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living off the land is the wrong goal (for most of us)

August 31, 2011
By admin

 

Now I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but frankly I am weary of the folks that have so devoted themselves to the DIY ethic as though they were still living in an era when there were no stores or available craftsmen with which to trade expertise.  This is not a realistic model of DIY for ANYONE.  I haven’t spent a ton of time on these folks, but it seems to me that they have supported their DIY addiction with a blogging career focused on all their craft.  So more power to them, it looks really great and fun I would love, love, love to be in their shoes, but I am not.  I am just here screaming about how sour the grapes must be…

 

No, my problem is that this is all so typically AMERICAN.  It is so all or nothing.  Either you go to McDonald’s and buy nothing but processed, prepared food OR you live off the land consuming nothing but food grown and animals raised on your 1/6 of an acre.    Either you come home, plug into an electronic device and passively consume entertainment till you go to bed OR you raise bees to collect wax to melt into the candles with which you light your house every other day.  It sometimes feels as though there is no rhetorical middle ground for the person who has an average job, with an average house, that sets aside some ground for some seasonal vegetables to supplement and inform their cooking.

What does the “Taxpayer Garden” look like

May 24, 2011
By admin

This is a nice way to visualize what we subsidize on farms in America.  Lots of big commodity crops.  I’m not going to get all in the weeds about this, but I bet lots of people think that our subsidies look a lot more like the first garden than they really do.

For the record, this is not why we eat lots of junk food, but it doesn’t help, either.

Claussen Pickles Deconstructed – Part One

May 6, 2011
By admin

 

Sometimes all you need is an uninterrupted hour.

I am a huge claussen pickle fan. Huge. All my life.

So I guess this moment was somewhat inevitable.  It generally bothers me when there is a commercial or restaurant food based on “real food” that I can’t replicate to a satisfying degree (i.e. Arrogantly expect to make better than the original. Moving on…) In other words I don’t buy food because it is better than what I can cook but because it is quicker.
So Claussen pickles have certainly been bothering me for some time. I have made several real efforts to replicate their pickles since 2003 or 2004. I have scoured the web for copycat recipes (don’t bother. They’re all wrong.) I have certainly made some decent enough pickles and learned a good bit along the way, but so what?

I want to make my own Claussen pickles!!

So back to my spare hour. A couple of nights ago I went a late night grocery run and among other things picked up a pint of pickle spears.

And I binged.

And the next night I killed off the jar.

Sitting there the second night I was again marveling at the wonder of the flavor of claussen pickles looking at the jar, and it suddenly occurred to me that the answer was sitting in my hand. All the spices that flavor the pickles are just floating around the jar. It was about 8 and the kids were all asleep and there were no pressing tasks at hand (except dishes…) so I strained all of the seasonings out and separated them out by type. The results were fascinating.

First of all, no way I would have guessed that there were 9 different spices floating around in there. I would have guessed 4-6, tops.  And then what was in there beyond garlic and dill seed is totally unexpected, to me:

Cinnamon!!   Bay leaf!!   Fennel seed!!

I confirmed the identity of each spice by pulling some out of my spice drawer and matching them up.  The cinnamon was a total mystery until I took a nibble and then its flavor was unmistakable.

so the list that I have is:

1 tsp chopped garlic

bay leaf
mustard seed
dill seed
fennel seed
chili flakes
peppercorn
cinnamon

You will correctly notice that the light brown spice on the left is unmatched.  It remains unidentified, and I am not sure how to go about it at this point.  The taste test was interesting though.  It was tasteless and had the texture of an almond shell, really hard, really tasteless, strange.  I blew it up so you can look more closely and figure it out for me.  It’s right below the dark brown cinnamon

That just leaves the matter of how much salt, vinegar and calcium chloride to put into the brine and what temperatures to cure this.   But my uninterrupted hour is up and we will tackle that in the next post!

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mexifuku

April 27, 2011
By admin

It is time to get this out there, it’s been stewing long enough in my head. I’m gonna start by saying that David Chang of Momofuku deserves every bit of his fame and I have drunk deeply from the well of his cooking philosophy, which is roughly: make some stuff that taste really freaking good from whatever inspiration you find. But he wouldn’t have said, “stuff”, or, “freaking”. He usually does this by hitting the sweet, salt, fat + aromatic combos hard on all fronts.

After introducing the Momofuku ginger scallion sauce to some friends of mine, having gone on and on and on about it on Facebook and elsewhere, especially after having made “asian tacos” like this one night:

My friend and I got to talking about ways to modify it, adding some heat, cooking the scallions, etc. but mostly within the frame of Asian flavors. The next day during my drive home, I started thinking about taking a similar flavor profile: allium + aromatic + oil + salt + robust + acid – and reforming it with Latin flavors. It all just started to fall together in my mind and I got really excited on the drive home. I started with scallions as the base, thought to replace ginger with cilantro & cumin and substitute lime juice for vinegar. I wasn’t entirely sure about the role of soy, but that seemed like an umami-type contribution, and a small amount of tomato & garlic seemed to be the right thing to do. I am perhaps a little embarrassed to admit at this point, but I was so excited about this that I started getting breathless. I just pulled off unexpectedly at a grocery store running around getting the basic ingredients, raced home just FREAKING OUT!! I had like 13 minutes until I had to leave my house to pick up some of the kids and I just whipped out a small sample using the above ingredients plus some jalapeno peppers from the gardens. I slapped a corn tortilla with some cheddar cheese on the stove top and when melted, slathered on some sauce and WHOA!!! It was unbelievable. 4 tortillas later, I was shouting and eating the stuff directly. I had to meet my wife for the child pickup and transfer, and I started breathlessly telling her about it and she made me promise to save some for her when she got home 2 HOURS LATER!! Amazingly enough, I did save some, and she went nuts as well, which is always a good sign.

I was afraid that I had oversold it a bit, so I just remade a double batch last night (really, there must be a better way to chop scallions, but the Cuisinart is no good at this task) and it was still tremendous. Gave some to a coworker with a much more discriminating palate than my own and he was impressed as well.

mexifuku taco with cheddar and pulled pork

So there you go: Mexifuku Sauce. I strongly recommend that you eat this with tacos prepared from corn tortillas in frying oil (greasy taco shells just makes this amazing) along with some rice, beans, but avoid guacamole (it masks the aromaticity)

Enjoy.

2 ½ cups thinly cut scallions
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ teaspoon cumin (or more to taste)
¼ cup corn oil (or other neutral oil)
2 tablespoons finely, finely chopped tomatoes
½ teaspoon chopped jalapeno pepper.
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
½ tablespoon lime juice (i.e 1 ½ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Rich people and cooking

April 15, 2011
By admin

I love cooking. obviously.  My passion for cooking has clearly bled into this site, though the garden remains the heart of why I cook.  It is where food begins.  But as much as I pursue better and better cooking, one thing that inevitably turns me off is the intersection between wealth and food/cooking.  I am sure that I sound obnoxious when I talk about cooking or food sometimes, I definitely grant that.  But what turns me off about wealth + cooking is that greater degrees of wealth facilitate greater degrees of fancy.  obsessions with increasingly rare ingredients, increasingly specialized pieces of equipment, increasingly complex and ornate preparations.  I have no problem putting some time into my cooking and preparations, but I have three kids, a tight budget and no one to clean my dishes.  I want to remain true to that and prepare food that pretty much anyone could prepare regardless of their budget.  And honestly, I think that most of my food matches that criteria.

sugar is an artificial sweetener

April 14, 2011
By admin

This fantastic article by Gary Taube in the New York Times is an excellent summary of the best thinking about why sugar is bad for your health and might bear a large share of responsibility for the obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and even cancer epidemics that are all a part of the 20th century.  This is a really well written article, and acknowledges the criticisms of this body of work and what we don’t know.  But if you want to know why people worry about added sugar in our diet, read this article.

It also raises the related point.  Sugar is not a natural sweetener.  I define natural as something that can easily be gotten from a garden or nature directly and added to food.  Up until the middle 19th century, sugar was quite rare.  Not until the massive sugar cane farms in the Hawaiian Islands were developed and processes to extract a cube of sugar from an entire plant were perfected, did we have readily available sugar.  Sugar is a purified, refined, crystallized chemical and it bears remembering that.