Cyser making

I don’t seem to have blogged about making cyser since 2006, but
I do still do it every year.

Last year I experimented and made three beverages from the
cider I bought at the ciderfest
and fermented them all on the wild yeasts from the Carlson Orchards
apples. It was reasonably successful, although none of them is
really ready to drink yet. (A year is a pretty short time for a
cyser, and should be OK for a cider, but it really tastes like the
slightly sulfurous quality in the one-ingredient cider is that
kind that goes away with age.)

So this year I’m making 3 gallons of the one-ingredient cider
(simplest recipe in the world — put the cider in a carboy and put
on a fermentation lock and forget about it for a few months, then
bottle) and 5 gallons of the cyser (almost as simple except that
you add between two and three pounds of honey for each gallon of
cider).

I still had about 8 pounds of the 20 pounds of honey I bought last year
from an apiary in Lowell in a Wort
Processors
group buy. The hard part about making cyser if you
don’t buy the honey and the cider at the same time is that the
honey has crystalized, so you have to heat it gently to convince
it to turn back into a liquid so you can pour it intoyour
carboy.

Last year I skipped that step, and used a brewing bucket
instead of a carboy, and missed watching the liquid clear as the
yeas flocculates out. So this year I swore I was going to do it
right, so I spent half an hour or so this morning watching honey crystals
reliquify, and pushing the ones that hadn’t through the funnel
with a skewer.

I also have 10 pounds of honey that I bought yesterday from Mike Graney, which
would have been easier to use but I thought I should use the older
stuff first. I’ll add some of Mike’s honey when the krausen
(a thick layer of bubbles from actively fermenting yeast, which
usually disappears after a day or two) has gone down, but right
now I’m closer to the top of the carboy than I like to be.

Ciderfest

Pretty busy today, since I spent all of yesterday getting ready
for and going to the Boston Wort
Processors
Ciderfest.

Normally I bottle the cyser from the previous year before the
Ciderfest, but this year I was lazy and didn’t. It isn’t usually
really ready to drink after only a year, anyway. So I have to
bottle that, and then put the cider I bought into carboys for this
year’s strange
fermented fluids.

I ended up roasting vegetables and putting them on a large
platter. I put some herbs and spices in the oil I brushed on them
before roasting. I had said I was bringing potato salad, but then
a lot of other people were saying they were bringing finger food,
and I thought that was a good idea, since most people don’t spend
all afternoon with a plate and fork in their hands, but they do
spend the afternoon with a drink in their hands, so being able to
eat finger food is important. But most people seem to have eaten
them with forks anyway.

Over half of what I brought were potatoes, but there were
slices of turnip, kohlrabi, fennel, daikon radish, and green
pepper, too.

The weather was perfect, and the setting in a field on the edge
of a pond was idyllic. One of the interesting tasting experiences
was that someone else had done what I did with last year’s cider,
and just dumped it in a carboy with a fermentation lock and let
the wild yeasts do their thing. The two beverages tasted
significantly different. Someone suggested the fermentation
temperatures may have been different. Or of course the local wild
yeasts may be different in Jamaica Plain than in Cambridge,
although you would expect the ones from the apple orchard to
overwhelm the interlopers from the apartment.

More on squash pudding

I’m roasting squash so that I can make a squash
pudding.
Squash is one of the things I get a lot of from my
farm share. I’m going
to try baking it in mini-muffin tins with paper cups, to make it a
bit more like finger food.

I have to bring something to a friend’s house this afternoon.
She’s been having surgery and other therapy for cancer, so she
hasn’t been getting to all the singing events that are normally a
big part of her life, so she’s invited people over. She says:

George and I will provide
beverages; we’d be very happy if you would bring snacks. (Bear in mind
that because of my condition this will be an abbreviated event, so
don’t bring anything elaborate. We just need something to munch on.)

Unfortunately, except for carrots, the farm share hasn’t been
giving me much finger food. It was better in the summer, with
cucumbers and green beans. I thought about squash muffins, but
I’ve really been enjoying the pudding, so I wanted to make
that.

I figure if I bring plastic spoons the individual squash
puddings in the muffin cups won’t be very much more trouble than muffins.

Roasting vegetables

A frustrating part of getting a giant box of vegetables every
week at the height of summer is that the easiest thing to do
with lots of vegetables is to roast them in the oven. But when
the temperature and humidity are both high you don’t actually
want to turn the oven on.

I no longer have that excuse, so tomorrow or Friday lots of
things are going in the oven.

I’ll be spending the weekend at the New England Sacred Harp
Convention
(5 hours of singing a day, and nobody minds if
you sing loud), which means I’ll have to bring potluck
contributions for lunch on both Saturday and Sunday.

I’ve already written about some of the possibilities:

The announcement of what’s in the share this week suggests
another option, courtesy of another shareholder:

Oven Roasted Kale
the kale last week was the most amazing. I roasted it in the oven at 350 until crisp, with a little olive oil and sea salt–better than potato chips!

There’s also just plain potato salad, a bunch of leeks staring
at me wanting to be put in a sharp mustard vinaigrette, a
cabbage that wants its leaves to be stuffed with something…

No-knead bread

I tried doing this when the famous Mark
Bittman article
came out in the New York Times. I may well
have done something wrong, but the dough I produced was a gooey,
unmanageable mess.

The NPR interview with the author of Kneadlessly
simple
(Nancy Baggett) convinced me to try it again.

I’ve baked two loaves out of the book. I can’t say that either
of them was an unqualified success, but the method does definitely
produce good bread dough if you mix the ingredients the way she
tells you to and leave the bowl on your kitchen counter for a
day. I do seem to need to modify her instructions for the baking part, though.

I know the conventional wisdom is that you should buy an oven thermometer and
test the temperature of your oven, but I’ve never seen any
reason to believe the oven thermometer that costs $4.99 at the
hardware store is any more likely to be
accurate than the one in the stove that cost $499 at the
appliance store. And usually when I set the temperature
specified in a
recipe on the stove, what I’m baking comes out roughly the way I
expect it to.

Both the loaves of bread I’ve made from the recipes in this book have burned on the bottom before the
internal temperature of the bread got to where the directions said
it should. So I’ll be baking subsequent loaves at a lower
temperature, or maybe to a lower internal loaf temperature, or
maybe on a higher shelf in the oven.

But after I fed the burned part of the crust to the dog, the
rest of the bread has been quite good. I fed some to a dinner
guest last night, and he agreed that it was a very good texture
and flavor.

I’m definitely going to be baking more bread like this. It’s
about as little work as using the bread machine for the kneading
part and baking in
the oven, and you don’t have the bread machine cluttering up
your counter.

I will leave the bread machine to clutter up my pantry,
however. There really are times when you need the bread less
than a day and a half after you decide to make it.

My favorite bread machine use was the time I got home from
buying dinner ingredients and realized that I’d forgotten to get
bread. So I decided it was easier to throw flour, water, salt,
and yeast in the bread machine than to go back to the store. I
took the bread out of the machine just as the guests were
arriving, and had a house that smelled like baking bread as a bonus. To do this as a no-knead recipe, you would have to be organized about the bread the previous morning, not at 4 the afternoon of the dinner party.

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Farm Share for One

I went to visit my family yesterday, and I think my sister was
a little disappointed that all I brought them were two melons
and a bunch of collard greens.

I got the share on the assumption that I wouldn’t cook that
much, but there wouldn’t be any trouble giving some away to
people who would, and it isn’t so expensive that if a few things
end up in the compost bin it isn’t a tragedy.

In general, it has been working out that way. The melons are a
problem because I don’t like them at all, and apparently neither
do some of the people I give things to. This week I had an
unusually large number of events to cook for, which accounts for
not having brought lettuce or beans to the family.

I did dither about what to do with the excess zucchini long
enough that they developed unsightly spots, so I think I’ll put
them in the compost bin, although probably the starving children
in India would be glad to have them.

If they eat zucchini in
India. If they don’t, the children would probably insist on
starving even if someone gave them lots of zucchini. My Polish
relatives tell the story of some well-intentioned food-relief
efforts from the US after World War II, where anyone in Poland
could get all the peanut butter they could eat, and it sat there
in the warehouse while starving people who’d never touched peanut
butter in their lives and weren’t going to start now died in
the streets.

In any case, my zucchini would have worse than unsightly spots
by the time it got to India, even if it weren’t more efficient
to send money to OXFAM or
somewhere than to mail zucchini to India. And I haven’t put
very much stuff in the compost bin.

Coffee making ritual

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I’d
started roasting my own coffee, and said that when my coffee
making ritual settled down, I’d do a better description of it.

The roasting doesn’t really add as much time as abandoning the
automatic coffee maker did, but in any case, except for the
grinding, it’s mostly time when
you’re free to putter around the kitchen, and if you cook at all,
you need to spend at least that much time every day puttering
around the kitchen. If you don’t, you can use the time to make no
knead bread.
(More about that later. I just bought the book,
and my first batch is doing its second rising as I write
this.)

Normally I would give you links to Amazon, since I have an associate
account, and if you bought stuff by following my links, I would
get some money. In this case, they don’t seem to have any of my
exciting new coffee equipment, so I’ll just link you to SweetMaria’s, with whom I
have no relationship except that of a satisfied customer.

My coffee roaster is the Fresh Roast
Plus 8
coffee roaster, which I bought with the sampler of 8
different kinds of decaf coffee. They were all good coffee, but 3
stood out as the kind of coffee I especially like, so when I
finished the sampler, I ordered more of the ones from Costa Rica,
Ethiopia, and Sumatra. They also have a blend specially
formulated for making French Roast. This hadn’t been in the
sampler, but I wanted to try it, so I ordered some of that, too.
I generally like commercially roasted coffee best in the French
roast, but I think this isn’t true for home-roasted coffee, so
I’ll probably not repeat the French roasting experiment.

The coffee roaster makes three batches of the size I make these
days (about two mugs worth). So on a day when I need to roast
more, I put the tea kettle on to boil the water and put two large
scoops of coffee in the roaster and turn it on.

Then I grind the coffee for this batch in the Zassenhaus knee
mill
.

The brewer I’m using these days is the Clever
Coffee dripper,
which looks like a normal #4 coffee filter,
but has a valve on the hole in the bottom which is closed when the
filter is on the counter, but open when you put it on top of a mug
or thermos. This means you can grind the coffee as coarsely as
you like it, which makes the grinding easier than for a regular
filter, and then brew it in the filter, which makes the cleaning
easier than a French Press brewer would be.

Before putting the filter in the brewer, I rinse out the brewer
and make sure that opening the valve produces an enthusiastic
stream of water. Then I put the filter in the brewer, and put my ground
coffee into the filter.

When the water boils, I pour a little bit into the brewer,
and then wait while it wets the grounds, and then fill the cone up
and set the timer. I set it for 5 minutes these days since I’m
doing French roast, but when I’m doing a lighter roast I do it for
3 or 4 minutes.

When the timer rings, I put the brewer on top of my thermos and
wait for the coffee to drain into the thermos, pour myself one
mug, close the thermos to keep the second mug warm, and come upstairs
here to write my blog post.

One thing I especially like about this system is that I don’t
have any actual measuring steps at all. When the roasted
coffee beans are cool and ready to go into a jar, I take three
identical jars and eyeball putting equal amounts into each jar.
When I have boiling water, I just fill up the brewer.

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Edamame

The farm share included a sheaf of edamame two weeks ago. I’ve
served them at two gatherings, and was surprised by how many people
had never heard of them, or if they had heard of them, couldn’t
remember enough of how they were spelled to pronounce the name
anything like right. So I figured I should tell you about
them.

They’re soybeans that are picked still green. The pods of the
ones I had were fuzzy — someone in the band claimed to have had
them with smooth pods, but nobody else remembered them that way.
I’ve only ever had them already shelled until now.

One enjoyable feature of this farm share item was that they
came on the stalk — that is, the farm saved labor costs by just
cutting off the plants and putting them in the box, and I took the
beans off the plants and put them in a bowl. I did this while
chatting with a friend who was picking up some items that she
could use better than I could, so it wasn’t time-consuming.

I put a little water in the bowl, and microwaved the pods for
about 4 minutes, and then served them after band rehearsal last
Tuesday. It’s pretty good finger food if you aren’t really
hungry and just want something to nibble on, but they really
taste better with some flavoring. I put out sesame oil and soy
sauce, but nobody felt like shelling enough at once to put on a
plate and put sauce on them, so we just ate them straight out of
the pods.

There were still a lot left, and my plan was to shell them into
the salad I made for the cookout I went to yesterday. I went
through all the vegetables in my refrigerator and put at least
some of most of the ones that are edible raw into the salad
bowl. I’d had a dozen ears of corn last week, and cooked them
all and eaten all but three, so I cut the kernels off the cobs
and put that in the salad too.

By the time I’d done all that, it was time to leave for the
cookout, so I decided to take the edamame with me in the pods
and maybe people would just eat them while we waited for the
charcoal to cook the meat, or maybe someone else would want to
shell them.

Everybody had a few, but then went back to munching on potato
chips, but one person volunteered to shell them for the salad,
so we got some in there, and they were good with the dressing.

I think there are still a fair number left, but they’re at the
house where the cookout was.

If you want to try them and don’t have a farm that sells them,
some supermarkets (Trader Joe’s that I know of for sure) have
them in the frozen foods section.

Ratatouille

Last week my farm
share
had eggplant, basil, and garlic, and there were
zucchini and summer squash from previous weeks, so I made
ratatouille.

This is one of the dishes I learned to cook when I was first
cooking on my own out of Craig Claiborne’s New
York Times Cookbook
in the early ’70’s. I made a point of
having some when I was in Nice once, and was glad that it tasted
something like what I make.

I usually eat it hot, but it was a steamy night on Tuesday, so
I served it to the band cold. Several people asked what the
ingredients were, which surprised me because there wasn’t
anything unusual for ratatouille, but they might not have ever
cooked ratatouille.

It varies based on what you have on hand, of course, but for
this batch the ingredients were:

  • 2 cans of tomatoes. One was plum tomatoes, and the other
    was diced tomatoes.
  • 2 medium eggplant. They were pretty young, so I didn’t
    bother peeling them.
  • 3 small-medium yellow summer squash.
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves uncured garlic. This was actually unusual, since
    what you buy in stores is always cured. Apparently the curing
    means exposing it to heat, either by a hair-dryer like machine
    or just by leaving it out in the sun in the fields, if you’re
    sure it the sun will shine and it won’t rain. (I learned that
    from Harvesting
    and
    Storing
    Onion and Garlic
    at the Colorado State University site.) In any case, it
    was a fairly mild-flavored garlic.
  • Lots of Basil
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Salt and pepper
  • I don’t remember what I did about other flavors; I sometimes
    add dried Herbes de Provence or ground mild chile
    peppers, but as I remember it I might have decided the basil was
    enough. I also might have brought in some lavender from the garden.

Anyway, you put the tomatoes in the pot and start heating them
and add other stuff as you get it chopped up. Sautéeing in olive oil
before adding to the pot
is optional, but I always do it for the onions and garlic and
usually for the eggplant and squash.

Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer and forget about it
for a few hours. It’s one of those dishes that’s better the
second day, or even the second week.


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Michael Pollan’s view of cooking in the past

MIchael Pollan wrote an article
in last Sunday’s times which makes a number of points about
“convenience” foods and current cooking shows on television.

I enjoyed the article, but found myself being increasingly
irritated by his overgeneralizations when he was being interview
on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday.

I agree with his general points:

  • A lot of the Food Network
    shows aren’t anything like as good as Julia Child was at
    motivating people to go into the kitchen and cook something different.
  • Cooking is a basic part of human nature, and that
    accounts for some of why we like watching cooking shows, even
    when they have nothing to do with the way we actually cook and eat.

But when he holds up my parents’ and grandparents’
generations as examples of a golden age of cooking before
corporate America invented convenience food and convinced people
it was better and/or easier than what they could cook themselves,
I think he’s missing some points:

  • “People” in general didn’t cook then. Most families had one
    or two people who cooked for the family, and the others may have
    helped with cleanup, but didn’t actually transform raw
    ingredients into food. My grandfather didn’t even boil water —
    when he needed hot water to warm up his milk truck on cold
    mornings, my grandmother got up and heated it for him. My
    father was actually capable of cooking, but certainly didn’t do it
    when my mother was in the house. If you go farther back when
    people didn’t live in nuclear families, but were typically in
    some larger setting like an estate or house with many
    generations, or masters and servants, it was probably an even
    smaller portion of the population that actually cooked.
  • “Convenience” foods aren’t really a modern invention.
    Sausages probably go back several millennia. They’re a way to
    pay someone else to add flavor to your meat, so that you can
    just throw them in the pot or on the frying pan.

I once worked on a project where a lot of the workers were
imported from offices in other states, and were living in hotels
on expense accounts. The manager of the project had convinced
his management that they’d save money if they paid the cafeteria
to cook dinner for everyone who wanted to work late, instead of
paying for all the poeple staying in hotels to go out to eat in
restaurants. So for those few months, I generally had both
lunch and dinner in the company cafeteria. I enjoy cooking, but
I also found it quite liberating not to have to spend the time
shopping and cleaning, and was able to work longer hours than
usual much more easily because of this.

My mother had lived at home for college, so her first
experience of dormitory life was when she was about 50 and went
on a summer course. She also really liked not having to do the
cooking and cleaning and shopping.

So while I agree with Michael Pollan that cooking is an
important human activity, I think he should think a little
harder about how many human activities any one person can do in
any one week, and acknowledge that it isn’t either a new or an evil
phenomenon that some people at any given point in their lives
will be doing very little cooking.