Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cooking Passions

A rarity here. An actual blog post vs a recipe w/anecdotes thrown in.

I've come to talk alot IRL with friends about the things I've found fascinating and HAD TO FIGURE OUT AND DO DO DO myself. And I'm not sure if I've ever itemized those passions herein. 

I mean, there's the obvious: I love pork. I love to cook authentic Indian or Thai food, and breeze my way through some French cuisine in my repertoire. But beyond that, there have been some things which truly fascinated me and I needed to do an in depth study. So off the top of my head, I figure I might as well itemize it herein, if not for any other reason but for a reminder for myself of things I've tried, enjoyed or failed at.

1. Kombucha. Loved brewing it at first. But soon, I found I wasn't drinking as much as I was brewing, and eventually my scoby became high maintenance like a pet (I needed to clean/sterilize the brewing jar/vessel every 7-10 days, then set up the "feed" a new batch of lukewarm sweet tea for it to feast upon). I couldn't give my brew away, and couldn't drink it fast enough. And in the end a speck of airborne black mold got the better of it, and I eventually discontinued with the frenzy. Now if I want some kombucha, I just grab a jar of ready made, drink it, and get on with my life. But nothing beats home brewed--but I've got a life!

2. Paneer. Super easy. And the end product was not any more tasty than ready made in the market. Cost was relatively the same. So no real benefit to continue. But I did. And I'm glad. And even MacGuyvered a use for the leftover whey (foccaccia!). Still, easier and less time consuming to just buy it ready made.

3. Banana baked goods. Did so many variations on this theme, I cannot bring myself to make another loaf of banana bread or a frangipane. Nope. I have a daydream of doing a Bananas Foster Kuchen, but that'll a long time from now, when I can stomach the idea of baked goods with banana. Full disclosure: I still eat several bananas a week, as is, or sometimes with a shmear of peanut butter, but beyond that? Nope. Done with the banana baked goods.

3a. Meringue/Daquoise/Frangipane/Sponge. I loved experimenting with the full array of baked goods involving the use of egg whites. Love it!

4. Brownies. I am still on a quest for the perfect brownie. Cakey on top, fudgey dense in the bottom, and something with more than a little bit of NUTRITIONAL BENEFIT to it. I tried the 3 ingredient or even the black bean brownies, all tasted well, but left me very flatulent. But I am on the precipice of a Superfood Brownie. And again, I need to figure out how to halve this recipe down, so I'll make a slab that'll provide 3-4 decent sized brownies, and I"ll be done with it. I detest wasting food, and I am beyond the point of giving a shit enough about my co-workers to bring in the overflow of my cooking spoils. Fuck them. 

5. Pork. In the last year, I have gone crazy with pork roasts ranging from a Puerto Rican styled pernil, to a Chinese char siu, to my favorite, Italian Porchetta. I've studied it. Loved it. And will no doubt make more--once my nemesis, my freezer, has been destashed sufficiently. Between just my overzealousness of cooking and my husband's stomach being tempermental, what I've managed to cook hasn't been consumed as readily as possible.  Ah... pork. I love you.

6. Confit.  This really should be a 5a. on this list. I've grown to love this method of cooking, but love it mostly for its STORABILITY. Thanksgiving I did a confit of turkey thigh, cooked entirely in rendered out pork belly. VERY VERY RICH. I think I'd do better, by confiting it in chicken or turkey fat, and keeping it submerged in a small enough container to keep the meat completely submerged. Great way to ensure I'm not wasting food, and by extension MONEY, by having to toss out food that isn't eaten quick enough. Confit can stay in the fridge for almost a month, if the meatstuffs are completely cooked and completely submerged under a layer of fat.

7. Chorizo.  This really should be a 5b.  If there's one pork product I would consume to cheat on bacon with, it'd be chorizo. Last year saw me hand blending my own and using it in patty form, or forming around hard boiled eggs for "Scotch Eggs." Good stuff.

8. Smoking. I adore smoking meats. I love smoking meat and then doing something ELSE with that meat, rather than just eating it as is as a roast. Unfortunately for my purposes, any smoking I do is of the HOT SMOKE variety, which is to say that my meat ends up cooking in the process, versus a COLD SMOKE where the meat is smoked with the smoke source being indirect and not of a temperature that would cook the meat. Unfortunately cold smoking requires a bit more space to set up a proper smoking unit, and I live in a condo, so I'm quite limited in that respect. WHich then would lead to the next progression in the charcuterie pantheon: CURING. Perhaps sometime in the new year I'll do that. Perhaps.

9. Yogurt. Been there. Made that. It's more convenient for my purposes to get my yogurts ready made, with fruit included, and they are all portion controlled and lunch bag friendly. But a nice skill to know if I ever need to make my own yogurt. Side note: I do have some granules to make my own kefir, should the urge ever strike.

10.  "Podi." As it's known in India. Podi simply means "powder". It could mean a fine grind of an assortment of spices like in a store bought curry spice blend, or it could mean a more coarse blend of a few spices like jeera, chili, and some toasted dals and other seasonings to be sprinkled on rice or dosa or iddli. Turns out there are other cultures that do similar, and it's called DUKKA. Some middle eastern countries employ it as a dip with bread. So you take your bread, dip in olive oil then dip in dukka and enjoy. In both cases, Podi or Dukka, I love to use them in unconventional ways. Using malagai podi (euphemistically known/called "gun powder") on scrambled eggs... or using dukka as a crunchy topping on chicken thighs to be baked off in the oven. Amps up the flavor, and the texture. LOADS OF FUN, and the assortments of blends you can make are wonderful.

11.  Quail eggs. Discovered them CANNED in the Asian market, and adore them. 

12. Elderberry/Elderflower. In 2012 I discovered the tastiness and health benefits of elderberry and elderflower. I've used both elderberry losenges, elderflower tea, and enjoyed elderflower liquer. Truly a unique, and lovely flavor profile, and adds a LOT of nuance to cocktails and teas. Both, my husband and I, adore it. And without a doubt when either of us is feeling ill or under the weather, it is the first thing we make for the other: elderflower tea. When we were in Denmark last year, we had the opportunity to drink elderflower WATER, and it really was a treat. I look at it as something uniquely European and one of life's little pleasures.

13. "Kanga Nadu." In 2012, I also discovered the mind exploding deliciousness of Chettinad food, and have sought out ways to cook it at home. Next to Keralite cuisine, Chettinad is my #1 permutation on Indian cuisine.  

14. Pressure Cooking.  2013 Provided me with a new addiction: using my electric pressure cooker. I've long used stove top models for years. And talked it up so much to a friend, that she decided to try it out too--however, she found stove top models to be too intimidating and opted for an electric model. And when the time came for me to get a replacement pressure cooker, I followed suit and got the same model she uses. And it's been a mind-explodingly good experience.  I do everything from hard boiled eggs, to soups/stocks/stews, roasts, steamed cakes, rice dishes, etc in it. It's a real pleasure and produces delicious food in a fraction of the time it'd take to cook it in a conventional manner in the oven.

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