Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

How to Make Peasant’s Caviar

Or should I say how to make pickled ginger and pickled galangal, or how to make a mushroom stock for a stew? This is the story of a garden and pantry adventure which lead to the making of three items instead of one.

Did you start off making one dish only to find that another evolves from the remnants of your efforts? My connection with the restaurant industry has been brief, but I always remembered that you do not let something go to waste. This adventure begins with my daughter, Katya, and I harvesting the galangal. This is the spicier cousin of ginger. We had quite a bit of work digging out them out, preparing the bed for the next year, and replanting some tubers for the next year’s harvest. We were left with about ten pounds of roots. I love using pickled ginger as a condiment, so I thought that the galangal may work well too. In the preparation for the pickling, I ended up making a soup stock and a version of my favorite bread spread, peasant’s caviar.
    After cleaning the tubers, I began the preparation to make pickled galangal. The process is the same for ginger. The galangal tuber does have thicker side roots that need to be snipped off. Peeling the skin is the same as peeling ginger. Use a spoon to scrape the skin off. Since I am working with several pounds at once, I place the cleaned pieces into a water bath. Once all has been cleaned, I thinly slice the galangal, placing these slices into fresh water. I have placed ginger slices directly into the prepared vinegar solution, but I thought of using an older recipe that I had. I do not taste much difference in the final product though. In the direct method, I let the ginger sit in the vinegar for a week before using he slices. In the second method (the one I decided to try today), the ginger (galangal) soaks in water over night. The next morning I clean the scum that forms on the top of the water. This is the white foam on top of the water. I pour the water through a strainer into a pot. This is the beginning of the stock. The galangal goes into a glass jar. The usual practice is to take rice vinegar,red miso, and honey for the pickling. You want the vinegar to have a sweet taste. These are boiled together, and poured over the ginger. Let this cool before placing the jar into the refrigerator. Do you have to use honey? I find that sugar gives me the same taste, but I like using a local. Do you have to use rice vinegar? Probably not. Vinegars do have their own flavors, and this will be imparted to the pickle, but I have always used the rice vinegar. I found quite a bit of red wine vinegar in the pantry, so I did use it this time. Why the red miso? I do not always use the red miso or any miso. The red color comes from tuber reacting with the vinegar. The red miso adds a certain flavor element. I have used a light brown miso. I have gone without miso. For this preparation, I added a little sea salt. I have used herbs or spices from the garden, but I enjoy the cleaner taste of little added. After a day, the ginger or galangal has a nice flavor. You may be thinking sushi for its use, but I like using this condiment on any meal where I would use other condiments.
    Making vegetarian stocks is a simple process. I do like making chicken stock, and every so often I may may beef stock. Stocks are great for soups and sauces, or you could braise items in stock, so having stock on hand is a great way to speed the meal preparation along. Wen in my pantry, I found a package of dried mushrooms. Mushrooms make a great darker soup stock. I went back into the garden to harvest some parsley and onions. I had about a cup of dried mushrooms, a cup of chopped parsley, and a quarter of a cup of chopped green onions. I let the ingredients simmer in the galangal water for forty minutes.  I wanted a lightly flavored stock that could be used for a number of dishes. More onions would help make a better stock for soups. I could have harvested some celery or carrots too. This stock was good for a vegetable stew that I was making that evening. I did add a little salt to the stock at the end. I completed the stock preparation by straining the stock into a storage container.
    Finally, I had the ingredients for a type of peasant’s caviar. I do not see people making these spreads much anymore. Eggplant is the common main ingredient used for this dish. I think if people like baba ganoush that they may like peasant’s caviar; however, maybe people stay away from the spread because of the eggplant. I have had other versions of this caviar, and I think the mushroom based version is great. I took the ingredients from the strained stock into a blender. The mushrooms came out to be two cups when reconstituted. I used a quarter cup of olive oil and two teaspoons of a dark soy sauce. This was blended together. I added a little salt and pepper to taste. I have added a little garlic to this blend as well in the past. There are different types of caviar that are quite inexpensive, and vegetable spreads may not sound to appealing, so maybe that is why peasant’s caviar fell out of favor, but I love this spread. If you do want to try the eggplant version, roast the eggplant first. I always add the garlic to the eggplant version, where this flavor is optional for me when using mushrooms. I may add a bit more onion. Sauteed onion goes well in this spread. As for herbs and spices, parsley is the standard for me, but I could have used any herb or spice. Tarragon would be good, as would thyme. I guess that I will use those next week.
   I still have more galangal. Maybe I should candy some? Maybe grate it into a paste to store in the freezer. We will see. I hope that you try the peasant’s caviar. I find that some people have problems with mushrooms in a meal, but they enjoy this spread. As you can see, harvesting one item can cause you to have more work in the kitchen, but that is not a bad thing.

Purslane in My Sauce


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Where you may have seen a weed, I saw an opportunity in my garden bed. A wild purslane had taken root, so I thought about dinner.

purslaneDo you realize that vegetables go in and out of favor? You may realize that they do, but most of us do not think about what those vegetables may be. I think that the local food movement is bringing back older vegetables.  In the spring, I was in the garden center buying more moss rose for my containers on the back porch. The assistant noticed my daughters munching on the leaves, when she asked if I knew that it was alright for them to eat those leaves. I told her yes. In fact the reason for the purchase was due to my daughters eating the plants that I had. She smiled saying that the plant was high in vitamin C. Moss rose, purslane, comes in many varieties, and I have seen them showing up in more gardens as a decorative plant, yet this plant used to be grown more as a vegetable or medicine. The wild varieties have a peppery taste.
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Making a Vegetarian Meal from the Garden


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Mixtures of vegetables do not need to be boring. How about marinating vegetables and encasing them in a flavorful dough?  Seasoning is a key to create an interest.

I have the tendency to call vegetables encased in dough a Beggar’s Purse. I am not sure if there is a proper name for these dishes, but you do find this idea for a dish around the world. My original conception was to make this dish as a steamed dumpling that had a sauce inside the dumpling with vegetables. One time I made this same dish fried. Last night I changed my procedure to baking, since I had another meal to bake. The dough is different, but the concept is the same: dough encasing vegetables with a sauce.
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Another Take on Macaroni and Cheese


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I do not buy box meals, and my children have not grown up with this staple. I have made macaroni and cheese from scratch, but my daughter and I came up with a different take on this classic.

I had the chance to cook with my daughter Katya last night. I use to prepare meals all of the time with my son, but with the two girls, I have not done so as often. The problem has been that I have to be more cautious with my youngest, which makes the meal preparation take much longer. Sakura was asleep, and Katya was excited to be the assistant. They have never experienced macaroni and cheese from the box. My son, who is quite a bit older, went through a phase at one point where he wanted this meal. He had it at a friend’s house. This is not a hard dish to make from scratch, which I did for him, but he wanted that artificial flavoring. When Katya and I started the meal, I was not planning a specific meal, so this dish evolved as we were cooking.
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Baked Okra for a Simple Dinner


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Do you like okra? Is it too slimy for you? Maybe you should consider baking okra for a quick to prepare dinner.

Everyone seems to want their home inspections on the weekends. On Sunday, I was already driving all over the area, when I had a call asking me to do one more inspection that day. I try to be helpful, but three inspections in one day with many hours of driving was not for me. Furthermore, the heat was a bit too much. Home inspectors have to work in environments that are inadvisable for health. Needless to say that I was worn out by the end of the day, yet I had to make dinner for the family . I wanted to do something simple, which often means a pasta dish for me. With so much okra available, I hit upon a baked dish that was easy to make.
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Plucking Onions: Time for an Onion Sauce


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When the leaves of the onion plant begin to fall over, you know that they are ready to harvest, but what do you do with your harvest?

I was reminded again of the disconnect children have when it comes to knowing where their meal and their foods origins. My children see this fact on a daily basis, but I had a few odd looks when harvesting onions. The bulbs dangled from my left hand, dropping down in a waterfall style for more than two feet, as I pulled the onions from the ground with my right hand. My daughters, who do not like onions in their meals, were happily helping. One of my sisters-in-law pulled up, and my niece and nephew toppled out of the car to spend the evening with us. They rushed over to see what we were doing. They were baffled by this activity. Is it important that they know where their food originates? I am not sure, but I have found that my onion averse daughters will eat the bulb when they harvested the vegetable themselves. There is a greater appreciation for our food when we see it go from the garden to the table. Although the cooking portion might be their favorite activity.
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Cucumber and Tomato Salads


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The lettuce is bolting, but the tomatoes are going red, while the cucumbers are producing. Time for a new salad.

The great thing about eating seasonally from the garden is that you know the food is fresh, but you also gain more joy when you harvest the first crop of a certain vegetable. When you go to a grocery store, any vegetable is available to you. If you like cucumbers, you can have them whenever you want, and maybe this causes them to loose a little luster. If you always eat a tomato, what is special about a tomato. However, that first cucumber or tomato becomes a special prize in your mind. I think that many of the winter salads went over well, but now there is an excitement in the air.
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What Can You Harvest in a Houston Spring Garden


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As the days are growing hotter, some vegetables are beginning to fade. The drought has placed a strain on other plants. So I make my way through the garden looking for dinner ideas.

At the store this morning, I felt a bit of sticker shock. The can of coffee that was selling for $6.99 not too long ago was priced on sale at $8.99, and are those cans becoming smaller? Most of my surprises have been with staples other than vegetables, because I have not bought many. I am obtaining about 95% of my fruit and vegetable consumption from the garden. Yet, this has not been a great year so far. The drought seems to have played havoc with my loquat tree. This fruit is usually available to me by March, but I do not think that I will have any this year. The plums are coming, but the birds have gone after the unripe green plums. Still these setbacks have not been so detrimental.
    The cucumber vines that were planted when the weather warmed have produced. My favorite cucumber preparation is to peel the skin; slice them; and marinate them in a rice vinegar/sugar mixture. This makes for a light salad. I also like making a more German style cucumber salad. The cucumber slices are salted. Later the water is drained off and the slices rinsed. The cucumber is mixed with onions, parsley, and a vinegar and oil dressing.
    The lettuce is beginning to bolt. Once the shafts arise from the plant to produce the flowers, the taste becomes more bitter. Lettuce does not like the warm weather. The red lettuce is holding out longer. Salads are becoming common place for meals right now at my house. I made a salad with blackberries and chopped peanuts last night. The blackberries were macerated with sugar. The lettuce was dressed quite popular. I wonder how long before the red lettuce goes to seed.
    The last of the peas were harvested. Peas are water hogs which prefer the cooler weather, so I was surprised that they lasted this long. Katya really took to the peas. The beans are starting to produce. Fresh young beans from the vine did not seem to need any cooking. A squeeze from an orange with a dash of sesame seed oil was great. A lightly boiled one collection of beans which were tossed with butter.
    I had moved my kale to a section of garden which is mainly shade. This has left the plants vibrant with a good flavor to the leaves. This will probably end soon, as kale looses its flavor with the heat. Then it is attacked by the bugs.  A few of my onions are large enough for harvesting, so I have done quick stir fries with the kale and onions.
    The tomato plants have only green fruit, and the pepper plants have had smaller specimens, but the eggplants are producing. I think some gardeners avoid eggplant, because they feel that it is too much work. The plant has to be staked like a tomato plant, and then there is the concern over bitterness. Fresh eggplant is not bitter (at least, I have never experienced bitterness from this vegetable when I pick it out of my garden). I broil slices; fry cubes, or throw shreds of eggplant into a stew. No salting and draining required.
    The squash has abundant blooms now. Maybe in a week this plant will give me my first zucchini or yellow squash. I planted the seeds when the weather warmed, so I have a good sized bush for many of my squash plants.  Otherwise, I have been using a good many herbs in my meals. I mix handfuls of parsley into my rice, cous cous, or bulghur. I like had this herb is treated like a vegetable or salad item in the Mediterranean diet.
    The best aspect for me is eating seasonally. The meals are changing over the course of the months. Yes, I would have liked a red tomato with my lettuce, but in Houston, these two plants will overlap in the fall. As a new vegetable grows, the smaller children have something new to excite them. What I did expect was for the family to become tired of winter vegetables. The two young girls became more fond of winter greens as the season for these vegetables progressed. Now, Katya asks if she will still be able to have her favorite kale for a meal. I wonder if she will feel this way about onions (if she can see the onion in the meal, she will not eat it).  I hope to add more plants in for the summer, but if this drought persists, then I will have to reevaluate my plans.

The Poorman’s Surf and Turf?


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What if your budget does not allow for steak and lobster, shrimp with bacon is a wonderful flavor, and that could be defined as surf and turf, right? Well, how can we make this healthier?

I remember one of the first dates that I had with my wife. She ordered lobster. This will sound like a line, but she did later admit that she wanted it, because the lobster was the most expensive item on the menu. She had never eaten lobster before, and she did not eat much of it that night (why does he remember that fact after all these years- typical husband). Later, she did learn to love lobsters, and I loved preparing them. There was a point where I was preparing seafood every Friday night. Then a relative lived with s for a while; she was allergic to shellfish, so good bye to lobsters. Later, with the children, the seafood experience in the house has been a mixed bag, and I was not sure how they would take to my using shrimp for a meal last night.
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Dianthus Salad and Tuna Burgers


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This is the season for lettuce in Houston, so why not enjoy salads from your own garden.

My wife enjoys salad. She wonders why we do not eat a salad with every meal. She points to the fact that my aunt in Spain always served an elaborate salad at the beginning of each meal. I counter with the fact that I love soups, and I would love to have them with each meal, but that she would be happy with no soups at all. I do not have anything against salads. I make them often enough. I am not sure having them with every meal is the way to go.
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Greetings

This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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