Savory cornmeal pancakes from flint corn, backyard greens

15 Jan

For a savory brunch, we made cornmeal pancakes from some beautiful Floriani red flint corn my sister grew and ground:

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I took a ‘Johnnycakes’ approach, which is more like a thin griddled cornbread or polenta, with no baking powder or flour. The general recipe (made 12 hearty pancakes, for 4 adults + 2 kids with toppings):

  • Mix 2 cups of cornmeal, 2 cups boiling water, and 1 tsp salt, stir and cover for 10 minutes, to let the hot water soften the cornmeal
  • Stir in  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup milk, gradually, stopping when it’s a very thick but spreadable batter (when I did this a few months ago and added too much milk, the batter was too runny and I ended up making thin crisp corn wafers).
  • Mix in 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • Cook in an oiled skillet on medium-low to medium heat, flipping when golden brown. I found it took about 4 minutes per side.

I made test pancakes with and without egg in the batter, and the one with egg and a bit more liquid made a thinner, smoother, more traditional-looking pancake (on the right)– but while both were delicious we preferred the texture of the eggless, thicker version on the left:

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We served them with a buffet of savory toppings– black-and-white orca beans, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, avocado, and a collection of beautiful greens from the back yard ‘winter garden’ (which in Oakland has been just hugging the edge of frost at night)– mizuna, broccoli greens, kale, arugula, daikon greens, and some oregano and thyme, sautéed with caramelized red onions and garlic. The daikon greens have been a surprisingly good addition to many sautés– they give off a puff of mustardy spice when you first start to cook them but then mellow out.

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This quick cell phone photo of a plate doesn’t make it look especially appealing, but this was a delicious (and relatively simple) combination I’d make again:

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Paletas (lime-mezcal-chili and toasted coconut)

7 Jan

Reflecting recently how much I like a good paleta (Mexican popsicles, often made with fresh fruit and a little sweetener), I picked up a few molds and a book for inspiration.

And then for a New Year’s Eve party I made two flavors: toasted coconut and lime-mezcal-chili. The latter used limes, cayenne peppers, and limequats from our back yard (the limequat is the edible kumquat-sized citrus sliced thin and frozen into the paleta below, mostly for appearance):

 

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These were easy and successful…

Lime-mezcal-chili paleta (makes about 10 regular-size):

  • Infused lime-chili syrup (bring the following to a simmer for 5 minutes and then cool and strain):
    • 2 cups water
    • zest of three medium limes
    • One small 2″ long green cayenne pepper from the garden, including seeds
    • 3/4 cups brown sugar (I was out of white sugar, but would use it next time to keep the color lighter)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • One thin-sliced limequat for every two paletas
  • a pinch of red chili flake (chinese chili) per paleta

I loved the way these turned out– with our Bearss limes the result is quite tart (which is good), and there’s just a hint of pepper heat. The mezcal adds some smokiness and a bit of liquor flavor while still being little enough alcohol that the paleta freezes (I estimate this works out to about 1/6th of a beer’s worth of alcohol per popsicle, so it’s not going to get anyone tipsy).

The red chili flake did tend to all settle to the bottom or float to the top, so if I did this again I might infuse it into the syrup and then strain it out, or try freezing the paletas for an hour to a slushy form and then mixing in the chili flakes, on the theory they’d stay more distributed.

Toasted coconut paleta (makes about 12 regular size):

(I based this on the ‘quick coconut paleta’ recipe in the book above)

  • One can (14oz) coconut milk
  • One can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded coconut, toasted in a 300F oven for just 2-3 minutes until golden brown

These were pretty good– they had an amazingly creamy texture, and I like the toasted coconut. They were sweeter than I  like, so if I did it again I’d put in significantly less sugar (maybe half as much condensed milk, and more coconut milk) and buy or make coarser shredded coconut (and use less of it) for some more variation in texture.

 

New Year’s Day chilaquiles and carnitas

2 Jan

The best part of having leftover pulled pork and salsa from New Year’s Eve dinner?

New Year’s Day carnitas chilaquiles (tortilla chips soaked in tomatillo salsa, topped with fatty pulled pork that’s been crisped under the broiler and mixed with a little orange juice, and a fried egg):

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BBQ pork tacos with smoked salsas

1 Jan

For a small New Year’s Eve party, a meal cooked primarily in the smoker (tacos with pulled pork, homemade tortillas, and salsas made from smoked tomatillos and pineapples):

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23-hour slow-smoked pork shoulder:

  • A roughly 7lb chunk of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) from Niman Ranch
  • Dry rubbed with copious amounts of salt and mustard, smoked paprika, and black pepper and let rest in the fridge for 4-5 hours
  • Smoked very low-and-slow at 215-225F for 23 hours over lump charcoal with some fist-sized chunks of apple and pecan wood for smoke, until the internal temperature was in the 195-200 range (for overnight smokes I have a ‘baby monitor’-style wireless temperature probe I rest on the bedside so an alarm will ring and wake me up if the pit temperature gets too high or low and I can adjust the airflow or add fuel)
  • No intermediate basting, mopping, foiling, etc– just keeping it simple
  • Wrapped in foil and let rest for 45 minutes
  • It was so tender I could pull off strands by hand, and with a nice ‘bark’ and smoke ring…

img_20161231_134805It didn’t even need any sauce– I just squeezed a few limes over it.

Smoked tomatillo salsa, a puree of both smoked and raw ingredients:

  • 8 large tomatillos, smoked/roasted at about 225F for two hours
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole jalapeno
  • 1/4 of a large white onion
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Salt and minced cilantro to taste

I’ve tried a few ways of using smoked tomatillos and this is the highlight for me– I’ve even frozen excess in ice cube trays to save for later:

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Smoked pineapple salsa:

My friend judit turned me on to how well smoking treats pineapple– the low slow cook caramelizes it, and this sweetness helps balance the woody smoke.

I started by slicing two pineapples into discs and smoking / roasting them at 225F for two hours (at the same time as the tomatillos and pork– in the initial, smokier two hours). I pureed:

  • One of the pineapples
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • juice of 1 lime

And then added for texture/contrast:

  • The other pineapple, somewhat coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

The meal turned out really well, if I may say so myself.

Plus, we had a lot of tomatillo salsa and pulled pork left over the next day for breakfast…

Umeshu-inspired Pluot Liqueur

20 Nov

This one’s a success– a slightly sweet, tart, fragrant liqueur made from unripe green pluots (in the vein of umeshu) that stimulates the taste buds. Good on the rocks or mixed with a bit of soda water:

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This wasn’t where I’d started– instead, this summer I was thinking about how I loved the flavor of Japanese pickled plums* (umeboshi). While I didn’t have a line on green ume plums in the Bay Area, Hannah had a tree covered in green pluots in her backyard– perhaps those could be used similarly? And once I decided to pickle some pluots, why not also try to make a pluot liqueur along the lines of umeshu?

 

I started from a few magazine articles and blog posts, including Umamimart’s past posts about making umeboshi and umeshu, but unfortunately, the salted pluots didn’t turn out well (too salty, not enough flavor– the much-larger-than-ume pluots may have drastically changed how the salt worked its way into the fruit)… while the umeshu side project was a surprise hit.

Starting off, the right three jars combine green pluots, sugar, and vodka, trying out ratios of 50% of the pluot weight in sugar, 25%, and 10% (50% is more traditional, but I like things on the less sweet side).

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After just a few days– the pluots were changing color, and to my surprise, appearing to naturally ferment (based on the smell and the bubbling), even when submerged in alcohol. (The left jars are the less successful pluot umeboshi with red shiso leaf.)

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A month or two later, the liquid around the pluots continued to deepen in color, though the vodka taste was still a bit harsh:

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Everything I read suggested you want to wait at least 6 months (and even better, a year) for the flavors to mellow and meld. Five months later I couldn’t resist giving the 25%-sugar-ratio one a try, and all the harshness was gone– it was balanced, delicious, even a bit floral. I’ll stow away some bottles to age for the next 6-18 months, and look forward to drinking it over ice next summer when the weather turns warm again…

 

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* I realize that Japanese ume are not technically plums, but are a distinct fruit in the Prunus genus, along with plums and apricots

Reverse Seared Steak

18 Nov

After years of successfully cooking steak in a traditional way (salted a few hours ahead of time, then high heat on a grill or a skillet on the stovetop followed by a 5-10 minute rest), I gave the “reverse sear” technique a try.

The general idea is to bake / roast the steak at lower temperature until it’s almost done, then rapidly sear each side on a hot grill. The slower, lower-temperature cook should uniformly get the steak to the desired medium-rare level, while the sear browns the outside for flavor– but with less of a gradient from the surface to the inside (and without requiring any special equipment like a sous vide).

After trying this a few times, a simple weeknight compromise in the level of effort that works for me is to set up a grill for indirect cooking (fire on one side, steaks on the other) at around 275, roast the steaks with the lid closed until they’re at about 115F internal temperature (20-30 minutes), take them out and let them rest 10-15 minutes while I open the vents and crank the grill up to high temperature (500F), then sear a minute or so on each side (internal temp 125).

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The end result of the best attempt– beautifully done, tender, and delicious:img_8659img_8663

I wouldn’t say I’m a convert to *always* cooking it in this way, or am convinced it automatically makes a better steak– but it works well and does give a bit more latitude in the timing, where plus or minus 1 minute doesn’t rapidly take you past medium-rare.

In the future I’m curious to combine this with some fruit woods as a way to lightly smoke a steak, since it’s in the grill for longer than a traditional hot-seared steak.

Homemade Gin from Foraged Sticks, Flowers, and Berries

13 Nov

This summer we spent 5 days backpacking in and around the stunning Caribou Wilderness.

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Inspired by my past brewing with foraged plants (yarrow, mugwort) in lieu of hops, an afternoon vermouth class, and following Pascal Baudar‘s photos– everywhere I looked I saw components for beer, gin, or vermouth– such as sap and wild yeast on freshly-opened pine cones:

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Or juniper branches and berries in gnarled old trees overlooking glacial ponds:

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dscf0944Back home a few days later, I unloaded my foraging bag:

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I decided to try to make both a vermouth (more on that in the future) and a gin, using only alcohol and things collected in the woods. Older methods of gin production involve alcohol that’s distilled so the vapor passes through a basket of botanicals (notably including juniper berries) before re-condensing– but not having a still I decided the simpler approach of a cold infusion into a neutral spirit was good enough.

I submerged eight potential components (coyote mint, pine sap, juniper bark and berries, green manzanita berries, fresh pine tips, not-yet-open pine cones, and yarrow flowers) in both jars of vodka and jars of fortified wine (white wine bumped to 19% ABV with brandy, for vermouth):

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I had no idea what would taste good and what would be distasteful or overly bitter, or how strong a flavor would come from of each component over time, so rather than throwing everything into a jar with vodka and hoping for the best, I decided to infuse each component separately and then blend them to taste later (accepting that I’d throw away some of the vodka from the stronger-tasting components). If I were planning to do this again, I could record the ratio that tasted good and then directly infuse that mix of components– but even then I’d expect every individual pine cone, branch, and handful of berries to be a bit different.

Every few days I smelled and tasted each jar, straining them at anywhere from 3 days to 4 weeks as flavors developed and before they got too bitter. The pine sap smelled and tasted horrible within days so I poured it out, but everything else produced a distinctive and interesting (if sometimes harsh or intense) flavor.

Finally, about three months later, I tasted each of the infused vodkas again side by side. Some had taken on significant color:

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I tried a few different mixtures at thimbleful scale to balance components with powerful aromas and/or tastes, and found a nice ratio that relied heavily on juniper berry and green manzanita berry, with a moderate addition of pine cone, yarrow flowers, and juniper branches, and just a touch of pine needles (harshly pine-y) and coyote mint (a lovely mint but very strongly flavored).

Without a re-distillation step it’s not transparent, but I think this is an attractive bottle of homemade alcohol– and it will always remind me of walking through those woods with a compass:

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