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Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Adventures in bacon

“Hi my name is Emma and I like bacon*…”

I’m not really sure when I started liking bacon so much and I find it fascinating that about 3-4 years ago it was suddenly the ‘cool’ food to eat. I grew up eating some big US corp brand of bacon that we could get in Hong Kong. Odds are it was Hormel or Oscar Mayer or something along those lines. They were fatty salty slices that my Mom would portion out for our Sunday breakfasts along with our pancakes or french toast.

All through college and honestly until recently I didn’t put that much thought into bacon quality. I grew up with it being a certain low quality breakfast meat so whatever was on sale at the grocery store when I went shopping would work. I just didn’t care. Then during my bakery days I got to try some applewood smoked bacon and OMG I was in heaven. This was also when I learned about ovenbaking my bacon and I don’t think I’ve panfried a slice since then. This bacon was hearty and packed full of flavor without being overly salty or fatty.

Over the years I’ve tried different brands, some I’ve liked, some I’ve relegated to flavoring soups or stews but more recently I’ve been toying with making my own. I blame PurpleHouseDirt and the plethora of amazing books and blogs out there that keep inspiring me.

I will stop blabbering on about bacon for now but I will be posting soon about my bacon results. I’m now the proud owner of the Manual of the Traditional Bacon Curer cookbook by Maynard Davies (best ordered from the Book Depository in UK since it is scarce and expensive in the US).

Oh and soon I will have to tell you about my adventures with cheesemaking.

* as much as I like bacon I feel no need to own bacon perfume/vodka/beer/soap etc. Ick.

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July Daring Bakers

I almost forgot to post about the July Daring Bakers challenge.

Candy!

We had to make 2 different kinds of candy and one of them had to be a tempered chocolate. I knew right off the bat I wanted to try out one of my many chocolate molds, at some point I think I went on a shopping spree and now have about 15-20 molds of varying shapes and sizes. For this challenge I went pretty simple.

I brushed the mold with a little Aztec Gold luster dust (leftover from my wedding cake making days) and tempered some 72% bittersweet chocolate for the shells.

I made the Salted Caramel Ganache filling by caramelizing some sugar, then added enough cream and a hefty pinch of sea salt to pour over the chopped chocolate.  I admit I didn’t really measure this part out and mostly eyeballed the proportions. I must have done something right because when I took the truffles into work they got compared to crack. I’m assuming that is good 🙂

For my second candy I decided to go with something simple since Seattle was finally experiencing a bit of summer.

Ginger Marshmallows.

I grated up some fresh ginger and steeped it in hot water till room temp before finally straining it and using the liquid to soften the gelatin. I wanted the fresh ginger flavor rather than a cooked one so I didn’t use any ginger to flavor the sugar syrup. While the flavor was subtle (I was afraid of going overboard with ginger so I was conservative in the amount I used) it was definitely a nice undertone. I can see making ginger marshmallows again and can imagine that small intense pieces dipped in dark chocolate might be amazing.

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Sauce

Thanks to a new to me produce stand I finally had tomatoes for sauce! 40lbs to be exact. I may have gone a little overboard.

Each year I make a pretty basic sauce* with my tomatoes and after a run through a food mill (I hate seeds and skins in my sauce) I can them in quarts. It makes a thin slightly watery sauce but I adjust my final cooking time on whatever I’m making to compensate. This year since my garden crop has failed to ripen I decided to try something a little different with my purchased tomatoes.


Batch 1: Roma tomatoes, reduced by 1/3.


Batch 2: Roma tomatoes plus ground up sundried tomatoes (from last years harvest).


Batch 3: Roma tomatoes, roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and half a head of garlic (used balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice).


Batch 4: Roma tomatoes, reduced till less than half for a loose tomato paste.

This year I found some wine pH papers at the local brew shop and tested each batch and adjusted the acid level accordingly. I realized in all the years canning tomato sauce I just assumed the lemon juice called for in the recipe was 1: the right amount and 2: even necessary to get the pH below 4.6. I aimed for a pH of 4.0 just to be sure and the lemon juice I added was less than the amount in the recipe. Totally worth the $4 investment to really know the acidity level of your sauce.

Over the coming year I’m going to taste test to see if I have a favorite method. Hopefully my favorite won’t turn out to be the most time consuming version (the oven roasted method). None of my jars this year contain basil due to mistakenly buying thai basil instead of sweet basil. It’s a good excuse to make some fresh spring rolls I think.

* Basic sauce gets a splash of lemon juice, a fresh basil leaf and a hefty pinch of kosher salt. Tomato sauce in it’s most basic form.

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Millions of peaches

The recent “heatwave” happened to coincide with a strong desire to start canning this year. Probably not the ideal situation but I had a recent purchase to make things a little easier.

I’d been eyeing steam canners for a couple years now but every time I found one in the store I wasn’t willing to pay full price. I would walk on by and each year while making large batches of tomato sauce in quarts I would curse my resistance to buying one. Even my largest and deepest stockpot had a hard time holding enough water to safely stay at a rolling boil plus the amount of time and energy used to heat that much water was insane. A harvests worth of sauce could easily take hours of constantly boiling water and heat the kitchen beyond anything bearable. I managed to spot a good deal online earlier this year and soon a steam canner was on its way to me. A few weekends ago was the first time I decided to try it out.

The weekend was to start with u-pick strawberries but once I arrived at the farm I decided on pre-picked flats that they had on sale. Not only were the flats cheaper than u-pick but it meant I could get home even earlier. Somehow 6 flats and strawberries and 1 flat of tayberries were in the back of my car. Once home 1 flat was chopped up and left to drain for strawberry juice that was then frozen (for strawberry jelly at a later date). The remaining 4 flats were washed, hulled and frozen either whole on sheetpans (later to go in freezer bags) or chopped and tossed with sugar to freeze.

Then I tackled the peaches that I’d picked up at the grocery store at a killer price. First up was a large batch of peach slices in light syrup which is something I’ve never tried before. One thing I did learn is that my canned peach slices look nothing like the one on the cover of the Ball canning book, mine were slightly jagged and definitely less than perfect. It’s obvious I won’t be winning any prizes at the county fair for my canning.

Then came the time to make a giant batch of peach jam. I topped up half the peach jam jars with a tablespoon of brandy before setting them in the canner. Brandied Peach Jam will hopefully make it into a couple of Christmas gifts this year.

The remaining peaches were skinned, sliced and then frozen for ziptop bags. The amount of frozen fruit in the freezer is starting to reach maximum capacity but I’m well on my way to being set for the entire year. In the meantime I’ve been working my way through the first batch of peach jam.

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