Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Volunteering at the Market and Roasted Kohlrabi

So I volunteered again at the Farmer's Market with Klipper's Organics.  Well I've volunteered several times but I don't post enough to detail every single volunteer experience!

I am continuing to enjoy my time at the market, falling into the days rhythm of unpacking, stocking, re-stocking and packing.  Taking breaks for chili or scones or just general wandering.  I've watched cooking demonstrations, listened to wonderful music, and sampled, sampled, sampled!  Oh what fun!

At the end of the day this week I took home some beautiful purple kohlrabi.  Kohlrabi, according to my good friend wikipedia is also known as the german turnip and is a cultivar of the cabbage.  It tastes like a cabbage with a hint of turnip flavour, a bit spicy, a bit sulphurous (in a good way) and a lot juicy.  A fresh kohlrabi is really a delicious thing.

Normally I just eat mine raw, chopped up in salad or sliced thin and eaten with hummus.  The larger the kohlrabi the coarser the texture so if you are planning on eating it raw, get 'em small.

While I love raw kohlrabi, I thought it might be interesting to try it roasted.  I wasn't sure what roasting would do to the flesh or the flavour but I do love roasted food so it seemed worth a shot.

Let me tell you I have a new favorite dish.  So simple, so quick, so tasty.  Perfect for the BBQ if you are throwing some meat on and need a nice side dish, great with other roasted veggies to add a different flavour profile and texture.


1) The oven should be preheated to 400 degrees fahrenheit.  Sometimes I go as high as 425 or as low as 375.  If you cook a lot then you should know your oven fairly well.  A higher heat will give you a nice browning on the outside, something I rather enjoy.

Cut the outer peel off the kohlrabi.  I know it is a bit tragic to lose all of that beautiful purple peel.  It is just gorgeous, but has the texture of wood.  You are left then with a bright bulb of white that needs to be cut into roasting size pieces.  This could be a couple of inches across or one inch across - use your preference.  If the chunks are too small though they lose their rustic feel and who wants that.

2) Once the kohlrabi is chunked and in an oven-proof dish, pour a bit of olive oil on top and sprinkle with a good amount of salt.  Get your clean hands in there and massage the oil and salt into the kohlrabi, making sure the oil is on every surface.

A roasted vegetable without oil is like meat without salt.  There is no point.

Pop the dish into the oven and keep your eye on it.  Periodically (every ten minutes or so) take the dish out and move the kohlrabi around so they get brown on all sides.  The kohlrabi are roasted when they are easily pierced with a fork with golden brown edges.  I don't put any pepper on this dish because I like the look of the white flesh, if you have white pepper you could sprinkle a bit on, adjust for salt, and voila! ready to serve.

The verdict: I have already mentioned that I love this dish but you know it is good when I forget to take an "after" shot for my blog!




Shonagh writes An Offal Experiment exploring the guts of food

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rendering Suet aka Makin' Lard

Suffice to say that I have a greater understanding of the scent of a medieval household after my first experience rendering suet.

I've been reading The Great Mortality by John Kelly, a riveting account of the black plague and how it wound its way through Europe in the 14th century.  Needless to say a key ingredient in its spread was the incredible filth of households in this period.  People bathed rarely and garbage (think dead animals, toilet offerings, rotten food) was strewn about the streets.  They also used lard or tallow in making candles.  According to Kelly, lard wasn't a preferred source of fuel because of the smell.

So let me get this straight.  People who were surrounded by rotting flesh and human excrement complained about the smell of burning lard.  How could this be?

Let me tell you.  It is a penetrating and murky smell.  Those familiar with the smell of their house after a deep fry session will have some idea, but rendering lard is worse.  It lacks the richness of cooking meat and the purity of cooking with vegetable oil.  It just smells heavy, and not in a good way.

I would like to think that I have a fairly strong stomach.  I mean I did saw open a sheep's head after all.  Despite the strength of my stomach, I will probably never render suet again.  But what inspired me to bother in the first place?  It was the pie competition.

According to the Joy of Cooking lard makes a "very tender crust (that) is best reserved for covered fruit pies" (p. 862).  Did I want a "very tender crust" and was I making a fruit pie?  Yes on both accounts.  I was sure that using lard would give me an upper hand on my competition.  With this in mind, I trotted to my butchers. 

Lo and behold they had bags of frozen suet, ground up and ready to go.  Luckily one of the butchers told me that I would need to render it before I used it for my pie.  Armed with this information and clutching my little bag of ground fat, I trot home, sure that I was about to have a pastry breakthrough.

Before getting started I decide to do a little research.  There is a wet method and a dry method of rendering fat.  The dry method is used during normal cooking - think of frying bacon and then using the wonderful extra fat to fry your eggs.  The wet method involves throwing, in my case, a big chunk of suet into a pot with water and letting it cook on low for hours.  As it cooks the fat melts out and can be poured off through a strainer. 

I didn't use a lot of water so the water had evaporated before I poured the fat off.  If you are using a lot of water then the fat can be skimmed off the top.  As this fat and water-filled mixture steams and bubbles away for hours your house will be filled with its distinctive odour.  I highly recommend closing all doors to bedrooms to prevent the smell from making friends with your clothing.

The rendered lard is quite beautiful, lily white and pure.  Its hard to believe that it came from a murky, flesh-colored pot of melting suet.  Once the process was complete (well to be honest, once I had rendered enough lard) I took my hot pot of suet off the stovetop and thanked the spirits that the process was over.

To ready myself for the pastry-making process (this was for my second test pie - the disastrous one) I froze the lard.  I grated the frozen lard into my flour, using butter for half the fat, finished my pastry, filled the pie and waited for ecstasy.  The pie was a disaster because I was experimenting (a combination of different recipes and my imagination) and miscalculated the cooking time.  Once my pie had "cooled" I realized that it wasn't hardening and in fact I had made strawberry soup pie.  Luckily I was still able to taste the lard-filled pastry on top.

The Verdict

It tastes like beef.  The texture was nice but the beefiness came through so strongly that it overpowered the delicate fruitiness of the filling.  Mmm strawberry-beef fat pie...  No, not so tasty.  It might work for a beef pie but even then I question the flavour the lard gave the pastry.  Some would call it the essence of being not tasty.  I have since read up more on lard and possibly, possibly will try pork fat in the future.  Emphasis on the possibly because I don't really want pork fat perfume wafting its way through my house.

Back to pure butter pastry for me!  I would love to hear if others use lard in their pastry?  Do you render it yourself or do you buy it from the butcher?  Do you use pork or beef?  Share your pastry and lard experiences.


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

Friday, July 20, 2012

2nd Place in the Pie Competition

Not half bad for my first time!

I called my pie 'Star Kissed Strawberry' and, as the name suggests, it was a baked strawberry pie.  Most strawberry pies are fresh rather than baked so I thought it might be fun to make a pure baked strawberry pie.

To keep it interesting I infused a homemade strawberry jelly with star anise, rosewater, and lemon peel before adding the fresh strawberries.  This added a depth to the pie without taking away from the strawberriness.  I also dusted the top crust with aniseseed sugar to echo the star anise in the filling.

I'm not entirely sure how it tasted because I've never made this exact pie before and I couldn't stay for the tasting.  I had class.  The contest was a berry pie contest through the farmer's market.  I'll post a link to the recipe - they'll be featuring it on the website.

Reflecting on my first-ever pie competition, I learned lots:
  • Stay for the judging.  I really want to know what the judges thought.  I liked my spice/flavouring combination but an external opinion(s) would have been great.
  • Don't cut patterns into the outer edges of the top crust.  If you look at the picture at the bottom of the page, you can see that a lot of the filling bled through.  This is because I cut stars into the edge of the crust.  Instead of coming out clearly the filling just bubbled through and destroyed my lovely stars.  It looks messy rather pretty and in this case I would have preferred pretty.
  • Simple is better.  Don't go fussing around with anything super fancy if you haven't tried it before and you're new to competitions.  This isn't Top Chef and you want to build your confidence up.  Simple and yummy beats fancy and strange tasting every day of the week.
  • Brushing with egg and sugar makes the pastry gorgeously golden brown.  This is great to make pie cut-outs stand out or to accent certain parts of the pie.  Look at the star above for a beautiful example.
Besides mulling over pie competitions, I also began to wonder when people started making pies.  It turns out that pies have been around since the Neolithic Stone Age or 9500 years before the common era making them more than 12500 years old.  Clearly pies have aged well.  Ancient Egyptians started making pie to preserve food.  The earliest Egyptian pies wrapped honey in ancient forms of pastry, yummy.  Doesn't food preservation seem to be a common reason for the development of new food technology?  Food preservation or decadence.

From there, pie kept developing and transforming as new cultures put their own stamp on it.  My ancestors from Great Britain loved their meat pies with the cornish pasty being a well-known meat-filled treat.  When the pie crossed the Atlantic Ocean First Nations people showed settlers berries, and fruit pie became a popular and delicious North American staple.

Now that I have one competition under my belt, I am raring to enter another pie competition!  I have found BBQ-on-the-Bypass, which is a BBQ cook-off as well as a pie competition.  Plans are underway to enter pies in at least two of the categories so check back in September to see how I do.


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My first pie competition...

And I was a wreck.  I had made two test pies.  One was perfect - the second was a horrific disaster.  The disaster pie led to a reworking of my pie plans, a subtraction of sorts.  I am definitely the type of person who likes to overcomplicate, subtraction is not my forte.  While I know this is my pattern, I generally don't catch it early enough.  Ahhh... getting older.

So there I was the day before the competition, ready to start the most nerve wracking part - the pastry.  Here is my process.

1. Put bowls in the freezer.  One large bowl for the flour, one small bowl for the butter and one measuring cup for the liquid.  Freak out a bit that I didn't put the bowls in sooner.  Will they get cold enough???

2. Sift a whole pile of flour into a bowl before measuring two cups into the large bowl, add salt and return bowl to freezer.

3. Grate a cup of butter into the small bowl.  Freak out that my fingers might be melting the butter.  Return grated butter to the freezer.

4. Take measuring cup out, crack egg into it and whisk.  Add water and vinegar.  Return to freezer.

5. Put the timer on for 15 minutes because that seems like the correct thing to do.

6. When timer goes off, gather up my nerves and start "making the pastry."  Ahh!  What if I screw it up?  Put some flour in the bottom of a bowl, sprinkle a bit of grated butter on top.  Put more flour on top of the butter and then add more butter.  Continue layering flour and butter on top of each other.  Mix up gently with a fork - put the combined butter and flour back in the freezer.
  • A great tip I learned is that the key to flakiness is to coat the butter in the flour rather than mix them together.  That is why coldness is key.
7. At this point I needed a walk.  I was approaching a key moment in the pastry process and I needed something to steel my nerves.  In my case the necessary steel came in the form of coffee and chocolate.  Cocoa Nymph just opened a new chocolate bar in the 'hood and this was the perfect opportunity to check it out.  I bought the Elphaba and Barnabas the Tortoise.  The Ephaba was my favorite, filled with pistachio, rich and creamy. Now, I was ready.  Alert and fidgety from the caffeine.  On edge.

8. The flour and butter is taken out of the fridge.  The chilled measuring cup with egg, vinegar, and water is taken out of the freezer and sprinkled on top.  Quickly, fueled by your anxiety, mix the liquid into the flour with a fork.  Using your hands, rub the pastry mixture together.  Do this as much as necessary but as little as possible.  If the pastry starts to hold together you are done.  Don't touch it anymore.

9. Thank your (G)godesse(s) that you have finished the major steps, separate the pastry into two, saran wrap and put in the fridge for at least an hour.

10. Now it is time for the rolling and the putting in the pie tin.  Another key step.  The saran wrap is the key.  Don't use parchment or wax paper.  They don't work.  Saran wrap does.  I think this is because the saran conducts heat slightly so the butter melts slightly and then sticks to the saran, making the process of transferring the crust to the pie plate infinitely easier.  Once the crust is rolled out to a nice thinness, peel off one side of saran and flip into the pie plate.  Trim the excess pastry, use it to patch the crust, wrap and then place (place) in the freezer.

11. Roll out the top crust.  Cut to the size needed for the top crust and place (place) in the freezer.

12. Take a deep breath and let it out.

13. The next day, fill the pie with filling, put the top crust on and bake it.  See isn't making pie easy?

A few notes:
  • Anxiety, as I hope you have noticed, is a necessary ingredient when making pastry.  If you have no anxiety then you will fail.
  • Two other necessary ingredients are speed and coldness.  The anxiety fuels both.  If you forget or get careless about either speed or coldness your pastry is ruined.
  • Perfectionism is also useful if it further fuels your anxiety.  Other stimulants, such as coffee and chocolate are also useful.
  • Pastry no-no's: a laissez-faire attitude, warm hands, a warm kitchen.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sate Chili Sauce

As I wandered my way through fermented hot sauce links and recipes online, I found a recipe for sate chili sauce.  This is one of my favorite sauces in the world, but I've never known how to make it.  Now that I know what is in it (garlic, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce, need I say more???  delicious!) and the general process, my head is spinning - the possibilities are endless.  Here is my first attempt sticking fairly close to the original recipe:

Ingredients: (pulled from Viet World Kitchen)
  • Four cloves of garlic, pureed
  • One large shallot, pureed
  • Three stalks of lemongrass, whizzed in a food processor but allow it to keep some texture
  • One cup of peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup of fresno chilis (the recipe calls for thai bird chilis), whizzed in a food processor but allow it to keep some texture
  • 1/2 cup crushed chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanut
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • Two tablespoons sriacha sauce (I used cock brand)

1) Pour the peanut oil into a small saucepan with the garlic and turn the heat onto medium-low.  Listen to the oil as it heats and once it starts to bubble turn the heat down to low.  The oil is there to draw the flavour very slowly out of the garlic rather than fry it.  It's as if the garlic is having a nice hot tub.  After about five minutes, add the pureed shallots and let the garlic and shallots mix and mingle in the oil.

The smell in your kitchen is unbelievably delicious at this point and just wait, it only gets better as the recipe continues.

2) Once the shallots and garlic have mingled for about ten minutes, add the lemongrass.  Keep in mind that you are not trying to cook any of the ingredients quickly, they are being slowly, slowly eased into the sauce.  You will know that the lemongrass is ready once it has sunk to the bottom of the saucepan.

I decided at this point to add some chopped peanuts.  The original recipe didn't call for peanuts but I just love the richness they add and the way they echo the peanut oil.  The texture they give is also lovely.  Give the peanuts at least five minutes.

3) The process now starts to get exciting as the chilis and chili flakes are added.  The pureed chilis go in first and as they simmer their color leaks out into the sauce turning it a lovely burnt orange color.
Then add the chili flakes and continue to allow the simmering and drawing out of flavour.  Once you feel you have bathed all of your ingredients in oil for long enough, add the remaining ingredients: fish sauce, sugar, salt, sriacha.

Taste, adjust and enjoy.

What to use it for:
  • Everything
  • Dipping sauce
  • Stir fry sauce
  • Yeah, I mean, everything.  This sauce is just so yummy and flavourful that it can be used on just about anything you eat
The verdict: Not as much of a quick burn as the fermented hot sauce.  This could be because I used fresno peppers rather than thai bird chilis.  There is also obviously a lower percentage of chilis, mmmm lemongrass and garlic and shallots.  Having said that though the sauce is still quite hot.  The burn is just a little slower.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fermented Hot Sauce: Part 2

My fermented hot sauce was bubbling and brewing away in the corner for several days.  It developed a little bit of white mold, which I promptly scraped off.  I did notice mentions of mold in various blog posts so I didn't worry overly much, it seems to relate to the fermentation process.

Once I felt that it was fermented enough (use your intuition) I slipped on a glove and picked through the mixture removing all of the green stems.  I then dumped the mixture into a saucepan with about half a cup of white wine vinegar and let it boil for several minutes. 

I put in a teaspoon of salt and then poured the whole saucepan into my blender and whizzed it up until I liked the consistency.  The sauce then took another journey into the saucepan for another round of boiling while I sterilized a few little jars.  I tasted it again as it boiled and decided to add a teaspoon of white sugar.  This just seemed appropriate.

The verdict: Whooo!  This sauce basically takes my head off!  The thai chilis are killer hot, KILLER hot, seriously.  The burn is a quick burn, there is no slow build-up that surprises you after a few minutes.  It kicks you in the mouth quickly, spreads and then sits.  You will sweat and it might make your eyes roll back into your head slightly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fermented Hot Sauce: Part 1

I never used to like hot sauce. 

That changed during my first camping trip.  I was 19-years-old.

Traveling to the site with a fellow newbie girlfriend, we brought with us a lot of beer, a 12-pack of hot dogs and a sack of buns.  That was it.  We had no tent, no sleeping bags, no nothing.  Just beer and hot dogs.  We joined a big group of experienced campers.  They had barbecues, food tents, frying pans, cooking sauces, venison, and...

Sriacha sauce.  That lovely fermented garlic hot sauce, you all know it, the squirt bottle with the green lid.  The symbol that you're in a good restaurant.  I mean, come on, Morimoto uses it.

So there I sat by the fire with a nice cold beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other, watching as this beautiful piece of venison was coated in sriacha and grilled over the open fire.  Luckily the guys took pity on my pathetic camping skills and offered me a taste of the venison, with a warning that the sauce was quite spicy.  Never one to make wise decisions, I scoffed at them and dumped more hot sauce on my piece of meat.  As I popped the venison in my mouth they all stared, waiting for my reaction.  I gave them none!  Not only that, but I then put more sriacha on my hot dog.  I mean I couldn't even feel my mouth at that point.  Thank god for beer.

Somehow, this traumatic first experience led to a passionate love affair with sriacha that continues to this day.

Because I am so passionately in love with this sauce, I am embarrassed to admit that I only recently learned that it is fermented when watching a documentary on Chinese food systems (yes the movie was as thrilling as it sounds).  I had tried to make sriacha previously and had never achieved a good result, which confused me but didn't lead to much investigation.  I simply accepted that I must purchase the sauce I love rather than make it.

But not anymore!  Here is mark 1 in my journey to make a delicious fermented hot sauce.

  • A lot of thai bird chilis (maybe a cup and a half)
  • Four bulbs of garlic
  • One tbsp of salt
  • Water
That is really all you need, and a little luck (or a prayer to the fermentation gods, which is my preferred method).


1) Fermenting hot sauce seems to be much like making sauerkraut.  I chopped all of the green tops off the bird chilis and then tossed the red ends into my food processor.  Normally I like to hand chop but I had so many bird chilis and the volatile oils were so powerful that into the food processor they went.

2) Once the chilis were roughly processed they went into a bowl with four roughly chopped garlic bulbs, salt and a just a touch of water. I also added the green tops.

I found a plate that fit over the chopped chilis perfectly and then weighted it down and put it in the corner.  Now I just have to wait a week to see if anything is going to happen!

Before setting and forgetting it, make sure that the salt draws out enough water to submerge all of the peppers so they can brew and bubble and develop.

  • Wear gloves.  Don't even think about working with this many hot peppers without wearing gloves.  You will not be able to wash all of the volatile oils off your hands and you will, I repeat, you will touch your eyes or nose at some point and it will burn.
  • Be careful when you take the lid off your food processor.  Whizzing up that many hot peppers releases a lot of volatile oil and breathing it in will make you cough and choke.  You've been warned.
  • One of the recipes I found called for the green tops to be added during the fermentation process.  It makes a "richer" flavour supposedly.  Meh.