Wednesday, September 22, 2010

purple gusto pepper pico de gallo

Although the gardening has been wretched this year there are now a few usable purple gusto peppers among all the lovely blossoms on the plants I grew from Territorial seed. Since I'm now also harvesting a reasonable number of tomatoes it seemed like Salsa Night!

I've had one plant in the greenhouse and one outside. The peppers in the greenhouse are slightly but consistently larger.

They are fairly zippy. The flesh is thin and firm and I minced it very finely; any sizable piece would be fiery enough to incur significant displeasure in some of the household salsa eaters. Three of them went into a basic pico de gallo: peppers, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime, salt, and pepper.

It's very good, but I'd like it better with heftier chunks of pepper. Something meatier like a jalapeño would be preferable. But it's sure nice to be eating something new from the garden.

Monday, September 20, 2010

second biltong

It's been nearly a year since the first satisfying biltong venture, and while I still have a bit in the freezer it feels like time to try again. I did receive a slight prodding from the sight of the disassembled components of my homemade drying rig during a recent garage cleanup operation.

Biltong does freeze quite well, although my wrapping wasn't ideal and I can detect a bit of freezer flavor. We last enjoyed it during World Cup while watching one of South Africa's games. Our respectful gesture did not seem to help them any.

The interior of the first biltong is still pretty pink. It oxidizes in a matter of seconds after being sliced. I think this is probably on the rare side for biltong but there doesn't seem to be any problem with it spoiling in this state.

This time I thought I'd try flank steak. QFC had it on sale so I picked up a little under nine pounds at $5/pound. I used something pretty close to the same recipe, doubling it and also adding a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I did not double the salt, however, sticking with two tablespoons.

The steaks were sliced in half with the grain, yielding eight long slabs. These should all fit in the dryer just fine despite the doubling of quantity.

It went into ziplock bags. I later noticed that the marinade dregs included perhaps a teaspoon of salt, so this recipe is using considerably less than the last. It is very tasty and I should come up with some other use for it.

After marinating for more than 24 hours they went into the Meat Wardrobe on Monday evening. I ran it it a little cooler than last time, probably averaging less than 100 degrees. Since the fan runs only when the heating element is on there's less air flow as well.

Friday evening I took a sample. It was still quite rare inside.

The flavor was good and I liked the texture at that point, although it will certainly become a little less pliant after a few more days. The sheen on the sliced surfaces is fat, not water. It's not nearly as moist as it looks.

Saturday morning I pulled one out to take to Matt's pig roast, wrapped it, and forgot it. The rest came out Monday morning, for a total of 6.5 days in the dryer. The final weight was 63 ounces.

I'm very pleased with it. It strikes me as more flavorful than the first one. There's no detectable heat from the red pepper flakes, so next time I might crank that up. It certainly doesn't need more salt for flavor. I wonder to what extent the salinity affects the transfer of marinade flavors into the meat, though. Too little salt may be detrimental in that regard.

I think the slices at an angle across the grain of the flank steak produce a better texture than either the tri-tip or sirloin.

So, good result. If I didn't keep poking at it and taking pictures it would be an entirely hands-free operation between hanging and harvesting, so probably only about an hour of active time is required. It works out to a little more than $11/pound, while I see it advertised for more like $25 - $40/pound. It's much tastier than any beef jerky I've ever had. Definitely a worthy undertaking

Monday, September 13, 2010

homemade biltong dryer AKA the meat wardrobe

Biltong is a cured, air-dried meat. Some people dry it outdoors for a little extra tree and insect flavor, some hang it in a closet for a hint of cedar and lint, and some use a low oven and live without baked potatoes for a whole week. An artificial heat source is optional, although temperature and humidity obviously have a large effect on the drying time.

For my first attempt last year I wanted a somewhat controlled and sanitary environment for drying the biltong, as well as one that wouldn't conflict with other household activities. I ruled out the garage, oven, and my sock drawer and figured I'd build something.

My thoughts quickly turned to the wardrobe moving boxes we purchased several years ago. They were so expensive that I just couldn't bear to throw them out. They have over 10 cubic feet of volume, a shirt and meat hanging rod, several cutouts for carrying and venting, and a convenient access panel. I also had a small thermostatically controlled forced air heater with a safety shutoff. Perfect!

I cut a piece of scrap plexiglas, probably left over from the construction of some reptile enclosure, for a viewing window.

This spare oven thermometer goes down to 100 degrees F, which seems fine for the low end. The heater, pretty close to its lowest power and thermostat settings, holds the temperature just fine at 100 to 120 degrees.

I lined the bottom of the box with aluminum foil for sanitation. At least initially the meat does drip a bit. Here's my five pound first batch hanging.

And here it is all done.

One reasonable modification would be to raise the height of the bar. There's plenty of room to go up with it, and very long cuts of meat might hang low enough to be undesirably close to the heater.

Overall it ends up being a convenient and multitasking tool. The box breaks down for flat storage, and the heater keeps the garage smelling meaty fresh when I'm out there in cold weather.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

first homemade kvas, part 2 (the sour!)

While the first bottle of my first homemade kvas was disappointing, I wasn't entirely surprised. The second bottle made up for it by being something completely unexpected and quite good! The third was the same. The difference? Months of conditioning.

It has been nearly nine months since I bottled it. I opened the third and final bottle tonight, having opened the second several months ago. I don't think there was much difference between those two. But the difference between them and the first was stunning. An aged kvas can apparently be a delightful thing.

It has become something akin to a sour Belgian beer. It's not a beverage I'd want to drink in any great quantity, but a small glass is delicious and refreshing. The molasses flavor, for which I don't much care, is basically gone. There's a slight dark fruitiness, perhaps in part from the few raisins or perhaps as a byproduct of the fermentation. The tartness combined with a medium body and robust mouthfeel is really pleasant. As far as I know bread-based kvas is intended for fresh consumption so this result was a complete surprise.

I've been wanting to brew a sour beer ever since tasting the fantastic Flanders red ale that Zach brought to a homebrew club meeting last summer. Maybe I'll do one of those next.

testing the $3 popover pan

While dropping of some stuff at a thrift store I made my usual book and electronics scavenging run and found a nearly mint condition "professional quality" black steel popover pan in the original box for $3! (I was looking at more than books and bits, obviously.) The heavy black steel is supposed to lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees and decrease the baking time by 10% or more.

For starters I tried the recipe on the front of the box. At the time I didn't have any all-purpose flour so I figured I'd experiment with what I had: whole wheat pastry flour and white whole wheat flour. I also added the "speck of soda" penned in by the previous owner. I wasn't surprised when this didn't produce the ideal result. Probably any significant proportion of whole wheat with its jagged shards of bran is going to prevent the batter from capturing the steam that makes the popover pop. They did puff to a degree, but the interior was fairly solid. Still, they were light and tasty, like a whole wheat German pancake.

After restocking the cupboard with unbleached AP flour I tried again, omitting the soda speck. Now that I think about it, the author of that modification surely meant baking powder, not soda. Perfect results this time.

Alton Brown's popover recipe in I'm Just Here For More Food is a little different, adding some butter, using some water and less milk, and using one less egg. I'll have to try that next.

first coffee roast in modified Popcorn Pumper

I cleaned off my work bench the other day, organizing and storing the bazillion fasteners, tools, scraps, instruction manuals, and spare household pets. It was a beautiful blank slate for the first time since we moved in, what, five years ago? And it was literally crying out for projects!

While cleaning up the rest of the garage I found the Popcorn Pumper, which I haven't used for roasting coffee since finding the Poppery II. Seemed like a good time to toy with a few modifications. I started small, simply bypassing the thermal switch (and thereby creating a magnificent fire hazard). This is just a matter of soldering a wire between the terminals on either end of the thermostat and fuse, more or less according to this Engadget how-to. This keeps the heating coil on constantly, delivering significantly greater heat. (This great article has more explanation of the circuitry in these things.)

I also made an aluminum chimney to replace the bulky plastic hood, which really does not care for these temperatures. This was just some leftover aluminum roof flashing, rolled and fastened with J-B Weld.

The first trial run was excellent! I took it outside, preheated for a minute, and added enough beans for there to be some agitation but no swirling. I stirred occasionally with a wooden spoon, which is now possible since I can get straight into the chamber. The difference in heat was obvious. Roasting time was greatly reduced, and it's clear that any desired roast can be achieved without baking the beans. The chaff was all blasted directly out the chimney.

I didn't take any measurements but the results are clear. This is an enormous improvement over the original machine and the Poppery II as well. This was Sweet Maria's Classic Italian espresso blend and I took it to a very dark roast with a speed and consistency I've never seen.

2010-09-13 update: Tried again, this time shooting for a lighter roast. 4.65 ounces for five minutes produced this:

It was just entering second crack. That may be a little faster than is desirable. The roaster could have handled more beans. Adding beans generally speeds things up but I'm not sure that would be true in this case where I'm doing some manual agitation until the beans are light enough to fluidize. I guess the best approach will be to vary the supply voltage.