Friday, July 31, 2009

Beer City



Here is how I spent my afternoon.

I am bottling the Oaked Whiskey Porter for my brothers wedding. The Hefeweizen was bottled a few days ago and the Golden Ale will be meeting up with the Pinot Grigio and oak in a few days from now.

Good times.

Better drinking.

If you are coming to Kyle's wedding you are going to score. If not...tough.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Homemade Mustard



So yesterday I got the idea that I wanted to make mustard, I mean how hard can it be right? Jeremy and I were at Fred Myer at the time so we went over to the bulk food section and picked up 1/4 pound of mustard seeds. Then we came home and I googled home made mustard. Every site I saw said something different! Some said never heat mustard seed or you will loose the flavor, others had you heating the mustard seeds in the recipe. Another one even told you to microwave them! So many choices, what was I to do? Well, I thought, in the spirit of Jeremy, I would choose the one recipe that had beer in it. :)

Here is the recipe I more or less followed. I made a few changes here and there and a substitution or two. So far it looks good but I haven't tasted it yet. You have to refrigerate it for a few days to let the flavors mingle and get to know one another and to let them mellow out. I'll let you know how is tastes next week.

Hot Summer Nights



It is midnight.

It is 89 degrees in my house.

There is no wind at all.

I have no A/C (I live in Washington...it doesn't get hot here you know...)

I'm hot.

I went digging in the freezer for some ice cubes and ran upon a bag of ice pops. Generic ones. Ones like in Nicaragua where you can almost taste the green #68 and yellow #9846 and you don't care at all. Ones that bring back a thousand and one warm nights of summers long past.

Like edible memories.

I don't know where they came from.

I don't care at the moment. Probably my awesome wife.

I haven't been this happy with a surprise find in a long time.

It is the simple things in life.

Now, if you will excuse me, the electric blue one is calling my name...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bring On The Brushetta

There are fewer things greater to eat during the summer growing season than the most popular American version of brushetta. I am of course referring to the classic combination of tomatoes, basil and garlic over a piece of simple bread. In case you were wondering, bruschetta originally meant nothing more than a piece of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and covered in olive oil, salt and pepper. Many variations have come to be loved by people the world round, but here in the good ol' USA we seem to think that the definition of the dish is the way we make it. No matter. It is a good way to do it.

The problem with most American brushcetta is that it is made with poor ingredients, over salted, undersalted, drowned in olive oil, drowned in some other kind of oil, placed on soggy bread, filled with to much garlic, etc. In other words, most brushetta is not that appealing. the key is to get good ingredients and then treat them right. Let them be the star of the show.

Here we have the first tomato "harvest" of the season as well as some Genovese basil and purple striped garlic. All three from the garden:



These were chopped up and mixed with a bit of Costco's surprisingly good extra virgin olive oil and precisely 5 drops of an amazing bottle of balsamic vinegar that my sister in law got as a gift and is letting us "borrow." After the preliminary test I was convinced this needed no salt and no pepper...it was perfect.

I should mention at this point the importance of tasting food during the cooking process. This is essential. Not tasting food during the cooking process is like painting a canvas without pausing to make sure you are still on the canvas at all. Taste your food. If it stinks fix it. If you get to a point in the making of a dish and it tastes great to you then stop. If not keep pushing the envelope a bit. In cooking there is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing...unless you are talking about sausage or something. Remember being a kid and thinking you could paint all the colors of the rainbow, be a real Picasso, with just one brush stroke if you just put all the paints on the brush at one time? Don't lie to your self. Every time it came out looking like you had just dipped your brush into peanut butter instead of paint. The color was always mostly indistinguishable and unimpressive. So to with food that is mercilessly killed with to much of anything.

Here is how ours turned out:



There was only enough for a few bites a piece, but we were left satisfied and hungry for more. The perfect dish.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What Sausage Is Good For

Derek, a friend and former youth group leader (almost in a past life), and I got reconnected on Facebook recently (yes, make your snide, cruel, and relentless attacks...I have joined the thronging masses). We had not seen or spoken to each other in over 10 years and he just happens to be in town. Seeing as I was still trying to figure out how to become an orthopedic surgeon...or...failing to do that...become a member of Aspen's ski patrol last time we talked (hey...I was 19...at least I didn't want to be an Indian any more...ok...that was a lie...I still want to be an Indian) we had a lot of catching up to do. Meeting up at a local restaurant we quickly found out that we share a few key passions...namely food and beer (big shock I know). We retired quickly to the house and promptly tried one of every beer I had left in my beer closet. While reminiscing and getting all kinds of beer-chemistry-nerd-like I happened to mention that I had 16 pounds of pork shoulder sitting in my fridge waiting to be turned into sausage and asked Derek if he would care to join me.

Derek is no fool and happily agreed.

Now, there is no crazy 56 piece gallery of pork grinding glory this time around. The beauty of making sausage, one of the many beauties, is that it is so wicked simple. There is no great art to it really. It is hard to screw up and...well...its sausage...who wouldn't stick it in their mouth?!? I decided to get all kinds of ambitious however and make six, yes 6, kinds of sausage. Here was my recipe sheet:



On the list were:

- Merguez - A Moroccan lamb sausage...made with pork...all irony included.
- Hot Italian
- Sage and Ginger Breakfast
- Chorizo
- Roasted Pasilla
- Vietnamese

Derek was enthralled, as is plainly evidenced here:



You can't buy or fake that kind of contemplative bliss/focus. This was a man who, like everyone else that makes sausage for the first time, was simply lost in the genius/insanity that is sausage making. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth round he commented something to the effect of:

"Dude, you have completely revitalized my desire for sausage. I am reinvigorated to cook. You are the best guy in the whole world."

Ok, the last one he didn't even remotely say, nor is it remotely true, but the other ones he did say. I was moved, touched, and driven to make even more people feel the same way.

We spent a lot of time talking about just how good food is and how crazy it is that as God's image bearers we find it to be so. There is no reason to enjoy food as much as we do. There is no reason to enjoy art, mountains, rivers, or country music either (yes, the latter is growing on me...I've got to entrench myself in Nashville culture you know). While the problem of evil is a difficult one for people of all worldviews to cope with (yes, including you), beauty, enjoyment, and the things in life that give us the most pleasure are no simpler to deal with.

In the Christian tradition God created everything good. Man screwed it up royally (by eating something I might add), but not completely. This is a good thing. Common grace abounds and we see the goodness of creation around us constantly. According to the bible God is in the process of putting the world to rights. One day this job will completed. Until that time we are left with glimpses of things to come. The smile of a child on a carousel, the man who jumps into a burning building to save a neighbor and succeeds, and (I'm completely not joking here) a fantastic sausage sandwich are all things that bring us a certain kind of inexpressible joy. That these things are merely a foreshadow of the reality to come is mindbendingly cool.

I could go on, but I won't. It's rad, that's all.

I am now in the possession of 15 pounds of sausage and mere months before the move to Nashville. My wife, always the rational and thinking one of the family pointed out that this would be the predicament just as I hefted the pork shoulder onto the cart at the market with reckless abandon.

"Don't worry" I told her "we'll have lots of people over before then and they'll help us devour it."

Don't make me a liar.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Philosophy Of Eating

This was so good I had to share it. I read it at the library and then read it twice upon arriving home. These few paragraphs do more to explain some of my own philosophy of cooking and eating than I have ever seen in print. They come from the intro to the book 'The Kitchen Diaries' by Nigel Slater.

"Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief - an the point of this book - that this is the best recipe of all. A crab sandwich by the sea on a June afternoon; a slice of roast goose with applesauce and roast potatoes on Christmas day; hot sausages and a chunk of roast pumpkin on a frost- sparkling night in November. These are meals whose success relies not on the expertise of the cook but on the more basic premise that this is the food of the moment - something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate, when the ingredients are at their peak of perfection, when food, the cook and the time of year are at one with each other.

...It is about seasonality, certainly, but also about going with the flow, cooking with the natural rhythm of the earth.

Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable. Our culinary seasons have been blurred by commerce, and in particular by the supermarkets' much vaunted idea that customers want all things to be available all year round. I don't believe this is true. I have honestly never met anyone who wants to eat a slice of watermelon on a cold March evening, or a plate of asparagus in January. It is a myth put about by the giant supermarkets. I worry that today it is all too easy to lose sight of food's natural timing and, worse, to miss it when it is at its sublime best."

Sheer genius. I can't wait to read/cook through this book.



Just to prove his point, here are some stuffed squash blossoms awaiting their shot at jumping in egg, breadcrumbs and hot oil. It would be both improbable and impossible to eat these things even a few months from now. But today, they are pure gold. I'll post some ideas on how to use these bits of natural greatness later.

Food is rad.

Books and libraries are awesome.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Of The Season



Now, I know some of you people have been eating fresh tomatoes from your garden or the garden of someone else for a while now (read: all three readers in Tennessee), but we here in the frozen northland are only getting into the season. This week we had our first tomato harvest. The above picture was our total take. Alexis and I killed it in one bite a piece.



It was super tart, but the sweet goodness of things to very promptly come...and in our case overwhelm...was evident. It was a great few seconds of eating and looking at each other knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Yes, my daughter is only 4, but she knows produce and she especially knows a good tomato.

When we were done with our paltry, but pleasing snack we talked for a while about how cool it is going to be in a few weeks when we have dozens of tomatoes ready to eat every day.

Quite possibly the only was to make gardening better is doing it with your kids.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hopz



In the last week our hop vines have gone from zero to hero. It really defies belief to watch these things grow. Putting off flowers (aka - hops...the bittering agent in beer) seems to be just as fast as the vine growth.

This picture was taken out our window...15 feet up in the air. Other hop vines hit the underside of the roof long ago and are now trying to climb the shingles. Needless to say, this year might be a good hop harvest. With prices in the range of 5 dollars for two ounces I am looking at a lot of free money.

Guess I'll have to make more beer.

Bummer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flowers

I know, most are not edible, and this is a food blog. But next to those wonderful vegetables in our garden grow cosmos, marigolds, and bachelor buttons.



And while I thoroughly enjoy all the wonderful edible produce, I think I might like the flowers better. (Don't tell Jeremy!) They are just so pretty and make the house feel fresh and clean. This is the first little bouquet of the season.

Good To Great

Supposedly there is a really great book on management by the same title as this post. I have not read it. I'm not one cut out for corporate management. Big shock I know.

The title came to mind however when talking to a friend about what makes great chefs great. I'm sure there are many, many things, but one big thing is taking something and making it a little bit better.

Yesterdays lunch will serve as a good example. I should note that I do not consider myself great or even a chef. I just learn from them.

Here is a classic American lunch:



Note that it is a notch above a regular quesadilla in that I am using Tillamook cheese. No, this is not the pinnacle of cheddar, but it is one of the biggest bangs for your buck in the food world. Even with the Tillamook we have a simple food. A good food. But what does it take to make this better? How difficult is it? Not very.



Here is the same quesadilla. Within 5 minutes I had picked, cleaned, and/or cut everything here. Pork (from dinner a week ago), chives, cilantro, a bit of thyme, freshly ground black pepper, some chipotle chilies (leftover from the chili), and basil.

Now, I know you might not have an herb garden. My point is not to show off what I have, but to spurn you on to always ask what else you could add to make the dish pop. Even if it is only a small pop. Think of leftovers not as gross things you should probably eat to save a few bucks, but rather:

A) ready made dishes for improvising on.
B) ingredient sources for new dishes.

Push thy self.

The quesadilla was great by the way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Chili, meet sausage."



I had a bunch (4 pounds) of bulk sausage hanging out in my fridge from random sources. I pointed this out to my wife. Being the loving, thoughtful wife that she is, she pointed out that this is an odd problem to have.

"Most people don't have random sausage just laying around."

True.

But I did. I also had to make something for a church meeting.

There was only one thing that came instantly to mind...

'How cool would it be to make chili out of all sausage?!?"

Cool indeed.

Here is how it went down.



Seeing as 'chili' connotes using chilies I figure it is the star of the show. This being the case I can see no reason to use pre-ground chili powder. A big reason is that red stuff you usually use is bland, stale, and not wholly chili powder. The best thing about making your own is how insanely simple it is. Seriously...you can do this.

For this batch we have (from left to right) Chipotles in adobo sauce (these go in later and don't get dried), New Mexico, Negro, California, and Poblano.

Here is what you do to them:



That's right, put their proverbial feet to (in my case) the proverbial fire. Put your burner on high, grab some tongs, hold the pepper over the heat 6 inches. Turn when it starts to smoke.

That simple. You don't want to scorch these things into charcoal, but do get them toasted well.



Rip the tops off and get any loose seeds out of the chilies. If you are particularly sensitive to heat you can get all the seeds out, but don't worry about it to much. Tear the chilies into a blender or food processor. As you can see I am doing all of mine at the same time.



This is what I ended up with. It smells and tastes even better than it looks. It stays fully flavorful for a few weeks if sealed well. I used almost all of this (over half a cup) though so I wont have it around for long. Once you start making your own you will never go back. You might also find yourself obsessing over the different characteristics of certain chilies and how to make your mix just right...but then you'll be able to join the club.



After browning the sausage I dumped it into the strainer and got most of the fat off it. I then added it back to the pot and threw in some diced onion and a head, yes head, of garlic. Seven tablespoons chili powder, three tablespoons cumin, two tablespoons crushed coriander.



I'll be honest, I just added this picture because I was so proud of myself. See, I HATE (yes, hate) chunks of warm tomato. Gross, sick, nasty, barf...you get the point. As a sauce I am a big fan. All I had was a can of whole tomatoes. With a little thought I figured my hand blender might work to puree the tomatoes right in the can. It was perfect. The entire 28 ounce can went in.

This would be a good point to get on a bit of a cooking soapbox in general and a chili soapbox in particular. If you want to cook better learn techniques, not recipes. Learn how to put flavors together and methods of cooking. Read recipes, but ALWAYS think outside of the box, even if you have all the ingredients. By forcing yourself to do this you will improve quickly. Taste everything and taste it often. Modify as needed. Savor food, both yours and others, however chic or ghetto, and figure out why it tastes good/bad. You cannot screw up with something like chili very easily. Just look at some award winning recipes and you'll soon figure out that there are some pretty crazy ideas. Most of them work. Be willing to fail.

Go big or go to McDonald's.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to put the soapbox away.



Yep, beer. Always add liquids that bring something to the party. Beer works incredibly well. This particular beer is my newest, a Belgian Sasion called 'I'm Mostly Belgian Myself'. I have yet to even drink one of these. I was bottling it before I made the chili and had some leftover. Beer, meet chili.

This is also when 5 chipotle chilies were diced and added to the mix along with a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar, a bunch of black pepper, and a cup of homemade pork stock.



And here is the bean addition. A pound of freshly cooked kidney beans. Beans are insane cheap dried, taste 1,000,459 times better than canned, and are really simple to make. Try it sometime and you'll thank me.

No, there is no parting shot. I had to rush off to the meeting. How was it? Thanks for asking. It was really good! I'll be trying homemade sausage next time...probably some smoky chorizo.

Cook some chili this summer. I'll be making a lot more of it. Go crazy or don't, but cook.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh Yeah?!? What Did YOU Have For Lunch?

I ate a big breakfast and thus decided to pass on lunch.

Then I changed my mind.

I am in the process of making a chili for a church gathering right now and I got hungry...shocking I know. I would give some secrets away about the chili, but two out of the whopping 5 people who read this blog are going and I dont want to give it away. The only hint is that the meat part of the chili is pure sausage. Can I get an 'amen'!

Rooting around for something to eat I fell upon these three items:



Basil (Thai and Cinnamon), Bush Beans, and Purple Stripe garlic. All from our garden. What more could a hungry person need? I would say sausage...but I put it all in the chili and now I'll have to make a bunch more. Poor me.

Here is how I combined these three stellar backyard products.

- Dab of bacon fat (you really didnt think I was going to leave the pig out of this thing did you?)

- Green beans in over medium heat. I should add that one of the greatest parts about having your own garden is that you decide when to pick stuff. Beans are a great example. In the store they are big and tough, but you can pick them young and tender. People and chefs pay a ton for them this way because it does not make economic sense to pick them small, but they are so amazing. If you have big beans you should blanch them first in order to soften them up a bit.

- When heated through add basil and garlic.

- A minute or so later add 5 or 6 drops of good balsamic.

- Stir and plate quickly.

- Top with a few paper thin slices of Romano cheese.

- Scarf.

Five minute meal from heaven.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The First Berries Of Summer

The northwest is some of the most insane berry growing territory in the U.S. Entire town's economies revolve around them, people obsess over them like some of you obsess over just who really wants to be a millionaire, and they are to be found in almost every nook and cranny. One of those nooks (or crannys if you will...just where did that term come from?!?) is our parking lot. Blackberries grow wild and grow well.

Those of you that know me know I love free food. Finding it, picking it out of the ground (not so much out of the garbage), or being given it is a great pleasure. Therefore something as wonderful as free and über-local blackberries are truly enjoyed in the Meeks homestead.

These berries will not be in their prime for another month, but today we found a small handful of berries that got confused and ripened early:



No problem....our gain:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Beef...It Was For Dinner



There are times in this life when words are superfluous. This seems to be one of those times.

London broil.

Mesquite smoked to 100F.

Grilled over direct heat to 135F (med-rare).

Sides: French bread, Zucchini and baby green beans lightly sauteed in bacon fat and pimentón.

P.S. - I should also mention that it made an insane sandwich with Marjorie's toasted bread, dijon, tomato and onion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Garlic From Our Garden

As I have established in previous posts garlic is awesome. But there is much I have not shared about this wonderful little plant.

Most of us only know soft neck garlic. This is the white stuff we find in almost every store. This is good stuff, I don't want to knock it. There is something to be said for diversity however and that is where hard neck garlic come in. There are many different types and you don't really care so I wont bore you. All you need to know is that we just harvested our crop of purple stripe hard neck this week.

Here are a few pictures of the harvest and drying:



We planed this stuff last September. I was sure it was going to come to nothing, but was heartened when I saw the first shoots coming up. Now it is huge and the bulbs grew well.



These things are really big. Jake is a good prop. As you can tell, he's nearly as stoked as his dad to have something so cool come out of his garden.

Some parents have their kids model for Gap.

My kid models vegetables from the backyard.

Who is laughing now?



This is my highly customized drying rack. On the left we have my mash tun for extracting the sugars from grains in beer making and on the right is a brew kettle. The rack itself is a space age material called "screen" that I got from my living room window.

'Meeks....We're High Tech.'



This is the garlic as of tonight. This stuff will keep for less time than the silverskin you usually find at the store, but those of you that have eaten here (some on a regular basis) know that ten heads of garlic don't stand a two week chance.

Now the only dilemma is how best to celebrate such a harvest. I am suffering from a deluge of options, but I was wondering if any of you had any suggestions.

What is your favorite way to enjoy garlic? Let me know.

I don't care how labor intensive or insane it is. I am thinking about a few dessert options, so you know how crazy I am.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bite Me Frito Lay

Here is something:

Potato Chip Pasta.

Think about it.

How rad is that?

'No way' you say?

Yes way.

Yes way indeed.

I should mention a the outset that I claim absolutely almost no credit for this meal. H. Alexander Talbot from Ideas In Food (check it out) receives most of the props for this one. I would also like to thank my children from the outset as they were left home with their mostly crazy father who likes nothing more than experimenting while their mom is working.

Here is the basic recipe for the dough

400g flour
100g dark roasted potato flakes (20 min @ 350, ground to flour)
300g whole egg
75g egg yolk
8g salt

(Credit: Ideas In Food)

Here is a photo essay of tonight's work in the kitchen.



Here are the potatoes, nothing special. You will need a scale for this recipe, but get serious, you need one anyways. You'll find yourself using it all the time. It gets to be an obsession.



The flakes spread thin on a baking sheet. These are going to get dark, but don't get scared, they wont burn.



While the flakes are toasting I measured the eggs. This is what 300g of whole egg and 75 g of yolk look like. Cool huh?!



Toasted and ready to be pulverized.



Done.



Work the dry ingredients together and whisk the eggs. Then add the eggs to the dry ingredients. Stir the eggs with your fingers, incorporating the flour bit by bit. When it is absorbed knead the dough. It should look like the above. Not wet at all...almost crumbly, but not.



Vacuum sealing the dough is new to me, but it is genius in action. The theory is that it hastens absorption of the flour. Plus, you get to use a vacuum sealer...how cool is that? I love this thing. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. I let mine go for an hour.



This might be my favorite photo of the day. This is how I put a meal together most of the time. This is the back of a receipt from a held library book that I had lying around. My thought process for this dish was something like this:

- My dough will taste like a potato chip/french fries.
- What goes with a potato chip and what do I have within 50 feet of my house? (having kids to take care of can be some amazing inspiration)
- Chicken schmaltz is available and would be rad. (Pasta that tastes like fried chicken and potatoes? yes please)
- Best thing with potato chips is french onion dip.
- Sour cream, chives and caramelized onions are all close.
- Tim's Cascade Chips has some amazing pepper jack chips.
- I'll go with black pepper and some Romano cheese...not the same at all, but would make for one heck of a chip and works well with the other players.



Here are the players for the ravioli filling. I decided to do this pasta two ways. Fried ravioli and regular spaghetti. Results to follow.



This is my pasta work station for those who are interested. It is a piece of laminated press board used for shelving. Works like a beloved charm for pasta making.



This is only one half of the pasta. It makes almost two pounds. I might add that it rolled out like butter. The vacuum sealer was a dream.



Here are the handmade ravioli. Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of the making.



This is schmaltz...i.e. the stuff left at the bottom of a cast iron skillet after I get done roasting a chicken. That is fat on top and juices below. Simply amazing stuff. Try getting this kind of goodness out of a roasted Tofurkey. When it heats up the house smells like a roast chicken. Tastes like it too.



Here is the spaghetti after being cooked (60 seconds is all it takes with the fresh stuff). The sauce was the schmaltz, the sour cream, and the caramelized onions at this point. All it needed was a quick toss for a few minutes and it was good to go.



I realize that I don't have any pics of the ravioli. Too much going on. The ravioli were done in a bit of butter that had garlic infused into it. I had them over medium heat till browned. My Paulaner Hefeweizen clone was chosen to accompany the meal...good choice.

How did it taste? Incredible.

The spaghetti had the hint of both roast chicken and the sour cream and onion goodness. The ravioli stole the show in my opinion however. The mix was more concentrated and gave the feeling of the best sour cream, onion, and chive potato chip like thing you could imagine. Definitely one I'll be busting out again. I also plan to do something with barbecue chicken wings and blue cheese flavors. Jamie and Steph...this Monday I'll be in P-town...we might have to try this. No?

As for my kids? They loved it:



Ultimate win.