Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Meditation on Mold

Stage one of mission soy sauce is complete and stage two is well underway.  Stage two is the development of mold on the soya bean and wheat cakes.  The original recipe called for wrapping the cakes tightly with damp paper towel and saran wrap.  This didn't work for me.

After about a week, I checked on my soy cakes and I found day-glo paper towel and very little mold.  This didn't seem right and I am sure the ancient Chinese peasants who created soy sauce didn't use paper towel or saran wrap.

Plan 2: Arrange soy cakes on the back of mini muffin tins, squirt with a little water, seal them in and give them more time.

After about two more weeks, I decided that the mold development was sufficient.

Before setting them out to dry in the hot summer sun, I wanted to capture the best of the best in terms of mold development.

I love this one to the left.  It looks like a little mini-volcano.  I had my eye on this mold pile as it grew, starting out as a beautiful coil, over time it collapsed on itself and developed lovely little white fuzz.

This is another interesting one that looks a bit like cheese.  The darker brown patch at the top of the cake was also originally a fluffy white coil but then collapsed or perhaps got crushed by my rough handling...

Sorry little mold hill.

This is one of my absolute favorites.  It's as if you are flying through a bank of clouds in an air plane and all you can see are fluffy, fluffy clouds.

I would love to know what is going on right now in the mold colonies.  Why are some areas fluffy and some cauliflower-like?

And for the finale mold shot...  Look at those delicate white hairs.  The gaping hole is where I ripped the little cake away from the pan.

I'm such a beast in the kitchen.

One thing I should mention for those inspired to make their own soya sauce is the smell.  You are basically making blue cheese (from a smell perspective) and after about a week the soya wheat cakes start to smell like ammonia and sour blue cheese.  You will probably find the odour offensive though my roommate hasn't mentioned it yet so maybe it is not as bad as I think it might be.  She is also used to me brewing up weird things on an almost constant basis.  Now that the moldy cakes are in the living room window getting baked by the sun the scent might become stronger and weave its way through the apartment a bit more.

I'm not yet at a point where I can see or smell soya sauce.  I keep sniffing the bottle I have in the fridge to see if I can detect any similarities, this might happen once I start to ferment my mold cakes.



Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spicy Pickled Apricots

I have now found my most favorite thing ever, ever, ever.  I can't believe how much I love spicy pickled apricots.  They are delicious.  It is apricot season so I took some apricots home after volunteering at the market this week.  I started off with an apricot chutney.  It was pretty good but I wanted the apricots to have more texture so I thought to myself, "What would pickling do?"

Let me tell you it does beautiful things.  I looked up a bunch of pickling recipes and nothing quite floated my boat.  Then I realized, the recipes lacked spice.  If you read my blog at all then you probably know that I like spice.  Once I realized this I was set to start the pickling process.

Ingredients (I spice my blends for me, you should spice blends for you.  Have fun with it!)

  • 6 large apricots
  • 2 cups pickling vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp red peppercorn
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp red chili flakes

1) Pour the vinegar and sugar and spices into a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and let it brew away for ten minutes or so.
    2) As the vinegar simmers, halve the apricots and then halve the halves.  You want apricot quarters.  I didn't blanch them and remove the peel because this just feels wrong to me.  I would be the first to admit that I have a slight fibre/nutritional value obsession so I never remove edible peel from anything.  I always eat it and so the apricots are keeping their skin.

    3) For my first batch of spicy pickled apricots I cooked the apricots in the vinegar mix for a while (5 minutes or so).  For the second batch I just poured the hot vinegar mixture over the raw apricots in clean glass jars.

    4) Now they need to sit.  The recipe said to leave them alone for at least for 12 to 24 hours and I managed 12 hours before testing.  So good.  My favorite part about this pickle is the whole coriander seeds.  As I ate the pickle a coriander seed would crunch between my teeth and the flavour would just explode.  Almost on the edge of perfume but not.  Delicious.  You can eat the pickle:
    • On anything that you would use pickle or chutney on.
    • With a beautiful hard cheese or goat cheese.
    • On top of a creamy or rich soup.  I ate it on chili and it was so good...
    • Inside a grilled cheese sandwich (slice the apricots up before sliding between the bread slices).
    • On ice cream.  Sounds kinda weird but I think it could be quite yummy, maybe on vanilla or chocolate or even caramel.
    • People who like to can will probably notice that I didn't can my pickle.  I am storing them in the fridge so I didn't worry about canning.  As well, I don't want to cook my apricots and canning would cook them.  Refrigerator pickles they are.  If you want to try canning I recommend using hard apricots so they don't get uber soft. 
     Have you ever tried pickled apricots?  Do you love them or are you a cuke pickle purist?  Let me know if they become your new favorite thing ever.

    Featured on Fill Your Jars Friday!


    Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    Dinner for Dad: Pasta Carbonara

    For those that follow my blog, you will remember the start of my love affair with cured pig cheek or guanciale.  A traditional use for this lovely fatty pinch of pig is in carbonara, a traditional Roman pasta dish full of egg and cheese and guanciale.  Sounds pretty good right?

    So I decided to "treat" (not this time unfortunately) my Dad to a dinner while my Mom was away.  This seemed to be a win-win situation in many ways.

    First, I get to hang out with my Dad, which I always enjoy.  Second, he doesn't have to eat take-out for at least one night (my Mom is the cook, he is the dishwasher).  Third, he is very accepting of food and so is the perfect target for new and/or untested recipes.  Fourth, he eats gluten and my Mom doesn't, and finally, it is the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and he has a giant TV and I have none.  What a perfect situation!? 

    What a perfect foil for an untested recipe...  Please allow the story to unfold.


    1) Everything started out well.  I was a bit nervous about making pasta for the first time, especially without a pasta machine but being experienced with handling dough I thought should hold me in good stead.  It did.  The kneading went well.  I chose to use whole wheat flour from the Flour Peddler so I reduced the flour in the recipe just a little bit to account for this.  It came together nicely and was popped into the fridge to relax.

    2) While the dough was relaxing I cubed the guanciale and allowed it to slowly render with the sprigs of thyme.  It smelled beautiful.  I also shelled my peas in anticipation of the grand cooking finale.

    3) It came time to roll out the dough.  I had bought a book on pasta making earlier in the day and my instructions were to roll it out to the thickness of a piece of brown paper.  A piece of brown paper!!!  My goodness that seemed thin at the time.

    I started to roll, and roll, and roll.  Every once in a while I picked the dough up and flipped it over, gently slapping it against the granite counter top.  Roughing it up a bit is good for the gluten development, think of it as giving your pasta character.  It was getting quite thin but wasn't as thin as my book said and here is where the first mistake occurred.  I started to panic.  My Dad was sitting at the dining room table doing some work and I became sure that he wanted to eat and was getting impatient (he wasn't, I was just getting anxious).  Mistake 1: I rushed the process...  Never rush the process

    4) My too-thick pasta was dumped into the boiling water and promptly thickened up until it resembled flattened earth worms.  I guess I never realized how much pasta thickened up as it cooked until I made it myself.

    5) As the pasta cooked (it only takes about 3 minutes) I had to work on the carbonara.  The peas had been added to the guanciale before the pasta went in so they would have time to soften (dump out some of the guanciale fat before adding the peas and make sure you give the peas a good amount of time to cook).

    6) The parmesan was mixed with the eggs and whisked together.  Then about half a cup of pasta cooking water was slowly whisked into this mixture until it became smooth.  As I was doing this I anxiously watched the pasta cook and stirred it so it didn't all stick together.  Then the moment of truth and the secret to amazing carbonara (besides fantastic ingredients).

    The pasta is whisked out of the boiling water and thrown in with the guanciale and peas.  The egg/cheese mixture is poured on top and the whole mess is gently tossed for only about a minute until it is shiny and beautiful!

    Mistake 2: Never, never, never return a carbonara sauce to the heat once it is done because you fear the pasta is underdone.  It cooks the egg too much and becomes a lumpy mess.  Again, I panicked.  Honestly go for an undercooked pasta rather than an overcooked carbonara sauce, not to mention that an extra 30 seconds on the heat is not going to do much to your pasta anyways.

    Panic is not a good ingredient in food.

    The verdict: It tasted good.  The whole wheat flour lent a stronger taste to the pasta than regular white pasta but personally I don't mind when my food tastes like what it is.  It was definitely toothsome.  The carbonara was a bit lumpy because of my panicked overcooking but delicious nonetheless.  In the words of my father:  "Well, it's not a very pretty looking dish dear but it tastes good."

    Thanks Dad.

    End note: You are probably wondering why there are only two photos.  Carbonara, even the mess I made of it, doesn't leave much time for snapping photos.  It all happens in the blink of an eye and I am just not willing to sacrifice my end product for a photo.  Not to mention that by the time I was done I just wanted to sit down and eat, as did my father.


    Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    Homemade Soy Sauce: Part 1

    As I started to write this post, I kept wanting to write: "Fermentation is not commonly used in the West."  After I wrote it though I kept coming up with examples of fermented products - beer, wine, cheese, 'kraut, pickles, vinegar... etc. etc.  We clearly ferment a lot of things.  I suppose that in the East the methods and subjects are different so in some ways it feels like a different process, but fermentation is common to many cultures.

    While I haven't been able to clearly divide how different culture ferment, one thing I can say is that making soya sauce is funky involving kneading and mold and fermentation and sunlight.  This ancient process takes a long time, possibly up to six months, but the end result is stunning (according to the blogosphere).  Here is step 1 to delicious homemade soy sauce.

    • 420 grams of dried soy beans
    • 3 cups of whole wheat flour from the Flour Peddler - check out this website, really cool guy who mills his flour by bike
    • 2 cups of all-purpose flour

    1) The first step is soaking the soy beans overnight.  They swell considerably so cover them with about three times as much water as there are beans in the pot.  There are ways of quick soaking beans but I don't recommend doing that in this situation.  When a process is meant to be slow, perhaps it is better to luxuriate in the slowness rather than attempt to speed it up?

    2) The next morning the soaking water will be all bubbly and slightly thick.  Pour this water off and pour in fresh water, again using about three times as much water as there are beans.  Put the pot on high and watch it.  I am serious about the watching because once it reaches a boil, the soy beans will quickly foam over the pot and all over your stove top.  No one wants that.  Once the water is at a strong boil, turn it down to just under the maximum heat (or to however low it needs to be so that it doesn't continually boil over).  As the beans cook, skim the foam off the top.

    The cooking time is about two hours or so.  You will be able to easily smoosh a bean between your fingers when it is finished cooking.

    Note: My 454 grams of dried beans turned into almost 800 grams once puffy and cooked.  This is approximately seven cups of soy beans.  Yes I have seven cups of soy beans.  It was only at this point that I started to calculate how much soya sauce I was making - approximately 10 litres, and it won't even be ready in time for Christmas!

    3) I used the approximate ratio of 4:3 for beans to flour.  The easiest way to mix everything is to dump your freshly cooked beans onto a clean surface and mash, mash, mash them up.  Once mashed, put the flour on top and knead the whole mess together until you have what is known as a "soy log."

    4) Using the picture on the left for reference, cut your soy logs into thin slices, approximately 3/4 of an inch.  There might be larger chunks of soy bean visible.  This is fine.

    It was at this point that my recipe failed me.  The next set of instructions called for wrapping each piece of log tightly in wet paper towel and then saran wrap to promote the growth of mold.  I did this and was unimpressed with the results.  I recommend laying your pieces out in semi-upright positions (propped up on the back of a mini-muffin tin perhaps) so that the maximum surface area is available for mold growth.  Seal everything up so they stay moist and mold friendly and leave it alone.  You are going for ultra mold growth right now.

    5) After I was finished with my whole wheat soy log, I moved on to an all-purpose flour soy log.  I used the all-purpose simply because I didn't want to waste my soy beans and was out of whole wheat flour.  Same process - mush, knead, form, slice, wrap.

    I am intrigued to study the mold growth on the different flour types.  Will my beautiful whole, wheat locally grown flour grow fantastic mold or will the commercially processed, old and stale white flour?

    Any bets being made by gamblers in the whole foods community?

    Please look for future posts to discover where this fermented mold sauce came from!


    Monday, August 13, 2012

    Making Fish Sauce

    "An Englishman teaching an American about food is the blind leading the one-eyed." -A. J. Liebling

    I have often heard it said that the Vancouver restaurant scene owes its bounty to our large Asian population, that the expansive palate of Asian diners mirrors that of the French.

    Obviously Asia is a much larger area and contains many, many different cultures and cuisine types.  What they all have in common, however, is the funk.  The funk is the opposite of white bread, of pale tomatoes, of commercial mayonnaise and prime cuts of meat.  The funk is spot prawn brains, spicy kimchee, furry tofu and my oh so funky homemade fish sauce.  Or what will be my oh so funky homemade fish sauce.

    I am on an Asian fermentation kick right now.  Fermenting peppers, brewing soy sauce and now creating a West Coast version of fish sauce.  As I looked up recipes, I noticed that they contained fish, salt and water.  That was too boring for me.

    I want some kick, and some subtlety, and maybe even a little West Coast vibe in my fish sauce.  Here's what I came up with.

    A little warning before I tell you my secret recipe.  It is completely unscientific.  Completely.  Even more unscientific than my previous attempts at fermentation.  Maybe fish isn't the best choice for an unscientific experiment but clearly I am not always one to use what my mama gave me - my brain.  It hasn't killed me yet and I consider myself lucky so, lady fate, may I have one more roll at the dice please?

    • Almost half a kilo of sockeye salmon bits - fins and ribs and flesh, this is where the West Coast vibe came in
    • The salt is supposed to be 1:2 or 3 ratio of salt to fish so I guesstimated, err on salty
    • Three habanero peppers, chopped roughly
    • Four cloves of garlic, mine was organic from Klipper's farm - I think that will make my sauce extra delicious and funky
    • Tablespoon of star anise pieces, hey why not
    • Water to fill the container

    1) Open up your fish, get your nose in there and take a nice deep sniff.  Don't skip this part because you don't want to introduce the funk here.  Funky fish at this stage is not cool.  It should smell like the freshest ocean breeze or don't use it.

    2) Wash out a container really well and start packing it with salt, fresh fish, habanero peppers, garlic and the star anise.  You will think to yourself, "whoa that is a lot of salt."  This is okay, salt prevents spoilage and promotes fermentation.  This is what you want.

    3) Once your container is packed, pour your water on top until there is just about an inch of room at the top of your container.  If you are using tap water, let it sit out uncovered for at least an hour before pouring it in to let the chlorine evaporate.

    4) Now weigh your fish bits down and put a cover on top loosely so that gas can escape.  At this point I placed the container in my "fermentation" cupboard next to my peppers.  One of the recipes I looked at said to let it sit out in the sun on occasion so I might do that tomorrow just to kick off the fermentation.

    The whole process of fermenting fish sauce takes from nine months to a year so look for my grand unveiling then.  I am sure the first time I use this sauce will be an EPIC experience.

    Check out this link for more information on the history of fish sauce.


    Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment


    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Fermented Hot Sauce: 2-1

    My first batch of fermented hot sauce was so successful that I have two orders for more!  Never one to rest on my laurels I've decided to experiment with the second batch.

    I'm starting off with thai chili peppers again.  I've been reading up on hot sauces and for fermentation you want to use super hot peppers.  The high levels of capcaisin (the molecule that makes you burn) help keep bad bacteria at bay.  I again added garlic and I'm trying the fermentation process with whole peppers this time instead of ground peppers.  

    I have four cups of peppers fermenting so I can make a whole lot of sauce as well as allow two of the cups to ferment for a longer period of time.  As you can see I left the green stems in again and I plan to grind up some of the green tops with the peppers once the fermentation period is over.  I'm rather excited about this hot sauce experimentation.  There are so many ways to experiment and change the character of the sauce even with just the basic ingredients.  How long do you ferment them for?  How long do you age the sauce?  How much vinegar do you add?  How finely is it ground?  Do you keep the seeds and membranes or remove them?  Lots to contemplate.

    The peppers and garlic and brine are now bubbling away in my darkest cupboard.  I like to keep the top on loosely so that the glass jars don't explode spraying peppers and garlic all over my kitchen.

    Once the fermentation period is over I plan to remove the stems and add a touch of chipotle pepper when I blend the thai chilis up.  Chipotle is a smoked red jalapeno and I think a hint of smoke should be nice in the hot sauce.  

    At this point, I'm not sure how long I will let the other jar of peppers age?  Any thoughts?  Suggestions?  I am learning that hot sauce lovers are a passionate, somewhat obsessive, bunch and I would love to hear other contemplations on aging and fermenting and heat.

    "You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours."
    -from Saint Augustine Confessions

    Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    Find of the Day: Giant Cinnamon Sticks

    "What would he not do for her, the daughter of the spice-seller; she who smelt of cloves and cinnamon, whose laughter had the timbre of ankle-bells, whose eyebrows were like black wisps of the night and whose hair was the night itself?  For her he would cross the salt desert!"

    My new obsession - giant cinnamon sticks!  I had an errand to run in Chinatown a few days ago and instead of walking straight home I decided to meander through the streets.  It was quite a systematic meander because I was looking for glass jars for my hot sauce.  Up and down each street, looking in every kitchen shop I could find.  As I passed one of the many apothecary shops, baskets of dried mushrooms and scallops and almonds spilling out onto the sidewalk, I saw what looked like giant cinnamon sticks.  I couldn't help but peer closer, sniffing the giant roll of bark to see if my eyes were correct.  With all the competing scents I couldn't make out much and yelled into the shop for help.  They told me that indeed it was cinnamon and I knew I had to have it.

    My giant cinnamon sticks are so thick that I can just wrap my hand around the middle, and they are several feet long.  Once I got them home I was able to make out the most delicious, deep cinnamon scent, much darker than a jar of cinnamon powder.  I am completely in love and went back to pick up several more a few days later.

    What will I use these giant cinnamon sticks/logs for?  I'm not entirely sure.

    Here are a few thoughts:
    • Drawer fresheners to keep my clothes smelling sweet
    • Room fresheners - I might tuck logs of cinnamon here and there
    • Decorative elements - right now I have a cement block with Russian dolls gathered around it.  I have now replaced the block with a few cinnamon logs, very spice road meets Russia and it fits my aesthetic perfectly.
    • Clothing bars - this idea might take a little work but the logs are the perfect size for clothes hangers
    What would you do with several giant pieces of cinnamon?


    Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment