Friday, December 1, 2017

Butternut Squash a la Hoshigaki

Every year there's a wave of folks preserving persimmons by making hoshigaki. As with all the investigations here, we wanted see where the core method would take us with what we had on hand.

We decided to try something outside the box. A tiny butternut squash happened to be in our Farmer Dave's CSA share. Why not?

The first step of hoshigaki is to peel the skin to make the fruit conducive to drying. That's easily done, but of course a butternut squash isn't quite the same as a persimmon. One big difference is the sugar content. The key to the preservation is the sugar concentrating as it dries. Based on a quick nutritional facts search, butternut squash only has a couple percent of sugar and persimmon clocks at 13%. Not even close. So how do we get there?

To bump up the sugar percentage, we vacuum packed molasses and turbinado sugar with the peeled squash for infusion.

After a few days in refrigerator, we took the squash out of vac bag. It was pretty wet. We decided to put the squash in the dehydrator to dry off the exterior prior to hanging. The other reason for doing this is to quickly create the skin that's typical of the beginning stages of hoshigaki. Also, there's no way we're getting it sun dried here in New England this time of year.

The overnight stay in the dehydrator at 135 F worked like a charm. We had a nice permeable and flexible skin that allows for massaging as the squash dries. Scary close to the beginning stages of hoshigaki.

The squash isn't quite done at this point, but it looks, smells and feels promising. The hard flesh in the neck section is breaking down, which was a concern. Very pleasantly surprised that it worked out. It's these unexpected successes that keep us all interested and creating. In case you didn't know, we're already onto experimenting with onion.

As always, please share your discoveries so we can keep the ideas bouncing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Umeboshi Crabapple or Any Tart Fruit

Being open to flavors and textures that are off the beaten path leads to neat discoveries. This way of thinking not only brings you down the rabbit hole of discovering ingredients, but also has your flavor brain interchanging the drivers of any food making method.

When we went apple picking, there were crab apple trees interspersed to support pollination for the orchard. Of course, we couldn't help but try the fruit. Unfortunately, we went through several horrible astringent bites before we tasted something worthwhile.

The final tree was in an unexpected place on the border of the property that no one would normally approach. Honestly, the fruit from this tree was far better than anything we'd tasted on the farm that day. A blast of sweet tart that any engineered candy would be jealous of. Since our bag was full, we loaded up a tissue box.

Crab Apples Vac Packed with Salt and Tulsi

When we got them into the kitchen, there was some thought of what to do next. Then, a comment on a post from our friend Shawn suggested umeboshi. That's it!

Crab Apples Post 2 Week Salt Pack

Umeboshi is a Japanese salt preserved plum. It sounds simple, but the flavor has serious depth. If you've ever had one, it only makes sense to follow the preservation process with crab apples.

Crab Apples after Dehydration Day 1

Loosely following the method, the crab apples were vacuum packed with 10% salt by weight and a few healthy branches of tulsi, holy basil. We bought the lovely starter plant from our friend Jenny at Muddy River Herbals. After the fruit gave up its juices two weeks later, we put them in a dehydrator at 135 F because there aren't any sunny days around here for a while.

Crab Apple after 3 Days of Dehydration

After a few days dehydrating, the fruit became sticky, salty, tiny apple raisins. They were not nearly as salty as umeboshi, which made them pleasant to eat whole with a nice basil flavor coming through. We could have put them back into the brine they gave up as is traditionally done, but we didn't.

Crab Apples Vac Packed in Salt and Jasmine Tea

As with all that we do here, umeboshi is a powerful method that can be used on any tart fruit. Well, maybe just about anything you want to preserve can be done this way. We're thinking whole apples next.

As always, please share your discoveries so we can keep the ideas bouncing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Arnold Palmer in the Rough - Foraged Tea & Lemonade

An Arnold Palmer is by far one of our favorite drinks. It's a perfect combination of equal parts lemonade and tea. The flavor play is a lovely harmony of sweet tart and astringent depth. With that understanding, we decided to take a chance by shooting through the woods to hit the green.

Smooth and Staghorn Sumac

Sumac is popping up everywhere around here and we're gathering enough to get us through the year. You'll often see the deep red formations of drupes popping out from the bushes along most Northeast highways in the summer. This tart fruit is used in Middle Eastern cuisine as a dried and ground spice.

Sassafras Leaves and Twigs

Sassafras is also prevalent in the woods of New England. During the summer, there's an abundance of new growth ready for the picking. The aromatics of the leaves and young twigs reminds us of Earl Grey tea. You may already know the dried & powdered form of the leaves as file, the thickening herb for gumbo. 

Smashing Sumac & Sugar

When it came to processing the sumac, we wanted to use it fresh. It's not easy to separate the berries from the clusters of stems. We cut away the central stalk with scissors, covered the clusters with sugar and started pounding away with the end of a French rolling pin. The sugar acted as an abrasive that helped separate and break down the drupes as they were smashed. After that, we submerged the berries in water and heated to a simmer to steep out the flavor and dissolve the sugar for a light syrup.

Fresh Sassafras Leaf and Twig Tea

Maintaining the freshness kick, we steeped torn leaves and broken up young twigs in hot water as you would tea. It had a wonderful aroma and tasted great. We had to use a lot to get enough flavor concentration. The kicker was the interesting viscosity due to its thickening powers.

Sumac & Sassafras Arnold Palmer

Once all the "hard work" was done, we strained out the solids, mixed the two, added ice to dilute and chill for a refreshing drink. It is one of the best Arnold Palmer spins we've done in a long time. We loved that the primary ingredients were foraged in our neighborhood. 

Strawberry Top Bronze Fennel Koji Kombucha

We hope this helps you think about lemonade and tea as concepts in order to unlock the potential of anything you love that fits. Also, you don't have to go far into the woods to forage for ingredients. Consider the flavor packed odds and ends that have been sitting for a while in your refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cabinets. Cooking is all about using everything available to you. Shed the preconceptions to make something truly inspiring.

As always, please share your discoveries so we can keep the ideas bouncing

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pickles, The Sour Depths of Quickening

Think of pickling as a way of infusing flavor depth and punchy acidity into whatever you submerge. Unleash the crazy potential of the method!

Artichoke Stems in Artichoke Scrap Tea Kombucha

Quick pickling scraps may transform them into something great. At the very least, they'll add another dimension to the liquid to be enjoyed elsewhere.

Jalapenos in Beet Bettarazuke Brine

Tossing sliced vegetables in a lacto-fermented brine is a wonderful no fuss, no waste method to make quick pickles. Chopping or processing into a relish is pretty great too. 

Started Sour Pickles with Nettle Powder, the Next Matcha

Lacto-fermented sour pickles are amazing. We all love the standard dill, garlic & mustard, but when you start thinking about adding other concentrated flavors to your brine...

Sour Pickle Started with Beet Bettarazuke Brine

What if you already have a fermented concentrate to supplement the next one?

Pickles aren't meant to be plain. Consider a spice combination you love from something completely different. Does it make sense in your flavor brain? Just try it. No matter what, you'll learn what works. 

As always, please share your discoveries so we can keep the ideas bouncing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Spiking Foraged Grapes - Marriage of Experiences

There's nothing better than a tart, punchy cocktail on a summer day. It's the best when you have a killer infusion ready and waiting. Especially, when it's inspired by creative friends & powered by an ingredient you gathered.

Sour Cherry Bounce Riff -
Green Mustang Grapes, Vermouth & Dry Caramelized Sugar

Fairly new to the world of foraging, I'm often seeking guidance from experienced friends. I was fortunate enough to join Misti Norris and Brock Middleton in Dallas for a walk in the woods. These creative chefs have been spinning webs of creative dishes with wild ingredients for some time. Who better to go with?

Brock Middleton & A Tree Covered in Mustang Grape Vines 

We didn't find much to take home that day, but we did come upon a series of trees covered with mustang grape vines. At the time, the grapes were green and crazy tart. We grabbed some because we could definitely make something happen.

Local Wild Grapes

After a little time in and out of the fridges in Dallas, it was time to celebrate our find at home. I sat at the kitchen table crunching a few wondering about the best way to temper the astringency. Then I remembered when my friend Peter shared his homemade sour cherry bounce with me years ago. So delicious! A bounce is simply a complex spirit, sugar and sour cherries. It's a wonderful way to transform the excess of summer into a winter warmer. So why not transform the green of spring into a refreshing summer? 

Green Mustang Grapes + Meat Tenderizer

Unripe grapes are quite dense. I wanted to keep them whole, but I was worried that there would be trouble with a short term infusion. Punching them with holes would help guarantee success, but the common pointy objects for puncturing all these grapes would take forever. An old school meat tenderizer solved that problem.

Dry Caramelized Sugar Cloud in Vermouth with Mustang Grapes

Decisions on the remaining ingredients weren't hard to come up with. A dry vermouth for a green grape play made all the sense in the world. For the sugar, there was a quart of dry caramelized sugar that was waiting thanks to Stella. Those notes add another level of complexity that follows the line of a typical bounce leveraging the depth of brandy.

Rum + Brown Sugar + Green Mustang Grapes

At the end of the day, we all create based on life experiences. We craft compilations of what we've learned from people who have shared their wealth of knowledge with us. Memory elements harmonized into a single experience with the intent to be an inception for another adventurer. The inspired to inspire spiral upwards forever progressing the art. Or maybe we just made a neat summer drink to try out? Hmm...

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.