Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Off to the Amazon!

I wanted to post a couple of other recipes before leaving but I was completely swamped planning and packing and freaking out over my trip.

I'm heading off to Finca Organica Canoa - a small organic farm in Ecuador.  Between fifty and sixty families live on the farm and they grow a crazy amount of fruits and vegetables, from mandarins to plantains to cacao.

Who knows the experiences I will have?  I'm bringing lots of paper and colored pencils for the kids as well as party packs of lip smackers for the village girls.  I've heard the coffee is served Turkish style and is about as freshly roasted as it gets.  I don't speak Spanish but I have some phrases a lovely Mexican man translated for me (some flirty comments) and a trusty Spanglish dictionary.  I am just planning on using my hands and laughing a lot.  It should be fun.

My trip goals include:
  • Petting a tarantula (I'm arachnaphobic so this might not happen)
  • Eating a guinea pig (it's the national dish)
  • Visiting the world's largest outdoor market Otavalo
  • Maybe killing a chicken if given the opportunity...  or at least plucking and butchering a freshly killed one.  I see pictures of chickens on the website and they mention that we will eat chicken and there aren't any grocery stores around so...  someone's got to do it I figure.
That's about it for major goals.  Other than that, I really just want to have fun, kick back, do some writing and relaxing.

I can't wait to post some yummy local recipes when I get home!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Death of my Soya Sauce

The death of my soya sauce provides a wonderful opportunity to both grieve and celebrate experimenting with food.  Yes, you read that correctly, my soya sauce is dead.  There will be no beautifully aged, complex tasting, umami-full soya sauce in my pantry, or in the pantry of any of my family members and friends.  However, I learned a bit more about the varied and rich processes found in Asian cuisine, and that is the purpose of experimentation.

As my loyal blog readers may remember, my experience thus far with my homemade soya sauce was a bit unsettling and traumatic.  It started out innocently enough, got a little bit creepy, and then turned downright Lord of the Flies.  I was seeing it through though, putting up with its stank, settling in for the long haul.

Like a new relationship when you discover that your beau has obscenely stinky feet, but enough potential to make it seem not that bad.  Until you discover that he is also full of bugs.  And you just can't put up with a man who is full of bugs.

Picture this.  I was allowing my sauce precious house time.  It sat there stankin' up my living room, smelling like death.  Seriously, it smelled like death.  But the time came.  I decided to peer in, pulling the cheesecloth aside for the last, fatal time.  If I hadn't looked closely, been willing to get down and dirty with my soya sauce, I never would have seen the awful truth - there were many tiny, tiny, tiny white crawlies using my fermenting soya sauce as a home.

It had to go.  That was the final straw.

And my fantastically rustic ceramic pot that I bartered to get?  The pot that looked as if it were made to brew soya sauce in?

It's now a new home for my curly fern.


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Most Delicious Cauliflower Recipe in the World

I have never been a big fan of cauliflower.  I find the texture weird and the flavour underwhelming.  The only way I've ever enjoyed it is when my late Grandma used to smother it in mustard sauce and cheese.  Let's face it, anything tastes good smothered in cheese...

But when I was out shopping the other day, a bulb of cauliflower caught my eye.  I'd been thinking about it lately because I'd seen some organic cauliflower at the farmer's market.  As well, it is terribly healthy.  Cauliflower is related to cabbage and so is chock full of cancer-fighting compounds.  I am obsessed with adding more healthy veggies to my diet so into the basket it went.  Once I got it home I decided to get a little creative and I happened upon a recipe that turns cauliflower into the most delicious vegetable ever, ever, ever.  Seriously I've made this a couple times now and I am actually starting to crave cauliflower.

It's a few steps but is infinitely worth it.

  • Cauliflower - a cup or so chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp of fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp of coriander
  • 2 tsp peanut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp palm sugar
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • Salt to taste

1. Start by heating a teaspoon of the oil on medium in a small saucepan.  Add the fennel seeds and coriander and toast the spices for a few minutes.  Once the spices are fragrant add the cauliflower pieces, the cumin, the turmeric, the palm sugar and the chicken broth.  Cover the pan and cook until the cauliflower is soft, about five minutes.  Toss the pieces around the pan periodically to coat them in the delicious sauce.

2. Once the cauliflower is soft take the lid off and let the liquid cook down.  At this point, add the last teaspoon of oil and toss the cauliflower so that it is coated in the oil.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and stick close to the pan.  You are trying to caramelize the cauliflower and the palm sugar can burn so don't go wandering off.  Fry the cauliflower until there are little beautiful bits of caramelized yumminess all over it, take off the heat and adjust for salt.

3. Inhale.

The verdict: Well as you can tell from the title of this post, I love this cauliflower.  The sweetness from the palm sugar, the softness of the cauliflower, the burst of coriander or fennel every time a seed crunches open.  So yummy.  For those who don't like cumin, the taste is subtle.  It just gives a hint of richness without being overpowering.  For cauliflower lovers this recipe is a must.  For cauliflower haters this recipe might just change your mind.  No more cheese coated cauliflower for me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Homemade Bacon

Homemade bacon is the best thing ever.  Ever.

Before I tell you how I made it, let me tell you how I ate it.  Right after I pulled the cured and smoked belly off the barbeque, I decided to slice off a piece, cube it, fry the cubes and then... wait for it...  put the fried bacon on some bread with a drizzle of maple syrup.  It's like happiness on a piece of bread.  Salty, sweet, smoky, crispy, fatty...  I am 100% sold on making my own bacon.

So why did I decide to make my own bacon?  Well, it fits my pattern of interests considering I've made pancetta and guanciale already.  It also gives me an opportunity to try smoking.  Lastly, I need bacon for my famous Thanksgiving brussels sprouts.  Yeah they're famous, and I will be posting the recipe soon.

Here is how the bacon-makin' went.

1. I bought a gorgeous 2-pound piece of pork belly.  Funnily enough I was just reading the other day not to freak out if your pork belly had nipples and guess what???  My pork belly had two nipples.  Off they came, along with the rest of the pork skin.  When I made pancetta, I left the skin on, but with the bacon I decided to cut it off.  The easiest way to do this is to start with a sharp knife.  With the belly lying on your counter, skin-side up, make a cut between the skin and the fat, as close to the skin as possible, down one entire side of the belly.

To imagine what you are about to do, your hand is on top of the skin and the knife is just below the skin.  The knife blade is held parallel to the counter (and pork belly).  Your hand should be able to feel the knife through the skin - this will help you take off a minimum of fat.  Go slowly and check periodically to make sure you aren't taking off too much fat with the skin.

Don't throw away the fat-covered skin!  I am using mine in an upcoming braised dish.  All you do is put the skin, fat side down, in a hot pan and render the fat out.  You can then use the fat to saute whatever your heart desires.  Freeze it in a ziploc bag until you need it.

2. Pour the ingredients for the curing mix into a bowl and combine well.  All you really need is salt and sugar.  I decided to add thyme, coriander seed and hot pepper.  The thyme has anti-microbial properties and a delicious taste.  I am in love with coriander seed and the hot pepper just goes well with everything.  I mean, spicy bacon...  Mmmm...

Curing Mix
2/3 salt
1/3 sugar
A few sprigs of thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon of coriander seed
2 tablespoons of hot pepper (optional) 

At the start of the curing process
Spread a good amount of the curing mix on the bottom of a ceramic or glass dish.  Nestle the pork belly on top and then spread the rest of the curing mix on top.  I like to massage it in a little bit.  Just a little bit, gently, using my fingertips.  Then pop it in the fridge.  It sits in the fridge for about a week, being turned every day or so.

The day before the smoking, take the pork out of the salt/sugar mix, rinse it and let it sit on a rack in the fridge.  This allows the pork belly to develop a pellicle or coating on the outside.  The pellicle helps the belly absorb the smoke.

3. Now, it is time for the smoking.  I decided to do a hot smoke.  Mostly because I am using a BBQ so I don't really have the option of doing a cold smoke.  As well, though, I didn't use nitrites in my curing mix.  Nitrites kill botulism and I felt uncomfortable holding a piece of pork at a warm temperature for an extended period of time (8-12 hours) without this botulism killing power.  The last thing I want to do on Thanksgiving is give my family food poisoning.

At the end of the curing process
I turned one burner on as low as it could go, and placed a packet of hickory wood chips, two star anise pods, a teaspoon of black peppercorns, and two bay leaves in an aluminum foil packet on top.  The pork sat as far away from the heat as possible, but even still, it reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit in about an hour and a half.  I would have liked to smoke it out for longer, but fate would not allow this.  Once it reached temperature, I pulled it off, let it cool a bit, wrapped it in foil, and then popped it in the fridge.  It will sit in there for a couple days to rest in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

Verdict: As I mentioned earlier, I did sample the bacon and it was amazing.  The smoke flavour from the BBQ is so much better than the injected smoke flavour found in store bought bacon.  So much better.  It is ultra-luscious and fatty.  I don't think I will ever eat store-bought bacon again.

Now I just need to buy a proper smoker.


  • Smoking as a method to cure meats came about an accident.  I guess that's what happens when you live in a smoke-filled cave with no fridge!
  • If you do decide to experiment with cold smoke, you need to properly cure the flesh.  And you might want to use nitrites.  Just sayin'.
  • I love bacon.

Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Homemade Soy Sauce: Part 2

The second stage of making soya sauce is done and part three is well underway.  The second stage, as documented, involved growing plentiful amounts of mold and then drying the mold cakes in the sun.  I found the latter part of the second stage almost unbearable.  Like a little puppy with her favorite toy, every afternoon I carried my tray of soy cakes out into the hot sun so that they would get nice and dry and crusty.  However, they spent the morning in my living room window where the sun is hottest.  The quality of my soya sauce took precedence over everything else, chiefly my ability to spend any amount of time in the living room.  Drying soy cakes are stinky.  I think they are so stinky because they are basically naked, with only cheesecloth to keep away the flies.  The cheesecloth does nothing to contain the smell and even as I write this, about a week after the stage ended, I shudder a little on the inside.

Why am I doing this?  And I don't think I like soya sauce anymore.

Anyways, once the cakes were nice and dry into my beautiful ceramic pot they went!  With a whole lot of salt and water.  To be specific:
  • 1 cup of sea salt
  • 6 litres of purified water
Yeah, I am making a lot of soya sauce.

Then the lid went on and into the hot sunny window the giant pot went.  Of course I am never one to leave things alone so I started looking around online a little and I started to worry that sealing my sauce in would ruin it.  I became obsessed with the need for the sun to touch my fermenting brew and so I decided to, gasp, open the lid.

For those who don't understand why this horrifies me, I should mention that I opened the lid a few days after closing it and the experience wasn't pleasant.  It smelled like rotting so the idea of keeping the lid open for an extended amount of time in my living room wasn't something I thought I could handle.  But as I mentioned earlier, what the sauce wants, the sauce gets.  And so the lid came off and the cheesecloth went back on, damn you cheesecloth.

Then I had another traumatic experience, reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.

After I opened the pot, I left the house.  I was out for the whole day and entering my place at the end of the day I noticed there was little smell.  Quite pleased I strode over to my window and whipped open the curtain to check on my precious sauce.  There were probably about 15 flies buzzing around behind the curtain, above the pot.  Ahhhh!  So freaky.  I quickly closed the curtain, took a deep breath, went back in to put the lid on the pot over the cheesecloth and then got out of the way of the freakin' flies.  Nasty.  Thank god for cheesecloth!

Damn you soya sauce.  I've invested so much effort that I just can't give up on you!


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eating a Pig's Foot

As I packed my freezer full of basil cubes, I found two pig's feet.  Being rather large, they took up a fair amount of space and I decided that it was time to pull them out of the deep freeze.  But what on earth was I to do with two piggy feet?  Looking at the leg end of the limb, they looked quite meaty, and somehow the blogosphere took me to an asian pork hock recipe.  Pork hock, pig foot, close enough.  Braising?  Always a good thing.  Asian flavours?  Ditto.

I was set.

My day started early with work in the morning.  Once I got home, around 10:30am, I set off to my local Asian market to gather a few ingredients not in my pantry.  I had everything but the coriander root, the black cardamom, the white peppercorns, the cane sugar and the young coconut.  That tells you how many spices this recipe calls for.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any coriander root.

The black cardamom is very different from green cardamom, a spice I am familiar with.  At first, I thought to just use the green, but once I smelled the black, I realized it was necessary.  The two are not at all alike.  Black cardamom has a strong medicinal smell, with hints of eucalyptus and spice.  It's intense.  The white peppercorn is brighter than its black counterpart, with hints of citrus.  And the young coconut water is just beautiful, fresh and juicy smelling, far subtler than coconut milk.  It's also quite fun hacking into the coconut to release the water!


1) This is not a recipe to rush or skip steps.  Pork feet need time and moisture and heat to bring out their beauty.  If any food item is an ugly duckling, it is a pig's foot.  Start by boiling your feet in water and salt for three minutes.  This gets rid of impurities or another way of looking at it, washes your feet very well. As they boil, skim off any foamy material that might rise to the top of your pot.

2) After three minutes in the boiling foot bath, dump the contents into a colander and let your feet drain.  You are about to fry them in hot oil and want the skin as dry as possible to avoid splattering.  As the feet are drying, heat up the oil in a heavy bottomed pot or wok.  Take one of the feet and delicately dip a toe into the oil, if it doesn't make a loud frying noise then your oil isn't hot enough.  Let it heat up more.  Once your oil is nice and hot, fry all sides of your pig feet so that they are a crisp golden brown.  A side benefit to the deep frying is whatever remaining hair might be on the pig is fried to bits!  Please see exhibit b to your left.

3) Once your pig bits are fried, pull them out and drain all but a tablespoon of oil out of your pot.  Be careful, hot oil is hot!  Now add your ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant - this shouldn't take long.  Then add in all your spices with the exception of the white peppercorns and fry for another minute or so.  I would only use one black cardamom pod because they are quite intense.  The smell as you are add the spices is unbelievably delicious!  Star anise is one of my favorites and the black cardamom is darkly fascinating.  I'm not quite ready to say that I love it but perhaps with time.

Finally add the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the coriander leaves (cilantro), bring to a boil and add the pork feet back in.  Whoo!  You are almost done.

4) Turn the whole thing down to low, put the lid on and let it brew for as long as possible.  Pork feet are full of tendons and collagen so need low and slow heat to break this all down.  If you rush them you will have a rubbery gross mess.  The recipe calls for four hours of cooking.  I had a nice long bike ride that night ending at 8:30pm so my feet had about seven hours of cooking.

I arrived home starving and tired and a big pot of pork feet sounded quite delicious.  The meat was so soft that it actually fell off the bones (there are many) as I tried to pull the feet out of the pot.  Once I finished fishing all the bits and pieces out I let them cool a little and then took all the bones out.  I only have one thing to say - pig feet are jelly-like and fatty and full of collagen.  While I'm not quite at a point where I can slurp on a whole foot, once it is pulled apart and sitting like a luscious pile of fat on beautiful steamed rice I am pretty happy to eat it all down.

The verdict: I am excited to try pig feet again in the future.  This recipe didn't sell me 100% just because of the black cardamom.  It had such a strong menthol, medicinal flavour that it really overwhelmed the other spices.  If I was going to try this recipe again, I might try it with just one bulb of cardamom or with none.

As a side note - my thrifty Scot self also really likes this recipe because my butcher only charged two bucks a foot.  How can you argue with that?

As well, I fried the pig skin before eating it.  Flabby skin just doesn't sound or feel or taste appealing to me whereas fried pig skin is one of my favourite things.  It could be my favorite thing, besides sweet potato.  So yeah.  I recommend doing that.  I would love to hear about other pig feet experiences.  Do you have a favorite way of cooking with them?  Is braised the best choice?  Do they just seem totally disgusting to you?  Tell me all!


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.