Wednesday, January 28, 2009

fresh spring rolls with chicken, carrot, cilantro, jalapeño

Fresh spring rolls are fun to make, fun to eat, and kids seem to like almost anything in them. Tonight I made a small batch out of some leftover chicken breast with carrot, cilantro, and jalapeño pepper. For a dipping sauce I simply blended soy sauce, sesame oil, and sweet chili sauce, but usually part of the spring roll fun is having a variety of sauces (and a ton of spring rolls).

Prep was as simple as slicing the leftover chicken, removing part of the cilantro stems, thinly slicing a mild jalapeño into strips (not rounds), and peeling strips of carrot.

While assembling one spring roll allow the wrapper for the next to soak in a pie pan of water. Lay it flat, spread a bit of each ingredient about a third of the way up, fold the sides over the filling, fold the bottom over the filling and tuck it under just a bit, and then roll it up. By the time you're ready to serve, the wrappers will have dried such that they are nicely moist and firmly sealed.

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Spring Rolls on Foodista

second brew (red ale), part 9

The serendipity of both the red ale and the Arizona Cardinals being properly conditioned for Superbowl XLIII (and for the first time in the history of the universe) led to the obvious christening of the second brew as Tipsy Bird.

Photoshop 7.0 does not run at all on Mac OS X 10.5 and the fine folks at Adobe refuse to fix it so I have been without a really good photo editor for quite some time. I almost reinstalled it on the last Tiger box in the house but decided instead to give GIMP a try. I've poked at it a time or two before but never had the motivation to get past its annoyances. It's still no Photoshop but it mostly did what I wanted and I became moderately comfortable with it over a couple of hours. My main gripes in this limited engagement were that window management is awful, text capabilities are very limited, and handling of selections and layers is awkward. Oh, and the first use of a drawing tool is often accompanied by an infuriating delay.

I also tried the online SUMO Paint but found it unstable enough to prevent me from discovering very much about its capabilities. And I poked at Seashore but it crashed in short order.

In any event, GIMP let me produce something good enough for this bit of silliness and now I feel a little more comfortable turning to it for quick image editing tasks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

sourdough bread 5 (whey, whole wheat)

The latest exercise incorporated 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (all I had left) and whey from the farmer cheese for the liquid. I forgot to add the gluten, though. This produced a noticeably stickier dough than the previous whole wheat dough, which had twice as much whole wheat. It rose overnight in the oven with light on and door open, which maintained a temperature of about 80 degrees. Had a bit of a skin.

The risen dough was much more pliable than the last whole wheat and I folded completely four times. Still, the baked loaf had a traumatic separation across the last fold. Maybe I'm using too much flour on the board.

Baked for 20 minutes covered and then 18, at which point the crust was blackening, but was surprised to see the final internal temperature at only 189 degrees. I wonder whether I should increase the ratio of covered to uncovered baking. This crust really is charred in spots, but on the other hand maybe that's only because of the way it's breaking open.

The texture is pretty close to the last loaf, perhaps a little less dense, and not as gummy when chewed. The sourness is understated and the whole wheat flavor is less evident. If the whey made a difference I can't isolate it, so despite the fact that several variables changed it seems likely that whey doesn't alter the results dramatically. Might be interesting to try two loaves with whey as the only difference, though.

Overall, pleasant but unremarkable. I guess it's nutritionally nice to have the whole wheat, but I don't think this small-fraction hybrid is worthwhile. I'd rather have a whole wheat with a soft texture and dominant sweetness, and a sourdough that is light, sour, and chewy.

What I'd like to try next is a white sourdough that is markedly more tart than what I've made so far.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

moka kadir roasting notes 5

Decided to take advantage of unchanged weather conditions to roast moka kadir again today. The things that I think did vary are that the roaster may not have had as much residual heat and I roasted slightly less than two cups. The heat dropped quite a bit more quickly than in the earlier roast, I assume due to the former. I didn't wait for a stable starting temperature. I did achieve a lighter roast, albeit one with more evident inconsistency between beans. That may not be a bad thing, really.


This is light enough that I'll try it brewed again. These beans never exude much oil, I've noticed.

What I might try next time is a lower stable starting temperature and a little lengthier roast. The second roast was at a starting temperature of 525 and a duration of 360 seconds; I'll give 500 a shot and see how it affects the time. The slower roast also seems to allow the temperature to begin climbing again, which has not been the case in these last two. The high flame in roast three also produced a clear bottom and increase. Something cooler, slower, and more controllable, but short of the ten minute hot air popper time, seems like the next step.

Two shots pulled several hours later weren't bad. Certainly more interesting than the darker roasts. This blend is still not close to being my favorite espresso, though.

2009-01-28 update: I was at last able to directly compare the properly rested roast 4 and roast 5. No contest. The lighter roast produces a far more interesting and satisfying straight shot. There are sweet, fruity notes evident almost immediately, and which linger in a long pleasant aftertaste. There is just a hint of this in the darker roast. Certainly the same stuff, just much less of it. I do think the darker roast works better in milk drinks, though.

moka kadir roasting notes 4

The effect of even a slight breeze on roasting is startling. Today I roasted moka kadir in the stovetop popper in dead calm at 40 degrees, and if anything struggled to keep the temperature down. This was two cups with a starting temperature of about 70 degrees and the gas at the lowest setting.


Compared to moka kadir roast 3 this was a little slower and lower. I still have not been able to effectively isolate first and second crack with this blend. It was loudly into second when removed, but with first still banging away. It was again darker than I'd intended. (The graph is fudged a bit to make it clear that second crack occurred; that stripe of unblended yellow shouldn't really be there.)

I did manage to measure bean temperature at removal using a candy thermometer. It's pretty slow for this application, but seemed to stabilize at about 250 degrees. That is dramatically lower than the internal bean temperature, which at this stage is theoretically 450 or more. (Internal temperature exceeds roasting vessel temperature because of the exothermic reactions occurring within the beans.) Air cooled in a colander.

Next time I have really got to get it out of there much sooner. How to decide when, when conditions are so variable and the sight/sound cues are so attenuated, is the trick.

Monday, January 19, 2009

grubtrotting: Croatia report

Sunday evening we had our first grubtrotting dinner, and it was proclaimed a success. Dan, Sandy, and Sharon came over so it turned into a small dinner party of seven. I spent several hours in the kitchen and was not disappointed with the way anything turned out. Tracey and the boys and I all did some cultural, geographical, and historical research as well, and each had a small presentation after dinner. We then had a good discussion about those topics. It turns out that our friend Bob's sister is married to the former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia and then Croatia, that Nathaniel's friend's mother's side of the family is Croatian, and that Tracey used to work with a Croatian and sees his wife now and then. I did not know that I had so much expertise so readily available! We got all our information from the web and the encyclopedia. I think I'll have more to say about that in another blog entry.

The menu, reproduced above, was a somewhat random assortment. Croatian cuisine is regionally specialized, which is unsurprising given its geographic diversity and history as a cultural crossroads. The menu is not very representative, nor was it designed with any particular eye toward thematic integrity or gastronomical sensibility. That said, it worked out just fine. If I did Croatia a second time I'd probably lean toward seafood dishes.

Appetizers were assorted and mostly consisted of small items I found at the Balkan Market. The sausage, mackerel, and (processed) cheese spread were all Croatian items. The peppers were of Macedonian origin. I really liked the hot fefferoni peppers when consumed with something else, like bread and cheese. They are a bit zippy for a solo snack.

I made the pogacha bread, following this recipe, despite it being labeled as Serbian. I understand the bread to be widely consumed across the region. Pogacha recipes vary quite a bit. I wanted to make a flat one. I shaped it very clumsily so it was of varied thickness and not stunningly beautiful in form, however it was lovely once cut and very tasty. I used butter instead of margarine and 1% milk because that's what I had on hand.

The braised lamb, a dish from the Slavonija region in the east, was very good. I used a boneless leg instead of shoulder. There is an error of some kind in the recipe: the ingredients call for tarragon and in the instructions refer to vinegar. I eventually decided that the vinegar must have been mistakenly substituted for tarragon by the typist. Certainly it turned out to be quite delicious with tarragon.

The spaetzle recipe was from the same source. I probably should have looked around for other recipes once I decided to make it in order to acquaint myself with the possibilities and techniques. The dough was thin and extremely sticky, even after I used additional flour. It was difficult to pull off bits after it had been sliced into strips, and I don't think it turned out quite right. It tasted fine, though. I buttered it and tossed it with breadcrumbs, and it went nicely with the sauce of the lamb.

Blitva called for Vegeta, which is what led me to the Balkan Market in the first place. It is a simple side dish consisting of boiled chard and potato, and is apparently popular across the country. I understand that Vegeta is enormously popular, too. I don't know that I'm a big fan. To me the dominant flavor and mouthfeel are nearly identical to every dry seasoning packet (regardless of indicated flavor) that comes with instant ramen noodles or soup. A "universal food seasoning" is a sad shortcut, and its most significant components are surely salt and MSG. And I loathe dried carrots.

The pickled cabbage was a vacuum-packed whole head from the Balkan Market. It was powerful and had a better texture than shredded stuff from a jar.

Dessert, the cheese-filled crepes, was excellent. It used the farmer cheese I made on Saturday. I used a touch more sugar in the filling (perhaps 3/8 cup total) and served them with powdered sugar for anyone who wanted a sprinkle. They were a wonderful not-too-sweet dessert.

The 2006 Dingac Plavac red (Plavac Mali grape) and 2004 Kastelet white (grape varieties unspecified) wines were from the Dalmatia region via the Balkan Market. I was surprised to see a five year old white wine. They were fine, and unlike anything I'd had before, though nothing I'd seek out again. The Plavac Mali grapes have an interesting history, though. The Karlovacko beer was a serviceable mild lager. I forgot to open the Maraska cherry wine.

Isaac presented a list of English words and phrases and how to say them in Croatian. Nathaniel gave a rundown on sports and leisure activities. Tracey covered all sorts of geographical and demographic details. I talked about the history of the Balkan Peninsula, Yugoslavia, and Croatia, the concept of Balkanization, and why the cuisine of a country the size of the state of Virginia is so varied.

So, for our first attempt at what I hope will become a family tradition, I was quite pleased. It's a lot of work but we're all looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

sourdough bread 4 (whole wheat)

I decided to attempt a whole wheat sourdough bread. I modified the basic recipe by using half whole wheat flour and the three tablespoons of wheat gluten introduced last time. This made a noticeably less wet dough and I had to add a little more water in order to incorporate all the flour. It did not rise as much as usual. It was difficult to fold over four times and I ended up kneading for a minute.

At 20 minutes the crust had browned more than usual.

After uncovering I peeked at 15 and 17 minutes and ended up going 19. The internal temperature was only 193 degrees, though. I still haven't done any reading about what final temperatures should be.

Flavor and texture were quite nice, actually, though it was much a much denser loaf. The crust is just right and the interior is very soft but resilient. It's a bit gummy when chewed. The sourdough flavor is evident, and an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the whole wheat. Everyone enjoyed the bread, though I'd like to see whether it's possible to make a less dense and larger loaf. This is a research topic.

The strangeness of my kneading/folding produced a somewhat malformed loaf where the dough didn't quite adhere across one of the folds. This is a far less sticky dough than without the whole wheat flour.

Overall, a good experiment. Next time I might try using more starter and baking for a few more minutes while covered.

homemade farmer cheese

I found this recipe for homemade farmer cheese and decided to give it a try. I needed some for the cheese-filled crepes I plan to make for tomorrow's Croatian Grubtrotting dinner.

Farmer cheese is a fresh acid-set cheese (made without rennet) with several regional variants (Mexican queso and Indian paneer for example). As Harold McGee explains it, the caseins, or curd proteins, clump together in acid conditions and coagulate, while the whey proteins remain suspended in the liquid. As the milk's pH approaches 5.5 from the normal 6.5 there is loose clustering of the caseins, and around 4.7 the milk curdles (solidifies). This happens naturally when milk sours or can be induced by introducing acid-producing bacteria or, as in the case of this recipe, lemon juice.

Per the recipe, I brought a gallon of whole milk to a boil with a pinch of salt, turned off the heat (but left the pot on the burner) and then stirred in the juice of one lemon. It began curdling immediately.

After a few minutes it was heaving dramatically. Not sure whether that would have happened had I taken it off the hot burner. The aroma had changed from the sweetness of hot milk to something more savory and cheese-like, although still with the background sweetness.

After 10 minutes I strained out the curds and removed as much moisture as I could using cheesecloth. I can tell there's more that could be extracted with more effort or better technique but it's pretty firm. Tracey and I tasted it. It has a nice texture and a very mild flavor. It's really a blank slate.

I see from this page that ricotta cheese is made from the whey after curds have been extracted. I'm not sure whether it relies on rennet being used for curdling, though. Need to investigate this further. It's also used as the liquid in bread making. I think I'll save it.

I tasted the whey, never having had it before. It's not bad. This has some lemon juice in it, but it still tastes basically like milk. The body and mouth feel are different, of course.

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Farmer Cheese on Foodista

Update: This whey cannot be used for making ricotta because the albumin protein has already been precipitated out of the milk, according to

Thursday, January 15, 2009

grubtrotting: Croatia

For our first Grubtrotting event we decided on Croatia. As we began discussing it over dinner Nathaniel first proposed Japan. I said, "Oh thanks, start with an easy one -- how about something else!" He then offered Germany, to which I responded that we try something with which we were less familiar. His third idea was Croatia, which we all thought sounded fine. To my suggestion that we all learn something to share about Croatian culture, history, etc. he said, "Croatia lost to Turkey in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. There, I'm done". Smartypants. Well, ha! That was Euro 2008, not World Cup.

I've now done a fair bit of reading online about Croatian cuisine. We missed Croatia Fest at Seattle Center back in October, which would have been fun. I decided that I was going to need a seasoning blend called Vegeta but didn't have any luck tracking down a Croatian market in Seattle and with shipping it would have been outrageous to buy it from Amazon. I broadened my thinking a bit and discovered Balkan Market Ltd, just five miles away. Looks like we'll find any specialty item we could possibly need there, including beers and wines.

There is no shortage of history in the region, obviously, and lots of food choices both familiar and not. Looks like a good first choice!

Update: The Grubtrotting: Croatia report.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Google Video logo

My word. What severely handicapped individual lays claim to the artwork for the Google Video logo? Dad was Sun and Microsoft Mom was smoking plenty of crack while assiduously dodging all prenatal care.

Perhaps that link won't stand the test of time, but I'm hesitant to embed the image given the recent move to mute possibly copyrighted audio in YouTube videos...

Don De Dieu

Saw something new at Costco the other day and picked it up: A four 750ml bottle taster pack of Unibroue beers. I had never heard of Unibroue but the packaging and descriptions were interesting, and how you can not love the name of this Quebec brewery as heard by the English ear?

Tonight I tried the Don De Dieu, or Gift of God, a 9% ABV triple wheat ale, bottle refermented. It's not my favorite style, with a distracting spiciness (which I know is going to give me a headache later) (and I do like the coriander in a Belgian wit) but it's quite good. People who do appreciate the style seem to think very highly of it, judging from this Beer Advocate review page.

Although I would not buy this again, what I found fascinating was the runtime behavior: It pours with a monstrous white head and an absolutely transfixing massive display of tiny bubbles, almost like a hyperactive champagne. Out of purely academic interest I want to learn more about the factors that determine these traits, because no beer that I normally drink does this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

second brew (red ale), part 8

Well, I didn't even make it two weeks. After bottling the red ale on the 1st I had to... uhh... perform a quality control and carbonation research inspection this evening. It's all about data collection.

There was a happy hiss as I popped the cap. Success! It produced a short head as I poured, which diminished pretty rapidly over the next few minutes. It was nicely, lightly carbonated at this point. Still a bit cloudy. Straightforward flavors, and I like it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

hot air popper roasting 2

Roasted one fourth cup instead of one half, with nothing else drawing power on the circuit. I also warmed up the popper for a few minutes before dropping the beans. The behavior was just about identical to the first experiment with respect to sound and smoke (or lack thereof) however it took just 10 minutes to achieve the same bean color.

Pulled two shots after about an hour. The ground coffee aroma is notably better than the 15 minute beans. I thought the flavor was somewhat better as well although it still has a trait that I noticed yesterday: a certain underdone quality. It's a bit like eating a roasted bean plain. It is certainly a little bit more nuanced than the 15 minute roast, but still nothing like the better stovetop roasts. The next thing to try is a stovetop roast to this same degree.

I pulled two shots of yesterday's roast. The underdone flavor has lessened, as has the bitter aftertaste. However, it is still very flat. From these two samples I think I now have a sense of the effect of the long, baking sort of roast.

If Ed is able to roast 3/4 cup in 5 to 7 minutes in a Poppery II then it appears that this Popcorn Pumper may be markedly less capable, although at a sample size of one I would hardly draw any conclusions about the two models. There could also be a voltage difference; I think the acceptable variation for house current can be as high as 20 or more volts. Maybe he'll engage in some poppery swappery for a night and we can compare.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

hot air popper roasting

Score! On my occasional visits to the thrift store to buy books I always look for a cheap hot air popcorn popper but have never found one. Yesterday I at last had the long-awaited fortuitous encounter and dug out the $5 bill I've been saving for the occasion.

I am now the owner of a Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper, seemingly in great condition other than lacking the butter cup.

I read the section on hot air roasting in Davids and dove right in. I roasted the Moka Kadir blend indoors beneath the range hood, at room temperature of about 70 degrees. There was a notable gap between what I expected and what I experienced:
  • The smoke, expected at 3 or 4 minutes, did not ever appear.
  • First crack did start as expected a bit after 4 minutes, but never increased in frequency and occurred sporadically for the duration of the roast.
  • Medium roast was expected at 5 - 6 minutes, medium dark at 7 - 8 minutes, and dark at 9. I shut it down at 15 minutes at about full city or perhaps a bit shy. If any beans were at second crack I couldn't tell.
That's a pretty long roast. Probably the beans can be characterized as having baked. I wonder whether the popper was up to the task. I cooled this small quantity in just a few minutes in colander and freezer.

The beans themselves are very clean, with nearly all the chaff being blown off, and the color consistency is very good. Both are much better than what I normally experience with the stovetop popper.

I pulled two shots almost immediately, although this blend is supposed to rest for a couple of days. I have never made espresso with a roast this light, I have never roasted Moka Kadir this light, and this the first time I've used the air popper. I therefore don't have much of a basis for meaningful comparisons. The ground bean aroma was not very intense. The espresso wasn't very good, frankly. The flavors are not nearly as layered or complex as in the second Moka Kadir roast (yesterday's super dark roast can be ignored). There's a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.

With further experimentation I should figure out what effect the long roast time had. I still want to try Moka Kadir at a full city roast, both as espresso and brew.

There are two obvious things to try next time:
  • Reduce the bean quantity. I roasted half a cup, which is the volume of the hopper, but I wonder whether it should be halved.
  • Don't put any other load on the circuit. The kitchen lights dim noticeably when an electric griddle or the popper is turned on. I turned the lights off, but well into the roast.
2009-03-19 update: Significantly better results.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

coffee pot ale, part 4

Today I bottled the coffee pot ale, not because I think it's any good but just for the sake of completeness. The gravity was down to 1.10 and the flavor was, to be charitable, weird. Not revolting, but not all that much like ale. No surprise there, all things considered. I used a teaspoon and a half of cane sugar and ended up with a one liter bottle and a 12 ounce bottle. All those Saaz hops have given it a very hoppy aroma but that iceberg is all tip. I made it a low-overhead operation and probably introduced more oxygen than is good, so perhaps I'll get to experience wet cardboard flavors.

I tried filtering using a paper cone coffee filter, but found that it slowed dramatically after just a few ounces. I don't think that would be a practical method. A gold filter caught hop particles, but not yeast, obviously. It is quite murky.

moka kadir roasting notes 3

1/10/2009 roasted Moka Kadir blend. I needed coffee, of course, but this roast was also about refining my data collection methods. It ended up being darker than I wanted but I think I learned some things. Recording times on paper while watching a timer worked OK. Forgot to get a bean temperature at removal and the thermometer is too slow for an ideal measurement anyhow.

Outdoor temperature was 46 degrees and it was a bit breezy. Because of the wind I had to use a higher flame to get up to temperature, despite the shroud. I kept it high, around notch 3, and it had a dramatic effect on temperature range and roasting speed. Starting bean temperature was 76 degrees. Roasted two cups.


First crack started at about 120 and was peaking around 240 seconds. I think that second crack and first crack overlapped, with second starting at perhaps 240. There was no clear transition. The roast ended up being pretty solidly in French territory, without any surface oil. Some beans are beyond that, and there are far fewer lighter beans than in the previous roast.

Pulled two shots after 90 minutes with proper timing and quantity. The ground coffee smells great but the flavor is well over-roasted for me. The acidity and bright notes are not present; in fact, almost all interesting traits have been eliminated. I don't think this will be good for anything but milk drinks.

These beans should have been removed much earlier. I should experiment with the differences between a short hot roast and a slower cooler roast. And with the Moka Kadir blend I still want to try a significantly lighter roast than I have achieved so far.

sourdough bread 3

For the third sourdough bread attempt I used the same techniques as the second attempt, and made one change: I added three tablespoons of wheat gluten to the dough.

Rising time was 13 hours. I made a round loaf rather than an oblong one. The dough was much stretchier than last time; the gluten seems to have a powerful effect. I'm not certain whether the volume differs much.

Baked covered for 20, uncovered for 20, checking it a couple of times. The internal temperature was 206, so a couple degrees higher than last time. I also tossed in an oven thermometer and was pleased to find that it was just about on the money at 495 degrees.

Oh my! It is excellent. Best yet, with a perfect combination of crunchy crust and soft, chewy interior. The boys loved it. I would still like a little more sourness, but I think the gluten is a winning addition. The air pockets are larger on average and with better uniformity.