Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

A Need for Mead

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

About two years ago, my friends and I got together to make blueberry mead. We combined several pounds of honey, bags of blueberries that we picked ourselves, water, and yeast. Once the fermentation process had begun, we pretty much left it in a carboy in my friends’ basement and forgot about it.

Not many people are all that familiar with mead. And a lot of people who have had mead before usually think of a sticky sweet honey alcohol that you get every year at your local Renaissance Faire. The truth is that mead is a lot more than that. While it can be quite sweet, it can also be dry, fizzy like champagne, and everything in between. It’s also known as “honey wine” which is a good way to think of it because it can be just as complicated as any other wine. The mead we made this time around is a melomel. A melomel is a mead made with honey and any kind of fruit.

We chose to make a blueberry mead because we had access to an amazing crop of blueberries grown by a neighbor in New Hampshire. We wanted a fruit that would add color and flavor. The end result was better then we hoped:

Blueberry Mead 2

As for the flavor, it begins with a slight fruity taste followed by a drier honey taste that has really nice floral notes. I’m not the best at describing tastes, but it’s the kind of drink that you could lightly sip all day and appreciate how good it tastes with every sip. In fact, I had just recently bought a honey wine that I ended up throwing away out of disappointment. It was terrible. This mead, we are hoping to bottle this weekend and have already been discussing how we are going to be able to ration it out until we are able to make some more.

Happy Holidays

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Santa and Kitsu

Curing the bacon

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Preparing the cure and combining it with the pork belly was probably the most fun part of the process for me. This is the part where you can start to get creative if you want. I chose a more mundane route myself, mostly because I wasn’t feeling all that creative yet and I wanted to make sure that I could actually make bacon before experimenting with the recipe.

This first step in this process is preparing a basic cure. This is simply a combination of kosher salt, sugar, and “pink salt.” “Pink” or “Curing Salt” contains sodium nitrate. While some people choose not to use this product when making their bacon, low temperature foods (like bacon) are considered to be in the “danger zone” when is comes to growing bacteria. Curing salts prevents this from happening. And since I believe in that whole “better safe than sorry”-thing, I chose to use the pink salt in my cures.

Once you have your basic cure ready, you can start thinking about the flavors you would like to add to your bacon. Recipes and ideas can be found in books and online, but I chose to follow the recipes in my Charcuterie book. I went with one batch of sweet brown sugar cured bacon, and the other a more savory recipe with garlic, black pepper, and bay leaves. So as not to break any copyright rules, I am leaving out the recipes from the book I used. However, if you are not using any specific book to guide you through the process, there are a million online sources out that there that you can use.

In order to apply the cure, you simply coat all sides of the pork belly with your mixture. It’s just like applying a dry rub, but in my case I poured my cure into a cookie sheet first so that I could get an even coating.

Here we can see what my savory cure looked like once it was on the pork belly:

PA281827

The hard part over, the only thing that was left was to put the pork belly into a ziplock bag and place in the refrigerator for a week. During that time, the meat sweats a bit and creates a liquid int he bag with the meat. Since this liquid needs to be in contact with all sides of the meat, you need to remember to flip the bag over once a day or every other day.

Here you can see the two slabs curing in my fridge. The darker brown one is the brown sugar cure and has already been curing for about 3 days. The lighter is the savory bacon and that one has only been in the fridge an hour or so and has not yet created much liquid.

PA281829

Next time: now what?

Pumpkin, 2 ways

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Pumpkin All Around

This weekend my friends and I hold another one of our Iron Chef battles. Well, perhaps “battle” isn’t the best word to use here. Really they are more like themed ingredient potlucks. Each time we try to challenge ourselves with an ingredient that is going to be a stretch for us without it being something that (in the end) we realize we had no desire to eat that stuff with or without the wacky fun of the event. Trust me, we learned this the hard way with the Spam night that most of us went home hungry or nauseous from.

The ingredient this weekend was squash, any kind you like. Since I was chomping at the bit to give my KitchenAid a go, my contributions were both a pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin spice martini’s.

The cheesecake was made using a Paula Deen recipe from the Food Network website. It was one of the easiest ones I could find, and since I was new to making cheesecake, I didn’t want to push myself over the cream cheese covered cliff.

The “Pumpkin-tinis” were really like drinking candy. So unless you like things like Appletinis and booze that doesn’t take like booze, you best steer clear. But, if you are one of those people who has been wondering why you can’t find more drinks that are the color of traffic cones, then this stuff is for you.

Back to the grind

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The trip to London was so great that I’m almost sad to announce that I have returned to my usual schedule. The good news is that I have returned with lots of goodies and a few new projects in mind.

But rather then spend all my time posting pics of my sightseeing, I give you what might have been one of the best things we ate our entire stay in London…Jam Roly Poly:

PA071750

Jam Roly Poly is a traditional British Pudding made with suet dough. The dough is rolled flat, spread with jam, then rolled into a log shape. I believe our Roly Poly was baked, but in the past it has also been steamed in men’s shirt sleeves, giving it the nickname Dead Man’s Arm.

This Roly Poly was served with a warm custard sauce and a bit of extra jam. The dough itself was chewy rather than spongy. My sister described it best when she said that the dough reminded her of a soft pretzel.

I’m hoping to recreate a reasonable copy of this dessert sometime in the future, though I will need to figure out if this was made with suet or not. Because something tells me, suet might not be all that easy to find. Either way, I am sure that I will be able to find people willing to taste my first few efforts. The hardest part for me is going to be deciding on a jam flavor, unless I can get my hands on some boysenberry preserves this fall.

Bring me the head of that cursed duck!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

In case there are any of you out there wondering how I served the Devil Duckie cake to the birthday boy, please see below:

serving the cake

The Boy was able to get a shot with his phone before mass consumption ensued. The red is raspberry sauce, while the crossed out eyes were just some licorice string. Quite an impressive presentation if you ask me!

Distraction

Friday, September 11th, 2009

I know that I haven’t been the best about blogging lately, but truth be told I have been a little distracted by a new addition to my family. I know that I have been whining for a long time about how my life would never be complete without a dog, but now I have a new furry friend to tide me over. Her name is Danger Mouse and she is one rockin’ chinchilla. See proof below:

Danger Mouse!

That’s her in like her millionth attempt to escape and either explore her new home, or eat my eyeballs… I haven’t figured out which one of those she plans to do yet. What I can say is that I’ve been working pretty hard over the past couple weeks to get her as used to people as possible. It’s my hope to get her tame enough to be handled without her freaking out or losing her hair due to stress. Right now she is pretty content to be petted and surprised me by jumping into my hand for a few moments last night. However, I don’t think it was affection so much as wanting to eat the ribbon on my nightgown.

Devil Duckie Cake

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it around these parts, but back in high school I had an amazing job that allowed me to spend entire afternoons decorating ice cream cakes. Seriously, the days that I was put on cakes were my favorites and I would spend hours in the back room singing the praises of the industrial mixer, brill, and wondering how long it would be before the purple dye would fade from my hands.

When that job ended, I decided to keep making cakes as a hobby. I have now switched to baked cakes (not enough room in my freezer for the cake), and try to keep my cakes quirky and fun. My latest cake was created for my friend Sean’s Birthday BBQ this weekend:

Full On Duckie

This guy here took about six hours to make from start to finish. Mind you, this includes cooling time for the cakes, and making my own frosting and gum paste. I use a boiled frosting because it tastes like marshmallow, but it really isn’t the easiest stuff to work with. If your cake gets too warm, things can get pretty ugly. The bottom of the cake also has some airbrushing done with Wilton’s Color Mist. There was a sour cherry cordial filling between the layers of the bottom tier (the non-duckie) part of the cake. The duck shape was made using a duck shaped pan. I am not that experienced with sculpting yet, and I wanted to make sure this cake worked out.

Overall, I think the little guy was a hit. Now I just wonder what kind of cake I should make next…

PS – If you want to see more angles of the cake, click on the pic to check out my photo stream.

Irn-Bru

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Today we have another treat from the Scottish Heritage Festival. Throughout the day, my friend and I kept seeing people carting away these cases of what I thought was orange soda. Sure, I thought it was strange, but maybe the Scots all just really “wanna Fanta?”

Well, it turns out it wasn’t Fanta, or Crush, or Sunkist, or whatever. Instead it was Irn-Bru (iron brew). It’s blinding brightness was just too strong for my friend to resist and she grabbed a diet one to enjoy with her meat pie. It’s hard to explain what this stuff tastes like, but after one sip, I was pretty content to allow my friend to enjoy this unique taste sensation all by herself. The flavor is a bit citrus-y, but there are so many other flavors mixed in there that it doesn’t last long before your mouth is under a sugary siege of “huh?” At one point I though it reminded me of those times as a kid where I would eat an entire roll of Smarties in one go, at another point the flavor made me think of Red Bull. Later research proved that Irn-Bru has 32 flavor agents, so um yeah…that’s a lot of flavors. No wonder my tongue got so confused.

P8081603

Is there anything else in here other than sugar and butter?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Since my friend grew up in Cornwall, she has attended many highland games in her time and knows a bit about Scottish goodies. Thanks to her, I am able to give you a quick run down of a few popular Scottish sweets.

Let’s start with the most horrifying:
P8081606

Please understand that I am not calling it horrifying because it’s not good. Quite the contrary in fact. It’s deliciously EVIL. One bite of this stuff (which is solid and grainy like penuche or maple candy), and I turned to my friend and asked in dismay “Is there anything in here other than butter and sugar? I’m going to need that artery later.” She just grinned at me and said “Vanilla probably…but that’s pretty much it.”

Bless her heart, she was right!
P8081607

We just forgot the condensed milk. I would imagine you could make this at home pretty easily, but to be honest, just cream together some butter and sugar with a fair amount of vanilla and you are pretty much there. I think this was discovered by someone who was making cookies one afternoon and just gave up a quarter of the way through. Imagine this: “Huh? I’m out of eggs? And flour? I don’t care, you ungrateful little snots are going to eat it anyway. Do you have any idea how hard I had to work to soften that butter?! Besides, we won’t know the dangers of high cholesterol for years anyway. Hopefully we’ll all be dead from heart attacks by then.”

Oh Butter Tablet, if you were a man, I would make out with you then slap you for being so presumptuous!