In other fermentables… Cured olives

by Steph Weber - November 13th, 2011

Standing in line at the register at our local homebrew shop the other day, we saw someone paying for a large bag of little green somethings. When I asked the guy at the register what it was, he said that freshly harvested olives had just come in, and people were picking up their orders for the year.

It never occurred to me that you could cure your own olives at home. I was intrigued. They just so happened to have one extra, unclaimed bag of Colossal Sevillano olives. On a whim, I picked them up, knowing absolutely nothing about how to cure 10 lb of olives. The guy at the register kindly sent me home with an informational packet about the olive curing process.

The main objective when curing olives is to remove the bitterness. Eating fresh, uncured olives would be a nasty, nasty thing. Turns out there are a few different ways to accomplish this, using either lye curing, water curing, brine curing, or dry salt curing.

In the brining method, the olives actually undergo a natural fermentation, so I knew I had to try that. But since that method can take a few months before they’re ready to eat, I decided to go with the quicker water-curing method as well. So I did 5 lb of each.

In the brining method, bacteria present on the olives ferment the sugars in the fruit, converting them to lactic and acetic acids. The fermentation also breaks down the chemical bond between oleuropein (the bitter compound in olives) and sugars in the olives, removing the bitterness and making them palatable.

To do this, I sorted through the olives to remove any duds, and placed them in big glass jars, adding some oregano and garlic for good measure. The brine consists of 10 oz kosher salt and 2 cups white vinegar for every gallon of water. Pour the brine over the olives to cover completely, and loosely close the lids. It should take about 2 months at 70° F to ferment.

The water-curing method requires you to crack each olive so that the oleuropein can be leached out. So I gently smashed each one with a mallet before packing them into the jars.

For the first step of this process, simply cover the cracked olives with cold water, making sure they’re fully submerged (I weighed them down with a small Ziploc bag filled with water). Every 24 hours for about a week, I’ll drain out the jars and refill them with fresh water. The longer you soak them, the more bitterness you’ll remove from the olives.

After this, I’ll drain out the jars and add a finishing brine to flavor the olives. The brine will consist of 1 lb kosher salt and 2 cups white vinegar for every gallon of water. I’ll probably add in some other flavorings as well, I’m thinking oregano, fennel, garlic, and lemon. These could be ready to eat after only 4 days in the finishing brine. Unlike the brine-cured olives, these unfermented olives need to be kept refrigerated.

I have no idea how this will go. They could come out horrendous. I’ll be sure to post updates as things progress!

Homemade corn tortillas

by Steph Weber - July 24th, 2011

I totally made corn tortillas from scratch.

I saw the recipe in the latest Fine Cooking, and absolutely had to try it, especially since I had a bunch of masa harina leftover from making tamales. (Masa harina can be hard to come by, so I recommend ordering from MexGrocer.com if you can’t find it.)

The recipe makes about 32 6-inch tortillas that are perfect for soft tacos. It was surprisingly simple to do once I got the hang of pressing them (I used the bottom of a skillet instead of a tortilla press). And the flavor was fantastic! Way worth the trouble of making them instead of just using the store-bought stuff.

Here’s the recipe:

2 lb (8 cups) fine-grind masa harina
4 to 5-½ cups warm water (about 100°F)
1 tsp kosher salt

Cut two 8-inch circles from a clean plastic grocery store bag or gallon-size zip-top bag; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, 4 cups of the warm water, and the salt. Mix and knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and homogenous, adding more water 1/4 cup at a time as needed—the dough should feel like Play-Doh: flexible, soft, and smooth, not stiff. To test the dough, pinch off a bit, roll into a ball, and flatten between your palms. The dough should flatten easily, with few if any cracks forming around the edges. If deep U-shaped cracks form, add more water and test again.

Divide the dough into 2-oz. balls (about the size of golf balls), keeping them covered with a damp towel while you shape them.

Heat a large griddle over medium heat (or use two large skillets if you don’t have a large griddle). Use a tortilla press or the bottom of a wide, heavy pot to flatten a dough ball between the two pieces of plastic into a 6-inch tortilla of even thickness. Peel off the top piece of plastic, flip the tortilla over onto your hand, and carefully peel off the other piece of plastic.

Slap the tortilla onto the griddle (this breaks any air bubbles) and cook, flipping once, until the surface is brown in spots and appears dry, 1 to 2 minutes per side. While the first tortilla cooks, shape and begin cooking another. Continue shaping and cooking the remaining tortillas in this manner. As they’re done, wrap them in a slightly damp dishtowel to keep them warm and flexible.

You can make the tortillas up to an hour before serving. Wrap them in a clean, slightly damp dishtowel, and then wrap the towel in foil. Keep warm in a 200°F oven.

I served mine with pork tenderloin that I had slow-cooked in my crockpot with garlic and the spice rub that I use when I smoke pork shoulder. I also chopped up veggies from our garden — tomatoes, green bell peppers, jalapeños, and cucumbers. Picked up some avocados, cilantro, and limes from the store to round things out. It was friggin delicious!

As I tend to do with Mexican food, I paired the meal with IPA. Spicy food just screams for IPA. So good!

Grilled naan

by Steph Weber - June 21st, 2011

This was such a lovely summer meal, I had to share!

I love grilling bread. It seems like it shouldn’t work, but it does! I got this recipe for grilled naan filled with herbs and cheese from the usual, Fine Cooking. It’s easier to make the dough than it sounds, and it grills up in a flash.

Grilling bread is as easy as flopping it on the grates. Close the lid, let it cook for a few minutes until the top is slightly bubbling up and the bottom has grill marks. Flip, cook until the other side has grill marks and the bread is cooking through. And that’s it!

I served this flatbread with a chickpea potato salad. This was actually just a clean-out-the-fridge-before-vacation recipe for me, but it turned out really nice. Toss together the following:

Chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Potatoes, steamed or boiled until just fork tender
Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Cucumbers, chopped
Scallions, sliced thinly
Rosemary, finely chopped
Oregano, finely chopped
Dressing (red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, etc)
Feta cheese, crumbled

I also served this with those kale chips from the other night to round out the meal. Paired with Belgian tripel. The effervescent carbonation cleansed the palate of the heavy flavors of oil and cheese, the sweetness counteracted the bitterness of the kale, and the spicy, phenolic character matches the herbal flavors of the flatbread and potato salad. Nice nice.

Not to mention, an entirely meat-free meal!

Kale chips

by Steph Weber - June 20th, 2011

This may be one of the weirdest foods I’ve ever made. Weird, but awesome. Kale chips.

Much like potato chips, but more… leafy. Kind of like if you grazed in the woods in October… but tastier.

Seriously though, these are really good, and strangely addictive. They’re light as a feather and crispier than potato chips, with a slightly bitter edge. Totally odd, and totally delicious.

You will need:
1 bunch kale
1 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300º F. Tear the leafy parts of the kale away from the ribs into chip-sized pieces. Rinse and thoroughly dry (if the kale isn’t dry, it won’t crisp up properly). Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and spread across two baking sheets in a single layer.

Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets, and serve.

Weird, right? Weird, but awesome.

Fresh cherry relish and goat cheese crostini

by Steph Weber - June 13th, 2011

Fresh cherries are in season, hooray! I bought some, and made this, and it was awesome:

Tip: to easily pit cherries without a cherry pitter, all you need is a beer or wine bottle and a dowel (or the wide end of a chopstick). Just place a cherry on top of the bottle, press the dowel into the cherry until it punctures through and pops out the pit. I’m pretty sure it’s what MacGyver would do.

This recipe calls for jícama, which I’ve never cooked with before. It’s crisp, juicy, and slightly sweet, making it a nice addition to this salsa. I found it easily at my grocery store, which is one of the top crappiest grocery stores on the planet, so it’s readily available!

This is a great vegetarian (though not vegan because of the cheese) snack for summertime. It’s fresh and flavorful, and the goat cheese makes it substantial enough for a lunch. A great way to eat less meat!

Here’s the recipe from my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking. Simple and delicious. And it contains goat cheese, which always makes me happy. Enjoy!

1 cup fresh sweet cherries (about 5-1/2 oz.), pitted and finely chopped
1/2 cup finely diced jícama
1 medium scallion (white and green parts), very thinly sliced
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Pinch of cayenne; more to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-1/2 oz. (1/3 cup) soft fresh goat cheese
2-1/2 oz. (1/3 cup) ricotta cheese
Eighteen 1/2-inch-thick baguette slices, toasted

In a medium bowl, stir the cherries, jícama, scallion, mint, vinegar, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and more cayenne.

In a small bowl, mix the goat and ricotta cheeses with a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Lightly spread the cheese over each baguette toast and top with the cherry relish.

Mushroom ragu

by Steph Weber - May 23rd, 2011

This mushroom tomato sauce is killer. Super earthy and savory. Thank you, dried porcini mushrooms, for existing.

This dish has an incredible amount of meatiness for having so little meat in it! Yet another great strategy for eating less meat — try using meat as a condiment or seasoning, rather than the main part of a dish. For example, in this recipe, you only use 4 oz of prosciutto, thinly sliced and chopped. It’s barely a sprinkling of meat scattered throughout the pasta, but it provides a ton of meaty, savory flavor.

And all the mushrooms and tomatoes don’t hurt either. This meal is just overloaded with umami. Guaranteed to be hearty and satisfying, with less than 1 oz of meat per serving!

I got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and made a few modifications here and there. Came out beautifully. Enjoy!

Spaghetti with Mushroom Ragu

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed well
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp olive oil
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced into ½-inch pieces
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes, roughly crushed by hand
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 lb spaghetti
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving

Place the porcini mushrooms and broth in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in the plastic with a pairing knife. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until the broth is steaming. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes. Lift the mushrooms from the broth with a fork and finely chop. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter into a medium bowl. Set aside the mushrooms and broth.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the cremini mushrooms, and cook until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and rosemary, and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the reserved chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, and their juices. Increase the heat to high and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce simmers, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add 1 tbsp salt and the pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup cooking water, and return to the pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine. Adjust the consistency with reserved pasta water and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing grated Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.

Veggin’ out

by Steph Weber - May 11th, 2011

The gorgeous weather we’ve been having has me jonesin’ for light, fresh meals chock full of veggies and herbs! Here are two great veg meal ideas for spring. Both follow the concept of filling out a meat-free meal with a starch (which I mentioned previously). The first, grilled veggie pizza!

Simply make your dough as normal, grill it up, top with your favorite sauce, veggies, pesto, goat or feta cheese… and whatever else you can dream up! I’d pair this with a pilsner or pale ale. Something light enough so as to not overwhelm the delicate veggies, but with enough bitterness to stand up to the sauce and cheese.

Next, this absolutely fantastic recipe for Spring Vegetable Pasta from Cooks Illustrated.

This dish tastes so light and fresh, and full of spring veggie goodness! It uses an interesting cooking method. You infuse the broth with extra veggie flavor by simmering with the excess vegetable trimmings. And the pasta is cooked in a similar fashion to risotto, to really absorb the vegetable flavors. Gives it a wonderfully creamy texture, without the addition of cream!

Everything melds together beautifully.  The lemon, basil, and Parmesan give it striking similarities to pesto (though the original recipe called for mint and chives instead, I prefer basil). Amazing. Pair with a wit, saison, or tripel. The bright, lemony flavors just scream for something Belgian. Enjoy!

3 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into ½-inch slices, roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 lb asparagus, tough ends roughly chopped and reserved, spears cut on bias into ½-inch pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, plus extra for serving
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
6 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb campanelle or similar pasta
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving

Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cup peas, 2 tsp garlic, vegetable broth, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to medium-low to gently simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and press on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. You should end up with 5 cups, add water as needed. Return broth to saucepan, cover and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Cook sliced leeks with a pinch of salt, covered, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, 4-6 minutes. Add remaining garlic and pepper flakes, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining peas and cook 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and set aside, and wipe the pot clean.

Heat the remaining 4 tbsp oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

When the wine is fully absorbed, add the broth. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente, 8-10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and zest, Parmesan, basil, and vegetables. Season to taste. Serve immediately with Parmesan and basil.

Steamed pork buns, in pictures

by Steph Weber - May 3rd, 2011

When I saw this Fine Cooking article about how to make authentic dim sum pork buns, I was majorly intrigued. Fluffy, slightly sweet buns filled with Chinese barbecue roast pork, steamed to perfection… I had to try making them.

The pork alone was absolutely fantastic. I would make this again just to slice it and eat it straight up. Truly wonderful flavors in this!

The directions for the pork buns were fairly long, and to be honest, it was a lot of work. But it paid off, these things were bangin! I couldn’t have written the instructions better myself, so I’ll just provide the photographic evidence…

First, the pork barbecue.

Assemble the filling.

Make the dough, shape into a long log.

Slice!

Shape each slice into a cup for the filling.

Fill and pleat the edges.

Gather the edges and twist to seal.

Place buns on squares of parchment in a bamboo steamer.

Steam for 20 minutes.

Serve immediately, straight from the steamers.

Beautiful, fluffy steamed pork buns.

Aah! So good!