Saturday, August 30, 2014

Craigslist and the Grilled Kim-cheese Sandwich Press

Grilled kim-cheese sandwich hot off my new-used Cuisinart Griddler, with  nd fried egg and cucumber salad

Behold the griddle beast!
I found a new-used Cuisinart Griddler on Craigslist for $30—used items on Craigslist often tell us a lot about how we live as a society. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Last year I found a hand blender and a waffle iron for $15 total. Two weeks ago I bought a Da Vinci bike rack for $18 from a very nice couple in Clinton Hill; their space problem became my space solution. Storage versus usefulness is a constant urban dilema. They are both social workers and avid bikers, they got rid of the couch and bought a bike floor rack.

The couple that I bought the sandwich press from is newly married; Both teachers, they moved into a one bedroom Midwood coop-op with a small galley kitchen. Like much of the luxury movement in New York, the Griddler usurped much of the kitchen real estate and displaced more useful items; He warned that when you open the lid the it takes up the entire counter. She’s an aspiring baker, often making cookies and cupcakes for her school so their galley kitchen is dedicated to the Kitchenaid mixer and cake carriers.

Brand new West Elm couch as seen on fifth Avenue and St. John Street—this reeks of divorce and bed bugs
FREE charcoal starter
New York is a city of constant change; items for sale or trade on Craigslist describe this era as down-sizing and going luxury. You can find a barely used West Elm couch and book shelf for $400 cash and carry—or if you’re lucky you might find one out on the street, but you have to wonder what’s wrong with it.

Brooklyn in particular has become a turn style of activity. Our fair borough wants to attract the droves of millionaires, the result is rent hikes and building sales that displace long-time residents and small businesses... and a lot of the political white washing that says it’s all for the greater good. Note that Brooklyn has an arena that used eminent domain to steal land and displace people and local businesses all based the now broken agreement that affordable housing will be built. And now half-built tower stands still where contract conflicts and construction overages meet; local pols are afraid to speak. Does Brooklyn really need luxury everything? One shouldn’t fix anything that aint broke. This year and last, I’ve noticed more “moving” sales on Craigslist: Book cases, dresser drawers, beds, couches, kitchen goods, books, children’s toys, etc. Undesirable neighborhoods are now the new luxury places to live—including East New York and Brownsville. Current rent is insane: 1-bedroom with no view, circa $2.5k monthly; commercial spaces go for as much as $14k monthly for 900 square feet. Now the borough Queens is headed for the same social change—the march of multi-millionaires continues east.

A bigger mark of change in Park Slope is what people leave out in their FREE boxes. Years ago I found a cast iron pan set and a Dutch oven, these days it’s mostly chipped Ikea plates, very old printers, children’s toys and BBQ equipment—this might describe an app developer with a five-year-old who concluded there’s no time for the grill and  70-hour work week... yadda yadda yadda. WIN-WIN for me! Now I can freely make a grilled kim-cheese sandwich without getting yelled at about fermented residue! I pray to the Craigslist gods as I set my sights on a pastry laminator.

Kimcheelicious Retail Packaging Re-boot

Q: How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb? 
A: I dunno, what do you think? 

This is my two-month retail packaging exploration... not much to be said here but I like where it’s been going. I think it visually engages its audience and conveys the weight of a specialty food. As a graphic designer I always ask: “Is it done or over-done?” For placement testing I’ve walked into grocery stores and put it in refrigerated isles to see if it belongs. I’m sure the security cam reveals a very odd movie of a man staring at three jar for 30 minutes scratching his beard. After a year of taking a packaged product around I’ve had mostly great feed back and very few I-don’t-get-it comments. This means it’s time to raise some start-up cash.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hey Brooklyn! Say Hello to Kimchee Pizza

When worlds collide—my local pizza guys let me put kimchee on my sausage slice before they popped it into the oven. They may never let me do this again. I’m not sure if Brooklyn is ready for this yet, but I am—I brought my own Napa cabbage kimchee with me. I have a great kimchee pizza recipe in my ePUB cookbook. The key is putting kimchee on the pizza towards the end of cooking time so that you get a balanced pungent-tart flavor that complements cheese, sauce and toppings—of course you need really good fermented kimchee to do this. Life’s a baechu, then you eat it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Recipe: Vegetarian Red Rice, Guam's Achiote Pilaf

Where's the beef? Parmesan red rice with Korean carrot and radish salad and pan-seared yellow squash with miso
Achiote seeds (Bixa orellana)

My mother briefly joined a vegan group led by the Guam Seventh-day Adventists Church—two things I thought I’d never hear in one phone call. Eventually her weakness for crab got the better of her but she no longer eats chicken, beef or pork. Over the centuries every culture that passed through the Marianas Islands left a little something on our tables—America, Philippines, Japan, Korea, Spain, and Portugal and even Germany have contributed the our culinary history—and now the people from Veganda. But one dish that is ubiquitous to any Chamorro meal is arroz rojo con achiote, better known as red rice; it’s a type of pilaf made with achiote seeds.

In the late 1600s, Spain’s trade route brought this New World spice (also called annatto) to Guam from Mexico by way of the Philippines. Prized for the deep saffron color that it gives to food and its unique flavor, it has notes of pine, nutmeg and green pepper corn. It’s not as exotic as it seems, achiote is used to give cheddar cheese and other foods an appetizing orange color. You can buy it as powder, paste or whole seeds from your grocer’s Latin food section. 

Red rice was usually served on special occasions, but these days it’s a regular part of island fare. It’s the perfect foil for all of Guam’s island foods, including pizza... no joke. It takes the edge off of spicy foods and goes well with stewed or roasted vegetables, seafood or grilled meats. Often times we islanders are criticized for eating too much starch. But new studies have found that eating moderate portions of cooled rice and other resistant starches provide the prebiotics that contribute to our health when eaten with fermented foods. But it’s hard not to over-do something this tasty though, I could eat a whole pot!

Vegetarian/Vegan Parmesan Red Rice
This recipe is gluten-free made with whole dried achiote seeds to get the pure flavor; I find the powder to be slightly bitter and the paste usually has MSG. Whole achiote seeds and bacon drippings are the most traditional ingredients, but I’m breaking from tradition by making this as a vegetarian dish; for a vegan version exclude the parmesan cheese or substitute with white miso. It’s important that your sauce pot’s lid fits well in order to create a gentle steam. Traditionally a mat of banana leaves is used to cover the surface of the rice and the bottom of the pot to impart a smoked grassy flavor. But let’s get real about urban living. You can cut a piece of parchment paper to fit between the lid and pan to trap steam. Liquid smoke is optional, but I use for certain dishes such as this. So put that rice maker away—we’re going old school today.

You’ll need:
  • 2 cups long grain white rice or converted white rice
  • 3 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
    (For vegan option exclude cheese or use 1 tbsp white miso paste instead)
  • 1  vegetable bullion cube
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried achiote seeds
  • coffee grinder
  • fine sieve
  • mixing bowl
  • sauce pot with a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid
  • wooden or nylon spoon
Two Ways to Make Achiote Water
The rich red color comes from the outer skins of the achiote seeds. The first (coffee grinder) method is used for very old seeds that are almost black. The second is used for seeds that are deep red in color. For both methods you’ll need 1/4 cup achiote seed and 2 cups of hot water to make “tea.” Achiote water should be a translucent carmine color. For larger batches, you can make achiote water ahead of time and refrigerate in a jar.

Method 1—Coffee Grinder : Boil water. Mill achiote seeds into a course powder in a coffee grinder; it should be the texture of rough beach sand. Put into a mixing bowl, add hot water and stir vigorously with a spoon. Let it rest for ten minutes. Strain liquid through a fine sieve twice. Reserve the liquid and discard the sediment.

Method 2—Hand-rubbed: Boil water. Put whole seeds into a mixing bowl and add hot water. Let it cool enough to handle. While the water is still warm rub the seeds together with your fingers to release the dye; it should take about five minutes. Strain liquid through a fine sieve and reserve the liquid. Discard the seeds.

Make Red Rice
Preheat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a stock pot. Salt onions and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent. Add achiote water, bring to a boil and dissolve vegetable bullion. Add rice, grated parmesan cheese (or miso) and remaining olive oil and stir. Simmer uncovered on high for five minutes. Cover and lower heat; simmer on low for 10 minutes. Remove cover and stir rice once more; add liquid smoke (optional). Return cover and continue to simmer for six more minutes. Take the pot off the burner and let it rest for another 10 minutes. Remove cover and fluff red rice gently with a wooden or nylon spoon.

The saffron color deepens and flavors bloom as the rice cools. Serve at room temperature topped with scallions or toasted sesame seeds. When made earlier in the day or the day before the flavor and aroma become even more pronounced. Serving with acidified foods like pickled green papaya, fermented radish salad, kimchee or even just a squeeze of lemon intensifies achiote. Red rice tends to caramelize and brown at the bottom of the pot; save this to make Chamorro fried rice.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

PREbiotics—Living on the Right Side of the Tract

Plain white rice is what I often crave—its sweet, earthy fragrance as it steams, soft texture and mildly sweet flavor.
There are so many varieties of white rice: arborio, jasmine, basmati, long grain, short grain, sweet sticky rice—I love them all. Yet we’ve all been told to shun these for their lack of nutrition. White rice is a whole grain that’s been polished to the remove the hull, bran and germ—bran and germ have the most nutrition. Removing the hull and bran prevents spoilage, but much nutrition is lost. A prolonged diet of mostly plain white rice will lead to a neurological disease called beriberi, which is due to a thiamine (B1) deficiency. This is well documented in countries where starvation has left people with nothing more than white rice to sustain themselves during times of war and famine.

Aside from whole grain rice, a healthier option is converted rice (parboiled rice) which is unhulled brown or yellow rice that has been soaked and dry-steamed forcing vitamins and minerals into the body of starch, after which it is polished. This is not to be confused with “enriched rice” which is polished rice treated with powdered vitamins at packaging. 

Most grains and legumes are NOT digestible by nature. They contain phytic acid, saponin and lectin— anti nutrients which prevent our digestive system from absorbing minerals and nutrition. Thus, followers of the Paleo Diet say NAY to beans and grain. But hold your horses, haven’t whole civilizations survived on rice and bean dishes for centuries? The solution is to soak dried rice or beans in water with a little salt, allowing them to slightly ferment overnight. After soaking, rinsing and cooking most of the anti nutrients are broken down.

Cheap good eats have kept much of this world alive. But most importantly they are delicious and nutritious—rice and bean dishes form a simple, complete protein. For people with celiac disease and vegetarians it’s a safe go-to meal that’s easy to make. One jazz legend even signed his letters, praising one of his favorite food: “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours, Louis Armstrong.”

Nice and cold right out of the fridge—kimchee potato salad has both prebiotics and probiotics.

The Prebiotic Precedes a Probiotic
Kimchee is probiotically delicious!
Now enter the recent discovery of prebiotics—a substance that precedes and facilitates an environment that supports organisms. It’s a term that astronomers use to describe an environment in outer space that may potentially be the precursor of life forms.

Gastrointestinally speaking, undigested fiber compounds from plants that bypass the upper intestinal tract collect to form a substrate for probiotic fauna in the colon; bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria ferment and manufacture fatty acids which are then absorbed by the body as nutrients; this is how we metabolize vitamins K, B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine) and B2 (riboflavin) from vegetables. In 1995, probiotic foods were first identified and named by Marcel Roberfroid, a French Professor Emeritus of pharmaceutical medicine. Prebiotics set the stage for probiotic foods—kimchee, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, crock pickles, cultured yogurt, cheese, et cetera; they also nourish the beneficial microfauna that already inhabit our digestive tract. This complex gut-garden is the body’s microbiome.

Raw garlic is rich in prebiotic fiber.
Short-chain prebiotic fibers (oligofructose) are fermented by colonic bacteria in the [ascending] right side of the colon—long-chain prebiotic fibers (inulin) feed beneficial gut bacteria in the [descending] left side. A full-spectrum prebiotic (inulinFOS) feeds both sides of the bowel. Prebioitcs are available in foods we already eat; Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leek and asparagus when eaten raw are good sources of prebiotic-soluble fibers. Cooking will weaken the bond of fibers rendering them less effective. Studies are ongoing as to how our internal organisms react with different prebiotics, but their activity has been proven to be directly responsible for contributing to and maintaining the health of our immune system.

New research has shown that resistant starch, a prebiotic carbohydrate, does not break down into glucose. We have many sources in our daily diet such as green beans, potatoes and rice—cooked and then refrigerated. Heating and cooling changes the molecular structure of carbohydrates; this process is called retrogradation. Resistant starch can be re-heated and cooled again without compromising the retrograded molecules. But cold starch is not as bland as it sounds; think of potato salad, rice or tapioca pudding, cold soba noodles, French green bean salad, red bean mochi, and sushi. Raw bananas are a great source, so is raw potato starch—add these to a smoothie for a boost.

Resistant starch is not the new age cure-all, it’s only a smaller piece of a complicated puzzle of the body’s microbiome. People with healthy gut function usually respond positively. Meanwhile people with a compromised gut might experience bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, heartburn and even malnutrition. These negative symptoms indicate a weaker microbiome—exemplified in the case of  inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis. In less severe cases, low doses of prebiotic supplements are sometimes administered on a regulated basis. One experimental treatment involves transplanting live bifidobacteria from a healthy person into the colon of a person who has a compromised lower intestinal tract. The process is very clinical, but controversial and frankly I find it a bit disturbing, so I won’t go into detail. Use your imagination and scream into your hands.

Probiotically speaking, I’ve never been a fan of brown rice, even in pudding form; brown rice pudding sticks to my... everything. I don’t like brown rice... there I said it. Cue in the screams of 1000 macro-vegans. Despite its higher nutritional value I have some difficulty digesting brown rice; it always makes me feel like I swallowed a brick. So I prefer white rice with my meals, cold or hot. Who knew that eating leftover fried rice right out of the fridge was actually a good thing? Thanks again to my brother Leo for his professional advice and expertise on pathology and anatomy... and all the butt jokes.

Kimchee fried rice made with leftover short grain rice, topped with an egg makes a lazy Sunday even more pleasant.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Recipe: Playing with a Dutch Baby

Alas the gluten-free Korean Baby is crisp, light, savory, but not as puffy as its wheat counterpart. I'm OK with that.

Round six... ding... I’ve been busy revising a few gluten-free recipes—one of them a savory baked pancake made with kimchee called the Korean Baby (above). It’s based on the Dutch Baby (shown, page bottom)—aka German Pancake, Dutch Puff or Bismark. I think it’s rather funny how most Brooklynites have never heard of a Dutch Baby, considering that Breukelen was settled by the Dutch. Much like its hearty Yorkshire Pudding cousin, a classic Dutch Baby magically puffs, rising high and lofty like a poet with a Ph.D., but quickly deflates as it cools... more or less like any poetry slam. So what makes it puff? Mainly egg protein and the gluten in wheat flour. As hot fat turns milk into steam, egg protein and gluten trap steam causing the batter to rise up and over the pan’s edge.

No rise or low rise? I've had little luck using ceramic ware; the crust never sets up properly. Metal performs much better.
I found that a well greased cast iron pan works best; the batter starts cooking once it hits the hot metal. Ceramic ramekins don’t conduct or distribute higher temperatures as well as metal; results are either hit or miss for this type of pastry, but good for baking soufflés. The Dutch Baby’s American cousin, the popover, is baked in specialized conical tins which allow the batter rise even higher forming a puffed cap as it bakes. The temperature of some ingredients is important—eggs at room temperature, milk warmed and butter melted. This ensure that the batter will mix evenly. Popovers, Dutch Babies, French crêpes and Yorkshire Pudding all basically use the same ingredients but vary by ratio of milk, fat and flour. Salt plays an important role in baking, but not just for balancing flavor. It actually strengthens gluten, making it stickier; it also helps baked goods brown evenly.

All-purpose (AP) and cake flours have the least amount of gluten ranging anywhere from 8 to10%; pastry flour contains 9 to 10% gluten. All these result in a softer pastry. Whole wheat flour has a low rise. Although it’s higher in gluten, the bran particles interfere with formation of long gluten strands. Too much fat and sugar in the batter will also prevent gluten from forming long chains—hence, the pound cakes dense body.

The gluten-free batter that I’ve been experimenting with yields only a modest rise with the help of  little baking soda. I’ve played with a few flour combinations, but after making six gluten-free versions I’ve accepted that science has dictated that it shall never puff as high. This gluten-free version may not make it into the Kimcheelicious ePUB cookbook, but it made it to my plate. Oh, poor me, eating all my baked failures... nom, nom, nom... sob. In the meantime, I’ll make another traditional Dutch Baby for dessert.

Bake a Dutch Baby
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 2/3 cup AP flour, well packed
  • 2/3 milk, warmed
  • 3 + 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp powdered sugar
  • 10" cast iron skillet
  • whisk or hand mixer (lowest setting)
  • large bowl
  • small fine sieve
Eggs should be at room temperature, remove from the fridge an hour ahead or rest them in warm water for 5-10 minutes. Preheat oven to 450°F. In a cast iron skillet add 3 tbsp of butter, place in oven to melt. In a small pan, warm milk until small bubbles form at the edges, or microwave on high for 5 seconds. In a large bowl whisk milk, salt, sugar, vanilla and eggs together. Add flour 2 tbsp at a time while whisking, then add the melted butter. Mix until smooth; small lumps are fine.

Take hot skillet out of oven and add 2 tbsp of butter, coat the sides and bottom of the pan evenly. Carefully pour batter into the pan and return to the oven. Bake at 450°F for 20-25 minutes, or until the Dutch Baby puffs over the edge of the pan and browns at the top. Place skillet on a trivet to cool. Mix maple syrup or honey and lemon juice and brush top and sides. With a small fine sieve, dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately while it’s hot.

A Breukelen Dutch Baby is delivered—pamper with maple syrup and lemon and dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Guam Liberation Lunch

Chicken kelaguén and kimchee over tossed salad greens and shaved Asian cucumbers is what’s for lunch today—I’m all out of tortillas. Kelaguén is Guam’s as-of-yet unofficial national dish, but that should change soon. How can you resist a spicy ceviche made with coconut and calaman line? This meal is my way of celebrating Guam’s 70th year of liberation (July 21, 1944). The generation before me survived Japanese occupation until the US liberated the Marianas Islands. Old folks don’t talk much about the war—many lives were lost, many starved as they were forced into work camps. Instead we talk about food; much like the Hobbits we talk about what we’re having for dinner while we’re eating lunch. We talk about our favorite food, when fruit is at its best, how to roast a pig, different pickles, what else works with coconut milk, what pepper would make a good hot sauce... you might say that we’re obsessed.

The colors on my plate remind me of Ypoa (Ee-pow), my village beach where many picnics and celebrations were had. The bay is bright teal blue and aqua and the sand always clean and soft; there’s a sweet, salty breeze that cools you down even at high noon. Food always brings back fond memories and emotional connection, I’m sure there’s some science behind this. The sound of city traffic and construction becomes the pounding surf and car alarms and the laughter of school children turn into sea faring birds. My favorite foods always remind me to turn off the social media and enjoy a undisturbed real-time experience. Make some Kelaguén Manok and #EatUP! Maili fan-chomocho!