Archive for the ‘culinary insanity’ Category
No, we’re not done with the pig’s blood just yet.
In fact, I’ve a feeling there could be 38 different dishes you can cook with Black Pudding. Thirty-eight at the very least.
Not that I plan on naming them all here.
In fact, I’ll just mention two or three.
First off: Chopper’s Lancashire Hotpot. He made this one on the Saturday after the black pudding was done and served it to unsuspecting guests. The guests were quite pleased and went back to the kitchen for seconds.
That Sunday morning, Chopper made a scramble with spinach, onion, more bits of black pudding, and the last remaining smidge of Lancashire Hotpot. It too was quite tasty, though it could have used something sweet to temper the spinach/onion/pig’s blood nexus.
Enter, apples. Inspired by denzylle’s comment on our Happy Entrails to You post, Chopper created a frittata wherein the black pudding mixed it up with tasty, crunchy bits of Granny Smith apple and the whole thing was topped with grated kasseri.
We declared it tasty and wolfed it down, thus ending Black Pudding Days at casa Belly Timber after only three dishes.
Only three? Surely there must be more!
Now, I’d offer up a challenge to see who can come up with the largest number of black pudding variations, but to be perfectly honest, after writing this post up I think I’m quite ready to move on from pig’s blood for at least a short while. So instead, because we’re never completely done with All Things British in these parts, and because we believe in extending all birthday celebrations at least a week and a half, your challenge (with a hat tip to Riba Rambles for the meme) is this:
Grab a pencil and paper and without looking at any resources, see if you can list all 38 (most commonly agreed upon) Shakespeare plays. And don’t give me any of that silly Francis Bacon really wrote them twaddle.
No! It’s not a joke, it’s an adventure!
I happen to believe one should firmly embrace one’s ancestors’ culinary traditions. Especially when one has ancestors who interbred, had bad teeth, killed one another off on a regular basis, and consumed far too many unnervingly rich, meat-based dishes.
I am, of course, talking about the Plantagenets. We’ve got a chart somewhere around here. On it, I can draw a rather crooked line from me back to Henry II. Not that I particularly want to be related to the king who offed Thomas Becket, but I am happy to claim a few other connections, including the fellow on the right here, who was, despite what those bratty Tudors say, a pretty decent guy.
I bet he ate some damned tasty food before riding off into battle.
Like this crazy thing Chopper’s making.
It looks like a sausage, but he tells me it’s called Black Pudding. I am told it is tasty and not at all dangerous. Not like that Black Pudding that enveloped and digested Timion Vayla, my second level paladin in the Dungeon of Aeras Kinth. Boy, was that a bad night.
No, this Black Pudding is made from tasty things like oatmeal and onions. Oh, and pig’s blood. Lots of pig’s blood. Turns out our local Asian market sells pig’s blood by the pint, and when Chopper made this discovery, I knew we were left with only two choices: Black Pudding or a reenactment of the prom night sequence from Carrie. Since the latter would mean a Chopper impersonation of John Travolta, we opted for the Black Pudding.
Now, I haven’t tasted it yet, so I can’t tell you anything about the results. I can tell you that it’s quite black (the hour and a half plus in the oven congealed the blood quite nicely), and the sausage stuffing procedure was quite messy. So messy, in fact, I may have give up that fantasy I have about CSI Warrick Brown showing up at the door with a spray bottle of Luminol. Far, far too risky.
On the bright side, no prom dresses were ruined in the procedure, and I’d like to think we did my Plantagenet ancestors proud. Especially the ones who preferred a good feast over a good beheading.
(Next: we devour the happy entrails and live to tell the tale.)
Ilva has asked to see kitchen photos and I am compelled to comply.
I blame a web stat for this.
See, back in October of 2005, way back when Belly Timber was less than a year old and our notion of search strings was all shiny and new, we discovered something quite amusing: More people showed up on our doorstep because they’d googled â€œmessy kitchenâ€ then for any other reason.
Funny thing, though: That wasn’t a photo of our current kitchen on San Juan Island. It was a photo of our Portland kitchen â€“ a kitchen we’d deserted ten months earlier. So, not wanting to disappoint Seekers of the Mess, we then posted new photos of our new messy kitchen, complete with messy diagrams. Little did we know where that would lead.
Just a day later, Kevin took up the gauntlet (we’d thrown a gauntlet?) and posted photos of his kitchen. Shortly thereafter, Kalyn followed suit, and within hours of this first trio of posts, Kevin declared it a â€œmovementâ€ and announced it on Food Blog S’cool. Soon, everyone was showing off their kitchens and soon it became apparent that ours was indeed the messiest.
In fact, our messy kitchen photos took on a life of their own, appearing in unexpected places, sometimes even illustrating a cautionary tale, or a â€œhow not toâ€ Q&A on a blog far more serious than our own. (Geez, people, we thought, don’t you ever make messes when you cook?)
And now? Now we’re back in that Portland kitchen and though it’s still messy, it isn’t quite as messy as it was before. There’s a reason for that. (No, we didn’t clean up for the camera this time.) We’ve a new tale to tell: We’re renovating.
See that corner just past the stove? We’ve got a gas cooktop for that corner. It’s going in at a 45 degree angle, with a nice big counter that stretches from near the doorway over to the drawers just right of the sink. Above it, we’ll have a range hood, and instead of those half-broken drawers? A dishwasher â€“ our first kitchen ever with a dishwasher! Oh, and that scungy linoleum floor’s going away, and needless to say, we’re painting the walls and the ceiling, and check this out:
It’s our work island. Cute, eh? Don’t worry, it won’t be that small forever. Soon it’ll be taller, and have shelving, and be suitable for vegetable slicing in all its butcher-blocky glory. And just beyond it, we’ll have more counter space, and storage space, and (oh, I love this part!) a pot rack above so we’ll finally have a place for all our pots!
Oh, and… shhhh… we’ve got a secret:
We’re barely spending anything.
It’s like this:
- All the paint? We’ve got from the
Habitat for Humanity storeHabitat ReStore and from the mis-tinted five-buck-a-gallon section at Rodda.
- The gas cooktop is from the last time my brother renovated his kitchen. We snagged it at his yard sale for free.
- The pot rack, Chopper’s step dad made from copper pipe scraps at his place of work.
- The butcher block island is an old table my sister’s restoring for us as a Christmas present.
- The shelving? We’re building it ourselves and the lumber’s all used cedar decking, free from Craig’s List.
We’re still on the prowl for flooring, more counter tops, a dishwasher, and an oven (or a double-decker, if we’re extra lucky), and we’d die happy if we could score replacement cupboards, and of course this would be tons easier if we could just hire a contractor or buy everything new, but here’s what makes this extra cool:
Not only have we spent just twenty bucks on the entire project so far, we are saving trees from the lumber mill and junk from the landfill! We are frugal eco-warriors! Woohoo!
And, naturally, because we’ve got lots of searching and building to do, this project will take quite a while, and that means one thing for certain: many many messy kitchen days in our future!
Most people recoil in horror when they are told what the primary ingredient is in the classic Mexican breakfast dish menudo. No, it’s not Ricky Martin…
The first time I ever tried menudo was at a tiny Mexican cafe in San Diego back in the mid-nineties. My friends told me it was good, and having never heard of it before — I was rather young — I ordered it. Little did I know I was about to have a “Mikey” moment, where my friends were just seeing if I’d eat it. Well, I did, and I really liked it, especially the little tender chewy bits.
“What was that?” I asked my friends as they were about to burst into laughter…
That’s right, beef tripe. Stomach of cow. The funny part for me was that I didn’t mind.
Now, I’ve always been up for a good experiment, so why not try my hand at this culinary gem?
Menudo a la Chopper
- 2 pounds Beef honeycomb tripe
- 1 15 ounce can Yellow hominy
- 4 Red jalapeños, seeded and diced
- 2 teaspoons Coriander seed
- 2 teaspoons Cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon Cloves, whole
- 1 bunch Cilantro, minced
- 1 Pig’s foot
- 2 quarts Chicken broth
- To taste Salt & pepper
- Toast spices in a small, dry pan and grind.
- Wash the tripe thoroughly with luke-warm water, then cut into one inch squares.
- In a pot, bring the broth to a boil and add cut tripe and pig’s foot. Cover tightly, and boil for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
- Add hominy and jalapeños and continue to simmer for another half hour.
- Add spice blend, and half of the minced cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Garnish with avocado slices, a crumbling of queso fresco, and a pinch of minced cilantro.
- Serve with warm corn tortillas.
I think I did it justice. It was spicy the way I like it, and the texture was just like I remember. It was good enough for Mrs. D to give it a try. In her words…
First, let me get this out of the way: The tripe terrified me. I mean, look at it. It looks like industrial insulation gone horribly wrong. Or the famous lost hive of the Killer Sea Bees of the Great Barrier Reef. Something entirely inedible, at the very least.
Oh, and it stank. It stank for a rather long time. That “2 to 2 1/2 hours” up there in the directions? Figure on at least half of that time with windows open and fans on high. I can’t quite place the smell — I have to think back, as this dish was one of the last Chopper prepared up on the island — but I imagine it reminded me of the County Fair. And not in a good way.
But then… somewhere around three hours into the process, everything changed. I began to notice the spices, the chiles, the hominy, and at long last the kitchen smelled like dinner.
And I was hungry.
And I chowed down. And it was good. Tripetastically delicious. Indeed, I didn’t have to pretend the tripe wasn’t there, because once it’s cooked (or rather, once it’s been boiled to an inch of its freaky life), tripe is a tender thing that grabs onto it’s little spicy neighbors and makes them taste all the better.
Now, I’m told by various well-informed sources that menudo is the cure for a wicked hangover. We’ll have to keep that in mind, but it will require planning. As in: cook first, party later. I don’t think I need to tell you that boiling tripe while nursing a hangover is not an activity we intend on trying in this or any other lifetime.
A final note: Although we prepared and ate this dish several weeks ago, Chopper just passed the recipe along to me today. Nothing terribly surprising, there — we’ve been horrendously busy with the move — but in the recipe itself, you’ll note an item that I did not mention in my report above: Pig’s foot.
In fact, just an hour or so ago when I glanced at the recipe for the first time, I blinked, stared across our basement cave and said “WTF, PIG’S FOOT??” (Or words to that effect.) You see, I had absolutely no idea Chopper had slipped a pig’s foot into the brew. Truth is, he pulled it (or what was left of it) out before serving, but he tells me that the removal of the pig’s foot is entirely optional and up to the discretion of the menudo master at hand.
Thank you for that one, Chopper. One scary meat at a time.
Chopper sez: So, I’ll consider this experiment in Chopper’s lab a success. What’s next, you may ask… Just wait and see.
MizD sez: Braaaains, I tell you. Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiins. (Hey, what can I say? We’re only seven and a half weeks from Halloween.)
(In our so-tardy-it-shouldn’t-count second entry for Paper Chef, we stick close to home for our tale of Independence. How close to home? Oh, about 400 yards up the road. And as for that tardy thing — what was it the late, great Douglas Adams once said? Oh yes: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Words to live by.)
So, Independence Day, yet again.
You probably thought we Yanks were done with those pesky Brits back in 1776. Wrong. ‘Round these parts, sovereignty didn’t get settled till almost a hundred years later. We blame the pig.
The roots of our story can be traced back to Article III of the Treaty of 1818: the joint occupation of Oregon Country by the United States and Great Britain. How the treaty signers thought two countries vying for land claims and navigation rights would resolve any boundary issues is anyone’s guess, but nevertheless, the increasingly tumultuous Oregon Country free-for-all continued for 28 years, until, in 1846, the two sides determined they’d had enough. They signed the Oregon Treaty on June 15th, set the border between the US and Canada at the 49th Parallel (excepting lower Vancouver Island), and that was that.
Or so they thought.
Trouble is, the folks signing the treaty were, to put it bluntly, cartographically inept. The border between Canada’s Vancouver Island and the US mainland, they said, should lie down the middle of the “major channel” through the islands. Easy to say if there’s one major channel.
Not so easy if there are two.
And not at all easy if both Yanks and Brits are enjoying the resources of the group of islands that lie in the middle.
And so, while politicians squabbled over maps and over which strait was “major” — Haro to the west or Rosario to the east — settlers arrived from other parts of the continent and soon American “squatters” (as the British preferred to call them), had laid claim to land just a stone’s throw from the sheep runs of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Belle Vue Farm at the southern end of San Juan Island.
And for the most part, the sheep ran along their runs, and the handful of Americans eked out a living on their tiny parcels of land (which the British insisted were most decidedly not theirs), and all was, if not calm, at least not explosively tense.
Until the pig entered the picture.
For sheep will trot right past a farmer’s potato patch, even if there’s nothing much for fencing in their way, but pigs, or more specifically Berkshire boars? They’re born for rooting, and when they sense potatoes, they have at it.
And having at it was just what one particular Hudson’s Bay Company pig was doing in Lyman Cutlar’s potato patch on the morning of June 15th, 1859. And Cutlar had had enough. He grabbed his rifle and shot it.
Charles Griffin, Belle Vue Farm’s manager, was not pleased in the least. He demanded exorbitant compensation. Cutlar, being an obstinate sort, refused. Griffin, being equally obstinate, demanded Cutlar’s arrest. A blink of an eye later, the American settlers on San Juan Island (all 18 of them or so) had armed themselves and were demanding military protection.
In July, the first American soldiers arrived. In August, British war ships. By the end of the summer, the count was Americans: 461, British 2,140, and — most happily for all involved — not a single casualty of war.
Except, of course, for the pig.
This peaceful standoff — so peaceful that troops from both sides celebrated holidays together and held sporting events on the prairie at American Camp — continued for 13 years. In November of 1872, the Royal Marines withdrew from English Camp at the north end of the island, not because they’d been defeated in battle, or even because the Crown had called it quits. No, in fact, the American and British governments did what governments do so well in border disputes such as this: they passed the buck. They turned to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany and said, excuse me, could you figure this one out for us?
And, after a year of meetings by his three-man commission in Geneva, Kaiser Wilhelm did just that, and ruled in favor of the United States.
These days, the Pig War is serious business. We’ve got our two National Parks, the 4th of July Pig War Barbecue, the Pig War Museum, Encampment, over a dozen books about the subject, and no doubt a good forty other things I’ve forgotten. Truly, there’s a bit of a porcine glut in these parts.
Even so, when it came time to commemorate Independence Day (or rather the San Juan Island version with all its local piggy trappings) we couldn’t resist adding our own culinary homage to the mix. And, because we are (as I mentioned in the intro) only 400 yards from where this all happened, I took said homage on a field trip.
On June 3rd we took a road trip to Seattle and indulged in a wee bit of geeky revelry. Here, at long last, is our trip report.
1. The party begins with a cheese sandwich.
It’s the beginning of February and we’re waist deep in The Great Cheese Sandwich Controversy of 2006. Chopper’s just grilled up this crazy tuna melt extravaganza, and I’m all set to blog on it, when I see this post over on Food Blog S’cool. Andrew of Spittoon is pointing us toward free wine from the Stormhoek Winery in South Africa. Free wine? Cool! How can I pass that up?
So, I head over to gapingvoid and the free wine blurb …. and get utterly sidetracked reading Hugh Macleod’s most excellent manifesto on How to Be Creative. Now that’s what I’m talking about, I think, and promptly rewrite my first cheese sannie post, pack my bags, and run off to the crazy land of Gastroblogia.
And then, I sign up for the free wine, because first of all, duh, free wine, and second of all, this whole Geek Dinner thing is just plain cool.
Now, where to go to find a bunch of geeks?
We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors,
We’ll range and we’ll roam over all the salt seas,
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of old England:
From Ushant to Scilly ’tis thirty-five leagues.
— traditional sea shanty, as sung by the crew of the HMS Polychrest
Or, to be more precise, Belly Timber takes to the English Channel, and to a rather peculiar double-ended boat and its famous captain, Lucky Jack Aubrey.
What’s What’s For Pud, you ask, and what the devil does it have to do with sailors?
Exactly this: What’s For Pud is a celebration of English ‘afters’ — pud, pudding, biscuits, sweets — those sticky sweet, scrumptious dishes that prove wrong all the naysayers who turn their noses up at quintessential English cuisine. And we here at Belly Timber, being rather nautically inclined to begin with, believe that nowhere else can one find dishes more quintessentially English than aboard the great ships of the British Navy during the Golden Age of Sail.
Because, as we know, meals aboard Lord Nelson’s fleet were all about two glorious things: Rum and suet.
Yes, I did indeed say suet.
And nice big bottles o’ rum, by gum.
Which brings us to our splendid St. George’s Day dish: Figgy-dowdy.
I’m not sure what’s gotten into him, but Chopper’s been chomping at the Paper Chef bit extra hard for days. Usually, when the time grows nigh, he gets notions. “Whatever the ingredients are,” he says, days before they’re announced, “I’m gonna use _____.” And then he proceeds to name some exotic item in our pantry or our freezer that quite possibly won’t go with anything on the final Paper Chef ingredient list.
And so, on Friday afternoon, when we checked the list, it was no surprise that thoughts of the freezer item du jour fled out the window and instead we began the required pondering of item number four.
Ingredient 1: Rice
Ingredient 2: Carrots
Ingredient 3: Anchovies
Ingredient 4: Something from the other side of the world that helps make this dish a celebration for you.
Hmmm… Something from the other side of the world, we contemplate, conveniently forgetting the whole “celebration” bit because just finding something from the other side of the world around these parts can be quite the challenge.
Immediately, Chopper starts talking Asian food because, well, the ingredients rather scream Asian, but I interrupt and say, “hey, let’s figure out where exactly the other side of the world is. Who knows. It could be nowhere near Asia, geographically speaking.”
So, after several minutes of semi-fruitless longitude, latitude, and antipode googling, we pull out our trusty National Geographic Atlas of the World and do the math.
Ahah. Page 168, 48S, 57E give or take a few degrees, and there we are. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.
But wait! There’s land nearby! Maybe they’ve got a national cuisine!
Right. The nearest land to our antipode, as it happens, is a tiny little island called ÃŽle de l’Est, the (appropriately named) Eastern most member of the Crozet Islands.
Hey! They’re a French Colony — we can cook something French! Wait a sec. France still has colonies?
Well, an interesting thought, but probably not exactly what Owen, our illustrious Paper Chef host, had in mind. No, let’s check out the local flora and fauna… No trees, not much growing on the ground that looks edible… a few imported species that, for the most part, have vanished… Ah, here we go:
Whoa. Okay, okay, we’re not really going to cook penguin. They’re too cute and fluffy, and honestly where is one supposed to find penguin meat on this short notice?
(By the way when searching (unsuccessfully) for nearby penguin vendors, we happened upon a place in Seattle that sells kangaroo! Note for future reference…)
So then, no food from the antipode, sad to say.
We stare at the map a while longer.
“Well,” I offer, “it’s kinda close to Africa.”
(And no, we are not googling that scary place in the Midwest that sells lion meat.)
So, Chopper dives into a bit of quick spice research and comes up with tamarind, a tasty fruit native to tropical Africa. He jumps in the car, heads out to the store and… comes back empty-handed. Tamarind is not to be found on our island.
Back to the spice research.
Ahah! Fenugreek, indigenous to Northern Africa through the Mediterranean and into Asia, this herb is extremely common in African cuisine, so that could count, right? You know fenugreek was used by ancient Egyptians to embalm mummies? How cool is that?
Okay, that’s one… close to our antipode, though rather far to the north. So, we fudge a little.
Meanwhile, there’s that whole “celebration” thing we’ve forgotten about. We ponder a bit further, and unable to settle on a single ingredient number four, decide to celebrate the following cool, far-from-home items we’ve located on recent culinary expeditions, first to our local favorite shop The Gourmet’s Galley, and then to Uwajimaya in Seattle.
1) Szechwan peppercorns. I spotted a bag of these at Gourmet’s Galley a short while back and sent Chopper into paroxysms of joy. These babies aren’t easy to find. For a while, the FDA had a complete ban on their importation because they carried a citrus canker, but this past spring that ban was lifted after it was discovered that heating the peppercorns to 160F killed the canker bacteria. Now, they’re simply heated before importation. (And there was much rejoicing!)
2) From Uwajimaya, dried shitake mushrooms. Yeah, they’re not that hard to find — unless you live on an island, and then the come in tiny, “gourmet” packages that cost an arm and two kidneys. So, we got the nice big bag at Uwajimaya, and again, there was much rejoicing!
3) Last, because it’s on the list already, the piece de resistance for our festive dish: anchovies. Not anchovies in a tin, or anchovies in a jar, but dried anchovies from Japan. The ones that still look like cute little fishies, so much so that if you glued strings to them and hung them from the ceiling under a blue light you’d have quite a lovely little aquatic mobile (not to mention one hell of a great Christmas present for the cat). Yes, those anchovies, because there’s nothing that says Insane Belly Timber Paper Chef Entry quite like dried fish leaping out of shitake mushroom cap siu mai.
Special Siu Mai and Fried Shrimp in Chili Sauce
Flavoring paste (for both recipes)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 2 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
Toast spices and grind them with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Blanch carrot in boiling water until soft, then place all ingredients in a blender and puree.
Special Siu Mai
- 3/4 pound pork spare rib meat
- 6 whole water chestnuts, julienned
- 2 tablespoon flavoring paste (see above)
- 15 dried shitake mushroom caps
- 15 dried anchovies
Cut sparerib meat into cubes and place into a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
Place meat and flavoring paste in a mixing bowl and gently kneed together with your hands and then refrigerate for at least eight hours.
After meat mixture is chilled, soak mushroom caps in enough water to cover for 30 minutes.
Remove the mushroom caps from water and squeeze out excess.
Take meat mixture and mold it into small balls. Fill the mushroom caps with meat and place a dried anchovy in each as garnish. Steam for 20 to 25 minutes.
Serve with steamed rice.
Fried Shrimp in Chili Sauce
- 15 21/30 shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Flour, egg, and panko for breading
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons Chinese hot bean paste
- 2 tablespoons Flavoring Paste (see above)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
Bread and fry shrimp in vegetable oil until golden brown.
Remove from oil, drain and set aside.
In a wok, heat peanut oil until smoking.
Add hot bean paste and flavoring paste
When the aroma becomes thick and ingredients begin to smoke, add fish sauce.
Add shrimp and toss until the shrimp are thoroughly covered with the sauce.
Serve with steamed rice.
Serving suggestion: Furikake for an extra fishy kick.
(Okay, we admit, the rice isn’t so much in the dishes as under the dishes, but we’ll just plead “dim sum” as an excuse and suggest that one does not ever eat dim sum without copious amounts of steamed rice.)
So, without further ado, here are Noodle’s categories and our self-nomination within each appropriate one.
Paper Chef Personality – creative, clever or witty writer. ::cough:: Um, penguin meat and fishie mobiles. Do you need to ask?
Paper Chef Super Saver – budget meals or crowd pleaser specialist. We’re probably not suited to this one because, frankly, I’m too lazy to do the math. I will say that the only items that cost more than a buck or two were the shrimp and the pork spare rib meat, and even all of that was pretty darned cheap. Hell, if dim sum’s not cheap, it’s not doing its job and should be sacked immediately.
Paper Chef Prestige – food styling, presentation or plating up expert. Styling? Hahahahahahahah. Sorry. Do leaping fishies count?
Paper Chef Nutrition Genie – magician for getting fussy diners to eat veggies, less salt, less fat. Usually, Chopper Dave and the phrase “eat veggies, less salt, less fat” do not belong in the same kitchen, but with Asian food he makes an exception. On the Chopper Health Scale, I’d give these dishes a solid 8.5.
Paper Chef Supreme – the champion for Paper Chef #13. Well, one would assume that if we’re here at all, we’re here for the big prize, eh?
So then, clear as mud.
But wait, there’s more! Didn’t Noodle say something about bonus points?
Oh crap! We forgot the festive atmosphere! Quick! Scramble for the camera and –didn’t Noodle Cook say something about — what was it — beer? Incense?
Ah, here we are:
Not long after my first experience with home made Thai red curry paste, I wrote up a remembrance of the blessed event in my journal. This was months before the launch of Belly Timber. We were, in fact, waist deep in all things culinary school at the time, meaning, time to blog? Hah. Sleep first, blog later. Oh, yeah, and drink. And cook crazy, succulent inventions with fellow students till all hours of the night.
Curry paste night did not include fellow students. Instead, it was just me, Chopper, and a serious lack of protective equipment. So…
Be warned, the following contains large doses of C.I.P. (Capsaicin Induced Profanity). Proceed with extreme caution. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. I get near Capsaicin and I swear like a sailor. I mean it.
September 15th, 2004
I swear to God, I did not fucking touch my eye.
So, here I am, at the computer, taking a break from web design hell to read the latest treatise on kerning and superscript properties in ancient Sumerian clay tablets, when Chopper calls me into the kitchen for assistance. We’d just gone to An Dong, aka the world’s cheapest Asian market that happens to be located on 54th & Powell, and Chopper is now dealing with his main purchase: a one pound bag of dehydrated red chile peppers.
Chopper says, “I need to remove the seeds from all these chiles. There’s a ton of them, so I need your help.”
I think. Sure. How hard can this be? Stand at the cutting board and strip seeds from the insides of dried chiles. Chopper hands me a small knife to open the chiles up and I get to work.
Now, I know already that chile seeds are hot, and that the oil from chiles can sting if it gets in the wrong place; tongue, nostril, eye — and lord help you if you have to take a piss while stripping chile seeds — but what I do not know is that the oil from dried chiles is more concentrated than just any old chile oil, and a mild sting (back the last time I made salsa) is now the agonizing fury of a thousand matches, all trained at my screaming, membrane-peeled eyeball.
I swear to God, I did not fucking touch my eye.
I got my finger close to it, remembered, then stopped. But, when de-seeding a third of a pound of dried chiles, close counts. The oil has a life of its own. It leaps from fingertip to eyeball, and the next thing I know I’m in the bathroom, in agony, splashing water on my face, screaming “I swear to God, I did not…” Well, you get the idea.
After that, perhaps twenty minutes later when I am able to open my eye again, I rub my nose. Holy crapping hell, it feels like the eighth week of the Worst Cold Known to Mankind. It is hemorrhagically painful.
I curse Chopper out for his inability to remind me to be more careful. And then he has to go take a piss.
Later, when we’ve both recovered, we mix up the Thai red curry paste — lemongrass, galangal, ground peppercorns, cumin, fenugreek and coriander, lime zest, garlic, shallots, and the I-am-so-not-touching-those-ever-again chiles. The smell permeates the kitchen. My eyes water, but do not sting. The final product: A pint of the stuff, ready to mix with coconut milk and a meat of choice, potent enough to last many meals.
Still later, my neck aches from too much web design hell, so I get out the tiger balm and apply it liberally. By this point I’ve washed my hands several times, but — and Chopper does not believe me but I swear to this — the remaining chili oil is reactivated by the tiger balm and my fingers begin to sting like crazy. I go to sleep with stingy fingers and I wake up with stingy fingers.
In the afternoon, we make Thai red curry with pork and coconut milk over jasmine rice.
Chopper takes a bite, says “It’s a little bit hot. Too.”
“Too?” I ask, thinking if it’s too hot for Chopper it’ll be way too hot for me. He has the tolerance of NASA heat shielding.
“No, two,” he says. “On the scale.”
I take a bite.
Sweet Jumping Jehosiphat almighty, it’s hot. It’s not a two. It’s a fucking seventeen. I go back to the kitchen and dish all of the remaining rice out of the steamer, pour myself a pint glass of water and curse my gut for being intolerant of milk.
Next time, I tell him. One teaspoon full of paste to two cans of coconut milk. The paste will last longer that way, and it’s oh-so-tasty so we oh-so-want it to last a Very Long Time.
Hours later, as I type this, I note that my fingers still sting ever so slightly, and I’m still afraid to bring them within an inch of my eye.
I wonder if Chopper will mind if I suggest we learn how to do home made sorbet next?
People, what is it with you?
But no. You stumble here — as our sad stats tell us — for one reason above all others. You stumble here because we have a
That’s right. “Messy kitchen” is our number one search string result. And not by a nose either. It beats out “belly timber” at number two by a substantial margin. What is up with that? Are messy kitchens so rare that visitors must come to gawk?
Oh very well. If you must, we will accommodate.
First off, let me point out that the messy kitchen in our introductory post, is not our current kitchen. That kitchen belongs to the house we used to live in when we lived in Portland, and I assure you, I’m confident that it’s not nearly as messy now as it was then.
That’s not to say we don’t have a messy kitchen now. This time though, we’ve got an excuse. Don’t believe me? Here, take a look:
That’s the kitchen. And I mean the whole kitchen. Three steps to the left and you’re in the bathroom. Walk toward the camera and you hit the dining room table.
To better illustrate the utter chaos that is our messy kitchen, I have created this fine work of digital art. Okay, I’ve drawn badly on the photo. Read on to revel in our daily battles and chortle at our culinary misfortunes.
2. This is the microwave. There are things in front of it. There are always things in front of it. To use the microwave, one must liberate counter space elsewhere so that one can move the things and then open the door. One gets very cranky when things appear in front of the microwave while food is inside.
3. This is one of six shelves. It is unclear whether these shelves are for dishes or for food. Right now, they are for both. The dividing line between tea boxes, honey containers, and clean glassware is rather vague, but no one’s poured juice into a tin of Earl Grey. Yet.
4. Another shelf. I’m not entirely sure what’s in that basket. I hope it’s nothing edible that’s gone bad.
5. Above the fridge, we have pot and pan storage. And plastic ware storage. And a spot for the salad spinner. And I think that’s a mixing bowl in back. I’d probably use it, if I could reach it.
6. That’s the rice cooker. Behind it is the coffee maker. Behind that, is the toaster. Woe to anyone who wishes to make rice, coffee, and toast all at the same time.
7. I have no idea if storing grains and dried peppers in glass jars in a window is a good idea. I don’t care. It’s that or a closet.
8. Oh look! More shelves! These shelves are just for dishes. Unfortunately, they are the only shelves just for dishes, and they are rather crowded. And a bit dusty. And sometimes food ends up there if we need to place it out of reach of The Cat.
9. This is an electrical outlet. It’s one of three (the third being so hard to reach it’s never used). This one runs the blender, the food processor, the can opener, and the clock radio, all of which live on the counter next to the sink. Yes, there’s a sink over there somewhere!
10. I think that’s a small appliance. Or maybe it’s another pan. There’s a mortar and pestle in that mess somewhere too. Oh, and paper towels for cleaning off the counter. Wait a sec… we have a counter? Who knew?
11. The burner under this pot hardly ever works.
12. The burner under this tea kettle never works.
13. This burner works!
14. This burner used to be really annoying and slide out of place all the time, but we fixed it. Now we rejoice in having a stove that is more than 50% functional!
15. Cupboards. Yes, they face the dining area. They contain cereal and baking ingredients, and are impossible to get to if anyone is sitting at the dining room table. Okay, I exaggerate. Not impossible, but we have to whine to make people move out of the way.
16. And for tonight’s meal, Madame, straight from our counter “wine rack,” Carlo Rossi’s fine burgundy, by the gallon.
17. Is that a cutting board? Why yes it is! Sometimes we’re even able to clear it off so we can cut things. For really big meals, we’ve got a second, smaller board that I use on the dining room table. You can’t see it in this picture because I usually store it in the corner. On the floor. Until someone trips over it, and then it gets moved and I have to search for it again. Yes that’s a dog brush at the front of the counter. Don’t ask.
18. Bags-o-trash, because there’s never enough room under the sink. We have to be careful though: Platelicker hasn’t quite grasped the distinction between “bags-o-trash” and “bags-o-gross-slimy-stuff-for-dogs-to-play-with.”
Now, just so you don’t think we’re completely screwed, we do have this lovely additional pot and pan storage area:
Ahem. Yes, that’s the dining area’s window seat. Just, ignore that. Go about your business.
Oh, and look! We have a pantry!
Well, sort of a pantry. More of an alcove, really. But it’s got shelves and the shelves have food on them, so that counts, right? To bad about that pesky hot water heater in the back taking up all that room, eh?
So, I know what you’re probably all thinking. You’re thinking “You have a kitchen like that and you write a food blog? Are you people INSANE?”
Well, if you have to ask…
In all seriousness though, we do intend to do something about this calamitous crisis of space. No, we won’t be knocking out any walls or putting in additional cabinets. We will be expanding the old fashioned way. We will turn the clock back to frontier-style living and make use of the great outdoors.
That’s right. Meet our new kitchen annex:
The Messy Porch: Future home of pot and pan storage and a brand new chest freezer!
Let’s get this out of the way first: We’re weird.
Not only are we weird, but we are leaving for the weekend bright and early Friday morning. Now, one would think this departure would mean that we’d given up any hope of participating in either Sugar High Friday or Is My Blog Burning. Or, that at the most we’d pick one of these two events and leave it at that. But since we are, as we said, weird, we believe that instead of ignoring food blogging events when we’re pressed for time, we should embrace them. Both at once. With zeal.
And with (yes, you’ve guessed it by now) weirdness.
And so, with a cupful of grapefruit juice and a sea of aspic (ocean blue, of course), we christen the Sweet Fleet:
Puff pastry barquettes filled with grapefruit pastry cream, topped with white chocolate sails, on a sea of blue-tinted aspic with foamy wakes of egg white and a savory tropical island made of almond meal, oregano underbrush, and a palm of carrot trunk, green bell pepper fronds, and marzipan cocoanuts.
Note for the more adventurous: We didn’t actually eat much of this. Which isn’t to say the barquettes weren’t good, they were just…well, a bit over-the-top.
Other important safety tips (aka Chopper remembers why he hates marzipan…again.):
1. Toothpicks and marzipan can only hold together a palm tree made of sliced vegetables for so long.
(No, it didn’t fall over)
2. When photographing a regatta of white chocolate sails under hot sunlight, move quickly.
3. Making pastry cream on an electric range sucks ass.
For our next trick: A remake of Duran Duran’s Rio video with finger puppets!
With all that’s been going on around here, it’s a wonder we had time for anything at all other than cheetos, and truthfully, we didn’t have the time. It’s just that I had such a loony notion of what I wanted to do for the Orange themed Is My Blog Burning, I insisted we make the time come hell or high water.
Trouble is, my notion really was loony. As in (and I’m quoting Chopper Dave here) “This is a harebrained scheme and it’s not going to work.”
But trouble with that is, I’m the Peter Quincy Taggart of harebrained schemes. You know, never give up, never surrender? That’s me.
And this time (wonder of wonders), it paid off.
It all began with a pasta roller. That, and my fond memory of the year I turned Christmas into my own personal craft bazaar by decorating every object I could get my hands on with Fimo polymer clay. My favorite trick? Making checkered Fimo by running two colors through the pasta maker and weaving my Fimo fettuccine like a basket.
And then it hit me: Why not do the same thing with two colors of pasta dough and make checkered ravioli! Better yet, why not do two shades of orange for IMBB #14!
So, I pitched this harebrained scheme to the mister, and (shockingly) he agreed to try it. So off I went to the store for our best bet in the creation of orange pasta dough: Achiote paste. Meanwhile, Chopper Dave scoured the pantry for filling ideas and discovered a package of smoked salmon. Off to the market again for goat cheese and we’re halfway there.
Well, except for that whole basket weaving thing.
See, with Fimo, it doesn’t matter if you end up with little holes between the checks of your checkerboard design. You just push the clay together as best you can and call it done. But, holes in ravioli? Bad idea.
And that’s how the first attempt went horribly wrong. Holes, holes, everywhere.
We figured it had something to do with the lack of water, or rather, the fact that I didn’t reapply water to the pasta as often as I should while weaving it, but by this point it was mid-afternoon and Chopper Dave was due at the restaurant in half an hour. Our excitement over the possibility of checkered ravioli vanished. We were deep into impossible harebrained scheme territory.
Until I hit on the solution. Simply this: If one is making a lace dress and one doesn’t want it to be see-through, one gives it a lining.
After all, no one’s going to notice that the inside of the ravioli isn’t checkered.
So, I grabbed some more fettuccini, created another weave (this time with plenty of water), then rolled some of the leftover dough out into a thin sheet and placed it on top. I then trimmed all the edges and fed the whole kit and caboodle into the pasta roller.
And — voila! — checkered ravioli!
Of course by this point, the chef (AKA, the only one around here who knows how to make a good sauce) was off at work, so alas, my presentation is sans sauce. No matter. It still tasted quite yummy, and why would I want to cover up all that labor-intensive basketweaving with a sauce?
For the pasta dough
Chopper Dave used Pasta Dough No. 2 on page 40 of The Pasta Bible by Silvio Rizzi et all, only he ditched the egg yolk and replaced it with the achiote paste and three tablespoons of olive oil. He used approximately one teaspoon of achiote paste for the light orange pasta, and two for the dark.
The rest of the recipe calls for:
- 1 cup finely ground semolina flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
The filling, another bit of improvisation today, included:
Our salmon was on the wet side, so Chopper thickened the filling with semolina four.
It may be a while before I try this trick again, considering I spent 45 minutes making five ravs. Perhaps I’ll take it on next Halloween. Only that time, I’ll tint half the pasta dough with squid ink.
Side note: And with this post, we’re off for a few days, attending Chopper Dave’s formal graduation from culinary school. As soon as we’re able to get back to the computer, we’ll take on a few more harebrained schemes, we’ll visit the local pub, and we’ll ask the question, if it stings your hands, why the hell would you want to eat it?
Our quick trip to Portland last week meant we could gather a few more items to add to our Belly-Timber toolbox. Nothing too fancy or large, since we’re still dealing with the World’s Smallest KitchenTM up here, but we did manage to snag a box of plates (special Goodwill As-Is variety set!), Chopper’s pasta roller, and some much-needed illumination for food photography.
Not that we always use the much-needed illumination even when it’s much-needed, but it is nice to have it on hand in case I actually have time to set up a decent shot.
Which, mind you, isn’t often. Cooking around here typically goes like this:
“When’s dinner going to be ready?”
“How soon is soon?”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Um. Real soon.”
Then, fifteen minutes to two hours later:
“Okay, who wants the first plate?”
“Wait, let me grab my camera!”
“But, I’m hungry!”
“Just let me get one picture.”
“Wait! I’m not done yet! I need some more light!”
“We don’t have time for light. Just take the picture already. I’m starving!”
And, the results end up something like that hideously out of focus shot of fried chicken from my previous post. (Eventually, I will prevail and force my aesthetic quest upon this tiny kitchen.)
But enough of that.
Is far more interesting.
It’s Cuban Oregano. Cuttings of it, to be exact, off of this big old rangy house plant I’ve been growing for the past two years. I finally cut it back, re-potted it, and packed up the clippings for our trip back north.
I first found Cuban Oregano at the Portland Nursery, and though I’d not heard of it and I’d no idea how it was used (or even if it was used at all for culinary purposes), I bought it simply because the aroma was amazing. It’s more like an intense, spicy cross between sage and marjoram than common oregano. Oddly, I’ve since seen commentary online that likens the smell to turpentine, but then I’ve also seen forum posts by gardeners and nursery owners who say they are certain Cuban Oregano is not edible, stating that it would be “odd” to eat a succulent. (Um, cactus, anyone? Aloe vera?) Apparently, they also forgot to do research into popular culinary herbs of the Caribbean.
(Then there’s the furry thing. Ew! The leaves are furry — I can’t eat that! Well, that’s never stopped anyone from eating anchovies. Actually, I take that back. It’s stopped me from eating anchovies, but that’s beside the point.)
Now, we own a Caribbean cookbook, and had we been just a wee bit more on the ball when we packed the car, we would have brought it with us from Portland. But, no dice. So, this time out, Chopper Dave opted for scampi and sauteéed vegetables, with just a little bit of Cuban Oregano added to the mix of lemon, capers, basil, and diced Roma tomato.
Yum! The herb added a zing to the dish and blended exceptionally well with the lemon. My only complaint is: next time use more!
It’s possible that Chopper Dave was being conservative, under the assumption that we’d soon run out of cuttings. Not to worry, though. These guys have been in a cup of water for a week now and not only do they look great, they’ve sprouted roots. Looks like it’s potting soil time!