very mild in flavor, with just a little bit of fiber still around the edges that needed to be chewed up and spit out. (I suspect the degree of peeling that I did is exactly the right amount.) Pleasant tasting, but I can see how you might want to use them as a carrier for a more strongly flavored sauce. I can't really describe the flavor -- sort of like a summer squash or very bland eggplant, although I think my imagination is getting cross-contaminated by the texture, which was definitely in the eggplanty range. Eating drumsticks takes attention and a little effort -- sort of the same level as for artichoke, except not as messy (and without the payoff of the heart at the end). This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'll put them on my "try again sometime" list and experiment with simmering in sauce next time.

The bonus new produce this week was some fresh galingale. I grated it into a tofu stirfry (firm tofu, onion, celery, mushrooms, bean sprouts) along with ground sesame seeds and a very simply sweet-and-sour sauce (vinegar, catsup, brown sugar, soy sauce). I think I was too conservative (remembering the unfortunate results of overdoing the fresh ginger on some baked trout) -- I'm sure it contributed to the taste overall, but I didn't really notice it as anything specific. I have the rest of a rather small rhizome grated and frozen, so I'll try for a more intense experiment sometime soon.
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This week's "try a new produce item every week" item was fava beans. (This may be a cheat because I think I've cooked them once before.) Also on tap was the other piece of pork tenderloin originally meant for last weekend.

Shell a bunch of fava beans and simmer in salted water until tender.

In the mean time, slice pork tenderloin across the grain into 1/2 inch slices. Heat some oil in a skillet and sear the pork on all sides then set aside. Brown a sliced onion in the same oil, then deglaze with a little red wine. Set the onions aside. Put about half an inch of red wine and a splash of wine vinegar in the skillet, plus a small handful of bay leaves, and heat to a simmer then add the pork back and simmer until the pork is cooked and tender. Remove the pork again and put the onions back in the pan. Add about a cup of tomato juice. Simmer until reduced to a thick sauce. Add the cooked fava beans and stir until the sauce reduces further to coat the beans. Combine in some attractive fashion with the pork so the pork gets a taste of the sauce. Consume.

The basic instructions I have for fava beans suggest removing the skins before cooking. I couldn't figure out how to do this and it seemed like too much trouble. After they'd been boiled, the skins looked like they'd pop off easily, but it would have been a lot of work to remove them even so -- and besides which, they seemed perfectly edible. So I didn't bother. The beans were nice -- sort of like edamame in flavor. In fact, next time maybe I'll just have them boiled in salt water without worrying about additional flavorings.
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(Pause for a moment to enjoy the unresolved ambiguity of the subject line syntax.)

A bit of a nattering introduction on everyday stuff. )

And, of course, the other thing I did yesterday was the weekly grocery shopping. I regularly brag on doing my produce shopping at Berkeley Bowl, which has one of the most stupendous selections of produce -- both standard and ... unusual -- of anything presenting itself as a full-service supermarket. But the fact is, although I have very broad tastes in produce, I don't tend to be truly adventurous on an everyday basis. So it occurred to me that I ought to take more advantage of my opportunities by buying one item every week or so that I've never tried before. It might be an entirely new experience (like this week's) or simply an untried variety of an old standard (like some of the odd caulobroccofloretty-thingies). So yesterday I picked up a bunch of cardoons to kick off the resolution.

About Cardoons )

Would I cook them again? Maybe for a special purpose. The long cooking time makes them a bit awkward unless I do the simmering part in advance and then just finish them off during the dinner prep. (Or unless I'm slaving over a hot stove all day anyway for some reason.) Still and all, I think so far they get my vote for Most Surprisingly Delicious Weed-Like-Object.
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One of my basic principles on eating is never compromise on taste. Make a different choice, use a smaller amount, but don't use a lower quality. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to try several reduced-calorie cheeses. (Cheese being a serious weakness of mine.) Herewith my opinions: Read more... )


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