Infamous Cookery

Cider from Scratch

This weekend we made cider from scratch for the first time. The process is pretty simple, provided you have a sufficiently powerful juicer.

We started with 10 pounds of McIntosh apples. These may not be ideal for cider, but they happened to be relatively inexpensive at the supermarket. We’ve gotten relatively good results fermenting raw apple juice that was intended to be consumed as a soft drink, so we thought crushing raw table apples was worth a try.

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Our juicing/crushing setup consisted of a Champion juicer and two 1-quart pyrex bowls. It took us about 30 minutes to work through all of the apples, and we tried grinding the resulting apple pulp twice to improve our yield a bit (I probably wouldn’t repeat this; we didn’t get a lot of extra juice). I’m not sure if I would recommend the Champion for working through more than about 50 pounds of apples. It is slower than other cider equipment, but much smaller, cheaper, and easier to repurpose for other projects.

Before the apples can be ground up, they have to be cut into wedges. This part went pretty fast; 5 cuts per apple.

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This is what the apple juice looks like immediately after grinding the apples; white, opaque, and very pulpy.

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We added pectinase enzymes from our local homebrew shop, and waited an hour. By this time, the cider had oxidized and changed to a more familiar brown color. A trip through a cheese-cloth like grain bag removed the last of the large pulp. The pectinase makes it easier to produce a clear cider (though I have had ciders clear on their own without this step).
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At this point, we added half a campden tablet (to kill any unwanted microbes that might spoil the batch) and some yeast energizer. A tiny mortar and pestle is handy for crushing additives like campden tablets, so they dissolve properly.

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We also added about 170 grams of honey; we have been making mead lately, and wanted to try a mead-cider combination. After that, we agitated with an immersion blender to oxygenate the juice and fully dissolve the honey.

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For yeast, we used a mix of Lavlin EC1118 and QA223. We may have overpitched this time; the fermentation really took off just three hours after pitching.

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We’ll have to see how it turns out; if past ciders are any indicator, it should be ready to drink in six to nine months. Cider making is a great change of pace from beer and mead making. I’d estimate it requires about twice as much effort as preparing mead, but is still only about 40% of the effort of making a gallon of beer, and has the advantage that it doesn’t heat up the house. We didn’t get a great juice yield from our apples (about 3/4 gallon from 10 pounds of fruit), but if I had a garden with a few apple trees this would be an easy way to use up surplus fruit.

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Basic Tofu

Lately we’ve been practicing the preparation of fundamental foods from different cuisines. We’ve made various breads and pasta, but we recently decided to try to learn how to make tofu as well. The process isn’t very complicated, but it does involve a fair bit of labor. The first step is to procure some dried soybeans.

IMG_20150609_175209793_HDRThey’re very cheap (the bag above was about two pounds for two or three dollars, if I recall). As with other dried beans, the first step is an overnight soak in the refrigerator. The beans swell a great deal, so they need to be covered with a fair amount of water. We started with three cups of dried soybeans.

IMG_20150611_083617652Once rehydrated, the soybeans are relatively easy to blend. We split them into three batches of equal size, and blended each batch with a quart of water. The resulting liquid (with solids) can then be boiled for twenty minutes with an additional quart of water to make soymilk. It will foam vigorously! A spray bottle of water is good for dispersing the foam.

IMG_20150611_085634634Once the raw soymilk was boiled, we strained it through one of the nylon paint bags (cheese cloths) that we also use for brewing. This did a pretty good job of removing the solids (which are edible, and can be added to cookies).

IMG_20150611_095325072Next, we poured the strained soymilk into a clean kettle, and brought it to 180F. While the soymilk was heating up, we prepared a solution of a tablespoon of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in 2 cups of water. Once we reached the target temperature, we slowly poured half of the solution into the soymilk and briefly stirred.

IMG_20150611_102316164The soymilk immediately started to separate into “curds” and “whey.” After four minutes, we added the remaining epsom salt solution.

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The separation was even more noticable the second time. After another four minutes, we carefully strained the curds into molds (bamboo steamer baskets).

IMG_20150611_104258188A little bit of weight was useful for pressing out the remaining water.

IMG_20150611_110141100Here is the finished product: a firm tofu suitable for stir fry.

IMG_20150611_110527731_HDRCleaning up from making tofu can be a little bit of a pain, because the soy protein gets burned onto the sides of the kettles. We found that it was very helpful to boil a small amount of water and baking soda in the pans we were trying to clean; about five minutes of this treatment loosened the burnt soy enough that we could scrape it off with a wooden spoon or a coarse sponge.

Some Foods from Colombia

After a long hiatus, the “Infamous Cookery” food blog is back. About a year ago I realized that I wouldn’t be able to simultaneously write the blog and my dissertation. Now my thesis is written, edited, defended, etc. and work on the blog can resume, albeit at a slower pace than before.

About a year ago, my wife and I had an opportunity to travel Colombia with some friends from graduate school, who live in Bogotá. We saw some amazing sights and ate a number of tasty meals, some of which I’ve listed below.

Colombian Fruit:

Colombia has many delicious fruits, some of which seem to be hard to find in the US. I don’t think we’ve ever tried so many new fruits in one week.

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These are granadillas. They have a relatively firm outer skin (a little like styrofoam), which you crack open (possibly against your forehead), to reveal a tasty pulp that can be eaten with a spoon.

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This is a mamoncillo. After peeling off the green skin, one can chew on the (somewhat fibrous) pulp inside.

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We ate these three feijoas whole (skin and all); I remember the texture being somewhat like a fig.

In San Agustin, we saw pineapples being grown in the hotel garden.

In San Agustin, we saw pineapples being grown in the hotel garden.

The hotel also grew its own papayas.

The hotel also grew its own papayas.

Bananas from the garden at our hotel

Bananas from the garden at our hotel

Mangostino

Mangostino

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In the same garden, we also saw a lot of coffee plants.

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One of the interesting things about coffee beans is how much they change shape. Here is a bean freshly peeled out of a “cherry”. It’s a lot bigger than the green coffee beans one buys dry for roasting. The bean will shrink when it dries and then expand again when it’s roasted.

Guanabana (or soursop) is a really delicious fruit for making smoothies, but it is very big. The four of us barely made a dent in this basketball sized fruit.

Guanabana (or soursop) is a really delicious fruit for making smoothies, but it is very big. The four of us barely made a dent in this basketball sized fruit.

Among the decorations at our hotel, we found a machine for removing the skins from coffee beans.

Among the decorations at our hotel, we found a machine for removing the skins from coffee beans.

Meals in and around San Agustin:

Travelling south from Bogotá, we drove to San Agustin, to see some pre-Columbian statues. Around San Agustin they grow a lot of sugar cane. The cane is processed into an unrefined sugar called panela, which is sold in bricks. The sugar cane juice also makes for a refreshing drink, particularly when mixed with a little lime juice.

Bricks of Panela

Bricks of Panela

While in San Agustin, we tried an inexpensive soup called ajiaco de pescado, which seems to be a pretty straightforward broth-potatos-corn-and-a-protein type meal.

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Ajiaco de Pescado

On our way back from San Agustin, we stopped for lechona. Lechona reminds me a little bit of barbecued pork, without any tangy sauces. To prepare it, a whole pig is deboned and stuffed with rice, yellow peas, onions, and other things, and then slow roasted for many hours until the skin is crisp. The roasted pig is then sliced and served.

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A Lechona Stand

Lechona with an Arepa

Lechona with an Arepa

Along with our lechona, we ate some local cheese, which I believe was called “quesilla”. The texture was similar to fresh mozarella. I would be a very happy man if I could make cheese this tasty.

Locally made cheese, served on a leaf. This was so good, we ordered it twice.

Locally made cheese, served on a leaf. This was so good, we ordered it twice.

Meals in Cartagena:

We ate a number of good seafood meals while in Cartagena. The first was a fried fish, served whole with some coconut rice.

IMGP6736One of these whole fishes is a substantial meal, and separating all the meat from the bones seems to be an acquired skill (which I don’t yet possess). The coconut rice is sweet and savory.

IMGP6844We also ate a very delicious shrimp ceviche. It’s hard to see, but beneath the guacamole is a plantain that was fried, rolled flat, and then fried again to make a wide, crispy “patacone”. I’d really like to know how to do this — when I flatten a plantain, it tends to break apart well before I can get a thin sheet like this.

Finally, no trip to Colombia would be complete without a visit to Crepes and Waffles, a chain of restaurants with stylish desserts. I had some uchuva ice cream with a tasty passion fruit sauce.

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Sourdough Bread

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Recently we’ve been playing around with making sourdough bread. For a couple of years we’ve been using a sourdough starter to make pancakes. We wanted to know if we could use it for making bread too. It turns out the answer is “yes” but there’s a lot more to making a good loaf of sourdough bread than having a decent starter on hand.

Our first task was to get our starter “in shape” for making bread. Instead of feeding it milk and flour on a monthly basis (per our pancake recipe) we switched to feeding it equal masses of flour and water (about 100 g of each) every twelve hours. Pretty quickly, we had a vigorous starter on our hands — it now easily doubles in volume in 12 hours, even after being refrigerated. Last night I left the starter in a sealed ziplock bag. This is what I came back to in the morning:

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I guess our starter produces a good bit of C02!

The main thing we’ve had to figure out about bread-making was a good kneading technique. Without good kneading, one can’t develop the gluten needed to get bubbles inside the bread and the loaf becomes very dense (and, needless to say, unpalatable). After quite a number of failed attempts, we finally found a technique that works pretty well for us (undoubtedly expert bread bakers have even better procedures).  When we learned that the idea of kneading is to produce big stretchy sheets of gluten, we decided to try rolling out our bread dough, folding it over on itself, turning the dough 90 degrees, and then flattening it again — a little like making a flaky pastry crust. We also found that the kneading was a lot easier to do if we broke it up into three small kneading sessions (2-3 minutes) separated by about 10-15 minutes. It takes a little more time for the bread to rise this way, but it also makes kneading a lot less strenuous.

Kneading underway: The loaf has been flattened and folded onto itself.

Kneading underway: The loaf has been flattened and folded onto itself.

Here is our dough recipe:

  • 225 g unbleached white flour
  • 150 g H20
  • 10 g salt
  • Approximately 100g of starter

Mixed together, the dough is still pretty wet and lumpy. After the first kneading, it looks like this:

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After two kneading sessions it’s still pretty lumpy.

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Finally, 10 minutes after the third kneading, the dough is looking good.

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Our baking technique is also little different. In lieu of a baking stone or ceramic La Cloche, we heat a heavy cast iron roasting pan (with a lid) to 500F in our oven, put the loaf in the pan and cover it. After 15 minutes we remove the lid so the loaf can brown. We’ve read that some amateur bakers do this in order to better simulate the power of a professional bread oven, though we haven’t done any experiments to see if it’s really necessary.

Here are some loaves we’ve made and some cross sections.

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Mole Ice Cream, Hop Ice Cream

Recently we’ve been experimenting with some unusual ice creams. Usually the flavorings we want to use don’t include much water, which means we can simply add the flavorings to a standard base recipe and expect to get ice cream with a reasonably good texture.

Experimental Ice Cream Base:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (about 100 g) sugar

If mixed vigorously, one can dissolve the sugar in the milk products while everything is cold. However, it’s often easier to get flavorings (like cocoa powder) to dissolve if the mixture is warm (about 160F).

For the Mole ice cream, we took a look at our usual recipe for Mole sauce and adapted the spice mix for ice cream. Our mole sauce usually includes almonds, cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, and spicy roasted pepper. We decided to add the almonds as a toping, which left the following to be added to the ice cream:

Mole Ice Cream Additions:

  • 1/2 tsp chipotle paste
  • 1/4 cup baking cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cloves

The ice cream does not initially taste very spicy; it takes several days of aging in the refrigerator for the heat to develop.  The ice cream base needs to be cooled for at least 8 hours in the refrigerator so that it can be successfully churned.We were aiming for a dessert with the chocolate and spices of a mole sauce, with some gentle, smoky heat from the peppers appearing in the aftertaste.

Mole Ice Cream with Almonds and Blue Corn Chips

Mole Ice Cream with Almonds and Blue Corn Chips

We served this ice cream with some sliced almonds, chocolate sauce, and blue corn tortilla chips. The salty, crunchy chips provide a nice contrast to sweetness of the ice cream.

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We also tried a hop-flavored ice cream by adding 0.1 oz of Cascade hops to our ice cream base. As with the chiles, it’s very easy to overdo the hops—it takes time for them rehydrate and release their flavor into the ice cream base.

Hop Ice Cream with Wafers

Hop Ice Cream with Wafers

With 0.1 oz of hops, this recipe is intensely hoppy, like a heavily hopped IPA. Unless one really likes hops, the effect is a little too medicinal to be enjoyable. In future iterations, we plan to reduce the amount of hops to 0.025 oz so that the other ingredients are more perceptible.

Soft Pretzels

This weekend we made some soft pretzels. Soft pretzels, like bagels, get their unique crust from being dipped in a base solution before being baked. The easiest way to make this solution is to boil water with baking soda. However, this sort of base is fairly weak. A more extreme approach is to use lye, which is traditional but somewhat dangerous. We decided to compromise and use sodium carbonate, which can be obtained by baking some baking soda in an 250-300F oven for an hour.

IMGP5751We baked 250g of baking soda on a foil lined cookie sheet. The foil is very helpful for moving the powder around without making a mess.

IMGP5734After baking, about 200g of white powder remained, enough for about 2 batches of pretzels. The sodium carbonate isn’t particularly hazardous, but it’s probably best to avoid skin contact if possible.

After preparing the pretzel dough (I suspect any lightly kneaded dough will work well), we prepared a bath of 2 liters boiling water and 100g (1/2 cup) of sodium carbonate.

IMGP5740Once we had rolled out and formed our pretzels, we lowered them into the boiling base solution. We gave the pretzels about 2 minutes in the bath, flipping after 1 minute.

IMGP5742Putting the pretzels in the bath gives the dough a yellowish skin. When it’s time to take the pretzels out, we gave each a quick dunk it a bowl of clean water, to wash off any base solution that might still be on the surface. We sprinkled a little kosher salt over each pretzel while they were still damp.

IMGP5743The final step was to bake the pretzels for 12-14 minutes at 450F and cool on a wire rack.

IMGP5745We suspect that one has to take some care not to over-knead this dough. Below is a cross section of one of our pretzels.

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How to Boil Water (when you have to build your own stove)

Lately we’ve been reading about several different low-tech methods of cooking. They all look great on YouTube, but we wondered just how easy they are to build and use. We decided on the following test: We would build three very different low-tech cooking tools and try to use each to boil a quart of water.

The three designs we considered were:

  1. The Soda-Can Backpacking Stove IMGP5709
  2. The Four-Slump-Block Rocket StoveIMGP5634
  3. The Fun-Panel Solar OvenIMGP5615

The Soda Can Stove

There are several resources online describing how to build a small alcohol-burning stove from a soda can, so I’ll only outline the process. The first step is to cut the bottom half off the can.

IMGP5698We had the most difficulty making this cut, because we initially tried create it with scissors. We soon developed a better way to get a clean cut with a uniform height. First, stack up some rigid, rectangular materials to the height you want to make your cut (a block of wood is perfect, books are typically too mushy). Then, place a razor blade atop the pile.

IMGP5691Use one hand to hold the razor blade steady while you gently turn the can against the blade. Don’t use too much pressure! The idea is to turn the can around several (about four) times, making a reasonably solid score line in the metal. Once you’ve got your line, use the tip of the razor blade to gently poke into the line — you just want to get a hole started.

IMGP5694Once your hole is started, you should be able to work your way around the can, pushing at the cut with your thumb to get the tear to propagate along the line you’ve created.

Repeat this process for the top of the can, and use a can opener to remove the top lid.

IMGP5693Then, carefully make a “fringe” of cuts 1/4 inch apart.

IMGP5701With the fringe ready, you should be able to gently fit the top half into the bottom half. If you like, you can sand the outside of the can, to make the appearance more uniform.

IMGP5702At this point, all you need to do is poke some holes in the top of the can; we think these help with air flow, but aren’t sure. We found either a drill bit or a steel needle worked well for this. We used the bit/needle inside a pin-vise, which is a great tool for small jobs like this. The final step is to cut a rectangle of metal

IMGP5706and slide it into the can. We’re guessing that this creates an air pocket inside of the can that can be used to feed the burning alcohol.

IMGP5707So how well does this stove work? When we tried to boil a quart of water, we found it took us about 30 minutes using two of these stoves together.

IMGP5711IMGP5726Admittedly, a quart of water is probably more than you would use when camping. This type of stove lights easily and can be extinguished very quickly. The fuel will evaporate harmlessly if you spill it (not true of petroleum based fuels) and is inexpensive. Our stove left a fair amount of soot on the bottom of the pan (this might be because our design is not very efficient). This was probably the hardest stove to construct.

The Rocket Stove:

This stove was the easiest to construct, but it took us a little time to figure out how to use it. The stove is built from 3 regular 8-shaped slump-blocks, and one H-block. In total it costs about $5 USD to build. The rocket stove is basically L-shaped, with the H-block forming the corner of the L.

Initially, we had a lot of difficulty getting this stove to light — not enough oxygen seemed to be reaching the fire. Looking around on the web, we realized we were missing an important part of the stove — a small metal shelf that sits within the stove (you can make one out of pretty much any bendable metal). Fuel is supposed to sit atop the shelf, while the bottom is kept empty so that air can be drawn into the chamber for the fire. Once we added our shelf, lighting the stove was a breeze. We started by loading the stove with sticks, then added some shredded paper to start the fire.

Our stove, loaded with sticks and paper.

Our stove, loaded with sticks and paper.

Our loaded stove, this time looking down through the chimney.

Our loaded stove, this time looking down through the chimney.

IMGP5680Of the three stoves we considered, this is one seemed to be the most powerful. It is a little smoky when you initially light it and will leave a black residue on the bottom of your pan. However, we had no trouble boiling a quart of water in 10-15 minutes, using very few sticks. The stove requires a certain amount of babysitting as you cook, because the fuel needs to be gently pushed into the stove as it burns. The stove can’t be “turned off” immediately, though you can cover the chimney and fuel door to reduce the fire to embers.

The Solar Oven:

The instructions for the Fun-Panel solar oven are really well organized. You start with two rectangles of cardboard, which you fold together to make the “wings” of the oven. Then, you glue foil to the wings, completing the oven.

A nice clean box, salvaged from the office.

A nice clean box, salvaged from the office.

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A heavy griddle makes an excellent folding tool.

A heavy griddle makes an excellent folding tool.

Here we were dry-fitting the two halves of the solar cooker before we taped it up.

Here we were dry-fitting the two halves of the solar cooker before we taped it up.

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The instructions for this stove suggest that you place your pot in an oven bag, to create a greenhouse effect — the bag insulates the pot while allowing it to build up heat from the sun. We found that without an oven bag, the warmest we could get our quart of water was 140F (after 3 hours in the sun). With a small oven bag, we were able to raise the temperature to 170F. Ultimately, we were unable to boil water with this oven (though that may not be an issue for cooking a food like rice over several hours).

Conclusion

The natural gas stove that sits in our kitchen is a pretty marvelous invention. It can be ignited immediately, it boils water rapidly, and it leaves no residue on our pans. Of the three cooking tools we built, the rocket stove came closest to the type of cooking power our normal stove provides. Given a little practice, we can envision using the rocket stove to cook our usual stove-top meals. The alcohol stove was the most convenient (both in terms of use and transportation) albeit a little under-powered. We suspect that we still have a lot of room for improvement with the solar-oven. Since we hadn’t built or used one before, we suspect our creation wasn’t really representative of what these ovens can do.

 

 

Gravlax

This weekend we tried a somewhat unusual gravlax recipe. Historically, gravlax was made by burying salmon in salty beach sand and leaving it to cure/rot. Instead of doing that, we tried the recipe posted here on a 0.6 lb fillet of salmon.

A fillet of salmon, dill, thin lime slices, and a mixture of salt and sugar.

A fillet of salmon, dill, thin lime slices, and a mixture of salt and sugar.

The salmon is first rubbed with the salt/sugar mix, then topped with dill and limes.

The salmon is first rubbed with the salt/sugar mix, then topped with dill and limes.

After cutting the fillet in half, you make a "fish sandwich" with fish on the outside and toppings on the interior.

After cutting the fillet in half, you make a “fish sandwich” with fish on the outside and toppings on the interior. The wrapped packet then goes into the refrigerator for 2-7 days.

Finished gravlax, sliced thin after aging 3 days under a weight.

Finished gravlax, sliced thin after aging 3 days under a weight.

Light Box Pictures

Tomato Soup

We recently came up with a tomato soup recipe that’s really tasty.

IMGP5537This soup has a lot more nuance than tomato soup from a can; the flavor is a lot more acid and fruity than the canned stuff.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb Roma tomatoes, approximately 10
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • salt and olive oil

Steps:

  1. Clean and halve the tomatoes. Take care not to lose the “jelly” that surrounds the seeds in each tomato, it’s full of flavor.

    Don't scrape out the jelly in the tomatoes!

    Don’t scrape out the jelly in the tomatoes!

  2. Place the tomatoes in a heat resistant pan, layered about two tomatoes deep. Pour a small amount of olive oil and salt over the tomatoes.IMGP5519
  3. Broil the tomatoes for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. When the tomatoes are ready, they will be soft and their skins will be wrinkled.IMGP5521
  4. Add just enough broth to cover the tomatoes (this is important, you don’t want the soup to be watery). Blend the soup until it’s smooth, then add the cream.IMGP5525
  5. At this point you could serve the soup, but it still contains tomato seeds and skins. To make the texture a little more even, I prefer to strain the soup. Scraping the sides of the strainer helps to speed up the process.