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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Coffee or Tea? - Just a Starting Point

There are rules and recipes for making all our favorite drinks. So many amazing folks out there endlessly practicing to concoct the perfect glass/cup of whatever you fancy. Balancing each one to perfection is of the moment art to be admired. The first sip can be a revelation. Now, ponder how any drink came to be. The origin stems from necessity, use of available ingredients and some level of preservation. When you think about these guidelines, all you need is in your kitchen even if you're out of "everything".


A couple years ago I was on an agua fresca kick. I was looking to infuse watermelon with a single ingredient other than mint, a little too refreshing and overdone. Initially, I was thinking acidity by adding dried hibiscus flowers, but that tanked hard with way too much astringency. Fortunately, I had chicory come in with the same order. All I did was sprinkle some on pieces of watermelon. It was bittersweet in the best possible way. Describing the flavor play wouldn't do it justice, so just try it.



So if chicory works, why not freshly ground coffee? Cold brewed watermelon coffee was born. So good!



Coffee ice cream is a favorite. Why not chicory, coconut milk & maple syrup? Vegan happens.



Often apple cider is too sweet and needs a touch of acid to make it great. A splash of apple cider vinegar does the trick. Infusing with hibiscus is way better.



If you think about tea as dried leaves with complexity, why not curry leaves in a kombucha? It adds a smoky element without fire. Thickened the fermented liquid as well. Crazy!



If your kombucha SCOBY needs sugar, why not koji, the sweet base for sake? A killer marriage of amazake & tea. Ultimately used to make a wonderful blueberry sauce to compliment a buttermilk umami ice cream.



If you like both coffee and tea, why not combine them? When there's cold brewed coffee in the fridge and garam masala hibiscus syrup around, there is really no choice. I couldn't stop drinking it.



Have you considered using the delicious flesh stuck to mango seeds as the sugar to feed your kombucha? What about infusing it with fresh elderflower you found on a walk and palm sugar that's been sitting in your pantry for a very long time. Perfect for a secondary fermentation. Gotta love natural carbonation.



Coffee or black tea dulce de leche is pretty great. Why not roasted medicinal reishi mushrooms?



Two years later we're still putting stuff on watermelon to tip the balance. No wild mint on the walk, but plenty of sassafras leaves. This definitely needs to be shared with family and friends.

Long story short, your favorite drink originated from experimentation and experience, so why not make a new one that's truly yours?

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


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Roasting Reishi Like Coffee - Bitter is the Next Umami

I'm pretty new to the world of foraging and was crazy excited when I found reishi on a walk with my friend Nick. The brilliant color on a tall, dead pine was a beacon from across the woods. The lacquered beauty of this fungus is really something to behold. You'll understand if you ever come upon one.


So, what's up with this mushroom? This fungi is not typically for eating. Pretty tough and bitter. From the little I've read, it's used in Asian medicine for detoxification and boosting immune response. I'd love to know more, so please reach out to share knowledge and resources on the subject. 


Based on a multitude of suggestions from friends on Instagram, dehydration to create a powder for extraction is the first step. Many of these cool cats also pushed sweet applications that sounded delicious. As the slices of reishi were drying, I noted a malty scent on top of the earthy mushroom that sealed the deal. 


One suggestion that really spoke to me was Jeremy's suggestion to roast the mushroom after dehydrating it. Hmm... YES! Roasting is a wonderful way to transform a nice flavor into something seriously complex and downright brilliant. So how do we get there without too much fuss? The answer is a hot air popcorn popper. 


For beginner coffee roasters just getting into the game, there's a method of using a hot air popcorn popper to make small batches. It's quite simple and has the best even heating for the price. Having done this for years, I figured cut up chunks of reishi would work just as well. 


And so it did. The picture above shows the first trial run and the browning consistency is pretty good. Just a matter of dialing it in. The aroma during the roast was killer. I can't wait to get the rest done for infusing. It just so happens I have a mildly smoked dulce de leche hanging around. 

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


Friday, March 31, 2017

Shio Koji Paste Accelerated Bresaola

After multiple successful executions of growing koji-kin on charcuterie to accelerate the drying process, I needed to know how well prepared koji would work. 


Sliced Curry Koji Paste Cured Beef Heart
Months ago, Chef Andrew McLeod got in contact with me to find out more about using aspergillus oryzae to accelerate the dry aging process. He asked me specifically why I was growing the spores in rice flour on the meat instead of just rubbing prepared koji on the surface. Honestly, I didn't know the answer. This question lingered in my head for a while, so I decided to give it a shot. 


Curry Koji Cured Beef Heart
Prepared koji is a medium that is already packed with proteases, enzymes that break proteins down into amino acids. So if you're focused on depth of flavor, it only makes sense to introduce as much as possible.


Salt Cured Eye Round Ready for Koji Paste Application
For a charcuterie application, a paste that would adhere to the meat's surface made the most sense. I went ahead and processed Jasmine rice koji with curry powder and 3% salt. Since the bresaola I planned to use was already salt cured, I only needed to add just enough salt to keep the rub safe.



Every surface of the Wagyu eye round of beef was coated with approximately a 1/8" layer of koji.



To contain and keep the paste in contact, wrap the coated bresaola in a few layers of cheese cloth.



One end of butcher's twine from the tied bresaola was brought through the cheese cloth to hang the meat. If you try to hang the meat by the cheese cloth, it will undesirably slump. 


Curry Koji Accelerated Bresaola
After 12 days of drying, the bresaola met the recommended weight loss requirement. This was 9 days ahead of the expected. When I cut into the meat, it was moist all the way through. The consistency of the center is similar to a prosciutto. The darker ring you see in the picture is closer to what you'd find in the center of a traditional bresaola. Also the koji coating was still moist and not dried out. The curry in the koji didn't penetrate very far, but offered a nice compliment to the depth of the beef flavor.

Let's talk a little about the other big advantage of the accelerated drying situation. Since the charcuterie is curing for a shorter period of time, that means the environment required is a lot less strict. For the most part, you don't need a curing chamber. "Cave" conditions with low humidity works well. A true game changer!

At the end of the day, this is another way to leverage the power of koji enzymes to yield a delicious piece of charcuterie. It is definitely easier to execute than the growing aspergillus on the surface method. I'm guessing that the softer texture may go hand in hand with the process. I'm not sure because I've only done this once. If you happen to have more experience, please reach out and share what you've learned.

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Miso Mason Jar Pressure Containment, Screw the Weights

Figuring out how to weigh down the tops of small batches of miso is a bit of a pain. Of course, a compacted medium is best for the fermentation process. Here's a straightforward method for accomplishing the compression with a standard wide mouth Mason jar and lids. 



Compact the miso as you would normally to get as much air out as possible. Fill until the compressed paste line is as seen above. Check the level by placing a regular sized lid that just fits inside the wide mouth jar with the lid against the miso and ring on the top. The ring must be above the top of the glass to create the surface pressure.



Bag the lid and ring to prevent rusting from the salty environment. Make sure the lid is still outside of the ring. If you use a plastic top, you can skip this step.



Put two layers of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar with at least one inch of excess all around.



Compress the bagged lid into the jar to force the plastic wrap to squeeze around the jar lid and ring.



Gather all of the plastic and bring it into the center of the lid ring then put the wide mouth lid over it. Push the lid down onto the jar as you tighten the ring until it just engages and compresses the miso. If you can't engage the ring, you will probably need to remove a small amount of the paste.



When you're done, the top must not be sealed. There has to be a gap for the future carbon dioxide created to escape or the vessel will pressurize and potentially explode. Also, don't forget that the tamari (liquid) will start coming out of the jar as it ferments so make sure to account for that.

Coming up with a simple solution with readily available parts that don't need modification is pretty great. Sometimes the answer is this easy.

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shio Koji Burger, Umami Magic

I recently met with my friends, Alex and Aki, of Ideas in Food to share knowledge on the subject of koji. We had a conversation a couple years ago on the potential for an idea exchange, which lead us down this tasty rabbit hole together.

Shio Koji Cheese Burger Pizza

This all started a while back when I brought over some homemade koji and miso for a tasting. They appreciated the flavors coaxed from the combinations I shared. However, Alex's biggest hang up with everything that's made with koji is the overpowering characteristic flavor. To my understanding, a key concept of Ideas in Food is to make food better than itself. So what does that mean? For example, a steak should taste like the most delicious beefy steak you've ever had, not a miso steak. Not an easy feat.


Jasmine Rice Shio Koji
We were sitting in the kitchen milling over potential experiments then Alex broke out his brown rice & barley shio koji. I also happened to have a Jasmine rice version on hand. It only made sense to see if we could leverage the umami magic while pushing the "soy sauce" flavor into the background.

Shio koji is a Japanese meat marinade powered by enzymes to break down proteins into delicious amino acids, umami. It consists of a slurry of rice/grain koji, water and salt that has fermented for a week or two. The cool thing about applying shio koji to meat is that it produces flavor depth that by default matches the base product.


Just Formed Burgers: Brine, Barley, Jasmine and Brown Rice Shio Koji
We gave some thought to what would dial back the koji flavor and still produce enough depth. The straightforward answer was to use as little as possible. Considering that, optimizing the effectiveness of the marinade was important. Surface area contact is a driving factor, so it only made sense to use ground meat. Hence, the umami burger experiment...


Burgers Post Overnight Marinate
We started by tasting the three marinades (barley, brown & Jasmine rice), which all had unique flavors ranging from the former as the most complex to the latter as sugar forward. We used a 10:1 ground chuck to shio koji ratio and mixed it together. For our control, we used a brine to match the 1% salt content of the other burgers.


Brine Burger in the Back, Jasmine Shio Koji in the Front
Upon grilling, there was an obvious indication of which burgers had the shio koji treatment. Clear charred markings as a result of the caramelization of sugars from the grains. 


Shio Koji Burgers Ready for Tasting
Finally, after all that effort, we tasted the results. It worked pretty well for our first try. The umami level was pushing the limits in all of the shio koji burgers. Also, we could taste a transformation of the base koji grain flavors married with the meat. The Jasmine sweetness was the least favorite. To my palate, the brown rice had nutty notes and barley tasted mushroomy.

At the end of the day, this concept has shown great promise and it won't take many more iterations to make the burger of your dreams.

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