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Comestible Orange Goo: Making Purée from Fresh Pumpkins

2012-10-31 by . 11 comments

A pumpkin, wrapped at its base in a towel, with a meat cleaver halfway through.

It is autumn again, and cooks and bakers go crazy about everything pumpkin. Cream of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream – all of these start out with the same ingredient, a soft mash of pumpkin flesh. And as with so many things, the one you make yourself is much better than the canned version from the store. This raises the question: how do you make a truly concentrated and tasty pumpkin purée?

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Curdling Beans

2012-10-17 by . 0 comments
Inexpensive and nutritious, and the stereotypical staple of vegetarians; few culinary concepts more quickly draw shudders from confirmed omnivores than does tofu.

Don’t shudder. Hear me out.

My first encounter with the snow white curd was while watching an episode of the Cosby show in the early 90’s. A progressive chef added an ingredient to the soup that Dr. Huxtable found abhorrent. An unmelting, white lump. What was this lump and why did Bill Cosby hate it somuch?

Tofu gets a bad rap. Touted as a meat replacement it is abused in everything from “burgers” to “scrambled eggs”. Applications that are as insulting to the unfortunate bean curd as they are to the poor soul who has to eat it.

Soy milk is similar in composition to cow’s milk and like cow’s milk it can be curdled and pressed into a curd. This makes tofu more similar to cheese than meat. Smooth and sweet, with fresh or sometimes nutty, overtones, Tofu is an interesting ingredient in its own right.

I recently found myself the accidental owner of a 25 pound sack of soybeans. Upon learning that they can’t be used in chili I had two options for them: either learn to make tofu or industrial plastics. A quick search revealed that many different ingredients are used to coagulate soy milk. Unlike the acid or rennet that are used to curdle cow’s milk, soy milk is curdled by means of various salts. Some were traditional. Others decidedly not traditional but more convenient. I could find no clear description of the differences in the tofu produced by the various coagulants. I, therefore, took it upon myself to try all of them and save you the effort.

You’re welcome.

The Experiment

  • A fresh batch of soy milk was whipped up and divided into six containers.
  • Each coagulant was dissolved into a small amount of water and mixed into the hot milk.
  • If a curd formed then it was drained and pressed with 2 kilograms of pressure for 2 minutes into a very small block of tofu.

The resultant curd and whey were weighed to make the process extra sciency! The results that matter, however, are entirely subjective. I poked and tasted each curd to determine differences in their flavor or texture.

Despite my best efforts, there are a great many variables that were not controlled for. The texture of tofu is partially dependent on how hard and for how long the curd is pressed. All the samples were pressed for the same time and pressure. Additionally some sources call for different concentrations of the various coagulants. All the samples used the same concentration of coagulant by weight. It is possible that by varying these variables that all the coagulants could have been made more similar.

Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)
Used in cheesemaking to repair homogenized milk structure and in brewing to alter pH.

Where acquired: Local homebrew store
Flavor: Slightly bitter and a bit nutty
Texture:Smooth and moderately tender

Nigari (Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2))
The traditional coagulant in Japanese tofu. It is part of what is left when sodium chloride is removed from seawater. Sometimes seawater itself was used as a coagulant.

Where acquired: The internet
Flavor: Slightly sweeter than other coagulants
Texture:More cohesive

Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate (MgSO4))
Occurs naturally. Named after a spring in the town of Epsom in Surrey, England. Used as bath salts and as a laxative. Don’t worry- we won’t use that much.

Where acquired: Grocery store
Flavor: Slightly bitter compared to other coagulants
Texture:Slightly more cohesive than Nigari.

Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate (CaSO4))
The traditional coagulant in Chinese tofu. It is mined and used for everything from fertilizer to plaster.

Where acquired: Local homebrew store
Flavor: Sweet and ever so slightly chalky
Texture:Very smooth and extremely tender. More like silken tofu.

Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3)
Used as an antacid and chalk.

Where acquired: Grocery store
Flavor: N/A
Texture:Did not form a curd. Milk thickened slightly and became creamier but I could not tell if this was due to coagulation or just the chalk.

Lemon Juice
I hope I don’t need to explain what lemon juice is.

Where acquired: Grocery store
Flavor: Sour
Texture:Formed a grainy feathery curd. Several attempts with various concentrations failed to produce a good tofu.

Rennet
An enzyme used to coagulate mammalian milks. I included this out of curiosity. As expected it had no effect on the soy milk.

Conclusions

Nigari, while more expensive and difficult to obtain, produced the best flavor. A little nigari goes a long way and my 1 pound bag of the stuff will last for years. In a pinch Epsom salts were much cheaper and worked almost as well.

So forgo the tofu burgers and your aunt’s Thanksgiving tofurkey and instead enjoy a delicious stir fry or even pan seared pressed tofu with apples and champagne vinaigrette. Just make sure to choose the right coagulant, because not all tofu is made equal.

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Cherry, berry, nut (4/4)

2012-10-10 by . 0 comments

Berries and nuts

With summer gone, it is time to preserve the last fresh fruits for winter. The last part of the Cherry, berry, nut series will present three more unusual jams, all made from fruit available at this time of the year. While they may not seem as adventurous as the earlier rose petal and shallot jams, they all have a little extra which gives them a more interesting taste than the traditional fruit-boiled-with-sugar. Whether you use them as a homemade gift, or to brighten your own winter days with some fruit taste, they are a delicious treat worth making.

The ideas in the three recipes are not unique to autumn fruit. All three of them – adding nuts to the jam, making a freezer jam, and making a spicy jelly – can be applied to other types of fruit too, depending on what is in season.

Jam with nuts

Ingredients for pear-cranberry-almond jam

There aren’t many ways to add to the texture of preserved fruit. You are basically choosing between jam (a homogenous puree), jelly (juice stiffened to wobbliness) and preserves (pieces of cook-softened fruit embedded in one of the above, or in sugar syrup). If you want something with more bite than cooked fruit, the solution is to use nuts. They won’t stay crispy and crunchy, but their firmness still provides a good counterpoint to the soft jam, and the flavor they bring enriches the already tasty fruit.

You can enhance most jam recipes by adding nuts to them, just pay attention to select compatible tastes. It is always easy to choose classic combinations, for example papaya-pineapple-coconut. But some unusual mixes also provide a very tasty discovery. In the short time pomelos are available in supermarkets here, I always make a pomelo-kiwi-almond marmalade. Today’s jam offers a blend of autumn flavors – cranberry and pear, slightly accented by cinnamon, rounded off with the mild almonds.

Pear-cranberry-almond jam

results pear-cranberry-almond marmalade

  • 50 g almonds, blanched and peeled
  • 500 g ripe pears
  • 100 g fresh cranberries or 30 g candied cranberries
  • 25 ml apple juice
  • 15 ml lemon juice
  • 350 g sugar
  • 3 g ground cinnamon
  • pectin

Peel and core the pears. Cook them with the apple juice and lemon juice until soft. Puree them, add the remaining ingredients and cook until the cranberries split. If using candied cranberries, cook until the jam gels.

Freezer jam

Ingredients for mango melon freezer jam

If you never had freezer jam, you might wonder why somebody would waste freezer space on a food which can be stored in the pantry. The problem is that you have to sterilize jam before storing it in the pantry, thereby cooking the fruit. If you want to enjoy the authentic, fresh taste of the fruit, you have to store uncooked jam in the freezer.

As most other jams, freezer jam works with a variety of fruits. It is best for fruit which changes its taste a lot when cooked (for example, strawberry freezer jam tastes very different from cooked strawberry jam; for even better taste, try strawberry-blackberry freezer jam), or generally for very fresh tastes. The tanginess of the lime in a kiwi-daiquiri jam is much better fresh than cooked. The recipe in today’s post is an example of the former: melon is a fruit whose aroma breaks down quickly under heat, so the mango-melon jam is a prime candidate for freezing.

The recipe as described below should be made with HM pectin, and even then it doesn’t set as hard as usual, because pectin needs some heating to set well. If you prefer a firmer jam, or are using LM pectin, you should first simmer your pectin in a few tablespoons of water or fruit juice and then quickly stir in the hot pectin into the room-temperature jam.

Melon-mango freezer jam

results mango melon freezer jam

  • 200 g mango flesh (ca. 1 big mango)
  • 200 g honeydew melon flesh
  • 200 g sugar
  • 20 ml lemon juice
  • a pinch of fresh grated ginger
  • pectin

Puree the fruit flesh with the lemon juice. Mix the pectin into the sugar. Stir the sugar-pectin mix and the grated ginger into the fruit puree, pour into jars leaving some headroom for expansion and let it stay in the fridge for 3-4 hours, until set. Then move to the freezer for storage.

Spicy jelly

Ingredients for hot orange jam

The combination of spicy and sweet is not for everybody, but it still has ardent fans. Aside from classics like dark chocolate with chile, spicyness combines well with many types of fruit. It is important to remember that your goal is not to make your mouth feel aflame, but to add a new sensation without masking the existing taste of the fruit. Chiles are seldom added to jams, instead they are used to infuse fruit juice which is then processed into jelly or marmalade.

You can combine hot chiles with either fruit (spicy strawberry jelly) or vegetables (spricy green pepper jelly). There is even spicy wine jelly, made with white wine and thyme. Today’s recipe is for an orange marmalade, where the strong flavor holds up well to the hotness of the chile.

I am intentionally vague on the subject of chile peppers in the recipe; the variety and amount you choose will depend on how spicy you want the jelly to be. I would advise you to err on the sweet side, and re-simmer your juice with more peppers if it is not spicy enough for you.

Sharp orange marmalade

results hot orange marmalade

  • 1 kg oranges
  • 100 ml orange juice
  • 1-3 chile peppers
  • 250 g sugar
  • 15 ml lemon juice
  • pectin

Cut the chiles to rings, add them to the orange juice and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the result and throw the chiles away.

Use a grater or a potato peeler to create thick strips of orange peel. Juice the oranges. Mix the chile-infused juice, the fresh juice, the zest strips, the lemon juice and the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the pectin and cook until gelled.

results together

From left to right: Mango-melon freezer jam, pear-cranberry-almond jam, sharp orange marmalade

This post concludes the series on jams and preserves. In a total of four parts, I have shown 11 ways to make jams different. I hope you found them a useful inspiration for your own jam experiments. And if some winter day the cold and the wetness seem to freeze you to the bones, go to your pantry and open a jar of those preserves – they can cheer you up from the dreariest winter depression.

Notes

  1. Not all jams in this series are certain to have the needed acidity for hot water canning! Measure their pH and if it is above 4.5, you can either use pressure canning or keep them in the fridge. For more information on food safety and canning, see this official information on canning safety
  2. I intentionally didn’t include pectin amounts in the recipes. The amount of pectin you use is dependent on the type and brand of pectin you buy. Use the guidelines printed on your pectin package, or learn more about pectin.
  3. If you want a small primer on the difference between jam, jelly and preserves, The Kitchn has a great article.
  4. If you missed the previous posts of the series, they are here, here and here.

Filed under desserts

Cherry, berry, nut (3/4)

2012-09-26 by . 0 comments

Fruit

Fall is replacing summer, and the pantry slowly fills with preserves. The jams of the last two posts from this series give a wide variety of tastes. None of them are conventional — they range from the simple addition of spices to preserving produce most people don’t connect with jam, like bananas or even herbs. This time, only two recipes, but both are adventurous. Not because they are an acquired taste — it was love at first spoonful — but because they are very far from the usual expectation of jam. Don’t let that stop you, though. They are easy to make and delicious.

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No smoker? A $80 grill is enough for tasty pulled pork.

2012-09-19 by . 2 comments

Smoked meat at home

 

Hello! I’m wax, and today I’ll be talking to you about how to make pulled pork using nothing more than a Weber grill and a lot of patience (ok, maybe a few more things, but we’ll get to that). Usually you have a big honking smoker, or at least something more akin to a drum than a grill.

When a smoker is loaded with a heap of coal, it can be left to smolder for hours and will keep a consistent low temperature, while the coals in a grill will instead burn hot and quickly. However, through a bit of research, and some practice, I’ve found that there is a good way to heat my grill to 250°F and sustain it for hours. Using this “snake” method you can limit the amount of charcoal that is lit at any given time, and achieve consistent temperatures for ten hours without adding briquettes.

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Baklava: A Matter Of Layers

2012-09-12 by . 5 comments

The prepared baklava

Baklava is a sweet Middle-Eastern dessert that is associated with a long and tedious assembly process. According to Seasoned Advice user Trey Jackson there is a faster way that is equally good.

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Filed under baking, desserts, experiments

Shoestring Gourmet Part 2: Playing the Grocery Game for Keeps

2012-09-03 by . 2 comments

Shoestring Gourmet Part 2: “Playing the Grocery Game for Keeps”

cheese at the grocery store

 

Hunting grocery deals sounds about as sexy as taxes and laundry; however, purchasing food frugally needn’t just be just for frumpy housewives. I approach it as a game of skill and luck, always played for money. Play well, and you can afford those delicious, locally-raised tomatoes on a rice-and-beans budget! Most people are familiar with the basics: buy store-brand, get bulk discounts, shop stores with better bargains. But, how much of a difference do these strategies make?

To test these strategies, I decided to up my game by building a price book. I hit the road and gathered prices for staple goods at four local supermarkets. Each price book entry included the full facts: store, date, item, brand, quantity, and price. As a proper geek, I organized this into a database for analysis. Let’s find out how common sense advice stacks up.

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Cherry, berry, nut (2/4)

2012-08-15 by . 1 comments

Summer reigns in full glory, and there is juicy, sweet fruit everywhere. Right now, I enjoy it in countless preparations—fruit salads, smoothies, hot pies and cool sorbets—but I know that in the winter, I will still long for this great variety of taste and flavor. Thus, I am making some preserves to last me through the cold season. But I don’t limit myself to old staples such as strawberry jam and apple butter. There is a rainbow of recipes available for fresh, unusual, quirky jams.

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Fancy silpat, traditional parchment paper, or plain baking sheet? We experiment with cookies

2012-08-08 by . 7 comments

Chocolate chip cookies

The accepted wisdom is that cookies baked directly on something other than an ungreased baking sheet will burn less. I tend to use parchment paper for my baking, but I wanted to test how much it really matters. In addition to the bare cookie sheet, I had parchment paper and a silicone baking mat, so I got to making the cookies. more »

Three Books for Every Kitchen: Part 3

2012-08-01 by . 2 comments

Editor’s note: this post is the third, concluding part of a series. The first part reviewed a beginner’s book, New Best Recipe. For an intermediate book, see the review of Ratio.

Ten years after I started to cook, I’m a good cook. I can make the scrambled eggs that troubled me 10 years prior. I make meals without a recipe more often than I use one. When I use a recipe, I’ll liberally make changes and they work. I make 5 course dinners for special occasions, have served dessert for 100, and have cooked on national television. I still use the New Best Recipe and Ratio regularly, but that’s not always what I’m looking for. More often than not, I need inspiration rather than directions.

The Flavor Bible is my favorite book these days. The premise is simple: it’s a thesaurus of flavors. Look up any ingredient and the book lists complimentary flavors, using font to indicate strength of pairing. It is not a recipe book. There are no rules or structure. It’s a reference book more than anything else. There are essays on flavor, pairing, and balance; the book is chock full of beautiful photography; and the world’s greatest chefs (favoring Americans) contribute their favorite flavor pairings for certain ingredients; but that’s all secondary to the lists.

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